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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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New Escapist Column! On How “The Dark Knight Rises” Abolished Its Billionaire to Build a Better Batman…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. TENET reviews are dropping in under an hour, and DC Fandome is happening this weekend, so it seemed an appropriate time to take a look back at Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.

The Dark Knight Rises is a particularly interesting project in the current climate. It’s become common to criticise the idea of Batman as a billionaire who spends his fortune to dress up as a bat instead of actually using it to help the poor and impoverished of Gotham. In that context, The Dark Knight Rises is a work ahead of its time. It’s a story about how Bruce fails Gotham in his role as a billionaire, how maybe Batman shouldn’t be “a man from privilege” and a story in which Bruce donates his family home to the city’s “orphaned and at-risk youth.”

The Dark Knight Rises is the rare superhero story to posit an actual and meaningful ending for its protagonist, and The Dark Knight Rises argues that the only possible happy ending for Batman is for Bruce to lose his fortune and be declared dead, understanding that maybe the mantle of Batman should go to another person who is more keenly aware of what it means to live in Gotham. It’s a very clever and very insightful commentary on the Batman mythos, and one that has aged remarkably well.

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

New Escapist Column! In Praise of Michael Keaton’s Batman…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. The big news this week was that Michael Keaton might be reprising his role as Batman from Batman and Batman Returns, so it felt like the right time to celebrate his contribution to the role.

Michael Keaton was a controversial choice for the role of Batman. Indeed, he’s arguably been underrated and underappreciated since he donned the cowl, with stock criticisms describing his interpretation of the Caped Crusader as bland or boring, especially in comparison to his villains. However, Keaton offered a fascinating and compelling portrayal of the Dark Knight, one worthy of celebration and praise. Keaton offered a version of Batman who felt more vulnerable and more insecure than other iterations, a child playing dress-up. It has aged remarkably well.

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

“… is Ra’s Al Ghul immortal?” Denny O’Neil, and Reflecting on a Bronze Age Batman Villain…

Denny O’Neil passed away last week, at the age of 81.

Many more informed and articulate individuals have written at length about the writer and editor’s contribution to comic books as a medium. In practical terms, Denny O’Neil was a crucial figure in the evolution of Batman, one of the medium’s most enduring characters. During the seventies, he served as a stepping stone between the bright and chirpy “New Look” of the sixties and Frank Miller’s gritty reinvention of the eighties. He also served as editor of the line during the nineties, overseeing beloved events like Knightfall and No Man’s Land.

This is to say nothing of O’Neil’s larger contributions to comic books. During the seventies, he served as the conscience of mainstream comics, reinjecting the sort of politics that had been largely missing since the earliest days of Action Comics and Superman. With runs on Justice League and Green Lantern/Green Arrow, O’Neil sought to engage the iconic DC superheroes with contemporary America. It was often clumsy, but it was always powerful. This is without getting into O’Neil’s hugely influential runs on books like Iron Man or The Question.

However, this week was also the fifteenth anniversary of the release of Batman Begins. This was a hugely influential superhero film, kicking off what might be considered the genre’s crowning accomplishment. Christopher Nolan’s film is heavily indebted to O’Neil, with O’Neil’s comic The Man Who Falls serving as a touchstone for the film’s approach to Bruce Wayne. However, the film was also notable for offering the first live action interpretation of one of O’Neil’s most sizable additions to the Batman mythos: Ra’s Al Ghul.

Batman has one of the most crowded and iconic rogues’ galleries in comics, packed to the brim with recognisable faces: the Joker, the Penguin, the Riddler, Catwoman, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, the Mad Hatter, the Scarecrow, Mister Freeze, Clayface. It’s a crowded field. Writers and artists are constantly trying to add to that, to add their own new characters to the mix. Very few actually catch on, with arguably only Bane and Harley Quinn managing to reach the top tier within the last thirty years. This makes Ra’s Al Ghul all the more impressive.

In the past few years, Ra’s Al Ghul has been cemented as an essential part of the Batman mythos. Both Arrow and Gotham featured the character as a major antagonist, anchoring season-long arcs, played by Mathew Nable and Alexander Siddig. (Liam Neeson reportedly even considered reprising the role for Arrow, even if he couldn’t make the schedule work.) The character has also been a staple of animated adaptations, going back to Batman: The Animated Series and continuing through Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Young Justice and Beware the Batman.

Ra’s Al Ghul has become such a fundamental part of the larger Batman universe that it is hard to imagine it ever existed without him. Nevertheless, he stands as one of the enduring creative legacies of writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams, who first introduced him to the Caped Crusader in the early seventies. In hindsight, as with Bane, it’s easy to see why Ra’s Al Ghul has endured in the way that he has. He fills an important gap in the larger Batman mythos. However, it was the genius of O’Neil and Adams to recognise that gap in the first place.

That’s what makes the character so fantastic. Despite being a relatively late addition to the Dark Knight’s collection of foes, he seems like he always belonged there.

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New Escapist Column! On Versatility and Adaptability as Batman’s True Superpowers…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. It’s been a busy couple of weeks with actors talking about the role of Batman. Val Kilmer discussed it in a long-form interview with The New York Times and Robert Pattinson brought it up in his GQ quarantine profile.

Kilmer argued that the actor playing Batman was unimportant in irrelevant, which is both true in the general case and false in this specific situation. In a general sense, Hollywood is moving away from movie stars and towards intellectual property. However, Batman remains one of the few established brands that is flexible enough to allow a unique approach shine through; Adam West, Kevin Conroy, Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, Will Arnett and Ben Affleck have all offered distinctive takes on the Caped Crusader, each finding a different window to explore the cultural icon.

There is no single “right” interpretation of Batman, and this has contributed to the character’s ubiquity and endurance. Indeed, it’s arguable that Superman has struggled to remain relevant precisely because he doesn’t have that same flexibility. Superman remains largely stuck in a template defined by the Richard Donner movies, unable to escape their gravity and the pull of the nostalgia around them. Batman can be anything that he needs to be – and that is why he remains as popular as ever.

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

182. Hauru no ugoku shiro (Howl’s Moving Castle) – Ani-May 2020 (#134)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney and with special guests Graham Day and Bríd Martin, 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. New episodes are released every Saturday at 6pm GMT.

This year, we are proud to continue the tradition of Anime May, a fortnight looking at two of the animated Japanese films on the list. This year, we watched a double feature of Hayao Miyazaki’s Tenkû no shiro Rapyuta and Hauru no ugoku shiro. We’ll also be covering a bonus on a recent entry on the list next week, Naoko Yamada’s Koe no katachi.

This week, the second part of the double bill, Hauru no ugoku shiro, Miyazaki’s first film after the breakout success of Spirited Away.

Chance encounters with both a mysterious young wizard and spiteful old witch find Sophie Hatter cursed. The eighteen-year-old young woman finds herself trapped in the body of a ninety-year-old crone. Never one to be defeated or outwitted, Sophie embarks on an adventure to lift the curse that takes her into the wilderness and to the heart of a majestic ambulatory castle inhabited by a fascinating bunch of misfits. As war simmers on the horizon, Sophie finds herself drawn to the temperamental but sensitive young magician Howl, but can they ever find peace?

At time of recording, it was ranked 134th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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“… You Wanna Get Nuts?” The Unique Legacy of Tim Burton’s “Batman”…

Tim Burton’s Batman is thirty years old this year, having opened in Irish cinemas thirty years ago this weekend. It leaves a complicated and underappreciated legacy.

To be fair, at least part of that is down to how the series ended. Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman and Robin count among the worst blockbusters of the nineties and the worst comic book movies ever made. Taken together, they were responsible for killing not only that iteration of the cinematic Batman franchise, but also for effectively killing the superhero as a blockbuster genre until the triple whammy of Blade, X-Men and Spider-Man kick-started it again at the turn of the millennium.

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