Five films in to the DCEU, Warner Brothers have attempted to replicate the success of Marvel’s 2012 smash-hit The Avengers, a team-up of epic proportions in which all of the franchise’s most popular heroes meet on screen for the first time (barring after-credits scenes).
On paper, this should have equalled a resounding success for the studio; surely the combined appeal of fan-favourites Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman (fresh off the triumph of her debut film this May) should have drawn in audiences? Not so much. Marvel spent the four years between 2008’s Iron Man and The Avengers releasing solo ventures for each member of the titular team (The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America), thereby ensuring that when it came time for the heroes to work together, audiences knew who they were dealing with. In between Man of Steel and Justice League, DC have barely managed to solidify who Batman and Superman are, let alone introduce newcomers Aquaman, Cyborg and the Flash. The result is that audiences watch Justice League with a mixture of bemusement and confusement, with characters talking to one another with a jokey familiarity that would be acceptable if we knew the characters half as well as they seem to know one another.
None of the characters really take full form at any point in the film – despite the apocalyptic threat facing them, they meander from scene to scene relying on quips and intertextual references alone to give themselves any sense of depth, without success. There are some genuinely funny moments, with Flash and Aquaman providing some welcome humour in contrast to the gritty dullness of previous ventures such as Batman vs Superman. But they’re too little too late in a franchise that has already lost its sense of self, and often jokes fall flat; Batman is a particular offender, switching between brooding and absurd on a dime.
The start of the film offered hope – Batman pursuing a goon across the dreary Gotham skyline is a scene that could come out of any of his comic or film appearances. After a short, intense fight sequence, Batman dangles the criminal over a ledge, in what has to be a call-back to Tim Burton’s Batman, as well as Nolan’s Batman Begins. So far so good, but things quickly get out of hand. The scene proceeds to devolve into an eye-glazing mesh of CGI that looks more like a cut scene from a videogame than anything a $300 million blockbuster ought to present. “One misses the days when one’s biggest concerns were exploding, wind-up penguins” muses Batman’s butler Alfred, played reluctantly by Jeremy Irons, at one point in the film. It’s a cheeky line – a nod towards the camp 60s Batman that’s exactly the kind of self-referential banter so characteristic of acting-director Joss Whedon. The problem is, he’s right; faced with demi-gods, ancient evils and hordes of computer-rendered baddies, I found myself longing for the simpler plotlines of Batman old. Perhaps if DC spent less time playing catch-up, and more time trying to recapture what made properties like classic Batman so engaging, enduring and, well, fun, we would be facing a much different film today.
What’s most tragic about the film is the wasted potential it exudes. One would expect that with a roster of some of the most famous superheroes in the world, and nearly 80 years of comic book storylines to draw upon, Warner Brothers would be able to produce a piece more befitting its godlike characters.
Director: Zack Snyder
STAR WARS – THE LAST JEDI
When Rian Johnson was announced as the director of the eighth Star Wars outing back in 2014, it was met with mixed reactions from fans and critics alike. Known by most only for his 2012 sci-fi flick Looper, which was well received by critics but failed to resonate with audiences, Johnson seemed like an odd, even risky, choice to head the second film of Disney’s ‘Sequel Trilogy’.
Now, three years later, the choice makes sense. Just as J.J. Abrams was the right pick to reintroduce audiences to Star Wars, Johnson is the right pick to take audiences on a new journey, in new ways, whilst retaining what makes Star Wars, Star Wars.
Mark Hamill’s return is a triumphant one, delivering one of the best performances of his career as an embittered Luke Skywalker reluctant to play mentor to Daisy Ridley’s Rey. What’s most impressive is how effortlessly Hamill appears to sink into the role, naturally but intriguingly progressing the character that audiences know and love. Adam Driver is also deserving of commendation – far removed from the somewhat angsty Kylo of The Force Awakens, here the character is brought to new and surprising heights, a testament to both the writing of director Johnson and Driver’s acting ability. Carrie Fisher turns in a respectable final performance, having shot all of her scenes prior to her tragic passing in 2016 – her role in the film does make one wonder, however, how much plans for the overall plot have changed in the wake of her absence.
There are, it must be said, disappointments to be found within as well. The plot breaks the characters apart in a rather scattered approach, leaving the audience with three plotlines to follow, and at times this proves too much; the prolonged escapades of Rose and Finn on the casino planet of Canto Bight, for example, leaves one yearning to return to the frankly more interesting goings on of Luke and Rey. Those who worry about Disney’s control over Star Wars might also take this film as reason to worry – the humour throughout comes across as a bit too ‘studio friendly’, and is comparable to the constant quipping to be found in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That having been said, there are many funny scenes in the film – Johnson’s claims that his film wouldn’t be the dark and brooding sequel the marketing presented are proven true, with characters such as the Ahch-To caretakers and Domhnall Gleeson’s Commander Hux earning well earned laughs in the theatre.
As far as sound and visuals go, there is nothing to complain about here; as ever, the folks at Industrial Light and Magic turn out shots that defy belief. A particular scene involving a lightspeed jump towards the end of the film has to be mentioned – the awe was palpable throughout in the theatre I attended. The lightsaber fights, a cornerstone of Star Wars, also receive a welcome makeover, with Ridley and Driver exhibiting their own distinctive fighting styles in truly breathtaking fashion.
Despite a somewhat clunky plot and too much screen-time for its own good, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a triumph; boasting gorgeous visuals, fan favourites and exciting new directions for the series, it leaves one fulfilled and entertained in a way that many blockbusters fail to.
Director: Rian Johnson