Category Archives: DC

Joker Review

Spoiler-free review

Starring Joaquin Phoenix

Joker is unlike anything you’ll have seen in a long time. Calling it a superhero movie is wrong on a lot of levels. Comic-book movie is closer, but again, not accurate. Joker is a kind of in depth character study that’s more commonly found in thrillers and is as far from a blockbuster action epic as you can get. There’s no quipping, no CGI, no bland heroes, no forgettable villains and no weak cop-outs or last minute resets. After 10+ years of the MCU’s good but frustratingly formulaic schtick and frequent blunders by DC and Fox, Joker is fucking refreshing. Actions have consequences here, the characters are human and believable and the final act contains no world ending threat, lame showdown or stupid CGI vortex in the sky.

Long-story short: this feels like an apology for Suicide Squad.

Suicide Squad is the worst Superhero film of the past decade and represents DC’s biggest misstep in its failed (and now rehashed) cinematic universe. Jared Leto’s Joker is still an embarrassment to fans of the character worldwide. There’s a lot of ways Joker can be portrayed, but Leto’s vision of a drug-lord in clown make-up isn’t one of them. No wonder he won’t be in Birds of Prey. By contrast, Phoenix’s Joker is up there with Ledger’s (The Dark Knight) and Hamill’s (Animated Series, Arkham Games) as the best of the bunch. Even the negative reviews of Joker (of which there are some, by woefully misguided reviewers who clearly lack the intelligence or attention span to appreciate it) give credit to Phoenix – he really commits to the character, and if he doesn’t get an Oscar for this, it will be a tragedy rather than a comedy.

Joker is set in the 1980’s, when Bruce Wayne was just a young kid and Thomas and Martha Wayne were still alive and kicking. The Wayne’s and Alfred are the only connections to the Batman universe – don’t expect cameos from Gordon or Harvey Dent or anything, this film remains utterly focused on its lead. Seeing Joker without Batman is a refreshing change and proves the character is compelling (and terrifying) enough to work on his own. Joker’s story ties into the Wayne family’s in ways that are both surprising and plausible here, and would make me very curious to see how a sequel with Batman would go. Not that Joker necessarily needs one. Phoenix nailed it, and his vision doesn’t need revisiting or tampering with unless the script and story is worthy of it.

The most striking thing about this film, which effectively is a origin story for Joker, is how unnervingly plausible it is. Arthur Fleck (Joker’s original name) initially comes across as a troubled, unhappy man who society has failed, who is stuck in a thankless job, with a non-existent social life and a dream he will likely never fulfil. You will feel some sympathy for him for at least the first hour of the film. Then, the film pulls the rug out from under you and shows just how deeply disturbed Fleck really is. He becomes increasingly violent, unpredictable and maniacal as the film goes on – in short, everything the Joker has always been – the second half will cull any sympathy you have for him, and don’t listen to some reviewers – it doesn’t glorify him in any way. His origin takes inspirational from some versions found in the comics, but its very much its own thing here. The problem with some Joker interpretations is that however compelling they are, the character never feels real. This one is terrifyingly possible, as is the broken, crumbling society that unwitting gives birth to him. This is as bleak as Gotham has ever looked onscreen, but its issues (wealth divides, corrupt elites, thuggish louts picking on the weak) feel relatable.

Looking at the other aspects of the film, it has very few, if any, flaws. The direction is superb throughout, and combined with the loud, abrasive, at times oppressive seeming soundtrack makes this tense and in places downright uncomfortable viewing – which is exactly how a film about the Joker should feel. The supporting cast are limited in screen time but all perform to a very high standard, particularly Robert de Niro as a talk show host who Arthur is a fan of. The movie can feel a bit slow in the first 40 minutes, but slow-burners have a habit of building to a satisfying (or in this case, disturbing) crescendo, and you will be on edge for the entire second-half of the film.

I’ve deliberately avoided discussing the plot or the exact journey that Arthur Fleck goes on to become the Joker – this is something you want to experience for yourself – not be told in advance. I can’t promise this will be your favourite version of Joker – for me Phoenix ties with Ledger and Hamill at the top of the pile – but its definitely one who will leave an impression. I also can’t promise you will like this film – but I can say that you should definitely watch it and find out for yourself – because there has never been a comic-book movie quite like this before!

Overall Joker is a dark, tense, compelling study of one of DC’s most iconic villains. Joaquin Phoenix delivers a powerhouse of a performance and a terrifyingly realistic version of Joker that does the character justice. Its not your standard comic-book movie – but that’s a good thing in my book.

It is however, a film only DC could make. Marvel doesn’t have the balls to do something like this, but DC has a record of taking big risks with its films – this time it has paid off.

I was going to give it 4.5/5, but just because I’m so impressed by the risks they took with this and how well Phoenix nails the character…

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Joker is the best movie DC have made in a long time.

Get your arse to a cinema and watch it!

Warning: you will be emotionally drained after. But its totally worth it.

10 Things to watch out for in 2019

Before I get to my traditional ‘Best of Year’ articles, I thought i’d take some time to do a preview of the likely hits that 2019 might give us. While this type of article is pretty common for this time of year, I’ve never done one before, but I thought I’d try my hand at it. So without further ado, here’s my pick of what films, TV and gaming to watch out for in 2019.

1.Game of Thrones, Final Season: Season 7 really upped the scale of events in Thrones and gave us cinematic battle sequences and long-awaited character interactions into the bargain. Now Season 8 has 6 hour-plus long episodes to wrap everything up. With the White Walkers finally past the wall, expect huge scale battles and significant character deaths. However it ends, its sure to be unmissable television.

2. Avengers: Endgame: Infinity War broke all kinds of records and finally, FINALLY delivered a truly great villain for the MCU. That said, it wasn’t a flawless film, even if it was extremely entertaining. But it set the stage for this: the final Avengers film (at least for this group of Avengers). With a high probably that Iron Man and Captain America will either die or bow out at the conclusion, this might finally be the Marvel film where there are actual consequences. But whatever the fate of the heroes, its another 3 hours (supposedly) of Thanos, and that alone makes it worth seeing.

3. Captain Marvel: Marvel finally gives us a female-superhero movie. Brie Larson certainly looks the part, and the trailer really gives you a sense that there’s some ambition in this one. Expect it to lead straight into Avengers: Endgame too. Throw in a significant role for Samuel L. Jackson, and this could be Marvel’s best origin story since X-Men: First Class. Its only real hurdle is it has to live up to Wonder Woman. Speaking of which…

4. Wonder Woman 1984: One of the two good Worlds of DC films (aside from Man of Steel) finally gets a sequel. With iconic Wonder Woman foe cheetah and a no-doubt rousing soundtrack from Hans Zimmer, this might finally be the film where DC turns the tide. Or it could be the final nail in its coffin if DC screw it up. Either way, its Wonder Woman, so you know its worth a shot.

5. The Last of Us, Part 2: After the first Last of Us and the Uncharted Games, expectations are sky-high for this PS4 exclusive next year. Not only does Naughty Dog have a great track record, but the first game is still one of the best we’ve had this decade. With the same mix of epic storytelling and zombie survival horror, I’ve got very high hopes for this one.

6. The Outer Worlds: Made by Obsidian, this looks like it could be the Dark Horse of gaming releases in 2019. Not only is it the product of the brains behind Fallout: New Vegas (AKA one of the best Fallout games) but it looks like a mash-up between Borderlands and Fallout. That can only be a good thing. We haven’t have a good sci-fi RPG since Mass Effect 3 came out.

7. Stranger Things, Season 3: With House of Cards finished, most Marvel shows cancelled and Orange is the New Black drawing to a close, Stranger Things is kind of Netflix’s last standout show. Its also the best Sci-Fi show on television right now (admittedly not hard when its up against Star Trek: Discovery and Chibnall’s bastard version of Who) with one of the best young casts in television and superb support from Veteran actors such as Winona Ryder and David Harbour. With an incredibly catchy theme, a great soundtrack and brilliant special effects, you’d be mad to miss it.

8. Metro: Exodus: Since there is suddenly an unexpected market for a decent post-apocalyptic RPG game, Metro: Exodus seems likely to do very well next year. The Metro series has always had an interesting story, set in the tunnels underneath a nuclear devastated Russia, it had a pretty unique tone and feel. With Exodus its third and easily most ambitious entry, this not only looks set to pick up many disaffected Fallout fans, but also has little competition in the February release window. I’d put money on it doing quite well so long as they don’t botch the release (looking at you Bethesda).

9. Orange is the New Black, Final Season: Netflix’s longest running hit finally comes to a close in 2019. While the last few seasons have been divisive, I’ve loved them, and I’ll be sad to see it go. With several characters fates up in the air after S6, it’ll be interesting to see how they wrap it all up. With the usual mix of comedy, drama and heartache, i’m sure it’ll be a memorable ride.

10. Star Wars, Episode IX: After the critically successful but audience divisive Force Awakens and Last Jedi, Disney has a fight on its hands to bring the Star Wars fanbase back into balance. With yet another film which had to change director halfway through (this time bringing back J.J. Abrams to replace Colin Trevorrow) we know very little about how this will go. Will it be a Rogue-One-esque triumph? A Force-Awakens style remake of Return of the Jedi with plenty of style but no substance? An innovative yet divisive entry that keeps fans guessing like Last Jedi? (yeah right, this is Abrams. The guy hasn’t had an original idea ever aside from how to overuse lens-flares). Or will it be irrelevant and will audiences just stay home like they did for Solo? Wherever it ends up, it will either be the end of an era or the moment the Star Wars franchise goes back on hiatus. So either way, its going to be an unmissable end to 2019!

The three things I’m most hyped for at this point have to be The Last of Us Part 2, Avengers: Endgame and Stranger Things S3, but who knows – one of the others may pleasantly surprise me and outdo all my expectations. Either way – 2019 is definitely looking good in the entertainment industry (which is reassuring, since the outlook is dire everywhere else!).

Next Up: My look at the best and worst films that have released in 2018, with TV and Video Game articles close behind…

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.

 

 

Article: Why the Flash has become the worst of the DC TV shows.

From Hero to Zero

Warning: Contains Spoilers for seasons 1-3 of The Flash and Seasons 4/6 of Arrow

It’s generally been a good year for the DC TV shows. Legends of Tomorrow, Gotham and Black Lightning have all had great seasons. Supergirl’s third season has so far been by far the strongest in the shows history. Even Arrow managed to have a strong end to an otherwise bland and uninspired run. But while reviewers have hit arrow hard, its arguably the Flash that deserves the most scorn.

The flash’s first season back in 2014/15 was one of the strongest the Arrowverse had ever delivered. The first half of season two kept that momentum going, but then things started to go downhill after the mid-season break. Zoom didn’t work as a lead villain once he took his mask off, and the Earth-2 dopplegangers were so thinly drawn and one-note I don’t know why they bothered with them. Still, while not a triumph, season 2 still had plenty of good to balance out one or two issues. Then season three happened. Flashpoint remains the moment the Flash lost something it could never recover: quality and fanbase goodwill. It was done TERRIBLY and made Barry far, FAR too unlikable. But that was only the tip of the iceberg.

Season 3 had a multitude of problems. H.R. was the least interesting Wells incarnation and took a long time to come into his own. Too many filler episodes were bland and were merely used to drag out the season’s main plot far longer than it deserved. The whole ‘Gorilla City’ two-parter ended on a whimper rather than an adrenaline rush. Jessie was completely wasted in a thankless role that mainly revolved around being Wally’s love interest, despite looking far more capable as a speedster than either Wally or Barry at times. The Killer Frost plotline was predictable, lacked nuance and was resolved far too easily in the season finale. And then we have Savitar. The reveal of his identity took far too long, which backfired as, by the time it happened, we’d all worked out who he was anyway. Not to mention he was the third speedster villain in a row, which led to a whole feeling of ‘really, again?’ about proceedings. Not to mention his grand plan made even less sense than Zoom’s, which is saying something. Don’t get me wrong, season 3 had some great episodes (The Present, Dead or Alive, The Wrath of Savitar, Duet and Infantino Street) but it also had a finale that sucked so badly, that I gave up on the show.

I kept an eye on reviews of season 4 to see if was worth giving the show another shot. The reviews seemed unanimous – no it wasn’t. Even though there were clearly some good episodes, clips I’ve seen and the plot summaries clearly show the key issues I have with the show are either still there or have got worse, and even Den of Geek, who defended Season 3, seem to have lost patience. Hence why for the first time, the Flash must be considered the worst DC show on TV. And this can be blamed on 5 separate issues:

1. The Quality of the Villains dropped. 

The Flash did such a good job on its villains in Season 1 and 2 that it was always going to be hard to maintain that standard (Arrow has sometimes struggled with this as well but not to the same extent). Just think of S1 and S2’s villains: Reverse-Flash, Captain Cold, Weather Wizard, The Trickster, Gorilla Grodd. They were all great beyond measure. Sure, Zoom stopped being threatening the instant his mask came off, but he was an exception. Name one villain of the same quality in S3 or S4? Struggling? While Savitar and Devoe have clearly both had their moments, there wasn’t a single stand-out showing from the one-off or support villains. Mirror Master and Abracadabra disappointed, and the show seems to have run out of good villains from the comics to introduce. It’s not the showrunners fault that some of its best villains are no longer available (Snart’s become an anti-hero, the Reverse-Flash has been used too much for any major further appearances, Mark Hamill has been too busy with Star Wars to play the Trickster etc.) but its clear both that the Flash’s original villains have a tendency to run out of steam (Grodd’s S3 story was rubbish and he was beaten far too easily by Solivar) and that these villains work better on Legends of Tomorrow. I honestly don’t know how the Flash can fix this problem, but I’d have two main suggestions: 1. cut the episode number from 23 to 16/17 so there’s less weak filler episodes with throwaway villains. 2. Have more than one main villain per season. Then their plot won’t get stretched out so much.

2. Killer Frost has been severely mishandled

I wasn’t a fan of Earth-2 killer frost. She was a pretty one-note character who seemed to just be evil for the sake of it. So when Caitlin’s KF persona started manifesting on Earth-1, I hoped they might do it in a more nuanced way. While the first few episodes looked promising, once Killer Frost fully emerged she was exactly the same as her Earth-2 counterpart. This could still have worked if the show had shown the battle between the two personas in a more interesting way that just flicking between them when the plot called for it (for example, how Ed Nygma has struggled with his Riddler persona on Gotham). If Gotham has done a more convincing character arc than you, you know you’ve really f*cked this plotline up. Add in the predictable and all too easy change of heart Killer Frost had in the S3 finale, which was entirely unjustified (Arrow did a far better job of this in S6 with Black Siren, whose shifts in allegiance played out over several episodes and wasn’t always predictable). Again, if Arrow season 6 did something better than you… Season 4 hasn’t fixed the shows Killer Frost problem, and at this point I’m not sure they can – they made her too much of a pantomime/cartoon villain at the start for her to work effectively as a character now.

3. The show doesn’t use its supporting characters well

There’s a reason Wally buggered off to Legends of Tomorrow (where Keiynan Lonsdale has seemed far happier). He had so little to do since becoming a speedster other than back-up Barry, get beaten by Savitar and hang out with Jessie. The character was being wasted on the Flash, because the writers couldn’t figure out what to do with him. Jessie has had similarly short shift, appearing only in a few guest appearances that haven’t done her justice – her abilities as a speedster are clearly strong, so why they don’t bring her in more often (or at least let her be part of the crossovers) is beyond me. Again, the writers clearly don’t know what they’re doing with her character. It’s also becoming noticeable that the writers flat out refuse to ever kill one of the main cast (Barry, Iris, Joe, Cisco or Caitlin) so its always the supporting characters that get chopped, because the show clearly regards them as expendable (see Eddie, Ronnie, Henry Allen and H.R.). This leads to the supporting characters being chopped and changed too often for any of them to have a lasting impact or stronger character development. Even if they aren’t killed off, promising supporting characters are often written out despite being more interesting than the main cast (i.e. Patty and Julian, both of whom brought some fun and tension to the show that it badly needed but no longer possesses). I mean, I know Tom Felton probably has other things to do, but he was the best thing in season 3, so to lose him so quickly and without a proper send-off was downright annoying.

4. Barry has caused too much suffering to be a likeable lead anymore

The list of people who’ve died either for Barry or because of him is too long: – Eddie, his parents, Ronnie, H.R., Cisco’s brother. Not to mention all of the lives he impacted adversely with Flashpoint. Barry has never really paid the price for all that suffering, which is why season 3’s ending was so misguided. Had Barry lost Iris, it would have been the perfect reminder that Barry’s actions have consequences. It might have allowed the show to shake up the character in a big way. Instead, H.R. took the fall and Barry carried on as normal (his visible relief that it was H.R. not Iris REALLY pissed me off – that’s at least the 3rd person to sacrifice themselves to save you Barry, which is at least 2 too many). Barry doesn’t deserve a happy ending when so many others have lost theirs because of him. If Iris had died and he’d changed his ways (and then eventually gotten over it, perhaps ending up with Patty instead, it would have been far more interesting).

5. Iris.

I deliberately left Iris till last so this article doesn’t just get dismissed as another Iris hate forum. But even hardcore fans of the show have to realise, Iris has driven away a LOT of the fanbase. Even Laurel and Felicity on Arrow aren’t this annoying. But at least Laurel and Felicity’s roles on Arrow have always made sense. Laurel was a kick-ass lawyer and eventually trained herself into becoming a somewhat capable vigilante, but not one who ever magically became anywhere near as capable as Roy, Diggle or Thea, who’d all had much better training. Felicity has always been the super-hacker the team needs to get sh*t done, as well as trying to be the (irritating but necessary) voice of reason who keeps the team together. Both characters become more annoying over time, but both had character arcs that made sense.

Iris’ character arc has never made sense. Her initial role as a journalist/Eddie’s girlfriend worked well enough, but the whole journalist thing was never embraced in a convincing way after S2 (say as Kara’s is on Supergirl, where her human job has played a significant role at times). Worse, while Iris had plenty of chemistry with Eddie, she has rarely had as much with Barry, which undermines their whole relationship (I’m not blaming the actors – Grant Gustin and Candice Patton do what they can, but it rarely convinces). Her becoming the leader of Team Flash was the nail in the coffin. It smacks of being a girl-power statement rather than making any narrative sense (and I’m all for girl-power – Legends and Supergirl both have it in spades, but the difference that Sara, Amaya, Kara and Alex have all earned their roles as Captain/Superheroes/Secret Agent. They own those roles and make sense in them. Iris doesn’t and has never justified her elevation to such a role). It also smacks of just giving the character something to do rather than just be Barry’s fiancé/wife, which is fine, but she really should have just focused on the journalism, which would have made a lot more sense.

Finally, the big problem with Iris stems from the fact that Barry literally has more chemistry with virtually every other female cast member on the Flash. Him and Patty were perfect, him and Caitlin had a spark in S1, him and Kara were adorable in the crossovers and even Felicity would have worked better as a love interest. You can’t credibly pair up Barry and Iris in this scenario – the writers have only done it to be in line with the comics, not because its what’s best for the series.

Ultimately, I doubt I’ll ever go back to the Flash at this point except for crossover episodes. Unless they bring Julian back or kill Iris off, neither of which I can see happening, I don’t see the show improving enough to be worth the effort. Arrow may be on thin ice at the moment, but the Flash has already sunk into the depths, which is a crying shame.

Black Lightning Review

Starring Cress Williams.

Minor Spoilers Follow.

With Black Panther making waves on the big screen, it felt like an appropriate time to try Black Lightning, the first DC TV show to have a Black Superhero as its main focus. It’s only the second Superhero show I can think of to have done this apart from Luke Cage. While the producers of Black Panther should be commended for what they’ve done, I can’t really credit the MCU much for boosting black representation in the superhero genre. Black Panther is the 18th MCU film – its taken them that long to have a film based around a Black Superhero, and they STILL haven’t released one with a female superhero taking the lead. Given the presence of War Machine, Falcon, Black Widow and Scarlet Witch in the MCU, this lack of representation is utterly pathetic. This is made especially evident by DC films, given that DC’s THIRD FILM featured Will Smith as lead character Deadshot and their FOURTH film gave us Wonder Woman. DC have done better (on representation, if not scripting) in 4 films than Marvel has in 17. Shame on you Marvel.

Marvel TV has admittedly done a better job of this, with Agent Carter and Jessica Jones catering for female Superheroes and Luke Cage giving us a show with a predominantly black cast. Unfortunately, Luke Cage was one of Marvel’s worse efforts (only outdone by Iron Fist) because of its poor writing, uneven tone and totally on the nose politics. Though Mike Colter has done a stand out job with the character on the Defenders and Jessica Jones, he still hasn’t got the material he deserves on his own show.

Fortunately, when it comes to both representation and TV shows in general, DC is far, far better than Marvel. John Diggle/Spartan has been a key fixture on Arrow since S1, and all four Arrowverse shows have had diverse casts (both in terms of ethnicity, gender and sexuality). Now we have a fifth DC show: Black Lightning. Not only is it DC’s answer to Luke Cage, but so far, its a damn sight better!

Cress Williams is a revelation as lead character Jefferson Pierce, a man who fought as a vigilante in his youth, but gave it up after his wife left him for the sake of his daughters and became the headmaster of a local school to try and combat the gangs a different way. Black Lightning sees him reluctantly forced back into action when his youngest daughter is targeted by a member of the local ‘100’ gang. While this kind of plotline veers close to cliché, its carried off with such panache and good scripting that you won’t really care. The rest of the (predominantly black) cast is equally good, with Jefferson’s daughters both likeable characters, and even his ex-wife is largely sympathetic (could this FINALLY be the show where DC doesn’t give us a crap love interest? Fingers crossed). The only white character of any note is Jefferson’s old mentor Peter (who acts as a cross between Alfred and Lucius Fox). While it seems easy to predict the arcs some characters will head down during this first series, they’ve all got plenty of potential.

One area the show completely trumps Luke Cage is in its use of Superpowers. Black Lightning’s electrical attacks are awesome (anyone whose played the Infamous video games will appreciate them!) and give the action scenes plenty of spark and heft. Luke Cage was always held back by the fact that being bulletproof and strong don’t make for particularly exciting powers. Black Lightning doesn’t have this problem – he’s powerful but still vulnerable, which is always the best superhero combination.

I also liked how Lightning isn’t a ‘White Knight’ style hero (the DC shows have enough of those on the Flash and Supergirl) but is happy to get his hands dirty, and in one memorable sequence, blows up a police car to send a message to two racist cops. Police brutality/racism is one of several issues highlighted here, but its done so in a much more sensitive and less on-the-nose way than in Luke Cage and comes across as less heavy handed as a result.

There are one or two issues: the dialogue can be a bit clichéd and corny in some places, and its first few episodes follow familiar plotlines to most other superhero/vigilante dramas, but overall its a cut above the current load of superhero offerings. Hopefully the rest of the season lives up to this promising start.

Rating: 4 out of 5

My review of Black Panther will be out sometime next week. Can an MCU film finally get 5/5?

Top 10 TV Episodes of 2017

Rather than my usual top TV shows, I decided to do a top 10 episodes. This was for several reasons: firstly, a lot of my favourite shows have underperformed this year (House of Cards, Doctor Who, The Americans, The Flash), and a top 4 shows would be about the best I could manage, and secondly because many of those shows still had terrific episodes even if the overall season was a bit of a let-down. So without further ado, here’s my TV picks from 2017.

I’ve made any spoilers as minor as possible, but pretty much everything referenced here was either in trailers or has been general knowledge for at least 6 months.

10. World Enough and Time (Doctor Who, Series 10) Series 10 may have been a weak run for Doctor Who, but Steven Moffat’s writing, Capaldi and Mackie’s acting and Rachel Talalay’s direction was flawless throughout. World Enough and Time is up their with Moffat’s best: a dark, creepy haunting tale set on a spaceship stuck orbiting a black hole, causing time to run faster at one end than the other. Throw Missy, a classic monster and another returning (disguised) villain into the mix and you have a classic in the making. If only so much of it hadn’t been spoiled beforehand, this episode might have been a lot further up my list.

9. Season Finale (Robot Wars UK) The last series of Robot Wars had 1 or 2 duff episodes, but the finale was so spectacular that it has to get a place in my top 10. The ten way Robot Rumble to decide who got the coveted sixth spot in the final was perhaps the best 5 minutes of television this series has ever produced, and the sheer chaos of it all was wonderful to behold. The final rounds themselves weren’t bad either – with several surprises as Defending Champions Carbide were placed under extreme pressure and a few no-hopers (Nuts 2) actually acquitted themselves rather well.

8. Beyond the Wall (Game of Thrones, Season 7) Game of Thrones seventh season may have thrown out the careful plotting a bit too much for some fans, but the sheer spectacle of the thing and the wonderful array of character interactions (some we’d waited years to see) still made it insanely compelling viewing. This episode, where Jon Snow and a band of followers including the Brotherhood without banners, The Hound, Tormund, Jorah and Gendry, all venture North of the Wall to search for proof of the White Walkers existence, is on a scale worthy of Lord of the Rings. To say any more would spoil what’s so great about it, but the soundtrack, direction and spectacle were all second to none, even if the resolution is somewhat ludicrous.

7. The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (Gotham, Season 3) Gotham’s not had a great year by all accounts. While we’ve had several great villains truly come to the fore (Riddler, Ra’s al Ghul, Professor Pyg) there’s been too much slow-burning about Gotham, and too many characters have got short-shift. But every so often, the show delivers a real gem, and that’s exactly what we got in this, the third part of a trilogy marking Jerome’s return in season 3. Seeing teenage Bruce Wayne face off with the man Gotham fans are 99% sure is the future Joker was stunning television, and the whole Riddler-Penguin civil war wasn’t a bad B-Plot either. It has a lot of great Bruce and Jerome moments that I won’t spoil, and one hell of a cliffhanger too.

6. The Dragon and the Wolf (Game of Thrones, Season 7) Remember what I said about character interactions? Well the finale had a truck full of them. Whether it was the Hound and Brienne coming face-to-face again, Jon Snow and Daenerys finally meeting Cersei or Jaime finally, FINALLY seeing Cersei’s true colours, it was epic. Littlefinger’s plotline was a punch the air moment for every fan watching, and the final scene with the White Walkers sets up season 8 perfectly. A great finale, if not quite the best episode of the season…

5. Doomworld (Legends of Tomorrow, Season 2) – I would never have expected Legends of Tomorrow, the most ridiculous Superhero Show on TV (featuring time-travel, aliens, mythology etc.) to also have been the best and most consistent one in 2017. But it was. Mainly because of its amazing season 2 plotline, which saw the superhero ensemble face-off with the Legion of Doom (featuring the Reverse-Flash, Dark Archer, Damien Darhk and Captain Cold – aka four of the Arrowverse’s best villains). Doomworld gave us a look at a future where the villains actually won, a rarity on any superhero show, and was a fabulous hour full of redemption stories, villainous one-liners and a kick-ass final battle scene. If season 3 lives up to this standard I won’t be complaining much.

4. Infantino Street (The Flash, Season 3) I’ll be honest, the Flash’s third season was terrible. The main plot didn’t work well and it largely squandered any goodwill left over from the excellent first one and a half seasons. Infantino Street was its sole knockout hit, the penultimate episode of the season, which featured both the return of fan-favourite Leonard Snart and had the villainous Savitar finally delivering on his potential. The ending scene is up their with the best Flash cliffhangers (and there are A LOT of good ones). Pity the producers ruined everything in the season finale, but in my view that doesn’t diminish this classic instalment. Let’s hope season 4 has more episodes like this.

3. Storm-y Weather (Orange is the New Black, Season 5) Orange is the New Black’s status as one of the all-time great Netflix shows remains untarnished (unlike House of Cards, for various reasons), and season five continuing the trend of a series that has actually got better year on year (how many shows can say that?!). Set over 3 days rather than several weeks a la previous series, season 5 gave us a gripping depiction of a prison riot and what happens when the inmates turn the tables on the awful prison officers. This episode (the finale) finally forced the prisoners (and bastard guardsman Piscatella) to face up to their actions and face the consequences. Filled with emotional performances, it confirms that this series really does have longeveity. The use of the ‘To Build a Home’ song over the last 5 mins really was something beautiful too.

2. Lian Yu (Arrow, Season 5) – Season Five finally broke the norm for Arrow finales (i.e. a yearly attack on Star City) and instead presented a much more personal, visceral conflict between Oliver Queen and Prometheus, leading to a monumental battle between both sides (including the whole of team Arrow, Black Siren and several recurring fan favourites). Even the flashbacks were great, as Oliver faced off with a brutal Russian terrorist (played menacingly by Dolph Lungren). Throw in a spectacular cliffhanger and this was by miles the best episode Arrow’s given us since Deathstroke unleashed his army in season 2. A truly terrific finale.

1. The Spoils of War (Game of Thrones, Season 7) – It had to be really. The Spoils of War is a contender for best Thrones episode of all time. It contains a lot of fan-favourite moments and a truly awesome battle scene. Arya training with Brienne is just the icing on the cake. The finale builds and builds to something truly special as we finally see just what those Dragons are really capable of… A masterpiece, and the best episode of TV I’ve seen in a long time.

And here’s my TV Awards for 2017

Best Actress: Melissa Benoist (Supergirl)
Best Actor: Nikolau Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister, Game of Thrones)
Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Gomez (Missy, Doctor Who)
Best Supporting Actor: Wentworth Miller (Snart, The Flash/Legends of Tomorrow)
Best TV Show: Game of Thrones/Orange is the New Black
Best Script: Steven Moffat (World Enough and Time, Doctor Who)
Best Director: Rachel Talalay (World Enough and Time, Doctor Who)
Best Special Effects: USS Callister (Black Mirror)
Best Composer: Blake Neely (Arrow, Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Villain(s): The Legion of Doom (Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Hero: Jon Snow (Game of Thrones)
Worst Actress: Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek Discovery)
Worst Actor: Doug Jones (Star Trek Discovery)
Worst Director: Charles Palmer (Oxygen, Doctor Who)
Worst TV Show: Star Trek Discovery
Worst Script: Aaron Helbing and Todd Helbing (Finish Line, The Flash)

Injustice 2 Review

A superhero fighting game that’s actually good? Believe it or not, that’s exactly what we’ve got from NetherRealm Studios. For those who don’t know Injustice 2 is a Tekken/Street Fighter style fighting game which allows you to pit 2 DC heroes or villains against each other. Each Hero/Villain has their own abilities, attacks and Supermoves, ranging from Batman’s melee and gadget attacks to Superman’s various powers.

Minor spoilers for Single Player plotline follow.

The sequel to Injustice: Gods Among Us looks better than its predecessor and features a wider roster of DC characters. You don’t need to have played the original to get to grips with this or to follow the single player storyline (long story short: the first game featured Superman going off the rails and forming a tyrannical regime backed by Wonder Woman, Aquaman and several other superheroes after Lois Lane was murdered by Joker, only for Batman to rally other superheroes, such as Green Lantern and The Flash, against the regime and take Superman down). The story this time continues the power struggle between the two factions while also seeing Earth come under threat from Brainiac, the villain responsible for Krypton’s destruction.

The single player campaign takes between 3-4 hours depending on difficultly setting and your own proficiency. The game features an extensive tutorial mode which YOU NEED to try before jumping right in – it will take you several fights to get up to speed. While the campaign is short, there are so many single player modes that Injustice is well worth the £20/30 price tag. As well as a battle simulator and 1v1 modes, Injustice 2 introduces the ‘Multiverse’ section, which features a daily/weekly selection of challenges (involving a series of events featuring anything from 3-10 matches and an occasional high level boss fight). Multiverse challenges will often feature an additional twist, such as having a secondary hero who will occasionally support you, or added arena hazards to worry about. Given that the multiverse challenges refresh continuously, you’ll never really run out of single player. At least not until you’ve levelled EVERY character up to level 20 (the maximum) at which point only the hardest challenges or the extensive multiplayer might still provide challenges. This would take weeks if not months of gameplay, so you really don’t have to worry about running out of things to do.

As for what Heroes and Villains are available? Well put it this way: if you’re a fan of DC movies, the Arrowverse, Gotham or the various cartoons from when you were kids, you’ll be happy with the selection. Injustice 2 features:

Justice League Members: (Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Cyborg, Green Lantern and Aquaman)

Batman Villains: (Harley Quinn, Joker, Catwoman, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Bane)

Arrowverse characters: (Green Arrow, Supergirl, Black Canary, Firestorm, Captain Cold, Gorilla Grodd, Deadshot)

Others: Swamp Thing, Black Adam, Cheetah, Atrocitus, Blue Beetle and various other characters who you may not have heard of before also feature, but are all surprisingly fun to play as.

The season pass is well worth getting as well, as this gives you access to a whole host of extra characters, such as Starfire, The Atom, Raiden, Red Hood, Enchantress, Darkseid and, believe it or not, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!?!?! I don’t think anyone expected them, but there they are.

Incidentally my personal favourites to play as so far have been Starfire, Harley Quinn, Joker and Swamp Thing, but I’m sure everyone will have their own preferences in this game.

Injustice 2’s reward system is a bit more complicated than it needs to be (i.e. 3-4 types of currency where 2 would have really been sufficient), but its not a f*cked up mess like Battlefront II’s seems to be according to reviews, and any pay to play retards (i.e. ones who waste real money buying credits so they can level up faster) won’t actually get themselves much of an advantage in multiplayer. You may get loot crates throughout the game, that’s true, but most of the time the gear they provide is either immediately useable or only 1-3 levels above your characters level, so it isn’t a big problem. They also provide additional skins for your characters, some of which are really cool.

Overall it’s great value for money because of the wealth of potential single-player and multiplayer content. The currency system is a bit contrived and the gameplay can get repetitive, but overall its a fine fighting sim, and a must for DC fans!

Rating: 4 out of 5

Next Up: Horizon Zero Dawn (i.e. the game of the year so far).