#REVIEW: The Batman

The short version of this review is this: That they have finally made a Batman movie that I approve of, something I had formerly thought was impossible.

Slightly longer version: I am hard on Batman movies, y’all. I liked Tim Burton’s first Batman movie way back in 1989 and that has been it. I hated the second one so much that my neighbor came over when I got home to ask me to rant about it to my parents less quietly, and when I say neighbor, I would like to remind you that we lived in a house. I don’t even recognize the Nolan movies as having Batman in them. That’s a murder-happy bat-ninja. That’s not Batman. And the less said about Batfleck the better.

This movie is not perfect, but it is closer to being about Batman than any other live-action Batman thing I have ever seen. I am sorely tempted to dive into gripes; the Batsuit is ridiculously tough, rendering Batman virtually immune to gunfire and at one point a C4 explosion that goes basically directly into his torso and doesn’t even scratch him; the chief of police is completely forgotten about as a character after Batman beats up Jim Gordon and flees police custody, and a few other things. There are bits where it is goofy and I suspect that the goofiness is not intentional. Also it is three fucking hours long and yet somehow lacks a few pieces of critical exposition that should probably have been in there somewhere. We watched it over two nights; I highly recommend this approach.

This is also a very different Bruce Wayne than we have seen before, either in the movies or the comics. Bruce Wayne has always been portrayed as a charming playboy; I’m pretty sure this one is a virgin, and he’s a shut-in to a degree that it constitutes clear evidence of a mental health problem. My wife referred to Bruce as a “weird little goblin” at one point during the film and a “drama queen” during another and frankly those are both pretty damn accurate assessments. There is some romantic stuff going on with Catwoman (who hasn’t really adopted that role with a capital-C yet, but whatever) but it’s all at her initiative and they both play it like she’s toying with him because it amuses her.

So it’s not perfect. That doesn’t stop it from being real real good, though, mostly because of the things it gets right: first and foremost, unlike every other Batman movie ever, Batman is a fucking detective in this movie. He is a detective and he is working directly with the GCPD for large chunks of the movie despite many of them not being especially happy with it. And while they do veer into what I think is unintentional camp a couple of times, the movie never forgets how weird it is that this dude is literally running around in a cape trying to beat up criminals. He’s new enough that people are scared of him, but he’s also new enough that some clearly don’t take him seriously, and watching the reactions during the scenes where he strides into a packed nightclub in full gear is really something. This doesn’t appear to be a world with superheroes; there’s a mention of Bludhaven at the very end of the film but no, like, coy references to blue Boy Scouts or anything like that. This is, essentially, entirely separate from any of the rest of the DCU, and frankly, I don’t see this guy being buddies with Superman.

But you know what else he does? He saves people. Which is something you see sadly little of even in superhero movies I like. You know what he doesnt do? Kill people. Or use guns. Which is a huge deal, and they make it very clear at multiple points in the movie that Batman doesn’t like guns, and especially in the big fight at the end the film is at pains to make sure you realize that the criminals he’s fighting are being incapacitated, or taken out of the fight one way or another, and not killed. This is, to me, a big deal; not killing and not using guns are the two most critical aspects of Batman’s character and the one thing the movies have consistently gotten wrong.

Now, beyond the Batman-centric issues: the cast is phenomenal. Colin Ferrell is unrecognizable as the Penguin (and now I want him to replace Vincent D’Onofrio as the Kingpin) and provides one of the movie’s most unexpectedly hilarious moments when he reacts with absolute disgust to the idea that Batman has gotten, no shit, a detail of Spanish grammar wrong. The Riddler is creepy as all hell, which is not a sentence that anyone had ever even thought prior to this movie being filmed. Zoey Kravitz and John Turturro as Catwoman and Carmine Falcone are great. I also really liked Robert Pattinson. His Bruce Wayne, as I’ve said, is certainly a different take on the character than what we’ve seen before, but his Batman is spot-on. There has been a lot of talk about the raspy, growly voice that other actors tend to adopt as Batman, and I think one of my favorite things about how he plays the character is that his “Batman voice” just projects calm. That’s it. There are definitely some moments where he lets the rage through (there’s a great bit with Riddler toward the end of the film, and another where he thinks someone is in danger and is freaking out) but in general he just sort of radiates this preternatural calm for 90% of his screen time, and it’s a really interesting take. Also appreciated are a couple of moments where his inexperience shows; there’s a great moment where he tries out a gadget for what sure looks like the first time and he has a moment of absolute undeniable terror on his face as he activates the thing. And while I complained about the Batsuit being bulletproof, there are a couple of places where he does take some seriously brutal hits (one right after activating the device I just mentioned) and he might actually inject himself with Venom at one point in the film.

The movie looks great, and the action scenes are phenomenal; you always know what’s going on and where everybody is, which is something that a lot of directors simply haven’t mastered. The score is great, and I feel like I’ve said that already but it’s worth saying twice. Gotham itself is a grotesque, broken mess; this is the ugliest Gotham we’ve seen on screen, I think, and it fits the aesthetic of the film, which owes a lot to Se7en in a lot of places.

So, yeah. It’s streaming. Go watch it, now that you can do it without spending three hours sitting in a pool of aspirated Covid. You’ll like it.

This might actually be real

My wife mentioned to me earlier today that Spider Man: No Way Home, or whatever it’s called, because I’m not sure that’s it, is fully available for streaming now … and I shrugged. And then I thought about the fact that Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness is out next week and I have no desire to go see it, and that Thor: Love and Thunder comes out in June or July and the trailer for that didn’t do a damn thing for me either.

I know I’ve mentioned this multiple times, but it’s amazing that it seems to be actually true: I really don’t seem to care if I ever see another Marvel movie or not. Like, she could download the Spider-Man movie on her own and watch it (and she might) and I really don’t think I’d care at all.

Amazing.

I read a manga!

I’ve said this before— the clearest line of distinction between people who are very late Gen Xers and people who are very old Millennials is Pokémon. If Pokémon played a role in your childhood (or a role in the childhoods of people your age) chances are you’re a Millennial. If you made it to college without ever having heard of Pikachu, you’re Gen X. Along with this comes the idea of being into manga. I can assure you that I was into every nerdy hobby available in the Midwest in the 1990s and I never even heard the word “manga” despite being deeply into Western comic books. It just wasn’t a thing over here yet. Anime, much the same. And while I’ve had plenty of opportunities, I’ve never really gotten into either. Something about the style of most anime (and the weirdly wordy way Japanese seems to translate into English a lot of the time) has always just sort of repelled me, and I’ve never had a good explanation for why I don’t like the stuff, I just don’t.

I bought the collected edition of Junji Ito’s Uzumaki earlier this week for no clear reason– like, I learned it existed and that it was “horror manga” and I bought it, and I’m not sure why– and I seem to have broken that streak finally, to the point where last night I ordered the collected editions of this dude’s other two series. Or, at least, two of his other series? I’m not sure how much he’s actually done. Uzumaki is kinda random and goofy in parts but it’s creepy as hell throughout, and it reminds me of Scary Stories to Read in the Dark in the absolute best way possible and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The idea– and this is kind of a “roll with it” scenario– is that a town is cursed, and the curse manifests itself in spirals. The first eight or ten chapters are all standalone, where some character or another is affected by the spiral psychosis in some way, and then everything knits itself together very satisfyingly over the last several chapters. The whole thing is six hundred pages plus, so it’s pretty beefy, and it’s big enough that the art has space to shine and for all that it’s a quick read anyway. If you’re a manga person you’ve probably already encountered this, but if you’re not and you want an entry point in the genre, this one roped me in, so give it a look.


I didn’t post yesterday, breaking a 200-plus day streak. Why? No good reason, I just didn’t feel like it, and after a while I get tired of the ceaseless WordPress notifications that I’ve blogged X days in a row. My cold isn’t quite gone yet although today was better, so hopefully this will be gone in the next day or two. We’ll see.

FINALLY

I have been so, so down on the Marvel Cinematic Universe lately, but there are still a couple of projects coming that I’m genuinely excited about: specifically, the Disney+ series for Moon Knight, She-Hulk, and, of course, Ms. Marvel. Kamala Khan is one of my favorite comic book characters– there are two of her on my desk– and while they appear to have made some substantial changes to her powers and her origin for what mostly seem like reasonable reasons, the core of the character seems to be there. That “I’m a superhero!” dorky running away moment at the end there? That’s Kamala Khan. I don’t mind the look, at least, of the crystalline new power set, although I do hope they find some way to make her powers intrinsic to her and not something that’s triggered by those bracelets she puts on in one shot. I don’t have a problem with making her not an Inhuman, since the Inhumans are dumb not part of the MCU yet anyway, but I don’t want her powers to be part of her costume. Make ’em sparkly, whatever; she’s gonna be tricky for TV budgets anyway. Just make them her powers and make her her and I’m on board.

(I can– and have— bitch for hours about how the movies have fucked up Superman and Batman. I really don’t have any of those moments yet for Marvel characters. Once they got Tony Stark and Captain America perfect, I knew the characters were going to be in good hands, and I’ve not seen reason to back off on that initial assessment.)

Just … please, please, please, can we get through this series without the word “multiverse”?

#REVIEW: Peacemaker, Season One

So. Um.

I gotta admit; I’m really surprised to be writing any of this. I’ve seen … four James Gunn projects, I think? The two Guardians of the Galaxy movies and his Suicide Squad movie, which introduced Peacemaker as a character. I understand he’s in the comic books; if I’ve ever encountered him there, I don’t recall it. Most of Gunn’s projects have landed in the same spot in my head: that was entertaining, and I’m done thinking about it now. He tends to over-rely on music to drive his emotional beats forward, which it turns out is way more annoying if you’re watching with closed captions on so that all the lyrics appear on the screen, but that’s not a huge thing and it’s literally my only general gripe about his work.

Peacemaker is the best thing he’s ever done, and it’s not close, and — and this is the part where I’m really surprised to be writing this– it’s mostly because of John Cena’s literally unbelievable, as in “I don’t believe he’s really this good,” acting talents. I don’t know much about Cena, really; I know he (used to be?) a pro wrestler but that’s not something I really follow, and he made no particular impact on me in The Suicide Squad. But his charisma and his incredibly malleable face carry this show. I think the best thing to compare him to is Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool; it is so obvious that he loves playing this character that his enthusiasm is infectious and it carries through on every frame of the show that he’s in. He is not exactly surrounded by acting slouches– the only two I’m familiar with are Robert Patrick who has a grand old time playing Peacemaker’s racist-as-fuck evil supervillain father and the awesome Danielle Brooks playing Leota Adebayo, otherwise known as Amanda Waller’s daughter, but everybody is doing solid work here. Freddie Stroma, whose real name is Frederic Wilhelm C.J. Sjöström, is a particular standout as Vigilante, a character I’d be perfectly happy to see another spinoff for.

But back to Cena. He is playing a big dumb douchebag, and that’s probably being kind to the character. But he manages to play the big dumb douchebag in such a compelling fashion that not rooting for him is inconceivable, and he’s in control of himself enough that every time Peacemaker feels the slightest twitch of an emotion you pick up on it. I don’t think that I’ve ever said this about an actor before, but the ways he uses his eyes and his mouth to convey emotion are just amazing. I know that probably sounds weird, but watch the show. I swear, he’s doing something different here, and to find this performance in the middle of this violent, profane, shouty middle-school testosterone-fest of a comic book show is really something special. It’s getting to be very rare for me to make it through any kind of TV or movie nowadays; I regularly will watch an episode or two of something, proclaim it to be something I really like, and then never watch it again– so the fact that I was eagerly looking forward to watching the entire season is really worth reinforcing. If you have HBO Max, definitely check this out, and if you don’t have HBO Max, if you have any other reason to pick the service up for a month, go for it.