Saturday, 26 March 2016

Batman v SupermanDawn of Justice
Dir: Zack Snyder
2016
**
Batman vs Superman is finally here. It wasn't that long ago that the two were meant to meet under very different circumstances. After leaving the failing Batman franchise and once J.J. Abrams Superman Flyby was shelved, Warner Bros. hired Akiva Goldsman to write Wolfgang Petersen's Batman vs. Superman. Astonishing really, the man who wrote Batman Forever and Batman & Robin was hired to write what was mooted as the biggest film of all time. David S.Goyer was also attached to the project at one point and the studio actually voted on whether they should make another Superman or make a Superman vs Batman and Goyer stated that the 'versus' films were where you go when you've exhausted all creative possibilities. None of the Superman films were made and the slightly dodgy vs film never happened and the fans drew in a huge collective sigh of relief. Enter Zack Snyder. His 2013 Man of Steel wasn't without issues but it was a good enough introduction to a wider universe (I'm talking Justice League) and the character itself, although it wasn't quite the Superman people were expecting. A solid enough start with room for improvement. However, due to Marvel's success with their Avengers team up movies, Man of Steel 2 suddenly turned into Batman vs Superman, Ben Affleck was announced as Batman and the fans went nuts, Wonder Women was announced and the fans went crazy and Jesse Eisenberg was cast as Lex Luthor and....no one really knew what to think. Speculation has never been as rife since the first announcement, nerds and comic nuts (me) have been on tenterhooks for months, although this is something we've wanted to see (but never thought we would) all our lives. Apprehensive is an understatement. It's finally here though, and....it's not that great. After all this time and after seeing Marvel do it right time and time again how can this be? I'll start with the good. I thought Ben Affleck was great as the Caped Crusader. He was both wise and worldly as both Batman and Bruce Wayne. Everything about the Batman character was great, the Batcave looked great, the Batmobile was cool and Batwing was awesome. I didn't hate Jeremy Irons' Alfred as half as much as I thought I would either. The beginning sequence was very stylish, we've seen Batman's origin story before but never quite as gloriously as this (although the sequence is lifted straight from the pages of certain comics). Fast forward a few decades and watching Bruce Wayne hurry to his Metropolis office in what was the last scene of Man of Steel was rather brilliantly done, not to mention thrilling as hell. Then everything just went a bit down hill. The pace of the film was very slow and I'm not sure the two and a half hour run time was time well spent. The big fight scene was a bit of a let down, the jury is out as far as Wonder Woman is concerned (but i'm hopeful) and I'm afraid Jesse Eisenberg really didn't do it for me (especially in his last scene, although this is a script issue rather than performance based). The introduction of the other Justice League members appeared like a cheap viral advert in the middle of the film, like the film had a cookie or a pop up ad and while I'm kind of grateful for Snyder/Goyer for the DC elseworld nod, the overlong Batman dream sequence was bizarre and spectacularly misplaced. Superfans might recognize this as a message from bad guy Darkseid but I'm not too sure who else would get the reference. Either way, it really doesn't work. Much like Man of Steel, I'm not sure on any of the casting choices but then no one had a particularly great script to work with. I suppose I could overlook most of these issues, they didn't upset me that much really, the biggest problem with the film is much.....bigger. That ain't Superman. Henry Cavell looks the part and he is a good actor but he's not Superman. He doesn't act like Superman and Goyer hasn't written a proper Superman. I know my Superman, I collect the comics and know all the adaptations, by all means introduce new ideas and make a character your own but this version is several steps too far. This is an angry, clumsy and not altogether intelligent Superman. It seemed like his eyes were red for more of the film than not. I'm a huge Superman fan and Superman Returns really upset me when I saw it but this version is so removed from the original that I really don't feel any emotion towards it at all. Where the hell is Clark Kent? Kent is such a big part of Superman that to ignore it would be like making Romeo & Juliette without Juliette, Bert and Ernie without Ernie, milk without shake. Ben Affleck made a fine Bruce Wayne, why leave Kent by the wayside? Don't get me started on what what Snyder does to Jimmy Olsen. As for the story, well, boring is the only word for it. Doomsday looked like a cross between the baby from the 90's TV hit Dinosaurs (google 'Not the mama') and an angry penis (with arms). It makes the Alien/Human monster from Alien Resurrection look like a work of genius. Doomsday's story is one of the most overrated of all of the comics, the one where everyone who had never read a comic suddenly bought one and then went back to not reading them. The biggest con DC ever pulled and that is the best they could come up with. There wasn't one bit of emotion felt in the cinema I was in, it stirred nothing inside me, the only thing I felt was numb (probably down to the fact I'd sat down for nearly three hours). After all this time, is this the best they could come up with? I've always been a DC guy but I'm glad Marvel have their act together. I look forward to Wonder Woman and Affleck's Batman (loved the Joker and Riddler hints) but Superman really is dead to me for the foreseeable future.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Batman Triumphant vs Superman Lives

The world will never really know which of these unmade films would have been best but when looking at the scripts and story ideas, I think it's safe to say fans of both Superheroes (and the studios) jumped the proverbial shark. Halfway through the filming of Batman & Robin the studio, so impressed with what had been shot so far, decided to green light a sequel. Akiva Goldsman stepped down as writer (a good thing) and Mark Protosevich was hired in his place. The initial title attached to the sequel was Batman Triumphant but would also be known as Batman Unchained later on in the project. Batman would return with Robin and Batgirl at his side and his main enemy was to be The Scarecrow, whose appearance in the franchise was felt long overdue by the fans. Joel Schumacher was set to return as director and it was hoped George Clooney, Chris O'Donnell and Alicia Silverstone would also stay on. The Scarecrow was offered to Nicholas Cage who was said to be very interested in the part and I have to say it is something I would have loved to see. I'm thinking his character could have been somewhere between Cage's Castor Troy (Face/Off) and Peter Loew (Vampire's Kiss) with Jason Voorhees' original hessian sack mask as seen in Friday the 13th Part 2. It could have been something really good, and at least something so bad it was good. The Bat trio would have been up against fan favourite Harley Quinn (said to be played by either Courtney Love or Madonna) who would have been written in as The Jokers daughter out for revenge, rather than his long suffering girlfriend. If that weren't enough, all of Batman's previous villains would have appeared as cameos, thanks to The Scarecrow's powers of hallucination. It's not clear if everyone was on board with this idea but apparently Jack Nicholson was keen and in talks to reprise his role as The Joker. It looked like an altogether darker approach to the character with fear being the dish of the day. Sounds like it could have been a fascinating chapter for the Superhero but maybe the wrong mood for Schumacher's style. Batman & Robin failed to make as much as Batman Forever, everyone hated it, George Clooney vowed never to wear the cape again and even Schumacher said he'd lost his passion for the character. It was awful and everyone knew it, Batman Triumphant would never be. Meanwhile, over in Metropolis, Superman was also having trouble. The studios were still having issues with the big Superman reboot. Again, how the hell do you follow an act like Christopher Reeve. He is and will probably always be, the quintessential Superman. Tim Burton had brought the Batman franchise back to life, the studio wanted him to do the same for his buddy Supes. So during a large portion of the 1990's writers were hired and ideas swapped on how best to approach such a project. There was little point trying to create Superman's origin story, the 1978 film did that and it was deemed unbeatable. The first two films were hard to beat, the last two films had many serious issues they wanted to avoid, although, you might just appreciate Superman IV: The Quest for Peace just that little bit more knowing the full story. Jon Peters, the would be producer of Superman Lives (previously titled Superman Reborn), is a nut job. He clearly knew very little about Superman before he bought the movie rights. The young Kevin Smith who was hired as an initial script writer recalls just how ridiculous his meetings with Peters was in the brilliant 2015 documentary The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened?. Peters told Smith that he could tell any story he wanted but he had three big rules. Number one rules was that Superman wouldn't have the ability to fly. Number two was that Superman was not to wear 'that ridiculous suit' anymore and number three, my personal favourite, was that at some point towards the end of the film there had to be the inclusion of a giant mechanical spider. Smith was understandably confused but he bashed out a reasonably interesting script all the same that would go from writer to writer, with each script thrown out. Burton saw Smith kicked off the project, he has since had nothing nice to say about the director. Each version of script was based on the infamous The Death of Superman story found in what is still, the most read (and over hyped) comic of all time. The Main villain would have been Doomsday but he would have been unleashed by Brainiac who would have made his big screen debut. Superman would have Jimmy Olsen (played by Chris Rock) as a comedy side-kick while Brainiac would have a robot companion called L-Ron who would be like 'A gay R2-D2 but with attitude'. Certain events and characters were changed but that was about the crux of it. After seeing Nicolas Cage's reaction to 'The Bees' in the utterly awful Wicker Man remake, I hate to think what his Superman's reaction to Kryptonite would have been. The whole project was eventually scrapped and J.J. Abrams took over the project and renamed it Superman Flyby. Nicolas Cage was dropped, Tim Burton walked (but still got paid handsomely) and Peters went on to film Wild Wild West and finally got his giant mechanical spider. Superman Lives had some nice visual ideas but Batman had the better story. Both would have awful. In the battle of what could have been I'd have to say Batman.

In this particular episode of Superman vs Batman (or a gay R2-D2 but with attitude vs Madonna as Harley Quinn) - Batman wins!

Thursday, 24 March 2016


It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman (1975) vs Batman: The Movie (1966)

After Columbia pictures used Batman for WWII propaganda in 1943 (and rebooted him a few years later with the smallest budget ever for a TV series) and way before Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan brought a darker, edgier Batman to the big screen there was Batman circa 1966. Pop art was the style of the time and Batman was as bright and bold as anything Andy Warhol ever painted and Roy Lichtenstein's work was surely a clear influence. Adam West played the Caped Crusader and for many he will always be a favorite. Sure the new films kick bottom but his Batman was the one of most peoples childhoods and as camp and silly as it was, we all still love it. After season one received a moderate response a feature length episode was made for movie theatres in order to gain more followers for season two. It worked pretty well too, the big pull being that Batman would be up against all of the audiences favorite baddies. Frank Gorshin returned as The Riddler, Cesar Romero the Joker and Burgess Meredith The Penguin. Lee Meriwether took over the role of Catwoman from Julie Newmar who was unavailable to return for the film, the jury is still out on who played it best, both were fantastic. Adam West's Batman was joined by Burt Ward's Robin, a character prone to stating the obvious, starting every sentence with the word 'Holy' and attaching the word 'Bat' to every object and constantly using it as an adjective. West and Ward were and are a much loved classic double act. The thing I always loved about the over the top, silly and often ridiculous Batman shows were that everyone looked like they were having huge amounts of fun, the film being no exception. The story is ridiculous, contrived and nonsensical and all the better for it. My favorite scene has to be when Batman, who is hanging from a rope ladder connected to the Batcopter, is suddenly attacked by a shark who jumps up from the sea and tries to bite his legs off. After several minutes of wrestling the killer fish, he remembers he is carrying a bottle of homemade Bat-Shark repellent, that he quickly pulls out of his utility belt, squirts in the face of the beast (rendering it powerless) before it sinks into the sea and explodes. Batcopter. Shark. Bat-Shark repellent. Explosion. Amazing. In the very same year, writers David Newman and Robert Benton - no doubt influenced by Batman's popularity - had got together with musical talents Charles Strouse and Lee Adams and created Superman the Musical, to be known as It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman. It received positive reviews on Broadway but was never picked up by the mainstream audiences. It continued to tour in smaller theatres around America and still plays here and there around the world to rave reviews. I have never seen it but I'd like to. It is said to be far better than the misjudged TV movie that came just three years before Superman's epic return to form. The ABC TV movie special was knocked for completely changing the story, songs and structure of the musical. I can believe this, especially as David Newman and Robert Benton co-wrote the great Superman (1978). The original musical was camp, silly and a bit of nonsensical fun, everything that made 1966's Batman so great, but It's a Bird... It's a Plane... It's Superman took itself far too seriously. It's never clear what the film wants to be and it ends up looking worse than the worst ever amateur dramatics production ever made. The songs are okay but delivered badly, the acting is atrocious and the overall quality is terrible. It doesn't even come close to being 'So bad it's good', it's just bad. I always joke that when a franchise goes bad they should always follow it up with a musical (Jaws the musical anyone?) but this may well prove me wrong. A pure adaptation would have been interesting but I do wonder whether Batman still wouldn't have knocked it on it's backside. 'Pow'.

In this particular episode of Superman vs Batman - Batman wins!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Man of Steel (2013) vs The Dark Knight (2008)

Reboot vs sequel. You could say that The Dark Knight had the advantage, they had the origin story under their belts and now they could get on with some more action. However, you could also say that Man of Steel had an advantage, having learnt it's lessons from Batman (Christopher Nolan having an advisory role) and being able to learn from its predecessor's mistakes (of which there were many). Flip it over though and you could say both films were under enormous pressure to deliver. Batman Begins was huge, so expectations were high for its sequel, Superman Returns on the other hand was critically panned and split audiences enough for there not to be a direct sequel. They had to find yet another new way of telling Superman's origin story and they had to find another actor worthy of the role. Audiences were likely to be even more critical then usual. I had stated at the time that the only thing wrong with Batman Begins was the casting of Katie Holmes, funnily enough, she was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal in the follow up. The Dark Knight went beyond most superhero/comic book films and explored very real threats to our society from outside and from the inside. The good vs evil, justice vs vigilantism idea was explored brilliantly throughout. You could compare the story to historical and contemporary politics and there was something quite psychological about it also as it asks who the real villains are, Batman's famous villains wouldn't exist without Batman after all. The conclusion is very non-superhero like, very brave and absolutely brilliant. Just what the genre needed. It also had two of the best baddies ever to have appeared in a superhero movie, Aaron Eckhart's fantastic depiction of Harvey Dent and Heath Ledger's now infamous portrayal of the Joker. Both characters were written and performed perfectly and looked great. The film was so well written and so perfectly directed that the 150 minute run time flew by and left me wanting more, even thought it was also one of the most - almost painfully- intense movies I had ever seen. It stands alongside 1978's Superman as far as I'm concerned (no one will ever better it for me but to be as good as is something special as far as I'm concerned). They were clearly confident in the film as they called it the Dark Knight, with absolutely no reference to Batman in the title at all. So one would expect they were confident with the Superman reboot too, given that they named it Man of Steel fairly early on. Waiting for Zack Snyder's Superman film was nerve-wracking. I missed the classic theme music and I wasn't sure about half of the casting but on the whole I thought the story was strong. Henry Cavill plays a great Superman, I'm not 100% sold on the way his version was written but he played it well. Michael Shannon was brilliant as General Zod and Laurence Fishburne great as Perry White but again, I wasn't sold on the way any of the characters were written. I like Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner but I'm not sure they fit the parts, Diane Lane seems a bit too glamorous for Ma Kent and I'm afraid I didn't like Amy Adams' Lois Lane at all. The film is full of plot holes and impossibilities and much about it doesn't make sense. It was a little bit too fighty for a Superman film and I don't think any of the characters remain true to themselves. I found the special effects took over a little too much of the film also and the lack of Clark Kent was extremely disappointing. However, it was enough of a set up for greater things, I had my issues with it but it left me wanting more. It's really isn't much of a contest though in my mind, one was better than expected and the other knocked the socks of everything that had come before for that character.

In this particular episode of Superman vs Batman  - Batman wins!
Batman: The Movie
Dir: Leslie H. Martinson
1966
****
Two months after the last episode of the first season of the 1960's Batman TV series aired, Batman saw his big screen debut. William Dozier thought a film version including all of the villains seen so far would generate more interest in what had at that point received only a moderate response. It worked, but then producer Dozier (who was also the narrator of the TV series and creator of Barbara Gordon Bat-fact fans) knew what he was doing. However, the film version came across as even more camp and over the top then the TV show, many suggested that this was in fact in keeping with the Batman comics of the Golden era and the 1960's in general but far too much of the humour is self-aware for this to really ring true. I have no complaints. I love Adam West and Burt Ward's Batman & Robin and Frank Gorshin, Cesar Romero and Burgess Meredith are all wonderful as The Ridder, The Joker and The Penguin. They were joined by Lee Meriwether who took over the role of Catwoman from Julie Newmar who was unavailable to return for the film and all three of them looked like they were having the time of their lives, which really helped with my enjoyment of the film. The set pieces are a mix of awful and brilliant, the script is often so bad it's good and the story is both ridiculous and wonderful. Fairly early on in the film Batman is seen hanging from a rope ladder above the sea (hanging from the cool as hell Batcopter) when a shark jumps up and attacks him. He then spends several minutes wrestling the killer fish before he remembers his secret weapon, Bat-Shark repellent, that he quickly pulls out of his utility belt, squirts in the face of the beast (rendering it powerless) before it sinks into the sea and explodes. It is as stupid as it gets but it is pure indulgent nonsense and rather wonderful too. The entire film is non-stop nonsense but it never gets tired, the 'Pow' 'Crash' 'Thwak' fight scenes are still lots of fun and the more over the top the better it is. It's an extended TV episode with everything you could possibly want from the show. The idea of turn the world's leaders into dehydrated dust is so bizarre and ridiculous, I wonder why Joel Schumacher never stole it for his films?

    Tuesday, 22 March 2016

    Superman Returns (2006) vs Batman Begins (2005)


    After Christopher Reeve's last stint as Superman in Superman: The Quest for Peace   there had been many attempts to reboot the franchise. I'm not sure anyone was worried they couldn't make a better film than 1987's disastrous film but Christopher Reeve was a very hard act to follow. Many actors had been considered and we now know that many popular actors have tried the famous suit on behind closed doors over the years. Nicholas Cage came closest to playing Supes when Tim Burton, who had found great success in bringing Batman to the big screen, was hired to bring the same magic to the Man of Steel. They got very close but it wasn't to be (See the brilliant documentary The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened? for more details). Batman & Robin had also been a disaster for the Batman franchise, not financially but certainly critically, too much so to risk another outing, although a follow up film had been green-lit before the film was even released. Both superheroes were in need of a reboot, you have to wonder though why it seemed so hard, given the huge wealth of comic stories written over the years. Both characters needed vision, understanding of the source character and commitment. They needed passionate leaders who knew the character and who would fight for their ideas. Batman got this in spades when Christopher Nolan became attached to the project. Tim Burton famously said that he had never read a Batman comic before making his 1989 movie. It is clear Nolan had read them all. Before Joel Schumacher left the franchise he was set to make Batman Unchained (also known as Batman Triumphant). It would see Nicholas Cage play the Scarecrow and his hallucinatory powers would see all previous Batman villains return to the film as dream-like visions. All previous actors, including Jack Nicholson were said to be interested. It sounds like a pipe dream and indeed, it was. Nicholas Cage was said to have one of the biggest comic book collections in the world at the time but after loosing the Superman and Batman gigs, he pretty much sold everything he had. You've got to feel for the guy. Nolan picked the meat of Schumacher's lost film and made a dark and beautiful modern classic. It had everything the fans wanted and maybe even had a few tricks up its sleeve the fans didn't even know they wanted. Christian Bale was the perfect choice for both Batman and Bruce Wayne. The film introduced a couple of villains only the true fans would probably know, a brave move many would say but a sensible one I would argue. Liam Neeson played Ra al Ghul, Batman's one time master and Cillian Murphy plays The Scarecrow, whose powers of hallucination conjures all sorts of creepy possibilities. The cast was pretty epic, with Gary Oldman playing a brilliant version of James Gordon, Michael Cain as Alfred and Morgan Freeman as Lucas Fox with Katie Holmes, Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe and Rutger Hauer in supporting roles. It looked glorious and wasn't in the least bit camp. 1989's Batman was something special, 2005's Batman Begins was something epic. It's fair to say Superman Returns had to do something rather special to compete. In my opinion, it failed miserably. Bryan Singer took over directional duties after both Tim Burton and McG had tried and failed to get their Superman films off the ground. It really can't have been easy. 1978's Superman gave the best adaptation of Superman's origin story, Singer, quite understandably, didn't want to compete. Plus, we'd seen it all before, it was seen as best to just get on with the action. Fair enough, however, Superman Returns was to be seen as a direct follow up from Superman II and here lies the problem. It's never nice for a director to come along and say "Forget the last two films ever happened" no matter how bad they were but seriously, you can't make a convincing sequel twenty-six years later with a completely new cast. It's nonsense. As it happens, I believe they cast the best possible man for the title role but everything and everyone else was horrible - including Kevin Spacey (although I loved the Jack Larson and Noel Neill cameos). I'm afraid Kate Bosworth was completely unlikable as Lois Lane, there was no chemistry between her and Brandon Routh and the hinted at son of Superman sub-plot was utterly cringe-worthy. It is a bit hokey when you think that in the original 1978 film Lex Luthor was, essentially, a dastardly real-estate agent and I do think they should have come up with something new for his character. Creating a giant continent sized island of Krypton to claim as his own and build luxury condominiums on was a little too silly as it was but to have Superman somehow lift it of the face of the planet, when just a little piece of it nearly killed him in the first film, was beyond Stupid. I love the original Christopher Reeve films, they each have their own silly mistakes in them but surely Batman Begins should have shown the way? The only thing Superman Returns got right was Brandon Routh, the only thing Batman Begins got wrong was Katie Holmes.

    In this particular episode of  Superman vs Batman - Batman wins!

    Monday, 21 March 2016


    Superman: Doomsday (2007) vs Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)

    Tim Burton's 1989 Batman had a huge impact in the cinemas. His 1992 sequel Batman Returns stoked the fire of Batmania and the superhero has had a stronger following ever since. It is fair to say both DC and Marvel revamped the comics but both realized that there was also another craze hitting the west, Anime and MANGA. Superman has had many animated incarnations since his creation, the 1940's Max Fleischer series being the best in my opinion but later series' were not as strong, didn't have the same budgets or vision. It was Batman who lead the way in the animation department with Batman: The animated series with Mask of the Phantasm being the first and arguably best off the film versions. Superman followed suit soon after and while it was fun initially, it lost steam pretty quickly. Batman however continued with a strong run of films including Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman. Kevin Conroy is regarded among fans as one of the best Batman's even though you never see his face. His animated films are certainly among the favorites among fans as our the films that feature Mark Hamill's Joker. The best of the Superman animated films is probably Superman: Doomsday but to be honest, it's pretty average and no where near as good as any of the Batmans. Batman has gone from strength to strength with Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 & Part 2, Batman: Under the red Hood, Batman Year One, Batman: Assault on Arkham and Batman: Gotham Knight pushing the boundaries of what you'd expect from superhero animation and constantly experimenting with style and content - just like the comics. I think the Batman animations wipe the floor with Superman animations for good reason. You can do anything in the world of cartoons and the Batman animator/writers push the boat out. Batman has a far more interesting array of villains to choose from and all have been well represented. The two characters meet in many of the films, the main one being the Superman/Batman series (starting with Superman/Batman: Public Enemies) but they never really work as well as the stand alone Batman films, Batman almost becoming a comedy character in a few of the later additions. We have a clear winner in this animated battle...

    In this particular episode of Superman vs  Batman - Batman wins!

    Sunday, 20 March 2016

    Superman IV (1987) vs Batman & Robin (1997)

    When it comes to the battle of Superman IV and Batman & Robin it's not really a question of who is best but rather who isn't worst. By this point both franchises were at their lowest. Superman was bought by Golan-Globus' infamous Cannon films. They bought the name and spent nothing on the production. They convinced Christopher Reeve to return by letting him write part of the story that included the eradication of nuclear weapons, a noble idea but a flawed one when attached to such a half-hearted production. Glamourous locations were swapped for affordable ones and England's Milton Keynes doubled as New York City. It's amazing what you can do with a couple of red fire hydrants. Gene Hackman returned but he was paired with a young and annoying Jon Cryer who played an odd Californian-dude/80's yuppie character who walked around in MC Hammer's clothes. Cryer later stated that Reeves had taken him to one side during filming to tell him to curb his enthusiasm as the film was going to be terrible. Cryer would have to be pretty stupid not to realise this but then again, he is one of the most terrible elements of the film. Superman had a few unused classic villain to fight but instead Nuclear Man was invented. The misunderstanding of how nuclear energy works is almost as hilarious as Nuclear Man's roar. Every bad guy needs a gimmick, Nuclear Man had radioactive fingernails. The acting was awful, people could breath in space, it made no sense and it was clearly unfinished. Batman & Robin on the other hand had a huge budget and some of the biggest stars in Hollywood. George Clooney was now the Caped Crusader and the mighty Arnold Schwarzenegger was the bad guy. It wasn't a new bad guy either, it was Mr. Freeze, a fairly cool villain (sorry) with an interesting origin story. If that weren't enough, it had the lovely Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, Alicia Silverstone as Bat Girl and Bane himself. All were terrible. Nothing that was wrong and had been heavily criticized about regarding Batman Forever had been addressed. It was one big neon headache with awful acting, terrible special effects and cheesy one-liners. Okay, so I liked the cheesy one liners but everything else was awful. Both feels are regarded as some of the worst of the superhero genre and indeed worst films of all time. However, I'm a Superman nut and I went to see Superman IV with my Grandmother and it is a cherished childhood memory. I'm sure many will disagree with me but the way I see it is like this - Superman IV has Christopher Reeves in it. Batman & Robin has nipples.

    In this particular episode of Superman vs Batman - Superman wins!
    Batman Forever (1995) vs Superman III (1983)

    The original Superman film of 1978 was praised for the way it explored the Man of Steel's origin story and showed how epic a superhero film could be. However, the original script was full of camp and cheesy humour and even had a Kojak cameo written into it (Kojak was to witness superman save someone near him and would repeat his 'Who loves ya baby' catchphrase at him in recognition). Richard Donner came to the project and threw it all out and made superman great. However by 1983's Superman III Donner was long gone and it is fair to say the producers really didn't know what to do with him. Gene Hackman refused to work with them again after the way they treated the original cast and Margot Kidder was given only minutes of screen time due to her rather outspoken views of the Salkinds. The Salkind's, to their credit, had lots of interesting ideas but all of them were shot down by the studio. At one point Dudley Moore was attached to play Mister Mxyzptlk and the film was to feature Brainiac and Supergirl who would be involved in a love triangle with Superman. It was clear that no one had done their homework. Superman was camp again and was more of a comedy. It was seen as somewhat of a departure from greatness as seen in the first two films. I understand the criticism but I have to confess, I absolutely love Superman III. Firstly, it's got Richard Pryor in it, my favorite comedian of all time. He quite good in it too. Add computers (a new and misunderstood wonder at the time), Pamela Stephenson in a mini-skirt, the great Robert Vaughn, a whiskey drinking, peanut flicking, historical monument straightening evil Superman, Superman vs Clark Kent, a Frank Oz cameo, a computer game version of superman and a terrifying cyborg transformation and I was one very happy boy. I watch it now and still feel all warm and fuzzy. I don't care how bad you think it is, you are wrong my friend. However, any delusion I may have regarding Superman's third outing doesn't extend to Batman's. Batman Forever had similar issues, Tim Burton had walked and Michael Keaton wasn't prepared to carry on as the Caped Crusader without him. Joel Schumacher took over directional duties and made Bats camp again. Burton's good work was soon undone. Parents had complained about the previous film's dark overtones and violence, missing the point entirely, and the franchise became purely about money and merchandise. Val Kilmer was an underwhelming superhero and troublesome behind the camera and Chris O'Donnell was a lackluster Robin. I didn't hate Tommy Lee Jones' Two-Face but I loathed Jim Carrey's Riddler. Nicloe Kidman was fine in her role but her character Chase Maridian had far more potential than was written. Jones didn't want to be in the film, he has since declared he hated everything about it and only did it for his young son (at one point during filming Jones shouted to Carrey "I hate you. I really don't like you...I cannot sanction your buffoonery."). Robin Williams and Michael Jackson were at one point connected to the role of the Riddler and while I'm glad Williams didn't lower himself to these levels I can't help but wonder whether Jackson would have made the film far more watchable, possibly for all the wrong reasons. It's interesting how Leonardo DiCaprio nearly got the part of Robin too, the careers the film nearly ruined. Schumacher had only the 60's TV show as a reference, it is clear he never read any of the comics, certainly not the more contemporary issues. He has said he wanted a design that wasn't connected to Burton's style used in the previous films. He wanted 1930s New York mixed with the neon lights of modern Tokyo. What we got looked like a cross between a laser quest maze and an old bingo hall with half the lights switched off. It was a bitterly disappointing trip to the cinema. I liked Patrick Leahy's cameo (the first of many in the Batman films) and I quite like U2's theme song (Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me) but that's about all. You may not like Superman III (you're wrong) but it beats the hell out of Batman Forever hands down.

    In this particular episode of Superman vs Batman - Superman wins!

    Friday, 18 March 2016

    Superman II (1980) vs Batman Returns (1992)

    Superman 1978 vs Batman 1989 was an epic battle, Superman II vs Batman Returns is equally epic, as both films are famous for being almost as good as the originals, something that doesn't usually happen with sequels, especially not superhero sequels. Superman 1978 was a lengthy film, an epic origins story. What many people don't realise though is that Superman 78 and Superman II were filmed back to back. This wasn't because the producers knew it would be a surefire hit but because it was cheaper, especially regarding contracts. This is one of the reasons why a few key actors didn't return, or were featured fleetingly in the third outing. There were many issues with this super-sequil, the main being the greedy production team. Richard Lester was brought in to replace Richard Donner to finish off his good work and make the odd change here and there. It is amazing the film ever saw the light of day and even more amazing that it is almost as good. The origins was over with, now for the action. It's not perfect but the good elements more than outweigh what is wrong with it. Terance Stamp's General Zod is great as are his sidekicks Non and Ursa (played by Jack O'Halloran and Sarah Douglas). If that weren't enough, Gene Hackman was back as the sinister Lex Luthor. Four villains compared to Batman Return's three. However, Batman's foe were quite brilliant. It's fair to say Michelle Pfeiffer's leather-clad Catwoman stole much of the limelight as far as hype and promotion went but it was Danny DeVito's performance as Penguin that made the film the darker fantasy Burton is famous for. Personally, I always liked Christopher Walken's Max Shreck but why Burton decided to make a new villain up and name him after the famous Nosforatu actor to lazily paint a picture of creepyness is beyond me. If its one thing Batman has never been short of, it's villains. It has been said that the original script saw Harvey Dent's character in this role but there were legal issues and the producers didn't want Billy Dee Williams back in the role from the first film. I'm afraid Batman 1989 looses considerable points for that alone. Once again I find myself choosing between two films I love. I don't think Superman II is as good as Superman 1978 but I do think Batman returns is better than Batman 1989 in many respects. The combination of Danny DeVito and Christopher Walken's performances almost clinch it but personally it's Terrance Stamp's Zod that swings it for me.

    In this particular episode of Superman vs Batman - Superman wins!

    Thursday, 17 March 2016

    Straight Outta Compton
    Dir: F. Gary Gray
    2015
    ****

    I'll be honest, I was expecting something of a sugar-coated history lesson from 2015's Straight Outta Compton and the fact that F. Gary Gray was at the helm didn't fill me with much hope that it would be anything special, sure he directed Friday, Set it Off and some of NWA's videos but he also directed The Italian Job remake. However, I am happy to report that I was wrong to think such nonsense. Straight Outta Compton may not be 100% accurate but for someone who liked NWA when they first came out (even though I remember every adult at the time telling me why I really didn't) I was startled to see how generous and gracious is was with the truth and with regard to Easy E. It seems that Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and company have matured in their middle age and wanted to tell it how it really was. NWA were hugely influential, sometimes it take a couple of decades to see just how much of an impact a movement, idea and even a song can really have. NWA formed a unity in a huge cross-section of society, they are aware of this but are also quite modest about it. I knew a lot about NWA's history before watching but my wife knew nothing, I was satisfied with how things were portrayed and my wife, who isn't really interested in the music, was transfixed throughout and then began to understand exactly why I like and have so much respect for the group and the message they gave. Everything a biopic should strive to achieve. The performances are phenomenal and are among the years most overlooked. I imagine portraying your own father in a film must be both easy and challenging at the same time but O'Shea Jackson Jr doesn't just rely on his physical likeness, he really does convince the audience he is Ice Cube. Corey Hawkins is absolutely brilliant as Dr. Dre, Paul Giamatti is unsurprisingly impressive as NWA's initial manager Jerry Heller and I thought R. Marcos Taylor was eerily convincing as Deathrow boss Suge Knight. There are a couple of nice little appearances from Keith Stanfield as Snoop Dogg and Rogelio Douglas Jr as Chuck D too, and although Darris Love voiced the late artist, Marcc Rose looked the spitting image of Tupac Shakur. However, it is fair to say that Jason Mitchell stole the show with his performance as the one and only Easy-E. It is heart-warming that Dre, Cube and the gang gave the young actor the opportunity and the late icon so much love and respect. It's a sad and troubled story with a devastating ending, and yet somehow it feels like one of the best feel good films of the year. I now wish every band I love could have a film made about them to this high standard, although I do love a good documentary and would love to see a documentary companion piece (with interviews) to this movie.
    Superman (1978) vs Batman (1989)

    This is a tough call. 1978's Superman is, in my opinion, one of the greatest films of all time. It's one of my personal favourites but I will try to referee this 'fight' fairly and without bias. Superman (1978) convinced a generation that a man could fly but Tim Burton's Batman showed an audience (and a whole host of film makers) the vast potential and huge possibilities Superhero/Comic films really had. Every Superhero film made since 1989 owe both films a huge amount of gratitude but they also have both films as a benchmark. The biggest thing both films have in common however is the cautious casting of the main character. Christopher Reeve was pretty much an unknown actor to anyone outside of Broadway and Michael Keaton was not a popular choice with fans when it was announced he would be donning the cape. It was the big name villains who would ultimately sell both films. Keaton was hugely overshadowed by Jack Nicholson's Joker at first but he certainly held his own. Reeve was similarly side-lined in favour of Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor although both actors’ names came after Marlon Brando's, even though he was in the film for a total of five minutes. Both origin stories were given a comprehensive exploration, with Superman clinching it over Batman by a comfortable mile but Batman's dark and sinister finale knocks the (red) underpants of Superman's now infamously ridiculous last scene that sees the Man of Steel fly really fast around the planet, turning back time and undoing all the bad stuff that has happened in the process. Christopher Reeve IS Superman and Michael Keaton IS Batman, both baddies are brilliant and both films looks glorious. Superman wins it for me however due to its epic epicness. Its two and a half hours long and quite unapologetic of it. It is the quintessential representation of the character, everything he can be and everything we want him to be. I love 1989's Batman but Christian Bale and Chris Nolan have shown that there are other sides to the caped crusader that are equally as good, while everything after Christopher Reeve can be good but will never quite live up to his version. This is my opinion and you are all very welcome to it.

    In this particular episode of Batman vs Superman - Superman wins!

    Wednesday, 16 March 2016

    Batman (1943) vs Superman (1948)

    Superman may have beaten Batman to the comics but the Caped Crusader got his own mini-series a whole five years before the Man of Steel ever did. However, poor old Batman had been used and manipulated, this wasn't really the Batman kids loved from the comics, this was a propaganda tool used by the US government during World War II. Batman's enemy was a Dr. Daka, a Japanese scientist and agent of Hirohito who was hell-bent on turning the citizens of Gotham into Zombies for no particular reason, other than Japs bad, Americans good. The Japanese American internment camp is actually referenced in the first episode, whereby our villain's secret lair, an old disused fun-house in a once Japanese populated area is described; "This was part of a foreign land, transplanted bodily to America and known as little Tokyo. Since a wise government rounded up the shifty-eyed Japs, it has become virtually a ghost town.." Holy racism Batman! Batman wasn't much of a fighter either. He had no great plan and would get knocked out quiet regularly by henchmen of average build. Robin was also next to useless, although he does save the day by accidentally killing Dr. Daka by pressing the wrong button and releasing a trap door leading to a pit of Crocodiles. Whoops.
     Superman on the other hand learned from Batman's mistakes and was far less political (or racist). His origin story was given a whole episode of its own and a much more sinister villain called The Spider Lady. However, this version of Superman isn't particularly bright. He falls for the most obvious of traps and is often rather clumsy. The special effects are charming but not great, particularly the flight scenes whereby Superman simply turns into a cartoon version of himself. Deadpool is said to be the first superhero to have broken down the 'fourth wall' but actually it was 1948's Superman who would turn to the camera and give the audience a cheeky smile every time he entered a cupboard to get changed in. Lewis Wilson was quite a dashing Bruce Wayne but his Batman costume was baggy and made it impossible for him to do anything with the alter ego. Kirk Alyn on the other hand was likable as Clark Kent and heroic as Superman, for all his faults, he was always charming and lovable. Both the 1943 and 1949 Batman miniseries' are pretty bad, and although people love the George Reeves' Superman, I always had a soft spot for Alyn. It was well known that George Reeves disliked playing the Man of Steel towards the end but Alyn always cherished the part. His brief cameo in 1978's Superman is pretty wonderful. 


    In this particular episode of Batman vs. Superman - Superman wins!

    Hotel Transylvania 2
    Dir: Genndy Tartakovsky
    2015
    *
    Genndy Tartakovsky's 2012 original Hotel Transylvania was a simple but fun mix of The Munsters/Addams Family, animated and set in a Hotel. There was a like-should/shouldn't-stick-with-like theme (Dracula's daughter falls in love with a non-monster) but it wasn't too preachy or overcooked. In 2015's Hotel Transylvania 2 the like-should/shouldn't-stick-with-like theme is taken one step further and given a it-doesn't-matter-if-you're-different make-over. It is both preachy and overcooked, not to mention tiresome and not without fault. The second visit to the Hotel sees Dracula's daughter Mavis (?) marry Jonathan and have a child soon after. The ethnicity of the child (human or vampire) won't be clear until its fifth birthday. Adam Sandler's Dracula is clearly wants his Grandson to be like him while Mavis wonders whether a more normal environment would be better suited to a mixed, possibly merely human child. There really isn't a great story here. The first film was a look at what would happen if vampires, werewolves, zombies and monsters ran a hotel for other vampires, werewolves, zombies and monsters. Spooky hijinks ensured lots of fun and themed laughs. The sequel throws all that made the first film so charming out the window and goes full on touchy-feely for no real good reason, other than because that's what animated films do these days when they run out of ideas. The great Mel Brooks makes an appearance as Dracula's far more bigoted father, and that somehow cancels out his own narrow-mindedness. It is suddenly declared that being different (human in this case) is absolutely fine, and to prove as much, they turn the young couples child into a vampire. This utter contradiction in message left me feeling like I had watched this sub-standard animation for no good reason, which of course I had. I can't think why anyone would want to make the same mistake, especially as films such as Frankenweenie and ParaNorman had similar styles and themes and were a thousand times better. Much like the first film, Hotel Transylvania 2 also relies heavily on the most irritating and rather unsuited soundtrack of pop songs that I found hard to stomach. I wasn’t so much disappointed as I was thoroughly bored.

    Tuesday, 15 March 2016

    Absolutely Anything
    Dir: Terry Jones
    2015
    ***
    Absolutely Anything has everything you could possibly want from a surreal sci-fi comedy and yet it misses the mark on more than one occasion. Quite spectacularly even. It sees a young teacher called Neil (Simon Pegg) randomly bestowed with unlimited powers by a counsel of passing Aliens who give him said powers for a short period of time to see if he does anything worthwhile with them. If he fails to do good with his new powers the Aliens (voiced by the Monty Python team) will destroy the planet for the good of the universe. It's a fantastic concept but the script misses many tricks and the script, characters and structure are deeply disappointing, especially given all who are involved. Pegg does a good job in the lead role but is ever so slightly let down by an often dodgy script and lack of consistency of character. Kate Beckinsale's character has an utterly pointless subplot of her own that has little relevance to the overall story but is put in place due to lack of character development. She is purely there as eye candy, which is totally unfair to her really, even if her acting abilities aren't all that great. Terry Jones is funnier than this, or at least, he was. It breaks my heart somewhat saying that. I love Monty Python and Terry Jones but much of this film is poorly executed and horrendously misplaced. The return of the Python's should have been something quite wonderful but alas, it's utterly disappointing. Jones has stated that the script for Absolutely Anything has been knocking about for over twenty years and was very loosely based on H.G. Wells' The Man Who Could Work Miracles. While it has similar themes to H.G. Wells' short story, it felt more like a Douglas Adams idea. Indeed, before he died in 2001 Adams (a friend and writer for the Monty Python team) said he read and liked the script and suggest what all the best bits were to Jones. I can't help but wonder what his full involvement really was. As I was watching it I couldn't help but wish that Douglas had written the script and Terry Gilliam had directed. It's not all bad though, far from it. The overall idea is still great and something to enjoy. I liked the conclusion and some of Neil's wishes were very funny. However, it is Neil's dog Dennis who really steals the show. One of Neil's wishes is for his dog to have the ability of speech so he can understand why he continually barks. His wish is granted and Dennis suddenly speaks, voiced by the great Robin Williams in what would be his very last role in a motion picture. I'm being very generous in my rating but to be fair the film did get progressively better after a fairly awful beginning. It's very close to being a great comedy, close but so very far away at the same time. If you try to ignore the very obvious fact that it is a frustratingly wasted opportunity you will find just enough in able to enjoy.

    Monday, 14 March 2016

    Southpaw
    Dir: Antoine Fuqua
    2015
    **
    Boxing films have been done to death. City Lights, Raging Bull, Rocky, Ali, Million Dollar Baby, Cinderella Man, The Fighter...the genre has many greats. If you're going to make a new boxing great then you really have to do something different or pick another sport (as Gavin O'Connor did with his brilliant 2011 film Warrior). The original idea behind Southpaw was indeed different but I'm not sure it was ever great. Initially, Southpaw was going to be a film based on the life of Marshall Mathers (AKA Eminem). It was to be a metaphorical sequel to 8 Mile with boxing taking the place of rapping. The fact it was considered is a sad reflection on the integrity of the film and music industry. It isn't even anything like Eminem's real life, so it's not very surprising that he pulled out after years of false starts. It is surprising that the film was made anyway, in many respects it was on the ropes before it even began. The clich├ęs come thick and fast and all the original elements the film brings are not received, or indeed thought out, particularly well. Sub-plots were started but never finished, major events were quickly forgotten and the miraculous happened instantly, without even so much as a hint of the obligatory montage. When a boxing film can't even get the obligatory montage right, you know it's a lost cause. Antoine Fuqua looked like he was on the up with the surprisingly good The Equalizer but there is a severe lack of excitement about this overlong and over sentimental sports drama that makes it look like his earlier work. Credit to Jake Gyllenhaal for putting on serious amounts of muscle for the role, I just feel sad for him that all that effort was wasted thanks to a seriously rotten script. Forest Whitaker's performance was pretty good too but much like Gyllenhaal his character was poorly written. One of the main problems about the film was that the characters are just so unlikable. Win or lose, I couldn't have cared less. Gyllenhaal's character sorts himself out after a complete breakdown and fights for custody of his daughter but after everything he goes through, I was left thinking that actually, she would have been better off without him and honestly, he had done absolutely nothing to prove he was capable of looking after her, other than becoming wealthy again. The overall message is mixed and makes no sense. The story relies on what you remember from other boxing films rather than come up with anything original of its own. The fact that the seventh Rocky film Creed knocked it out of the ring and delivered the final blow in the same year has to sting somewhat.