30 years of Tim Burton’s Batman

The days of the blockbuster film as media and cultural event is more or less past barring one or two exceptions. Avengers Endgame being the most recent, but for a time we’d have two, maybe three a year. In 1989 however the biggest one was Tim Burton’s Batman film.

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The marketing campaign for that film was genius. It basically threw the pre-existing trademark (the Batman logo) on anything and everything, so from around spring 89 you couldn’t move for Bat-logos everywhere. I remember being in a pub in Camden in London at the end of July in 89 with half the pub having some form of Batman t-shirt on, including myself with this effort drawn by Frank Miller.

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If you worked in comics as I did at the time, it was amazing to see people go crazy for the comics with literally a Batman title at least once a week for a year which meant boom times for lesser selling titles who only need stick Batman on the cover to suddenly see a sharp spike in sales upwards. Of course it was the success of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Killing Joke which created the environment for the film to be made, and made in the way it was as opposed to  the campy TV show.

Unlike today where every second of the film is analysed in advance, there was a lack of footage from the film and with there still being a vocal section of fans hating the casting of Michael Keaton, the producers rushed out a poorly cut teaser trailer in 1988.

I know of people who would go as see other films knowing this would be running before that film just to see these 90 seconds, and also, bad VHS copies of it would be shown at conventions just to get people a fix before the big event. The fact the film opened in America a good month before the UK meant waiting was strung out as reviews would come across the Atlantic telling us this was something special, until finally that August the film opened in a blaze of glory.

Leicester Square  had been transformed into Gotham City with Bat-Signals galore to help whip up those massive queues waitng to get in, and as for me, I had to wait til the next day to see it and indeed, it was everything I wanted then from a Batman film. I’ve written about the film before here. 

Looking back at the film now, even five years after previously writing about it, it’s clear my opinion has changed. The script doesn’t really have a third act with a messy end replacing any sort of more structured ending instead of the disheveled mess that is the ending as it is. It didn’t matter at the time, but now it’s probably two-thirds of the film I thought it was back then, or indeed, five years ago. The film’s place in history is assured, especially as it was one of the first big comic book films and proved they’d make gazillions at the box office. It has a chaotic feel and hasn’t that shiny, glossy feel of a Marvel film, plus it does draw from decades of Batman history with a great performance from Jack Nicholson who is loving every second.

But Batman made comics acceptable for millions of people. It drew in so many people into shops and made them fans of the medium, and there’s the legacy of that film. For that it’ll always hold a special place for comics fans.

You all need to start watching Echo Rose

In this day and age free entertainment/media is becoming a scarcity. YouTube tends to be the last frontier for that, and even then actual quality entertainment is even rarer because the majority of original content on YouTube is shite. So for something new and original to come along and for it to be a rabbit hole of multimedia is a joy, as it is to catch it relatively early on in the process is a delight.

An ARG stands for ‘alternate reality game‘. It’s been around online for ages. The earliest example many people will know is the multimedia tie-ins to The Blair Witch Project, but recently Stranger Things 3 did one but chances are you’ve come across one but didn’t realise what it is. Which is the point. YouTube has a load of awful ARG’s but some great ones have been there in mainly the horror genre, and in fact, there’s a load of great horror out there like Marble Hornets, Petscop and Daisy Brown and its that latter one which stood out as a pretty stunning original work, which although cheap, had aspirations beyond the limited budget.

Echo Rose (or Nettlebrook) contains the same actress who played Daisy Brown, and she’s very, very good. Here she plays the 20 something drop out from New York who has moved to a small town to make a new life for reasons we’ve not been given yet. She starts a vlog, and it is pretty much what you’d expect in its inanity of day-to-day 20 something life. All of it is beautifully observed, and all of it is fake.

This was the first video, and from here it is truely a rabbit hole of YouTube channels, and social media as an increasing creeeping horror grows as it slowly becomes clear something else is going on in Nettlebrook.

I was alerted to Echo Rose thanks to this video below which also gives you a recap of where we are now, which is still early days in ARG terms, as most ARG’s run a year or more.

I won’t say much more apart from there’s a hard to find video which was deleted that’s pretty essential to the plot, which is below.

Everything else can be found via that first Echo Rose video so get on board now as this is a group of talented people turning out slow building horror and as said, this is early days so you should only be down the rabbit hole for a few hours. Good luck!

Saving Spider-Man

Sony and Disney have been unable to continue their agreement over the use of Spider-Man in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, so from now on Sony will be making Spidey films starring Tom Holland. Cue outrage from fans promising boycotts and petitions.

Yet if half of these people pick up a comic they’ll be able to get what they want.

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And of course, by 2022/3 after a few duff films the deal will be back on or Disney will have bought Sony as they swallow the world of media whole.

And the new James Bond film is…

No Time to Die. It’ll be the last film starring Daniel Craig as Bond, and I hope it gives him a good send off as Craig has been excellent.

 

But a new Bond film brings criticism from the regressive right wing who see attempts  to make Bond fit in better to 21st century tastes, and from the wokiestwoke of the left who see Bond as a sexist dinosaur who should be scrapped. Both miss the fact Bond is a fantasy, and that he is a bastard. That’s the point. You couldn’t be a state-endorsed killer if you were a nice guy but the cold, chilling thug of the books would find it hard to operate in the 21st century.

Plus the spectre of John Wick looms over every single action film these days. A film where a brutal killer is out for revenge because his dog was killed resets the action film and so Bond has to change to reflect that while at the same time still being recognisably Bond. The films have sort of done it, but not as well as Warren Ellis’s recent run of comics which managed to marry every version of Bond out there into a 007 for the 21st century.

But a new Bond film brings the same old bleatings from people who haven’t realised that Bond has changed, and that as a character he’s not going away while there’s billions to be made and stories to be told.

 

Rutger Hauer RIP

utger Hauer has died at the age of 75 and it’s a damned pity. Hauer in another reality would be laden with Oscars, BAFTA’s and be lauded as one of the greatest actors, and leading men of his generation. Instead he forged a solid career but never got the acclaim, or often the roles, he deserved.

Like most people outwith of The Netherlands, I first saw Hauer in Blade Runner and was blown away by him and one scene in particular.

It was when I was older that I discovered his earlier work with Paul Verhoeven, with Turkish Delight

And the still extraordinary Soldier of Orange. Apart from Blade Runner this is the best film he ever made and contains this amazing scene of Nazi homoeroticism.

Then there’s the glorious joy of Ladyhawke

And the barking mad insanity of Flesh and Blood.

The ceeeping dread of The Hitcher. His opening scene is just fucking scary as anything.

The Legend of the Holy Drinker should have cemented his reputation as a true great of acting.

But instead genre fare came his way with the 1990’s being somewhat of a barren wasteland creatively, unless you count his mysterious Guinness ads from the time as a high, which compared to some of the crap he was in, they certainly were.

And yes, I’ll admit these ads shaped my dress sense for the late 80’s with lots of collarless shirts and long black coats.

In 2005 a couple of cameos in big Hollywood films came coming with Sin City and Batman Begins. These should have kick started a revival but sadly no, and Hauer stayed working constantly with his last role of real note being the title character of Hobo With A Shotgun.

Hauer leaves behind a huge CV. Most of it isn’t worth paying attention to but dear god, some of the highlights shine and there’s so many highlights. He’ll be missed for what he did and what he could have done as well.

What I thought of Spider-Man: Far From Home

Spider-Man: Far From Home acts as a coda to Avengers: Endgame and the first decade of the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a whole while throwing out seeds for the next phase of the MCU. It is also a film that  messes with the characters of Spider-Man and Peter Parker, and not for the best either.

From here on in lie SPOILERS. You’ve been warned.

The film takes place shortly after Endgame where the world is still reacting to the death of Tony Stark (less so the Black Widow) and the return of half the life in the universe after five years.  The problem lies with the return of people who’ve been essentially dead for half a decade suddenly returned to life to deal with the people who survived. A Spidey film could have been the perfect place to deal with the angst of this through Peter Parker; a comic character who is angst himself but instead we get a few gags as Peter and his pals (who all happened to be main or secondary cast members who died during the Snap) go on a jolly to Europe.

I get the idea to give Peter and co a break as a plot tool to show how the world (well, Europe) has changed but while on holiday Peter is contacted by Nick Fury who has hooked up with Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhall having enormous fun), a self-proclaimed hero from another reality who snuck through chasing four elementals after the Snap. At this point Peter is mourning Tony Stark and is vulnerable to another role model entering his life to dish out helpful lessons in life.

The problem is that the very essence of Spider-Man/Peter Parker is that he’s learned his main lesson in life that great power comes with great responsibility due to his selfishness causing Uncle Ben (the man who raised him as his own son) being murdered. Now we don’t need to see Ben die yet again on screen but in every version of Spidey out there this is the core of who he is, even the Ultimate version written by Brian Bendis on which this version is largely based. Up to now things have worked with Peter desperate for a father figure in Tony Stark and carrying on his lesson learned from Ben’s death but here Peter is a lovesick arsehole doing silly things to prove himself to MJ and Mysterio who he barely knows.

Nobody is fleshed out. Nobody has sensible motivations.  Mysterio is yet another bitter villain who just wants revenge on Tony Stark, or on his legacy,  while Peter and MJ’s relationship feels rushed and unearned even though Tom Holland and Zendaya work their arses off to make the best of what they’re working with.

Far From Home isn’t a bad film. It’s a summer blockbuster that is fun and entertaining but the script is a road accident as it feels like it took a desperately quick rewrite after Endgame to take that film into account, not to mention work so it sets up Phase 4. Plot overtakes story and characterisationas these films are made on a production line. That’s one reason why most recent MCU films use a load of green screen work which makes scenes look cheap and rushed. However ignoring the character of Uncle Ben changes Spidey. It takes the guilt and self-loathing (in those Ditko/Lee strips Peter not only hates himself but is often a pretty unlikeable bit of work) out of Peter Parker and replaces it with a whining stupidity that ends up with Peter giving Mysterio the key to Stark’s technology because Peter here is an idiot.

Which is a shame. Tom Holland is a perfect cross between the John Romita and Ultimate era Spidey. He’s a good actor who will clearly be the new cornerstone of the MCU in the decade to come and will hopefully have better to work with in the future but Far From Home feels rushed and more interested in the overall arc of the MCU than telling a great Spidey story.

The endless futile entitlement of fandom

This week saw pitiful cries of entitlement about Game of Thrones, and the casting of the new Batman. In the case of Game of Thrones, fans started a petition asking for ‘competent writers’ for a proposed remake of the last season. As of the moment I write this there’s over a million people who’ve signed it which is not a shock but these people basically want the programme to pan out as they want it to, so when they say ‘competent’ what they really mean is ‘someone I like writing something I like’.

The next bit of fan entitlement is the casting of Robert Pattinson as the new Batman. Shrill cries of outrage followed as fans cried a torrent of tears and anger that one of the star of the Twilight film should be cast. Some calmer voices pointed out that was a decade ago and he’s been carving a career as a pretty good actor since but no, outrage!

Back in 1988 when Michael Keaton was cast as Batman in the then forthcoming Tim Burton film fans were outraged and yes, a petition circulated round pre-digital fan circles.

There’s nothing new about fan entitlement. It is an old thing but it doesn’t stop people from complaining, or indeed, desperately doubling back once they’ve realised that Thing X isn’t actually as bad as it was or that complaining about Thing X makes them a bit of a cock.

So in around 18 months many of these people signing petitions will be praising Robert Pattison and wishing there was another series as good as Game of Thrones.All of this will be forgotten as these people move onto their next target and the cycle carries on throughout the generations…