Monday, June 25, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

For F*** Magazine, Singapore

Movie Review                                                                                                             25/6/11


Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary
Directed by: Marc Webb

            After Spider-Man 3 became something of a critical and commercial letdown and plans for a sequel fell through, the folks at Marvel Entertainment and Columbia Pictures developed a case of itchy reboot button syndrome and immediately put The Amazing Spider-Man into production to swing in and save the franchise. Many fans rolled their collective eyes and the web (heh) was abuzz with fiery opinions – it was as if those in charge wished they had the memory-erasing neuralyser from another blockbuster franchise to make us forget that it hasn’t been very long since the last Spidey flick. Early looks and promotional materials seemed generally underwhelming, and the film quickly became buried by bigger releases such as The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus. However, this red and blue spider has become something of a dark horse and has somehow risen to greet detractors with a shot of webbing to the face.

            The film’s basic plot should be familiar to most who are fans of the comic book and/or Sam Raimi’s trilogy, with several tweaks. The prologue shows a four-year-old Peter Parker (Max Charles) being handed over amidst panic and secrecy from his parents Richard (Campbell Scott) and Mary (Embeth Davidtz) to his Aunt May (Sally Field) and Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen). In the present, Peter (Garfield) is an awkward but likable high-schooler who stumbles across information hidden by his father, which leads Peter to Dr Curt Connors (Ifans), a one-armed scientist in the employ of Oscorp working to develop a regenerative serum to re-grow his amputated arm.

Then, the fateful incident when Peter sneaks into a secret lab in the Oscorp building and gets bitten by a genetically-enhanced spider happens. As Peter comes to terms with his newfound superhuman abilities, he also nurses a crush on classmate and Oscorp intern Gwen Stacy (Stone). A tragic personal event serves as the catalyst for Parker taking on the guise of the vigilante Spider-Man, fighting street thugs with the help of high-tech web-shooting gadgets and a slick homemade costume, in addition to his powers. However, Gwen’s dad Captain George Stacy of the NYPD isn’t a big fan of Spidey – and in the meantime, Dr Curt Connors’ flawed treatment turns him into the monstrous Lizard who has biological warfare on his mind.

In spite of the poor first impressions left by the news of an almost-instant reboot and sneak peeks at the movie, one would be hard-pressed not to admit that The Amazing Spider-Man is actually a competently-made, enjoyable flick. The approach that the aptly-named director Marc Webb of (500) Days of Summer fame took brings to mind last year’s surprise hit Marvel flick X-Men: First Class, in that in combines the youthful appeal of teen drama with relatively large-scale super heroics and action sequences. This film does not repeat the mistakes of Spider-Man 3 – instead, we have character development and interaction and clear and easy-to-follow plot progression. Peter’s job at the Daily Bugle, his boss J Jonah Jameson and a few other elements have been wisely left for later, and one won’t notice them missing.

Spider-Man has always been a hero all readers could relate to, with his transition from outcast to hero and his various personal, real-world struggles. Andrew Garfield, sexy nerd incarnate, is an ace casting choice. The actor has said that playing Spider-Man has been his dream since he was a young boy and the role went to the right guy. Garfield has an effortless, genuine charm and his slightly lanky proportions do seem very reminiscent of the Peter Parker of the comics, particularly the Ultimate version. For all the strengths of Tobey Maguire’s interpretation of the character, Garfield’s somehow rings more true. Whether he’s being a smart-mouthed do-gooder, a teen sorting out his issues with his well-meaning aunt and uncle or a young lover unsure of how to go about a relationship with his dream gal, Garfield is in great form.

Speaking of his dream gal, Emma Stone does a similarly good job of playing Gwen Stacy. Many were confused after Stone was cast and then announced as playing a different character from Kirsten Dunst’s. Gwen did pop up in Spider-Man 3 played by Bryce Dallas-Howard, and is touted as Parker’s first love. In an interview, Stone states that “Mary Jane fell in love with Spider-Man, but Gwen Stacy fell in love with Peter Parker”. Gwen is smart, kind and funny, surely what every guy looks for in a girl, and her role in the story is just the right size. Sure enough, the chemistry between Stone and Garfield is among the strongest of onscreen couples in recent memory and it’s no surprise that the couple continued their romance off the set.

One has to feel bad for Dylan Baker who portrayed Dr Curt Connors in Spider-Man 2 and 3 but never got the chance to transform into the Lizard after the cancellation of a fourth entry in Raimi’s series. Rhys Ifans fills those shoes, and he marshals a tragic figure who hopes to better society and to fix his own perceived physical flaw. This definitely will push the excellent actor further into public consciousness, and he does a decent job. However, Connors’ split-second snap from rational scientist to raving mad supervillain does seem a tad rushed and the design of the Lizard, as has been stated before, is pretty goofy. Also, the relationship between Connors and Parker, while given some attention here, could have benefited from a little mo re.

The rest of the supporting cast is good too. Martin Sheen is easy to buy as the earnest, down-to-earth uncle and father figure who serves as an upstanding role model to his nephew, and so is Sally Field as his concerned, protective wife May. Casting these veteran film industry stalwarts was certainly a good move, especially since this retelling doesn’t particularly focus on the two but does convey their involvement in Peter’s life. Denis Leary is also well-cast as the Inspector Javert-type Captain Stacy, who could have been an over-the-top, “squash Spider-Man dead!” figure. Instead, Leary makes him a stern but well-meaning authority figure and gives him a good dynamic with his daughter and Peter. His resemblance to Willem Dafoe, aka Green Goblin from the first Spider-Man film, is a little distracting though.

In terms of aesthetics, the movie looks sleek and dramatic – director Webb uses his ample experience shooting music videos in the right way. While it could have been something like the horrid Catwoman movie, there is instead clever use of lighting and composition and the action sequences are kinetic yet coherently-shot. This reviewer isn’t a giant fan of the costume, produced by the people at Cirque du Soleil (really) and the afore-mentioned facial features of the Lizard. The large amounts of digital effects supplied mostly by Sony Pictures Imageworks (also responsible for last year’s Green Lantern film) are also a cut or so below expectations for a big-budget superhero movie, but these don’t significantly hurt the end result.

The film brings up the issue of Peter’s parents but never fully addresses it, with a slightly ham-fisted mid-credits sequel hook hinting at what is to come. The Amazing Spider-Man has been marketed as “the untold story”, which is rather bold given that it’s only been ten years since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and five years since Spider-Man 3. Still, it defies expectations and is thoroughly entertaining. Untold story? Not quite, but well-told story? Definitely.

SUMMARY: Put aside your misgivings and ignore your tingling “bad-reboot” senses: surprisingly, The Amazing Spider-Man mostly lives up to the adjective in the title. Who would’ve guessed?


Jedd Jong Yue

Friday, June 22, 2012

Prometheus: "Not a Mindless Blockbuster"

A letter that I wrote to the Straits Times Life! Mailbag as a response to an article about Ridley Scott's blockbuster film was published today, on my brother's birthday. Happy birthday Tedd!

 Thanks to the mail editors for attaching a flattering picture of Michael Fassbender to the letter.

Batman: 70 Years Onscreen

As Published in F*** Magazine Issue 30


by Jedd Jong

As Christopher Nolan brings the curtain down on his Batman trilogy in grand fashion, F*** Magazine takes a look at the Caped Crusader’s illustrious seven decades of pointy ears and capes. Over this time, Batman has staked his claim as one of pop culture’s most enduring icons, and there was no way the Dark Knight, along with his colourful gallery of rogues and allies, could stay trapped within comic book panels for long. Gotham’s protector has somehow managed to stay relevant for each generation, and his various onscreen incarnations seem to perfectly capture the essence of the times. Here is but a glimpse at Batman’s cinematic journey across the years and into the hearts of filmgoers everywhere.


The very first big-screen incarnation of Batman came in 1943, and was a 15-chapter serial from Columbia Pictures, starring Lewis Wilson as Batman with Douglas Croft as Robin. Released at the height of the Second World War, the serial had Batman as a US government operative taking on the evil Dr Daka, a Japanese agent of Hirohito. If this photograph is anything to go by, those complaining about Batsuits with nipples should probably be grateful they didn’t get this version instead.

Besides being the Dark Knight’s maiden movie outing, the serial brought audiences the “Bat’s Cave”, which was renamed the “Batcave” after it found its way into the comics. Also, William Austin’s version of Batman’s butler Alfred Pennyworth was svelte and moustachioed, versus the overweight and facial hair-less Alfred in the comics at the time. The serial solidified the look of Alfred we are all familiar with today.

After another film serial in 1949, Batman made the jump to TV in 1966, with Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. This campy, colourful take on the character that bordered on parody came to represent the era and reflected the so-called “Silver Age of Comics”, comprising Batman stories that featured aliens, magical imps, multiple dimensions, silly costumes and talking animals.

The TV show was adapted into a film that same year with much of the same cast, apart from Julie Newmar as Catwoman, who had hurt her back and was replaced with Lee Meriwether. Cesar Romero (and his moustache) was the Joker, Burgess Meredith was the Penguin and Frank Gorshin was the Riddler. The film memorably includes Batman dangling from the Batcopter and being attacked by a shark, which he fends off with “bat shark-repellent”. There’s also the scene where Batman runs frantically about the waterfront trying to dispose of an explosive device. “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb,” he enthused – a sentiment that was no doubt shared by the makers of the later film Batman and Robin. The Lincoln Futura-based Batmobile is the definition of retro cool now, though.


It would be a bit of an understatement to say it took a while to get a new Batman film off the ground, following the waning of public interest in the wake of the cancellation of the Adam West TV show. Producers Michael E Uslan and Benjamin Melniker acquired the Batman film rights in 1979, but it wasn’t until ten years later that a new Batman movie saw the light of day. Having proven himself with Beetlejuice, Tim Burton was selected to direct the film and was intent on steering away from the campy style of its predecessor, keeping a dark and stylish feel Burton would become famous for. Tim Burton had also cast Beetlejuice leading man Michael Keaton as Batman. Keaton was well-known primarily for his comedy work at the time and, suffice to say, not a credible action star, and the casting caused so much commotion that it got a mention on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. Jack Nicholson accepted the role of the Joker under strict conditions, including that he be let off to watch his beloved Los Angeles Lakers basketball team play their home games. We suppose he did not attend in costume.

The film’s dramatically dark and operatic style is best reflected in the production design by the late Anton Furst, for which he won an Academy Award for best art direction. Furst’s mission was to “make Gotham City the bleakest, ugliest metropolis possible…an essay in ugliness. As if hell erupted through the pavement and kept going”. It was a strangely beautiful kind of ugly, complemented by the straight-up beautiful Batmobile, one of the sexiest versions of Batman’s ride and the one most people automatically envision when they hear the word. Bob Ringwood designed the Batsuit, which introduced the idea of rigid full-body armour and served to conceal Michael Keaton’s slight frame. As such, the film was mostly regarded a triumph of style over substance, but also began a movement of comic book films that would be regarded as adult and serious, rather than Saturday morning children’s entertainment.  


Following the financial success of the first Burton-man film, Warner Bros. was eager for the director and star to return. Burton was initially reluctant to return, saying he would only reprise his role as Batman director “if the sequel offers something new and exciting”. “New and exciting” somehow got misconstrued as “horror movie”, bearing all the disturbing-yet-stylish Burton hallmarks more befitting other properties than Batman. In terms of supporting cast, the sequel offers up Danny DeVito as a decidedly grotesque version of the Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer as sultry femme fatale Catwoman (it remains to be seen if Anne Hathaway can live up to the legacy, we can name one actress who didn’t *cough*HalleBerry*cough*) and the scene-stealing Christopher Walken as crooked business mogul Max Shreck. Burton was supposedly hesitant to cast Walken because the actor scared him – which, considering how dark most of Burton’s movies are, must have been quite a feat. Then again, Christopher Walken is pretty scary.

There are some who consider Batman Returns to be an improvement over the first film, and there are just as many who decry the movie’s decidedly un-Batman tone. Parents weren’t big fans of the mix of sex (Catwoman) and violence (everything else), and McDonalds infamously called off their Happy Meal tie-in. However, Returns did deliver visually, as did its predecessor, and setting it during Christmas didn’t hurt either, turning Gotham into a twisted winter wonderland. Catwoman’s haphazardly stitched-together black latex  effectively reflects her broken psyche, and Stan Winston, Ve Neill and Ronnie Specter’s Penguin makeup design somehow made Danny DeVito actually uglier than he already is – for this alone they deserved their Best Makeup Academy Award nomination.


Many disagree about the Burton movies, but when it comes to the Animated Series they inspired, the verdict that it’s one of the best versions of Batman ever is universal. Batman: The Animated Series, created by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, was surprisingly mature for a cartoon, and toned down the stylistic flourishes of their movie inspirations, borrowing more from the comic books. Following the success of the show, a full-length animated film was put into production. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is thus far the only Batman animated film to be released theatrically, although the film was considered a box office flop due to the decision to rush it into theatres.

However, many die-hard Bat-fanatics consider this to be the best Batman film ever. Yes, even better than The Dark Knight. The film is a very sophisticated take on the Batman mythos, and its creators demonstrate a profound understanding of the character, his motivations and what make him so appealing to the audience at large. The film employs a film noir-esque style, telling the parallel stories of a masked vigilante called “The Phantasm” (though never referred to by name) picking off Gotham’s criminal bosses – whom the police believe to be Batman, and Batman’s early days fighting crime and his romance with beautiful high-society dame Andrea Beaumont. Anyone who doesn’t like Christian Bale’s growly strep throat Batman voice is likely to point you to Kevin Conroy’s performance as the definitive Batman voice. Mark Hamill (known in other circles as Luke Skywalker) is, similarly, the best the Joker has ever sounded. And over the credits, Tia Carrere sings the 90s, Disney-style award-baiting torch song “I Never Even Told You”, which may or may not be better than “Kiss from a Rose”. Speaking of which…

Apparently, all the face-licking, toxic ooze dripping from the mouth and taser-kissing in Batman Returns– along with a box office take that could have been a little higher – weren’t doing it for Warner Bros., who decided to take the series in a more accessible (read: kid-friendly) direction. Apparently, Michael Keaton was not a big fan of this direction, and neither was Tim Burton, who nevertheless retained a producer credit (that served as a “don’t panic” to fans). They were replaced by Val Kilmer and Joel Schumacher respectively. Kilmer got the call that he had gotten the part while he was sleeping in a cave in Africa, researching The Ghost and the Darkness – and surrounded by bats. Had the bats seen this film, they would have bowed their heads in shame.

Batman Forever was the beginning of a slippery slope that pointed the Batmobile in the general direction of Adam West and Burt Ward’s Batcave. Schumacher, then famous for The Lost Boys and the Client, had never done an out-and-out action film, and thus relished the chance to go as “out” as he could. Chris O’Donnell joined the cast as Dick Grayson/Robin, who acted like a 13-year-old despite looking 25. Tommy Lee Jones was cast as Two-Face, even though Billy Dee Williams played Harvey Dent pre-accident in the first movie and was keen on playing the villain. Tommy Lee Jones thought he was playing the Joker, as did Jim Carrey as the Riddler. Nicole Kidman as Dr Chase Meridian probably thought she was playing the Joker as well. Thankfully, the late Michael Gough had stayed as Alfred from the first two films, had a nice moment with Dick and didn’t think he was playing the Joker. Unfortunately, so had the late Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon, woefully incompetent as ever.

Stylistically, it was quite a step down. First off, there were the nipples on the Batsuit, which were meant to evoke classical Greek statues, but probably did not achieve that effect. Two-Face looked more like his face was splashed with paint than with acid and when Batman said “chicks love the car”; he probably wasn’t referring to this version of the Batmobile, which could have done without the giant middle fin. The film also sprinkled a little neon on Gotham, and added several gratuitous visual effects sequences that were not altogether convincing. But the general consensus is that this is Citizen Kane compared to…

There is absolutely no better way to get a Batman fan’s blood boiling than mentioning Batman and Robin – you’ll almost be guaranteed a venomous response. The film is so reviled, it often gets mentioned as one of the worst movies ever made – the mockery it made of the Batman property was enough for it to eclipse other worse films. Joel Schumacher decided to ramp everything up – more neon, more giant statues of naked men, more inane villains and more prominent Batsuit-nipples. He claims he was under pressure from Warner Bros executives to make the film “more toyetic”, a word he had never heard before, to sell more merchandise. “More homoerotic” probably wasn’t on the memo, but Schumacher went ahead with that anyway. Cue rainbow-coloured lights on the open-canopy Batmobile.

George Clooney, then in the middle of transitioning from the small to the big screen, stepped into Val Kilmer’s boots for the “film”, with Chris O’Donnell returning as Robin. Arnold Schwarzenegger was cast as Mr Freeze, because Schumacher decided the character would have to look “big and strong like he was chiselled out of a glacier”, the fact that the character was a scientist non-withstanding. Uma Thurman was the botanist-seductress Poison Ivy, with the late wrestler Robert Swenson as her henchman Bane, and Alicia Silverstone was Batgirl, not the Commissioner’s daughter as in the comics but Alfred’s niece.

For all the neon-drenched, rubber-clad bombast, many will say the worst part of Batman and Robin was the characterisation of comic book fan-favourites, which were staggeringly off the mark. It was nice that the filmmakers decided to go with the recently-reimagined Mr Freeze origin story put forth in Batman: The Animated Series, but Schwarzenegger’s Freeze was less icy cold, melancholic and heartless than loud and prone to awful, awful ice-related puns. Not cool. Thurman, then one of the sexiest actresses around, took the idea of an over-the-top Mae West-style femme fatale and ran off the cliff with it, and Alicia Silverstone’s chirpy, blonde haired-Batgirl was clearly shoehorned in to appeal to the younger female demographic. Not to mention Bane, reduced from a menacing, super-strong criminal mastermind to a muscled simpleton doing his master’s bidding. Tom Hardy appears to want to rectify this in The Dark Knight Rises – phew.

This time around, it was not Bane who broke Batman’s back, but Schumacher’s franchise-killing mess that did. Do check out the straight-to-video animated film Batman and Mr Freeze: SubZero, which is a more than adequate remedy.

While filming on Batman and Robin was ongoing, Warner Bros. liked what they saw – it wouldn’t be the first time they were wrong. They immediately set about commissioning a sequel, titled Batman Triumphant, which was to reunite Clooney, O’Donnell and Silverstone and feature the Scarecrow as the main villain. Jack Nicholson’s Joker was to appear in a dream sequence, and Harley Quinn, the Joker’s moll and girlfriend from the animated series, would be his daughter instead (a live-action Harley played by Mia Sara found her way into the short-lived TV series Birds of Prey). However, when critics and audiences balked at Dr Doug Ross and the Terminator’s one-liner battle royale, the studio was forced to reconsider, haunted by the immortal words of Adam West’s Batman regarding bombs. Schumacher, supposedly overcome with remorse, was keen on making an adaptation of the seminal Batman comic book tale Batman: Year One, which was recently made into an animated movie and from which Batman Begins drew much inspiration.

A competing project was Batman: DarKnight, a spec script by Lee Shapiro and Stephen Wise, which was to see Batman forced out of retirement by the Scarecrow and Man-Bat, the latter’s atrocities blamed on the DarKnight. Man-Bat, who harkens back to classic movie monsters such as Frankenstein’s monster and Jekyll and Hyde, would have been interesting to see on the big screen, and several elements of the Scarecrow’s characterisation, particularly being the head psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum, would resurface in Batman Begins. Warner Bros. passed on this one as well.

At the time, Batman Beyond – a cartoon by the same team behind Batman: The Animated Series – was gaining in popularity. The series was set roughly 50 years in the future, and saw an aged and grizzled Bruce Wayne take street-smart teen Terry McGinnis under his Bat-wing, the latter becoming the Batman of the future.  It was to be adapted into a live-action feature film, which was tossed overboard in favour of Batman: Year One – just without Joel Schumacher at the helm.

Darren Aronofsky was set to direct Batman: Year One, which would have been drastically different from both the comic book on which it would have been based and every previous movie version of the Caped Crusader. Suffice to say we’re generally relieved this didn’t come to fruition. Alfred would have become “Big Al”, a burly mechanic, Bruce Wayne would have worn a Bat-insignia ring to leave a painful mark on thugs and Batman’s ride of choice would have been a Lincoln town car. The screenplay suggested a dark, R-rated crime drama that would have been too far left of field for the average moviegoer, and wouldn’t have sold much toys. Well, at least the concept art was pretty.

Yet again, the studio swept a Batman reboot off the table, and switched gears to make a Batman-Superman film, which would have had the heroes go against each other, and then team up against Lex Luthor. Christian Bale was approached to play Batman, and Josh Hartnett to play the Man of Steel – both turned the roles down. Warner Bros. then decided to focus on individual Superman and Batman reboots – Superman: Flyby (which would eventually be shelved in favour of Superman Returns) and finally, at long sweet last, Batman Begins. Once again there’s an animated alternative – a three-part crossover between the Superman and Batman animated series, which has been released on video as an animated film. Featuring Lex Luthor and the Joker as villains and having Lois Lane develop a romantic interest in Bruce Wayne, it was good fun. We did also get a giant billboard in I Am Legend, suggesting that even if the film got made, its released would have been thwarted by a zombie uprising.  

British director Christopher Nolan, now widely regarded as something of a geek god for bringing Batman back from the neon-lit ashes, came to Warner Bros. in 2003 with an idea for a Batman reboot. Nolan’s previous two films, Momento and Insomnia, were made at the studio. Nolan was hired, and brought David S Goyer of the Blade films onboard as screenwriter. The two, along with production designer Nathan Crowley, set about creating an origin story for the man behind the mask that they were determined to keep rooted in reality. The film borrows from the Batman comic book story The Man Who Falls, and incorporates elements of Batman Year One and The Long Halloween.

Nolan assembled an all-star cast, led by Christian Bale who, just off The Machinist, had to gain 45 kg in about two months in order to play the muscular and athletic crime-fighter. Liam Neeson, having previously trained Anakin Skywalker, was now mentor to young Bruce Wayne as Henri Ducard, of the ninja sect the League of Shadows. The League was led by Ken Watanabe as Ra’s Al Ghul, who in the comics was a Bond-villain inspired master criminal, whose baths in the Lazarus Pits granted him eternal youth. Gary Oldman was cast as Sergeant Gordon, the one honest guy in the Gotham City Police Department, who forms a bond with Batman and facilitates his crime-fighting endeavours. Oldman has always been known for playing villains, and does “honest” extremely well. Conversely, it was perennial good-guy Liam Neeson who took on the more sinister part. Cillian Murphy was effectively creepy as the Scarecrow, who provided a break from the traditional brawny supervillain. Michael Caine played Alfred, which was an interesting change from the typical gentleman butler – Caine’s cockney accent belied a tougher, more human Alfred, and his chemistry with Bale sold him as Bruce Wayne’s father figure and only true friend. Well, apart from Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox that is, the wisened gadget guy who supplies Batman with his Batsuit and Batmobile. The only weak link was Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes, a character nowhere to be found in the comics and one of the least convincing leading ladies to grace a Batman film.

Keeping in line with the realistic tone, Begins updated Batman’s look with a more utilitarian, military-style Batsuit, and with the tank-like Tumbler Batmobile that looked like the love child of a Hummer and a Lamborghini. Gotham City became a lived-in, slightly more depressed Chicago, and the Narrows drew inspiration from the Walled City of Kowloon. There are also bits and pieces of Blade Runner – the Tumbler’s front wheels kind of look like the police spinners’. It’s definitely not the most interesting-looking Batman film, but it works incredibly well with the story being told.

The film was a resounding critical success, and the fans lapped it up too, rejoicing at Batman’s true cinematic return. When Gordon presents Batman with a Joker card at the end of the film, setting the stage for a sequel, the anticipation went through the roof. Three years later, fans would be rewarded with...


Forget The Godfather or Casablanca, for some, no, many Batman fans, The Dark Knight is the best film of all time, bar none. Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus is the perfect example of a thinking man’s blockbuster movie, and disproves the widely-held notion that all big-budget comic book movie extravaganzas have to be really loud and really dumb. Nolan, this time co-writing with brother Jonathan, managed to fold in complex ponderings of morality, anarchy and justice into Batman mythos. Everything was ramped up, and they even replaced Katie Holmes with Maggie Gyllenhaal to sweeten the deal.
The film makes good on its promise of the Joker as the central villain. There was much uproar when the late Aussie heartthrob Heath Ledger, best remembered for serenading Julia Stiles in Ten Things I Hate About You, was cast as the ultimate Batman bad guy. It’s safe to say that any misgivings were quickly eroded by Ledger’s electrifying performance, earning him a spot in the hallowed halls of movie villains alongside Hannibal Lecter and Norman Bates, and a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar – making him the only person thus far to win an acting award for a Batman movie. While Jack Nicholson’s Joker was the slightly malicious funny old uncle, this version was full-tilt sadistic psychopath. Ledger’s untimely passing only increased the hype surrounding the film, fuelling speculation that the role somehow got under his skin, and suddenly this was the Joker’s movie, and his alone.

That’s not to diss the supporting players, though. Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman return and are in fine form as usual. There are more great moments between Batman and each of these allies, who provide a refuge for the only humanity Bruce Wayne has left. Enter Aaron Eckhart as the ill-fated District Attorney Harvey Dent, idealistic, handsome and a romantic rival to Wayne, having his sights set on Rachel Dawes. Of course, like everyone else in the film, horrible things happen to him – specifically, to the left side of his face. Michael Jai White as gangster Gambol relishes the chance to appear in a significantly better comic book film than Spawn, and Richie Costa as the Chechen fully inhabits the Russian-ish mafiaso. Singapore’s very own Chin Han plays mob accountant Lau, who is “very good at calculations”, and at being yanked out of office windows by Batman.

The Tumbler Batmobile returns, in a chase scene that looks suspiciously similar to the one in the first movie. Batman also has the Batpod, a peculiar-looking motorcycle-approximate which nonetheless is pretty cool. The Batsuit is upgraded and is now composed of individual plates of armour. Unfortunately, Gotham City is a little more boring-looking than before, since we don’t get to see Arkham Island or the Narrows. The movie isn’t all rosy perfection though – the Harvey Dent/Two-Face storyline seems a little shoehorned-in, and there are lots of false endings – just when you think the film will conclude, another important plot point is introduced.
Still, it’s impossible to deny just how gosh-darn excellent this film is, and moviegoers agreed – the movie made as much money in six days as Batman Begins did in its entire domestic run. As such, hopes for the sequel are understandably really high.

At press time, we haven’t seen this yet, but it goes without saying we really want to. About half the earth’s population really wants to as well. Set eight years after the events of the previous film, Batman’s a little worse for wear and this time is menaced by Tom Hardy’s Bane and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman. Ironically, according to the Chinese Zodiac, Hathaway was born in the year of the dog. The casting of Anne Hathaway was something of a curveball, as she really is best known as the nice, likable slightly kooky sweetheart, like Julia Roberts but hotter. She just doesn’t spring to mind when one thinks “femme fatale”. Still, maybe – just maybe – Hathaway will surprise us, as has been done before in this series. In the comics, Bane is of Hispanic descent, and Tom Hardy isn’t. Cue rage. But at least he really bulked up for the role, and the aspect of Bane targeting the stock exchange seems like an interesting spin on the “occupy” theme – very timely. And there’s also Batman’s new ride, The Bat, a cross between the Tumbler and a flying lobster and reminiscent of the flying Batmobile in Batman Beyond.  Now that The Avengers from the-rival-company-that-must-not-be-named has crossed the one billion mark, this flick faces some serious competition, but can certainly count on Nolan’s loyal loyal fanbase.

In The Dark Knight, Alfred offers this pithy bit of advice to Bruce Wayne: “endure”. And that’s exactly what Batman has done over almost 70 years on the screen. He’s had his highs in the form of Christopher Nolan’s realistic touch and the animated series, and weathered his lows in the form of Bat shark-repellent and nippled-Batsuits. There’s something at the core of Batman that audiences can relate to; that humanness that other superheroes distinctly seem to lack. Batman is not a superhero; he’s a normal guy who has forged his mind and body into weapons. That, and a large pile of money. Batman appeals to the nerdy comic book fan in all of us, that little kid who takes action figures into the movie theatre. We know we’re taking ours. 


Batman’s cinematic history is littered with tales of what could have been, not only in the direction the movies could have taken stylistically and story-wise, but in who could have played the characters audiences have come to know and love. Can you picture David Bowie as the Joker? Patrick Stewart as Mr Freeze? Jude Law as Robin? Alec Baldwin, Pierce Brosnan, Jake Gyllenhaal or Ashton freaking Kutcher as Batman? Here’s a look at what we could’ve gotten, equal amounts of awesome missed opportunities and sigh-of-relief averted disasters on both sides.
Michael Keaton

Mel Gibson – the first choice to play Batman, but had already committed to Lethal Weapon 2.

Charlie Sheen – well, he was a credible star at the time...

Tom Selleck – can’t say we wouldn’t want a Magnum PI/ Gotham City Police Department crossover.

Alec Baldwin – he got to play The Shadow a while later, with less than stellar results.

Kevin Kline – Since he’s been in The Big Chill and The Ice Storm, you’d have thought he would be considered for Mr Freeze instead…

Pierce Brosnan – “The name’s Wayne, Bruce Wayne.”

Jeff Bridges – He eventually got to star as a supervillain instead, in Iron Man.

Val Kilmer

Dean Cain – The producers concluded he was too well-known as TV’s Superman, and rightly so.

Tom HanksGotham wouldn’t have gotten him the Oscar that Philadelphia did.

George Clooney

David Duchovny – Batman vs aliens would have honestly been an improvement over what we got.

Christian Bale

David Boreanaz – This Angel opted for whiter wings.

Jake Gyllenhaal – Had he gotten the part, Batman and Joker’s dynamic in the second film would have been plenty awkward. Not to mention his dynamic with Rachel Dawes.

Ashton Kutcher – Let’s just leave this one be.

John Cusack – By the time of Sixteen Candles, Bruce Wayne’s parents would have been dead for eight years. Grim.

Henry Cavill – Cavill was dubbed “the unluckiest actor of the year” after he was passed over for the parts of Batman, Superman and James Bond in 2005. Come next year, he finally gets to don the S cape.


Tim Curry – The Sweet Transvestite from Transylvania also tried out for the voice of the Joker on the animated series, and was turned down for being too creepy. Too creepy for the Joker? Wow.

Willem Dafoe – He would later go on to menace Spider-Man as the Green Goblin.

David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust would get his chance to star with a different Batman in Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, as inventor Nikolai Tesla.

James Woods – Woods would later provide the voice of Batman’s alternate universe opposite number Owlman in the animated film Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.

Robin Williams – Mork was also later considered for the part of the Riddler.

John Glover – While he didn’t get to play the clown prince of crime, Glover made a brief appearance in Batman and Robin as mad scientist Dr Jason Woodrue, and played Lex Luthor’s father Lionel in TV’s Smallville.


Paul Bettany – He previously essayed creepy as the albino assassin monk Silas in The Da Vinci Code.

Adrien Brody – Brody was very interested and willing to abandon his concert pianist ambitions to take up stand-up comedy.

Sam Rockwell – Rockwell would later play villain Justin Hammer in Iron Man 2.

Steve Carell – It’s safe to see it would be completely impossible to be afraid of that face.

Chris O’Donnell

Leonardo DiCaprio – “You jump, I jump” would have been fitting seeing as Dick Grayson/Robin started out as a circus aerialist.

Christian Bale – Is that irony I smell?

Matt Damon – Apparently, he was later considered for the role of Harvey Dent/Two-Face in The Dark Knight.

Ewan McGregor – Before he was Qui-Gon’s sidekick, he could have been Batman’s. Liam Neeson would later wind up’re probably tired of this by now.

Marlon Wayans – The scary thing is, he was actually cast and fitted for a costume for Batman Returns, but Robin was written out of the movie at the last minute.

Michelle Pfeiffer

Annette Bening – She was replaced by Pfeiffer after getting pregnant. If only the same thing happened to Halle Berry.

Geena Davis – She opted to do A League of Their Own instead. She definitely would have looked nice in a skin-tight catsuit, though.

Susan Sarandon – Isn’t it a little cool that both Thelma and Louise were considered for Catwoman?

Cher – It’s highly possible that Michael Keaton would have refused to get his face licked had she gotten the part.

Meryl Streep – We’re completely serious about this one. Apparently, she was considered too old for the part. The devil should wear Prada, and not latex.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Patrick Stewart – One can surmise that Professor Charles Xavier would probably not subject himself to such lines as “what killed the dinosaurs? THE ICE AGE!!”

Anthony Hopkins – Hannibal Lecter himself would later get the chance to ham it up in a comic book movie in Thor.

Sylvester Stallone – Famous for his rivalry with the Austrian Oak, the Italian Stallion reportedly fired his agent after failing to beat Schwarzenegger to the role.

Hulk Hogan – And you thought you had a hard time buying Ahnold as a scientist...