X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) – An Alright Made for Television Film

X-Men Apocalypse

  There is a comment that Jean Grey makes after her and the other X-Men leave the school to go see “Return of the Jedi.” She says, “We all can agree, the third film is always the worst.” Meant as a jab against “X-Men 3” by Bryan Singer, the same rule also applies to the new Trilogy that began with “First Class,” as this film is clearly the weakest in the new Trilogy. It isn’t a bad film, “Return of the Jedi” isn’t a bad film…but a lot of it doesn’t work and in the end it feels like an okay, made for me tv movie in both production quality and filming.

       “X-Men: Apocalypse” was directed by Bryan Singer who was one of the producers and creators of the story. The screenplay was by Simon Kinberg who was also one of the producers and the other producers are Lauren Shuler Donner and Hutch Parker.

SPOILERS ahead

    The story involves the awakening of the first mutant, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaacs) after he is trapped underneath a pyramid when his people rebel against him. From here it is up to the X-Men to stop him after Professor Xavier (James McAvoy) is kidnapped by Apocalypse and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is made into one of Apocalypse’s Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

The Pros: The World – The world of X-Men is a wonderful world. There are so many factions and characters. This is a world that is always in flux and that a single X-Men can often change the shape of that world.

The Characters – The characters are fantastic and the strongest part of this series. Each of them is flawed and an outcast and it helps define their struggle, making them compelling.

Cyclops – Cyclops demonstrates why he will later become group leader in this, as we see him demonstrate courage after he makes friends with Nightcrawler and Jean Grey and mounts a rescue with them to save Mystique, Beast and Quicksilver from Striker.

Beast – Beast is back and is the adviser and friend to Xavier. His arc is making peace with how he looks and through it he helps Mystique do the same.

Nightcrawler – Nightcrawler is one of my favorite X-Men and it is awesome to see him here again! We are introduced to him in the Mutant Fighting Pits that Human supremacists run and later at Professor X’s school after Mystique rescues him. He shows courage on countless occasions.

Quicksilver – Evan Peters is a great Quicksilver and he is one of the best parts of this film. His relationship to Mystique and Magneto are fascinating and we see that he admires his dad but is ashamed of him too as he chooses not to tell him that he is Magneto’s son…He knows his dad turning on the villain at the end doesn’t rewrite all his past murders.

Mystique – Jennifer Lawrence is good as Mystique and her arc is making peace with herself again as we see her embrace her natural look by the end and become a member of the X-Men, helping to found the newest generation of them. She is a Mutant revolutionary in this as after the events of last film she represents mutant power to others and she continues to be the one who rescues them from harm.

Magneto – Fassbender is awesome as Magneto! In this we see him have a family in Poland only to lose it all when the locals panic, causing him to be manipulated by Apocalypse into one of his Horsemen. His arc is realizing that his friends are his family and that he isn’t alone. He still doesn’t trust people, and he has a lot of bad stuff he’s done…but by the end there is the man who will act for good for Mutants and all.

Professor X – Professor X’s arc involves him realizing how he is like Apocalypse (Apocalypse influences people to do his will) which leads to Xavier giving Moira back her memories as she is an ally (she sadly is just kind of there in regards to the script though…). Apocalypse captures him and wants to use his body as his next vessel so he can control everyone’s mind and see into everyone’s mind. Professor X fights it and with Jean Grey’s help is able to get Apocalypse out of his mind.

Jean Grey – Sophie Turner is a great Jean Grey and she actually has a decent arc! Her arc is releasing her full powers and in the process defeating Apocalypse. We see her afraid of what she sees and it mirrors Professor X’s journey. She is the best hero in this. Only complain is her American accent doesn’t always work.

Okay: Wolverine – Wolverine has a Cameo at Striker’s base and we see that he just got his claws. He reeks tons of havoc upon Striker’s forces and is only brought out of his feral state by Jean Grey, establishing why he’ll be attracted to her later. It wasn’t needed, but it wasn’t bad. Jackman continues to dominate this role.

The Other Horsemen – The other Horsemen are just kind of there and aren’t given much to do. Storm is a thief who later joins the X-Men, Angel is a fighter in a mutant fighter arena . Psylocke is an enforcer who turns against Apocalypse with Storm and Magneto at the end too. Though she might be possessed by Apocalypse’s spirit at the end, so I guess that is something that was done with her character at least.

Okay/Con: Apocalypse – Apocalypse seems bored most of the time.

The Cons: Direction and Cinematography – The direction looks like television…whether is the cheaper looking costumes or the cinematography that makes me appreciate the cinematography in “The Flash” more. When you are less than the CW, you are television level directing.

Stan Lee Cameo – The cameo happens when Apocalypse gets rid of the World’s nukes. It makes the scene funny when it should have been dramatic and serious.

Unfocused Narrative – The narrative felt unfocused at times, especially after we visit Striker’s base…

Costumes – The costumers look bad. The leather makes everything look big and it has none of the realism from the Marvel films or even the decent looking costumers the DC films.

Striker and his Base –  This whole side quest felt like a callback to X-2 as we are back at Striker’s base with a young Striker (didn’t Mystique replace him last film?) and he’s just there so we can have a human baddie to counter Apocalypse. More time could have been spent to develop Apocalypse and his motivations rather than this crap. Good action but pointless.

   As stated at the beginning this is the weakest in the New X-Men Trilogy that began with “First Class.” The production value doesn’t help, though the actors and characters add a lot to it and help elevate it beyond the cons making it a flawed but fun film that I wouldn’t watch again, but enjoyed while watching. This film is okay. If you are a fan of X-Men you will probably like it. Apocalypse could have been a much more interesting character and threat and his presentation just doesn’t work. The drama that works is when we are with the characters and their individual relationships trying to make their way in the world…and that is what made the film worth seeing.

Final Score: 6.4 / 10

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) – Classic Rivals and the Timelessness of Batman

Batman Beyond Return of the Joker

   “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” still holds up. It isn’t as good as I remembered it being, but it is still easily a favorite and does some really creative stuff with the Bat Family, seriously…this blows the modern day DC Animated Films out of the water. There simply isn’t a comparison in quality and storytelling and I think most of that credit goes to Bruce Timm who managed to make Superman interesting enough to receive an entire Animated Series and to have created two successful renditions of the Justice League…outside of creating the best Batman on screen.

    The film was directed by Curt Geda and written by Paul Dini (though Bruce Timm and Glen Murakami wrote the story too) and produced by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm and Glen Murakami.

     The story takes place in the universe of “Batman Beyond” which takes place years into the future where Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) has become an adviser and mentor to the new Batman Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle)  in Future Gotham. When the Joker (Mark Hamill) resurfaces after being dead for 35 years it is up to Terry to solve the mystery and discover the dark secret of why Batman was working alone when he found him.

The Pros: The World – The world of Future Gotham is fantastic! A new Batman, Barbara as the new police commissioner and the use of future tech in gang warfare are fascinating. As much as Gotham has changed, it has also stayed the same…which is fitting.

The Animation – This is WB animation with Bruce Timm at the helm and it rocks! The animation is unique and has a simple yet beautiful style to it. Each character looks distinct and Gotham looks like a true future city.

The Characters – The characters are why we’re here. They drive the story and it is that core drama between Bruce Wayne and the Joker and his drama with the Bat Family old and new. These core relationships drive the story.

The Jokerz – The Jokers are awesome and Dee-Dee are twins that are grandaughters of Harley Quinn, carrying on her legacy in their own way. They have cool look with a ghoul looking guy, a fat clown in a mask, a Scarecrow type and a man with Hyena blood spliced into him.

Harley Quinn – Harley is a messed up character who seems to have grown up by the end. She is one of the tormentors of Robin and takes part in the abuse and torture Joker puts on the populace, but when we see her as an old woman she regrets it all. She’s done and just wants to take care of her family. She healed from the trauma the Joker did to her, which is powerful.

Tim Drake / Robin –  Tim Drake is the last Robin in the Batman Universe and we learn why in this as he is tortured and turned into Little J by the Joker and Harley. After he is rescued and kills the Joker he is left with the trauma and scars that Barbara helps him through. Joker still won to some degree though as the micro-chip the Joker installed on him leads to the Joker taking control of him until Terry McGinnis can rescue him. In the end Bruce reaches out and expresses how lucky he is know Tim.

Barbara Gordon / Batgirl – Barbara is the one taking care of everyone as she is mature enough to deal with her trauma and others’ trauma (unlike Bruce Wayne). It is thanks to her that Terry finds out that Tim is the Joker and from there how to stop him. She really is an awesome character!

The Joker – Hamill is back as the Joker in the past (when he dies) and the future with his technology rebirth! He is such a great villain. He not only broke Harley making her a villain but broke Tim almost making him another villain and breaking him enough that Tim killed him the first time. This isn’t the end though, he destroys the Batcave, Wayne Manor, Laugh Gasses Bruce and a good portion of Gotham with a lazer. Seriously, not a single Joker compares to this besides Ledger’s in “The Dark Knight.”

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce deals with his trauma finally and we see him begin to heal as he faces the fact that he cut himself off from everyone, but thanks to Terry he begins to heal things with Tim and Barbara bringing the Bat Family back together again.

Terry McGinnis / Batman – Terry is the glue and the main driving force as we see him dealing with being both Terry and Batman and in the end finds he is Terry as Batman, not the other way around as he defeats the Joker not by being Bruce but by mocking him  and being himself and forcing the Joker to be stupid and tricking him. Terry is an amazing Batman and I’m glad he’s official canon now. He’s a Batman I’d like to see in live action films. This film shows why. He’s a punk who grew up and now does everything he can to help others.

Tim Drake’s Story and the Death of the Joker – This incident is why Bruce went loner. Tim kills the Joker breaking the rule and lives with the guilt from that only for Joker to win anyway…Not only did Joker destroy the Bat Family, he lived on from the trauma caused by that day. There is reason he is one of the greatest villains of all time.

Timeless Batman – Batman can work in any environment or world and it doesn’t have to be Bruce. This film showed as much, Terry has his own darkness as Bruce does but unlike the Joker it doesn’t define them and it is their classic rivalry against what the Joker represents in chaos that really makes Batman timeless. All of Bruce Timm’s Batman work shows as much as he explores the Batman of the future in Terry McGinnis and in the past in Bruce Wayne. Batman is about overcoming your demons and  using that to help others and that is what they do.

Okay: Side Characters – Dana and Bruce Wayne’s rival and Terry’s family are just kind of there. They exist in relationship to Terry and Bruce and don’t feel like full characters. They are good for their function in the script but could have been more…this movie should have been longer.

The Soundtrack – It is quite at times and besides the Beyond opening theme isn’t all that great. It works but it isn’t a pro.

  This is a film well worth your time if you are a fan of Batman. Bruce Timm and this world were a world I grew up watching and it holds up stronger to this day. Seriously, this film blows all of the “New 52” films out of the water. You get to know the characters, no characters are unstoppable and the flaws of characters are on display always.  The world of Gotham feels lived and there is so much history which you’d come to know from this film even if you’d never watched “Batman: The Animated Series” or “Batman Beyond.” This film stands on its own and is one of the darker films in the Universe that still manages to hold a place for healing and hope for the characters. If you get the chance, check it out!

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

“Gotham” Season 2 – A Slow Start, Great Villains and the Ending Doesn’t Work

Gotham Season 2

    “Gotham” Season 2 has moments that really stand out and could have made this season great overall if what we’d been shown and had been consistent and if the story had been more focused. There are so many threads that are brought out and I felt the end of the season didn’t really resolve many of them and only left us with more questions, which I hope Season 3 can answer but it hurts the overall performance of Season 2. There are some great characters though and those are the ones that keep this show good rather than okay or bad.

This review will contain SPOILERS

       This season’s arc involves the continuing mystery of who killed the Waynes and finding out who set up the killer to kill the Waynes along with Theo Galavan’s attempt to destroy Gotham and the plots of Hugo Strange in Arkham Asylum.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography continues to be great on this show. Certain shots are presented like a comic book panel and it gives it a great feel and makes the world feel lived in.

The World – The world is fantastic, the story doesn’t really work all the time…but the conspiracies, the crazy people and the characters who make this world possible is great to see. I like this world and it is really what keeps me coming back.

Blackgate Prison – At one point in the story Jim is sent to Blackgate Prison for a murder Nygma framed him for. It is really cool seeing him make friends with another innocent trapped in there and how dangerous it feels. There is a reason this is high security while Arkham is technically a hospital.

Arkham Asylum – Arkham is awesome in this. Whether is Hugo Strange (the best villain in this series so far) or the different people in Arkham being transformed into their later Batman counterparts…this is a place where so much is always happening, and Thomas Wayne was tied to it all. Even if he didn’t know about Indian Hill he must have known about Strange’s experiments.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of this series, even though there are more characters I’d only consider okay or cons than last season, the stronger characters really make up for it.

The Maniax – These are 7 Crazies that Theo Galavan breaks out of Arkham to cause chaos in Gotham so he’ll be elected Mayor. The most memorable one is the Jokeresque one who starts a movement when he dies as his laughter and Joker like look become a symbol of resistance in Gotham in the underground…the Maniax’s influence stays long after they are all defeated.

Nathaniel Barnes – Barnes is the new Commissioner after the Maniax kill the old one. He’s all business and militarizes the GPD. He also doesn’t trust Gordon but grows to respect him over time. Michael Chiklis really puts in an amazing performance.

Leslie Thompkins – Leslie is the stability for Gordon that he can’t accept because of his guilt. She is a fantastic character and it is sad when she eventually leaves to escape the war against Galavan. We learn she was pregnant but the child died. Baccerin continues to put some of the best performances in all she is in. I like how she is the clear headed one in the relationship  and a fighter in her own right.

Butch – Butch is back and hooks with one of the Galavan’s and breaks free of the mind control Penguin put on him. No idea where he is at the end of the season though after Fish Mooney is resurrected by Strange as he runs away after she knocks out Penguin.

Elijah van Dahl – Elijah is Penguin’s father and the actor who played him (Paul Reubens) played Penguin’s father in “Batman Returns.” He is a great character and he is there to help Penguin after Penguin’s reconditioning in Gotham and point him on a path to goodness. He is killed by his wife though when she tries to poison Penguin.

Miss Peabody – Miss Peabody is amazing! She is Strange’s second in command and is a threat, we see her take out people much larger or unhinger then herself and strike fear in them. She is the one who reminds Strange that maybe he shouldn’t take things so far as it could back to bite them…she is the calm to his recklessness.

Edward Nygma / The Riddler – Nygma becomes the Riddler this season as he kills his girlfriend when she finds out he killed her ex and becomes paranoid. This leads to him framing Gordon for her murder, though after Gordon breaks out of Blackgate he forces Nygma’s hand with Bullock to reveal the truth. After Nygma is in Arkham his intelligence is on full display as he manipulates the inmates into calmness. It is implied he escapes at the end when Mooney escapes in the bus carrying all the inmates. He also helps put Penguin back together after Galavan kills Mrs. Cobblepot in the first half of the season. I didn’t like Nygma all that much last season but I’m sold on the character after this season.

Oswald Cobblepot / Penguin – Penguin goes through the ringer this season. He is the King of Gotham, loses it all to Galavan including his mother and sanity. Riddler puts him back together, he gets sent to Arkham where he again loses his mind and has the violence conditioned out of him and ends up with his father and step-family…his step-family kills his father and he goes bad again. He then gets revenge on Galavan when Galavan is resurrected into Azrael and Fish Mooney gets revenge on him, leaving his future up in the air. This was his season, even more so than last season and his rise.

Hugo Strange – BD Wong’s Hugo Strange is the best character to come out of this show! From his mad scientist bent of messing with people’s minds to turn them into characters, to his outsmarting the Riddler and GPD and his insistence in releasing unstable people out into Gotham for the kicks. He’s mad but has empathy too as we see he cared about Thomas Wayne even though he called in the hit. This is a character with depth who I hope we see more of. He blows all the other villains out of the water and the full extent of what he knows will hopefully come to light next season. I’d love it if he takes out the Court of Owls as they make him look like a Saint.

Alfred – Sean Pertwee continues to be one of the best parts of the show! In this season we see him further teach Bruce Wayne as well as search for him at different points and see some of his former military skill in action. Seriously, I want to learn more about this character and his backstory.

Harvey Bullock – Bullock becomes Commissioner in this! His arc goes from working with Jim even when it is against the law Jim’s a fugitive…to leading the police after Azrael mortally wounds the Police Commissioner. This character really is fantastic and seeing him become responsible is a lot of fun.

Jim Gordon – Gordon continues to show why the show is based around him. He’s conflicted, corrupt (kills Galavan and goes rogue) and is the heart of the show as he’s very much a proto-Batman as guilt runs everything he does and it is getting through that guilt that brings us to the end of the Season so he can have a life outside of Gotham with Leslie (before getting pulled back in).

Okay: Mr. Freeze – When he puts on the suit he is good but before that and his resurrection he has too much of the crazy already. He is killing, which makes him unsympathetic. He should have stole not killed. He makes a great minion for Strange at least.

The Galavans – Theo is great when he becomes Azrael, but as the Mayor I just got tired of his plots. In regards to his sister and adopted daughter, I never got what they wanted so they were just kind of there.

Barbara Kean – She is okay, I thought I’d hate them bringing her back but her going from one of the Maniax to a somewhat ally is actually handled really well. I also like that she figures out Clayface is Gordon because she knows Gordon love Leslie.

Selena Kyle – Selena Kyle is okay but suffers from the same problem as Bruce. She like Bruce would work as “Batman: Year One” versions of themselves. Them being kids makes it so there aren’t any real stakes.

Bruce Wayne – Bruce Wayne is okay, he isn’t as bad as last season, but little kids solving mysteries doesn’t work well in anything not directed by Spielberg. He does alright with what he’s given but he’s Bruce Wayne and has to become Batman so lots of plot armor so no real stakes.

Okay/Con: The Ending – Fish is back which was a terrible narrative decision unless they do something interesting with it, Penguin is dead or knocked out and Strange is in prison. Seriously the most interesting villain is gone. Also a Bruce Wayne clone? gets out of the bus too.

The Cons: The van Dahls – I wish they hadn’t been blatant villains. There is nothing good about them. They are pointless violence and stupidity.

Firefly – This character is annoying. I hated the episodes and her family and nothing that is done with feels real. Her friendship with Selena feels contrived and her fighting Mr. Freeze at the end feels corny in all the wrong ways.

Fish Mooney – Fish is back and I wish she’d stayed dead. If she was going to be brought back it should have been related to Penguin and a civil war to take control of the gang. When she’s back the city is going back into chaos with all the inmates of Arkham freed and now her wants role seem moot. Did she kill Penguin, if she didn’t…why? Minus character popularity, bringing her back at the end serves zero purpose.

Cluttered Narrative – The narrative in both the first and second half of this season is really cluttered. First season had the Barbara, Galavan and Maniax storylines going on along with everything related to the Penguin and the Riddler…while the second season had Azrael, Hugo Strange, the hidden Council, Penguin, Riddler and bringing back Fish Mooney…where last season felt like it was leading to something…this narrative felt cluttered and unfocused.

  Hugo Strange is the biggest reason to watch this season. The Maniax are great in the first half and help make up for the sometimes weak Galavan narrative while Strange makes up for how uninteresting some of his minions are and how uninteresting the Council of Owls so far appears to be. Seriously, watch this show for the villains. Most of the heroes are okay, with the exception of Bullock and Alfred whose performances I’d consider great. The rest are either good or okay. I hated that this season ended with a cliffhanger and Strange in prison, but there isn’t much to be done along those lines. I plan to keep on watching as there is enough here to keep me coming back and this show is overall good. If you like the world of Batman and enjoyed the first season of “Gotham,” you will probably enjoy this season.

Final Score: 8 / 10 (would be rated lower if not for BD Wong as Hugo Strange).

Hugo Strange Gotham

To Catch a Thief (1955): Great Leads But Story Is Only Decent

To Catch a Thief

     Alfred Hitchcock is one of my favorite directors, but this is not one of his better films. The main leads are absolutely wonderful, but the script and dialogue doesn’t go anywhere at times and the motivations behind the villains is non-existent. All of this create a merely okay story that is good only because of fantastic performances by Grace Kelly and Cary Grant.

     “To Catch a Thief” was directed and produced by Alfred Hitchcock and written by John Michael Hayes and based off the book of the same name by David Dodge.

     The story involves an ex-criminal and French Resistance fighter John Robie (Cary Grant), fighting to redeem his name and find the real thief. Frances (Grace Kelly) the daughter of the woman whose jewels were stolen works with and against him as the truth unfolds.

The Pros: The World – The world of France is a fascinating place where we meet former French Resistance fighters and ex-pats who make up this world that exists soon after World War 2. So much more could have been done with all of this world and premise…

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and I can see why it won awards. Hitchcock is great with visual and his cinematographer Robert Burks nails it.

The Leads – Cary Grant and Grace Kelly are some of the best actors of all time and this film, which would have only been okay with other leads, becomes good because of their performances.

John Robie – Cary Grant like Grace Kelly is one of my favorite actors and he shows why in this. He is charming but you see the thief there and you get why he steals too as he explains that some businesses steal too, he is just more blatant about his robbery. We also see in this why he changed and why keeps holding onto what was. Being a thief who was never caught made him famous and he wants to be known for that, even while showing he’s changed because he wants trust and love.

Frances Stevens – Grace Kelly is one of my favorite actresses. The lady has charm and strength and her character Frances feels real. You get why she likes Robie and why she doesn’t trust him too. She is the person looking for excitement and she finds it with this ex-crook and shows that she is his partner in it all.

Okay: The Police Force – They are used for jokes but have some decent moments of humanity with Robie…I just wish we could have got more.

The Tension – The tension is okay but unlike “North by Northwest,” “Rear WIndow” and “Psycho” it never made me feel that the characters were in danger. There was the tension of the hunt for the criminal but it never rose beyond that.

The Cons: The Villains – The villains are weak, good villains could have made this film great but they aren’t given any motivation for what they do.

Danielle – Like her father, I don’t know why Danielle does what she does. She was a resistance fighter so why is she now a thief? I wanted to like her character but nothing is done to present her with depth or motivation.

Foussard – So he is friends with Robie and betrays…why? Why is he stealing in the first place? None of this is known and it is really annoying. The villainous mastermind has to have motivation.

   This is a film that you will probably enjoy if you like Hitchcock as I do. The problem is really the lack of tension and how the motivations of the villains are never explained or explored. This is a film that could have been so much more and I really hope the book at least went into why Foussard and his daughter Danielle became thieves. Check it out if you like Hitchcock, if you don’t it probably isn’t worth your time. It is strong in how he directs the leads and presentation in cinematography, but the script and story keep it from becoming great.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014) – An Underutilized Waller and Suicide Squad

Assault on Arkham

    So many of these DC films have potential. The “Arkham” Games are a great series that manage to explore the Universe in such a way that villains feel respected and like a threat versus in this they feel mostly small time or not wholly their own characters and underutilized, which is shame as this is a Suicide Squad film, one of the most fascinating groups in the DC Universe in one of the greatest Game Universes. This film still manages to be alright, but Amanda Waller and her threat feels like missed potential, you have a problem.

     “Batman: Assault on Arkham” was directed by Jay Oliva and Ethan Spaulding and written by Heath Corson and produced by James Tucker.

    The films involves Amanda Waller (C.C.H. Pounder) bringing together the Suicide Squad to infiltrate Arkham Asylum to get information held in the Riddler’s Staff. The team must deal with the threats of each other and Batman (Kevin Conroy) who is tracking them.

The Pros: The Animation – WB and DC animation do a good job with this. It captures some of the feel of the games, even if the animation is a bit more like that of the other current DC Animated films, but it still has enough character for me to make it a pro.

The Suicide Squad – They are underutilized overall but I like the idea and how some of the characters are handled.

King Shark – This guy is the Killer Croc of the team and is a lot of fun! He’s a cannibal but he falls in love with Killer Frost and she kind of does too, their relationship is adorable as this is the guy who wants to eat any enemies he comes into contact with. His design is funny and threatening too as he has a bit fin on his head and a metal mouth.

Killer Frost – Killer Frost is Waller’s agent who was sent to kill the Riddler since he broke away from Waller’s control. She never stops serving Waller and has good moments with the characters given that none of them can trust her.

Harley Quinn – Harley is very much the Harley of the games and sadly has an identity only as the Joker’s girlfriend in the end. She sleeps with Deadshot and tries to kill the Joker once before becoming old Harley again. I was hoping they’d do something more with her character but since this is a prequel and in the games she’s weak, of course they went this way. She’s still a pro though since it is great seeing Harley even if she isn’t used fully, in action.

The Riddler – Riddler is small character but his conversations with Waller and Killer Frost are great. This is a character who is all about the puzzles and they capture that decently here.

Amanda Waller – Waller should have been so much more badass. She was voiced by the actress whose voiced her in the Justice League (C.C.H. Pounder) and she’s amazing. Sadly here all her plans don’t end up going well and she isn’t shown to be a good villain this is a shame as she starts strong by killing KGBeast and Frost’s betrayal.

Joker – Joker breaks out during the Suicide Squad assault when Harley tries to kill him but it makes it so he can escape. He’s good but doesn’t do anything super memorable. He survives the impossible but his plan isn’t all that deep or funny…so he was good but not great.

Batman – Kevin Conroy voices Batman! To me he’ll always be the best Batman (the one in Season 1 of “Batman: The Animated Series,” and in this we see his detective work as he figures out where Joker’s bomb is and what the Suicide Squad and Waller are up too. He solves everything so it is good Batman, though I wish he’d lost this one.

Okay: Black Spider – Ninja on Suicide Squad who dies fast, at least his clash with Deadshot was interesting but brief.

Deadshot – The guy has a daughter and is presented as a rogue Mercenary. He wins every situation though and is the main character of everything. He was the definition of a Gary Stu/Mary Sue. He had no real weaknesses. He was okay at least, but not good.

The Cons: kGBeast – Waller blows off his head. He is just kind of there.

Boomerang – This guy is annoying, he seems to only exist to clash with Deadshot and is a punk. So surprised this guy wasn’t the one they chose to kill off. He seems to only exist to make Deadshot look good by comparison.

The Ending – Waller doesn’t win and Deadshot is targeting her with his Sniper Rifle…I never wanted to root for Deadshot, i was rooting for Waller and Harley…this was annoying and ruined what could have been a great dark film showing the danger of Waller.

    For a film that features the Suicide Squad I was hoping they’d actually win. It is okay for Batman to lose sometimes but it implies he doesn’t since Deadshot does what Batman can’t and even if he doesn’t kill Amanda Waller, at least defangs her a for a while. This is a shame as even within the games her organization was a perpetual threat behind the scenes, it is hard to take the threat seriously after this, Batman will just solve it on his own. There were some good things in this though…Harley Quinn and the Joker for one as well as C.C.H. Pounder returning to voice Waller, she had some great moments in the beginning even if they failed to have it payoff.

Final Score: 7.6 / 10

Batman: Bad Blood (2016) – The Cast is Great but not the Execution

Batman Bad Blood

    “Batman: Bad Blood” shows both the strength and weaknesses in full degree of these Damian films (I don’t really consider them Batman films, he’s a support character like in the Justice League “New 52” films). The large cast manages to help this film over some of the others though as Nightwing and Batwoman are amazing characters who really help carry the film through the Damian and villain drag that occurs sometimes during the film.

   The film was directed by Jay Oliva and written by J. M. DeMatteis and produced by James Tucker.

   The films involves a group of villains capturing Batman leading to Batwoman and Batwing teaming up with Nightwing and Robin to figure out who did it and stopping their evil plan and figure out who the mysterious Heretic is who leads them.

The Pros: The Animation – WB and DC animation continues to be stellar but that is kind of a given at this point. The dark tone of the film is captured in the animation and it is great at flowing with the action.

The Soundtrack – Wiedmann once again creates a fantastic soundtrack. I can see why they chose him to make the music for these films. His Bear McCreary feel he brings to it all compliments the Universe.

The Action – The action is the one good thing I’ll say about the “New 52,” the fights have consequences that often in death (which even the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems unable to pull off) and I like that death is permanent, with a few exceptions like the character I’ll be going into next.

The Mad Hatter – This guy is a great villain! With Talia he manages to control Bruce Wayne and take control of the World Leaders in the process. He nearly wins too until Alfred explodes his head when he fighting another person in the same room. I wish he’d survived.

Heretic – Heretic is a Damian Clone and is awesome. He bests everyone he fights and only dies because Talia is stupid and would rather destroy a good weapon than use it for the final fight. I wanted more of this character. His attachment to Damian was cool and he showed what Batman would look and act like had he stayed with the League.

The Bat Famiy – The Bat Family is the best part of this film. Everyone has their moments and I like how expansive it is.

Lucius Fox – Lucius Fox gets shot but we see how he is in the adoptive family of Batman. He is there through it all and seeing him torn about his son going to war when there is war at home plus wanting to protect him is handled really well.

Alfred – Alfred shows that he shouldn’t be underestimated as he saves Bruce Wayne from the villains and shows how great he is in a fight as well his counseling of Nightwing when Nightwing becomes Batman.

Luke Fox / Batwing – This is a great idea. Lucius has always been an honorary member of the Bat Family (given Grayson isn’t a Wayne and is the first Robin) and this makes things official. He reminds me of Iron Man and Falcon and is the confident guy who embraces his role as the air support in any fight. He needed more exploration beyond a injured father. Seriously, this character has so much potential to be a favorite in the Bat Family!

Dick Grayson / Nightwing / Batman – Maher owns this role and now he finally gets to do something beyond babysit Damian! In this he’s Batman when Batman is kidnapped and does a great job in the role. This is probably my favorite version of Grayson, so there is that. Even in “Batman: The Animated Series,” I never really like Robin until he became Nightwing and developed an identity beyond sidekick.

Kate Cane / Batwoman – Thank you DC for not messing up the fact that she’s a lesbian! Kate is an amazing character who we never get to see really go over the edge in fighting villains like the traditional Kate Cane was, but she’s great as the answer of the character going rogue inspired by Batman but not in his shadow as much. Really liked what they did with her character. Her arc is one of healing.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce Wayne is mind controlled for most of this but you see how he hasn’t been good at dealing with trauma as he has traumatized others. Bruce Wayne is someone who is trying his best but is flawed in ways that really put him next to the League of Shadows, Jason Todd as Red Hood exists for a reason and this story explores why. He’s controlling but isn’t good at setting limitations. He goes to extremes and it alienates others and it makes him human.

Barbara Gordon / Batgirl Cameo – Barbara appears in the end it is amazing! She was one of the best parts of “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Batman Beyond.” Barbara is a character who is the character who knows vigilante and the law and seeing her get started in this universe is wonderful.

Okay: Damian Wayne / Robin – Less of a Mary Sue / Gary Stu but still that. Talia apparently had no influence on him as he’s not even tempted and and he again wins every fight that isn’t against his older self.

Talia Al Ghul – So we see Batman help after Ra’s dies and now she does this? More that this is in her nature and her whole plan all along would have helped strengthen this. She also maybe dies at the end but that doesn’t matter as much as we never knew her motivations fully at that well anyway…

The Cons: Disposable Villains – Killer Moth, Firefly, Electutioner, etc. Who cared about these folks? They are minions and even their design ins’t all that memorable. C-List and never rise beyond it. Someone needs to give these characters a “Guardians of the Galaxy” film to redeem this crap.

Lack of Talia Setup for Betrayal – I brought it up before but Talia deserves

   This was one of the better films out of the “New 52” Batman films but still suffers from those same problems. The Al Ghuls just can’t be written right, whether they are Damian or Talia they never rise above okay as with Talia the motivations are never fully explored prior…she exists to be Ra’s daughter and that’s it. Damian has the same problem in the other direction…he’s untouchable and a Gary Stu/Mary Sue…so at least in this one it took the Team to take the bad guys down and that is what helps it rise above the others to really good. Definitely worth checking out for Nightwing and Batwoman.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

Captain America: Civil War (2016) – Amazing Characters in a Story That Explores War and Responsibility

Captain America Civil War

        “Captain America: Civil War” is easily one of the best films of Marvel Cinematic Universe. This is the film that deals with the fall out of “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and the past Marvel Films. At the core this is a film that tackles the nature of responsibility to self and to the larger world and what that means in regards to the Avengers. In some ways it could have been handled better (especially if they’d gone with the “Registration Act” of the comics and had X-Men in this Universe) but for what they have and the conflict at the core of the film, it is handled really well. I also wanted more loss, but that is just me.

      The film was directed by Joe and Anthony Russo, written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely and produced by Kevin Feige.

   SPOILERS ahead

    The story involves the United Nations forming the Sokovia Accords so that the Avengers have oversight after a mission leads to a lot of civilian deaths. The Avengers soon find themselves divided on the issue as things escalate when the King of Wakanda is assassinate and Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan) is believed responsible leading Captain America (Chris Evans) and his group going rogue while Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) and his team become enforces of the Accords.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and actually manages to be distinct for a Marvel film, which really shows how great the Russo’s are at expressing their vision of these stories. Trent Opaloch did a great job on this.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack feels epic and allows you to feel more fully the events on the screen. It isn’t the greatest of these soundtracks but it still a plus and compliments the film beautifully as it carries elements of “The Avengers” and the past “Captain America” films within the sound. Henry Jackman did good work on this.

The Action – This film has the best action sequences out of all the Marvel films besides “The Winter Soldier.” Part of this is due to the fight having actual meaning and us caring about the players because we’ve got to spend so much time with these characters and have come to care about them.

The Writing – For a movie that has a lot of ground to cover (introducing Spider-Man and the Black Panther) as well as the Civil War storyline and within that both Iron Man and Captain America’s arc…it does it seamlessly. Where “Age of Ultron” and “Batman v. Superman” were cluttered, this one manages to weave together all the elements in this fascinating character drama.

The Characters – The characters are why we keep coming back to these films and here they each have their moments where we get to know them and see how the last films have changed them. The only one who feels tacked on it Sharon Carter.

Thaddeus Ross – We haven’t seen this guy since “The Incredible Hulk” and how he’s running the United Nations…I really like that they did this as he more than anyone knows what the consequences are of letting those with power run around unchecked. For this reason his going to extremes and locking up all those who joined with Captain America makes sense. This is a guy ruled by fear in a Universe full of creatures that could destroy Earth easily.

Crossbones – SPOILERS, I wish he’d killed Captain America like in the comics. He has a small role in this where he is trying to get a bioweapon, and in doing so shows us that HYDRA is still active, and he puts up an awesome fight against Captain America too and nearly kills him when he tries to blow up himself. Disney, this is a character I’d like to see come back, your films don’t have enough good villains and he was a great one.

Zemo – Zemo is the one manipulating everything and turns the Avengers against each other to avenge his dead wife and child. I got his sadness and I’m glad they didn’t kill him off. He’s shown he can be a great villain as his plans succeed, he just needs someone to give him direction for future films.

Peter Parker / Spider-Man – Tom Holland might end up being my favorite Spider-Man. He’s awkward, nerdy and has great quips and conversation during his fight sequence. I’m looking forward to “Homecoming” as I’ve missed seeing Peter Parker and Spider-Man captured so well…he hasn’t been this real since the Rami ones. I like that Tony Stark is his mentor and that he is someone who is poor and does whatever he can to live. Spider-Man is about facing adversity and standing up to those who do too.

Scott Lang / Ant-Man – Paul Rudd gets to stretch his comedic chops in this and is great as the Captain America fanboy who manages to be the best weapon on the battlefield as he makes himself both large and small and wins most of the fights he gets in. Seeing him again reminded me of why I enjoyed his film.

Vision – Vision is really a fantastic character. He is very much the alien and Spock of the crew who doesn’t fully understand humans so looks at things from an empirical and logical point of view. I really liked him and Bettany does a wonderful job in the role.

Wanda Maximoff / Scarlet Witch – Scarlet Witch like Ant-Man is one of the powerhouses in this as once she finds her confidence she saves most of the characters in the battle. She is also the one everyone fears because of how powerful she is and for her being front and center in the fight against Crossbones and her stopping him lead to the bomb he became killing civilians in a building. Her arc is embracing herself and no longer caring what the others think of her.

Clint Barton / Hawkeye – He’s back and he’s alright. I mostly like him for calling Tony Stark out (though he rightfully gets called out too). He’s sarcastic and quippy and you get that retirement didn’t really work out all that well for him.

Natasha Romanoff / Black Widow – Black Widow is the double agent in this as she believes in the Accords and oversight but believes in Captain America more as she helps Bucky and Steve escape in the large battle at the airport. I would have liked to hear more of her thoughts. Scarlett Johansson is once again amazing.

James Rhodes / War Machine – War Machine believes in the Accords and you get why as he military and military is all about oversight and he’s also seen the danger of Hulk and even the villains they’ve fought (and of course Ultron). He gets injured in the escape of Steve Rodgers and has to learn how to walk again. Cheadle is great as usual.

Sam Wilson / Falcon – Anthony Mackie plays one of my favorite characters in this universe and it is wonderful to see the reasons why he follows Captain America as like the Captain he believes in individuals and doesn’t trust organizations (after his experience with HYDRA and SHIELD makes sense). He is captured in the end but broken out by Captain America to end the film.

T’Challa / Black Panther – Boseman has me excited for the “Black Panther” film. In this we get his motivation as he believes Bucky killed his father the King and in turn he dawns the Black Panther armor to avenge his death. This leads him all over the world until he sees how revenge has consumed Zemo so he chooses not too and instead ops to turn Zemo in as he has let go of his rage.

Steve Rodgers / Captain America – Steve is both smart and stupid in this. Smart because the Avengers do need some sort of oversight (you have Gods running around who can do massive damage if something takes control of one of them or they lose control) and his trust of Bucky is dangerous as Bucky nearly kills his friends multiple times in this. I get why he fights this though as Thaddeus locks up the Avengers who joined him in a high security prison showing that he doesn’t care about balance or even using the Avengers to protect, which is the point of them. Chris Evans owns this role and his scenes with everyone are gold as well as what he represents in the fight against Liberty and Security, which in turn is the continuation of the debate started in “The Winter Soldier.”

Tony Stark / Iron Man – Tony is a man consumed by demons (Pepper left him, missing his parents, regret over his wrongs) who realizes that most of the problems the Avengers have had have been caused by the Avengers (creating Ultron, etc.). This leads to him getting behind the Accords and fighting Steve over it. In the end he is able to make peace though as he lets Captain America break out the Avengers Thaddeus had put away as we get the idea he wants the balance that is at the core of the Accords and that he forgives Steve to some degree for all that went down.

Responsibility and Oversight – This also relates to the Social Contract and Liberty v. Security. This is the core issue going on this film and why the Civil War exists in the first place between the Avengers. Oversight makes sense and the dangers of oversight are illustrated too. Who watches the watchers? The film is good at leaving this open too.

War and Consequences – Zemo and the Accords arose from the consequences of the war and the power of weapons. The Avengers are weapons and the collateral damage they cause to save lives goes addressed here. There is no going back from the trauma war brings and in the end you can end up like Zemo seeking revenge or T’Challa finding peace.

Okay: Sharon Carter – She felt shoe-horned in because of her relation to Agent Carter. I liked some of her scenes but her romance with Steve that was thrown in at the end felt tacked on. Her character wasn’t needed and wasn’t as fun as Spider-Man or Ant-Man (on the same subject of characters who weren’t needed to tell the story). It never really shows when they hooked up either.

 The Cons: Scarlet Witch and Vision Romance – Romance is once again this issue and it again feels tacked on! We never get when this love blossomed and they felt more like friends than lovers.

Lack of Loss – I wanted someone to die. We are getting close to the “Infinity War” and the lack of main character death that is permanent is annoying me. This of all films was perfect as Captain America is killed in the comics during this arc, so why not in the film too?

   For me the one thing that really brings it down is that Marvel has not been able to kill off any character for good. I was rooting for Bucky or Steve to die in this one so that Tony would fully feel the cost of what he was doing and so we’d fully feel the hit before the “Infinity War.” So often in these films characters die but not for good, unless they are a villain. This is a Marvel Problem but it is one that doesn’t detract from the overall quality of the film, and this is really the sequel that “Age of Ulton” should have been as it captures the spirit of the first “Avengers” film. “Civil War” is well worth your time and I’m super excited for the “Black Panther” and “Spider-Man” film. I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 9.7 / 10