Joker Review

Batman’s archnemesis, the Joker, is easily the most iconic comic book villain of all time. He may not possess super powers, but the Joker’s more real-world sense of evil of being a straight-up murdering psychopath has made him, unquestionably, the most infamous of super villains. The Joker is probably the sole comic book villain whose mainstream recognition matches (if not surpasses) that of iconic comic book heroes Batman, Superman and Spider-Man. He’s even had multiple acclaimed transitions to the silver screen. Mark Hamill famously voiced Joker in animation and video games, while Jack Nicholson’s take on the character in Tim Burton’s poorly-aged 1989 Batman film still receives praise. It was the late Heath Ledger’s take on the Clown Prince of Crime in 2008’s The Dark Knight that remains the most lauded depiction of the character.

The Joker’s indelible mark on pop culture, as well as his undefined backstory and identity, made a movie entirely dedicated to him an inevitability. And that came to pass in 2019, with director Todd Phillip’s bluntly titled Joker, which cast Joaquin Phoenix in the titular role. Despite the big (clown)shoes to fill in the role, Phoenix delivers an unforgettable and haunting performance that carries the film, even if it does suffer a few hiccups in other areas.

As stated, the Joker has never had a definitive backstory. While the origins of Batman are set firmly in stone – a young Bruce Wayne being traumatized by the murder of his parents, who then seeks to avenge them by bringing justice to a corrupt Gotham City – the Joker is a blank slate. Joker has had various origin stories and former identities in various comic books, movies and other media, but they vary depending on the creators of each individual work. The Joker, on the whole, is an enigma, with his super villain identity being his only consistency.

While I’m on the side of the fence that prefers the Joker as an unexplained evil (such as in The Dark Knight), it’s always interesting to see how different artists paint the origins for such a dark figure in their own way. And Todd Phillips’s film does give the Joker one of his better origin stories.

Phoenix’s Joker begins life as Arthur Fleck, a down-on-his-luck party clown and aspiring standup comedian suffering from several mental illnesses. Along with his inability to empathize, Fleck also has a disorder that causes him to laugh uncontrollably at inappropriate times. Fleck lives with his mentally ill mother, Penny (Frances Conroy), whose manipulative ways do Arthur no favors, despite his best efforts to help her out. Arthur idolizes talk show host/comedian, Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro), and befriends his neighbor, Sophie Dumond (Zazie Beetz). These relationships often become obsessions for Arthur, which only further magnify his instability.

The film is an old-fashioned character study. Using such a film to focus on a comic book character is a novel idea, and there’s perhaps no better suited subject from the medium to focus such a concept on than the Joker. The film is clearly using Martin Scorsese’s character studies for inspiration and reference, which is a good place to draw from, though it does make Robert De Niro’s casting a bit on-the-nose.

We witness firsthand Arthur Fleck’s downfall from being a troubled man disenfranchised by society into a cold-blooded, heartless maniac. Throughout it all, Joaquin Phoenix’s perversely mesmerizing portrayal of the character makes it all scarily believable and real. This is a very different Joker than what we’ve seen in the past, one that’s a bit more grounded, more troubled. Pardon me if I sound hyperbolic, but Phoenix’s performance might just be an all-time great. His presence makes every scene unnerving and hypnotic. In a weird way, the performance draws you in and scares you away at the same time.

If the film suffers from this origin story at all, it may be that its tone doesn’t always run with that of Phoenix’s portrayal. The film far too frequently tries to paint Arthur Fleck in a sympathetic light. And while that works for a while, as Fleck slowly transforms more and more into the unflinchingly evil Joker, the film still seems to think of him as something of a victim.

Fleck’s life is filled with hardship after hardship, and it seems everyone who crosses his path is as remorseless as the Joker is destined to be. He’s beaten, mugged, emotionally abused, deceived, mocked, marginalized and screwed over multiple times over at every given turn. Again, that works for a while, and gives us some understanding as to how a broken man like Fleck could be pushed over the deep end. But even after he goes over the deep end, it seems as though the film is still trying to shed a sympathetic light on a resoundingly unsympathetic character.

That might be a controversial statement on my part, since it seems we live in a time in which everything is always conveniently society’s fault, and individuals are somehow not responsible for their crimes. But while Joker is all too willing to show us the ugly side of society and how the Joker is the result of its corruption, it almost fails to acknowledge that he ends up being a worse threat than anyone or anything else he came across to get there. At a certain point, it doesn’t matter who made the monster, the monster is the monster.

Perhaps the story’s biggest drawback is that it’s so focused on justifying Arthur’s descent into madness and his eventual transformation into the Joker that it comes at the expense of everything around him, including the foundations of the Batman mythology itself.

During the events of Joker, Bruce Wayne is still a child (Dante Pereira-Olson), his father Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) is a mayoral candidate. Thomas Wayne – like Murray Franklin – plays an indirect influence in Arthur’s life. Penny Fleck was once an employee at Wayne Enterprises way back when, and retains an unhealthy fixation on the company’s owner. Issues with the story emerge with Thomas Wayne’s portrayal in the film. He’s depicted as a pompous, condescending and unsympathetic jerk, and only that.

While I can kind of understand what the film was going for by showcasing Thomas Wayne in a less-idealized light than most depictions of the character, the problem is it undermines the very essence of Batman, who is – in a roundabout way – vital to the very essence of the Joker. By reducing Thomas Wayne to being just another negative force in Gotham City, it makes Bruce Wayne’s inevitable transformation into Batman seem like nothing more than a quest for revenge. While it’s true that Batman does exist because of Bruce Wayne’s longing to avenge his parents’ murder, he is ultimately something more than that because of Thomas Wayne.

If Batman were solely driven by revenge, he’d probably not have an issue taking the law into his own hands and killing his adversaries like the Joker. But Thomas and Martha Wayne imparted ideals of justice into Bruce, ideals that, ultimately, are what Batman is really fighting for. It’s something more than Bruce Wayne’s personal quest for vengeance.

I’ve heard some people defend Joker’s depiction of Thomas Wayne as simply being from the perspective of the Joker himself, thus justifying the negative portrayal. While that may be true to an extent, the film never gives the audience a glimpse that there’s anything more to Thomas Wayne than “corrupt billionaire/politician.” Because of that, it unintentionally foreshadows Bruce Wayne’s eventual creation of Batman as being about nothing more than personal revenge.

In Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the Joker existed as the antithesis of Batman’s belief in justice. Chaotic, destructive, and nihilistic, the Joker was everything Batman fought against rolled into one insane package. Their clashing worldviews was the ultimate conflict of the film. But here in Joker, even though Batman himself has yet to exist, the way in which it rewrites Thomas Wayne and, by extension, Bruce Wayne’s backstory means that Batman’s eventual creation has no deeper meaning. He’s a figure who is to exist within the Joker’s world, as opposed to his philosophical opposite.

Some might say I’m reading it all the wrong way, seeing as this is Joker’s movie. But I have to reiterate that there is a difference between telling a story from Joker’s perspective and altering the moral foundations of Gotham City’s mythology just to fit the narrative. It just comes across as the film trying too hard to be edgy and different with its negative depiction of a character who is usually at the moral heart of the story, that the film ends up suffering fundamentally from it. Again, if Batman lacks meaning, why does it matter that Arthur Fleck is the Joker? He could be any madman at this point. I get that the filmmakers wanted Joker to draw real-world parallels, but at some point it would have been nice if the film didn’t seem like it was embarrassed by the fact that it’s a comic book movie and allowed the idealistic foundations of the Batman mythos to still have a place in this iteration of Gotham City.

Joker seems a bit confused as to what it wants to be saying then. It acknowledges its titular villain as just that, a villain, while simultaneously trying to justify his actions through sympathy. Aside from its identity crises, however, Joker is undoubtedly a well-made film in other areas.

I can’t stress enough how great Joaquin Phoenix is in the title role. Watching Arthur Fleck’s downfall play out is as entrancing as it is unnerving. Because of the Joker’s acclaimed past portrayals, comparisons are bound to be made to past on-screen iterations of the character. While I don’t want to crown a definitive winner due to the different takes on the character, I will say that Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker is a worthy successor to Heath Ledger’s indelible version. It also begs the question: when was the last time the same character created so many different iconic performances?

The film also has a great look to it. The Gotham City of Joker is a much more realistic take on the setting than any other screen representation so far. Set in a gritty 1980s backdrop, Joker’s Gotham City creates a number of memorable locations and shots. The “Joker steps” featured in one particular scene have become a landmark due to the film. The scene in question, which sees the demented clown dancing down the steps to the music in his head, has already become an iconic scene in its own right. And one of the film’s final sequences, which sees Fleck finally meet Murray Franklin face-to-face, is truly bone chilling.

There is a great movie here in Joker. It provides a fresh take on the super hero/villain genre, turning its origin story into a grounded, realistic character study. Helmed by Joaquin Phoenix’s unforgettable performance, Joker has to be the most haunting comic book film ever made, and creatively the most ambitious since The Dark Knight. Unfortunately, the great movie that is here is drowning in the film’s indecisiveness as to what it wants to say. Is it a commentary on the ugly side of society, or just a blatant example of it? If the Joker is a maniacal mass-murderer, why does the film relish in the opportunity to paint him as a kind of political martyr for the working class?

The Dark Knight saw the clash between Batman’s idealism and Joker’s nihilism. But Joker absorbs us into the Clown Prince of Crime’s dark mindset alone, and still expects us to feel empathy for him despite his inhuman crimes. The Dark Knight’s Joker was similarly evil, but at most we saw him as a pathetic creature. But Joker’s take on its titular character feels like it wants us to root for him, even after there’s nothing left to root for.

Joker is undeniably a mesmerizing character study. But when the character we’re studying is a monster, don’t expect me to see him as anything but.




Justice League Review

*This review contains some spoilers, but nothing that wasn’t obvious already, really.*

You know what? I hate Superman. There, I said it.  I hate Superman, and watching Justice League reminded me exactly why I hate him. Despite being named after a team of super heroes, Justice League goes out of its way to display just how useless the rest of the team is compared to Superman alone. His super strength is stronger than Wonder Woman’s, his super speed is faster than Flash’s; plus he can fly, lift buildings, has heat vision, ice breath, and is basically indestructible. In one scene, he nonchalantly throws Batman to the side as if he’s garbage. I hate that Superman can just do anything. I hate that he makes infinitely better super heroes look like nothing by comparison. I simply, flat-out can not stand Superman.

With that out of the way, let’s get to the rest of Justice League.

Since its inception with Man of Steel in 2013, the DC Extended Universe has been a shallow attempt at recreating what Marvel has done with its Cinematic Universe. While the MCU wisely took its time in bringing its different super heroes together, the DCEU seemed to be in a desperate game of catch-up, rushing the crossover aspects together with its beyond-muddled second entry, Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice. The DCEU has become so needy in its desires to replicate what Marvel has accomplished, that it seems to consistently forget to make coherent movies and strong characters to justify its extended universe.

But then, earlier in 2017, we had a glimmer of hope in the form of Wonder Woman. There was a movie that told a simple super hero origin story, but had a main character who was likable and fleshed out, not to mention it actually seemed to understand human emotion. Surely Wonder Woman signified a turn for the better for the DCEU? Surely these movies would learn from past mistakes and take notes from what made Wonder Woman work?

Nope. Here comes Justice League to undo all of that goodwill Wonder Woman established.

In all fairness, Justice League isn’t as much of a disaster as Batman V. Superman, nor is it as boring as Man of Steel. But it’s still a clunky, over-bloated movie that lacks focus and, even more disappointing, lacks any heart. It wants so desperately to be on the same boat as the MCU with its shared universe, but also makes the shared universe concept feel pointless with how insignificant everyone else feels compared to Superman. If one team member can take out all the others without breaking a sweat, why should we care that there’s a team at all?

Basically, the story here is that a being from another world named Steppenwolf (Ciaran Hinds) invades Earth looking for the three lost “Mother Boxes” which, when combined, can destroy a planet or something. And so with Superman dead after the events of Batman V. Superman, Batman tries to form the Justice League to defeat this otherworldly threat…before completely giving up on the idea and deciding to use a Mother Box to resurrect ol’ Supes because everyone is useless compared to him.

“Steppenwolf makes me miss the villains of Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World. Yes, he’s THAT bad of a character.”

In all honesty, Steppenwolf is very likely the most boring, uninteresting villain in super hero movie history. I’m not exaggerating. Ciaran Hinds’ acting abilities are entirely lost on a character who is written without the tiniest shred of depth or motivation. So much as calling him a placeholder villain is giving him too much credit. I don’t even think he has a line of dialogue that isn’t about destruction or obtaining a Mother Box (which may as well just be called Macguffins). He’s an absolute non-entity. Perhaps worst of all, he’s a CG character who is entirely unconvincing. Every time he fights with the heroes, it looks like the Justice League is grappling with a PS3 monster.

Speaking of bad visual effects, Justice League is full of them. This is a movie aiming to be a big blockbuster, but one which appears the studios behind it didn’t have enough faith to put the extra funding into it.

The CG used to hide actor Henry Cavill’s mustache has already obtained internet infamy, and with good reason. It’s downright distracting. Apparently, Cavill has an obligation to another role that requires a mustache, so he couldn’t shave it. So the filmmakers just decided to CG the area in between his nose and upper lip, and it looks as weird as it sounds. Might I suggest a better option would have been to give Superman a mustache? Sure, Superman isn’t known for having facial hair, but with how often comic books – the origins of these characters – retell, retcon and flat-out ignore certain continuities, is adding a mustache to Superman really so out of the question? I mean, come on, you’re resurrecting the dude with a magic box, but a mustache? That’s just too far. Hell, if Superman had a Tom Sellick ‘stache going on I might actually like him (slightly) more. At the very least, it would be less distracting to see Henry Cavill’s actual mustache than to have a CG band-aid over it.

“Can somebody please get this bad CG off me?!”

The unholy trinity of bad visual effects in Justice League is capped off with Cyborg (Ray Fisher), a member of the Justice League whose mostly robotic body clashes obnoxiously with the human side of his face. It just looks really bad. I mentioned PS3 graphics earlier, but now I’m starting to feel like that was maybe a bit insulting to the PS3. I would much rather look at a ten-year old PS3 game than Steppenwolf’s ugly mug or Cyborg’s…visual awkwardness.

To be fair, not everything is outright horrible in Justice League. On the bright side of things, Gal Gadot returns as Wonder Woman, and is as charming as ever. Aquaman is portrayed by Jason Momoa, and actually seems to be into the character. Some of the action scenes are also decently successful in creating excitement, and unlike the oppressive “edginess and grit” of Man of Steel or Batman V. Superman, Justice League at least tries to lighten the mood at times. Sure, not all of the humor works – with the antics of the Flash (Ezra Miller) growing more exhausting as the film goes on – but I’ll take the attempt at fun over the forced brooding of Batman V. Superman any day.

Despite those few highlights, it’s hard to recommend Justice League. Even Ben Affleck’s take on Batman – one of the few positive qualities of Batman V. Superman – seems lackluster this time around, as though Affleck no longer cares following Batman V. Superman’s reception. The characters are one-dimensional, the plot is beyond thin, the pacing is cluttered and all over the place, it’s riddled with bad dialogue, and for a movie that needed to rely heavily on special effects, the effects in question are just really bad.

All that, and I haven’t even mentioned the seemingly pointless elements of the movie. A good example of this is the opening of the movie itself, which is presented as a video of Superman recorded by a couple of kids, asking the caped hero some questions after another rescue. The scene ends just as ol’ Supes is about to answer the question of “what is his favorite thing about Earth.” This scene doesn’t play into the main story, nor does it seem to have any thematic purpose. I honestly don’t know why it’s there.

At the very least, Justice League is the kind of bad movie I can get a kick out of talking about, which is more than I can say for Man of Steel or Batman V. Superman. But it’s also a blatant showcase of these DCEU movies not learning from past mistakes. And considering this is the follow-up to the delightful Wonder Woman, the results sting twice as much.

Maybe DC should just reboot this cinematic universe, but keep Wonder Woman canon and use it as the new starting point. Also, leave Superman out of it. Yeah, that’d be nice.



The Lego Batman Movie Review

Lego Batman

I did not like The Lego Movie. While just about everyone else was singing its praises, I found it to be kind of insipid. Its hyperactivity was more exhausting than fun, its visuals lost their charm within a short amount of time, and its message of everything being special was just too naive to resonate (I’m sorry, but not everything is awesome). I would even rank it among the most overrated animated films alongside the likes of Akira and the How to Train Your Dragon series.

That’s why it’s a very welcome surprise that I enjoyed The Lego Batman Movie as much as I did. By trimming all the fat and simply focusing on the best aspect of the original (Batman), The Lego Batman Movie easily outshines its predecessor with a more memorable cast of characters, a more honest message for its target audience, and more laughs per minute.

Lego BatmanIn The Lego Batman Movie, the Joker (Zack Galifanakis) is up to his old tricks, and plans a hostile takeover of Gotham City with the help of pretty much every Batman villain in the book (from Bane – who speaks in a voice that parodies Tom Hardy’s performance in The Dark Knight Rises – to the Condiment King). The villains are once again stopped by Batman (Will Arnett) who, much to the dismay of the Joker, claims he doesn’t need anyone in his life, even an archvillain like the Clown Prince of Crime.

The Joker, heartbroken that the one person who gives his life meaning doesn’t have mutual feelings of utter hatred for him, hatches a new scheme to unleash the supervillains contained within the Phantom Zone upon Gotham City. Meanwhile, Batman has to deal with familial issues when he accidentally adopts a young orphan, Dick Grayson (Michael Cera) and butts heads with his father figure in his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes).

From the get-go, it’s obvious that The Lego Batman Movie is primarily two things: The first is a hilarious comedy that wants nothing more than to put a smile on its audience’s faces (the movie begins with a black screen because, as Batman bluntly narrates over it “all important movies begin with a black screen”). The other thing it is is a love letter to all things Batman. The movie frequently references Batman’s previous silver screen outings (from the “two boats” segment of The Dark Knight to the Bat-nipples of Batman & Robin), pays tribute to the Caped Crusader’s past animation exploits, and tips its hat to the frequently-changing nature of the comic books.

What’s really surprising is that, despite its comedic nature, The Lego Batman Movie is also a great Batman movie in its own right. And in a time when DC’s movie adaptations are becoming more “dark and edgy” at the expense of quality, The Lego Batman Movie is a refreshing change of pace.

Lego BatmanThis, of course, brings me to what may be the film’s biggest triumph. It essentially rewrites the book on what a franchise film can be. Seeing all of these classic (and some not-so-classic) Batman characters presented in Lego form, with lighthearted interpretations of their personalities and frequent meta-gags that reflect on the franchise, the film may open the door for other studios to try their hand at something similar. I’d love to see Disney make one of their animated princess features set in the Star Wars universe, to name an obvious example.

I’m not sure if its the change in setting to Gotham City, but I also enjoyed the visuals of The Lego Batman Movie much more than the original. Maybe it has something to do with this being the second such Lego Movie, and so the visuals no longer seem like a gimmick, but I didn’t get tired of the Lego aesthetics like I did the first time around. It gives the characters a kind of mock-stop-motion sense of movement, and seeing Gotham transformed into a child’s plaything makes for a fun combination of darkness and bright colors.

Once again, I also feel The Lego Batman Movie has something more meaningful to say than its predecessor, about the importance of letting others into your life – along with Dick Grayson and Alfred, Batman also finds a new member of the Bat-family in Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson) – and to not let the harsh reality of tragedies rule your life.

Overall, The Lego Batman Movie is just a really fun, feel-good movie. It does have some parts that drag on a bit, and the third act kind of repeats its message a couple of times. But The Lego Batman Movie is a great improvement over its predecessor, one that’s filled with humor and a few surprises (I won’t spoil the identities of the villains of the Phantom Zone here). It’s cute and charming in a way I didn’t feel about the original Lego Movie, and just a whole lot of fun.

In a time when most “comedies” are just trying to out-raunch each other, The Lego Batman Movie is a reminder that the funniest humor comes from smart writing, witty commentary and a good dose of creativity. Perhaps most notably of all, The Lego Batman Movie may have just created its own sub-genre of franchise films.



Batman Forever (SNES) Review

Batman Forever

Though Batman has had a better track record in terms of video games than Superman, the Dark Knight is not immune to the occasional bad game. There has perhaps not been a worse video game starring the Caped Crusader than Batman Forever on SNES.

As you might expect from the title, Batman Forever is the video game adaptation of the 1995 film of the same name. Like in the movie, Batman and his ward Robin are out to save Gotham City from Two-Face and the Riddler. Though almost humorously, this video game bears more resemblance to Mortal Kombat than it does with the film it’s based on.

Much like Mortal Kombat, Batman Forever uses digitized actors instead of traditional character sprites. What’s a bit more surprising is that Batman’s moves are ripped directly from Mortal Kombat, with the same sequences of punches and kicks that you would find in the fighting series. It will only take a handful of seconds to see just how strong the similarities are, and it becomes immediately apparent that this wasn’t a game that was given much time or attention in its development.

It should be noted that Batman Forever is a beat-em-up, not a traditional fighter. The fact that it duplicates the controls of a fighting game would dampen the experience on its own. But what truly ruins the game is the control scheme itself.

Simply put, the controls in Batman Forever are among the most dumbfounding in video game history. The punches and kicks are easy enough to figure out (though they feel far more clunky in execution than those of Mortal Kombat), but other design choices that were made for the control scheme are so baffling they’re jaw-dropping.

Batman ForeverOne of Batman’s abilities is a grappling hook, which is performed by pressing – of all things – the Select button. Yes, the Select button, which had long-since been known for bringing up menus or selecting certain options even back in 1995, is actually used to perform one of the moves. If this was’t confusing enough, the grappling hook, by default, shoots in a diagonal direction, and can’t grab hold of anything this way, making it pretty much useless. In order to shoot directly upward, you have to press up on the D-pad as well as the Select button. But unlike any reasonable game, where you would press both buttons at once, you have to – and I kid you not – press the Select button shortly before pressing up.

As if this all wasn’t enough, matters are made worse by the fact that pressing up on the D-pad is also how you jump. So unless you get the Select/Up timing just right, you’ll just end up jumping instead of using the grappling hook. To add a cherry on top, you are never given any kind of clues when you can use the hook to go upward anyway. So you’ll often just be stuck not knowing what to do and randomly shooting the hook upwards in hopes of finding somewhere to go.

If you ever want to go back down to a lower area, you have to find certain spots that are (once again) unexplained and hit down on the D-Pad plus the R button. And yes, you press R shortly before pressing down.

There are games where the characters can feel unresponsive, or that have controls that take some getting used to, but Batman Forever is one of a very select group of games where the controls are so bad, it will leave you wondering how anyone could have thought them up.

Even if the controls did work, Batman Forever would still be an incredibly boring game. The beat-em-up genre is largely mindless, but provides some good fun. The goal to these types of games is usually just to defeat all the bad guys who appear on screen, but there’s usually a good dose of variety, energy and cohesiveness in the levels and enemies. None of that is found here, as the enemies are just an assortment of thugs who are as generic and stock as the game’s music (though I do appreciate how every individual enemy is given a cheesy criminal name), and the levels are pretty much straightforward (when they aren’t timed).

All you do is beat up a few bad guys, go right, beat up a few more, maybe go up or down (if you can get the controls right), and repeat. The action is bland and monotonous, and considering there’s nothing else to the game, it gets really old really, really quickly.

Batman ForeverJust in case this wasn’t all bad enough, Batman Forever – despite being a cartridge-based game on the Super Nintendo – has load times. That’s right, after every segment, you are treated to a pitch black screen with the words “Hold On” staring you in the face. I can’t think of another SNES game with load times, and these aren’t exactly short load times, either. And again, they happen all the time!

Batman Forever is simply a mess of a video game. The long load times only serve to prolong an ugly game with lazy, copy-and-pasted gameplay, which is made all the worse by some of the most horrifyingly bad controls in video game history. It is a riddle even the Riddler wouldn’t bother with.



Injustice: Gods Among Us Review


DC crossovers are always a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, the comic book giant has created some of the world’s most iconic superheroes. On the other hand, many of their properties don’t mesh naturally with the others, whereas Marvel’s series feel more properly linked together. While the latter element of DC crossovers has lead to some disastrously muddled movies in recent times, the idea does fit a bit better into the world of video games. A great example of this is 2013’s Injustice: Gods Among Us, a fighting game built around the DC Universe from the creators of Mortal Kombat.

In short, Injustice: Gods Among Us is a really good fighter that uses the DC license to its benefit. It has a wide variety of DC heroes and villains – from the obvious picks like Superman, Batman and the Joker, to relatively obscure choices like Solomon Grundy and Deathstroke (unfortunately my favorite DC villain, The Scarecrow, doesn’t make the playable roster) – as well as some fun, original ideas for the fighting genre.

While it’s true that most of the game’s basics will be nothing new to those familiar with the genre – with the game following the tried-and-true format laid down by Street Fighter 2 – Injustice does have a few new tricks up its sleeve.

For starters, not only does each character play differently from the others, but many of them have gameplay-altering abilities (Flash, for example, can “speed up” so his opponents move in slow-motion until they land a hit, while Wonder Woman can switch from her fists and whip to a sword and shield). The stages also have interactive elements, which can be used to varying effects depending on the character (Superman might throw a car at his opponent, while the Joker would simply blow it up). Perhaps most notably, the character’s extravagant special moves can be countered in quicktime events, with players waging on a set amount of stored-up power, which can result in taking more damage or even healing a bit of health from blocking the move, depending on how much energy was wagered.

These aforementioned special moves are as ridiculous as those from Mortal Kombat, though appropriately less gruesome. Superman takes his opponent into the atmosphere before sending them crashing back down to Earth, The Flash runs around the world to deliver a single, devastating punch, while Aquaman sends a tidal wave crashing down on his enemies and follows it up with vicious sharks. They’re appropriately outlandish, and when combined with the character variety and level features, it makes Injustice a fighter that’s full of surprises.

Injustice also has a pretty strong sense of balance, as I haven’t really noticed any characters to have significant advantages or disadvantages with their play styles. Though I do have to admit certain moves are a little too easy to spam repeatedly (I myself have a little too much fun throwing laughing gas canisters as the Joker).

The multiplayer modes are what will keep players coming back to Injustice for more, with some additional modes providing some extra fun, but it should be noted that the game features a pretty impressive single player campaign as well. Unlike most fighting games, in which each character has their own campaign and fights a set number of characters with minimal plot, Injustice: Gods Among Us instead has a singular, cinematic story that spans twelve “chapters,” each one starring a different character.

The plot sees a number of Earth’s heroes, such as Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Aquaman, as well as the Joker, mysteriously teleported to another dimension. In this alternate world, Joker had managed to temporarily poison Superman’s mind, with the Man of Steel then destroying all of Metropolis and all who lived there during his manipulation, including his own family. Overrun with grief, Superman murdered the Joker and conquered the Earth, to ensure order under his newfound dictatorial delusions. Any heroes who oppose Superman’s new regime are killed, with the exception of Batman, who has created a resistance and brought the heroes from the more traditional timeline to help aide him in bringing down Superman’s rule.

InjusticeIt is a pretty fun story that introduces some good concepts, like an alternate Lex Luthor, who is a law abiding citizen working undercover with Batman to help end Superman’s regime, and even a few quicktime events before certain fights, to determine whether you start the match with an advantage or disadvantage. But the story isn’t without its flaws in both narrative and gameplay.

For starters, each chapter is composed of four fights. That may not sound like much of a problem, but after the first few chapters, it becomes incredibly formulaic, and just feels like a means to pad things out. You may even roll your eyes at how frequently the current character conveniently runs into exactly two opponents to be fought in succession in one segment of their story, and then conveniently bumps into two more soon after. You can’t help but feel that some chapters would have been better with either more or less to them, instead of following its four fights rule to such an obsessive-compulsive extent.

Another downside is that the story can get a little silly, despite presenting itself as dead serious. The number of times the plot rapidly jumps around just to be sure to include specific characters is a bit pandering, and much of the plot’s focus between the different dimensions comes off as fanfictiony gobbledygook. On the bright side, it’s never as muddled as Batman V. Superman, and it’s certainly a lot more fun, but the serious tone often clashes with the rather ridiculous goings-on within the story.

With all that said, Injustice: Gods Among Us is still one of the better fighting games released in recent years. It has a sense of variety and polish that, frankly, the Mortal Kombat games themselves don’t have. And as far as I’m concerned, any excuse to have Batman characters beat Superman to a pulp is a good one.



Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice Review

Batman V Superman

A few years ago, I discovered a webcomic called Axe Cop, which is a series of stories told from the mind of a child, but illustrated by said child’s adult brother. As you might expect, the series is pretty random and hilarious, as it is told simply through the spontaneity of a child’s mind. Logic is thrown out the window and a parade of crazy characters are humorously crammed together with very little consistency.

Imagine taking a similarly non sequitur method of storytelling, but removing the charm and humor, as well as the innocence of knowing it stemmed from a child’s mind. Now take that empty shell and stretch it to nearly three hours of brooding and explosions, and you have something of an idea of what Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is like.

Perhaps I’m just a tad bit biased, since I’ve always been more of a Batman fan than a fan of DC itself, so I’ve always hated to see DC’s heroes crossover with one another (if I made a Batman vs. Superman movie, it would consist of Batman wearing a suit of pure Kryptonite, thus weakening Superman and allowing Batman to beat the Man of Steel into a pulp within the first five minutes, and then proceed to being strictly a Batman movie). But I did try to go into Batman V Superman with an open mind.

Now, I will admit the movie did have some good points: I feel the concerns over Ben Affleck being the new Batman can be set aside, since his performance was one of the film’s highlights, and it gives promise for the upcoming standalone Batman reboot. There were a few entertaining moments, and the fact that such things exist at all in the movie automatically makes it better than 2013’s Man of Steel. And I must say I did actually enjoy the titular battle between the two superheroes.

The problem is that it’s all too obvious that the movie is trying to replicate what Marvel has achieved with their shared cinematic universe, and it does way too much way too soon. The reason why the Marvel Cinematic Universe is working is because they built up to it. Marvel had five standalone movies released before they packaged the established heroes together for The Avengers, with each of those standalone films giving hints at what was to come. Here, we simply had Man of Steel, which was strictly a Superman movie, and now we’re diving head-first into the bigger DC universe in one go. The end results make Batman V Superman play more like bits and pieces of many different movies, as opposed to one big one.

Batman V SupermanWe are given snippets of Batman’s origin story in the film’s first scene (which is probably the way to go with it, we all know Batman’s origin story so well that we don’t need to spend too much time with it). And we fast forward to the events of Man of Steel, where the reckless lummox known as Superman carelessly creates insurmountable collateral damage during his grudge match with General Zod, as a more heroic Bruce Wayne looks on.

This gives Bruce Wayne a reasonable fear of Superman. If ol’ Supes can cause that much destruction when trying to save people, what can he do if he turns against mankind? So Bruce Wayne/Batman makes it a priority to discover a means of taking down Superman, should the need come to pass.

Meanwhile, Lex Luthor (who for some reason isn’t portrayed by Bryan Cranston) is hatching a scheme to take down Superman by framing him for various acts of violence and slowly turning mankind against him (adding fuel to Batman’s fire in the process), and discovers the powers of Kryptonite, and the effects it has on the otherwise invincible Superman, setting a bigger plot in motion.

The setup is decent enough, but once the movie starts to drop obvious hints and glimpses at future movies, it starts becoming a bit of a mess. Wonder Woman also plays a part in the movie, without ever having a real reason to be a part of it. Other DC heroes are also given cameos, because fan service. We even get a few mentions of the Joker, which only end up making us wish we were watching The Dark Knight instead. Also, Doomsday squeezes his way into this movie.

It’s not just the amount of characters and goings-on that are the problem with Batman V Superman, but its way of going about them as well. So many elements feel rushed, so many scenes feel episodic and clunky, and so much of what could have been a compelling story is drown in way too many sub-plots. One scene even depicts Bruce Wayne having a dream/vision of a potential future should his fears of Superman come to fruition. But instead of intrigue, the scene in question only ends up creating confusion, as it begins so abruptly and cascades so rapidly it may even produce an unintentional chuckle or two.

Another big problem with the movie is Superman himself, who comes across as an entirely unlikable hypocrite. He criticizes Batman for his vigilante ways, and as Clark Kent he makes it his mission to smear Batman’s name in the papers. Superman, who takes the law into his own hands on countless occasions, judges and condemns someone else for doing the exact same thing. At least Batman doesn’t have countless innocent lives on his hands due to recklessness.

I suppose being the Batman supporter that I am, I should be happy that Batman is inarguably in the right in this movie. The problem is that it still tries to depict Superman as a heroic savior-like figure, when his actions make him come off as a self-aggrandizing, hypocritical jackass.

Between the movie’s insistence on cramming in as many elements from the DC universe as possible, it’s plodding pacing and clunky editing, and one half of the titular combatants being downright unlikable, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is just a loud mess of a movie. There are a few diamonds in the rough (again, a Ben Affleck Batman movie actually has promise), but the film’s desire to compete with what Marvel has accomplished in a dozen films in one single movie makes it incoherent.

Simply put, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t a very good super hero movie. It’s especially not a good Batman movie. The fact that it lacks humor and charm also makes it a pretty bad Axe Cop movie.