Category Archives: Comic Books

Slightly Stranger Things? A 60 second review of Dr Strange (2016)

“Forget everything that you think you know.”

After gems like Guardians, Ant Man and Deadpool, we really shouldn’t be that surprised when Marvel Studios nail a new character on their first try. Dr Strange is no exception, although there is something extra special at work here that raises it above other mediocre entries. Dare I say it, perhaps even rivalling Winter Soldier and the original Iron Man? Maybe not…

What I liked…

Visually stunning. Likening it to Inception is only highlighting how rarely playing with physics works well, which is testament to the film’s breath-taking sequences. The backdrops and set design reminded me more of Crouching Tiger than Winter Soldier. The light design and use of CGI is some of the best put to film.

The writing is the biggest win for me. The way every line of dialogue and every moment of action has a purpose drives the film forward. The amount of character development they manage to create in just one movie makes Tony Stark look like a one-trip pony. It has the wit of an Iron Man movie, but with the necessary philosophy that makes turning a stubborn academic in to a master of the arts believable.

Cumerbatch is perfect for the role. A great balance of arrogance, charm and intellect that makes the character so engrossing for the viewer. His background as a studious doctor is ideal for the transition to magic.

Casting and acting are superb. Tilda Swinton was really good, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong were a great supporting duo. Everyone is funny, sometimes too much perhaps, but the way Cumberbatch plays off of the stoic faces of Ejiofor, Swinton and Wong works really well.

What I disliked…

Have we partly been down this road before? Yes. Is it a reason to dislike the film? Probably not. Is it a valid criticism? Hmm, maybe. But when you consider how inundated we are with comic book movies, it is no surprise that some of the tropes are becoming recognisable.

Derrikson doesn’t handle the hand to hand combat scenes as well as the Russo bros. As pretty as it looks, some of the fight scenes lack the visceral quality that we have come to adore about the ol’ Cap movies.

Seems “strange” that our protagonist adamantly denies the existence of any magical elements in the world, despite the fact its set after the Avengers, with Thor, Vision, Scarlet Witch and Co regularly tearing shit up with their powers. Maybe I missed something that explained otherwise, but it feels like the good doctor would at least reference the existence of “enhanced persons”. Wong does, and the doc hardly responds.

Another lame selection of Marvel villains? I would say so. Kaecilius didn’t really develop too much as a character, and the main bad guy was very recognisable as well from previous interpretations (Green Lantern anyone?).  Perhaps more back story to the central turncoat would have made more of Mikkelsen’s talents and fleshed out a more Loki-esque antagonist to get our teeth into. Instead we are treated to a bit of a purple-eyed plot device.

Shapstik Verdict: Probably regret not seeing this in 3D at the cinema as I can only imagine how amazing some of those city-bending scenes would be. But it still shines as one of the most original and entertaining Marvel films to date. Its visuals will no doubt steal the show for many, but for me, credit goes to both Cumberbatch and the writers on this one. 7/10

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

“On behalf of the fine people of New York and real rhinos everywhere, I ask you to put your mechanized paws in the air!”

My personal litmus test for how much I have enjoyed a movie, is whether I wish to see it again within 24 hours. This is definitely the case with The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and although I could do without having to sit through the drippy teen-romance scenes starring Garfield and friends, I soon had a hankering to see the excellent supporting cast battling it out on the big screen.

A much more intelligent and less by-the-numbers Spider-Man instalment than its predecessor, Marc Webb’s second attempt at the webmeister is a potentially cluttered, but ultimately slick Marvel movie, which introduces us to some new faces as well as reinventing some seen before. It seems difficult to cover new ground in Spidey-lore when Raimi’s films are so fresh in the memory, so Webb and Kurtzman (who penned both the rebooted Star Trek films), decided to close their eyes and dip their hands into the bad-guy hat and let rip with a mix of typical villainous origin scenes that reminded me of Batman Forever. This approach is always risky as it threatens to clutter the movie with too many characters. But they are linked together well, which ensures that even when the film trips over itself with laboured metaphors and hammy lines, the movie always has an action scene ready to throw our hero’s way to ramp up the action.

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After the seriousness and slightly vanilla approach of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Garfield’s likeable hero is a refreshing change, and Webb delivers jokes and levity that borders on the outright slapstick. This almost juvenile style mostly works and keeps the story moving, even when it is mixed with some fairly unoriginal plot-lines and clichés. This comedic element is offset by the typical Marvel sequel trope of ominous threat, which is ultimately epitomised in Jamie Foxx’s show-stealing performance as the fantastic Electro (who is basically a gangster version of Darth Sidious). Dane Dehaan is also superb as Harry Osborne, as he reprises a similar role to his tortured soul in Chronicle. Weirdly, both Peter and Harry look like their namesake opposites from Raimi’s trilogy.

The inaugural internal struggle between the responsibilities of being the hero and the lover is central to the plot, although it quickly becomes tiresome when most of it has been covered in not just its predecessor but Raimi’s films as well. This is a shame considering that Stone and Garfield have developed a natural humour in front of camera together, which seems spoilt by the constantly blubbering and teen-movie moments. It is also slightly concerning that Garfield seems funnier when you can’t see his face, as the jokes are well delivered when he has donned the outfit. In other words, when The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is funny, it is really funny, when it is soppy, it is soaking wet. But thankfully, the sobering conclusion and blend of comedy and tragedy makes this a great entry into the Marvel franchise and possible one of the best Spider-Man movies to date!

Shapstik Verdict: Fun, bright and modern, but with the familiar dollop of sinister villainy so essential to comic-book sequels, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a massive step up from its predecessor. It may be slightly flabby around the waist with its overtly vain slow-motion shots and drippy romance, but it nonetheless covers mostly familiar ground in an electrifying and refreshing style, leaving most Marvel fans more than satisfied.  8/10

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?”

Not as if the big man needed it, the Russos have nonetheless grabbed the syringe and stabbed Captain Rogers straight in the arm with a heady mix of adrenaline and steroids. Straight from the start, the viewer is catapulted into a fantastic action scene, which blends the typical super-hero trope of stylistic ass-kicking, with the gritty realism needed to differentiate the great captain from other beloved Marvel heroes.

In fact, there is very little resemblance to the somewhat flatter first instalment, which acted purely as an origin story for the then upcoming Avengers movie. Instead, in typical sequel fashion, the film is darker, cooler and sexier, making it not long before you are smiling to yourself in satisfaction, as Rogers plants another size-13 boot onto the chest of another bad-guy, sending them flying off the screen. But this is not to say that this fast paced cross between Nolan’s Dark Knight action and Greengrass’s high octane and vibrant camera-work is not recognisable. The Winter Soldier still sticks to the gentle blend of humour, graphic action and the inaugural post-credits teaser, which we have come to expect from the franchise as a whole.

With the origin-story shackles removed, Rogers and his fellow Avenger Natasha Romanoff, are able to get caught up in a much more spy-infested plot that nicely blends the modern with the vintage, something that needs to be upheld in a Captain America movie. The plot reveals that involve the two story franchise powerhouses, S.H.I.E.L.D and HYDRA are somewhat predictable, but at least the decent set of villains and scene variation keeps it fresh and interesting for most of its slightly heavy running time.

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Despite some really terrific and unique action set-pieces (wait till you see Fury’s vehicular ambush), where the film possibly slips is the lack of real scene-stealing dialogue that some of the better Marvel instalments have. This makes it appealing on the eye (especially Johansson’s Portman-style Marvel make-over), but perhaps not so much on the ears. Despite this however, the ominous tone to the whole picture ensures its decent-sequel status remains and it will no doubt please audiences across the board.

Evans, Johansson and a terrific supporting cast have not just upped the Captain America stakes, the Russos have also pushed the boundaries yet again of what Marvel action sequences can entail with the right imagination and ingenuity. Throw in some nicely sinister antagonists such as Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce, and one of Jackson’s more involved roles as the ambiguous Nick Fury, and Winter Soldier stands out as a rampantly involved sequel in a potentially cluttered super hero world.

Shapstik Verdict: Fantastic fight scenes, high-octane bullet-laden action and a terrific set of familiar and new characters, means that Captain America: The Winter Soldier will hit the ground running as one of Marvel’s better second phase instalments. However, after the umpteenth choreographed fight scene between the chisel-jawed captain and bad guy cannon fodder, the most ardent sceptic may just allow themselves the question: Is this really anything I haven’t seen before? The answer maybe be mostly no, but this should not retract from a fantastic looking, slick action film that has injected new life into the under-appreciated super-hero. 8/10

The Best and Worst of Marvel Cinema

After reviewing Thor: The Dark World, I felt it might be a great idea to look back over nearly three decades of Marvel-based movie action. Starting with Howard the Duck way back in 1986 (I know, I still can’t believe that was Marvel), through to the present-day bombardment of sequels, prequels and spin-offs that have inundated the cinemas in recent years. Not that this is a bad thing. I enjoy nearly all the attempts at capturing our favourite heroes, if only for their originality and invention. I also believe that despite all the negativity that surrounds the use of CGI in 21st century cinema, comic book adaptations proudly display the benefits of this technology and show some true creativity by blending live action with graphics in a way that can tingle the senses and leave you hungry for more.

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As you can probably tell by now I am a big fan of this well established, yet still young, genre that has taken hold of this generation. It has such a grip in fact, that the next few years are already mapped out with comic-book entries for the cinema goer in a way never seen before. This can either leave a bitter taste of predictability in your mouth, or have you gnawing at your nails in anticipation.

Although Marvel films have given us some great moments over the years, with over thirty movies in total there were bound to be some absolute stinkers, hanging on to the coat-tails of the Marvel name like a beggar on Wall Street. In fact, Marvel movies range from the pretty disastrous to the well-loved and respected. I therefore thought I would run down a few of each, just to jog the memory banks and get some of you salivating for the upcoming releases:

The Best: Iron Man (2008)

Rotten rating: 93%

Directed by Joan Favreau / Starring Robert Downey Jr, Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeff Bridges

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A film that catapulted Robert Downey Jr’s career and transformed the public’s perception of him as a talented supporting actor, to infectious and likeable lead, almost overnight. Although there is no doubt the film would not be the same without the wit and quick delivery of Tony Stark, self-proclaimed genius, billionaire, playboy and philanthropist all rolled in to one, credit must be also given to Favreau’s ability to never allow the film to falter, delivering relentless twists and turns that are a joy to watch. This film has become a template for Marvel origin stories and proves that the perfect recipe can often come from the least expected places.

The Worst: Ghost Rider (2007)

Rotten rating: 26%

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson / Starring Nicholas Cage and Eva Mendes

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You know a film is bad when Nicholas Cage is arguably the best thing about it, and probably makes it about watchable. Ok, so that is slightly harsh on Cage, but at the same time Ghost Rider stands out as a wasted opportunity to bring to life one of comic books’ most revered characters. A bad-ass skull in constant flames, riding an even more bad-ass motorbike, what could possible go wrong? Try wooden dialogue, predictable plot-lines and almost no character development, that’s what. Ghost Rider proves that using CGI correctly has become a modern art form in film-making and it fails in every way to deliver.

The Best: Thor (2011)

Rotten rating: 77%

Directed by Kenneth Branagh / Starring Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and Natalie Portman

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I have watched this film more times than any other Marvel movie, despite it being clearly inferior to several of its counterparts. Why? Because I have never seen a cast enjoy their fictional roles so freely and colourfully as the array of talent on display in Thor. From the stalwart Anthony Hopkins, owning the stage and bellowing theatrically at his sons, to the extremely gifted young duo of Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston, locked in a ancient struggle for power and glory. As a viewer, the earth-bound scenes, laden with comedy, cuteness and conspiracy are interlaced so creatively with the action, theatre and magic of the Asgaard scenes it is almost painful to watch. This film has everything a Marvel movie needs, including Natalie Portman.

The Worst: Dare Devil (2003)

Rotten rating: 45%

Directed by Mark Steven Johnson / Starring Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner and Colin Farrell

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Before the disappointing Ghost Rider, and the even more disappointing Elektra, Mark Steven Johnson made his name as the unreliable Marvel-movie-maker when he dressed up Ben Affleck in a red suit and turned him into Dare Devil. Not only does this film let down the fans, but it is also the main reason behind the mounting scepticism surrounding Affleck’s appointment as the new Batman in the upcoming DC instalment. It is unambitious, littered with continuity errors and is instantly forgettable. One can only hope Affleck does a better job at playing the hero with a different director at the helm.

The Best: Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Rotten rating: 92%

Directed by Joss Whedon / Starring Robert Downey Jr, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo and Scarlett Johnasson

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Some franchise instalments, especially sequels of any kind, often fall victim to their own success and unwisely clutter the film by introducing too many main characters or supporting actors. But in this Marvellous assemble, most background and origin stories have already been established through the respective previous films. This meant that Whedon was able to allow the characters to clash heads and rub their already inflated egos against each other to make some of the funniest and tensest moments in Marvel movie history. Each character injects the screen with their own unique values, beliefs and motives, making it pivotal to the film that their cohesion succeeds. This itself makes the film great. But throw in some of the best action sequences ever involving our Marvel heroes and you have a movie that without doubt has raised the bar on what is possible in the comic-book genre.

The Worst: Howard the Duck (1986)

Rotten rating: 15%

Directed by Willard Huyck / Starring Lea Thompson, Jeffrey Jones and Tim Robbins

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Perhaps if more people had noticed that George Lucas was executive producer on this film, or in fact had anything to do with it, then maybe we would have seen those infamous Star Wars prequels coming. Howard the Duck, although in some perverse way enjoyable, lacks any real direction and instead reverts to diving into the deep end of the sleaze pool with crass jokes and regular exposure of female flesh (which probably explains why most men remember this film more fondly than they should). Although based on a Marvel comic, the film makes very little effort to create a real hero, and instead we are treated to a string of typical eighties comedy tropes. Howard the Duck succeeds so well at being poor, it almost deserves some credit.

The Best: X-Men: First Class (2011)

Rotten rating: 87%

Directed by Matthew Vaughn / Starring James McAvoy, Michael Fasssbender and Kevin Bacon

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It was always going to take some very talented individuals to better the original casting of Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen as Charles Xavier and Magneto. Thankfully, McAvoy and Fassbender go beyond just stealing the show, they make the film what it is. Fassbender especially, strikes a surprisingly emotive tone to the Magneto persona that really makes his saga-defining motives understandable and translatable. Although the film has a sprinkling of cheese, montages and super-hero clichés, it never stops surprising and has some of the best action sequences in any X-Men film. Not only did this film re-invigorate the franchise, but it also put some much needed meat on the bones of the already established heroes and villains of the X-Men franchise.

The Worst: X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Rotten rating: 38%

Directed by Gavin Hood / Starring Hugh Jackman, Liev Schreiber and Danny Huston

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Although X-Men Origins: Wolverine has its moments, there is something very uncool about this film. From the predictable plot-lines and nauseatingly repetitive fights, through to the “walking away from an explosion whilst looking angry” shot, which is unforgivably unoriginal in the scheme of things. Jackman and Schreiber cannot be blamed however, as they both undoubtedly give their all to portray the fierce rivalry that defined the origin of this most iconic of heroes. I actually quite enjoyed the final fight sequence with the engineered superhero villain and much of the acting is top notch. But unlike the other X-Men films, this film lacks any real drama, intensity or supporting cast, and instead falls flat on its face scene after scene.

Honourable mentions

The Best:

 Iron Man 3 (2013), Blade (1998), Spiderman 2 (2004), X2 (2003), The IncredibleHulk (2008), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The Worst:

 Iron Man (2010), The Amazing Spiderman (2012), Fantastic Four (2005), BladeTrinity (2004). Hulk (2003)

If you liked this, check out my Best and Worst of DC Cinema!

The Best and Worst of DC Cinema

As the two heavyweights of DC Cinema are seemingly destined to converge in the slightly anxiously awaited Batman vs Superman clash, it seemed a good idea to look back over the DC-based movies that have graced our screens over the years. Apart from the mostly successful Nolan trilogy, the twenty-first century has been dominated by the rise of the Marvel movie franchise. But this was not always the case. The twentieth century was in fact almost completely dominated by DC’s caped duo, whom gave us some of the greatest of comic book memories.

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Starting all the way back in 1966 with the unsung satire of Batman the Movie , the DC universe has given us quite a selection of weird and wonderful heroes, from Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing  to the gun-toting  Jonah Hex  . As with my Marvel post, I have picked a handful of my favourites to reminisce over, as well as choosing some films from DC’s generous collection of poor flicks. These disastrous instalments have the power to single-handedly stall the development of a comic book hero and turn them into a poisoned chalice overnight. You may spot one or two of these franchise-killers below, which remind us all that every hero takes a wrong turn now and again:

The Best: The Dark Knight (2008)

Rotten rating: 94% 

Directed by Chistopher Nolan / Starring Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart and Maggie Gyllenhaal

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Could it be said that The Dark Knight’s popularity is completely reliant on the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the infamous villain The Joker? Or would Nolan’s vivid style and almost trailer-like plot speed have been enough to make this arguably the most loved out of all of Nolan’s films? I guess we can never know. But one thing is for sure, despite Batman Begins being an excellent origin story with great characters, it was The Dark Knight that really gave audiences what they craved, and launched the popularity of both Nolan and the whole rekindled Batman franchise.

Even The Dark Knight’s frustrating coincidences and plot holes (a problem taken too far in the Dark Knight Rises ), gave the movie a distinctively comic character, which was as unpredictable as it was exciting. The film oozes such a clinical style that it easily allows the fascinating array of characters on display to shine through and dominate the film. But let’s be honest, it was Ledger’s Joker that stopped everyone in their tracks and created a truly memorable moment in comic-book cinema.

The Worst: Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987)

Rotten rating: 9% 

Directed by Sidney J. Furie / Starring Christopher Reeve, Gene Hackman and Mark Pillow

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This film had the unerring ability to look older than the original film, despite being nearly a decade newer. Even Gene Hackman, whom defined the role of Lex Luthor, struggled to cope with a lazy script and an unconvincing motive. This ridiculous goal is to defeat Superman by creating a villain with equal strength and power…Nuclear Man! Unfortunately, this transparent anti-war message never made it out of the screen. Instead, we are treated to an uncomfortable Mark Pillow, in a horrible gold outfit, frowning and pacing around trying to look threatening. Which all leads to the question: why would Lex Luthor, the self-proclaimed greatest criminal mind of the twentieth century, be stupid enough to create a villain who is completely reliant on solar power?

The movie is so tragically bad, the special effects so poorly executed and the acting performances so lacklustre, that it made 1983’s Superman III look much better than first thought. At least Pryor’s wit and enthusiasm gave the film a heart beat, and it stuck to its guns of favouring fast-paced humour over science fiction. But Quest for Peace displayed a complete lack of respect for the most revered of comic-book heroes, and leaves an unforgivably bitter taste in the mouth with every watch.

The Best: Watchmen (2009)

Rotten rating: 64% 

Directed by Zack Snyder / Starring Malin Akerman, Billy Crudup, Matthew Goode and Patrick Wilson

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Do not let the fairly modest rating fool you, Watchmen is expertly crafted, acted and the imagery and style is unforgettable. Fans of the comic will also find the layering and character depth very appealing in its adherence to lore and literature. Unfortunately, those used to the quick firing nature of The Dark Knight and company, will find it a slight chore to sit through, and it borders on the anti-climatic. Admittedly, it does lack the action and succinctness needed to make it a comic-cook great, but as an adaptation, it succeeds where others have failed.

It goes without saying that the heroes themselves tell their own story, and the blurred lines between good and evil are epitomised in the violent comedian. Dr Manhattan and his loss of human nature is also one of the more fascinating plot-lines in the movie, and we only get a tantalising glimpse of his potential as a comic-book hero. But Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach is by far my favourite character, with his metaphoric, menacing mask and skewed morals. His gravelly and slightly witty narration also tells a gripping detective story so well, that it ties the film together.

The Worst: Batman and Robin (1997)

Rotten rating: 12% 

Directed by Joel Schumacher / Starring George Clooney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chris O’Donnell and Uma Thurman

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If Joel Schumacher intended this film to be ridiculous, camp, pun-ridden, uncomfortable and almost impossible to watch, then mission accomplished. It could almost be understandable for someone to make a vague connection between the original series and its tongue in cheek humour with this disaster, if it wasn’t for the heap of cheap characters and shoddy script overloading the screen.

The film was so bad, it discredited the Batman franchise leaving it crippled for years. Clooney himself admitted that the movie did not work and on screen, he constantly looks as if he would like the earth to swallow him up. Even Schwarzenegger, who gives his all as Mr Freeze, cannot bring to life a laughable villain, who would look more at home in a Disney movie. I cannot help but feel that in some way we all owe Schumacher some gratitude, as he showed the world how not  to make a comic-book movie, and perhaps we are all better for it.

The Best: Superman II (1981)

Rotten rating: 89% 

Directed by Richard Lester and Richard Donner / Starring Christopher Reeve, Terence Stamp, Margot Kidder and Gene Hackman

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Why do I prefer this sequel to the original and epic landmark film, which had set such a high standard for comic book films for years to come? In a word, Zod. Terence Stamp completely steals the show and gave the man of steel his first real challenge in the defence of his foster planet. Lester and Donner’s film also kept the original casting and Gene Hackman is both fascinating and hilarious as he attempts to lever himself in-between the fuelling kryptonians.

The attack of the three criminals on earth comes at such a crucial time in the movie. Just as Superman has abandoned his powers, and gotten his ass handed to him in a fight, Zod appears on television and declares rule over the earth. This becomes the moment that our hero realises that he can never stop being Superman. Although not perfect by any means, Superman II is still one of those comic-book movies that has everything you want and more.

The Worst: Catwoman (2004)

Rotten rating: 9% 

Directed by Jean-Christophe ‘Pitof’ Comar / Starring Halle Berry, Sharon Stone and Benjamin Bratt

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After a seven year wait for another DC-themed movie since the disastrous Batman and Robin , it seemed like a fresh and dynamic start was needed to spark a new era. Unfortunately, it would be another year before the huge relief that was Nolan’ s brilliant origin story. In the meantime, Jean Christophe Comar would unwisely attempt to retell the tale of the infamous comic book feline, and use up all nine lives in the process.

Apart from the leather outfit, which is by far the best thing about the film, there is very little to fall in love with. Berry does her best to disguise the awkwardly sexualised moments of direction and Sharon Stone makes an empty villain despite being a fairly intriguing antagonist in the plot. Catwoman proves that if you are going to make the brave move of treading familiar ground, then you had better get it puurrrfect. Sorry. 

The Best: Batman (1989)

Rotten rating: 71% 

Directed by Tim Burton / Starring Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson and Kim Basinger

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There has never been a comic-book identity so well imprinted in cinema history than Tim Burton’s vision of a dark, yet somehow colourful Gotham City. The haunting soundtrack just accentuates the brooding vision and Keaton’s quiet and intelligent performance is only outshone by Nicholson as the joker. It is full of excellent character-based dialogue that etches classic lines straight from screen to movie lore. It also catapulted the Dark Knight’s journey to become the most frequently revisited DC hero in movie history.

Some will consider Batman Returns to be better and understandably so. Keaton is even better as Batman and the introduction and integration of so many characters simultaneously actually works for once. But for me the original film quite literally stamped a mark for both Burton and the caped crusader, and had all kids my age gathering in small groups in the corner of the playground swapping Batman stickers for the next twelve months.

The Worst: Green Lantern (2011)

Rotten rating: 26% 

Directed by Martin Campbell / Starring Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively and Peter Sarsgaard

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Ok, so Green Lantern is not the worst film in the world, and I was very close to putting 1984’s Supergirl in this spot. But whereas Helen Slater’s super-sister is just a poor film throughout, Ryan Reynolds and company get fairly close to making it work. There is just no time spent on developing any of the characters and it turns flat, noisy and repetitive quicker than you can say Parallax.

Personally, I find a wasted opportunity like this much more disheartening than an all-round terrible film, as it is such a shame. Especially since Reynolds is clearly having a lot of fun, and the action is enjoyable when it gets it right. Above all, it is sad to see a film with such potential and fan base, turn into another example of a hero falling at the first hurdle. That is until a decent Justice League assemble, at which point I think Reynolds will have enough to rise again as the Green Lantern. 

Thor: The Dark World (2013)

“All this because Loki desires a throne…”

Marvel fans around the world celebrated when Chris Hemsworth again picked up his hammer, put on his red cape and very nicely trimmed his beard to reprise his role of the very popular Thor . This time however, as well as reuniting with the old cast, he is directed by Game of Thrones’ Alan Taylor, and joined by Christopher Eccleston, who plays the ancient elvish villain Malekith. This epic Marvel instalment has some visually stunning settings and some hilarious moments. It is also more ambitious and perhaps involves the characters more deeply in universal events than does its predecessor. But although it still holds onto the successful recipe of humour and action that made the first film so great, I felt it lacked the succinct, ethereal cohesion and character-based plot that is so important in order to transform the magical and surreal to something we can all relate to. Instead, I found the film simply jumped between badly times jokes and familiar action awkwardly, and I could even say that I was fairly bored at more than one point in the film.

The first film was successful, like Avengers , because the people were the plot. The story was about our hero, Thor, learning lessons and becoming a worthy king in the eyes of his father. In The Dark World , the ideas and tropes created in the first film are simply repeated and slightly tweaked in order to cushion the fall of the ambitious, but slightly pointless plot. I say pointless, because at no point does the viewer feel like the earth is in any real danger. This is of course expected, it is a superhero movie after all, but that is exactly why the characters themselves must take centre stage, even for a sequel. For me, Thor: The Dark World has made the same mistake Iron Man 2 did, which is to simply regurgitate and hope that the cranked-up plot holds the film up.

This sequel clearly had more money to play with, but instead of the mystical, magical realm of Asgard, we are treated to a re-hash of Rivendell from Jackson’s epic trilogy. This may sound harsh, but it all leads to a feeling of compliance, rather than the unique combination of science and magic that led me to favour Thor over several other Marvel movie heroes. I do not mind nods to other films if done delicately, and in the new interconnected world of Marvel it is in some ways necessary, but The Dark World snatches directly from Thor so frequently, the viewer could, and should, feel slightly robbed of the film’s initial promise. 

The acting is of the standard we should all expect from this talented group, but unfortunately the actual characters are all watered-down versions of their former selves. Heindell for instance, once a powerful, intimidating all-seeing guardian, is turned into a fairly normal Asgardian that chin-wags with Thor at the bar. Not only this, but his role is made close to obsolete by his inability to see the enemy. Even Anthony Hopkins, who attempts to add drama to a transparent script, struggles to create tension as every character “gets on” due to the importance of tying up the plot into a Marvel shaped bow. As far as new faces are concerned, Eccleston does well in his role of Malekith, but unfortunately he is not given the time to develop a character that acts more like a puppet in an over-complicated story.

It would be unfair to suggest that this film was a disaster (despite the fact I have spent the entire review ranting about its failures as a Marvel movie), or even to say it was anything less than watchable. But when you are so familiar with what fun can be drawn out of comic book heroes, it becomes galling and disappointing to see a film with such potential missing out by neglecting such fundamental necessities.

Shapstik verdict: I may be swimming upstream with this review, as it stands at around eighty percent on most consensus review sites, but for me the film lacks the originality that its setting suggests. I cannot help but feel a more character-based plot, with the introduction of a more believable villain, would have avoided the disappointing feeling of Thor-ing out after the ice-cool first movie. 5/10

Man of Steel (2013)

“You are weak, Son of El”

All the superhero fans out there that quite rightly drooled and slobbered over the slick, star-studded super-fest Avengers Assemble, will be pleased to know that the DC Comics side of superhero folklore has fallen in line. It uses the same combat style, camera work and interstellar interaction that make the superhero universe so special. But fear not as Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer have stepped in to stop too much tomfoolery and have injected the Superman franchise with the dark, moody and introvert style of Batman Begins. Unfortunately, Man of Steel lacks the character development and original intrigue of Batman and is missing the cutting edge humour and dialogue of Avengers. It never really gets any momentum going and, when it does, one is almost instantly desensitised to the action as fight scenes are repeated and laboured. Objects and ships fall out of the sky so much that the population of Metropolis spend most of the movie rubbing their necks from craning up at the sky in awe and wonder. Even the main cast have a slightly despairing demeanour by the end as they too look tired from the relentless onslaught of action.

After a painfully lengthy introduction of our saviour’s origins, and a decent turn by Russell Crowe as Jor’El, we discover (as if we did not already know) that Krypton is doomed and our hero is sent to Earth by his father in order that he survives. Although banished to the phantom zone along with his comrades for an attempted coup before Krypton’s destruction, Zod vows to Kal’El’s mother that he will hunt down and destroy her son. Fortunately, due to an ill-considered tracking beacon attached to Superman’s ship, Zod is able to find him just as he begins to consider revealing himself to our green planet. What this means is that the discovery of Superman’s true abilities are muted by the almost simultaneous arrival of Zod and his cronies. This would be passable if there were some original avenues to display Superman’s talent but unfortunately our hero seems to run out of ideas quicker than our director. Even despite Superman Returns’ flaws, at least it attempted new ways of portraying super powers, or at least his ways of using them. His rescue of a passenger plane and his technique of hovering above the planet to listen into radio waves come to mind. It is just not as shocking to see a man fly when nearly everyone has that ability in the most recent superhero movies. Therefore, it takes either a smashing story of the ilk of Iron-man, or the clever use of characters in Batman and Avengers. Man of Steel has neither.

On the plus side the cast is well chosen and Henry Cavill will, I am sure, be superb in any possible Justice League appearances when somebody with a more accomplished superhero ideal comes to the reigns. There are also some very cool weapons and terraforming techniques adopted by Zod towards the end that make full use of the latest sound effects and CGI. But Man of Steel lacks rhythm, suspense, characters and more importantly the right attitude to make these films work. It is not a case of back to the drawing board. It is more a case of Superman looking the next bad guy he encounters in the eye and requesting that they stop all this nonsense fighting and talk it over.

Shapstik verdict: A moderately admirable attempt at reinventing the most iconic of heroes. But Man of Steel lacks the intensity and pace of its contemporaries and ends up a mix of action and sentiment, becoming not the first superhero movie to be genre confused. 5/10