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Batman And Robin

Batman & Robin

Today, I’m going to dive into the infamously terrible 1997 superhero movie, Batman & Robin.

The plot of Batman & Robin is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Batman and Robin try to keep their relationship together even as they must stop Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy from freezing Gotham City.

Batman & Robin is, of course, based on the DC comics characters of Batman and Robin. Batman first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in March of 1939, created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Robin came along the following year, in Detective Comics #38, and is credited to the same duo. The two have appeared in numerous television shows, video games, movies, and other mediums over the years, and are almost certainly the most iconic superhero duo.

The writer for the screenplay of Batman & Robin was Akiva Goldsman, who also penned screenplays for Winter’s Tale, I Am Legend, I Robot, A Beautiful Mind, Lost In Space, and Batman Forever.

Batman & Robin was directed by Joel Schumacher, whose other credits include Phone Booth, The Number 23, 8MM, Batman Forever, Falling Down, Flatliners, and The Lost Boys, among others.

The cast for the film is headlined by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger (Predator, Last Action Hero, The Terminator, Commando, Hercules In New York), George Clooney (Michael Clayton, Solaris, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Burn After Reading, Intolerable Cruelty, Syriana, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind), Chris O’Donnell (Batman Forever, NCIS: Los Angeles, Scent of a Woman), Uma Thurman (Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction, The Producers, Gattaca), Alicia Silverstone (Clueless), Michael Gough (Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever), and John Glover (Gremlins 2, Smallville, In The Mouth of Madness).

The cinematographer for Batman & Robin was Stephen Goldblatt, who shot The Help, The Hunger, Charlie Wilson’s War, Striptease, Batman Forever, The Pelican Brief, Lethal Weapon, Lethal Weapon 2, and The Cotton Club, among others.

Batman & Robin had two credited editors: Dennis Virkler (Daredevil, Under Siege, Xanadu, Freejack, Collateral Damage, Independence Day, Only The Strong, The Chronicles of Riddick, The Hunt For Red October) and Mark Stevens (Phone Booth, The Number 23, Freddy vs. Jason, Batman Forever, The Final Destination).

The musical score for the film was composed by Elliot Goldenthal, who is known for providing music for movies like Heat, Public Enemies, Sphere, Alien 3, Batman Forever, Pet Sematary, Titus, Frida, and Across The Universe.

Among the team of effects workers for Batman & Robin was John Dykstra, a legendary, award-winning effects guru is is known for being an original founder of Industrial Light and Magic, coming up with the visuals used for the space battles and light sabers in Star Wars, and working on films like The Hateful Eight, Spider-Man, Lifeforce, and Django: Unchained.

Batman & Robin was the fourth and final installment in the initial Warner Brothers Batman film franchise, which began with Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman.

According to Joel Schumacher, previous Batman actor Val Kilmer left to do The Saint, so the role was recast to George Clooney. However, rumors have swirled that Val Kilmer was growing increasingly difficult to work with, such as was the case with The Island of Doctor Moreau, and wasn’t asked to return.

Joel Schumacher claims that the production of Batman & Robin was under immense pressure from the studio and producers to be “toyetic”: essentially, they were mandated to come up with devices that could be sold as merchandise and toys, because of how much money they add to the overhead profits.

Likewise, Schumacher says that they were under similar pressure to “make as kid-friendly a Batman as possible,” because parents complained that Burton’s Batman films were too scary for kids. So, they made it “lighter, brighter, [and] more family-friendly.” However, Schumacher claims that he wanted to do a darker film based on the comic story Batman: Year One, which he attempted to pitch after the failure of Batman & Robin. Likewise, Darren Aronofsky and Frank Miller joined forces to try to make an iteration Batman: Year One as well, but were unsuccessful.

Robin’s costume and logo used in the movie were modeled after the character of Nightwing, which is a later alias of Dick Grayson in the comics after he retires the moniker of Robin.

Even before the film was released, plans were in motion for a sequel to Batman & Robin, to be titled Batman Unchained. However, the overwhelmingly negative reception to the film tanked the plans, and the Batman property sat dormant until Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins in 2005.

The Smashing Pumpkins’s song  The End is The Beginning is The End was created specifically for the film, and ultimately won a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Jeep Swenson, who portrayed Bane, unexpectedly died two months after the film’s release at the age of 40, due to heart failure. He was a known professional wrestler for WCW, who also appeared in the Hulk Hogan movie No Holds Barred.

Batman & Robin was made on a production budget of $125 million, on which it took in a lifetime box office total of $238.2 million between international and domestic markets.

Despite the profits, the movie was a huge critical failure, and is often cited as one of the worst movies ever made. It currently holds a 3.7/10 IMDb user rating, alongside scores of 11% from critics and 16% from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes.

Batman & Robin is a rare case where a movie was a failure, in spite of succeeding in what it sought to do. Technically, Batman & Robin is a successful execution of a vision: a heavily-stylized, cartoony family movie. However, that successfully-executed vision was roundly rejected by audiences and critics. It wasn’t short on talent, or money, or anything else: the product just wasn’t what people wanted.

Personally, I kind of enjoy the movie. Yeah, the terrible cartoon sound effects and horrendous dialogue are painful to sit through, but I can definitely appreciate some over-the-top acting. Likewise, this is one of the most uniquely designed movies I can think of. It doesn’t really look like anything else, and it contributes a lot to the hyper-reality of the content of the story and the characters. The vision here was to create a live-action cartoon, and the designs go a long way towards making that possible. I also kind of appreciate the extremely vivid color palette, and would generally take that over the sepia-drenched Batman Begins any day.

Looking back now, in a word inflicted with Zack Snyder’s melodramatic DCEU, which avoids fun and vibrancy like the plague, you can sort of see the weird charm hidden inside of Batman & Robin. Likewise, the humor, style, and even dialogue on display here are far superior to that displayed in Suicide Squad, which is strung together with string and bubble gum. Say what you will about the product, but Batman & Robin is a complete movie: an executed vision with a coherent story behind. It may be a soulless capitalistic endeavor seeking to leech off of children, but it is at least a structured narrative. It may also be a goofy, anachronistic cartoon that is edited like a panic attack, but it has some tangible vitality to it.

People know what this movie is by now. If you haven’t seen it, you’ve heard about it, or seen clips. You know what you are getting into if you are sitting down with it. Personally, I go back to this movie more often than most of the Batman flicks. It is genuinely, entertainingly terrible, but is also more visually interesting than a lot of similar bad movies. Not only that, but Joel Schumacher’s commentary track, which is available on some DVD releases of the movie, is both insightful and hilarious, and adds a lot to a rewatch. For bad movie fans, this is mandatory viewing. For casual movie fans or folks looking for a laugh, this is a good option to take out. For all of the screenplay’s issues, pacing is not one, and that is the most painful aspect of most bad movies.

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Worst of 2016: Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad

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Today, as part of my series on the worst movies of 2016, I’m taking a look at one of the year’s most polarizing blockbusters: Suicide Squad.

The plot of Suicide Squad is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A secret government agency recruits some of the most dangerous incarcerated super-villains to form a defensive task force. Their first mission: save the world from the apocalypse.

Suicide Squad was written and directed by David Ayer, whose other credits include Fury, Sabotage, End of Watch, SWAT, Training Day, and The Fast and The Furious.

The Suicide Squad team debuted in DC comics in The Brave and The Bold #25 in 1959, though only the name truly remains of the initial incarnation now. Most of the elements now popularly recognized come from the modern version of the series that started with a revamp in the 1980s by John Ostrander, John Byrne, and Len Wein. The concept sees super-villains compiled together into a strike team to carry out tasks for the government, in exchange for their freedoms. The team has sporadically featured such notable DC villains as Poison Ivy, Captain Cold, The Penguin, and Black Adam, on top of more consistent core members like Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, and Harley Quinn, and has a regularly rotating cast of members.

suicidesquad1The cast of Suicide Squad is made up of Margot Robbie (The Wolf of Wall Street, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot), Will Smith (Wild Wild West, Men In Black, I Am Legend, Independence Day, Winter’s Tale, After Earth), Viola Davis (Fences, State of Play), Jared Leto (Fight Club, Mr. Nobody, Requiem For A Dream, Alexander), and Jai Courtney (Jack Reacher, I, Frankenstein, Terminator Genisys).

The cinematographer for the film was Ramon Vasyenov, who shot the movies Fury, End of Watch, Charlie Countryman, and The East. The editor for Suicide Squad was John Gilroy, who has cut a handful of notable movies, including Nightcrawler, Pacific Rim, Warrior, Michael Clayton, Suspect Zero, and Billy Madison.

suicidesquad2The musical score for the film was provided by Steven Price, who also worked on Fury, The World’s End, Gravity, and Attack the Block, among other projects.

A number of scenes of Killer Croc’s backstory were removed from the final theatrical cut, including depictions of his upbringing as a social outcast due to his physical appearance. Likewise, it was revealed that Croc crossed paths with Batman while working for numerous Gotham crime bosses. There were also scenes displaying his affinity for making sculptures out of discarded materials, and a sequence where he becomes sick at the helicopter escort to Midway City, prompting him to throw up half-digested pieces of goat.

Thanks to the financial success of Suicide Squad, there is a rumored follow-up in the pipeline to be called Gotham City Sirens, which is likely to focus on Harley Quinn, along with a handful of other Gotham City figures.

suicidesquad3The initial trailer for Suicide Squad was set to the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody, and wound up building a significant amount of positive buzz for the film. Thanks to it going viral, it has racked up over 78 million views on YouTube since its release.

It is popularly believed that the mixed-to-negative reactions to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, combined with the overwhelmingly positive reception to Deadpool, led to a handful of re-shoots and re-cuts to Suicide Squad at the last minute in order to lighten its tone and inject humor.

A number of alternate casting rumors surrounded the development of Suicide Squad. Apparently, Tom Hardy dropped out of the role of Rick Flag in order to do The Revenant, and Ryan Gosling flat-out turned down the role of Joker due to the contract terms mandated by the studio.

suicidesquad6Apparently, Jared Leto’s method acting for the role of Joker led to some less-than-savory antics on set. Reports indicated that he sent unwanted gifts to his fellow cast members, including packages containing used condoms, live rats, and bullets.

Financially, Suicide Squad was a significant hit: it grossed roughly $745 million worldwide on a production budget of $175 million. Critically, however, it proved to be one of the most polarizing films of the year. While it currently holds an IMDb user rating of 6.4/10, it also has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 26% from critics, and made many critics’ lists of the worst films of 2016.

suicidesquad5It is worth noting that the version of Suicide Squad that I watched was the theatrical cut. For home video release, the advertising touted an improved “extended cut”, but I wanted to see exactly what audiences saw in the theaters, and what the producers and the studio thought was fit for the widest release.

suicidesquad7One of the most common complaints I have seen about Suicide Squad is that the first half plays more like an extended music video than a movie. When I first heard that criticism, I assumed that it was embellishment. I was genuinely surprised at how apt that observation is: the first half hour of the movie is a strung-together sequence of pop songs that gave me flash backs to Sucker Punch.

Once the story does start moving, it is plagued by pacing issues. Some characters get overly-detailed introductions that drag the progression to a halt, while others seem to appear out of nowhere. The relationships between characters are vague, and some have little-to-no dialogue to develop themselves. Most of the enemies the team fight are literally faceless and essentially powerless, removing any kinds of stakes or threats from the table. Worse yet, the central mission at the heart of the story isn’t adequately revealed to the audience, making it unclear what story progress would even look like if it happened. The combination of all of these elements is a poorly built story framework that relies on undeveloped characters to carry it along, with no intrigue or tension to be found.

All of that said, there are some good things to say about Suicide Squad. While some of the CGI is definitely rough, there was clearly a lot of time and effort put into Killer Croc’s design and execution, and the result is arguably pretty cool. Unfortunately, he is also one of the characters with the least amount of screen time and development, which may have been due to the cost and labor involved with the makeup. Still, the character felt like a massive squandering of potential.

As far as other positives go, the Batman and Flash cameos were almost certainly the best parts of the film. I assume these were mostly included to make audiences excited for future interactions and films with these characters, and I have to say, I think the tactic worked. Even moreso than after Batman v Superman, I want to see Battfleck in his own feature, getting up to Batman shenanigans. Unfortunately, these cameo sequences are very brief, and front-loaded in the movie, so they don’t add much value to the film as a whole.

Overall, Suicide Squad is mostly a trainwreck. The writing, action, and editing all left a lot to be desired. The performances were hard to judge, because the cast clearly didn’t have anything here to work with. All of that said, from the perspective of pure spectacle, there is some value here. There is noise and color, and if that is what you want from a blockbuster, this is where you can find it. For anyone outside of that description who is not a die-hard DC fan, there is just no way I could recommend this film.

Green Lantern

Green Lantern

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Given the recent success of the Ryan Reynolds-led Deadpool film, as well as the true kickoff of the DC cinematic universe with Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, I have decided that it is high time to take a look at one of the most loathed comic book movies of the modern era: Green Lantern.

Green Lantern was directed by Martin Campbell, whose credits include both of the Antonio Banderas Zorro adaptations, as well as two notable James Bond films (Casino Royale and GoldenEye).

The screenplay for Green Lantern went through a number of iterations over the years, but the final writing credits were given to Michael Goldenberg (Contact), Marc Guggenheim (Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, Arrow), Michael Green (Heroes, Smallville), and Greg Berlanti (Arrow, The Flash, Supergirl). Interestingly, Greg Berlanti officially signed on to direct Green Lantern as well, but stepped down to instead direct This Is Where I Leave You, and left directing duties to Campbell.

Green Lantern was edited by Stuart Baird, a proficient and long-tenured cutter whose credits include , Tommy, The Omen, Superman, Lethal Weapon, Die Hard 2, and Skyfall, among many others.

The cinematographer for the movie was Dion Beebe, a well-regarded director of photography who is best known for movies like Collateral, Memoirs of a Geisha, Chicago, and Edge of Tomorrow.

The score for Green Lantern was provided by James Newton Howard, an 8-time Academy Award nominee who has worked on films such as Nightcrawler, Michael Clayton, The Dark Knight, Lady In The Water, The Hunger Games, Falling Down, The Sixth Sense, Collateral, Waterworld, King Ralph, and Flatliners, among many others.

The cast of Green Lantern is led by Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, who would later get married in 2012. The accessory cast is rounded out by such notables as Geoffrey Rush (The King’s Speech), Michael Clarke Duncan (Daredevil), Mark Strong (Kingsman: The Secret Service), Tim Robbins (Jacob’s Ladder), Angela Bassett (Malcolm X), and Peter Sarsgaard (Black Mass).

greenlantern2The critical response to Green Lantern was overwhelmingly negative. It currently holds an IMDb user rating of 5.6/10, alongside Rotten Tomatoes scores of 26% from critics and 45% from audiences. Commercially, the movie was ultimately profitable, but failed to come anywhere near its expectations. In total, it raked in just under $220 million on a lofty budget of $200 million.

There was a long history of trying to get a Green Lantern movie made prior to the culmination of this 2011 product. Kevin Smith was apparently approached to write a treatment in the late 1990s, and one of the film’s producers (and DC’s Chief Creative Officer) Geoff Johns was working on pitching the idea to studios as early as 2000.

Given the high profile of the film, the central roles went through a significant casting process. Some other actors considered for the lead included Sam Worthington, Bradley Cooper, Chris Pine, and Jared Leto. Many fans passionately campaigned on behalf of cult favorite star Nathan Fillion, who endeared himself to Green Lantern loyalists through a number of voice acting gigs as Hal Jordan. Likewise, the role of Sinestro could have easily gone to any one of Hugo Weaving, Jackie Earle Haley, or Geoffrey Rush, the last of whom stuck with the project in a tertiary role after Mark Strong was ultimately cast.

greenlantern3Zack Snyder was apparently approached at some point to direct the film, but decided to hold to his commitment on Watchmen instead. Of course, he would eventually become entwined with DC and Warner Brothers to create Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

In the IMDb trivia section for Green Lantern, there is a quote attributed to an anonymous insider, which indicates that the film faced significant interference from Warner Bros:

“[Green Lantern] is not Martin Campbell’s cut of the film, but the studio’s. I live in New Orleans where it was shot, I read the shooting script, all of which was painstakingly filmed with intense research, and all of that was left on the cutting room floor…character development sacrificed for CG, scenes made irrelevant by removing their setup. The movie in the theater starts with an explanation of mythos that is made redundant by the more natural, scripted questions from Hal when he gets the ring. Ten minutes of childhood Hal, Carol, and Hector that sets up Hal’s first ring construct is reduced to an awkwardly placed flashback in the middle of another scene. The training with the ring is almost completely excised except for one minor scene. Most appallingly, the ending completely deletes the fact that Kilowog, Sinestro, and Toma-Re arrive at the end and help Hal defeat Parallax. Not to mention Parallax was supposed to be a 3rd act reveal after we spend the film worried about Hammond going evil, not the main villain for the entire film. I sincerely hope we get a director’s cut or at least all the deleted scenes on the video release”.

Martin Campbell is apparently in agreement with the above statements, and has publicly stated his displeasure with the studio’s editing of the film. However, there has never been an official director’s cut of the movie released.

While most of the filming for Green Lantern was done in New Orleans, most of the exteriors and identifiable landmarks are taken from San Diego. The DC comics setting for the events is the fictional Coast City, which is located on the west coast of the United States.

This film was originally supposed to kick-off a Justice League series of films. Some early iterations of the script even included a Clark Kent cameo, which hints at a future film. However, after the negative reaction to the movie, this idea was delayed until 2013, when Man of Steel was designated to start the DC cinematic universe.

According to director Martin Campbell, Parallax’s design in the movie was inspired by the 9/11 terrorist attacks:

“The images of those massive dust clouds coming down the streets from the collapsing World Trade Center are directly associated with terror”

The line “I’ve seen you naked! You think I wouldn’t recognize you because you covered your cheekbones!” was an ad-lib by Blake Lively, and is one of only a few widely-remembered aspects of the film.

Reportedly, Ryan Reynolds and director  Martin Campbell clashed repeatedly on set. Campbell has stated in interviews that his first and only choice for the lead was Bradley Cooper, and Reynolds was cast behind his back. This lead to an uncomfortable experience on set for Reynolds, who’s performance was harshly critiqued by Campbell. Reynolds stated in a Variety interview that the failure of this film was a huge relief, and that he “dreaded doing it again.”

Personally, my issues with Green Lantern are numerous, even as someone not invested in the source material. I managed to avoid it when it first hit theaters, and just saw it for the first time prior to writing this review, so a lot of my thoughts on it are still pretty fresh.

The first notable issue with the movie is the character of Hal Jordan, who is written as an unlikable ego-case. If not for Reynolds having an undeniable natural charm, he would be an insufferable character to get behind. To boot, he doesn’t really improve as a result of the events of the movie, and is basically the same person at the conclusion that he is at the outset of the story.

In relation to this, the human aspect of the plot is really hard to care about. Partially, this is due to a bloated cast and a general lack of chemistry between the performers. However, the way the film is written and cut doesn’t emphasize the characters themselves, instead focusing on action, which makes it hard to get invested in anyone.

In spite of it all, there are some decent performances to be found in Green Lantern, primarily from Strong and Sarsgaard. However, both men receive very little screen time to develop, and don’t get the necessary room to create compelling villains. Played out well, the obsessive nature of Sarsgaard’s character might have worked out, but his infatuations and eccentricities are mostly glossed over by the film.

Perhaps the most criticized aspect of the film is the extensive use of computer generated enhancements. Not only do countless alien creatures appear in fully CGI forms, but the Green Lantern suit itself has no practical elements, and all of the effects of the ring are digitally rendered. Worse than all of that, however, are the CGI modifications made to Strong and Sarsgaard, which are cartoonishly ridiculous. Despite being mostly accurate to the source material, Sinestro still looks like a pink elf-demon when depicted in live action.

I think the filmmakers was just a wee bit overconfident in the abilities of CGI on the whole, and placed a burden upon it that the technology could really handle. This also contributed to the movie’s budget rising significantly, which surely irked Warner Brothers, and contributed to their less-than-generous editing treatment for the film.

The plot itself for Green Lantern isn’t terribly interesting: primarily, it only serves as an origin story, and provides a brief setup for a follow up. While it is necessary to introduce the characters and concepts in some way, origin stories for superheroes are always a bit formulaic, and audiences have started to fatigue on them quite a bit. I think this, as much as anything, contributed to the movie’s critical failure: the story was just too familiar.

The positives of Green Lantern are few and far between, but they aren’t totally nonexistent. However, the movie is boring above all else, and is very difficult to honestly recommend to anyone. Unless someone has a curiosity about the film or is a die hard fan of the character, there isn’t much to recommend here. It is, however, quite a compelling paragon of how not to make a modern superhero movie.