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New Escapist Column! On “The Batman” and the Obsession with a Grim and Gritty Caped Crusader…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist yesterday evening. The latest trailer for The Batman has reopened a familair debate within fandom around a sensitive topic: the question of a grim and gritty Batman.

Certain fans react strongly against takes on comic book characters that do not match their own particular tastes. In particular, there’s a tendency to react strongly to interpretations of the Caped Crusader that emphasise the character as grounded and pulpy, to act as if these takes exist at the expense of others. In reality, there is a rich variety of takes on the Dark Knight in popular culture, of various shapes and sizes. There is a Batman for all seasons, and often these arguments feel less about trying to argue for more diverse takes on classic characters and instead about arguing that there is only one right take.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

242. Captain America (-#65)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guest Scott Mendelson, The Bottom 100 is a subset of The 250. It is a journey through the worst 100 movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Albert Pyun’s Captain America.

Polio sufferer Steve Rogers is selected for a dangerous experiment that could turn the tide of the Second World War, being reborn as Captain America. When a mission behind enemy lines throws him into conflict with the Italian supervillain the Red Skull, Steve Rogers ends up trapped in the ice. However, he awakens just as his country needs him most.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 65th worst movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On “Cruella” and Overly Determined Origin Stories…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Cruella in theatres and on Disney+, it seemed like a good opportunity to take a look at the trend towards overly deterministic origin stories.

The origin story has arguably always been around, even if the term itself only really entered the mainstream through comic books and then making the leap into film criticism with comic book movies. Nevertheless, the recent trend of overly-determined origin stories betrays something frustrating about the state of our collective imagination. One of the most disappointing aspects of Cruella is the way that the film takes a simple but weird figure and paints an origin that is completely and predictably by the numbers.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

226. Zack Snyder’s Justice League (#86)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guest Graham Day, The 250 is a fortnightly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Zack Snyder’s Zack Snyder’s Justice League.

Following the death of Superman, Batman sets about putting together a team of superheroes to fight a threat that is charging at Earth from across the cosmos.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 86th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On the Horror of Joss Whedon’s “Justice League”…

I published a new column at The Escapist this evening. With the release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League this week, it seemed like an appropriate opportunity to take a look at the original theatrical cut of Justice League, which remains one of the worst blockbusters of the past decade.

What makes the theatrical cut of Justice League such an insidious film isn’t just what it is, although it is terrible on its own terms. It’s what the film represents. It’s a very conscious and very deliberate erasure of a distinct vision of an expensive creative project, in the hope of serving reheated nostalgic leftovers that fans might gorge themselves upon. It’s pure, empty, vacuous content – a pale imitation of what other companies do better, without a single unique perspective of its own.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On “Batman Returns” as the Most Unconventional Christmas Movie…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. It’s Christmas, so it seemed like a good time to take a look back at one of the most underappreciated Christmas movies ever: Batman Returns.

Batman Returns is a decidedly unconventional Christmas movie, packed with weirdos and freaks, commercialism run amok and climaxing with the aborted mass murder of an entire city’s firstborn sons. However, it is this weirdness that makes Batman Returns such a delightful Christmas movie, and one that is arguably perfectly suited to this most strange and surreal Christmas. At its core, Batman Returns is a mood piece built around what it feels like to be lonely at Christmas.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On the Snyder Cut and the Future of Pandemic Production…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With news that Zack Snyder will be reuniting with actors like Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot to shoot new scenes for his long-gestating cut of Justice League.

Although there’s been some understandable confusion at the news that Snyder will be shooting new footage to extend his planned film into a miniseries, the reality of Justice League is that it represents one possible path through the pandemic for Hollywood studios, allowing for the production of a blockbuster-level spectacle both for a reasonable budget and in relative safety. As the industry braces for an uncertain future, Zack Snyder’s Justice League might represent an unlikely model for the medium-term.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

New Escapist Column! On the Joker’s Attempts to Hijack “The Dark Knight”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. Because the Monday column is now published with a companion video, we thought it might be worth trying something a bit more visual than usual. Because TENET is still in wide release, we thought it might be interesting to try something visual that was related to Christopher Nolan.

The Dark Knight is an interesting film for a number of reasons. Interestingly, it is the rare Christopher Nolan movie that is almost entirely linear. Nolan’s other films tend to jump around a lot in time, but The Dark Knight progresses quite clearly from beginning to end. This is interesting, because it serves to provide an interesting and compelling contrast to the Joker. Because The Dark Knight is so linear, there’s an interesting tension as the Joker struggles to take control of the narrative and bend the view to his perspective. Sometimes in a very literal manner.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

201. Batman & Robin (-#71)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, this week with special guests Joe Griffin and Alex Towers, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin.

A new villain has arrived in Gotham City. Calling himself Mister Freeze, the fiend is stealing diamonds for his scientific experiments. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne finds himself struggling to strike the right balance with his young and reckless partner Dick Grayson, while managing his unconventional family unit.

At time of recording, it was ranked 71st on the list of the worst movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Holy Camp, Batman: The Redemptive Queerness of “Batman & Robin”…

The podcast that I co-host, The 250, will be looking at Batman and Robin this weekend. It is a fun discussion, well worth a listen, and I hope you enjoy. However, I had some thoughts that I wanted to get down before specifically about the film.

Batman and Robin is not a good movie, by any stretch of the imagination.

However, it is somewhat unfairly vilified. This is particularly true in comparison to its direct predecessor, Batman Forever. Very few people would attempt to argue that either Batman Forever or Batman and Robin were good films on their own terms, but the consensus seems to have formed around the idea that – to paraphrase Edward Nygma – Batman Forever was bad, Batman and Robin was worse. This calcified into the idea that Batman and Robin is among the very worst comic book movies ever, and Batman Forever is not.

It is interesting to speculate on why this might be. Batman Forever and Batman and Robin are both cynically constructed blockbusters aimed at the youngest and least discerning audiences, eschewing concepts like plot and characterisation in favour of cheap thrills and terrible jokes. Both films offer incredibly condescending exposition, betraying the sense in which they have been constructed for audiences with the shortest possible attention span. However, while Batman and Robin embraces this cynicism, Batman Forever clumsily tries to disguise it.

Much has been made of the fact that director Joel Schumacher wanted to make a better movie than Batman Forever. He singled out Batman: Year One as the Batman movie that he wanted to make. Traces of this better movie occasionally surface in discussions of Batman Forever and are often framed in reference to the film’s admittedly darker and more artistic deleted scenes. There is a clear sense that Batman Forever harboured something resembling ambition before it was brutally bent and broken into its final released form.

However, Batman Forever also offers its audience condescending and trite pop psychology. The result is a veneer of faux profundity that suggests hidden depths that the movie is unwilling and unable to explore. Batman Forever vaguely touches on the question of whether Bruce feels responsible for the death of his parents and the trouble he has reconciling the two halves of himself, but in no real depth. Two-Face is one of the primary antagonists of Batman Forever, and the film can’t even be bothered to make that thematic connection.

It’s interesting to wonder if Batman Forever has a slightly warmer reputation because of this unearned grasp at weightiness, these small gestures towards the idea of “psychological complexity” and “psychological nuance” in the most trite manner imaginable. After all, Batman Forever is a movie that has Bruce Wayne dating a psychologist, and feel inordinately proud of that idea. It’s easier to pass off Batman Forever as more mature or more considered than Batman and Robin, because it gestures broadly at ideas that are a little darker and more complex.

This is strange, because there’s a lot more interesting stuff happening in Batman and Robin. Unlike its direct predecessor, Batman and Robin makes no broad gesture towards profundity or insight. It is a profoundly stupid movie, and it is cognisant of both that stupidity and the audience’s relationship to that stupidity. However, there’s something much more interesting going on underneath the surface of Batman and Robin, in direct response to Batman Forever.

Batman Forever feels like a moral panic picture, a direct response to some imagined public outrage about certain earlier interpretations of the Caped Crusader. As such, it aims to produce the most generic and vanilla iteration of the character, the most boring and the most normative. What makes Batman and Robin so interesting is that it represents a firm rejection of that conservativism, and actively works to inject a lot of the queerness back into the Batman mythos. It doesn’t do this especially elegantly or smoothly, but it does it nonetheless. The results are compelling and engaging.

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