Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Joker (2019)

Image is property of DC Films and Warner Bros Pictures

Joker  – Film Review

By Aiden Mills

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Robert DeNiro, Zazie Beetz, Brian Tyree Henry

Director: Todd Phillips 

Synopsis: Struggling comedian Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) finds himself rock bottom and ostracised from society until a series of violent incidents leads him to find a new purpose in life.

Review: When the news came out that DC and Warner Bros were making a standalone Joker film with Todd Phillips at the helm, the red flags started waving. Even when news that Scorsese was on-board as Producer and the phenomenal Joaquin Phoenix was cast as the infamous villain, doubts still lingered in the minds of DC fans. Since Heath Ledger’s much loved portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime, could anyone go some way to matching that iconic performance? Well, rest assured, they have.

Joker starts with struggling comedian Arthur Fleck looking at himself in the mirror and forcing himself to smile, a single tear rolling down his cheek. Hunched over, and with a body shape reminiscent of Christian Bale in The Machinist, we know from the very get go that this is a man on the outskirts of society, no more than a cockroach living in the shadows. A man metaphorically and literally beaten down by the world around him, before a series of violent events leads him to fall into a cocoon of insanity before emerging as the villain we all know and love dancing and prancing through the streets of Gotham City, a crazy butterfly. While this is for all intents and purposes an “origin story,” it is more of a character study as well as a test to the audience. Specifically, how far can this guy go before our empathy runs out?

The world Phillips builds is phenomenal. With the use of a moody and ominous soundtrack, a vibrant use of neon lighting and a gloomy filter, he manages to seamlessly blend Scorsese’s New York with Tim Burton’s Gotham- the perfect stomping ground for Phoenix’s Joker. The Gotham we see in Joker is one on the verge of eruption, unemployment and poverty is on the rise along with crime and corruption. Garbage litters the streets and to top it all off super rats are running wild. The people are angry and are out for justice and are quick to direct their anger at the rich one percent who run Gotham.  Arthur is a product of these hostile societies, a person on the brink who is ostracised and isolated from everyone around him and left alone with his negative thoughts. He idolises Talk Show Host, Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro) and sees him as the father figure he never had.

If a laugh could say a thousand words that would be Phoenix’s. At times it carries a great measure of pain and angst which is being bellowed out, at others, like a true psychopath. It is empty, hollow, and like the noise a hyena makes, almost a reflex. Phoenix is truly a behemoth to hold as he gives a breathtaking performance, one of which just holds your attention at every frame. In some ways this is an end to his “Lonely Man Trilogy” (Her, The Master) and perhaps his best iteration. Phoenix does a masterful job in making a complex character and creates a myriad of feelings from the audience.  To compare Phoenix to Ledger however would be a disservice to both actors, Arthur is a completely different Joker to the one in The Dark Knight and both give completely different powerhouse performances.

Recently this film has come under scrutiny for its use of violence and focus in on a traditional villain, but Phoenix says it best, the film cannot be accountable for the moralities of the people who watch it.  If it is championed by the “incels” and violent males as an anthem, we should look at the society who breeds these people as opposed to a film that condemns it. If the take away is that Arthur is the hero of this story, you would have completely missed the point of the film.

Joker seamlessly blends some of the classic films of the 70s/80s with comic culture in a truly breathtaking and emotionally challenging film. It’s a character study on a complex and troubled individual delivered by a beautifully nuanced performance from Phoenix. Joker puts its foot on your throat from the very start and doesn’t let go until the credits roll.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Shazam! (2019)

Image is property of DC Films, Warner Bros and New Line Cinema

Shazam! – Film Review

Cast: Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, Djimon Hounsou

Director: David F. Sandberg

Synopsis: In need of someone to inherit his power, an ailing wizard chooses foster kid Billy Batson to be his champion, which gives him the power to become an adult superhero, all he has to do is say “Shazam…”

Review: There’s a good chance that each and every one of us has wished at some point in their lives that they were a superhero. The appeal of superheroes is perhaps at its strongest in our formative years, thus in this era of superhero movie dominance, it is hard to stand out from the crowd. Yet this is precisely what makes this latest film to emerge from the DCEU so intriguing, as it is quite literally a teenager in an adult sized, superhuman body.

Billy Batson (Angel), is the teenager in question, who has had a troubled life being in and out of foster homes, never really properly adapting to it with unanswered questions about certain events that happened in his childhood. However, on one seemingly normal day, his life is turned upside down. After being transported to this mysterious place, he meets a wizard desperately seeking a champion to inherit his remarkable powers. Sensing something in Billy, he grants him his powers, and just by uttering a single word, Billy has the power to become a fully grown adult superhero (Levi) at will, which brings the ominous Dr Sivana (Strong) into the picture.

“Feel the power of the Shiney Shiney lighting bolt!”

With DC’s early misfires now (hopefully) behind them, their focus now seems to be building stories around their individual heroes, as opposed to rushing straight into superhero ensembles. Asher Angel is excellent as Billy, a character who hasn’t had the best luck in life. But he is a character who you can’t help but root for, especially when he gets his powers. When in superhero form, Levi is an absolute delight to watch. Given that he has to essentially act like a kid would, he does so with believable excitement and giddiness that one would have in that situation. Every superhero needs a reliable sidekick and for Billy/Shazam, that honour belongs to his roommate Freddy (Grazer). The budding friendship between Freddy and Billy as they go about discovering the extent of Billy’s powers is just joyous to watch.

After the dour and dreariness of their first few extended Universe outings, the studio definitely seems to have done a complete U-turn in favour of more humour. Henry Gayden’s screenplay is full of terrific wit and jokes, plenty of which dial the cheesiness and silliness factor up to ten. David F Sandberg’s direction continues on the path set by James Wan and Aquaman, as there is a distinct vibrancy and a very colourful palette to the action scenes. To counteract this though, there are one or two quite sinister moments that really push the family friendly vibe the film is going for. Mark Strong, who’s no stranger to playing a villain, does a capable job. He is very much your run-of-the mill bad guy with his nefarious plans. Having said that, though there is a solid attempt to give him a backstory to flesh him out as a villain, some more work could have gone into developing his back story.

After the troubles DC experienced in the early stages of setting up its extended universe, it’s satisfying to see DC take another step in the right direction. The overall goofiness of the story could be a hindrance to some, if done to excess, but thankfully it never becomes overbearing. With the central message about the positive impact that a warm and loving family atmosphere can have being very prevalent, especially in circumstances like foster families. Though this isn’t anything new in a superhero film, Shazam! has found a way to make it feel simultaneously fresh and heart-warming in equal measure.

Delightfully silly, but with plenty of heart and lots of laughter throughout, Shazam! is the clearest indication yet that DC may just have caught lightning in a bottle, and found its spark. 

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Aquaman (2018)

Image is property of Warner Bros and DC

Aquaman – Film Review

Cast:  Jason Momoa, Amber Heard, Patrick Wilson, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Nicole Kidman, Temuera Morrison

Directors: James Wan

Synopsis: When the world of Atlantis seeks to declare war on the surface, the half human/half Atlantean Arthur Curry (Momoa) must confront his half-brother King Orm (Wilson) to save humanity…

Review: It would be far to say that it has not been plain sailing for the DC Extended Universe up until this point. Though it started promisingly, their big budget flagship team-ups ultimately fizzled into mediocrity and disappointment. If a certain Amazonian Warrior hadn’t restored some pride, this fledgling universe might have been perilously close to suffering from an early demise. However, the DCEU is here to stay at least for now, and it is the turn of  Khal Drogo Arthur Curry to get the solo movie treatment.

Much like Wonder Woman before him, Aquaman’s solo film jumps about in time as we watch the meeting of his parents, Queen Atlanna (Kidman) and his lighthouse keeper father Thomas (Morrison), and how two beings of two separate worlds brought Arthur into existence. In the wake of the events of Justice League, a visit from Mera (Heard) a resident of Atlantis informs Arthur of his half brother’s plan to bring a war to those of us who dwell on the surface, and how Arthur must take his place as King in order to prevent this coming conflict. If this sounds kinda familiar, it might be because a little film called Black Panther had a strikingly similar plot, except this time around, the hero and the antagonist have swapped roles.

Brothers (and tridents) in arms…

Carrying on from where he left off in Justice League, Momoa is excellent as Aquaman. His charisma and just sheer badassery just makes watching him so effortlessly enjoyable. Amber Heard as Mera also gets a lot more screen time as both she and Aquaman go on their merry adventure to retrieve something that they believe will be of immense importance for the upcoming conflict. Try as they might, unfortunately their chemistry just doesn’t flow. The screenplay is scattershot and completely all over the place, with some very wishy-washy dialogue. With so many different subplots going on, keeping up with it all can feel a bit exhausting, a little bit of refining would have been most welcome. Furthermore, while certain arcs are interesting enough, they definitely could have been removed from the film.

The film’s strengths really lie in the action scenes. Director James Wan brings a real visual swagger to them, and Rupert Gregson Williams’s score helps keep the film moving briskly along. For all the criticisms that have been hurled at previous DCEU films for being devoid of colour, Wan and his DP Don Burgess don’t hold back, ensuring that each frame is truly awash with colour and vibrancy. As well as being awash with colour, there’s a fair bit of CGI, which considering half the film takes place in a world under the see, isn’t that surprising. But damn, if Atlantis was a real place, you know you would just want to visit it.

The battle scenes feel a bit ridiculous at times, but sometimes you just gotta let it slide and sit back and enjoy the ride. Also, this is the second superhero film this year, featuring an animal performing a drum solo. Not sure when, or if this has become a thing, but if it has, then absolutely no arguments. For all the dour of some of the previous instalments, the fun factor is turned up to the maximum right from the off, and just about manages to keep that going right throughout its somewhat bloated run time. The DCEU hasn’t quite been the tidal wave of success the studio, and the fans would have wanted, but with this solid entry under its trident, the tide could hopefully be turning for DC.

Beset by a messy screenplay that could have sunk the whole project, Wan’s confident direction, a reliable lead performance from Momoa, and some bonkers action keeps it all afloat.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Justice League (2017)

Image is property of Warner Bros and DC

Justice League – Film Review

Cast: Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Jason Momoa, Ezra Miller, Ray Fisher, J.K. Simmons, Amy Adams, Diane Lane

Director: Zack Snyder

Synopsis: In the wake of Superman’s death, with the planet feeling vulnerable and sensing that an attack is not too far away, Bruce Wayne enlists the help of some heroes to help save the world from the threat of the villainous Steppenwolf…

Review: When reviewing the extended universe that DC is constructing, it is extremely difficult to not compare their efforts to that of their major rivals, Marvel. Similarly, it has been hard to ignore the difficult time DC has had in getting its Extended Universe off the ground. A strong start but a few blips followed that threatened to derail the universe before it even got off the ground good and proper. Thankfully, Wonder Woman came along and put everything back on track and now the pieces have been put together for DC’s answer to the Avengers to finally get their first cinematic superhero outing.

The decision to not go the Marvel route and give each character their own film before going into the superhero team up flick, was certainly a bold one. The debate as to whether that was the route DC should have gone, could be debated for an eternity. Nevertheless, in the wake of the events of Batman v Supermanand the heroic sacrifice of Kal-El, Bruce decides to form a team as he (correctly) believes that someone is about to attack the planet, and so the Justice League is formed, with Batman, Wonder Woman, and new recruits Flash, Aquaman and Cyborg. The aforementioned attack comes from Steppenwolf, whose origins are not really explained to any significant detail, all you know is he’s the bad guy and he is seeking some items that he wants to bring about an end to humanity. Usual comic book movie shenanigans.

Though he did direct the movie, due to personal tragedy, Snyder stepped down from the project in post production. Thus Joss Whedon stepped in to finish the project in Snyder’s absence. Though the movie does certainly feel like a Snyder film, in terms of its visuals, Whedon’s influence is certainly noticeable. Snyder is certainly a very visual director, but Whedon’s influence, given that he has a screenwriter credit, helps really flesh out the characters giving each team member an opportunity to shine, and it’s an opportunity they all take.

The standout though by far is Ezra Miller’s Flash, almost every line out of his mouth is quip after quip after quip, and it’s hilarious. Gal Gadot continues where she left off from her solo movie, and really continues to excel in her role as Wonder Woman. Jason Momoa as Aquaman is almost as if Khal Drogo cut off some of his hair and developed a deep love for the ocean, he certainly has charisma, with his Trident of Neptune in hand. Ray Fisher as Cyborg is functional, though there is certainly scope to explore his origin story a lot more somewhere down the line. As for Affleck, though he does look as though the role of the Caped Crusader is taking its toll on him, he continues to deliver the goods, though it remains to be seen if this is his last hurrah as Batman.

Even with Whedon’s input on the screenplay, it isn’t perfect. There’s some problems in terms of its storytelling, it feels a little bit rushed in the opening act. However once we arrive at the second act and the team are together, there’s enjoyment to be had without a doubt. The banter between the team is vintage Whedon and the action scenes are enjoyable to watch. There is a lot of CGI (to be expected) and while some of it is great, there are one or two instances where it could have maybe been cleaned up. As for the villain, unfortunately even with such a talent as Ciarán Hinds playing him, he falls into the category of rather bland villains, a problem that has been plaguing Marvel’s Universe since its inception.

For DC, their Extended Universe is still in its infancy, and although Justice League isn’t quite the home run that the studio would have undoubtedly liked it to be, it should give the fans more than enough to be hopeful for the future. Given the backlash and problems that have troubled DC, and only being a mere five films into their universe, you wouldn’t blame them if they opted to hit the reset button. However, there seem to be no plans to do that, and given that there’s lots in the pipeline they’re going full steam ahead, much to the dismay/delight of comic book fans everywhere (delete where appropriate).

There’s plenty of entertainment to be had seeing DC’s superhero team getting their first big screen outing, and despite an imperfect story, it’s a noticeable improvement on both BVS and Suicide Squad.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Wonder Woman (2017)

Image is property of DC Films and Warner Bros

Wonder Woman – Film Review

Cast:  Gal Gadot, Chris Pine, Connie Nielsen, Robin Wright, David Thewlis, Danny Huston

Director:  Patty Jenkins

Synopsis: After an American pilot crashes near her home of Themyscira, and speaks of a deadly war gripping humanity, Amazonian Princess Diana decides to stand up and be counted, and bring an end to the war that threatens to devastate humanity.

Review: Right now, there can be little doubt that superhero/comic book films is a genre that is thriving at this moment in time. Yet despite this domination, one thing had always been missing from the genre particularly since its renaissance post 2008, and that is the remarkable lack of a female superhero driven flick. A film showing that a woman can be if she wants to be, an absolute badass who will absolutely not let any man dictate what she does or where she goes. It has been quite remarkable that it has taken this long, but better late than never, and one can hope that more will soon follow.

It would be fair to say that much was riding on this film to be a success, given that the DC Extended Universe has not enjoyed the best of starts. Man of Steel was received fairly warmly, but the same cannot be said for Batman V Superman and Suicide Squad. Though all had varying degrees of entertainment to them, it would be putting it mildly to say that there were a fair amount of naysayers for each of them. In turn, the DC Universe was struggling to get off the ground, but now that is about to change, thanks to our titular heroine. She had already graced our screens with her small but significant role in BVS (as well as being one of the film’s saving graces!) Now director Patty Jenkins goes back to show how she became the invincible warrior, a journey that takes her to our human world, and more specifically World War I.

Stealth mode…

Of course, she’s not alone in this fight, with love interest Steve Trevor (Pine) involved in a covert plot to retrieve some vital information, all the while Diana is thinking there are some sinister forces at work, leaving her eager to march into battle and defeat the evil that she believes is corrupting mankind. Continuing from where she left off Gadot is superb to watch in the role, she has the charisma and compassion that makes you want to root for her. Furthermore, when she’s being the absolute boss that we know she is in the heart of the First World War, it’s simply fantastic to watch. The studio had always wanted a female director and Jenkins proved herself to be the perfect choice, as the action scenes are directed faultlessly and are visually mesmerising to look at, aided superbly by the awesome score from Rupert Gregson-Williams.

As to be expected, the theme of female empowerment is strong throughout and Diana embodies that to a T (or should that be a W?) At a time when a woman’s place was inferior to that of a man, Diana is having none of that!  The chemistry between the two is what drives the movie forward. Humour is something that has become synonymous with the MCU and there’s plenty of good humour to be found here too. The plot is fast paced and gripping almost all of the time, yet when the third act arrives, this is where it begins to falter a little bit. It chooses to go down a route that is not exactly anything that we haven’t seen before. You would like to see studios try and avoid this somewhat cliched storytelling, but at least there are villains that are not completely disposable, unlike some of the MCU villains.

This woman means business…

After three attempts to get their Universe up and running, it was beginning to feel like time was running out for DC and this was last chance saloon for the DCEU to get going in order to stand a chance of facing up to the might of Marvel. While that is still a bit of a way off for the time being, it fell on Wonder Woman’s shoulders to deliver, and well she certainly delivered those goods, and in wonderful style too!

A truly wonderful origin story that delivers compelling characters, pulsating action sequences and a truly awesome lead performance from Gadot, the DCEU finally achieves a proper lift off.

Posted in 2010-2019, Film Review

Suicide Squad (2016)

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Image is property of Warner Bros, DC Entertainment and RatPac Entertainment

Suicide Squad – Film Review

Cast: Will Smith, Margot Robbie, Jared Leto, Viola Davis, Joel Kinnaman, Jai Courtenay, Jay Hernandez, Cara Delevigne, Scott Eastwood, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje

Director: David Ayer

Synopsis: A group of criminals are recruited into Task Force X to run covert missions for the government in exchange for time off their prison sentences, and when the world comes under threat, they must unite to save the world.

Review: It has been hard to ignore the rise in prominence and popularity that comic book movies had enjoyed in recent years. Yet so often with these movies it’s a tale of good going against bad. Yet this trend has for the most part been abandoned this year, with Marvel’s heroes turning on each other, and DC’s flagship characters going head to head. Now DC, who it could be argued has some of the best villains in comic books, now rips up that formula even more. This time it’s not good vs bad, it’s bad vs evil as writer and director David Ayer presents as the movie’s tagline states: the “Worst. Heroes. Ever.”

In a world post Batman and Superman’s tussle, people seem to be afraid that the next person who possesses superhuman abilities might not be so friendly as the Man of Steel. So, government official Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) creates Task Force X or as she puts it “A team of very bad people who I think can do some good.” Leading the line up for this team is Will Smith as Deadshot, a lethal assassin who is always on target. Next on the roster is Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, the significant other of the Joker, who like her “puddin” is just flat out crazy but a lot of fun to watch.

These two are the main players in this squad, but they are aided well by Jai Courtenay’s Captain Boomerang, Jay Hernandez as El Diablo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as the beastly Killer Croc, Karen Fukuhara as the lethal Katana and Joel Kinnaman as the team’s leader Rick Flagg. While it would have been great to see Tom Hardy play the role, Kinnaman brings steel and grit to the role, showing he won’t take any nonsense from the team.

All of the team play their roles well but the leading lights by far are that of Robbie as Harley and Smith as Deadshot, with the former stealing the show on more than a few occasions. but Davis is also on top form, although her methods do leave a lot to be desired. Of course, there is the small matter of Jared Leto’s Joker. Following the brilliance of Heath Ledger was always going to be a tough act to follow but Leto impresses in the role, and he more than looks the part as the Crown Prince of Crime. Yet his role in the film is minimal which is undeniably frustrating. Cara Delevigne completes the roster as the mysterious Enchantress, a lady who is harbouring some very dark secrets.

In the wake of the misfire that was Batman V Superman, Ayer had the unenviable task of steering the DC universe out of the doldrums in the wake of Marvel’s continuing dominance of the market. The script is a little bit choppy and uneven in places. Certain characters could have been better fleshed out, as such character development for some characters is very thin on the ground. Yet for those that have that character development, it is very interesting to watch. Ayer also helms the action scenes excellently, with some scenes being tremendously impressive, although some scenes are somewhat choppily edited. The score by Oscar winner Steven Price is also first class and does help get the blood pumping, which is also aided by a great soundtrack. The real villain here (no spoilers!) was undeniably creepy and on the whole did a very good job in presenting a force for the squad to tackle.

After the negative reaction that greeted Batman V Superman, fans must have wondered if it would have been a fatal blow to the DCEU before it has even got going. This latest offering has also had a less than kind critical reaction, yet it is by far the best DCEU movie we have so far. The board is set and the pieces are moving at long last, and with a solo Harley Quinn reportedly in development, don’t be surprised to see the squad reunite for more madness later on down the line.

A few script issues and the lack of character development and screen time for certain characters is undeniably a bummer, but there is more than enough for DC fans to sink their teeth into and enjoy.

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