Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Social Network

Just caught this film on DVD, having missed it while it was in theatres.


Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Armie Hammer, Josh Pence
Directed by: David Fincher
Relativity Media/Trigger Street Productions, Dist. Columbia Pictures

When news that this film would be made was first released, the internet was aflutter - but mainly with skepticism. The names seemed solid enough - David Fincher as director, Aaron Sorkin as the scribe, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross scoring - but, understandably, everyone asked "how would one make a movie about Facebook? Who's going to watch that?"

The thing is, The Social Network is not about Facebook. It's perhaps like saying Raiders of the Lost Ark was about the Ark of the Convenant. We all know "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was about Indiana Jones, Marion Ravenwood, Belloq, Thot...but lest I digress, the genesis the success of this movie is in deciding the route to take.

The film is based upon the book "The Accidental Billionaires", by Ben Mezrich. Mezrich has had another of his books turned into a film before, and that film was the awful 21. That's the thing - when I heard of 21, I desperately wanted it to be something like The Social Network turned out to be.

Spurned by his ex-girlfriend (Rooney Mara), gifted but very unlikable Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg (Eisenberg) spitefully creates “facemash”, a website to rate the appearance of the campus femmes. And so begins his rollercoaster journey to becoming Time magazine’s 2010 Person of the Year and the second-youngest billionaire alive (Dustin Mokowitz, the first programmer and coder for Facebook, is eight days older than Zuckerberg) His best friend Eduardo Saverin (Garfield), the affluent and influential twins Tyler and Cameron Winklevoss (Armie Hammer, Josh Pence as stand-in) and freewheeling and charismatic Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) all become chess pieces in the grandmaster's game – and pieces will fall off the board.

David Fincher is known for being able to spin engaging yarns that affect on a psychological level, and pull audiences along for the ride. The Social Network is no different. From the get-go, it's a kinetic, mile-a-minute experience, akin to watching a high-quality action film - only that there's not one explosion in The Social Network. With a screenplay like Aaron Sorkin's, it doesn't need any at all.

"The Social Network" is slick and a complete filmgoing experience - it feels like a great amount of effort was put into every aspect of production. Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield carry the film ably, natch, and have immediately become hot commodities in Hollywood - the former nominated for a Best Actor Oscar (up against the likes of Colin Firth and Jeff Bridges), the latter the new Spider-Man. Indeed, Garfield gave off a strong Peter Parker-type vibe, changing my early opinions about The Amazing Spider-Man (after seeing that horrid costume).

Stylistically and aesthetically, the film is pretty much perfect, glamourous and sexy – Director of Photography and Fincher alum (from Fight Club) Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography is smooth and cool, the film fashioning itself as an exclusive inside look behind the scenes, giving us hoi polloi a peek at the world of sex, drugs and money surrounding Facebook’s genesis. However, that’s the thing – it looks too pretty to feel like it’s based on a true story. Indeed, most of the film does feel like conjecture, but it doesn’t matter because it tells a good story. The Social Network probably didn’t set out to be a documentary anyway.

I feel that Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg turns out to be one of the greatest screen villains of all time, in the company of the likes of Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter, Heath Ledger’s Joker, and Malcolm McDowell’s Alex. I'm in no position to say if the real-life Zuckerberg is indeed anything like this portrayal, but either way Eisenberg did an astounding job. When characters who display traits of Asperger’s Syndrome feature in movies, they’re usually very nice deep down, or quirky and odd but likable. Zuckerberg as portrayed here is anything but – ruthless, cold, incredibly intelligent and with barely a shred of sympathetic quality until the very end of the film and Eisenberg nails all these qualities in this intense and absorbing turn.

The way the film presents it, the only true “good guy” swimming in the sea of sharks is Eduardo Saverin, as played by Garfield – probably because the real-life Saverin was the only member of the Facebook team who served as consultant to author Ben Mezrich. Still, Garfield is charming, real and puts his game face on to tackle the screenplay, and wins.

The supporting cast is strong, including Justin Timberlake’s suave, self-assured turn as Napster founder Sean Parker. Timberlake is a better actor than given credit for, but he can only play one type of role well. Good thing then that Sean Parker is exactly that kind of role.

However, I do question the decision to have Armie Hammer portray both Winklevoss twins, his visage digitally pasted onto body double Josh Pence to achieve the effect. Sure the CGI looks almost flawless, but it does sometimes (blasphemous as it sounds) remind one of any of the awful Eddie Murphy comedies where he insists on playing both characters. Hammer is a decent actor, but try as he might he was unable to sell the idea of two separate characters who look and sound alike but are otherwise individuals.

Aaron Sorkin, master of the “walk-and-talk” genre as displayed in The West Wing, gives us a “run-and-talk” instead, his screenplay demonstrating incredibly brisk and astute pacing, throwing in the right amount of technobabble so we can tenuously believe the computer know-how that went into creating the website, and also developing compelling, complex characters that you just can’t look away from.

Ultimately, the film is much like a modern-day retelling of Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” – of how a brilliant, misunderstood and possibly evil genius created a monster, a monster that escaped his control, granting him fame and fortune by way of invading the lives of 600 million people around the world – and for so effectively getting such a frightening reality to take strong roots in the minds of such a mass audience, The Social Network is exceedingly praiseworthy.


Jedd Jong

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

11 Movie Releases in 2011 You Probably Didn't See Coming

It still is the beginning of the year, and I have to hop on the bandwagon before it's too late to roll out any more of these previews. Thumbing through a list of "101" upcoming films this year, there were all the usual suspects; the movies everyone is looking forward to and has been waiting for - you know, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, Green Lantern, Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, Transformers: Dark of the Moon (gosh, that's not even gramatically correct), Sherlock Holmes: The Game of Shadows and so on.

A new version of The Three Musketeers, directed by Paul WS Anderson (the Resident Evil guy), starring Logan Lerman, Christoph Waltz, Mads Mikkelsen and Milla Jovovich, and filmed in 3D. Yes, really.

Then, there are movies that you never saw coming.

Or at least I never saw coming.

These include obscure/unnecessary/long-in-the-tooth sequels/prequels/spinoffs, interesting and original concepts, star vehicles one probably might not expect, and unlikely actor-and-animal pairings - Jim Carrey looking after penguins, Morgan Freeman a dolphin conservationist and Matt Damon buying a zoo, anybody?

A lot of these films have been flying under the radar, but it's probably because the hype and publicity that, say, "Animals United 3D" might bring would probably be dwarfed by the public's hunger for the afore-mentioned superhero/blockbuster juggernauts.

Now, I'm sure the filmgoing public have heard of some or not all of the films below, but several of these just really, really surprised me, and I thought I'd put a list out. On one end of the spectrum, you have overwhelming evidence in the case for Hollywood's Good Idea Epidemic - it didn't occur to anyone that we don't need more Alvin and the Chipmunks movies? - and on the other, you have ideas that are so intriguing and original, they might fly right off the cliff, or become great big sleeper hits.

And here they are, in no particular order (apart from alphabetical, I suppose)

It's hard to find posters or even promotional stills of some of these films as many are a long way off - I didn't even see any photos with animals at all for that Matt Damon zoo movie. All photographs are used purely for the use of illustration only, and all release dates are for US wide releases, and may be subject to change if too many people get injured in bizarre freak accidents during the test screenings.

(August 12 release)

Two criminals kidnap a pizza delivery boy and force him to rob banks for them, with a time bomb set to go off in 30 minutes strapped to his chest, in this film directed by Ruben Fleischer (of Zombieland fame) and produced by MTV films. As with all the films below (okay, some of them) it's impossible to make any judgements this early in the game, but I will say it sounds like one of those horribly dim-witted action-comedies - that is until you discover the pizza delivery boy is played by Jesse Eisenberg. Yes, the now-Academy Award-nominated star of The Social Network. Ticking bomb career suicide or brilliant left field move? Only time will tell.

(December 16 Release)
Anyone who knows me can vouch for the fact that I often complain about movies I have not watched, books I have not read, videogames I have not played, and the taste of chipmunks I have not eaten. In my defense, I value my sanity. I do enjoy watching big dumb movies, if they are at least fun.  I wager that a third Alvin and the Chipmunks film is not fun for anyone over the age of 6 and a half. This movie puts the chipmunks and the chipettes on a luxury cruise ship and then maroons them somewhere. By all means, put these critters on a luxury cruise ship - but don't let it shipwreck. Let it sink.

(September 2 Release)

Zoe Saldana is back, she's gotten rid of the motion-capture suit, and she's doing what she does best - kicking ass. In this action flick, she plays a cold and dangerous assassin, hardened by the murder of her parents when she was a child in Bogota, Colombia. During the day, she's a hit-woman for hire - but at night, she's a murderous vigilante out to feed some hot lead to the mobsters responsible for her parents' death. Produced by Luc Besson and directed by Olivier Megaton (of Transporter 3 infamy), this looks like it could be fun - but really the only thing going for it is their lead actress, in what looks like a reprisal of her role in The Losers. The plot does sound like a "if Batman could KILL!" scenario, and really why does Saldana need to do movies like this after appearing in the highest-grossing film of all time, and in a rebirthed sci-fi movie franchise?

(September 16 Release)
The words "Dolphin", "Tale" and "3D" in this film's title probably lost it an audience comparable to the number of dolphins slaughtered by Japanese whalers every year. This sounds like another sad, Finding Nemo-ripoff - but it's based on a true story. And it's a live-action film. And it stars Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Harry Connick Jr. and Kris Kristofferson. Whoa, back up. This is about a baby dolphin who lost its tail (ah, the title takes on a darkly humorous angle now) in a crab trap, and is found by a young boy. Harry Connick Jr plays the vet, Ashley Judd the boy's mother, Morgan Freeman a doctor who invents a prosthetic tail for the eponymous dolphin, and Kristofferson the vet's dad. It's like How To Train Your Dragon, but with dolphins! I'll be honest - I am not writing this one off yet, it could be good.

(October 7 release)
Johnny English is one of those films that everyone wants a sequel to - at least, I as a ten-year-old wanted a sequel to it. Sure, it's nothing groundbreaking, but it was a parody with a plot, a budget, John Malkovich as a French madman and benefitting from Rowan Atkinson's physical comedy prowess. It also reminded me a bit of the late Leslie Nielsen's turn in Spy Hard and the Naked Gun movies. However, after two or three years, it looked like it wasn't going to happen. But now, eight years after the release of the first film, bumbling MI7 agent Johnny English has returned, and is living in a Tibetian cave in self-exile after messing up a job in Mozambique. However, he is called out of hiding to foil an assassination attempt on the Chinese Premier, and he's dragged along with him Gillian Anderson and Rosamund Pike. Agent Scully? Miranda Frost? Also, Johnny English was an infantile character to begin with - I would hate to see him being "reborn".

(March 18 release)

Okay, this one you probably have heard of, because it is less than a month away from being released. Based on Alan Glynn's novel "The Dark Fields", it has a fairly interesting concept - a slacker is given a miracle pill that unlocks the full potential of his brain, granting him superhuman intelligence, prescience and in turn success, wealth and women. However, a shady business mogul wants to know his secret- and will stop at nothing to discover it. Bradley Cooper plays the slacker-turned-genius, and recent recipient of the Cecile B. Demille Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes, Robert De Niro, is the business mogul. This looks like an interesting film, but doesn't seem like it will be more than an above-average techno-thriller. Still, it's good to see Bradley Cooper using that charm in something other than a comedy (he has more range than people give him credit for) and Robert De Niro in a film that does not co-star Billy Crystal, Eddie Murphy or Ben Stiller. Maybe he took the miracle drug and wised up.

(June 17 release)
Whoops, wrong photo...
that's better.
If there's one thing I've learnt from watching movies, it's that the biggest and most lucrative stars of today's film aren't the likes of Will Smith, Angelina Jolie or Tom Cruise - they are the flightless birds of the order Sphenisciformes, family Spheniscidae. March of the Penguins, Happy Feet, Surf's Up, Madagascar...they're like what dinosaurs once were to the movies. Jurassic Park, this is a reserved space, The Land Before Time, your 15 minutes are up...move over for the penguins. Starring Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino and Angela Lansbury, this is an adaptation of the beloved 1938 childrens' book. However, I don't know how one could stretch that into a meaningful 90 minutes - it's like making a movie adaptation of Make Way for the Ducklings. This could sink, or swim quickly away from the film critics comparable to hungry orcas, leopard seals, and boat chefs on Antarctic expeditions. I admit the joke was in poor taste, but the penguins weren't all that tasty either.

8. NOW
(October 28 release)
Much like Limitless, Source Code and The Adjustment Bureau, this is an alternative-science fiction film with an interesting twist. In the future, one can "buy" extra years to live, physically stay at the age of 25, and become effectively immortal. However, only the rich can afford this - everyone else has to fight through life desperately trying to "earn" an extra day at a time. Since everyone will look 25, this boasts a sexy cast: Justice Timberlake, Amanda Seyfried, Cillian Murphy, Olivia Wilde, Matthew Bomer, Alex Pettyfer... This may end up looking like a slick and pretty billboard, but it has the potential to become a cult sci-fi cornerstone of sorts. It was originally called I'm.mortal, which sounds like a pretentious Kanye West rap album, but does sound better than the rather blah title they're using now. That is to say "Now" is the title they are now using. 

(October 7 release) 
There exist in this world many pretty bizarre films - movies about stealing dreams, single-handedly bankrupting Las Vegas casinos, supervillains armed with laser-beam-equipped space satellites, tragic drug-users and their psychedelic mindtrippin', awkward nerds who become champion fighters or superheroes and most of all, movies that pair Adam Sandler with Kate Beckinsale, Salma Hayek, Brooklyn Decker or Emmanuelle Chriqui. However, this is probably as bizarre as it gets. Based on a 1956 sci-fi tale by Richard Matheson, Real Steel is about a future where robots have replaced humans as boxing champions, and a washed-out former prize fighter played by Hugh Jackman has salvage his pride and train a robot to win a championship. Transformers meets Cinderella Man and starring Wolverine. Like many of the other films on this list, this really could swing either way. Ding ding ding, place your bets. 

(October 14 release)
What thing? This thing? Or that thing? Or the other thing? Be more specific, please. This film is a prequel to 1982's science-fiction blood-and-gore horror masterpiece The Thing (they have a legacy of not being specific, speaking of which, who is they?) , directed by John Carpenter and starring Keith David and Kurt Russell. About a parasitic alien monster who attacks unwitting researchers in an Antarctic research station, taking on the appearance of those it kills and creating paranoia amongst its next victims. This Hollywood-Norewegian co-production probably sets the record for "prequel that takes place the least amount of time before the events of the original movie" - a mere three days earlier. Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton and Eric Christian Olsen star as (very likely) ill-fated palaeontologists who discover the horrific alien life form. It was originally slated for a March release, but has been pushed back to October to facilitate reshoots that will improve on...somethings. 

(December 23 release) '
Like "A Dolphin's Tale 3D", this film is based on an inspirational true story involving animals, except instead of marine mammal limb-replacement technology, We Bought a Zoo is about the most unlikely real estate investment ever. Benjamin Mee and his family bought over the crumbling Dartmoor Wildlife Park after his father passed away and his mother needed to find a new family home; transforming it into the Dartmoor Zoological Park. Compared to the awful-looking, Kevin James-starring talking animal comedy The Zookeeper, this movie and its cast (including Matt Damon, Thomas Haden-Church, Scarlett Johansson and Elle Fanning) sound a great deal better. The above-mentioned names could definitely carry and inspirational dramedy like this one - my biggest hope is that Hollywood doesn't try too hard to dress up and sensationalise a quality true story, like they've done many times before.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Where Are Singapore's Superheroes?

I read with great interest the Culture Vulture column on Thursday (The Straits Times Life! Wanted: Superheroes, 10/2/11) by Akshita Nanda. I’m a DC Comics fan and was amused and excited when I first read the issue of Birds of Prey that was mentioned in the article, several years ago. Sure, the Singlish was mangled, there was the cringe-worthy yet obligatory Michael Faye reference, and Changi Airport looked more like Paya Lebar Airbase – but at least Singapore got a mention in a mainstream comic book, even if someone else mentioned it for us. 

Madripoor from the Wolverine comics. Hmm, looks familiar.
Perhaps the question we should be asking is not “where are Singaporean comic book superheroes”, but rather why there aren’t any. A good deal of comic book superheroes exist in a fantastical and heightened realm – Superman came in a rocket ship from Krypton, Wonder Woman was moulded out of clay by her mother Hippolyta and the Incredible Hulk had his blood poisoned with gamma radiation. 

Nanda writes that the superpowers all Singaporeans would like to possess include “getting seats in crowded MRT trains, jump queues without annoying others or avoid(ing) traffic jams and ERP gantries while driving”. We are a society that values and is perhaps preoccupied with the mundane. Most Singaporeans did not grow up on a diet of comic book-brand romance: Superman carrying Lois Lane in his arms to the strains of a stirring John Williams melody hold little emotional resonance to us as we go about our daily existences. 


Within the comic book universes, the need for a superhero often stems from disorder and chaos. Batman rises from the ashes of the murder of his parents to fight crime in a city that is crime incarnate. Captain America wages war against treacherous Nazi agent Red Skull and his hordes of HYDRA agents. Hellboy fights to maintain the fragile balance between our realm and that of demons, spirits and mythical monsters. 

Disorder and chaos on a wide scale is so far removed from the lives of everyday Singaporeans that we can’t even imagine or enjoy a fictional depiction of it. The comic book worlds of Sin City and Judge Dredd are dystopian and bleak, realms of grim squalor where the reluctant hero deals out tough justice. I suppose we prefer drama of a more domestic kind, as evidenced by the large followings of television drama serials. 

As the readers of comic books grew up, so did the material itself. Many modern comic books are not afraid to make big political statements or depict exaggerated allegories. Superman’s arch-nemesis Lex Luthor became the president of the United States. Captain America is the product of a top-secret military super-soldier program. After it was ravaged by an earthquake, Gotham City was cordoned off and left to rot. And of course, the Watchmen are government-sanctioned heroes enforcing the tyrannical reign of Richard Nixon in an alternate-universe 1980s. 

Ultimately, a large chunk of comic book superhero fiction is the wish-fulfilment factor. There’s something gratifying about the story of a nerdy, awkward teenager granted superpowers after being bitten by a spider, and the appealing glamour of the rich playboy by day, crime-fighter by night archetype. Here, the biggest wishes we have are to get seats in crowded MRT trains, cut into lines without annoying others and avoiding traffic jams and ERP gantries while driving – and that just may be why there are no Singaporean superheroes. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

More Bite-sized Reviews

Tango & Cash is a bizarre buddy-cop film that looks like a product of some parallel universe version of the '80s. You could be fooled into thinking that this is a run-of-the-mill, Rush Hour predecessor-type action comedy, but things very quickly take a turn for the weird. The movie is loud, silly and often makes no real-life sense whatsoever. It's very fun to watch Stallone and Russell at work, playing gleefully off each other and both showcasing disarming comic timing. However, it's often impossible to ignore the sheer ludicrousity of the plot. Thankfully, the cast knows full well and are all in on the joke, which is actually the only redeeming factor. That, and the armoured police car thingamagig the pair get to drive at the end. 3/5 STARS

Taut, gripping and intelligent, The Interpreter works very well as intended - a political thriller. Looking at the premise and plot, the film could have been handled much clumsier than it actually was. Sean Penn puts his down-on-his-luck everyman charm to good use, but a great character seems a little wasted on Nicole Kidman. Her accent falters and she's all but very stiff, but it's nothing that cripples the film. The movie balances some far-out political conspiracies with a convincing look at the inner workings behind the security at the United Nations General Assembly, and it does help immensely that it was actually shot on-location at the UN. The film is very effective at both a macro and micro level; the international politics and personal emotional drama both carry to same amount of narrative weight. The late director Pollack is smart with his scenes and shots, and the film works best at pulling the audience along for the ride, and spinning a yarn so involving that the loopholes seem negligent.

Visionary and ambitious in its scope, Terminator 2: Judgement Day is the pinnacle of the sci-fi action-thriller genre. With more tools at his disposal, director James Cameron was able to expand upon what he had begun in the lower-budgeted Terminator film. In addition to cutting-edge visual effects and mind-blowing action setpieces, Terminator 2 was contemplative and emotionally resonant; exploring the idea of what it means to be human without drowning in self-indulgent pretension. The story of the bond between a boy and his cyborg guardian will pull you in as much as the wham-bam action and large-scale visual spectacle.
4.5/5 STARS

Conspiracy Theory begins with an interesting premise: what if the paranoid delusional nutcase actually is right about something? It also boasts credible star power, with Mel Gibson, Julia Roberts and a coldly menacing Patrick Stewart leading the cast. However, the film offers nothing for audiences to grab on to and nothing that is really engaging. Its meandering pace hurts the "thriller" aspect greatly - a good number of the scenes seem twice as long as they actually need to be. Mel Gibson appears to be enjoying himself, but his character is not much more than a rambling, incoherent and absurd mess. The whole mystery of what exactly happened to him doesn't matter much when it's not a character you really care about. Julia Roberts is fairly believable as a US Attorney worker, and her calm and rational character is supposed to work as a counterpoint for Gibson's, but a lot of their chemistry seems forced and overly awkward. Patrick Stewart actually doesn't do much at all - those glasses and the scar on his nose do all the work for him. In addition, the film is tonally very odd and inconsistent - the main character of Jerry Fletcher seems to have stepped straight out of a comedy, but the film really wants to be a tense thriller, and in the end it isn't really either one. This movie may have worked in theory, but in practise doesn't hold together.
2.5/5 STARS

Bristling with eye-catching character and environmental design, kinetic action sequences, likeable characters and a good helping of intelligence and humour, Atlantis achieves what Avatar set out to do - and did so far better than the James Cameron film. This animated film is a visual feast, and is enjoyable as a legitimate science-fiction/fantasy action adventure. It is thematically more mature and perhaps challenging for younger viewers compared to most of Disney's animated offerings, and boasts a startlingly clever script. The film is also remarkably well-researched, the fictional Atlantean language created by Dr Marc Okrand, famous for coming up with Klingon and Vulcan. The linguistics is one of many aspects that make the culture depicted rich and very interesting. Michael J Fox puts in a fantastic and engaging voice performance as Milo Thatch, and is backed up by a supporting cast that includes James Garner and Leonard Nimoy. Atlantis may not number among the Disney animated classics, but I enjoyed it far more than I expected to.  4/5 STARS

Thursday, February 3, 2011

From the Costume Department: Clothes maketh the Superman

The visuals and the look of any superhero or comic book film immediately sets the tone for what is to come. This new image of Chris Evans as Captain America reinforces that a very important aspect of that is always the outfit that said superhero wears. The tights-and-spandex getup has long been an object of ridicule - what may look flashy and dramatic on the printed comic book page may just look silly on the big screen, if done wrong. Costume designers of such films have the interesting challenge of striking a balance between preserving an iconic image and creating something which would work in real life - or at least in the comic book universe the film establishes.


Where else do we begin but with my favourite comic book superhero? A large part of Batman's appeal is that he is ordinary human being - he didn't come from another planet, nor was he bitten by a radioactive spider. He's forged himself into the ultimate human weapon, and it is his suit that plays a big part. The Batsuit has to look dramatic, scary and larger-than-life - at the same time, it must also be functional and help, rather than hinder, its wearer.

The Batsuit of the 60's TV series was much like the show itself - loud, silly, impractical, but fun, and intentionally so. Ultimately, the costume looks cheap, and there are many things that aesthetically seem off when compared to more serious depictions of Batman's outfit. The ears on the cowl, the short and thin cape and the Bat-symbol that is positioned lower down on the chest than it normally is.

Tim Burton's 1989 Batman film wanted to step as far away as possible from the campy nature of the television show, and demonstrated this with the Batsuit. Costume designer Bob Ringwood created a rigid, rubber bodysuit that served to frighten cowardly criminals as much as to conceal the slight frame of Michael Keaton's Bruce Wayne. An interesting feature of the outfit is that the Bat-symbol forms a brooch of sorts, connecting the cape/cowl to the rest of the suit.

The Batsuit from the next film, Batman Returns, features more mechanical-looking ribbed armour plating as opposed to exaggerated musculature. I do prefer this version of the suit, because armour plating makes more sense than Greek-sculpture style ab muscles and pectorals. Also, the Bat symbol is simpler in its design, and features the black-on-yellow style that most of us would be familiar with as Batman's emblem - as opposed to the stylised additional scalloped wing-tips of the earlier suit.

Joel Schumacher took over the reins as director for the third film in the series, Batman Forever. The new suit reflects the dramatic change in the overall style of the series, stepping away from the dark and gothic horror feel of Batman Returns and into more flashy, dramatic and lighter territory. Unfortunately, Batman Forever was the first step down a slippery slope that would see the Dark Knight returning to the camp of the 60s television show.  The most infamous change to the costume were the nipples sculpted onto the Batsuit. Director Schumacher claims that this was to reflect Grecian sculpture, and that "people should get out more". It's a stylistic misstep that serves no practical purpose - much like a lot of both Schumacher's Batman movies.

In Batman and Robin, the Batsuit was the first of many nails in the coffin for the garish, overblown and stylistically self-indulgent mess. Production designer Barbara Ling made even more departures from the Batsuits of the Tim Burton era. The default Batsuit featured more pronounced nipples than earlier, and also the spikes on the gauntlets becoming more like fins. For no reason apart from giving the opportunity to make more toys, Batman, Robin and Batgirl change into silvery suits for the film's last act. No further comment.

In 2005, Christopher Nolan resuscitated the Batman film franchise with Batman Begins, which was firmly grounded in reality. As part of Batman's origin story, the genesis of the Batsuit was also revealed: it was originnally body armour meant for special forces soldiers, but was deemed too expensive to be of any practical use. The cape could also stiffen into a glider wing when an electric current was passed through it, and the gauntlets were carried over from Bruce Wayne's training with a ninja clan. I really like the utility belt on this version, which was also carried over into its sequel The Dark Knight. The armour looks militaristic and practical, but the neck seems too thick.

In The Dark Knight, Batman was able to turn his head for the first time on screen, with a new cowl that worked like a motorcycle helmet, detached from the neck portion. Instead of being in one solid piece like in every film prior, the armour on this Batsuit was split into individual plates, allowing for more mobility. However, this aesthetic also makes the suit look a little "busy", and the Bat symbol on the chest is far less distinct. In the end though, this is the Batsuit which makes the most practical sense, and the texturing on the suit is such that some of the mesh armour is still visible.


Superman's outfit is one of the most iconic and recognisable ever. Blue and red tights, big "S" symbol on the chest, red briefs on the outside.  Realising this look on screen however is much harder than it looks. The image below shows the evolution of Superman's costume on the big screen, from Kirk Alyn and George Reeves' portrayals in the 40s and 50s, to Brandon Routh's version in Superman Returns.

The defining features of Superman's look have not changed much, but it is interesting to see how aspects such as the colours and the size of the "S" symbol have changed. Christopher Reeves will forever remain the definitive screen Superman. Up till that film, moviegoers had not seen a superhero tale presented in such epic, grand fashion on the big screen. The colours are bold and saturated - this is a nigh invulnerable figure with nothing to fear and nothing to hide.

       Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman presented Dean Cain as a Superman for the 90s. The main alteration in his look would have to be the removal of the iconic spit curl, which may have seemed outdated and silly to the audiences of the television show. Also, Superman's neckline is lower, and supposedly more sexy for it. But who are we kidding, "Lois and Clark" was all about Teri Hatcher's Lois.

Superman Returns had the challenge of making a product of the 30s seem relevant for audiences in 2006, and the costume was definitely very important in selling that idea. I really like the decision to mute the colours, making the red of his cape, briefs and boots a rich maroon. The "S" symbol was also made smaller and was raised, as was the buckle on his belt. Another interesting facet of the Superman Returns suit was that the entire fabric was texutred, and the "S" symbol embossed with much tinier "S" symbols.

Spider-Man is another superhero who favours blue and red. This is one costume that can easily look cheap, tacky and downright horrible - as was the case with the (thankfully) little-known films of the 70s starring Nicholas Hammond.

It's a good thing then that the movies we are familiar with, those directed by Sam Raimi and starring Tobey Maguire as the webslinger, feature pretty good incarnations of Spider-Man's outfit, as realised by costume designer James Acheson. The spider logos on the front and the back of the suit are sleek and stylish, the fish scale-like mesh of the bodysuit sophisticated, and the raised webbing pattern and mirror-like lenses for the eyes topping everything off nicely.

Spider-Man 3 has, of course, the black Spidey suit formed from the symbiote. The suits cost $30 000 apiece, and do look stylish and menacing. It's not merely a matter of painting the suit black - the suit in the comics was plain black with white spider emblems on the front and back, but this one carries over the raised webbing motif from Spidey's usual outfit.

Unfortunately, I don't have such glowing praise for the Spider-Man suit for the as-yet untitled reboot, starring Andrew Garfield. It seems that the costume designers have tried too hard to make something different, and in their effort to put a new spin on the costume, they have inadvertently made it look really silly. The blue fingertips, the eyes, the boots? It all looks quite off to me, but full judgement will be reserved until the movie is released in 2012.


Everyone's favourite misfits, the X-Men, aren't the sharpest superhero dressers on the block, judging from their affinity for yellow spandex and blue highlights. Bryan Singer wisely opted to dress the team in sexy black leather uniform get-ups for the film adaptation. X-Men comic book writer Chris Claremont approved of the decision, and joked "you can do that on a drawing, but when you put it on people it's disturbing!" Too true Mr Claremont.

The suits in the X-Men films have ribbed patterns and some sections that call back to the comic book looks of the characters, but it all makes a lot of real-world sense, and is really nice to look at. The X-Men work as a team, but are comprised of such varied individuals that designing it for the screen must have been something of a daunting task. Each character's costume says something about them, and it's not just the uniforms too - note the "rebel without a cause" streetwear of Pyro, or Rogue's scarf and sweaters in the first movie.