Monthly Archives: September 2018

Gotham: the Good, the Bad and the Downright Mad

Gotham is the weirdo of the DC TV shows. It isn’t part of the Arrowverse or the films. It shows us a Gotham before Batman and Joker. It’s half a gritty, gruesome and violent detective show and half a zany, insane, comic-book-esque thriller. It’s had some real highs and some big missteps. But not only does it work, it was arguably the best DC show last year.

While Supergirl and Arrow dragged on too long, while Legends of Tomorrow got too silly for words at points, while Flash dragged itself further and further down towards creative oblivion, Gotham soared with a season that was macabre, mad and goofy as hell – sometimes all in the same episode! Sure, not everything worked in Gotham’s 4th season, but what do you expect from a show that perpetually throws everything including the kitchen sink at the wall and has an ensemble cast almost as large as game of thrones?

I haven’t done Gotham reviews since Series 1, mainly because the seasons are so long and spread out over the year its hard to summarise them in one article (and not enough people watch it for episodic reviews to be worth my time). So instead, for long-term fans and newbies wondering if the show is worth a shot while its on Netflix, here’s my breakdown of what’s good, what’s bad and what’s just downright mad in Gotham-land.

Will contain fairly substantial Spoilers for Season 1-4. But they’re pretty much impossible to avoid with an article like this.

The Good:

Penguin and Riddler (Seasons 1-4): While Gotham has included many, many established Batman villains and a few they’ve invented themselves, few people would argue that the shows signature villains are Penguin and Riddler, perfectly played by Robin Lord Taylor and Michael Corey Smith. Their story arcs have been spread over many seasons, rather than a few episodes, and have arguably proved as crucial to the shows success as Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne. They’ve even teamed up, fallen in love (well, Penguin did anyway) and become embroiled in a vicious civil war with each other. While both have had the occasional run in with Bruce, they’ve been far more of a thorn in Gordon’s side, and Jim always seems at his most pressed when facing off with these two.

The Prototype Jokers (Seasons 1-4): Joker casts a long shadow in the Batman mythos, but wisely, the writers didn’t shoehorn him in too early (looking at you DCEU and Suicide Squad). Instead they gave us Jerome (and later Jeremiah) Valeska, who served as the shows early versions of/inspiration for Joker. They have made only limited appearances throughout, but thanks to strong writing and a brilliant performance from Cameron Monaghan, have had a huge impact. Highlights have included Jerome reeking havoc with Theo Galavan’s gang of Maniax, facing off with Bruce in a Circus full of deranged cultists, and Jeremiah teaming up with Ra’s al Ghul. Simply marvellous.

The Ogre, The Mad Hatter and Professor Pyg (Season 1, 3, 4): While Gotham has dealt with most of the more famous Bat villains, it has also taken big risks by including or inventing less-known foes. The Ogre made for a very sinister villain for the final episodes of S1, while the Mad Hatter was an inspired choice of villain for the first half of S3. Best of all was the monstrous Professor Pyg, who tore through both the GCPD and Penguin’s goons during his reign of terror in S4. Given its incredibly unlikely we’d have ever seen villains like this in film or animation, you have to give credit to Gotham for taking risks.

Dirty Cops, Corrupt officials and Gang Wars (Seasons 1-4): Jim’s Gordon’s faced a lot of villains over the course of the show, but his worst enemies have all to often been himself and Gotham’s inherent corruption. Not only has the GCPD endured numerous madmen, massacres and a multitude of corrupt cops but the city’s often been in the grip of corrupt officials, rival mobsters, and disgraced mayors (seriously, all four have been corrupt as hell, and the fact that Penguin wasn’t even the worst of them speaks volumes). Gordon and the other heroes have all too often compromised and corrupted themselves trying to deal with this mess. Apart from Lucius Fox and Alfred, pretty much all of them have crossed lines somewhere, and Gordon, Harvey Bullock and Bruce’s struggles to stay in the light have provided some of the most compelling character arcs.

Bruce and Selina grow into their roles (Seasons 1-4): Getting the casting right is always important, but casting young versions of Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle was even more fraught with danger than normal. Fortunately, David Mazouz and Camren Bicondova have nailed their roles and have always been believable versions of their future hero and anti-heroine. Both have arguably grown the most of all the characters on the show, and their burgeoning friendship and on-off romantic interest in each other has been very entertaining to watch. Ultimately, the highest compliment I can give them is that they’ve done just as well as any adults who have played the characters in film. That’s no mean feat.

The Bad:

Fish Mooney (Season 1-3): Jada Pinkett Smith is almost as bad an actor as her son Jaden. Fish was an horrendously OTT villain in Season 1, so the cheers were near universal when Penguin sent her plummeting to a watery grave. However, the showrunners couldn’t leave well enough alone, and had Hugo Strange resurrect her in Season 2. They seem to have realised their mistake pretty quickly, as she barely featured in Season 3, and was put down again in the finale, hopefully for good.

The god-awful Gordon Prison Episode (Season 2): Not only was the episode a virtually direct copy of Roy’s imprisonment in Arrow’s third season, but it was done so poorly that I don’t know why they bothered. Having been framed for Murder, Gordon tries to survive prison as a cop on the inside, with all the usual clichés present (cop inside gets targeted, corrupt guards in league with inmates, fake-death used to escape etc.). It’s dull and predictable, and the only episode of Gotham to get lower than 3/5 from me.

No One Knows What to Do with Poison Ivy (Seasons 1-4): On paper, Ivy should have been a much better used character. She starts off as an ordinary girl who is Selina’s best friend, whose father is killed by Gordon after being framed for the Wayne murders. There’s a lot of character potential there without rushing her into the Poison Ivy from the comics. Unfortunately the writers lost patience in Season 3, and realising that Ivy’s powers of seduction and manipulation aren’t useable without having an adult actress in the role, had her rapidly aged up by one of Hugo Strange’s monsters. While this made sense from a plot perspective, the recast version never felt quite right, as the chemistry with Selina vanished and pairing her up with Penguin’s gang went nowhere. After yet another transformation (and another recasting) in Season 4, Ivy finally went into full villainess mode and remembered her history with Gordon, but vanished when Selina ran her out of town. Such a waste of what was a promising character.

Bruce the Brat (Season 3/4): Bruce being brainwashed by the League of Assassin’s was bad enough but the show took his downward spiral in Season 4 too far by having him fire Alfred during a particularly dark spell of drinking and debauchery. Fortunately this only lasted a couple of episodes, but things definitely went too far here.

Overlong Seasons (Seasons 1-4): Like the Arrowverse and many US shows, Gotham has a lot of episodes (22) per season. Unlike the Arrowverse shows, Gotham tried to circumvent this problem by having multiple main villains in each season (Falcone, Maroni, Penguin and Fish in S1, Galavan and Hugo Strange in S2, Mad Hatter and The Court of Owls in S3 and Professor Pyg, Sofia Falcone and Ra’s al Ghul in S4), which worked to some extent. Unfortunately, this often leads to filler plotlines or a drop in quality after the mid-season break, as things are strung along until the final 5 or so episodes. Season 1 felt disjointed, S2’s Hugo Strange fiasco and S3 and S4’s less successful plotlines were all arguably a result of this. You do feel that if Gotham was only 16-18 episodes long each season, the show would work a lot better.

The Mad:

Fish Mooney Gouges Out Her Own Eye (Season 1): This was just batsh*t crazy. Having been shipped off to an island run as an organ bank by the sinister dollmaker, Fish gouges out her own eye with a spoon before he can take them from her. Like all Fish scenes, this was just plain mental, and did not serve any obvious plot purpose (she gets a replacement eye a mere one episode late). Talk about doing things just for shock value.

Azrael vs. Bazooka (Season 2): Hugo Strange resurrecting Theo Galavan was crazy enough, but brainwashing him into becoming Azrael, a legendary crusader-esque warrior, was completely out of whack. Azrael proceeded to hunt down both Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon due to his messed-up memories, but his exit was the most memorable part. Having been mown down by Bruce in a car and shot by Gordon multiple times, Azrael gets back to his feet only to be blown up by Butch, who was wielding a Bazooka on Penguin’s orders. I wouldn’t blame you for saying this was the point that Gotham ‘jumped the Shark’ and went into full comic book insanity, cause it only gets weirder from here.

Jerome gets a facelift (Season 3): Another villain destined not to stay dead for long, Jerome’s antics with the Maniax Gang inspired a cult following, who tried to resurrect him in season 3. This wasn’t the mad part. Having seeming failed to resuscitate Jerome, the Cult’s leader cut’s off Jerome’s face to wear as a mask, hoping to maintain control over the cult by convincing them that ‘they are all Jerome’. This lunacy went predictably badly, as Jerome was less than impressed about his missing face after he eventually woke up, and blew the cult leader up in short order. But even this wasn’t crazy enough for Gotham, as Jerome not only retrieved his face but proceeded to staple it back onto his head. Without painkillers. Not wonder he only got more insane after that.

Professor Pyg makes people into Pies (Season 4): After the Mad Hatter, Ed’s Riddler Persona, Scarecrow and Jerome, you’d have thought Gotham had scraped the bottom of the barrel for crazy Bat-villains. You. Were. Wrong. Pyg is arguably the most insane, gruesomely macabre villain in the whole of DC comics, and the show’s version was equal to the task. Not content with murdering policemen and covering their heads with masks made from dead pigs, the Professor proceeding to murder a group of homeless people and serve them up to Gotham’s 1%  (including Penguin and Sofia Falcone) in pies. The irony was probably not lost on Penguin, who had done something similar to his evil step-family in Season 2, but this went to a whole other level. No wonder Pyg exited the show a mere two episodes later – where else could you go after that? 

Barbara takes over the League of Shadows (Season 4): This could of easily fallen in the ‘bad’ section of this article, but it was such a crazy, stupid move on the part of the showrunners that it just comes across as completely insane. The whole Ra’s and Barbara partnership was actually quite compelling early season, but after Bruce put an end to Ra’s scheming the show made arguably the craziest mis-step in its history by having Barbara succeed Ra’s as the Demon’s Head late season. Not only did she do such a poor job that she started an entire gender-based civil war within the League of Assassins, but the League got so fed up with her that they resurrected Ra’s in short order to put her in her place. This smacks of giving the character something to do rather than following a logical character arc, and also leaves several major issues in Ra’s plan unsolved (unless he wanted to destroy the league, which later episodes show is not the case, or hideously misjudged Barbara’s ability, which seems unlikely for someone as old and wise as Ra’s, Barbara makes no sense as a choice of successor – especially when Bruce was who Ra’s was so obsessed with!).

So there you go. Gotham, the best, worst (not really – Flash and Agents of SHIELD are still out there) and maddest superhero show TV will probably ever see. If you like your TV dark and crazy, by all means, give it a go.

 

 

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Ant-Man and the Wasp Review

Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Pena, Hannah Jon-Kamen, Laurence Fishburne, Michelle Pfeiffer and Michael Douglas.

Minor Spoilers Only. But this is Ant-Man – you’re here to be entertained, not to be surprised by the plot!

The first Ant-Man was a surprise highlight of Marvel’s Phase Two. It was the least known and one of the least financially successful Marvel films, but its unique blend of humour, zany powers and Paul Rudd’s sublime turn as likeable lead Scott Lang meant it was very well received by critics (noticeably better than Age of Ultron, which came out the same year). It’s also my favourite Marvel film for a variety of reasons, as it succeeds on virtually every level (its funny, the story’s good, the characters are likeable and the fight scenes are actually memorable). So I had high hopes for the sequel.

The good news: not only is it great fun, but it surpasses Black Panther and Infinity War.

Ant-Man and the Wasp has perhaps the lowest stakes of any Marvel film – there’s no world or universe ending threat here. The main villain is simply trying to survive at any cost, and the secondary villain is a glorified thief/gangster who’s merely after Pym’s technology for its value. While this does mean neither villain is particularly memorable, it’s a very smart direction for the film to take, as any antagonists and their plan were going to be anticlimactic after Thanos’ Infinity Snap, so telling a small scale, more personal story is a wise choice. Oh, and in case you were wondering, this is set before Infinity War, not after, so don’t expect any fallout from that film here.

That’s not to say the film lacks ambition. The set pieces are very high quality (an extended car chase is arguably the highlight) and the sequences in the quantum realm are memorably rendered. Ghost’s phase-shifting abilities coupled with Ant-Man and Wasps size-changing antics make for some very inventive fight scenes. There’s none of the shaky CGI that blighted Black Panther’s third act either. The simple plot allows for a much-more character-driven entry in the franchise, and Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are easily the best pair of leads in the MCU (maybe only matched by Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana), so you won’t complain. The acting in general is of a high standard, and its nice to see Michelle Pfeiffer back in a superhero film after her winning turn as Catwoman in the Tim Burton Batman films.

There aren’t really any massive drawbacks here. The soundtrack isn’t memorable, but it serves its purpose well enough (like every bloody Marvel film score except Guardians). Hannah Jon-Kamen’s Ghost is well acted and somewhat sympathetic, even if her impact is lessened by a lack of real menace or screentime. Her fights with Ant-Man and Wasp are engaging though, and her powers are something we haven’t really seen before, so I’ll give Ghost some points for that and being one of the few female villains in Superhero films. Some of the dialogue feels a bit by the numbers and could be funnier, but the visual gags and the big jokes all land, so I’ll not criticise. Like the first Ant-Man, it takes 40 minutes to really get going, but once it hits its stride, its consistently great fun.

As to whether it beats the first movie… I’m unsure – the effects are better, but the villain is a bit weaker. The script and the acting are pretty much equal, and both films have great (and hilarious) action scenes. Overall, I think the jokes worked slightly better in the first one, so I wouldn’t put this above the original, but its still easily in the MCU’s top 3 or 4 films.

Overall Ant-Man and the Wasp is a funny, charming, touching film that brings a refreshing levity after the bombastic, shocking epicness of Infinity War. Not every punchline lands, but its still easily the best Marvel film since Civil War.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Oh, and without going into spoilers, stay for the mid-credits scene. Its gonna have an impact on Avengers 4. Equally, the 2nd is not really worth staying for – just catch it on youtube in a couple of months.

If you’d told me in 2012 that the four best Marvel movies would be 2 Captain America sequels and 2 Ant-Man films I would have laughed. What a thing hindsight is eh? Marvel’s sheer variety of offerings is what makes success stories like this possible. I hope audiences turn out for this one. It really deserves more recognition that its predecessor got.

Final thought: can we get the guy who directed this to take over Guardians of the Galaxy 3? He might be the only person who could replace Gunn and still deliver a great film.