This story is a very strange one, so buckle up! If you haven’t heard the news, Warner Bros. and DC Films recently announced the cancellation of Batgirl, with news reports suggesting that the film was considered “irredeemable” by the studio after disastrous test screenings. What’s so strange about this, though, is how far along in its production Batgirl was at the time of its cancellation.
Films get cancelled all the time, but almost never this late in the game. With principal photography complete, enough post-production work done to get the film ready for test screenings, and a partnership with streaming platform HBO Max to distribute the film, practically all of Batgirl’s reported $90 million budget has been spent. Canning it at this stage is incomprehensible… no matter how subjectively “bad” test audiences may have found the film to be.
But is that all there is to say? The film was “so bad” that Warner Bros. and DC Films pulled the plug, and that’s it? Many industry watchers don’t think so, and there’s a rumour flitting around – unsubstantiated at this stage, it must be said – that Warner Bros. and its corporate ownership may have taken this decision in order to offset debts and losses elsewhere in the company.
Warner Bros-Discovery – the parent company of both Warner Bros. films and DC Comics – is tens of billions of dollars in debt, and by cancelling Batgirl the corporation may have been able to write off the loss against its substantial debts, perhaps saving or even earning money in the process. That would be on top of the money saved on the film’s marketing and theatrical release.
Whether that was the intention or not, it does seem as though Warner Bros-Discovery will indeed benefit financially from the film’s cancellation, and that leads us to some very challenging questions about the state of corporate entertainment in a broader sense. This situation is basically unprecedented in modern times; for a film to be cancelled while being functionally complete, potentially locked away in a vault or destroyed, never to be shown in public, it’s something that just hasn’t happened in a very long time.
Other corporations will be watching, looking to see what kind of backlash Warner Bros-Discovery may face, and what kind of consequences – if any – there may be. If the prevailing consensus in a few weeks’ time is that they got away with it and made a tidy saving in the process, perhaps we’ll see this happen again at other corporations in future. You know what corporations are like – once they see an opening, and the waters are tested to confirm it’s safe, they all start jumping in.
I don’t know whether Batgirl would’ve been any good. I felt that The Batman, released earlier this year, was okay for what it was, but as someone who isn’t the biggest fan of comic books and their cinematic adaptations, perhaps it was never really going to be “my thing.” But that’s basically irrelevant at this point, because there clearly was an audience for Batgirl, and as we’ve seen by the reaction on social media, fans of comic books and even cinema in general have turned up to condemn this move from Warner Bros-Discovery.
There have been some well-received comic book adaptations in recent years – Avengers Endgame and Joker spring to mind as just a couple of examples. But even if Batgirl was never going to hit those high notes, did it not still deserve a chance? Even if it was going to end up being critically panned alongside Morbius or Inhumans, shouldn’t it have been left to audiences to find that out for ourselves?
With the cost of releasing a film digitally relatively low – Warner Bros-Discovery owns HBO Max, at the end of the day – it doesn’t seem worth it to spend all of this money on Batgirl only to cancel it at such a late stage. Even if test audience reactions were so negative that a theatrical release was taken off the table, sticking the film on a streaming platform has almost no downsides. Nothing Batgirl could’ve done would’ve damaged the reputations of Warner Bros. or DC Comics in a significant way, so if the film flopped then so what? That happens all the time, and studios dust themselves off and move on. All that would’ve happened if Batgirl had been poorly-received is that it wouldn’t have gotten a sequel and would’ve been quietly forgotten, not being incorporated into any version of the foundering DC Extended Universe.
So that’s where this “debt write-off” conspiracy theory has come from. We may never know the true story of what happened to Batgirl, but I think its cancellation is a shame. Having heard some details about the film, I can honestly say that it sounded like a film with potential. JK Simmons was to take on the role of Commissioner Gordon, Michael Keaton was to return as Batman for the first time since 1992’s Batman Returns, and Brendan Fraser was to star as villain Firefly. I like all of those performers, and seeing Brendan Fraser take on a role like this would’ve been absolutely delicious; I could see his performance being a highlight even if the story of the film and some of its other elements weren’t especially strong.
Moreover, Batgirl would’ve starred Leslie Grace, best known for her role in In The Heights. She seemed ready to take on the role of Batgirl, and her take on the character would’ve been an interesting one. In a superhero genre overloaded with male superheroes and ensembles, almost any picture with a female lead is going to feel different, interesting, and exciting.
All of these performers, as well as the film’s directors and other members of the creative team, have been insulted by this move. If it’s true that Warner Bros-Discovery is doing this to take advantage of a loophole and pay down its mountain of debt, then it’s even worse. Allowing Batgirl to take the fall – and be heinously attacked in the process, with worlds like “irredeemable” being thrown around – is just awful, rotten treatment by the studio and its corporate overlords.
So I think it’s disappointing that Batgirl was cancelled. The circumstances are incredibly bizarre, and I can quite understand why speculation has turned into conspiracy theory pretty quickly. The reaction online has been overwhelmingly negative, and if Warner Bros-Discovery stick to their guns and don’t release the film, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see bootleg copies popping up on pirate websites in the weeks ahead. Ironically, Batgirl may have just become one of the hottest and most sought-after films of the year. I know I for one would be very interested to see what all the fuss has been about.
Batgirl is the copyright of Warner Bros. and DC Films. No release is currently scheduled. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Morbius.
It’s Morbin’ time! While working my way through my lunch (a plate of egg and chips – yum) I was in need of something to watch… so I fired up Morbius. This film has acquired a reputation since its release that has not eluded me, and despite the fact that I generally like to watch things free from critical opinions, the general dislike for Morbius – the film sits at 17% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes – has been unavoidable.
But when I looked ahead to cinematic points of interest at the start of the year, Morbius had actually ended up on my list. From my perspective as someone who isn’t into comics and doesn’t care too much about their cinematic adaptations, it’s somewhat of a rarity to take even a passing interest in a project like this. But because Morbius is produced by Sony and not affiliated with the wider Marvel Cinematic Universe, I felt there was the potential, at least, for a decent one-off film.
The premise of Morbius is interesting, and as someone who hasn’t read any of the source material I was curious to see what the film would do with its “doctor-becomes-a-vampire” concept. As someone who is disabled, the idea of looking for a cure or a medical solution, no matter the cost, is a relatable and understandable one, and while Morbius certainly put a fantasy spin on that concept, the bare bones of the project felt like it had a good starting point.
There were some sequences during the film’s opening act that successfully communicated at least some of that feeling. Jared Leto gave his character’s disability a relatable spin, if not always a completely believable one, and as the foundation for the story I felt that the way it was handled was okay. There are certainly more realistic and sympathetic presentations of disability in cinema, but I daresay that most viewers aren’t coming to a film like Morbius to see the day-to-day life of a disabled person. The life-limiting condition afflicting Dr Morbius and his friend wasn’t even named; I inferred that it was a fictional ailment, and given that the story didn’t have a lot of time to spend on the minutia, that was probably the right call.
The sequence toward the beginning of the film showing younger versions of the central characters was surprisingly raw, and I didn’t expect to see such a brutal depiction of bullying when I sat down to watch Morbius. Though it was hardly anything that hasn’t been seen before in other films and television series, the way in which young Lucian/Milo was taunted and then beaten by a gang of youths was powerful stuff – all the more so because of his nameless health condition. In fact, that sequence was probably the closest that Morbius got to being uncomfortable in terms of its violence; much of the rest of the fighting and gore was pure fantasy.
Jared Harris excels in every role I’ve ever seen him perform, and although there’s one specific moment that we’ll come to with his character that didn’t work, for my money Morbius was a better film for his inclusion as Dr Nicholas. He approached the character with the same seriousness as his roles in projects like Lincoln and Chernobyl, lending Dr Nicholas an outsized gravitas that grounded the character and every scene he appeared in. Even when dealing with some fantastical and silly storylines, Harris gave a wonderful performance.
There was, however, an odd moment as Dr Nicholas was killed off. As he spoke his final words to Morbius, there appeared to be some very clumsy audio work. A different take on the line – or perhaps a new line – had clearly been recorded later and very poorly spliced into the scene, and the result was that Dr Nicholas’ mouth didn’t move in sync with the words he spoke. If it hadn’t been a close-up shot focused on his face perhaps it would’ve passed by unnoticed, but it didn’t – and a combination of poor editing decisions led to what should’ve been one of the film’s more powerful moments falling flat.
Speaking of falling flat, I had a hard time following the motivations of the film’s villain. Milo – a.k.a. Lucian, former friend of Dr Morbius – seems to be a fairly bland “evil for the sake of it” villain, with no real motivation other than “I can kill people now, so I will.” I didn’t find that aspect of his character interesting in the slightest, and it gave the film a very uninspired and uninteresting feel from the moment it became obvious who was going to be the villain of the piece.
I’ve only ever seen Matt Smith in a couple of other roles outside of Dr Who, so I was curious to see how he’d get on when tackling a villain. There was a fun Dr Who reference, as Smith emphasised the word “eleven” at one point early in the film (his was the Eleventh Doctor). However, I found his performance to be somewhat over-the-top, especially once his character had undergone the transformation into his vampiric form. There was the potential for a more nuanced approach leading to a more sympathetic villain, and while we got glimpses of that through Milo’s initial desperation for a cure at any price and later as he died, in between was pure pantomime. Smith’s performance did nothing to damp down that aspect of what was admittedly a poor script.
In fact, those past couple of sentences could encapsulate Morbius in general. What started out as a film with an interesting premise and characters – including the title character – who behaved understandably in light of life-limiting illnesses quickly devolved into an incredibly basic “good guy versus bad guy” CGI-heavy action flick. Nuance and character development went out the window as the film raced through a series of increasingly silly – and increasingly unexplained – action sequences.
At first we seemed to be on course to see Dr Morbius discover and hone different abilities. Following his initial transition aboard the ship, he began noting down different feelings and sensations, developing and refining his echolocation, speed, agility, and strength. Learning to “fly” or glide was perhaps a step too far, but it might’ve worked had there been more of a buildup to it. But what I couldn’t understand was how Dr Morbius had the ability – seemingly from nowhere – to summon bats. And more than that, where did all those bats come from? There weren’t that many in his lab when we saw them earlier in the film, yet he seemed to summon thousands out of mid-air at the film’s climax.
There were attempts in Morbius to use light, shadow, and fog in clever ways, concealing parts of what was happening on screen or allowing things to be seen through a haze. These perhaps didn’t work as perfectly as they could have, but I will credit director Daniel Espinosa with making an attempt to use the camera in different ways rather than relying wholly on CGI.
CGI animation work in Morbius is rather divided. On the one hand, wider shots generally looked quite good, and the “smokey” effect used for Dr Morbius and Milo’s fast-paced vampire moves was a neat one that I hadn’t seen used in that way before. On the other, the CGI faces used for Dr Morbius and in particular Matt Smith’s Milo were poor, despite what I’m sure was a high budget and the best efforts of some talented animators.
The vampire faces seemed to take those used in the likes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as a starting point, perhaps trying to blend in more bat-like features such as flattened noses. As concepts, there was nothing particularly wrong with the way they looked – but the animation work used to bring them to the screen wasn’t up to par, and the faces ended up feeling artificial and video game-y, particularly when the characters “roared” or made other oversized movements.
One sequence in particular bugged me, and I’ll try to explain why. This isn’t something unique to Morbius by any means, and I’ve spoken before about how the choice of filming location can impact a production. In this case, a particular sequence in which Milo and Dr Morbius argued and battled was supposedly set in a New York City subway station – but it was painfully obvious that it was, in fact, shot at a London Underground station. This completely snapped me out of the film, and I just don’t really understand why so many productions like this use inappropriate or just plain bad filming locations.
The London Underground and the New York City subway are pretty different from one another, with completely different architectural and design aesthetics, so why choose a London Underground station for a shoot like this? If filming was taking place away from New York, couldn’t a small section be recreated on a sound stage? Why go to all the trouble of a location shoot only to pick a location that’s completely obviously wrong? I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m nitpicking… but I think a lot of viewers – or at least viewers in the UK – will have picked up on the fact that that sequence was not filmed in New York!
So that’s about all I have to say, I guess. Morbius is not entirely without redeeming features. Jared Leto, Jared Harris, and Adria Arjona all put in great performances with the material they had available, and there were some clever concepts and ideas in the film’s opening act that, had they been in focus for longer and explored in more detail, could have led to a more interesting film overall.
As it is, Morbius descended quite quickly into being a fantasy-action film with a bog-standard “goodies versus baddies” premise. I didn’t find any of its fantasy elements to be frightening or horrifying – and coming from someone who can be quite sensitive to jump-scares and the horror genre, I think that says something. Morbius is far from being the worst film I’ve ever seen, nor even the worst comic book superhero film I’ve seen, but it’s hardly anything spectacular or worth devoting a lot of time to.
I don’t think that Morbius deserves the 0/10 that some folks seem to insist on awarding it; it has enough of a saving grace thanks to some solid performances and a decent opening act to avoid that fate. But it’s not a film I’m in any hurry to revisit.
Morbius is out now and can be streamed for a fee on Amazon Prime Video, Google Play, iTunes, and more. DVD and Blu-ray versions will follow later this year. Morbius is the copyright of Sony Pictures Entertainment and is based on Morbius, the Living Vampire from Marvel Comics. This review contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Batman.
When The Batman was announced a couple of years ago, I was distinctly underwhelmed. After more than fifteen years of samey presentations of the titular caped crusader going back to 2005’s Batman Begins, I felt uninterested in another “dark and gritty” take on a character whose darkness and grittiness had been done to death.
In addition, as I’ve said on a number of occasions here on the website, I’m not the world’s biggest fan of comic books or their cinematic adaptations. Some are decent enough, but usually the highest praise I can muster for anything in the superhero genre is to call it moderately entertaining; the kind of mindless popcorn action flick that can inoffensively kill a couple of hours.
That was the mindset I had as I sat down to watch The Batman. Was I about to be blown away and have my mind changed on both of those subjects, convincing me that the world can’t ever have enough dark and gritty Batman movies, and that there’s more to the world of comics than mindless entertainment?
Well, no. But at the same time, I didn’t hate or even really dislike The Batman. It did what its creators wanted it to do, and while I have a few gripes with a story that felt somewhat bloated and muddled in places, as well as a few visual effects that were wide of the mark, overall it was engaging enough to keep my attention. From the point of view of someone who isn’t any kind of Batman or DC Comics superfan, The Batman was good enough. It won’t be my pick for “film of the year,” but it’s unlikely to end up as the worst movie I’ll see in 2022 either.
One point in The Batman’s favour is that it exists in a standalone space and isn’t trying to connect itself to the wider DC Comics “extended universe” – DC’s failed attempt to match the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This allows it to do its own thing without feeling obligated to tie into a dozen or more other titles, and without feeling confusing or offputting for newbies and casual audiences in the way that Marvel films and projects are starting to.
Having seen other Batman films and productions over the years, I felt familiar enough with its world that some of the characters’ names were familiar – Carmine Falcone, Salvatore Maroni, Selina Kyle, etc. – but also I felt that that familiarity wasn’t necessary for anything that The Batman wanted to do. These characters, though they may have familiar names, are new and distinct versions, and their histories, personalities, and connections to one another were suitably explained by The Batman itself. No in-depth knowledge required!
From the first moments of the film, The Batman captured the look and feel of Gotham City. From the 19th Century opulent gothic-style architecture to the urban decay inspired by the likes of Chicago, Detroit, and older depictions of New York, I genuinely felt that the version of Gotham City brought to screen in The Batman was real and lived-in; a well-constructed backdrop for the events of the film to unfold in front of.
There was some clever cinematography in The Batman, with well-composed camera shots that felt immersive and highlighted something that would go on to be important later. The film also used light and shadow to great effect, hiding the titular Batman in darkened areas and illuminating scenes in very evocative ways.
Focus was also part of The Batman’s cinematography, with rain-smeared windows partially obscuring characters and events. The clever camera work would show just enough to build up the tension, as characters could be seen just outside of the camera’s focal area. The sense of movement from these slightly blurry, out-of-focus areas conveyed a sense of mystery that tied in with the theme of a film where the Riddler was one of the key antagonists.
It wasn’t all perfect from a visual standpoint, though. There were moments where the use of green-screens was incredibly obvious, such as a sequence which saw Batman using a wing-suit to escape a tricky situation, when he was dangling from a precarious platform, and later at the end of the film when he was riding a motorcyle. What’s interesting is that this is also something I noted last year in my reviews of two other DC projects: The Suicide Squad and Zack Snyder’s Justice League. This recurring green-screen situation is clearly an ongoing problem that Warner Bros. and DC Films need to work on going forward. These moments looked out-of-place and outdated in The Batman, as if the green-screen sequences had been created twenty years ago without the benefits of modern-day techniques and technologies.
There were some neat musical choices on The Batman’s soundtrack. The score for the film was well-produced, evoking the right feelings at the right moments. Occasionally this could feel a little heavy-handed, as if the music was trying to force a certain emotion onto a sequence rather than letting me experience it for myself, but generally speaking it worked as intended.
I also enjoyed the use of the Nirvana song Something In The Way, which came at the beginning and end of the film, kind of bookending the main events. Apparently director Matt Reeves based parts of the film’s presentation of Bruce Wayne on Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain, who was known for being a recluse.
Much had been made of the casting choice of Robert Pattinson – a British actor best known for his roles in the Twilight and Harry Potter franchises – in The Batman’s leading role. I felt that Pattinson did a decent job and was convincing as this version of Bruce Wayne; his American accent was fantastic, too.
Zoë Kravitz reprised the role of Selina Kyle/Catwoman from The Lego Batman Movie, though her role in that film was smaller than it was in The Batman. Kravitz likewise did well with this new version of the classic Batman character, and I found her to be convincing in all of her scenes. Indeed the whole cast put in great performances, and I can’t really single out anyone for criticism in that regard.
If films like The Dark Knight and TV shows like Gotham had never been made, perhaps The Batman would feel like the new yardstick against which other adaptations could be measured. But because it comes on the back of other adaptations of the same source material that exist in an incredibly similar thematic and visual space, it doesn’t feel groundbreaking or original in the way it might. It feels if not downright repetitive then just a riff on the same idea, and with a story that wasn’t groundbreaking either, I guess I just wasn’t bowled over by anything that The Batman did.
The Batman’s messaging was also quite muddled. On the one hand, Batman himself is presented as the hero; the caped crusader who wants to prevent crime and terrorism. Yet the so-called villains of the piece are also vigilantes who are targeting the same corruption and systemic inequality that has plagued the city since before Bruce Wayne was born.
Themes of white privilege and wealth privilege were bubbling just below the surface in The Batman, but the film wasn’t always clear which side of the fence it came down on, nor how it wanted its audience to interpret these themes. Should we root for Batman, even though his family’s past hid crimes, including murder and involvement with the mafia? Does Batman’s role as an avatar of “vengeance” for Gotham City counteract the misdeeds of his family, including, presumably, how they were able to acquire such fantastic wealth for themselves in the first place?
When the Riddler revealed to Batman that he viewed him as an inspiration in exposing the corruption of Gotham City’s police force, politicians, and other community leaders, Batman had no comeback or recourse. Are we supposed to say that Batman’s insistence on not killing his foes, which wasn’t exactly front-and-centre in this presentation of the character, makes him different enough from the Riddler that we can venerate one while condemning the other?
Frankly, the film posed questions through these narrative threads that it didn’t provide satisfactory answers to. Bruce Wayne comes from a position of immense privilege, but the film doesn’t always know how it wants to handle that. Some scenes glorify Bruce’s unlimited resources as Batman, showing off a range of gadgets and high-tech gizmos. Others openly criticise the Wayne family and Bruce in particular for the privilege he enjoys and how he’s perceived.
This gave The Batman a strange kind of moral ambiguity that came close to equating the goals and methods of its heroes and villains. Can we say that Gotham City would’ve been better off not knowing about the web of corruption that the Riddler exposed? If Batman had his way, he’d have prevented that information from coming to light by stopping the Riddler much sooner. It’s only in the film’s final act, when the Riddler revealed his plan to destroy Gotham City’s coastal defences, flooding part of the city, that there was any sense of a “good guy-versus-bad guy” dynamic – and by that point the story was practically over.
The Batman’s main storyline is also unusual for this kind of film in the sense that it ends with defeat. Batman was effectively outsmarted by the Riddler, whose plan was at least partially successful. The action stays focused mainly on Batman and a group of wealthy and privileged city-dwellers, so we don’t even get to see how the flooding devastated lower-income communities. With no advanced warning, it stands to reason that a lot of people would have been injured or killed – but the film glossed over all of that to show us Batman, Catwoman, and Jim Gordon battling the Riddler’s minions to save the new mayor and other members of Gotham’s elite… the same elite that the film had spent the preceding two hours explaining were all complicit in varying ways in the city’s corruption.
The ending of this story felt unearned. Batman spent much of the film claiming to be “vengeance” personified, taking out criminals, gangsters, and stoking fear amongst Gotham City’s criminal underclass – many of whom were the same underprivileged folks (often from minority backgrounds) that other aspects of the film’s storyline seemed to be trying to advocate for. The film’s closing minutes showed Batman as a kind of rallying symbol for the city; the embodiment of hope, perhaps. But this transition seemed to come out of the blue, and I didn’t feel that we’d seen much of anything from Batman himself, or the few friends and allies he had, to inform this change in the city’s attitude toward him.
I wasn’t wild about one aspect of the presentation of the Riddler. We’ve seen depictions of the Riddler before, in productions like the television series Gotham, in which he was implied to be neurodivergent, and those depictions didn’t always succeed at conveying that in a sympathetic way. This is a problem Batman has had across all forms of media going back to its inception, where people with “mental illnesses” are portrayed as being violent criminals, murderers, scheming masterminds, and so on. The entire concept of the Arkham Insane Asylum – which was also featured in The Batman – is part of that, and the Riddler’s depiction leaned into stereotypes of autism and the neurodivergent that are, at best, unhelpful.
I’m a big advocate for better representations and depictions of mental health in media, and this kind of rather crude stereotype of the obsessive autistic loner who becomes criminally violent is not the kind of positive portrayal that we need to see more of. At its best, I’d say it was right in line with what DC Comics has done with the villains of Gotham City going back to the 1940s. At worst, I might say this depiction of a neurodivergent individual as the film’s primary antagonist is problematic.
On this side of the story, though, I will credit The Batman for trying to make a social point. There are subcultures in secluded corners of the internet where individuals gather to discuss their violent fantasies and conspiracy theories, and this side of the Riddler’s presentation felt timely and realistic. I can buy into the idea that someone like that would gain a following – because we can see it happening in real life with the likes of the QAnon conspiracy theory and incel subculture, to name just two examples.
This presentation stuck the landing, even while the Riddler’s felt a little uncomfortable, and in a film that clearly had the ambition of parachuting a superhero into a “realistic” setting, presenting the villain’s henchmen or followers in this way was a clever inclusion. It’s one element that adds to the immersion of the setting.
So that was The Batman. I didn’t hate it, but I stand by what I said at the beginning: it didn’t really bring anything new to the table. It felt like an iteration on not only what Batman films have been doing since at least 2005, but also on what DC Films and Warner Bros. have been doing with all of their recent comic book adaptations. We got a dark, gritty attempt to bring superheroes into the real world – a world rife with criminals, drugs, and other problems. There was nothing fun or light-hearted about that… and I think that’s where DC continues to miss the boat.
Comic books and the worlds they created are aimed at kids, and they bring with them comedic moments, light-heartedness, and positivity. A muddled story that couldn’t quite decide who to root for and how in a setting that was as dark and gritty as they come didn’t provide any of that, so when I compare The Batman to even the least-enjoyable Marvel outing, something was missing.
A sequel already seems to be on the cards, with the film even closing with a tease as to who Batman could be facing off against next time. Perhaps when it’s ready I’ll be convinced to take a look!
The Batman is the copyright of Warner Bros. Pictures, DC Films, and DC Comics, Inc. The Batman is available to stream now on HBO Max in the United States, and on Amazon Video, Google Play, the Microsoft Store, iTunes, and other video-on-demand platforms around the world for a fee. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Suicide Squad and other recent DC titles.
I always caveat my reviews of comic book films by saying that I’m not really a huge comics fan. I never read comic books as a kid, and while there have been some cinematic adaptations that worked well, for the most part the highest praise I can give most comic book films is that they’re moderately entertaining action fare.
My most recent encounter with a DC Comics film was Zack Snyder’s Justice League – and I really didn’t enjoy that film. But in 2016 I’d watched the first Suicide Squad and enjoyed it for what it was, so I figured I’d check in with this film to see what it had to offer. First, though, I had to figure out what The Suicide Squad is. Is it a sequel? A reboot? A soft reboot? In short, what’s going on with the confusingly similar title?
DC has struggled to compete with Marvel in terms of film adaptations, despite having just as many well-known and well-regarded superheroes at its disposal. Following disappointing results with some of the films of the DC Extended Universe, including the original cut of Justice League, DC opted to rework its cinematic offerings, and I think that’s why this film is called The Suicide Squad instead of Suicide Squad 2. DC hasn’t done a good job of communicating all of this, though, at least not to casual viewers. Hardcore DC fans who follow all the ins and outs of the brand and its news will know what to expect from The Suicide Squad, but there’s no doubt in my mind that its confusing name and the deeply muddled state of DC’s film universe is going to be baffling to many would-be viewers – if not outright offputting.
Compounding this was the fact that most of the cast of Suicide Squad didn’t reprise their roles this time around. Will Smith, Cara Delevigne, Jared Leto, and several other big names either chose not to return or saw their roles cut when the DCEU’s plans changed.
Though The Suicide Squad is tonally similar to its predecessor, when compared to the likes of Zack Snyder’s Justice League – a film which tried so desperately hard to take itself seriously that it became unintentionally funny – there’s a wild shift in tone. The dark humour and lack of seriousness in The Suicide Squad is a massive improvement over a film like Zack Snyder’s Justice League, and a far better fit for its source material, which was something I appreciated! But it does make DC’s recent cinematic output feel completely disjointed; wild jumps in tone and style make the two films feel like they couldn’t possibly be part of one supposedly-connected, ongoing world. Marvel comparisons again abound because that franchise handles this so much better. Marvel projects are generally consistent in basic things like their style and tone, and it’s seldom the case that one comes away from a Marvel film feeling it’s wildly out of kilter with other parts of the franchise.
Humour is a very subjective thing, and not every joke or comedic moment will have landed for every viewer. But for me, the film’s sense of humour was generally on point. The Suicide Squad didn’t strive to take itself too seriously, and at the same time was able to successfully communicate the stakes involved for the protagonists. That isn’t a line that’s easy to walk sometimes, yet the film broadly stayed on the right side of it.
Keeping a relatively lighthearted tone throughout was to the film’s benefit. Not only was it appropriate for a story that bordered on the ridiculous (a giant starfish from outer space) but it provided The Suicide Squad with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. A lighter style allowed the film to embrace much of the silliness that comes from comic book characters and their visual styles, and compared to other DC titles The Suicide Squad leaned into campiness in its costuming and took in its stride some truly wacky concepts, characters, and premises.
There were some definite visual misses in The Suicide Squad. The CGI and green-screen work was far from perfect, and though the worst moments were few and far between, in a film with a budget of more than $180 million that really shouldn’t be happening in the first place. There were some “uncanny valley” moments with the CGI, particularly CGI moments involving the film’s human characters. Then there were some moments where the use of green-screens was just incredibly obvious to the point of being offputting.
Interestingly, these issues also plagued Zack Snyder’s Justice League. In my review of that film I wondered if some of the visual effects misses might’ve been due to the lower budget afforded to the re-editing of the film. It now seems as though that wasn’t the case; DC just isn’t especially good at green-screen and CGI moments. In a film that relies heavily on visual effects, this isn’t just noticeable – it actively detracts from the experience and can completely ruin suspension of disbelief.
After his recent controversy for apologising to the Chinese dictatorship, it was ironic – no, it was grotesque – to see John Cena playing a character whose defining characteristic is is love of freedom and peace. Though this character was always presented as a semi-antagonist, something about the casting really got under my skin. Cena’s portrayal of Peacemaker was fine – competent, even. But knowing how the actor favours Chinese money over basic human rights, seeing him spouting lines like “I would do it for liberty” was vomit-inducing.
Idris Elba took the leading role in The Suicide Squad and put in a creditable performance as a mercenary “with a heart of gold;” taking on the dangerous mission for the sake of his daughter. Giving Bloodsport this extra motivation added an extra dimension to the character and kept him believable – despite the wacky situation and the chaos that unfolded around him. Elba had previously played Krall, the villain in Star Trek Beyond, and it was fun to see him in a different role on this occasion.
Margot Robbie got top billing alongside Idris Elba, but in 2016 I felt her forced “American” accent as Harley Quinn was just plain awful, and unfortunately that situation has not improved in the slightest in the years since. Robbie put in an otherwise impressive performance as the damaged, psychotic Quinn, but her accent was never believable and that did detract from the character at points.
The surprise star for me was Portuguese actress Daniela Melchior, who played Ratcatcher 2. Her deeply emotional portrayal cut through what was a strange and even silly premise to become an unexpectedly impressive performance in a film laden with established stars. Her character arc, coming to terms with the loss of her father and finally putting to use his odd invention, was elevated far beyond what it could’ve been by Melchior’s performance, which is even more impressive considering that The Suicide Squad is one of her first ever English-speaking roles. She provided vulnerability and emotion to the character – and the paternal relationship between Bloodsport and Ratcatcher 2, while not fully developed, really formed the film’s entire emotional core.
The decision to begin the film with a fake-out – setting up a secondary “suicide squad” and then watching them get slaughtered – was a bold decision. Setting up a different crop of characters, and framing that part of the film from the point of view of one of them, did succeed at setting up Harley Quinn’s storyline and at communicating the stakes involved and the level of risk to the main characters. But at the same time it felt cheap; setting up minor characters – redshirts – to be killed off allowed most of the other main characters to survive their so-called suicide mission. Only one of the principal characters on Bloodsport’s team ended up dead by the film’s end, which might not be enough for a film literally called The Suicide Squad.
Perhaps the decision for all but the Polka Dot Man to survive is DC’s way of teeing up another sequel. If that’s the case, I would definitely be interested to see Bloodsport and Ratcatcher 2 return for another outing. The disjointed way DC still runs its cinematic arm makes me wonder if they have any such plans, though – and if they do, whether it’ll ever happen!
In a film with a larger cast, some characters can end up feeling underused, and Peter Capaldi’s Thinker definitely fell into that trap. Set up early on in the film as one of the main villains of the piece, he ended up being little more than a one-dimensional hurdle for other characters to blaze past on their way to completing their mission. Peter Capaldi is an actor I’ve admired in the past, yet in recent years he never seems to land roles that are honestly worthy of his time. His tenure in Doctor Who saw lacklustre stories, and now his role in The Suicide Squad was, at best, a run-of-the-mill “mad scientist” trope.
It was a little disappointing we didn’t spend more time with the Thinker, nor really learn what he was doing at Project Starfish. A brief scene showed off a number of caged folks infected with the Starfish’s face-huggers and a few gory-looking but unexplained experiments. Yet the Thinker, despite being the closest The Suicide Squad got to a supervillain, had no motivation, no real accomplishments, and seemed to exist simply to fill a hole in the script.
The Suicide Squad wasn’t shy in its criticism of American foreign policy, particularly the way the United States can be selective when it comes to favouring liberty and human rights. There were echoes of American policies toward Cuba and nations in Central America in its portrayal of Corto Maltese, as well as the United States’ general policy of supporting “pro-American” dictators all over the world.
These themes have been explored better and in more detail in other films, and while their inclusion in The Suicide Squad wasn’t necessarily bad, it didn’t exactly make for biting satire either. Nor was it particularly original; the political themes present in the narrative had things to say that have already been said both in entertainment and non-fiction on many other occasions, and the film added nothing to this conversation that hasn’t already been discussed and dissected in many other projects. In that sense, the political stuff was a bit unnecessary. It added little to the film except to elevate the ambiguous morality of Viola Davis’ character of Waller, the leader of the suicide squad programme.
Seeing Waller get her comeuppance from members of her own team was satisfying, and perhaps this was the best-executed moment on that side of the film. Waller had been presented as ruthless in the first Suicide Squad, but on this occasion we saw her team grow increasingly uncomfortable with the way she handled the squad and their mission, culminating in her getting wacked on the head. It was definitely a satisfying moment, but as with a couple of other storylines it feels as though there was no real resolution to what happened between Waller and her team.
Even the post-credits scene, which revealed that the Peacemaker survived, didn’t see Waller getting her own back or even interacting with her team in any way. After being knocked unconscious she never says another word on screen to any of them, and that conflict, which had been expertly built up in a number of sequences across the film, feels like it reached its climax then fizzled out. Perhaps it’s something else to be addressed in a sequel?
The Starfish alien, which was the reason for the story, was definitely one of the weirder villains I’ve seen in any comic book film to date. It was familiar enough to not be frightening in its appearance, yet it was also eerie in the way it moved. The face-hugging smaller starfish were like something right out of sci-fi horror classic Alien, but despite being unoriginal were still intimidating enough at first to seem to offer a degree of threat.
The fact that the suicide squad themselves were so easily able to fight off the smaller, mind-controlling starfish was poor, though. I’ve said this before, but the concept of a zombie virus, Borg assimilation, or anything else that can control minds and turn allies into enemies is deeply frightening; the thought of losing control of one’s body is, for many folks, a fate worse than death. Yet when it really could’ve mattered, The Suicide Squad wasted this concept. The only characters we saw get caught by the face-huggers were nameless goons (and one villain). As a result, the Starfish alien lost its only genuinely threatening aspect pretty quickly.
It was still a giant monster to fight, and the squad had trouble taking it down. Because of the name of the film there was a sense that any of them could’ve been in danger, yet as noted only one character ended up being killed off during this climactic final battle. I had become somewhat attached to the likes of King Shark and Ratcatcher 2 (and the adorable Sebastian the rat) so on the one hand I’m glad that they all made it. On the other, it feels as though there could’ve been more casualties.
A film called The Suicide Squad and which sets up the premise of a forlorn hope type of mission seems like it should’ve ended with more casualties. Even one of the characters who appeared dead – Peacemaker – was later revealed to have survived, so at least part of the film’s premise doesn’t feel fulfilled. Though losing a protagonist is almost never fun, in some stories it feels right – and The Suicide Squad was certainly a story that could’ve seen more of its protagonists fail to make it home.
Other superhero films using a team-up premise often set up at least some of their characters beforehand. As a result we know going in what to expect from them. In the case of The Suicide Squad, one negative point against the film is that none of the characters really felt like villains. We didn’t know any of them (except Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn) before the film started, and though we heard from Waller and others that some of them had done bad things in the past, that never really came across on screen; none of them felt like bad people.
To me, this chips away at the premise of The Suicide Squad. It wanted to throw anti-heroes at a far worse villain, allowing us as the audience to feel like they were redeemable and not all bad. Yet because of the way the film started and the way the characters were introduced, none of them ever really felt like bad people or even people who deserved to be imprisoned. Perhaps if we’d seen for ourselves a montage of some of their worst moments earlier in the film that sense could’ve been present, and the moral ambiguity it would’ve brought to the film might’ve elevated it into something more complex. Instead we were given that fake-out sequence with the suicide squad B-team.
Overall, I had a good time with The Suicide Squad. It wasn’t the perfect film by any means, but it was funny when it wanted to be, it leaned into its over-the-top storyline in a way that was in keeping with its comic book origins, and featured a couple of truly outstanding emotional performances that I wasn’t expecting.
Though DC continues to struggle and not really know what kind of films they want to make, I would say they should try to make more like this one! It was everything I expected from a comic book film, and thanks to the emotional performances of a couple of its main characters, maybe even managed to be something more. There were some visual misses, some underdeveloped characters, and a childish storyline featuring a weird alien, but under that fluff I found a decent action-comedy that I decidedly enjoyed.
The Suicide Squad is currently available to stream on HBO Max in the United States. The Suicide Squad is the copyright of DC Films and/or Warner Bros. Pictures. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Minor spoilers are also present for other DC films and comic books.
Generally speaking, I’m not someone who cares too much about comic books or their associated films. Sometimes comic book/superhero films make for decent popcorn flicks – such as The Avengers and a few other Marvel titles. And the Dark Knight trilogy of Batman films were decent. But as someone who didn’t grow up reading comics, that’s about the highest praise I can heap upon their cinematic adaptations. That’s what I mean when I say I’m coming at Zack Snyder’s Justice League from the perspective of a non-fan.
I can’t actually remember if I’ve seen the original version of Justice League; superhero films tend to be somewhat forgettable, and judging by reviews and fan reaction, Justice League wasn’t one of the best. I’ve definitely seen other films in the DC canon, though, including Suicide Squad, Man of Steel, and about half of Batman vs. Superman (before I got bored and switched it off). In short, I’m not comparing the so-called “Snyder cut” to the original version of Justice League – because it was so forgettable that I’ve quite literally forgotten if I’ve even watched it.
Before we get into the meat of my review, I need to hold up my hands and admit to being utterly wrong about something. I never believed for a moment that DC fans would succeed in getting this version of the film released. The hashtag #releasethesnydercut trended online in the aftermath of Justice League’s lukewarm reception a few years ago, and I just dismissed it. These things often die down once the initial controversy over a film has had time to abate, and just like Disney and Lucasfilm were never going to edit or remake The Last Jedi, I felt certain that DC and Warner Bros. would simply ride out the criticism and move on with the rest of their planned releases. I was wrong, having underestimated the strength of feeling and persistence on the part of DC fans, and the fact that Zack Snyder’s Justice League exists at all is testament to their refusal to quit. In the age of social media – where stories and controversies often last a mere 24 hours before vanishing without a trace – that’s impressive.
It’s also indicative, in my opinion, of companies taking fan feedback more seriously than at almost any point in the past. In addition to Zack Snyder’s Justice League I’d point to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – the so-called “Captain Pike series” – that was commissioned purely because of the overwhelming fan response to Anson Mount and Ethan Peck’s portrayals of Pike and Spock in Star Trek: Discovery. More than ever, big entertainment companies are listening to feedback, and that can only be a net positive for fans of any franchise or series.
Onward, then, to Zack Snyder’s Justice League. This film was supposed to be DC’s answer to The Avengers, and any team-up story has to walk a line between relying on what previous entries in the franchise set up and charting a path casual viewers can follow. In that sense, Zack Snyder’s Justice League didn’t do an especially good job. There were a lot of story elements that built directly on top of past DC films, and for a casual viewer or non-fan coming to the film without all of that background knowledge, some events were hard to follow. When I reviewed the Marvel miniseries The Falcon and the Winter Soldier recently, I pointed out that, although returning fans would certainly get a lot more out of the series than I did due to references and callbacks to past films and shows, that wasn’t overwhelming and the production stood on its own two feet. Zack Snyder’s Justice League doesn’t – it feels like a direct sequel.
Avengers Endgame briefly became the highest-grossing film of all time. It did so on the back of casual viewers, not Marvel superfans who show up for every film and series. And because the Marvel producers recognised that, they did what they could to ensure the film didn’t rely excessively on past iterations of the MCU. Maybe the original version of Justice League balanced things better, but Snyder’s cut of the film relies very heavily on other DC titles, and as a result parts of it are nigh-on inaccessible to the casual viewer or non-fan.
The film was very dark – and I mean in terms of lighting, not thematically. If you remember some of the criticisms fans levelled at parts of Game of Thrones Season 8 for poor lighting in some sequences, well Zack Snyder’s Justice League has the same problem almost throughout, as if Mr Snyder forgot to turn on the stage lighting – or deliberately ran the entire film through a crappy Snapchat filter. On a particularly fancy OLED television the darkness may be fine; it was occasionally irritating on my cheap and cheerful LED set. While we’re talking about visuals, it was odd to me to see a modern film shot entirely in the outdated 4:3 screen format. HBO claims that it was a creative choice… but it feels like it was done for no other reason than to give the film a gimmick and talking point.
Such things add nothing to cinema for me; I’d rather see a well-written, well-executed film in a standard widescreen format with proper lighting and colour temperature. These things are gimmicky in the extreme, and while that may be all well and good for arthouse films or Oscar-bait, in what is essentially an action film about superheroes from comic books made for children, these attempts at cinematographic “artistry” fall flat on their face. They’re indicative of a film taking itself far too seriously. Not only that, but the bland colour palette drowned in brown and grey tones; splashes of colour were desperately needed to liven things up.
Until just a few weeks before it was released, the plan had been to broadcast the film as a four-part miniseries; having seen it I think it could certainly have worked in that format. At over four hours (including the credits), Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a long film. That’s sometimes true of directors’ cuts, which is what this version of the film is, but it certainly makes it better-suited to streaming than to the cinema.
Speaking of streaming, the film is only available on HBO Max in the United States, and is accessible on a patchwork of other streaming and/or pay-per-view services in the rest of the world. This messy approach is caused, of course, by the fact that HBO Max is a US-only service at present. In short, where you live will determine how and even whether you can access Zack Snyder’s Justice League, which is never the best way to go about releasing a film, let alone one that was the subject of international fan attention. Sometimes companies need to be reminded of a simple fact: there’s a world (and an audience) outside of the United States!
Everything about Zack Snyder’s Justice League feels like it’s deliberately made to stand in direct contrast to The Avengers and other Marvel titles. Marvel films have tended to embrace much of the light-hearted campiness that comes with the territory for a comic book adaptation, and though doing so can lead to some odd tonal moments where brightly-dressed superheroes find themselves in warzones or other semi-realistic scenarios, the sense of humour and lighter tone can work. DC films in general – and Zack Snyder’s Justice League in particular – seems to hate everything fun and light-hearted about comic books.
What I mean by that is that here we have a film that is going out of its way to be as gritty and dark as possible, to leave behind any of the joy and humour one might expect in a medium originally intended for kids and teenagers. I said earlier that the film takes itself far too seriously, and this is a case in point. These are cape-wearing superheroes of children’s fiction, yet Zack Snyder’s Justice League treats them as though they were hardened characters straight out of a gritty drama about a real-world war. In that sense, I would argue it’s a film that doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be; a film defining itself in opposition to two other projects – the original version of Justice League and Marvel films like The Avengers – but without knowing what its own identity is. What is there to fill the void?
Because of how desperately seriously Zack Snyder’s Justice League tries to take itself, it became unintentionally hilarious at points, and I found myself chuckling at some of the lines and even character moments – the actors played the material they were given so deadpan and straight, and because of that, some moments that were meant to be important, tense, or dramatic ended up just being laughably funny.
Some of the names used for the heroes and villains just aren’t on the same level even as Marvel. “Thanos” has a somewhat poetic or classical quality to it; “Darkseid,” in contrast, does not. The fact that Darkseid is visually similar to Thanos, and his aim – to capture magical macguffins and conquer Earth – is not too far removed from Thanos’ ambitions either, makes the main villain of the piece feel like a knock-off. Maybe that’s unfair – the original version of Justice League was released before Avengers Infinity War brought Thanos to the fore. But even so, watching it after seeing the best Marvel has to offer leaves me with the distinct impression that DC has a long way to go to catch up.
All in all, I found the plot to be rather pedestrian. There’s an ancient supervillain who’s able to return thanks to the Mother Boxes – another silly name for a macguffin – and he’s dead set on conquering Earth. One superhero isn’t enough, so Batman tries to get them to team up. Despite initial resistance from some of them – which was flat and one-dimensional at best – the heroes eventually get together to hatch a plan: bring Superman back to life as he’s the only one who can stop the bad guys.
Bringing someone back from the dead only to discover they aren’t the same as before they died is a trope as old as the written word. We see it in everything from ancient legends of necromancy and witchcraft all the way through to modern works like Stephen King’s Pet Sematary. So the Superman storyline wasn’t anything different or innovative, and the fact that Superman quickly returns to his old self after an encounter with his true love is a rather Disney-esque take on what could’ve been a theme that played out in a much darker way.
With Superman being so much more powerful than the other superheroes, Zack Snyder’s Justice League has a challenge to make their inclusion in the story after his resurrection feel worthwhile, and the film fails to rise to meet it. There’s simply no escaping the fact that the resurrected Superman didn’t need the others – he was perfectly capable of stopping Steppenwolf and the other villains on his own. The other heroes got moments, of course, as the film neared its climax, but the way Zack Snyder’s Justice League chose to present its own story and its own characters made it patently obvious that all but Superman were surplus to requirements.
Speaking of characters, I didn’t feel like any of the heroes or villains really saw any significant character development, despite the film’s four-hour runtime offering plenty of time for satisfying arcs to play out. Cyborg/Victor is the character who came closest, and was clearly wrestling with his feelings toward and about his father for much of his time on screen. But the others – Batman, Flash, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, and even Superman once he got over his initial shock at returning to life – were basically the same at the end of the film as they had been at the beginning. We know that these are heroic characters, people who will shoulder the responsibility of saving the world and put the needs of others before themselves. But in a film where several of them felt like spare parts already, having five almost-identical character types doesn’t make for the most interesting setup.
The main storyline involving Steppenwolf and Darkseid seemed to be built on very shaky ground. In short, Zack Snyder’s Justice League asks us to believe not only that powerful aliens capable of travelling the stars were beaten 5,000 years in the past by the combined forces of Earth – including humanity, barely out of the stone age – but that they then somehow forgot the location of Earth, despite their obvious abundance of technology. If the villains in the film were the descendants of those who fought and lost millennia ago, I could kind of understand that they might not be aware of where these Mother Boxes were, but they’re supposed to be the same people – yet they didn’t even know what planet to go to.
The film tries to explain that the boxes only awakened after Superman’s death as there was no longer a force powerful enough to prevent the attack on Earth. But there are two problems with this premise: firstly, Superman is what? 35 years old or thereabouts? The boxes had millennia before Superman ever arrived on Earth when they could have awoken. And secondly, Darkseid, Steppenwolf, and the others should have always known that they were on Earth, even if they didn’t know the precise location of each box.
The Mother Boxes are, as mentioned, little more than magical macguffins to allow the story to flow and to give teeth to the villains. But the logical inconsistencies in their story makes it difficult to accept them as the foundation for the film’s narrative. How did Darkseid and Steppenwolf “lose” the location of Earth when they’d literally been here before? The film doesn’t explain or acknowledge this, yet it feels like a pretty major omission.
Compared to a lot of villains out there, both in comic book/superhero fiction and beyond, Darkseid’s objective is incredibly basic. He seems to want to conquer and kill for no other reason than “because.” He’s an evil-for-the-sake-of-it kind of villain, and those kinds of characters just don’t stand up to villains with more complexity and nuance. If I were being rude I might say that asking for complexity and nuance from a superhero film is too much, but there are many decent examples of villains in the genre whose motivations are understandable and hold up to scrutiny. Even if the overall objective is the same – conquering Earth – some villains just have a better reason for doing so than Darkseid. The film tries to throw in a revenge plot, saying that Darkseid’s earlier defeat is spurring him on, but that doesn’t answer the most basic of questions: why does he do what he does?
It was a profoundly odd choice for this version of the film to end with a long epilogue sequence that clearly set up a sequel – a sequel that we’ve known for four years isn’t going to happen. DC has completely reworked its film output, partly due to the perceived failings of the original version of Justice League, and several of the actors who took on the roles are done. Batman is being rebooted without Ben Affleck, Superman without Henry Cavill, and as far as I know there are no plans for Ray Fisher to reprise his role as Cyborg. Wonder Woman 1984 received mixed reviews, and while there are plans for a film involving this version of the Flash, as well as for a sequel to Aquaman, it seems all but certain that this version of the Justice League is finished.
Under such circumstances, I question the decision to end the film in this manner. It’s clearly teasing a sequel, but at the time Zack Snyder’s Justice League was being edited and compiled, Snyder and everyone involved knew that no sequel would be forthcoming. It feels almost mean-spirited to end on this note; it leaves the whole story feeling unfinished. And unfinished it is, as Darkseid wasn’t defeated and his planned invasion is coming – but it seems unlikely we’ll ever see that on screen.
There were some great special effects and CGI moments in Zack Snyder’s Justice League, but there were also some awful visual misses. Cyborg is firmly in the uncomfortable uncanny valley, with half a human face and half a CGI face on a CGI body, and the two halves don’t mesh well at too many points. There were dozens of moments where the use of green screens was patently obvious; just off the top of my head I’d pick out several close-up shots of Barry/Flash running at high speed, and the queen of the Amazons on horseback as some of the worst examples of this. Although Justice League had a huge budget, perhaps some of these visual misses are due to the fact that this director’s cut had less money to work with? That’s a guess on my part but could explain some of the issues.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a film that tried very hard. At various points it wanted to be The Avengers, The Dark Knight, and even The Lord of the Rings. Though it clearly took inspiration from better films, the way it put them together and brought them to screen makes it a substantially weaker film than any of them; a popcorn action flick with delusions of grandeur. If this is what fans wanted, I’m genuinely happy for them, and the fact that I’m not really a comic book/superhero fan was perhaps always going to colour my impressions of Zack Snyder’s Justice League. Even with that caveat, however, I have to say I’ve seen far better comic book films.
So that was Zack Snyder’s Justice League. It’s probably the worst film I’ve seen so far this year. I don’t think I need to say anything more than that.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League is available to stream now on HBO Max in the United States, on Sky or Amazon in the UK (via pay-per-view), and via a patchwork of other streaming services internationally. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is the copyright of Warner Bros. Pictures and DC Films. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for multiple films and television series in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Avengers Endgame and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
As I was watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier recently, I got thinking. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (or “MCU” for short) has been running since Iron Man kicked things off in 2008, meaning it’s been in continuous production for more than thirteen years at time of writing. There have been 23 mainline Marvel films released in that time, as well as more than 380 episodes of television across 13 different shows, totalling several hundred hours of viewing. All of this is complicated, and as I’ve said previously, keeping up with Marvel can feel like a full-time job!
None of that means that a franchise needs to go through a reboot, though. Star Trek is going strong after more than half a century and 800+ episodes of television, and aside from the three films in the Kelvin timeline there hasn’t been a resetting of Star Trek; all of its shows and films coexist happily in one setting. But Marvel is arguably different.
One of the key elements of the MCU’s setting is that the superheroes and supervillains we meet all inhabit the real world right alongside us. This version of Earth is very similar to our own, but it’s one in which superpowers exist. The early films in the MCU depicted the way in which ordinary people came to terms with this idea, and how government agencies and others sought initially to keep things under wraps.
But now that’s all changed, and Marvel’s superheroes are known figures – almost celebrities – in their world. That change may not seem like a big deal, but what it does is chip away at one of the world’s foundational ideas: that superheroes could be among us right now and we just don’t know it. As Marvel’s world has changed and undergone progressively more massive events – culminating, at least thus far, in Thanos’ snap and the resultant disappearance and reappearance of half the world’s population – its original premise of being “the real world plus superheroes” has disappeared.
Attempts to recreate that are going to be met with challenges that weren’t present in earlier iterations of the MCU. And to be fair to Marvel, thus far the franchise has set the bar when it comes to creating a persistent, connected world. But that world is as much a constraint at this point as it is a highlight, because every story going forward as the MCU enters “Phase Four” has to be able to fit in with the very different world that was created by the events of Infinity War and Endgame.
We saw this as the underlying premise for the main storyline in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. And in that series it worked well, building on the idea that the changes that happened were popular with some people and unpopular with others, as well as showing us glimpses at a world trying to figure out how to get back to “normal” – or what “normal” even means after such life-changing events. That concept can be explored in more detail and will undoubtedly be interesting – but it isn’t what attracted so many fans to the franchise to begin with.
As the next part of the MCU’s story builds on the events of the last few years, I have two concerns. The first one is that storylines will become convoluted, with any new film or show almost drowning in backstory and lore to the point of being offputting or even incomprehensible for anyone other than a fully up-to-date Marvel superfan.
Secondly, the MCU has to contend with the fact that Avengers Endgame felt like the end of a story. Several principal characters were killed off, and after the events of Infinity War brought the Marvel world to a crushing defeat, Endgame came along and saw the heroes save the day. They made it to their “happily ever after” – and figuring out what comes next is always a major challenge. Following up a monumental story like Endgame risks feeling anticlimactic and small, or worse, repetitive.
Having cheered on the Avengers as they saved the universe from Thanos, will fans show up in such numbers for the next supervillain who threatens all life? Endgame was, briefly, the highest-grossing film of all time. Maybe Marvel peaked?
All of this leads me to the crux of this argument: comic books often reset their characters and storylines. After a while, when writers feel they’ve taken the characters and stories as far as they can, or when stories are played out or too convoluted to continue, comic book companies have historically had no problem at all stepping in and just resetting everything. In DC comics – Marvel’s main competitor – the Crisis on Infinite Earths storyline in the mid-1980s effectively erased the backstories and past adventures of many superheroes, streamlining the convoluted DC universe into a much simpler form that continues to this day.
As the Marvel Cinematic Universe rumbles on, getting more complicated and further away from the real world with each iteration, it makes jumping on board for new fans difficult, and it makes keeping up with every project feel like a full-time job; miss the latest show or a couple of films, and suddenly it’s hard to figure out who’s who and what’s what. That’s combined with the fact that some stories are going to feel small or even anticlimactic when compared to the likes of Infinity War and Endgame.
Not long ago I took a look at a number of television shows that ran too long. Shows like Supernatural, Lost, and The Walking Dead were great at first, but after they peaked they stumbled through a period of decline, failing to live up to past successes. I don’t know if Infinity War and Endgame represent the peak of the Marvel Cinematic Universe – the best may still be to come. But sooner or later the franchise will hit that peak, and when it does, it seems inevitable to me that a comic book-style reset is on the cards.
The MCU wouldn’t necessarily go back to the drawing board and remake past films. The legacy of characters like Iron Man, Captain America, and the Hulk could pass to new iterations of those characters with new actors taking on lead roles in stories inspired by earlier films, but remaining distinct from them. New backstories could be created, perhaps based on different versions of the superheroes from other editions of their comic books. Marvel has decades of history to draw on, and many superheroes have very different origin stories and personalities than the versions we’ve seen on screen in the last few years.
We’re undoubtedly going to be seeing Marvel and some version of the MCU remain a powerhouse for parent company Disney and the Disney+ streaming service for many years to come – perhaps even decades. I’m not suggesting for a moment that Marvel is simply going to pack up and disappear; there’s too much money on the table for Disney to allow that to happen! But as the MCU continues to expand, taking different characters in different directions, sooner or later that sense of it being convoluted is going to begin to bite.
I find this to be the case with Star Trek, at least to some extent. When talking to a friend or colleague about Star Trek, if they’re unfamiliar with the franchise it can be hard to know where to start. 800+ episodes and more than five decades of history and lore is intimidating to the point of being offputting, and for some people, simply getting started with Star Trek feels impossible without a guide. New and different iterations of the franchise – like Lower Decks as an animated comedy, or the upcoming Prodigy as a kid-friendly show – can be helpful jumping-on points for newbies, but even then I know the sheer size and scale of Star Trek, as well as its reputation, can be enough to put people off.
Marvel isn’t at that point yet, but it’s getting close. When I was talking to my brother-in-law, who’s a huge Marvel fan, about Infinity War, he recommended that I watch several other films first so that I’d “understand what was going on” better. This sentiment, while well-intentioned by someone who genuinely cared about me getting the most out of a film he liked, can actually have the opposite effect. Marvel is already becoming complicated – too complicated for some casual viewers to drop in and out of comfortably.
Perhaps Disney and Marvel executives feel that, given the size of the MCU’s fandom, they can afford to put off casual viewers. If the fanbase is signing up for Disney+ and buying Marvel merchandise in droves right now, what’s the harm in continuing to make every series and film inextricably tied together? That attitude, if indeed it is prevalent over at Disney, is short-sighted in the extreme.
Any franchise taking such an approach will find its growth stunted, and when existing fans slowly but surely drop out, there won’t be many people lined up to replace them. That’s the danger in trading solely on nostalgia, too – eventually your existing fans either switch off or die off, and if there are fewer people jumping on than there are jumping off, the franchise will sputter and eventually fail. Marvel is undoubtedly a long, long way away from that right now, but every twist and turn in the MCU saga, and every would-be new fan dissuaded from getting started with a convoluted and complicated franchise is a problem for the comic powerhouse.
Different franchises handle expansion in different ways. In Star Trek, for example, while there can be benefit to be gained from wider knowledge of other iterations of the franchise, for the most part, each television and film series is self-contained. It’s quite possible to be a fan of Deep Space Nine without ever seeing an episode of The Original Series, The Next Generation, or Voyager; a viewer in that position has lost practically nothing, understands basically everything going on, and while they’re missing some background about certain factions and some of early Star Trek history, all of that is explained within the show itself. The same applies to modern Star Trek productions – perhaps with the exception of Picard.
Marvel stands in contrast to that. Every film and show connects in a nakedly obvious way to every other film and show. Characters, factions, themes, and whole storylines cross over from one part of the franchise to another, and while it’s perfectly possible right now to sit down and watch just one or two films or one television show, a viewer who does so is clearly missing out. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier tried to mitigate this as best it could, but even so there’s no denying that a fan who’s seen every Marvel project will have got more out of it than someone who hasn’t.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is one big, interconnected world. That is its strength, as we’ve seen Marvel films bring in audience numbers and a level of financial success that are quite literally unprecedented, as well as facilitating the transformation of comic book superheroes from nerdy niche to mainstream blockbusters. But that interconnectedness may yet prove to be a weakness, too, if more and more viewers find that new iterations of the MCU are too dense and require too much prior knowledge to properly enjoy.
Based on all of that, it seems inevitable to me that Disney and Marvel will eventually hit the reset button. Whether it happens in five years or fifteen, I think there will eventually be a resetting of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. How it will work, and whether it will revitalise the franchise and propel it to further success in future are all open questions, and we won’t know for sure until it happens. Watch this space!
All titles mentioned above are the copyright of their respective broadcaster, distributor, production company, etc. The Marvel brand – including the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Avengers Endgame, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and all other titles mentioned above – is the copyright of The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, as well as for other titles in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, including Avengers Endgame.
I’m a little late to the party on this one; The Falcon and the Winter Soldier premiered back in late March. But it’s taken me till now to get around to watching it, so this review is just going to have to be “better late than never!” Superheroes and comics aren’t really my thing, and thus it takes something a little more down-to-earth to really pique my interest in the genre. Some Marvel stuff has been okay – I liked the first couple of seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for example.
2019’s Avengers Endgame had a big impact on the Marvel cinematic universe, killing off major characters and shaking up the superheroes’ world in a significant way. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was my first point of contact with this post-Endgame environment, and going in I was at least a little curious to see how the miniseries would respond to those major changes.
Having decided to skip the very weird-looking WandaVision earlier in the year, and not being 100% caught up on every Marvel film or television project, I have no doubt that I missed some in-jokes and references that bigger fans would have understood. But a show like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier appealed to me for precisely the reasons something like WandaVision didn’t – it looked to be a fairly straight-laced action series.
So that was my mindset going in, and you know what? It was perfectly entertaining action fare. A little over-the-top at points, but nothing too immersion-breaking. The miniseries format definitely suited The Falcon and the Winter Soldier; six episodes was great, and watchable over the course of a couple of evenings, but I wouldn’t have wanted a full fifteen- or twenty-episode season. That might’ve been too much!
Though there were plenty of superhero and comic elements in the miniseries, for the most part it stayed true to its action-oriented premise, with leads Sam and Bucky getting into scrapes as they teamed up to take on a group of terrorists. Though there were mentions of some of the wackier elements of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for the most part the main story of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier could have worked without any of the superhero trappings. Simply swapping out superheroes for generic action heroes wouldn’t have ruined the story – and perhaps it’s for that reason that I enjoyed it!
The interplay between the two leads was one of the main draws of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. And in that sense it was a risk – both of these characters were very much secondary supporting players in their earlier appearances. Giving them a centre-stage moment could’ve backfired on one or both of them, yet they managed to share the limelight without one overshadowing the other. Both characters bonded over their past relationships with Captain America, but each brought something different to the table as well. The unexpected chemistry between Anthony Mackie’s Sam and Sebastian Stan’s Bucky went a long way to making the show a success.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier attempted to raise the stakes by crossing over into dramatic territory, focusing on the personal and family lives of its principal characters. Though some of this could feel a little forced at times, what it succeeded in doing was showing the post-Endgame world outside of the limited environment of superheroes. Many smaller interactions – from Bucky’s attempt at dating to Sam and his sister’s visit to a bank – were changed and defined by Thanos’ snap and its aftermath.
Since its inception more than a decade ago, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has strived to create a persistent world. The monumental events of one story aren’t forgotten in another, and the setting doesn’t simply reset itself in between iterations. This is a double-edged sword in some ways, as it can feel like keeping up with Marvel is almost a full-time job given how many productions there have been. But The Falcon and the Winter Soldier made a creditable effort to strike the right balance between being part of that broader ongoing story while being understandable to more casual viewers. There were elements from past Marvel outings that played into the story, and fans more familiar with those films than I am almost certainly got more out of it. But the series does try to be self-contained, and many of the character introductions and story elements don’t require background knowledge as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier does its best to tee them up. It’s not perfect, but that’s part and parcel of jumping into a series which is one part of a broader story.
The introduction of a “new” Captain America was interesting. In the second episode, both Sam and Bucky have to contend with this notion, and the way they both react is genuinely interesting, and the series explored it well given its limited timeframe. Though I have to say I felt Captain America’s burgeoning villainy was obvious even from the moment he was introduced, setting that moment aside, the way Sam and Bucky reacted to someone taking on a role pioneered by their friend was emotional – and at the same time an interesting look at the way mantles like Captain America are passed from individual to individual in comic books.
I’m not much of a comic fan, as already mentioned. But in comic books, especially those which have been running for a long time, it’s not unusual for superhero roles to be passed down to new characters. In Marvel, for example, there are multiple individuals who have been Spider-Man, with these roles occasionally being recast or reworked as new comic books, series, and storylines are developed. To fans who’ve become attached to the original incarnation, sometimes these changes are met with controversy, and though The Falcon and the Winter Soldier doesn’t dive into this kind of fandom critique in depth, elements of the Captain America storyline seemed to give that notion more than a passing glance. Marvel has come in for criticism in recent years from fans unhappy with new or evolving superheroes, and it felt like this was perhaps a nod to that controversy.
Laying atop that layer of subtext, though, were the stories of two very different men who were both emotionally invested in Steve Rogers and Captain America. Seeing someone new step into those shoes was hard for both Sam and Bucky – and laid the groundwork for their unlikely bond, both in terms of the way the narrative played out and in terms of their personal connection.
In the story of Captain America himself – John Walker – we see a man struggling to live up to an inherited legacy. This is something many folks have some experience with – being unjustly compared to someone older, more experienced, or even just a more successful family member. The feeling of a responsibility being overwhelming – and not knowing how to deal with that – as well as a degree of so-called “imposter syndrome” were present in the character as well. Walker embodies the worst aspects of how to respond to such a situation, but the way in which it manifests and slowly builds over a couple of episodes, beginning with smaller insecurities before escalating, is strangely relatable. Credit must go to actor Wyatt Russell, who put in a stellar performance in the role.
Art and entertainment reflect the times in which they were created, and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier had distinct racial themes that mirror events in the United States over the past few years. I’m not the right person to comment on such narrative elements, but I would say that they didn’t overshadow the series. Considering the way race relations in the United States have progressed (or should that be “regressed?”) over the last few years, it’s not surprising to see racial themes making their way into entertainment and popular culture.
Race relations and America’s chequered past wasn’t the only political theme, as The Falcon and the Winter Soldier also looked at issues of immigration and particularly the way refugees are welcomed – or ignored. Indeed, the show as a whole was more politically charged than I expected going in. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and the way The Falcon and the Winter Soldier set up its refugee theme was very much fictionalised – these are people who “returned” following the events of Endgame. As I often say when it comes to the Star Trek franchise, using a fictional lens to look at real-world issues can be both powerful and effective, and it was both here. The moral ambiguity in Karli’s fight, and the way even the protagonists could empathise with her goals, was handled impressively.
There were certainly some very contrived moments as the narrative rumbled on – the trio’s lives being saved in Madripoor by utter chance being just one example – but not so many that I felt the integrity of the overall story was too badly damaged. Such things are par for the course when dealing with both comics and action flicks, after all!
The moment in the fifth episode where Sam cashes in family favours felt like a storyline lifted almost directly from 1946 Christmas film It’s A Wonderful Life – an homage I never thought I’d find in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. It was certainly a contrivance, but as above it wasn’t an especially heinous one. Some contrivances are more easily shrugged off than others, but suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite when setting foot in a fictional world. As long as a story isn’t overflowing with such things, I’m content to let them slide.
Filming locations and sets used in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier were impressively diverse. I was concerned upon seeing the opening mission to “Tunisia” that we were going to see an over-reliance on one or two environments being recycled, but for a series that took its protagonists to different parts of the United States and the world, the series did a solid job with most of its settings; there were genuine differences between the locales visited – the kind of thing one might expect to see from a blockbuster action film. Last year I had criticised Star Trek: Picard for its samey filming locations, so it was great to see what Marvel and Disney can do when they throw their money around!
Erin Kellyman, who took on the challenging role of budding revolutionary Karli, put in a solid performance. I wasn’t especially impressed with her when I’d seen her in Solo: A Star Wars Story a couple of years ago, but when given a broader role, one with greater range, she did a perfectly creditable job. I’m not sure that the whole “the villain is a young girl” revelation still works as a twist or storytelling shock, though – just as it didn’t when Kellyman had a similar moment in Solo. That aside, Karli made for an interesting adversary – someone whose methods may be extreme, but whose overall philosophy is difficult to condemn. Comic books often deal in black-and-white: virtuous superheroes who want to save the world and flat-out evil supervillains who have dastardly ambitions. Karli was, in that sense, a breath of fresh air, even when compared to the likes of Thanos.
One storyline that I felt didn’t work very well was the decision to bring back the random villain’s henchman from the opening act of the first episode to be a kind of supervillain with a grudge against Sam in the final part of the last episode. This nameless character had no impact on the entire narrative aside from being a goon to outsmart to set up Sam’s character, and his return just didn’t feel like it mattered in any meaningful way – most significantly for Sam, but also for the character himself. Revenge is a motivation of sorts, but as a mercenary who seems to have only been in it for the money, and a one-dimensional mercenary at that, I just didn’t buy it. It was a contrivance, really, and a way to bring in another hurdle and a villain to be dispatched.
So to wrap things up, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was an enjoyable romp. I’d certainly rank it as one of the better Marvel projects that I’ve seen, and while I won’t be diving into every new film and show that the comic powerhouse churns out, I’m sure I’ll keep an eye out for other similar projects in future – including a second season, which may or may not be coming next year.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is available to stream now on Disney+. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier – along with other films, series, and properties mentioned above – is the copyright of Marvel Studios and The Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
Happy New Year! As we put the calamitous 2020 behind us, let’s look ahead to some of the entertainment experiences we might enjoy between now and Christmas. There’s only 51 weeks till the big day, you know. Better start your Christmas shopping!
The effects of 2020’s disruption are still being felt, and while we should hopefully see a return to normalcy slowly building over the next few months, there will undoubtedly be changes to come. From my point of view as a Trekkie, the big question is this: how much Star Trek will we get this year? After 2020 saw the release of three different Star Trek projects, it’s not inconceivable that the only episode we’ll see in 2021 will be next week’s finale of Star Trek: Discovery Season 3!
We do know, at least, that some big projects still intend to release this year. Let’s look at a few – in no particular order.
The pandemic has not magically gone away with the arrival of the new year, and many cinemas look set to remain closed in the weeks ahead. The distribution of vaccines will be key to their re-opening, and thus to the release of at least some big films. However, there have been plans announced to bring some of 2021’s big releases to streaming platforms – either instead of or in addition to a theatrical release. How well this will work, and whether many of these plans go ahead if the pandemic is brought under control is up in the air right now – but it remains a possibility.
Number 1: Dune
The latest adaptation of Dune is the first part of a duology, and was originally supposed to be released in 2020. Of course that couldn’t happen, and Dune is now set for a December release, and will supposedly come to HBO Max at the same time. Though the story has been notoriously difficult to adapt, this version has a huge budget, a stellar cast, and what look like wonderful visual effects based on the trailer. It feels like a film with great potential, and I’m eagerly awaiting its release.
Number 2: No Time To Die
The latest Bond film – which is set to be Daniel Craig’s final outing as 007 – has been delayed by over a year. It was originally scheduled for an April 2020 release, but that has been pushed back to April 2021. There are no current plans to bring the film to streaming, and as it’s supposedly the most expensive Bond film of all time, perhaps that makes sense. April feels optimistic, but we’ll see how things go! Regardless, I’ve always enjoyed the Bond franchise, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens as this chapter of the 007 cinematic saga draws to a close.
Number 3: Jungle Cruise
I love Disney World and the other Disney theme parks! When I heard that the House of Mouse was planning to make a film based on their Pirates of the Caribbean ride in the early 2000s I thought it sounded like a terrible idea – yet Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was an incredibly fun film with heart. Jungle Cruise is likewise based on a Disney World/Disneyland ride, one which, if memory serves, is cute and action-packed! The film adaptation will have to try hard to retain at least some elements of what makes the ride enjoyable, but if it can succeed it could grow to become an ongoing series like Pirates of the Caribbean.
Number 4: The Matrix 4
As I said last time, I really don’t know where The Matrix 4 could possibly take the story of the series. However, I’m still fascinated to find out! This will be our first time back in this setting since 2003’s The Matrix Revolutions, and I’m sure a lot of fans are excited and nervous in equal measure. The idea of the world being artificial was somewhat of a novelty for the big screen when The Matrix did it in 1999, but we’ve since seen other takes on the concept. Will it stick to the late-90s/early-00s aesthetic for scenes set in the simulated world? Will there even be a simulated world if humanity broke free? We’ll soon find out.
Number 5: Raya and the Last Dragon
After Disney saw success with the Polynesian-themed Moana, they have turned to Southeast Asia for inspiration for Raya and the Last Dragon. Kelly Marie Tran will voice the titular Raya, and Disney animated films have always been worth watching so I’m expecting an enjoyable film. Disney appears to be going through somewhat of a second renaissance in the aftermath of Frozen’s huge success in 2013, and hopefully this will be a continuation of that. I’m also rooting for Kelly Marie Tran after the awful treatment she had to endure at the hands of some so-called “fans” of Star Wars. Raya and the Last Dragon will take the approach pioneered by Mulan and be released on Disney+ for a fee.
Number 6: The Suicide Squad
2016’s Suicide Squad won an Academy Award. Just in case you forgot! Was it an outstanding cinematic triumph that I’m happy to rewatch time and again? Not exactly, but it was a decent action-packed blockbuster that was an okay way to kill a couple of hours. And that’s what I expect from this direct sequel – nothing groundbreaking, but a solid film with some cute comic book elements.
Number 7: The King’s Man
Kingsman was a surprisingly fun film when it was released in 2014, and the third entry in the series is a prequel. The King’s Man looks set to examine the outlandish spy organisation’s past and possibly its origins, as well as throw together another action-comedy that takes inspiration from the likes of James Bond. I think that sounds like fun! The King’s Man will feature some pretty big names, including Ralph Finnes, Charles Dance, and Rhys Ifans.
Number 8: Uncharted
Films based on video games have not often performed well. Though some have become cult classics in their own right, most films adapted from video games have not been successful. Will Uncharted be any different? The project has been in development for a long time and seen many behind-the-scenes changes, but having settled on a script and director, Tom Holland was cast in the role of Nathan Drake. At the very least there’s potential for a summer popcorn flick; a blockbuster adventure film. Whether it will succeed at becoming “the new Indiana Jones” is up for debate – but maybe!
Number 9: Death on the Nile
2017’s Murder on the Orient Express was great fun, and Death on the Nile is a sequel of sorts. Adapted from a 1937 novel by famed murder-mystery author Agatha Christie, Kenneth Branagh both directs and stars in the picture as detective Hercule Poirot. The cast list reads like a who’s who of British and international stars, including Jennifer Saunders, Rose Leslie, Russell Brand, and Gal Gadot. If you’re familiar with the book or one of the two earlier adaptations the ending will no doubt be known – but that doesn’t mean the journey there won’t be mysterious and thrilling!
Number 10: Free Guy
Free Guy is about a non-player character in an open world video game who becomes sentient and tries to escape the game. And he’s played by Ryan Reynolds. Are you sold yet? Because that premise (and casting choice) was all it took to hook me in and decide that Free Guy would be worth a look! It sounds like fun, and Reynolds has great comedic timing as we’ve seen with titles like Deadpool. At the very least it’s a unique premise for a film, and one that seems like it could be really funny.
With two new consoles barely a month old, both Sony and Microsoft will surely make moves to shore up their player bases this year. There are some titles on the schedule that look absolutely fantastic, and while the release of many of these on what is now last generation’s hardware will mean we won’t see the full power of the next-gen machines just yet, we should begin to see some improvements in what games are capable of. I better get on with upgrading my PC!
Number 1: Mass Effect: Legendary Edition
Rumours swirled for much of last year of an impending Mass Effect trilogy remaster, and the project was finally announced a few weeks ago. Despite its controversial ending, the three games tell a deep and engaging story in a unique sci-fi setting, and were great fun during the Xbox 360 era. Has enough time passed to make updating the trilogy worthwhile? Mass Effect 3 was only released eight years ago, after all. And will the remaster do everything needed to bring these games up-to-date? With Mass Effect 4 on the distant horizon, it will have to! I’m cautiously interested in this one – it could be wonderful to replay these games, but as we’ve seen with some recent remasters, not every company manages to hit a home run when it comes to updating a beloved title.
Number 2: Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga
Though I didn’t have time to review it before Christmas, The Lego Star Wars Holiday Special was great fun over on Disney+. I had hoped to see Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga last year, but it got pushed back and is currently due for release in “early 2021” – whatever that may mean! The first couple of Lego Star Wars games, which were released in the mid-2000s, were really great fun, and I’ve been looking forward to the latest bricky reimagining of the Star Wars saga since it was announced. Lego games have never tried to take themselves seriously, and the end result has always been titles which are just a lot of fun.
Number 3: The Lord of the Rings: Gollum
What could a game starring Gollum possibly bring to the table? I have absolutely no idea! But games – and stories in general – focusing on an antihero can be wonderful, so I’m very curious to find out. It’s also great to see another big single-player title given the glut of live services and always-online multiplayer games. I’m a fan of Middle-earth and the world Tolkien built, so hopefully this game will be a fun return to that setting. Taking on the role of Gollum will offer a different look at Middle-earth, and whether it focuses on the main story from the books or not, has the potential to be fascinating.
Number 4: Skull & Bones
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag demonstrated that there’s still a lot of appeal in pirate-themed titles. Skull & Bones wasn’t something I was especially interested in at first, but upon learning it will feature a single-player campaign I was happy to add it to the list. It seems to be a game that will deal with the naval combat side of things, and as long as it can really nail ship-to-ship combat within its game engine it should at least be a solid title. Naval games are relatively rare in the combat/strategy/action genres, so perhaps Skull & Bones will offer something a little different.
Number 5: Outriders
Outriders was one of the first next-gen games that reviewers really had a chance to get to grips with before the launch of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. The consensus was that it seems like a fun third-person shooter, even if it wasn’t quite as “next-gen feeling” as some had hoped. Regardless, Outriders has continued its development and will be released this year. The basic premise feels like a mix of sci-fi and superhero comics, and at the very least it’s a brand-new setting at a time when a lot of studios are focused on sequels and franchises.
Number 6: GhostWire: Tokyo
I honestly don’t know what to expect from GhostWire: Tokyo. It’s a game shrouded in mystery! One thing we know for sure is that it will feature a supernatural storyline, and that alone sounds like it has potential. A teaser trailer released last year didn’t show much, but we know that the game will draw on Japanese mythology and will be a first-person action-adventure game with some supernatural horror elements. It might be wonderful… or it might not be my thing! We’ll have to wait and see.
Number 7: Diablo IV
After disappointing fans with Diablo Immortal, and then messing up with the controversy around their decision to censor a professional player who supported the protests in Hong Kong, it’s not unfair to say that there’s a lot riding on Diablo IV for Blizzard’s reputation. Early indications are that the dungeon-crawler looks good, and could be a return to form. Diablo III had issues at launch, so this is very much one to take a “wait-and-see” approach with, but if the studio can recreate the magic of older titles then Diablo IV should offer a fun experience.
Number 8: Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
My most recent foray into Mario’s 3D adventures was underwhelming, as Super Mario 3D All-Stars was not actually all that great. However, Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury might be! The base game was released on the Wii U, but Bowser’s Fury is something altogether new. How substantial it will be remains to be seen, but taken as a whole the package seems to offer good value. I love the cat suits introduced in Super Mario 3D World, they’re cute and add a different element to Mario and the gang’s 3D adventures.
Number 9: Humankind
Humankind initially attracted me because of how similar it looks to Civilization VI – one of my most-played games of the 2010s. But there’s more to it than that, and the concept of creating a unique civilisation by combining different historical empires and cultures is, at the very least, innovative. I love a good strategy game, and Humankind could be a big time-sink for me this year – if it can deliver on some pretty big ambitions!
After 2020 saw major disruption to cinema, 2021 could be television’s turn. Though shielded from the brunt of the pandemic, a number of television shows planned for 2021 have seen major delays to production. Despite that, there are still plenty of options on the horizon, including some that look absolutely phenomenal.
Number 1: Zack Snyder’s Justice League
I can’t actually remember if Justice League is one of the DC films I’ve seen or not. If you’re a regular around here, you’ll know I’m not a big comic book fan generally speaking. And it’s not unfair to say that DC is the lesser of the two comic book powerhouses right now! I honestly did not expect the so-called “Snyder cut” of Justice League to ever see the light of day, but after a campaign by fans the film will be released – as a four-part miniseries on HBO Max. I’m at least somewhat interested to see what all the fuss is about!
Number 2: Star Trek: Prodigy
After Lower Decks took the Star Trek franchise in a different – and very funny – direction in 2020, I’m curious to see what Prodigy will bring to the table. Some shows made for kids can actually tell very meaningful and interesting stories, and it’s my hope that Prodigy will manage to offer at least something to Trekkies beyond its target audience. The addition of Kate Mulgrew to the cast – reprising her role as Captain/Admiral Janeway – is tantalising too, and although that’s about all we know at this stage, the series aims to have a 2021 release. That could be pushed back, but fingers crossed we’ll see Prodigy some time soon.
Number 3: Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series
Despite not having so much as a title, Amazon’s Lord of the Rings series has been targeting a 2021 release. It seems certain that, if this is to happen, it will have to be later in the year; filming is still ongoing at time of writing. However, a return to the land of Middle-earth is truly an exciting prospect, as is a look at the setting away from most of the characters we remember. The series will take place thousands of years before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, so there’s the potential to tell some very different fantasy stories in Tolkien’s world.
Number 4: Station Eleven
Based on a 2014 novel of the same name, Station Eleven is a post-apocalyptic drama set after the world has been devastated by a pandemic. Timely, right? Though filming began in early 2020 the series is still being worked on, but could finally see the light of day on HBO Max at some point this year. It feels like a project that, simply due to bad timing, may be controversial – but that could simply increase its appeal! Regardless, I’ll be keeping an eye out for it.
Number 5: Foundation
Isaac Asimov is one of the grandfathers of science fiction. Whether his work will translate well from page to screen is an open question… but one I’m very curious to see answered. This adaptation of Asimov’s Foundation series will star Jared Harris, an absolutely incredible actor you might recall from 2019’s Chernobyl. It’s being produced for Apple TV+ as one of their first big-budget productions – or at least, the first one I’ve come to care about. 2021 looks set to be a big year for some of these second-tier streaming services!
Number 6: Star Trek: Lower Decks
Lower Decks has finally secured an international broadcast agreement, more than five months after its first season premiered for viewers in North America. That’s good news, because a second season is already in development and will be able to be shared by fans around the world when it’s ready. Season 1 ended with some surprising twists for an animated comedy, and it remains to be seen what the end result of those storylines will be for our young ensigns aboard the USS Cerritos. Lower Decks took a few episodes to really hit its stride – and there were some missteps along the way – but for my money it’s up there with the best animated comedies of recent years, and I hope that the combination of its international debut and second season will see the show get the admiration it warrants.
Number 7: The Expanse
I haven’t yet sat down to watch Season 5 of The Expanse, which premiered last month on Amazon Prime Video. However, the first four seasons were outstanding, and Season 6 is set to be the show’s last. Hopefully it will go out on a high! The Expanse is a wonderful science fiction series, one which has tried to take a more realistic look at the dangers of space travel and alien life. Many sci-fi stories treat these elements almost as mundane, yet The Expanse approached them with wide-eyed wonder, making things like accelerating a spacecraft integral parts of its story. It’s a wonderful series, and its final season should be explosive, entertaining, and ever so slightly sad as we bid it a fond farewell.
Number 8: The Witcher
I half-expected to see the second season of Netflix’s The Witcher last year, but for whatever reason the streaming powerhouse is taking its time. Henry Cavill was great in the title role in Season 1, and hopefully the second season will keep up the high quality. I always appreciate a new fantasy series, and while the show owes its existence to the popular video games, it’s distinct from them at the same time, drawing more on the original book series for inspiration. Its return to our screens – which may not be until later in the year – is highly anticipated!
Number 9: Star Wars: Andor
I wasn’t exactly wild about the recent announcements of upcoming Star Wars projects. As I wrote at the time: “spin-offs to spin-offs and the increasingly minor characters given starring roles is indicative of a franchise out of ideas.” Part of that criticism was aimed at Andor, the series which will focus on Rogue One’s Cassian Andor. However, on its own merit the show – which bills itself as a “spy thriller” – may very well be decent, and I’m cautiously interested to see what Disney and Lucasfilm bring to the table. Rogue One was certainly one of the better offerings since Disney began producing Star Wars projects, so maybe Andor will surprise me and tell some genuinely different stories in the Star Wars galaxy.
Number 10: Clarice
Alex Kurtzman’s latest project for ViacomCBS will focus on Clarice Starling – the FBI agent introduced in Silence of the Lambs. How well will a show about Clarice work without Hannibal Lecter? Well that’s an open question, quite frankly, because as far as we know, complicated licensing and rights agreements mean Dr Lecter can’t appear. The show is being pitched as horror, though, following Agent Starling as she investigates sexual crimes in the aftermath of the events of Silence of the Lambs. It certainly has potential!
So that’s it.
You may have noticed some exclusions – notably Star Trek: Picard, Star Trek: Discovery, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. While all three are in pre-production for their upcoming seasons, none have been confirmed for 2021 at this juncture. Given the state of the world and how badly production has been impacted, while I remain hopeful that at least one live-action Star Trek show will make it to air, it’s entirely plausible that none will. That’s why they didn’t feature on the list.
If all goes well, 2021 should be a good year for entertainment. I see a lot of projects in film, gaming, and television that have the potential to tell wonderful, engaging stories. If lockdowns and quarantines remain in place – where I live in the UK restrictions just got a lot tougher – then we’ll need all the distractions we can get!
The year ahead is unpredictable, and it’s possible that some of the projects I’m excited for won’t make it to release – or will end up being less enjoyable than expected. But on the flip side, there are undoubtedly films, games, and television shows waiting in the wings to surprise me; titles that didn’t make this list that I will come to greatly enjoy as the year rolls on. There were several wonderful surprises in 2020 that, had you asked me in January of last year, were not even on my radar. The same will perhaps happen this year too!
With everything going on in the world, having something to look forward to is important. Even if all you can think of that excites or interests you is a television show or video game, that’s okay. It gives you something to hang on to; light at the end of the tunnel. I wish you a very Happy New Year, and all the best for 2021.
All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective company, studio, developer, publisher, broadcaster, distributor, etc. Some promotional artwork and images courtesy of IGDB. Stock photos courtesy of Unsplash. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
One of the things that seemed weird to me about Marvel’s Avengers – the new video game, not the film series – is that the game seems to be using a visual style very similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe… but without any of the actors’ likenesses. I wondered why they hadn’t been able to negotiate with the various actors like Robert Downey Jr., Scarlet Johannson, etc to use their faces or even get them to provide their voices to the title. Given the popularity of the MCU, that struck me as odd. But perhaps now we know why – the game is going to be very controversial.
If I were an actor in the films or an agent/advocate for them, I’d take one look at Marvel’s Avengers and think to myself just how glad I am to be able to say I have nothing whatsoever to do with it. The controversy the game is drawing for its incredibly aggressive monetisation and microtransaction policies is going to be toxic – and any brand or individual associated with that should watch their backs.
Star Wars Battlefront II generated a lot of controversy in 2018 for its in-game monetisation, and while it’s up for debate whether Marvel’s Avengers will reach that level, it’s trending in a very similar direction. Every single aspect of the game seems designed to extract as much money from players as possible – in a game that charges £50/$60 to purchase in the first place – with a £66 deluxe edition, of course.
When the game was announced as one of these always-online, “multi-year experience” games, the writing was on the wall. In recent years we’ve seen such titles as Anthem and Fallout 76 try to go down that route, and practically no game which does so manages to avoid controversy. Even by the low standards of this type of game, though, Marvel’s Avengers is taking the piss.
One of the Marvel franchise’s most iconic characters – Spider-Man – is going to be a console exclusive on the PlayStation 4. There are tie-ins with all sorts of random companies, each providing in-game rewards for purchases or subscriptions. There’s an in-game currency which can be bought with real money. Each character – of which there are six at launch (or seven if you’re playing on PlayStation 4) will have their own paid “hero cards”, which seems like a necessary feature to get the most out of each character.
In short, if you can think of a crappy anti-consumer business model used by a recent video game, publisher Square Enix has thrown it into Marvel’s Avengers.
The £10 “hero cards” per character is perhaps the most egregious of all the monetisation tactics. It means that players who want to fully experience the game – a game that they have already paid full price for up-front – will need to continually shell out more and more money, perhaps even spending double the initial asking price. That’s not accounting for other cosmetic items, skins, costumes, etc. that are all going to be paid for. The only thing the game doesn’t seem to have is lootboxes – something they make a big fuss about as if expecting gamers to reward them for it.
I’m not a big fan of Marvel, or of comic books in general. But some games with a comic book setting can be decent, and if this were a single-player action title with a big budget behind it I might’ve been tempted to give it a try. Not like this, though. Not with the game being in such a state. People who had early access to play through the beta version have even been reporting back saying that underneath all the aggressive microtransactions, the game isn’t actually all that good.
So a 6/10 title is going to cost easily upwards of £100 if you want to buy the deluxe edition and all of the battle passes and in-game currency and cosmetic extras… and you still can’t get iconic character Spider-Man unless you spend all that money on the PlayStation 4 version. I don’t know about you, but to me it’s beginning to sound like it might not be the best value proposition in the gaming world right now.
The Star Wars brand has been dragged through the mud in recent years – admittedly not just because of decisions in games. But the release of Battlefront II and the controversy and backlash it generated tarnished the overall brand to a degree, and I can’t help but feel Marvel is in serious danger of making a very similar mistake. The fact that both Star Wars and Marvel are owned by Disney is worth noting; clearly the company is fine with going all-in on these kind of aggressive money-making tactics.
If I were a Marvel fan, I would have been looking forward to the franchise’s biggest game in a long time. But I’d be looking at the underwhelming game drowning in microtransactions (if we can call £10 “micro”) and feeling sick to my stomach. This is barely even a game – it’s a shop, designed to rope players in and force them to spend more and more and more money. If the core game underneath was decent, perhaps players would be willing to do that. But if reports from those who played the beta are accurate, there isn’t even the kernel of a good game at the heart of this mess.
And perhaps that’s to be expected. The best games are passion projects – titles developed because the team behind them genuinely loved the idea and wanted to see it fully realised. Everything about Marvel’s Avengers feels corporate and soulless, like the game has been conceived in a boardroom full of men in suits who looked at the list of franchises they own then tasked some poor team of developers with making a money-printing machine. These are people who looked at the success of titles like Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto Online and – without understanding anything about them – said “make me one of those!”
The sad thing is that there are many comic book fans and fans of Marvel who would have loved the chance to work on a fun title and bring the superheroes to life for players. But it seems like none of them got a look-in, or if they did they saw this sad, corporate shell and walked away. The suits in charge don’t care, and what has been built is a game where the nicest thing anyone can say is that it looks pretty. Visually impressive, but mediocre and drowning in attempted monetisation.
Disney tried this a couple of years ago in partnership with Electronic Arts. The result? Star Wars Battlefront II, a game so controversial it literally got politicians involved and will probably end up getting in-game gambling banned in at least some areas of the world. It will be hard for Marvel’s Avengers to fail quite so spectacularly, but it seems like they’re willing to try.
Marvel’s Avengers is due for release at on the 4th of September on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PC, and Stadia. Marvel’s Avengers was primarily developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix. The Marvel franchise is the copyright of the Walt Disney Company. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.
I’m not a comic book fan, generally speaking. I wasn’t into comic books as a kid, and while I have a passing familiarity with some of the superheroes and other characters from film adaptations, it’s certainly not my favourite genre. Despite that, there have been some decent comic book adaptations over the years. The Dark Knight trilogy, which ran from 2005-12, was certainly enjoyable, and remains for many the best take so far on the character of Batman.
One of the things that can be quite jarring for me is when a comic book film takes itself too seriously. The aesthetic of comic book superheroes is cartoony and childish, and when contrasted with “gritty” realistic themes and scripts the mix all too often doesn’t work and falls flat. The Dark Knight trilogy was, for the most part, a rare exception to this, and while I wouldn’t place those films at the top of any list, they worked well.
But even in the mere eight years since The Dark Knight Rises we’ve had several other attempts to bring Batman into a “dark and gritty” modern-day setting. There have been the films of the wider DC Comics expanded universe, including the likes of Suicide Squad and Batman v. Superman, in which Ben Affleck took on the role. There’s the Gotham television series which featured a young Bruce Wayne and took an in-depth look at many of Batman’s antagonists. There has been the Batwoman television series, the Joker film from last year, the Batman Arkham video game series, the Batman Telltale video game series, and a dozen or more animated features. The character has been referenced in the Arrowverse television franchise, and there are at least two Gotham spin-offs in development.
Almost all of these projects took the “dark and gritty” approach that many franchises have favoured since the millennium. Despite attempts to offer variety – for example by looking at Bruce Wayne as a child, or having Batwoman instead of Batman – a lot of them ended up feeling pretty derivative and unoriginal as a result.
Just considering Batman’s major appearances in cinema, the version of the character seen in Batman v. Superman and the other DCEU projects was fundamentally no different from that seen in the Dark Knight trilogy. There was no originality compared to what we’d had just a few short years prior. And it seems that the new Batman seen in the trailer just published will be more of the same. Maybe that’s what Batman fans want – the same thing over and over again. And I freely admit that as someone who is a casual viewer at best, the new film isn’t really being made for me.
But it’s supposed to be a big box office title, and as I say all the time, franchises aren’t just made for their hardcore fans. Reboots in particular are supposed to be made to appeal to new fans and bring in large audiences. I’m just struggling to see how The Batman is supposed to do any of that when it seems to offer more of the same.
In the Star Trek franchise, which is a favourite of mine and something I talk about a lot here on the website, each new iteration offers something different. In recent years we’ve had the Kelvin timeline films, which aimed to reboot Star Trek and bring in more mainstream audiences. We’ve had Discovery, which is an action-sci fi show that took a serialised approach to storytelling. We’ve had Picard, which was a dramatic sci fi show that took a radically different approach to Star Trek than Discovery had. And of course now we have Lower Decks, which aims to be a comedic take. Four mainline entries in the franchise all bringing something new to the table.
Contrast that to the approach DC is taking with Batman, where they’re following up one “dark and gritty” take on the character with another equally “dark and gritty” take. If the fans and audiences want that and are going to lap it up, then okay I guess that’s fair enough. Tastes are, after all, subjective. I’m not trying to argue that this approach is fundamentally wrong, instead I’m simply saying that it doesn’t work for me. I like when new iterations bring something genuinely new to the table, not when they’re a rehash of what’s come before. For a franchise that hadn’t seen a new entry in decades, maybe that would hold some appeal – bringing back a classic. But Batman has hardly been off our screens at all since the late 1980s, and since 2005 when Batman Begins aired, every mainstream entry in the franchise has taken a very similar approach. I guess it’s just not my thing, even though the Dark Knight trilogy was pretty good.
The closest that the Batman franchise has come to something different has been 2017’s The Lego Batman Movie, which injected some much-needed humour into what has become a pretty grim and humourless franchise. Practically every other major release has stuck firmly to the formula Batman Begins established in 2005.
It’s no criticism of Robert Pattinson, who will take the lead role in The Batman. He looks to be doing a perfectly solid job in the role, and were it not for fifteen years of samey takes on the character I might even be convinced to say I was looking forward to seeing this film. But I’m not, because it seems to offer nothing fundamentally original or interesting, just another “dark and gritty” take on a character and setting whose darkness and grit have been done to death.
I’d like to be proven wrong, and for The Batman to be a film that has something more to offer, so when it’s released next year I’m sure I’ll take a look to see what Pattinson and director Matt Reeves have to offer. Perhaps by setting a low bar for the film I’ll come out of it pleasantly surprised; it’s happened before! Because of the hype and buzz that surrounds any major comic book film these days they’re inescapable, and I found myself drawn to comment on this upcoming release.