Guardians of a Galaxy Vol 2 Review

Obviously, the first Guardians of the Galaxy was a bit more than a ‘surprise hit’. Chris Pratt as Peter Quill went from a funny fat guy to bona fide leading action hero. Zoe Saldana as Gamora was just as good covered in green paint as she was normally. Dave Bautista as Drax was a wrestler turned actor who could actually act.  Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper voiced a tree who could only say three words and a racoon with a machine gun, respectively, yet it still worked. To quote director James Gunn: ‘If I had a penny for every time someone said making a Marvel movie with a talking raccoon was dumb and that Guardians was going to bomb, I’d probably have just about the amount of money Guardians has made so far.’ So Vol 2 had sky high (star high?) expectations and lacked the advantage of surprise. No, it’s not as amazing as the first, though if we’re honest, it would never have lived up to those kinds of expectations. It’s still charming, funny and hits the right beats where it counts – and I daresay a few other movies could learn a thing or two from it.

Two months after they saved the galaxy, Quill, Gamora, Drax, Rocket Racoon and Groot, who has been reincarnated as a baby, are working as semi-legitimate superheroes for the highest bidder. They manage to stave off an attack on the priceless batteries of the easily offend Sovereign race, in exchange for Gamora’s adopted sister and bounty target Nebula (Karen Gillan) but Rocket decides to steal some of the batteries on his way out, leading to the group being targeted by the entire species. The Guardians survive their initial attack and go into hiding, leading to the Sovereigns hiring Yondu (Michal Rooker) and his Ravagers, a gang of space pirates, to find and exterminate the Guardians.

They end up seeking refuge with a mysterious fellow named Ego (Kurt Russel) and his companion Mantis (Pom Klementieff) an alien woman how can sense and feel emotions. Ego claims to be Quill’s real father and has been searching for him for years, which he can prove if Quill comes with him. Despite the rather dubious claim, the Guardians they stay on his planet for the time being. Literally, Ego is an ancient being so powerful he actually became a sentient planet, before also using his psychic abilities to create a humanoid body as well. Drax asks if it comes with a penis. It does, apparently, along with a digestive system and everything else. Most of the mothers who brought their kids to see this were pondering that plothole and were very grateful to have it filled in, I’m sure.

All that is only just the first half. You probably gathered from that summary that the film starts a bit too quickly. Compared to the first Guardians, the opening sequence and indeed most of the first act is quite rushed and it feels a bit juvenile at times. For example, despite being the main threat that starts the plot, the Sovereigns barely feature and are basically an extended joke on video game nerds. They’re arrogant, petty, implicitly all virgins, spend their time shut indoors shooting things on screens without a sense of consequence and are rude to everyone, including each other. It’s a fun idea and a fresh take on what a self-proclaimed ‘genetically perfect’ race could be, since the last thing we need is more Space Nazis. But it’s more of a background giggle that goes nowhere. In many ways, that’s the problem with most of the films bad jokes. A mutinous Ravager named Taserface (Chris Sullivan) has the same issue. His takeover from Yondu for being too ‘soft’ and his execution of those still loyal to the former leader is surprisingly brutal. If they built on the darkness he could have been an unexpectedly effective villain. Instead, he is there purely for use as a specific threat in the second act and for a name everyone can laugh at. ‘It’s a METAPHOR!’ he claims. No, my grossly disfigured friend. It’s a running gag that was fairly weak the first time.

Yes, the first act was, overall, actually quite disappointing for this reason, though the fun factor and the spectacular visuals never make it outright bad.  The second act thankfully isn’t nearly as fast but almost goes too slow. It at least gives us time to see a better side of Rocket, Yondu and especially Nebula, whose evolution from a secondary villain to a prominent anti-hero is actually quite well done. We do also get a nice moment between Mantis and Drax, as she shows empathy for the big dumb warrior who hides a lot of his pain inside. Aside from this however, the Guardians themselves are surprisingly pushed to the side in favour of secondary characters. It’s a bold and not unwelcome take, it just feels a little unfocused, especially considering the title. Then comes the third act and the film more than redeems itself. Now we have an epic fight, a strong theme of what it means to be a family, some shining performances and best of all for a Marvel film, a main antagonist who is actually really compelling. The last 30 minutes makes the movie and are make all the misfires worth it by a long shot. I daresay that if the whole film was of the same quality, it would have surpassed the first Guardians.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 is not flawless. Its flaws are actually more prominent than most Marvel films. It tries a bit too hard sometimes and I think it got a bit of a rough edit at other times. I would say it’s more than worth giving it a chance all the same. For all the talk of how much fun the movies are, James Gunn knows how to do dark and he certainly knows how to do emotional. I would advise him to take that and run with it in the inevitable Vol 3, without being too worried about making a joke straight after the heavy stuff in case things get a bit too much. Finally, before I forget, yes. Baby Groot is adorable. Everyone’s interaction with him is adorable and he just seems to look ready for hugs whenever you see him. I want one.

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The Problem With Iron Fist (aka Fight Scenes, Without the Fight)

I have just, with little pleasure, made it through the first half of Iron Fist, the most recent Netflix show from Marvel, following Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. Like many viewers, I was not only underwhelmed but disappointed. I took issue with many things (lack of diversity, boring and derivative plot, going from disliking to actively hating the main protagonist, etc.) I could talk at length about the shows problems, not excluding the fact that, as one friend unforgettably said, it does sound like the name of a particularly kinky gay pornstar. There is, however, one aspect I take offence to above all others: the fighting in the show, or lack thereof. This is a show all about martial arts, based on a property born from the kung-fu craze of the seventies. After the incredible stunts that Netflix/Marvel already had in Daredevil, now we have a show where the game could be raised even further to some battles that could be works of art to watch. Instead, what we get just about passes as obligatory fluff punch ups in between some boardroom drama. It doesn’t even look like fighting. It looks like badly edited choreography. The show is more concerned with numbingly dumb corporate politics, thought to be fair, they don’t look like corporate politics either, more like vaguely annoyed people in suits who exist for our hero to prove wrong. I cannot fathom who conceived of a kung-fu action series, then decided to filter down the kung-fu action.

When I was a bit younger, I always used to say ‘I don’t like action movies.’ Like most times when someone dismisses an entire genre based on a few experiences they did not enjoy, I was being narrow minded and pretentious. I later saw Die Hard, Kill Bill and more recently, Mad Max: Fury Road and thought it might be better to say ‘I don’t like mindless action movies.’ I later realised that watching a good fight scene is always good fun, provided it is a ‘good’ scene. Now I say ‘I don’t like lazy action movies’ which I think is the phrase I will stick with. The point of the genre is there in the name, guys. There is no point having a fight scene if it doesn’t feel like anyone is fighting.

I’ve watched quite a lot of fight scenes, most especially in Iron Fist, where the shot length averages maybe one or two seconds. In so many films and shows, the camera moves from character to character seemingly at random so you have no idea where anyone is in relation to anyone else. Shots are done from all sorts angles without any follow through and little attention to continuity, meaning characters seem to warp around the room between cuts if you are paying attention.  I don’t mind not seeing any spraying blood from a few cuts, though if someone gets sliced and diced I would appreciate maybe just a red smear on the blade. Cram this mess into one scene and you’re not watching action. You’re watching a video game being played by someone else, who won’t tell you the rules.

A lot of people think this is done because more movies want a PG rating, yet it is endemic. Suicide Squad is 15 in the UK and nearly got an R in the states, just look at the pathetic fight scenes in that. By contrast, Captain America Civil War was kept available to younger audiences, yet the airport scene has clearly comprehensible action and keeps track of where everyone is. I think that a bigger reason for these lifeless battles is that big budget media now wants to hire actors based on their star appeal rather than fighting talent. Once you have them on board, the editing room can easily put poor choreography and continuity issues to rest by cutting it in such a way as to hide the fact that we are watching actors, not trained fighters. Of course, with bigger scenes, it can just be the result of a lack of imagination, since those scenes can end up having so many different things to cut to that the studio thinks the audience will never be bored. They would be wrong, but since when has that stopped them? For an example of how wrong this is, compare the start of the game in The Hunger Games to the bathhouse fight in Eastern Promises. In the former, 24 teenagers are fighting to the death whilst the hero, Katniss, gets away from a knife-throwing girl. The camera shakes or cuts rapidly with little focus or close ups, so we get little more than flashes of violence and a disorientating perspective. In the latter, one man, naked and unarmed, is ambushed in a relatively small room by two mobsters with knives. It’s simple, it keeps the shots going so we see what’s happening and doesn’t last too long. It’s also brutal, visceral and it gets you more invested than any CGI or shaky cam ever will.

Granted, those two films are very different in terms of target audience, theme and stakes, so a comparison is not fair. Let’s try something more specific: A group of 5-6 adults fighting a few members of a supernatural army with a hive mind, who feel no pain but are easily damaged, inside a mundane, abandoned room. Compare how the movie Suicide Squad handles this (title Squad against a possessed military force in an abandoned office) to how The Worlds End does it (five former rugby playing and slightly drunk men against five alien robots in the toilets of an English pub.) I can’t even begin to compare, just watch on DVD or find online. Compare the length of the shots, how the scene flows, whether or not you can follow the action or even tell if there is much difference between the various characters fighting styles. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

It’s not a new style of fighting in movies that I am advocating here. Jackie Chan made action masterpieces when he was shooting films in Hong Kong back in the seventies, not just because he could fight for real but because he made the effort in each take clearly visible (in one well known scene in The Young Master, he catches a paper fan in his hand after flinging it mid-fight, in one shot. How did he do that? Over 100 takes, that’s how.) Jackie himself was mainly inspired, not just by previous martial arts actors but Buster Keaton, the man who made a point of never faking gags or stunts – so he always did them himself, for real. The long and short of this is that a man who was making films a hundred years ago could make more exciting action scenes in a comedy film than modern big budget shows and films that are all about action.

So why did Iron Fist think it could cheapen on the fight scenes? Why did they hire Finn Jones, who himself admitted he was not a fighter, for the lead role? Hell, why, when there was already enough controversy about lack of Asian representation in Marvel and controversy about the comic Iron Fist being white, did they hire the whitest guy imaginable? This is a guy lectures an actual Asian American (and later, her students) on the proper ways of kung-fu in her own dojo. You can’t get whiter than that. So if you really want such a white guy leading the show, at least have one who looks like he can take and throw a punch, rather than some stoned middle class hippie kid who is totally into meditation and spirituality man. Oh, and fighting too, right up until a fight starts and his stunt doubles do all the work for him.

Pitying the President

I have just, with increasing astonishment and unease, finished watching the first press conference of President Trump. I was not expecting to be nodding in approval – in fact, I suspected I would feel even more dislike towards a man who is very hard to like. To my surprise, I find myself in entirely new territory. I am on the verge of feeling pity for Donald Trump.

Now, I never believed he would be a good President. I had suspected he would awkwardly acknowledge that his campaign promises were popularity stunts and settle for maybe being a mediocre President. I was surprised he actually tried to implement his Looney Tunes schemes, though less surprised when reality followed and he faced huge resistance.

Now he comes to promise us that he knows what he is doing and his administration is running smoothly. He has promised big things next week, including a rehashed take on his immigration policy, with a certain coy delight. He boasted during a press conference that he is having fun, despite making it clear he considers himself surrounded by hostile forces and will be criticised heavily.

And yet, he already seems to have lost something. Donald Trump has been a performer all his life. He was once unable to answer whom he was when not playing the role of Donald Trump. (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/06/the-mind-of-donald-trump/480771/) Yet when I see him now, he seems to me to be a sulky teenager, pressured into something he does not want to do and making sure everyone can see it. This is not the fury of King Lear when he does not hear the flattery he knows he deserves – This is Lear before the storm, feebly trying to command it, to continue the denial of his own impotence.

This is a man who has had many failures in business despite his self-proclaimed business genius, had several rocky family relationships and tragedies, a long forgotten golden boy image and a lifelong quest to feed into his own ego and reap the rewards such a well-dined ego demands. He may have once seen the Oval Office as both the ultimate trophy and trophy room, the final triumph of what he considered a successful life. Now, the weight of the room is drawing in, and I think what he realises doesn’t just pressure him. I think, for once in a pampered life in which he has so frequently been indulged, bailed out or appeased, Donal Trump may truly be scared.

I almost feel sympathy for a seventy-year old man who must be feeling this fear, which should have come so long ago. I am instead nervous as to what this means for the country he is trying to make great again, and how much of his ego needs he will project onto it.

Stephen Moffat – The female villains

 

The end of an era is coming. With the finale of Sherlock’s fourth season giving what will hopefully be a nice, but definitive end to the show, and the announced new showrunners for Doctor Who, it is the end of Steven Moffat’s era of reign over his two most prominent properties. For better or worse, he has had a very distinctive take on both, and his absence will be felt.

I have been reminiscing over his time in charge of them, and I have come to notice something about his villains – they seem, to me, to be a perfect representation of his own weaknesses.

Not that there is anything particularly surprising about that. A good villain should tap into some real fears and there’s nothing wrong with putting a bit of yourself into your writing. No piece of art can do without that, I would say. But when it is done so consistently, it can paint a picture of the creative mind behind the camera and, I must say, it seems to represent a rather worrying mindset.

Look over the female villains of Stephen Moffat’s shows. In Doctor Who, we have, to name a few :

* The Mistress, the newest incarnation of The Master,

* Madame Karabraxos from Time Heist

* Rosanna Calvierrie and her beautiful students from The Vampires of Venice

* The Siren from The Curse of the Black Spot and

* River Song when she was temporarily trying to kill the Doctor

In Sherlock, the more adult show, it gets even more obvious with:

* Irene Adler, a dominatrix who cons all the men around her by virtue of her irresistible sex appeal and

* Eurus Holmes, the third sibling, who disguises herself to seduce John Watson (for reasons that are never explained) and has a weirdly flirtatious attitude towards her brother

 

Sexually aggressive, unapologetic beauties who know what you want and will let you have it, for dire costs. Not an uncommon weakness in some men, to be sure. But when it happens this often, whilst the characters may not always give in to their base urges, I cannot help but suspect the man who conceived of these ladies has…

Granted, not all of his female villains are like this. Sherlock had a different female antagonist this season who could not be less like Eurus. Doctor Who has had Madame Kovarian. The big difference is, compared to other antagonists, these are older women, bitterly taking there revenge. Vivian from the first season 4 episode of Sherlock is a lonely old lady working an extremely important and high level job in British intelligence that she considers beneath her. The poor woman just wants to be special, and (surprise surprise,) is a widow, with no man to calm her down. Madame Kovarian is a religious nut who wants to destroy the Doctor for poorly explained reasons. Her plan is to actually raise a baby from scratch to seduce and destroy a man. Yes, her actual plan is to be an evil stepmother who raises a femme fatale, as she is too old to be one herself. So, either way, not the best portrayal of villainous ladies.

 

This is not to say that overtly sexual villains can’t work. It’s fair to say that some of the male villains are also ones inspired by our dirty little weaknesses. But honestly, comparing them to the female villains and you can really tell they were both written by a man. Look at Sherlock’s new take on Moriarty – a flamboyantly prancing, slickly groomed dude who flirts in every single encounter he has with Sherlock, even when it’s only imaginary. A clear threat to a heterosexual male audience, who will have their orientation and personal space invaded if brought near this flaming baddie. Then there are the others. Charles Augustus Magnussen, who croons to his blackmail victims like a rapist when he unsettlingly touches them, or Culverton Smith, who leers at younger women, has an unsettlingly touchy-feely fondness for his daughter and has some unmistakeable mannerisms of the notorious Jimmy Saville about him. Even in Doctor Who, the episode Dinosaurs on a Spaceship gave us Solomon, one of the more memorable one off villains, who outright tells us how much he enjoys ‘breaking women’ as he grabs his chosen sex slave, before our hero rescues her in classic ‘unhand her, you cad!’ style. Not sexual villains as ‘seducers’ in other words but ‘predators’ who revel in their dark desires.

So, when we look at the weaknesses Mr Moffat puts into his villains. The women femme fatales that men just can’t resist, or bitter spinsters who have no men in their life and refuse to be ignored. The men are salivating old creeps you wouldn’t want a sleep over, whatever gender you are. What might we infer about the mind of a man behind it all?

One final thought: I enjoyed the Sherlock Christmas special, The Abominable Bride, even though it was divisive amongst fans I quite liked the plot twist that the Victorian setting was a drug induced simulation and that the imaginary plot was the work of militant suffragettes, but I would still argue the whole thing made little sense. Sherlock admits to himself it is a metaphor for the women in his life, the ones he had ignored and mistreated. Again, that makes no sense. The manipulations and marginalisation’s of the women in his life are no worse than those towards the men, and happen less often. There is no reason for him to become so aware of gender politics, especially with so much else that could be on his mind at the time. What inspired this sudden confession of unthinking misogyny in him? I think Stephen knows the answer…

 

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Review

As the first entry in the new prequel/spinoff series to the Harry Potter franchise, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has to juggle the establishment of new, interesting characters, a different period and setting in the wizarding world, a plot that sets up a five-film franchise and satisfies the audiences high expectations. With such a weighty task, it actually accomplishes all this pretty admirably, if not spectacularly. Out of all the difficult promises it has to keep, only one can be fairly said to have been broken, but it is one worth mentioning: where are all the Fantastic Beasts?

We start in 1920’s New York, with the arrival of Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) and his magical luggage, containing a whole menagerie of magical creatures. After a mix up with hapless factory worker Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) an accidental magical break in at the New York bank, and a night spent with two young witches Tina and Queenie Goldstein (Katherine Waterston and Alison Sudol) that this unlikely band realisez they have unwittingly unleashed several of the creatures on the city. This lands the group in deep trouble with the MACUSA, the Magical Congress of the USA, and earns them the particular ire of the head legal enforcer Percival Graves, played by a surprisingly sinister Colin Farrell.

If this is all sounding like an excuse to get a fantastical period piece version of Pokemon Go started, well, that’s what I assumed at first. But surprisingly, there is a second plotline that is just as strongly developed. There is tension in the American magical community, as news of terror attacks, perpetrated by the dark wizard Grindlewald, comes daily, keeping Graves very busy and on edge in his duties. Meanwhile, more ire is brought on by the New Salem society, a group of religious fundamentalists led by Mary Lou (Samantha Morton) who believes witches roam the streets and must be purged to protect the people. Her persona at home isn’t any better; she has taken in several orphan children whom she bullies and beats with no remorse, most notably the slightly mysterious Credence (Ezra Miller) a young man whom has captured the interest of Percival Graves, who thinks this boy could somehow prove useful in the wizarding worlds struggles…

Ultimately, the combination of JK Rowling as a screenwriter and David Yates as a director helps the film capture both the world building of the early Potter films and the mature atmosphere of the latter ones. There is, admittedly, a sense of missed opportunity with things. The playful whimsy of the beast hunt is overshadowed by the rush to bring in elements of Grindelwald and his conquests, to the point the adventure described in the title almost feels like a subplot. Personally, I also feel that Graves is a bit overdone – I would have liked him better as aa villain in the style of Inspector Javert from Les Miserables, ruthless in methods but sincere of principle, as opposed to an overtly wicked schemer. There is a subplot with an aspiring US senator egged on by his media peddling father (Jon Voight, of all people) that has no real impact on the plot and could have been cut entirely.

But the film hits the right notes in the places where it counts, and is at its best when it remembers to enjoy itself – the scene inside the magical luggage actually rivals the first unveiling of Hogwarts in The Philosophers Stone in terms of the wonder it evokes. Keep an open eye for future films, Warner Brothers may yet have another big hit on its hands.

 

On the DC Extended Universe

The Films

Three films into the DC Extended Universe. Three chances to wow the fans, or alternatively, redeem themselves. Now here we stand, having seen two DVDs with extended cuts that promised to redeem unforgivable messes. They may have tried to smooth it out but have not tackled the underlying flaws. This is strike three, and may well be time for us to say that the DCEU is ‘out’.

We have had Man of Steel, a film about one of the most famously optimistic, escapist characters, that portrayed idealism as naïve and equated ‘reality’ with ‘death, depression, and grey wastelands’. We were promised all would be made right with Batman V Superman, which portrayed the beloved dark knight as a murderous sadist and the man of tomorrow as more concerned with his girlfriend and self-doubt than actually saving lives. And finally, we have had Suicide Squad, a jumbled mess of a video game plot and villain, an attempt at gritty, ‘street’ style characters, a wacky and irreverent tone, and a more optimistic message centered around a group of press ganged murderers, cannibals, rapists and psychopaths. The tentpoles are being erected, yet the canvas blows impotently in the wind.

As a few people have pointed out, there is a common denominator at work here. Zack Snyder has directed two films and has a role as executive producer on all of them. His sensibilities run deep through the projector. If you have seen 300, you have seen his appreciation for Supermen who are killing machines. Watchmen was an almost identical copy of the comic book it was based on, yet somehow lacked weight and depth even with dynamic performances and effects. Sucker Punch shows just how good he is at writing women and trying a feminist message. Watch any interview with him, and marvel as a fifty year old man talks like a thirteen year old boy about his own work.

If you listen to him actually describe his own work, then you will see the fundamental problem he has imposed on the DCEU. All he can consider, whenever he creates, adapts or changes material, is ‘wouldn’t it be cool if…’. That is the heart of a Zack Snyder movie. Not whether it is logical, relatable, coherent, engaging or faithful to the material. Above all other things, it must be cool.

The Big Blue Boy Scout

The confirming line is a throw away one in Batman V Superman that wouldn’t even be noticeable if it hadn’t been delivered so ostentatiously. When Clark Kent’s boss Perry White is chewing him out for demanding he pursues the stories he believes are more important, he snaps at him ‘This isn’t 1938 anymore. Apples don’t cost a nickel.’ Odd thing to bring up, unless you know that this was the year Superman was first introduced to readers of Action Comics. The line shows a direct rejection of the classic red and blue boy scout, who stood for Truth, Justice and the American Way.

Henry Cavill’s Superman is often shown doing his good deed for the day. He saves workers from a burning oil rig in Man of Steel, and there is a montage of him rescuing people from all kinds of disasters in Batman V Superman. In other movies, these scenes might be a turning point for the hero, realising the good he can do for the world, or simply a celebration of being able to do the right thing as best you can. For Zack Snyder’s Superman, they are made to look like drab, depressing affairs. The shots are filmed to put more emphasis on Superman’s incredible power, showing his bare chest unaffected by flames, or him lifting up the top of an exploded rocket, Atlas style. He does not seem to derive any pleasure from helping people. He does it almost begrudgingly, as if he knows that this is what Superman does, and he must simply do what is expected of him. I think this speaks sad volumes to Snyder’s vision of the character. This isn’t your Dad’s Superman. Because that Superman isn’t cool.

So what is cool? Solving your problems with violence, being more physical powerful than the plebs beneath you, and not being constrained by their petty morality. Just like DC’s other big hero.

The Caped Crusader

Ben Affleck’s Dark Knight is a whole other character. His performance is phenomenal and perfectly evokes the fearsome symbol of a criminals worst downfall. But the interpretation of this Batman (which is not, I stress, Affleck’s fault) is far from the classic champion of justice who holds himself above guns and violence. He shots, stabs and murders crooks with little restraint, often in such elaborate ways as blowing them up in trucks or crushing their heads with crates that it indicates some real sadism. His plan to prevent Superman’s unchecked power from destroying humanity is one of moral absolutism: kill the alien, save the world.

When Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale showed us their Batman, he was a fascinating and tragic character, because he did the chose to do the right thing even when there were clearly easier ways that would get the job done quicker, and knew not to trust himself with too much power – in short, he knew he was lying when he said ‘Batman has no limitations’. He was fighting against the darkness in himself and choose to keep it at bay.

By contrast, look at how Snyder’s Dark Knight. For all the talk about how much more violent he has become, his victims are all shown to be deserving, and his rampages are portrayed as displays of awesome power. The extended cut goes one step further by showing that the ‘Bat Brand’ – said to be a death sentence for any convict – has actually achieved its reputation due to Lex Luthor paying of thugs to murder the branded, further trying to remove the ambiguity and show Batman as a hero.

This Batman is a reckless and terrifying character because he is possessed by his own certainty. The certainty that the ends justify his means, that he can cross the same moral lines as criminals by killing in cold blood without stooping to their level, and that what he is doing is right, no further questions. It is not enough to call Batman more of an anti-hero – he was always an anti-hero, the darker foil to Superman’s golden image, and he managed that ambiguity without bloodshed. This Batman has more traits that make him an excellent villain, instead of a hero. But in a Zack Snyder movie, it is exactly those traits that make him cool.

We can talk a lot about how this new Batman, who is far more vicious and self-assured in his methods than ever before, shows just how far from the path the DCEU has strayed. But I think there is an even more terrible mascot for just how cool DC now is:

The Clown Prince of Crime

Jared Leto’s Joker is, in many ways, a pure psychopath. I think if you compare his personality to the Robert Hare checklist of psychopathic traits, he may actually score the highest out of any of the onscreen Jokers. He is glib and slick, possesses enough charm to compel his Doctor Quinzel to fall in love with him, and compelling enough to run a mob organisation. He is impulsive and arrogant, killing for imagined slights and recklessly endangering himself and others (He intentionally drives into a river, stands casually on a crashing gunship and once let Harley point a gun at his head. Not only is he not afraid, he doesn’t even seem to realise he is in danger at any point.) He is a manipulative liar, tricking Harley into nearly committing suicide. He spends a long time seducing and later rescuing Harley, only to let her get caught again and eventually try to kill her, indicating he does not think long term. kills without remorse, blames everyone else for making him angry, delights in causing pain and shows no signs of empathy.

Whether or not you like this take on the Joker, he would be an absolutely terrifying and despicable person if you met him in real life, as would past Jokers. They were funny to watch but also horrifying and scary, as such an excellent villain should be. We would recoil from them even as we were fascinated. But I think that the DC Cinematic Universe has failed on this crucial character even worse than with others, because of one fatal flaw. What is the big difference Leto’s Joker and past Jokers? It’s not the tattoos, the costume, or the performance. It is that as far as the filmmakers are concerned, we are supposed to love him. Not love to hate him, or love how impressive a villain he is. Everything we see in Suicide Squad indicates that we are supposed to like this character and be on his side.

Listen to any of cast or crew member of Suicide Squad talking in interviews about the Joker, about how ‘fun’ and ‘unpredictable’ a character he is. Jared Leto himself talks about the character as if he is meant to be an escapist fantasy instead of a nightmare. Batman v Superman indicated that The Joker murdered Robin. Suicide Squad brushes over the issue so quickly that I had to rewatch it to get the hint, and even then I’m not entirely sure Watch behind the scenes reports (and footage, if you can find it) of the Joker slapping Harley and cruelly abandoning her. In the film, he never strikes her and seems genuinely, madly desperate to get her back. I think one very telling moment is the scene in which he rescues her in a helicopter. As it is shot down, he pushes her out onto a building to save her whilst he goes down, both of them crying out for each other. According to a report of the original cut, he had had in fact got into an angry argument with her as the ship was being shot, and pushed her out to try and kill her (and putting in a great deal of work to achieve a goal, only to suddenly squander it just before or after achieving it is a classical psychopathic behaviour.) When I watched the film again with this new information in mind, the editing work that disguised the original intent was obvious.

My point here is not on whether or not you like the performance, or even the character generally. The point is that in terms of what we have seen on film, The Joker is objectively more heroic than Batman. And that completely goes against the grain of what these characters represent. It’s just wrong.

Where Next?

Wonder Woman and Justice League are still incoming, and it remains to be seen whether or not the promised redemption will arrive. But whether or not it does, I have no faith in as long as the DCEU is weighed down by the need to show us how violently, smarmily, unpleasantly cool it is.

My main worry is that they will try and fix course in the wrong way. Zack Snyder makes for a great visual director when reigned in. Jared Leto is capable of giving of a good performance, as the Oscar proves, he just needs better direction and less indulgence. Some films can be dark, others can be fun, just choose them as appropriate, not to balance out previous mistakes. And for the love of God, stop being cool and start being engaging!