Category Archives: DC

My Top 10 TV Shows of 2016

I only did a top 5 last year but I felt I’d watched considerably more this time, so a top 10 seemed more appropriate.

Minor spoilers for all shows – no real specifics though, don’t worry.

10. Gotham (Season 2 Part 2/Season 3 Part 1) Gotham has often been considered the problem child of the DC universe – it isn’t part of the Arrowverse or the movies and thus sits awkwardly in the middle. Its tone tends to be wildly uneven – one episode gave us the hilariously OTT ending of Butch blowing up a villain with a Bazooka while another had the incredibly tense sequence where the Mad Hatter forced Jim to choose which of his two love interests was shot. However, this year has seen arguably its best run of episodes yet, with a superb Mr. Freeze origin story, a very sweet romance between the teenage Bruce and Selina, a great main villain in season 3 in the Mad Hatter and the winning combination of Penguin and Riddler, who are arguably the best villains on any superhero show right now. The show has miss-stepped a fair few times (the godawful Gordon in prison episode, two lacklustre season finales) but overall its showing great promise, and the first six episodes of season 3 were simply amazing.

9. The Grand Tour (Series 1) Clarkson, Hammond and May’s return may be a mixed bag of the hilarious and the cringe worthy, but overall its been a very welcome addition as well as the main reason to fork out for Amazon Prime. There’s been a few duff moments (particularly in the second episode ‘Operation Desert Stumble) but overall its given us all of the comedy, cars and catastrophe we wanted. It goes without saying, its completely trounced (and savagely mocked) the travesty/pile of excrement which was the Chris Evans version. Serves the BBC right.

8. IZombie (Season 2 Part 2) Anyone who’s not tried IZombie due to the stupid sounding title should really give it a second thought. The unique plotline it has (Zombies gain temporary memories/personality traits from the brains they eat, which allows main character Liv to solve the murders of people who end up in the morgue she works in) really opens up a wealth of storytelling potential, while also leading to some great comedy (the episodes where Liv eats the brain of an erotic novelist spring to mind, though there’s plenty of others with great comedy from similar ideas). The second half of season two in particular ramps up the drama element as more of the main cast find out about Liv’s true nature and the company that created the Zombie outbreak comes under the spotlight. Roll on season 3!

7. The Great British Bake Off (The final series that anyone will bother watching) Second only to the terrible Top Gear reboot in the list of BBC cock-ups this year was the loss of Bake Off to Channel 4 (seriously, who the fuck will watch it with no Mel, Sue, Mary as well as having to put up with sodding ad-breaks). I may have been a late-comer to the series, but the sheer charm of it all won me over and as it is it’s unofficial swansong, I thought i’d include it in my list. Full of the brilliant Mel/Sue interplay with the contestants, lavish desserts and culinary disasters (Andrew forgetting to put the oven on was hilarious) it also gave us a real character in Selasi (to cool to put into words) contestants who were easy to root for in Andrew and Benjamina and my personal favourite, pout-queen Candice Brown (too sweet for words – simply adored her!). This series was the perfect send off to a teatime treat of a show.

6. Legends of Tomorrow (Season 1 Part 2/Season 2 Part 1) The Arrow/Flash spinoff took a few episodes to get going in 2015, but it blew it out of the park in 2016 and surpassed both its parent shows (I sense a pattern emerging – expect Supergirl to be high on this list next year!). The first season gave us a thrilling climax as the team contended with the time masters and Vandal Savage, and the second gave us one of the best supervillain team ups in history as Malcolm Merlyn, the Reverse Flash and Damien Darhk joined forces (Legion of Doom!!!) It also has some of the most colourful characters from the Arrowverse in anti-heroes Snart and Mick (Captain Cold and Heatwave), Captain Rip played by Rory from Doctor Who!! (usually amusingly muttering ‘oh bloody hell…’ as the teams plans fall apart every week) and Sara/White Canary, who continues to be one of my favourite superhero characters (who else can seduce both the Queen of France and girls in Salem in the same episode? Her becoming temporary captain also really gave her character some great material this year. A very silly superhero show, but isn’t that just what we need after 2016?

5. Black Mirror (Series 3) The first of 3 Netflix series in my top 5, Black Mirror’s move from channel 4 to Netflix looks increasingly inspired. Not only has it got rid of ad-breaks and freed up the episodes running time, but increasing the series length to 6 episodes seems to have improved the quality rather than detracted from it. Even weaker episodes like ‘Playtest’ are still worth watching, while there’s some classically dark instalments with clever stings in the tail like ‘Shut Up and Dance’, for those who want more of what series 1 and 2 gave us, as well as new concepts and episode formats. The highlight for me, has to be ‘San Junipero’, sad and heartwarming in equal measure and a very neat sci-fi idea. Overall though, its a sublime run of episodes and well worth your time.

4. Game of Thrones (Season 6) Thrones might not have had a particularly consistent run of episodes (a real slow-burner mid-season with a bit too much padding, particularly in the Arya and King’s Landing storylines) but who cares when it still gave us exactly what we wanted in a kick-ass and explosive finale, a scintillating clash between Jon Snow and Ramsay, Daenerys being awesome for the first time in a while and the sheer horror of the white walkers attack leading to the tearjerking ‘Hold the Door’ moment. If season 7 can keep up the work of episodes like ‘Home’, ‘Battle of the Bastards’ or ‘The Winds of Winter’, then we’re sitting pretty for a thrilling penultimate series.

3. Orange is the New Black (Season 4) Orange is the New Black has got stronger every season and the fourth series doesn’t buck the trend. Despite being arguably one of the darkest series we’ve had from the scriptwriters, it balanced comedy and tragedy as effectively as ever. Any series that combines tear-jerking mental health plotlines and that horrifying twist at the end of episode 12 with laugh out loud moments such as the unlikeliest threesome probably ever seen on TV (I won’t spoil it, its so much better if you aren’t expecting it) is clearly onto a winner. Well done OITNB, yet again you’ve been one of the Netflix highlights this year. Just not as good as…

2. House of Cards (Season 4) After a mixed third season, House of Cards turned things around and delivered what may be its best season so far. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright’s acting was first class as always, but this time the writing was on par with their performances as the shows version of the US presidential election provided great drama and plenty of shock narrative twists. The way they utilised characters from previous seasons like ex-president Walker, Lucas Goodwin and Raymond Tusk was both expertly done and a real treat for long-term fans. I’ll credit them for not simply caricaturing Trump and Clinton either, instead giving us Joel Kinnaman’s Republican candidate Will Conway who seems like the ideal potential president, but has weaknesses/flaws that become apparent over the season, and was a far more engaging type of figure for Francis to face off with as he was continually at a PR disadvantage. Bring on season 5!

1.The Americans (Season 4) The most consistent series on television was a stand-out this year as the Russian spy pair/American married couple dealt with more problems than ever before as their lives increasingly teetered on the edge of unravelling. Dylan Baker was the stand-out guest star as a Soviet sympathiser working in an American viral lab, while the main cast was as great as ever, particularly Matthew Rhys, Keri Russell, Frank Langella and Alison Wright. The Jennings had to deal with their daughter’s struggle to accept their true identity, the loss of one of their closest informants and missions they worth becoming increasingly uncomfortable with. A slightly lacklustre season finale aside, it was a flawless run with several shock character exits and plot twists, can’t wait for the final two seasons of this thrilling if slow-burning drama.

Missing out on the list was Arrow (still rebuilding after a so-so year), Flash (ditto, Zoom was the most disappointing villain I’ve seen from DC’s TV universe), Red Dwarf (promising but not back to its best yet) and Jessica Jones (too much padding). There are some shows I haven’t got round to watching yet (Supergirl and Westworld for example) and some I just don’t watch (like Walking Dead).

As for the disappointments of the year, my worst offenders have to be the Chris Evans Top Gear (for obvious reasons – what a TWAT!), Doctor Who spin-off Class (very pointless – even Torchwood Series 1 was less awkward) and Luke Cage, which completely wasted its potential and contrived to make sure whichever style of show you like, you would hate half the season. (Congrats Marvel, you have made something worse than Agents of Shield… can’t you just give us Jessica Jones season 2 already?!)

My TV Awards 2016

Best Actor: Kevin Spacey (House of Cards)/Matthew Rhys (The Americans)
Best Actress: Krysten Ritter (Jessica Jones)/Robin Wright (House of Cards)
Best Supporting Actor: David Tennant (Jessica Jones)
Best Supporting Actress: Lori Petty (Orange is the New Black)
Best Episode: The Winds of Winter (Game of Thrones)
Best Hero: Sara Lance (Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Villain: Ramsay Snow (Game of Thrones)
Best Scripting: The Americans
Best Direction: Black Mirror
Best Soundtrack: Game of Thrones

If you’ve got your own list or disagree with mine, feel free to comment below. Happy New Year!

My Top 10 film moments of 2016

I’ve missed a few of the major films this year (notably Arrival slipped by me) so instead of doing a top 5 films I’ve instead decided to pick out my favourite moments from films this year, as even the weaker blockbusters like Dawn of Justice had their moments. Enjoy.

Warning: Minor Spoilers for Fantastic Beasts and Rogue One, Major Spoilers for Batman vs Superman.

10. Jacob and Queenie (Fantastic Beasts) While Newt and Tina were the lifeblood of the film, Jacob and Queenie stole every scene they were in and were undoubtedly its soul, and their pairing was both sweet and believable. Jacob’s smile at the end when Queenie strolls into his bakery and seemingly restores his memory is the icing on the cake for arguably two of the best characters JK Rowling has given us. They better be back in the sequels!

9. Wolverine’s Cameo (X:Men Apocalypse) The X-men series is always accused of over-using Wolverine, and somewhat ironically, his best two appearances have now been cameos (him telling Xavier and Magneto to fuck off in First Class and here, where Wolverine’s psychopathic rampage through Stryker’s bunker reminds us of just how badass/terrifying/awesome the character is). Hugh Jackman now is so intrinsically associated with the character I doubt anyone else will be able to play him for a good 20 years (and they shouldn’t, hopefully next year’s Logan is a worthy send-off to both the character and the actor). Anyway, while Apocalypse was a very fun movie, this was the sequence that will stick in my mind the most.

8.Doomsday battle (Dawn of Justice) Doomsday may have had a completely different origin from the comics, but his threat level was actually genuinely impressive for a superhero film in 2016 (he wasn’t easily beaten in 5 mins in a final confrontation – looking at you Enchantress in Suicide Squad and Kaecilius in Doctor Strange!!!) as Wonder Woman, Batman and Superman team up to stop him and barely survive… and Superman doesn’t. We all know he’ll be back in some form for Justice League but his heroic sacrifice, backed by Hans Zimmer’s haunting ‘This is My World’ still made this a very emotional moment. Also nice to see a superhero film where not every hero makes it out alive (basically EVERY MARVEL FILM EVER apart from X-men), bold move DC, bold move. Even if the first half of the film was a total mess, you did nail the ending.

7. Inside the Case (Fantastic Beasts) The beasts were appropriately the centrepiece of the film, from the cheeky niffler to the amorous Erumpent to the magnificent Thunderbird, with those and many others stunningly showcased in the heartwarming sequence where Next shows Jacob around the inside of his travelling case where he keeps the animals for their own protection. A very sweet interlude in this loveable film.

6.Vader Returns and Kicks Ass (Rogue One) After the tremendous battle of Scarif sequence, Rogue One could have easily ended as the Death Star opened fire. But it didn’t, instead giving us the best scene with Darth Vader since ‘No, I am your father’. Vader’s first scene in the film where he threatens Krennic was tense/awesome in its own right, but the second is full-on terrifying as Vader is unleashed on a group of rebels and scythes through them with brutal ease. It might be the best 40 seconds of cinema in 2016, hell maybe ever. If it wasn’t so short a scene it would have been much higher up the list, but still, damn that that was awesome!

5. The Fight in the Cistern (Inferno) Inferno may have been a relatively weak film, but was saved by its riveting climax as a betrayed Langdon allies with the WHO to try and stop a viral breakout in a cistern in Istanbul. Hans Zimmer’s superb track ‘Cistern’ really makes this a heart-stopper and the divergence from the book really leaves you with no clue how it will play out as Langdon and co fight with Zobrist’s extremists. Hell of an action scene.

4. Everything K2 does (Rogue One) K2 was easily the best character in Rogue One (not that that was easy or anything) and made the film sassier and more hilarious that I’d have ever expected it would be. His constant deadpan humour and the brutal way he took down imperial soldiers were the icing on the cake in one of the best films of the year.

3. Airport Battle (Captain America: Civil War) Civil War was the best superhero film of the year, and its highlight was the fight between Team Cap and Team Iron Man in a deserted airport, which was both highly amusing and seriously cool. Spidey and Ant-Man arguably stole the show, but every character got a chance to shine even if, as usual with Marvel, there weren’t really any lives at stake here. Still, this was a high point of an excellent film – shame they bottled out on giving it a memorable ending afterwards, but still, perfect popcorn cinema here.

2. Batman takes down Superman (Dawn of Justice) Despite the controversial way the fight ended with the whole ‘Martha’ scene, the fight itself between the two giants of the DC universe was the high point of the film. Batman uses a state of the art battlesuit and some Kryptonite gas-grenades to not only pose a genuine threat to superman, but after a titanic struggle, actually beats him. The whole ‘Man VS God’ thing the film was going for paid off beautifully here, even if the film as a whole still has a wealth of problems, this scene alone was worth it.

1. The Battle of Scarif (Rogue One) Wow. Now that is how you do a finale! The battle between the Rebels and the Empire had everything: awesome visuals, high stakes, tension and good direction. An epic way to cap off the first Star Wars spin-off film and without doubt the best sequence in film this year. Well done Gareth Edwards, Felicity Jones et al, this was simply amazing!

I’ve seen a fair few films that don’t have appearances here (Deadpool, Star Trek Beyond, Doctor Strange etc.) but I couldn’t think of any stand-out moments in those films – they are entertaining throughout, but there aren’t any moments of greatness. Suicide Squad was too poor to merit a place here, and I haven’t seen many other films this year, so there may be some omissions.

My Film Awards 2016:

Best Film: Rogue One
Best Director: Gareth Edwards (Rogue One)
Best Script: Captain America Civil War
Best Special Effects: Doctor Strange
Best Soundtrack: James Newton Howard(Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them)
Best Actress: Felicity Jones (Inferno/Rogue One)
Best Actor: Ryan Reynolds (Deadpool)
Best Voice Actor: Alan Tudyk (Rogue One)
Worst Actor: Jesse Eisenberg (Dawn of Justice)
Worst Actress: Holly Hunter (Dawn of Justice)
Worst Script: Suicide Squad
Worst Director: David Ayer (Suicide Squad)
Worst Soundtrack: Suicide Squad
Worst Film: Suicide Squad (noticing a pattern here? Well done DC…)

My Top Games of 2016

As with last time, this isn’t specifically 2016 releases but rather games I’ve been playing for the first time this year (though all of them have had recent releases). Spoiler-free.

6. F1 2016 (PS4) Formula One, like FIFA, realises a new game every year. Unlike FIFA fans I don’t waste my money buying every single one (Hell, I’ve only purchased 2010, 2012 and 2016) but F1 2016 got strong reviews and looked amazing, and given the lack of racing games on current-gen consoles atm, I gave it try. Boy was I glad I did. As an F1 Simulator, its all you could ever want, with practice, qualifying and the race all tuneable to your personal preferences (you can use aids like automatic gears and racing lines but they are easily switched off if you want the whole experience). Practice sessions now have a point (unlike previous entries) with 3 optional practice programs/mini-games that help you learn the circuit and earn resource points which you can use to upgrade your car. The random weather effects have never looked better or felt more real either (heavy rain is now genuinely challenging). Another welcome addition is the ability to save mid-session, even while on the racetrack, which makes longer-distance races and realistic qualifying sessions less of a challenge. The only slight problem is the AI difficultly, which can jump between difficultly levels somewhat steeply (particularly between Hard and Expert) but its easy enough to fix by altering the game settings in other areas. Admittedly the racing might seem a bit bland if you’re just looking for a fun racer, but for an f1 fan, its a thrilling recreation of the actual sport. Overall, a great F1 sim, though not one that will win you over if you aren’t a f1 fan already.

Rating: 4 out of 5

5. Batman: A Telltale Series (PS4) I’ve really got into Telltale games this year (for those who don’t know, they’re basically interactive episodes which play out dependent on the choices you make in game, with the main gameplay usually composed of quick-time events in the action sequences). The Game of Thrones one from 2014 interested me (as life-or-death choices/plot twists work well in that universe) and Tales from the Borderlands was a hilarious 5-episode romping spin-off from the game series. But its their 5-episode Batman tale that ends up in my games of the year, simply because it does something better than ANY of the Batman films (even the Nolan trilogy) in the way it focuses on the duality of Bruce Wayne and Batman. Its the best I’ve seen it covered and surprisingly the Bruce segments are in a way more memorable that Batman’s as Bruce gets embroiled in a scandal involving his deceased father’s connection to mob boss Carmine Falcone, while supporting Harvey Dent’s mayoral campaign. The Batman combat segments vary in quality (an early fight with Catwoman is underwhelming, but fights with new villain ‘Lady Arkham’ late game are very tense) and the best combat sequence in the game is actually where Bruce and Selina Kyle get in a downtown bar brawl. The game has Catwoman, Two-Face, Penguin and Joker (who has a small role but will probably return in the inevitable sequel) in addition to the ‘children of Arkham’ who serve as the main antagonists. A great story makes this the Telltale game to pick if you want to give the series a try. Can’t wait for their Guardians of the Galaxy game next year!

Rating: 4 out of 5

4.Bioshock: The Collection (PS4) We’ve had a fair few remasters this year (Skyrim, The Ezio Collection and Modern Warfare) but the Bioshock Collection has to be the best value of the lot. I brought it to get my hands on the DLC for the third game, Infinite and the collection is simply a delight. Bioshock looks amazing and the sequels are nothing less than cinematic in graphics quality. Several issues involving longer loading screens have been dealt with as well. It doesn’t include 2’s attempt at multiplayer but that’s probably for the best. If you missed this series first time round, don’t repeat that mistake – its a riveting shooter/rpg with a great storyline and superb dlc.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

3. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4) Uncharted’s fourth entry (and the final one with Nathan Drake) fixed a lot of the problems I had with the third one. The gameplay wasn’t sacrificed for the sake of the story this time, and this time the story was far more engaging. The exploring element factored in some of the Last of Us’ features such as optional conversations and collectable journal entries, adding considerable replay value. The fact this was theoretically a series finale also added much tension to the story, with the incredible graphics and cinematic score from Henry Jackman making this feel like a movie even more than the previous entries did. A few minor problems aside (the final third of the game is slightly too long and the final boss fight isn’t the best – admittedly a problem most uncharted games have) it’s one of the best in the series if not the best. Should they return to the series, it also gives us a new character  suited to carry on the adventures and if they don’t, it gives me even more confidence for the Last of Us 2.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

2. Ratchet and Clank (PS4) Part-reboot, part remake of the first game, Ratchet and Clank was a joy to play. It was sheer fun – the guns are as wacky and varied as ever, while some very memorable missions (collecting brains for a blarg scientist has to be the highlight) are complemented by the insanely good visuals. The film may have been a disappointment but this is one of the best games in the series, even if the difficultly is minimal, you’ll have so much fun playing it that it might just be the best way of relaxing 2016 gave gamers.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

1. Shadow of Mordor: Game of the Year Edition (PS4) Ironically, Shadow of Mordor feels like the best Assassin’s Creed game we’ve had in years. The free-climbing, execution style kills, stealth gameplay etc. all feels like what we loved in games like AC II and Brotherhood, while the Lord of the Rings setting and innovative Nemesis system reals adds another level to things. Melee combat is very similar to the Arkham games (if not a touch better implemented) and the whole game feels like a sublime mesh of those two titanic gaming series. The challenge factor is decent too (though not anywhere as high as something like Dark Souls) as failure is punished by your enemies levelling up, to such an extent that if you bugger things up in the early game restarting isn’t the worst idea. The Nemesis system is particularly punishing, as the Ork who survives the most encounters/kills you most often will continually ascend in rank and power till you dispatch him. The dlc included with the GOTY version is worthwhile, the Beast-Lords campaign, while only a few hours long, adds an enjoyable if more of the same storyline with a few interesting monsters like the wretched Graug and the Ghul Matron adding additional challenges, while the Bright Master dlc fills in some backstory to the events of the main game while bringing Sauron to the forefront as never before. Overall, the main game itself is stellar, and the GOTY edition is a fine addition to your collection. Appropriately enough, Shadow of Mordor is my favourite game that I played this year, and i’d thoroughly recommend it to fans of LoTR, the Arkham Series or Assassin’s Creed!

Rating: 5 out of 5!

2017 hopefully should be a good year for games, with hyped sequels such as Injustice 2 and promising new entries like Vampyr. Personally though, I can’t see past Mass Effect: Andromeda… the game we all need after the last 12 months! If we’re lucky, COD might finally remaster MW2, accepting they can’t do any better. Regardless, should be a promising year, and I’ll be eagerly awaiting news on when the Last of Us 2 might come out (end of next year if we’re lucky?).

Suicide Squad Review

Starring: Margot Robbie, Will Smith, Joel Kinnaman, Viola Davis and Jared Leto

First half of this review is spoiler free, second half has spoilers but they’ve basically all been shown in trailers (I’ve included a spoiler warning at the right point).

So after a mixed response to Man of Steel and the critical (if not commercial) failure of Batman vs Superman, did DC finally get back to Dark Knight Trilogy quality with Suicide Squad?

Short answer: No. Oh dear.

Suicide Squad isn’t a terrible movie. What it is is a mediocre action film that throws away most of it’s potential with a simple plot and a slightly directionless story. Like Batman vs Superman it could (and should) have been so much better. There is a lot of promise shown here, mainly by the casting – all of them are pretty much perfect in their assigned roles, particularly Will Smith as Deadshot and Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. The rest get their share of cool moments, but none really get enough screentime to shine properly (hopefully any future films can rectify this).

The way the film introduces all the villains who make up the squad is done well in the first 30 mins, giving enough away to give a sense of who these people are but without turning into an info-dump that drags on forever (as apart from Harley Quinn most of the audience probably haven’t heard of any of the other squad members unless they watch Arrow, read the comics or have played the Arkham video games). That said, I know all but two of the characters, so I may have found the opening sequence less confusing than some people will.

To give a quick rundown we have: Deadshot (Master assassin and renowned sniper), Harley (Joker’s psychiatrist turned girlfriend), Enchantress (an explorer possessed by a crazy witch – both played by Cara Delevingne), Killer Croc (a vicious human with a reptilian appearance but dry sense of humour), Captain Boomerang (Yes really, he kills people with razor sharp boomerangs), El Diablo (a metahuman who can control fire) and the three ‘good guys’ keeping them in check: squad captain Rick Flag (an excellent Joel Kinnaman), Japanese sword expert Katana (her badassery really needed more screentime) and bitch in chief Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) the amoral squad leader.

The film wants to be DC’s equivalent of Guardians of the Galaxy (AKA a funny, not-to-serious superhero flick where a group of criminal/anti-hero misfits band together to stop a truly evil villain). But it falls well short of that. The main villain’s motivations are barely explored and unlike in Guardians the villain barely gets any meaningful screentime – even Ronan the Accuser (not Marvel’s best villain by a long shot) got a good half an hour of screentime in Guardians including standoffs and fight scenes. The villain in suicide squad gets even less and really needed more backstory. The soundtrack isn’t as well chosen as guardians’ was either (I doubt I’ll be rushing to buy either the mix of songs or the OST itself), the humour wasn’t nearly as effective (a few choice lines from Deadshot, Harley and Killer Croc excepted) and the plot was a great deal thinner.

A lot of the movie’s problems do stem from it’s script and plotline, which are just… lacking ambition really, and as a consequence doesn’t spark enough (I had a feeling of ‘is this it???’ when I realised just how little story there actually is in the film). I sense most of the issues can be blamed on scriptwriter and director David Ayer – who rushes through the best scenes in the film far too quickly (though admittedly this may be due to – urgh – studio interference as it’s clear quite a lot of scenes got cut… again DC!). I won’t say much about Joker in the spoiler-free section – simply that Jared Leto is very good but needed more screen time to really make a mark.

Warning: Spoilers from this point onwards! (skip to the end for the rating)

For those of you who’ve seen the film (or don’t care about spoilers) I can be a bit more explicit. Jared’s Leto’s Joker doesn’t work because he really shouldn’t have been in this film apart from Harley’s flashbacks. He just overshadows the main plot and does nothing particularly interesting (though this may be due to a lot of his scenes being cut – urgh again DC?!?!? (That’s what fucked up Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor! – he was already bad but the deleted scenes would have helped explain his motivations). Even though his version of Joker is good, the film doesn’t seem to know what to do with him. I’ll reserve judgement on Leto until he gets better material, but he does show promise, if not a Ledger defining performance as of yet.

With Joker sidelined, the main villain role is left to Enchantress (a female lead villain in a superhero movie? About fucking time!!! I’ll give this to DC – I’ve always said they’ve had more balls than Marvel about taking risks or breaking new ground – they’ve given us a black lead actor and a female lead villain in the third film in their series – Marvel haven’t managed that in 13 tries (somewhat shamefully and I suspect more due to studio execs than the producers), although they will rectify that in the coming years). Cara Delevingne certainly looks the part as an ancient evil sorceress possessing a helpless explorer, but unfortunately the script doesn’t give her enough to do or flesh her character enough to realise any potential there. I kind of wish we could have the character turn up on Arrow or Flash though – her powers would make for a very interesting episode!

On the positive side: loved the Batman and Flash cameos!

Overall: The cast are great and its a fun enough 2 hours, but there’s a real sense that this should have a lot better with a meatier storyline or more focus on either Joker or Enchantress. Well done Robbie and Smith. But Ayer… you have failed this audience.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

5 superhero films down, 1 to go in 2016. And as Marvel are trashing DC 3-0 in terms of quality, if Doctor Strange delivers, they will have absolutely crushed their rivals in the first year the two have really gone head to head.

For anyone curious, so far my ranking of Superhero films this year is looking like this:

  1. Captain America Civil War (a well-scripted, funny and great film aside from a cop out in the final confrontation between Iron Man, Winter Soldier and Cap)
  2. X-Men Apocalypse (Simple but pure fun, with a great young cast)
  3. Deadpool (Funny as hell but a very generic plot drags it down)
  4. Batman vs Superman (Great fight scenes and good performances by Gadot and Affleck let down by convulted plots, awful dialogue and a mad Jesse Eisenberg)
  5. Suicide Squad (More fun than Dawn of Justice but the plot goes nowhere and none of the characters get the screen time they deserve)

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice starring Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Gal Gadot, Amy Adams and Jesse Eisenberg.

All you people who disliked Man of Steel (a group which I’m not a part of) – Zack Snyder has answered your criticisms. By totally ignoring them. I’m glad he stuck to his guns – those Superman fans who hate different interpretations of the character are the reasons we get dull, lifeless reboots like Superman Returns. As you can probably tell – I loved Man of Steel and I really wanted to love this one. But I didn’t.

Warning: Major Spoilers!

Dawn of Justice was divisive before shooting had even started, mainly because of its casting. Affleck as Batman??? Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman???? Eisenberg as Lex Luthor?!?!? So, two years on, were those concerns justified? In Gal Gadot’s case the answer is a resounding no – Wonder Woman is easily the best thing in the film – she looks the part and excels both when fighting as Wonder Woman and when sparring with Bruce Wayne as her alter ego Diana Prince. Eisenberg is less successful and the most divisive of the three. His manic, unhinged Lex Luthor has shades of the Joker and is clearly sociopathic/psychopathic/insane in a way most variants of the character haven’t been. His motivations are murky and his take on the character isn’t particularly close to the original version (but after that’s been true for both the Bat and Superman, should we expect anything else from Snyder?). Critics have been divided, but personally, while he had his moments (pushing Lois off the Lexcorp tower/unleashing Doomsday) his interpretation wasn’t my favourite.

As for Ben Affleck? His older, somewhat broken Bruce Wayne is a different interpretation on the character, but one with plenty of potential. The scenes between him and Alfred (a wonderful Jeremy Irons – who not only equals but arguably betters Michael Caine) work well, even if he is remarkably stiff and serious when interacting with others (the playboy Bruce Wayne is long dead in this film) which does make him less likeable than Christian Bale (but his take on the character wouldn’t have worked in this film). Where Affleck excels is as the Bat himself: cruel, brutal and as brooding as ever, Batman is genuinely terrifying here in a way he hasn’t been for decades, if ever. We’ll probably learn why he’s this way when a solo-film comes around, but it’s hinted at that Bruce has lost any hope he had of changing Gotham and has lost most of his allies along the way. His no killing rule? That hasn’t survived – which I suspect may ire some fans – but before you all rise up in anger, the first 4 Batman films (1989-1997) and the comics for a long stretch never included this rule – it’s a recent thing, and a darker Batman who is willing to kill is nothing new – and frankly, quite an interesting prospect. Apart from the fight with Superman, I’m pretty sure the Bat killed more than a few of Lex Luthor’s thugs in this film with the Batmobile and Batwing (there’s even a dream sequence in a hellish dystopian future where the Bat is a rebel leader willing to use guns – but it’s only a dream fortunately, as that would be a step too far.)

Now for the film itself. It’s a game of two halves, with a muddled, slightly directionless first half and then a pulsating, brutal second half. It starts promisingly, setting up Batman very well in the first 10 mins (first by incorporating the murder of the Waynes into the opening credits and then by showing Bruce being bad-ass in Metropolis trying to save people on the ground during the Superman-Zod fight in Man of Steel). Unfortunately most of the rest of the first half is spent moving Bruce, Superman and Lex into the positions we know they’ll be in during the film’s climax. There’s a fair bit of philosophising/moral dimensions/Luthor being crazy, not all of which comes off. This isn’t helped by how some of the dialogue is very clunky and doesn’t sound remotely natural in places (mainly with Bruce and Lex) We see how Clark Kent is frustrated at the Bat taking the law into his own hands in a way Superman wouldn’t, as Lex Luthor conspires to turn the media against Superman while getting his hands on some Kryptonite/Zod’s body/the Crashed Kryptonian ship, while Bruce’s underlying hatred of Superman for metropolis, underpinned by a couple of nightmarish dream sequences and one very weird vision/warning given by what appeared to be a time-travelling flash. Fortunately Snyder throws in a thrilling (brutal) Batmobile chase sequence to serve as some ‘light’ relief. This is one serious film, barring a few comments from Alfred, Diana and Superman’s mother Martha Kent, there aren’t many laughs.

Fortunately things pick up in the second half. We get some mini-trailers for the Justice league members courtesy of Lexcorp intelligence (because DC doesn’t do post credit scenes!) with Jason Mamoa looking particularly badass as Aquaman – not a phrase you’d normally associate with the character! Then the main event – Luthor forces Superman to fight and kill the now enraged Batman by kidnapping Martha Kent and holding her hostage at a unknown location – but the Bat has stolen Luthor’s kryptonite to fashion some gas grenades and a lethal looking spear capable of killing Superman. The fight scene itself is unremittingly brutal – and those who think Batman doesn’t stand a chance are in for a shock as the Kryptonite really levels the playing field. However its the end of the fight sequence and then the final fight against Doomsday when the film is at it’s best.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD! DO NOT READ BEFORE WATCHING!

Doomsday is one of the strongest monsters in DC. You should check out the Wikipedia page on him – the backstory is both interesting, horrible and terrifying. And the film gets Doomsday right – even though they completely change/simplify his origins (unless there’s an original version we’re set to meet in a Justice league film later). Here he’s created by Luthor using Zod’s body spliced with his own DNA as an abomination to use as a back-up if Batman loses.  But Batman (to most of the audience’s surprise – but not mine because I’d seen the Dark Knight Returns part 2) doesn’t lose and actually takes down the Man of Steel. And does so believably. If it wasn’t for Lois’ timely appearance and Superman’s last request to save Martha (coincidently also the name of Bruce’s mother), the Bat would undoubtedly have killed him. We then get a great fight scene as Batman rescues Martha from Luthor’s thugs and a tense showdown as Superman confronts Luthor aboard the Kryptonian ship. Then all hell breaks lose as Luthor screams that line from the trailer ‘if man won’t kill God… the devil WILL DO IT!’ and unleashes Doomsday. Doomsday lives up to his name – as his ability to evolve and absorb energy means he’s effectively immortal. The following scenes are brilliant, as Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman team up to fight him – and lose. Even when Superman drags Doomsday into space and the US military fires a nuke at them – Doomsday at best looks mildly pissed off. This was what i’ve been waiting for from Marvel but haven’t got yet – a villain who isn’t easily beaten in the final 10 mins and who poses a genuine threat on their own. Loki and Ultron were amusing and a threat when one on one or backed up by an army – but the avengers as a whole have never faced a threat capable of fighting them all at once (until Thanos finally shows up or they bring in Galactus?) Here even the 3 greatest heroes in DC can barely hold their own against him. Then comes the one shock in the film that wasn’t spoiled by the trailer: Superman unexpectedly dying while using the Kryptonian spear to kill Doomsday. Didn’t see that coming before the Justice league film – don’t see him staying dead though (he doesn’t in the comics – but ways to take risks just 2 films in DC – it took Marvel 9 films before they were brave enough to pull the SHIELD/HYDRA twist (to date the only risk they’ve taken).

Overall a film that delivers on it’s promise to pit the two greatest superheroes against each other – but isn’t that successful everywhere else. The first half is weak and Lex Luthor just plain mad, but Wonder Woman is brilliant and Doomsday terrifying. Also – bleakest Superhero film ever? Surely we’ll never see one this uncompromisingly serious, brutal and downright depressing in places. I liked it. But I don’t love it. Can’t wait for Wonder Woman next year though!

Rating: 3.5/5 (Not a flop like Green Lantern, nor a Dark Knight trilogy triumph)

If you didn’t like Man of Steel, you probably won’t like this – and if you like your violent superhero films upbeat, go watch Deadpool again! (Like anyone needs an excuse!)

Series Review: Gotham Season 1

Gotham starring Ben McKenzie (Jim Gordon), Donal Logue (Harvey Bullock) and Robin Lord Taylor (The Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot)

I was always skeptical about Gotham. A Batman prequel? Batman without the Bat himself? Sure, Jim Gordon is an important character, but could he really hold a show by himself? But as it’s the final third of summer and Gotham has just been added to Netflix, i thought I’d give it a shot.

Warning: Minor Spoilers for season plotlines – no main character deaths will be mentioned.

Gotham has a threefold focus: Jim Gordon’s struggle to improve the largely corrupt and mob-controlled Gotham City Police Department (GCPD), Bruce Wayne’s journey after the loss of his parents and the origin stories of various villains (Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Ivy, Scarecrow, Joker, The Dollmaker, Zsasz, Harvey Dent and Red Hood are all teased or part of season one). The opening episodes are important (the Waynes are gunned down within the first ten minutes of episode 1 – we knew it had to happen soon but i didn’t expect it that fast!) but the series only really gets going by episode 4 (which is good, as i usually give up by episode 5 of a series if there’s nothing to merit continuing – coincidentally Breaking Bad has 1 episode left to convince me after a disappointing opening 4…). If you’re still unsure by this point, watch episode 7 (Penguin’s Umbrella) because it’s the first great episode Gotham delivers – and if you still don’t like it by then it’s probably not for you.

Ben McKenzie doesn’t put in a bad performance as Gordon, though playing the out and out hero doesn’t always give him a lot to do. His interactions with Harvey Bullock and Captain Essen (the two who he works with at the corrupt police department, who slowly show signs of redemption by helping him more as the season progresses) are well written, but it’s his scenes with Penguin that really shine. Barbara, Gordon’s supposed love interest, wasn’t all that good (hence their break up mid-season) but her pairing as a mentor to Selina Kyle works better, and Morena Baccarin is much better as Leslie Thompkins, who Gordon grows close to in the second half of the season. David Mazouz is excellent as the young Bruce Wayne – inquisitive, intelligent, arrogant and isolated, you can see shades of the Batman slowly forming. He’s helped by Sean Pertwee as a younger, more active Alfred than we’re used to, but really shines when he’s paired off with Selina Kyle (who’s both enigmatic and far more morally grey than Bruce – but the early signs of an attraction between them is obvious).

This is the one of the few Batman adaptions to do one thing: have someone other than Joker as the main villain. After the Nolan trilogy, the Arkham games and virtually every animated series used him as the centerpiece, Gotham broke the mold (at least for it’s first season) and went with Penguin instead. Sure Joker may crop up at some point (and he may have already – we’ve had a couple of possible Joker candidates appear so far) but i applaud Gotham for not using him straight away. Joker works so well against Batman i believe they should really save him for later seasons when Bruce gets closer to becoming the Bat anyway – having him opposite Gordon probably wouldn’t be as effective. Season 2 will have him in some way – but i hope he doesn’t steal too much of the spotlight from Penguin and Riddler – who have been built up so effectively in season 1. Robin Lord Taylor is the highlight of the series as Penguin, who is caught in the middle of a brewing Gang War between the Falcone and Maroni crime bosses, as well as the ambitious Fish Mooney, who is plotting to usurp Falcone. Watching him squirm, weasel, murder and plot his way up through the ranks of Maroni and Falcone’s organisations (switching sides more than once) is a highlight. Corey Michael Smith has a slower plot arc as Edward Nygma, who as a social misfit working as a forensic analyst for GCPD, is constantly put down by the cops (save Gordon) while harbouring an unrequitted crush on a colleague which eventually drives him to commit his first murder. He really comes into his own late season, and will doubtless fall further into villainy in series two.

It’s easy for a TV series to have a lot of episodes I’d rate as 3.5/5 (above average) or 4/5 (good). Agents of Shield had plenty that good. I stopped watching it because it failed to have any classic episodes (5/5) and only a couple that were near-greatness (4.5/5) – and because it wasn’t improving (and because the season as a whole was disappointing, even if the individual episodes were generally fine to watch). In a 22/23/24 episode season you expect better – i mean in general half of the episodes per season that Flash or Arrow produce are of very high quality – impressive for a series that long. So how did Gotham fare? Well i gave 6 episodes 4.5/5 – these were generally episodes that were part of the main season arc and had a compelling main villain. The season as a whole felt a bit disjointed (mainly because the network extended the season several times) – two recurring characters basically disappear without comment after episode 10. A few mid-late season episodes feel like they are just killing time to the finale (especially Fish Mooney’s plotline). But it still fits together better than Agents of Shield (because it’s main storyline was more compelling) and Arrow Season 3 (which was too drawn out even if it had some great episodes).

Overall, Gotham has given us some great versions of Batman villains (i can’t think of better versions of Penguin, Riddler or Victor Zsasz), some colourful mob bosses, and a main character who is easy to root for. Yes, it’s pacing isn’t always spot on, the season wasn’t a cohesive whole (mainly because it kept getting extended) and i hope we’ve seen the last of OTT Fish Mooney, but overall i was pleasantly surprised by Gotham’s first season.

Series Rating: 4 out of 5

Much better than Agents of Shield, but still not quite up there with Flash and Arrow. Still a must see for DC/Batman fans. Can’t wait for season 2.

Arrow Season 4: The Make or Break Season?

Warning: Spoilers for Series 1-3!

Every TV show gets to a point where it’s beginning to waver or viewing figures are declining and the next season is arguably a crucial one. Game of Thrones Season 5 was one, because it was adapting the weakest parts of the books, and despite a few stumbles, it came through unscathed and as good as ever. Homeland redeemed a weak third season with an excellent fourth run. Doctor Who Series 8 proved Moffat wasn’t done as showrunner just yet after the fanbase was beginning to tire of him. And now Arrow faces a 4th Season which has to repair the damage of season 3.

What went wrong last season? Several things – the side-villains who only appeared in one or two episodes, just weren’t as good as in previous seasons. Olicity (i.e. fan pairing of Oliver and Felicity) was badly-mishandled (what is it with DC and rubbish love interest storylines?) and too much time was spent on characters we don’t care about (Laurel… why hasn’t she been killed off yet???). The flashbacks have always been a mixed feature – but this season they were simply abysmal until the final few episodes. And most annoyingly of all – the main storyline, with Ra’s al Ghul and the league of Assassins, got dragged out far too much – it had some great moments ‘The Magician’ ‘The Climb’, ‘Nanda Parbat’, ‘The Offer’, ‘Al-Saheem’ ‘This is Your Sword’ and ‘My Name is Oliver Queen’ were arguably the best episodes of the season – but everything else either felt like filler or a slow burner building up to these episodes – and when you’re talking 23 episode seasons, it’s a serious problem if 2/3 of them either aren’t addressing the main storyline or aren’t moving it forward enough.

Not to say the other episodes were bad – Arrow has never delivered an episode I’d give less than 3.5/5 to. But the problem was that not only were they a step back from the astronomic high of season 2 (where I’d give almost every episode 4.5 or 5/5) but that Flash did such a better job in it’s first season. For the first third of the seasons, the two shows were equal as Flash started to find it’s feet, but in the remainder Flash was better than Arrow almost every week without fail. Why? It’s more light-hearted tone was far less draining than Arrow’s most sombre season yet, with far more comedy moments to alleviate the tension. It also had better guest villains (helped by the fact most of them had super-powers, which makes even a bland villain watchable) and a more compelling main villain (which they integrated into the season far more effectively). Arrow Season 3 in many ways reminded me of Merlin‘s final season – the individual episode quality was high, but overall the season was too frustrating and drawn out to be satisfactory. So what should Arrow do in season 4?

1. Be less bleak: Arrow was simply too draining last season – from ‘the Climb’ onwards the tone was consistently dark and the characters rarely had a moment of relief. Killing one of the main characters in the opening episode, one of the most popular recurring villains late season, fake killing both the main character mid-season and his support team in the penultimate episode… plus killing and then resurrecting another one of the main characters… you get the idea – and while this gave us some great cliffhangers it was too emotionally draining to watch and set a too sombre tone for the entire season. Barring characters like Felicity’s Mum and villain Cupid there wasn’t a whole lot of comic relief either to alleviate the tension between the main characters. This needs fixing next season, and fortunately the showrunners have already indicated season 4 will have a somewhat lighter tone attached.

2. A more compelling main villain: Deathstroke and Malcolm Merlyn were great villains. Ra’s al Ghul was a good villain but lacked links to any characters save Nyssa and Malcolm, and hence wasn’t as effective as either of them. H.I.V.E. (the company that killed Diggle’s brother) and Ra’s old enemy, Damien Darhk, are being lined up for next season, but I’m hoping they have a more renowned supervillain tucked away – the season could use something that isn’t a faceless military group (like General Sharif’s men in the Hong Kong flashbacks…) or else it risks being a let-down.

3. Better Side-Villains: Can Flash lend Arrow some Meta-humans? (Ideally more interesting ones than Deadbolt). Flash’s rogues gallery was pretty impressive, and would certainly present a different kind of challenge to Oliver. I’ve got my fingers crossed the Trickster might make an appearance as well (just because it’s Mark Hamill – villain of the season on Flash? He came very close). Otherwise we could be relying on a returning villain: is it time for Huntress or the Clock King to return? Shame they killed off Count Vertigo (the replacement Vertigo was a real let-down) – but could Deadshot still be alive? Here’s hoping!

4. Kill Laurel: Seriously. It would solve an awful lot of problems and please 99% of the fanbase. Just do it!

5. No more crap romance plots: Let Olicity work – the two characters have enough chemistry not to need drama to be interesting. Diggle and Layla managed it. Don’t give Thea a new boyfriend – Thea is a good character but it would seriously lessen Roy’s exit if she immediately moves on.

6. Either Give Us Decent Flashbacks or Just Scrap them: Flashbacks worked well in Season 2 and the Second Half of Season 1. Because they were relevant to the main storyline. In season 3 the Hong Kong flashbacks were mostly irrelevant till the last 3 episodes where everything came together. However they were very good when Oliver wasn’t the focus – flashbacks into Deadshot’s past or showing us how Malcolm Merlyn joined the League of Assassins were interesting – so maybe limit it to flashbacks for villains or simply give Oliver something more interesting to do next season – maybe with the Russian Bratva? That’s the only part of his five years they haven’t shown yet that could be interesting…