Lethal Protector

Venom doesn’t need to exist, but I guess it could’ve been worse. Spider-Man has one of the most iconic rogues galleries in comic book history. Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, and Venom are his big three archenemies for different reasons. Green Goblin for his personal vendetta, Doc Ock for his scientific connection, and Venom for evil parallels to the hero. Venom is one of Spider-Man’s later villains not created by Stan Lee. A hulking black symbiote with a constant sharp toothed grin and a long tongue is the kind of edgy character only Todd McFarlane & David Michelinie could think of. Spider-Man’s black alien costume first appeared during Secret Wars.

Venom’s first fully formed appearance didn’t come until the 1988 The Amazing Spider-Man #300. My familiarity with the villain actually happened when I watched the 3 Part “Alien Costume” storyline from Spider-Man: The Animated Series. I was excited to see Venom in Spider-Man 3, but we all know how that ended up. I didn’t mind a reboot, but it never made sense to have Venom without Spider-Man. Especially when Marvel Studios already owned so many characters. Sony producer Amy Pascal tried to make Venom adjunct to the MCU, but Kevin Feige never seemed comfortable with the idea. I could still enjoy standalone Marvel movies since they existed since my childhood, but Venom felt like the start of something I never wanted…

12. Venom

Venom threatens someone

Venom is technically the first supervillain movie. Even though it turns them into the anti-hero I never wanted to see. Venom has always been defined by his hatred of Spider-Man. In most comics, Venom is an alien symbiote that attaches itself to a host and feeds off their darkest desires. When Peter Parker was infected, it led the hero down a dark path until he freed himself from its influence. Since the symbiote bonded with Spider-Man, Venom mimicked his webbing, spider symbol, and was able to block his spider-sense. Eddie Brock was a perfect second host since he hated Spider-Man as much as the symbiote did. Spider-Man 3 touched on this, but no one can take Topher Grace seriously as a scrawny Venom. Sam Raimi is mostly to blame since he never wanted to do the villain due to his “lack of humanity.” It’s actually ironic since Venom becoming an anti-hero is something that developed overtime.

The movie’s primary inspiration was the “Lethal Protector” storyline where Eddie Brock convinces Venom to fight evil in San Francisco. Although Sony wanted Tom Holland to make an appearance, Venom had to clumsily work around the heroes absence. A standalone Venom movie has actually been considered as far back as 1997. Hence why the 2018 film feels like it belongs in the 90’s. Venom is such a step back when superhero movies have progressed to the point of Avengers: Infinity War. Hardcore fans like me were disappointed, but casual audiences didn’t know any better. Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer seemed promising until Venom was revealed to have a PG-13 rating. An R rating doesn’t guarantee quality, but a monster who literally bites off heads probably should’ve been more mature. I was worried the moment I saw the horribly underwhelming teaser trailer. How could I get excited when all it showed was Eddie Brock in an MRI machine, vague narration, incomplete effects, and no sign of the titular Venom.

The first trailer made me a little more hopeful with the reveal of a Venom that practically leaps off the page. With the distracting exception of his large white spider symbol. Further trailers made me nervous again with cringy dialogue like the infamous “Turd in the wind” line. Since it had no connection to the MCU, my brother and I decided to see Venom without our parents. Unlike past Spider-Man movies, Venom is now “In Association With Marvel.” Like most iterations, the Venom symbiote arrives to Earth on a crashing space shuttle. Having J. Jonah Jameson’s son John Jameson as one of the astronauts is an interesting easter egg that doesn’t make a lot of sense in a world without Spider-Man. Unlike Topher Grace, Tom Hardy is an A list actor who actually looks like the physically imposing Eddie Brock from the comics. He went from having his face covered as DC’s Bane to having his face covered as Marvel’s Venom.

The problem is all the attention he’s given before the symbiote even takes over. Hardy’s performance is so bizarre with all his weird little ticks, whispering, growling, and an undefinable American accent. In the comics, Brock is a journalist who was discredited when Spider-Man inadvertently turned an article of his into a tabloid. Brock fell on hard times, divorced his wife, coped through bodybuilding, and contemplated suicide. The movie does none of that. Eddie is now an independent journalist with his own investigative news show called “The Eddie Brock Show.” Ron Cephas Jones is Brock’s boss who you might recognize as Bobby Fish on Luke Cage. Eddie’s successful lawyer wife Anne Weying is now his fiancée played by Michelle Williams. She’s not above franchise movies, but it does feel like she’s not taking the part too seriously.

Anne & Eddie’s relationship is given way too much attention. To the point it almost feels like a rom-com that happens to feature alien symbiotes. They break up when Eddie goes through her private files for the sake of a story. Like the “Lethal Protector” comic, Carlton Drake and the Life Foundation are the villains of the story. Brock is now discredited by Drake when the former attempts to uncover the latter’s unethical business practices. Riz Ahmed is another really good actor who lowers himself to the movie’s level. Drake has the same high and mighty motivation as other 2018 villains who want to save the planet from itself. Even if that means testing symbiotes on lower class individuals. An already tricky special effect looks even more cartoony when symbiote colors include black, grey, blue, and yellow. Most of the symbiotes have names and hosts in the comics, but the movie focuses on Venom and Riot.

Riot keeps jumping from host to host with barely any time to get to know the villain. Riot inhabits the body of Jameson, a Malaysian medic, an elderly Malaysian woman, and a little girl before they catch up to Drake. Meanwhile, Brock becomes a loser after 6 months of losing everything. Though he’s still a good guy who gives money to homeless women and has a friendship with convenience store owner Mrs. Chen. Comedian Jenny Slate plays a scientist who contacts Brock when Drake starts to go too far. Her presence is also a little distracting, but I wasn’t really thinking about her pronunciation of “Symbiote.” It’s only at the Life Foundation that Eddie finally comes into contact with Venom, but we have to wait even longer to see them in action. The first action scene is just Eddie being chased by security through a forest. The symbiote turns him into a crackhead who sweats profusely, eats chicken out of the garbage, and hears voices in his head.

The transformation is a little too similar to Catwoman. Not only does Brock act weird, but he even yells at a neighbor for playing loud music just like a scene in Catwoman. Though the “Lobster scene” doesn’t quite match the infamous “Basketball scene.” Anne is back in Eddie’s life when she grows concerned over his behavior. Her doctor boyfriend Dan helps him by scanning him with an MRI machine. Just like the comics, Venom is vulnerable to high pitched sounds and fire. Venom only makes their presence known when Eddie is in danger. Unlike Grace, Hardy’s Venom voice is as deep as it should be. I didn’t want to laugh at most of the movie’s attempts at humor, but Eddie & Venom’s Ren & Stimpy relationship is amusing. Venom unleashes his deadly tendrils from Eddie’s body in a second action scene where Drake’s mercenaries chase him through the San Francisco streets. It’s a sloppy scene with the same Rialto Theater in the background of several shots.

By this point I just wanted to see Venom, but his first appearance is pretty lame. Eddie first sees Venom in a car reflection before finally showing himself an entire freaking hour into the movie. Some fans try to defend his line about eating someone’s eyes, lungs, and pancreas, because it’s taken word-for-word from the comics, but bad writing is bad writing. Venom proceeds to bite the guy’s head off, but you can barely make out what happens. When Venom talks to Eddie face-to-face, they make a deal to work together. Eddie uses Venom to take the evidence he has on Drake to his old job. When they get caught by the police, it leads to a mostly badass action scene where Venom lets loose in a smoke filled room. Venom is horror adjacent, but it’s still far from scary. When Anne finds Eddie as Venom, she once again tries to help him. Venom in return tries to help Eddie with his love life.

Their bond doesn’t last when it’s revealed Venom is slowly killing him from the inside. Anne separates them with a high frequency and the symbiote ends up in a dog. Eddie gets captured by Drake who ended up bonding with Riot. The goofy looking grey Riot is such a lame villain considering what we could’ve gotten. His only unique trait are a variety of bladed weapons. Taking inspiration from “Planet of the Symbiotes,” Riot plans to start an invasion of symbiotes from planet Klyntar. She-Venom makes a surprise appearance when Anne temporarily hosts the symbiote. It’s a strangely erotic moment when they share a kiss that transfers Venom back to Eddie. Though Venom was originally part of the invasion, they randomly decide not to after calling himself a loser and bonding with Eddie. It’s a rushed relationship to say the least. The climax takes place at night on Drake’s launch site where Riot plans to contact their race. After Eddie drops a pointless F bomb, Venom tries to stop Riot. The CGI is so bad that you can barely make out who’s fighting who. Symbiotes merge together and Brock ends up fighting Drake hand to hand.

Eddie gets stabbed, but he obviously doesn’t die. Venom burns up when he destroys the rocket, but they also obviously don’t die. Eddie mends his relationship with Anne, but they’re still broken up by the end. Venom holds out hope and Stan Lee agrees in a surprise cameo that sadly ended up being the last one released in his lifetime. Venom only accepts the role of Lethal Protector when a thug holds up Mrs. Chen. The closing credits feature an equally edgy “Venom” song performed by Eminem himself. Even though I didn’t want to accept a Sony cinematic universe, I had to admit I was excited during the mid-credits scene. Eddie & Venom go to San Quentin prison where they visit serial killer Cletus Kasady played by busy former Ruben Fleischer collaborator Woody Harrelson. His awkward red wig wasn’t enough to distract from his chilling promise of Carnage in the sequel. Critics hated Venom, but an $8 million box-office gross was sadly enough to encourage Sony to make more movies without Spidey’s involvement. Maybe audiences were trying to fill the void left by Spider-Man’s fate in Infinity War. Of course the after credits scene is more promising (more on that one later). While I can accept the movie as dumb fun, Venom is still a turd in the wind.

13. Venom

Venom meets Eddie Brock face to face

Followed by: Venom: Let There Be Carnage

Just for One Day

We Can Be Heroes is the sequel to Sharkboy and Lavagirl I never knew I wanted. I was seriously taken off guard when it was announced. Although I grew up with the movie, I never thought Robert Rodriguez would return to it. Making a sequel after the kids grew up didn’t work for Spy Kids 4-D, but I enjoyed We Can Be Heroes a lot more than I thought I would. Though it technically isn’t a Sharkboy and Lavagirl sequel. Rodriguez clearly wanted to make his own kid friendly superhero universe and it only made sense to include them.

Taylor Dooley reprises her role, but Taylor Lautner doesn’t, despite his recent Twilight fame. So Lavagirl does all the talking while Sharkboy remains silent and wears a mask. Since he’s in everything now, Pedro Pascal plays the Heroics leader Marcus Moreno who can hold swords magnetically. There’s also Boyd Holbrook as the prototypical Miracle Guy, Christian Slater as the technological Tech-No, and many more colorful superheroes. When they’re all captured by aliens, their children step up to bring them back. Priyanka Chopra plays the head of Heroics who keeps all the kids in one place. Missy Moreno is Marcus’ ordinary daughter who proves herself as a leader.

Wheels is a super-smart kid in a wheelchair, Noodles stretches, Ojo has precognitive drawings, A Capella is a personal favorite with super singing, Slo-Mo moves in slow motion, Face Maker makes goofy faces, Rewind & Fast Forward affect time differently, and Wild Card has many powers that he can’t control. The adorable Guppy is the daughter of Sharkboy & Lavagirl with shark strength and water manipulation. It could have easily been cheesy and/or cringy, but I really like seeing original superheroes. The cartoonish CGI actually works and the childish action is actually pretty fun. We Can Be Heroes gave kids a chance to be super.

We Can Be Heroes

The Heroics

Preceded by: The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D

The Kato Movie

The Green Hornet deserves better. Before Batman, there was the masked vigilante known as the Green Hornet. His 1936 radio show was created by George W. Trendle and Fran Striker. The show’s success led to film serials, comic books, and the more well known (and short-lived) 1966 cult TV series. I’ve known about it for years considering my parents were fans who only watched it for Bruce Lee. Like everyone else, I know the Green Hornet’s sidekick Kato is clearly the star of the show. When a movie was announced, my mom wanted to see it with my brother and I. Although the movie was bad when I saw it in theaters, I didn’t fully understand it until I watched the series 11 years later. The Green Hornet was cheaply made, formulaic, and an obvious Batman clone that even included a crossover. Yet it’s also a good ol’ fashion detective show with a classy performance from Van Williams and plenty of awesome martial arts action from Bruce Lee. The movie is more concerned with being meta, having crude jokes, tonal shifts, and surreal filmmaking from Eternal Sunshine director Michel Gondry.

I knew something was up when comedian Seth Rogen was cast as Daily Sentinel newspaper publisher Britt Reid aka the Green Hornet. George Clooney ironically turned down the role for Batman & Robin and several other a-listers were considered before he was cast. Although Rogen is technically the first comedian to slim down for a superhero role, he’s just not the charming ladies man Britt is supposed to be. This Britt is a spoiled rich kid who gets jealous of Kato’s many talents. Kato was equally hard to cast since no one can ever live up to Bruce Lee. Jason Scott Lee was also ironically considered before the role went to Taiwanese singer Jay Chou in his American film debut. The movie seriously plays up Kato’s skills by making him a near superhuman martial arts expert who builds the Black Beauty, constructs the Hornet gun, draws, and makes a mean cup of coffee. The Black Beauty is just as cool with several more weapons hidden inside. It can be funny when the movie points out certain aspects of the show like Kato’s lack of a superhero name.

We also see Britt’s stern father played by Tom Wilkinson before he dies. The Green Hornet and Kato pose as criminals like the show, but the former can barely be taken seriously. The rest of the cast feels just as out of character. Cameron Diaz is Reid’s attractive secretary Lenore Case who’s a lot more knowledgeable about journalism, but doesn’t return her bosses desperate advances. Edward James Olmos plays a much older, much less bumbling Mike Axford who ends up inheriting the company. The biggest slap in the face is making the trusted District Attorney Frank Scanlon a bad guy. David Harbour plays him in his first of many superhero related movie roles. The biggest saving grace is Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as the memorable Russian gangster Chudnofsky. His motivations are mostly not being taken seriously as a threat. James Franco cameos as a gangster just to point it out. Chudnofsky meets a brutal demise and the vigilante duo continue crime fighting after recreating the episode “Bad Bet on a 459-Silent.” None of it is enough to save the movie from mistreating its source material. 2011 just wasn’t the year for green superheroes (*cough* Green Lantern). The Green Hornet stings.

The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet and Kato

There’s No Need to Fear

Underdog is a treat for the young and the old. As long as you don’t care how many times it’s been told. It’s yet another failed attempt by Disney to adapt an old Saturday-morning cartoon. Underdog is the only animated animal superhero lucky enough to get his own movie. I guess we’ll have to wait for the Mighty Mouse, Atom Ant, or Super Chicken movie. Since my mom enjoyed the 60’s series growing up, my brother and I decided to see the movie with her. Even though Underdog is basically Superman with a dog (Krypto?), we did enjoy it when it first came out. Despite all the changes and Disneyfication of the simple superhero story.

Underdog is a little more concerned with a “boy and his dog” story. Shoeshine is just a regular Beagle given that name after licking a shoe. When he gains superpowers, Shoeshine adopts the name Underdog, learns to rhyme, and fights some crime. Since he isn’t anthropomorphic, Underdog has a whiny teenager by his side named Jack. He has a standard deceased mom and a distant dad who used to be a cop played by Jim Belushi. The same year he did Alvin and the Chipmunks, Jason Lee voiced Underdog. He feels just as miscast here as he was there. The high pitched Underdog doesn’t exactly sound right with his My Name is Earl voice.

His reporter love interest Polly Purebred is also a regular Cavalier King Charles Spaniel now belonging to a high school reporter named Molly played by Taylor Momsen. Amy Adams ironically voices Polly several years before she played Lois Lane. Wolf gangster Riff Raff is also changed to a bully Rottweiler voiced by Brad Garrett. Peter Dinklage and Patrick Warburton are really trying their hardest as the wicked scientist Dr. Simon Barsinister and his dimwitted lackey Cad respectively. Just like Superman, Underdog stops petty crime, flies with Polly, loses his powers, and saves his city from destruction. It’s derivative, but at least his theme song is still catchy. There’s no need to fear, Underdog is here!

Underdog

Underdog flies

A Not So Valiant Effort

Bloodshot misses the mark. Although I’ve always been a huge superhero fan, even I never heard of Valiant Comics until maybe 5 years ago. You’d be surprised at just how many obscure comic book titles there are. Bloodshot was yet another futile attempt to launch a cinematic universe. Harbinger would’ve been the next installment, but nobody’s really asking for that. Bloodshot seemed like a badass anti-hero deserving of some media attention. Since I figured it would be bad, I only saw the movie out of obligation. I saw Bloodshot by myself, but it has the unfortunate honor of being the last movie I saw before the theater shutdown. The pandemic forced it onto streaming 2 weeks after release.

Despite fans clearly craving comic accuracy, Bloodshot is more Vin Diesel action flick than superhero movie. Although Bloodshot’s origin isn’t always consistent, he’s either mafia hitman Angelo Mortalli or covert operative Raymond Garrison. Diesel plays U.S. soldier Ray Garrison who loses his wife and his life to a mercenary. Bloodshot feels like a generic 90’s superhero movie with shady organization Rising Spirit Technologies led by Guy Pearce. KT is Ray’s sexy fellow soldier, Jimmy Dalton is a throwaway villain with a suit resembling X-O Manowar, and Wigans is an overly eccentric hacker.

RST manipulates Ray with false memories in order to eliminate enemies like one played by Toby Kebbell. In the comics, Bloodshot was infused with regenerating nanotechnology that gave him chalk white skin, red eyes, and a red spot on his chest. The movie keeps the overall ability, but the R rated story is watered down to a PG-13. Diesel doesn’t bother wearing a wig or looking like the character at all. Ray only looks like Bloodshot when he overexerts his power at the end. Bloodshot is more or less dead on arrival.

Bloodshot

Bloodshot vs. Jimmy Dalton

Born in Darkness

Spawn has the 90’s written all over it. It’s no secret that DC and Marvel are the reigning comic book companies. Comic creator Todd McFarlane got his start making edgy Spider-Man comics and bringing Venom to life. His style was so edgy that it led to the creation of the first creator-owned superhero company Image Comics. McFarlane had been developing Spawn ever since he was a teenager. Until his anti-hero became the hottest thing in the 90’s. Though I’m always wary of hell-raising superheroes, Spawn is a badass character with a prominent red cape, edgy spikes, chains, glowing green Necroplasmic eyes, and a Spider-Man inspired black costume. Spawn’s success led to toys, video games, a mature animated series, and a terrible 1997 movie that came out way too soon. I sometimes forget the film even exists, because of how unique it is.

Apart from being the only legitimate Image Comics movie, Spawn is the first movie starring an existing black superhero. I’d say that’s a big milestone, but Spawn suffers from the same problem as Steel (released 14 days later). Spawn has over-the-top performances, a dated 90’s soundtrack, horrifically bad CGI, little faithfulness to the source material, filler that distracts from the titular hero, and a baffling PG-13 rating. Only the makeup used on Spawn and his archenemy the Violator have any comic accuracy. Spawn mostly follows CIA operative Al Simmons’ origin of being betrayed by his boss and sent to Hell where a devil turns him into a Hellspawn with a variety of superpowers. Michael Jai White tries his best, but it’s difficult to get excited when his face is always horribly disfigured. Aside from his wife Wanda and daughter Cyan, fellow CIA agent Terry and his killer are both race changed to be white instead of black.

His killer is now a sexy female assassin named Jessica Priest. Martin Sheen plays his overly evil boss Jason Wynn with plans of destroying the world with a deadly bioweapon or something like that. It doesn’t stand out nearly as much as John Leguizamo mugging the camera as the overweight blue-faced clown Violator. We all know how much Michael Jai White hates clowns. This was unfortunately Nicol Williamson’s final role as Spawn’s mentor Cogliostro, but it’s not too insulting. Although they try to recapture McFarlane’s unique art style, the devil Malebolgia, Hell, Violator’s demonic form, and Spawn’s cape are all awful special effects. Until MacFarlane’s reboot escapes development hell, Spawn remains one of the worst superhero movies of the 90’s.

Spawn

Spawn broods

Tra-La-Laaa!

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie is packed with action, thrills, and laffs! Although I was 22 at the time, Captain Underpants was something I had to watch in theaters. Unlike the previous DreamWorks Animation movie starring an underwear clad hero released in 2017, I already knew what to expect from Captain Underpants. I’ve been reading Dav Pilkey’s epic novels since middle school. I mostly ignored them in elementary school, but I found them hilarious and relatable when I gave them a chance. Like the main characters, I myself created my own superhero comics at a young age. Knowing they were making a movie was both unexpected and overdue. DreamWorks made The First Epic Movie cheap, but very faithful to the books.

The cartoony drawings are nicely computer animated and the potty humor is very much intact. Your enjoyment of the movie depends on how you feel about the source material. The cast of comedians is fitting, but not at all what I imagined. The adult Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch voice 4th graders George Beard and Harold Hutchins. George is the kid with the tie and the flat top and Harold is the one with the t-shirt and the bad haircut (remember that now). Like the books, they’re best friends who love pranks and making comics at Treehouse Comix Inc. Their crude comics are recreated with fun traditional animation and the “Flip-O-Rama” is even used in a graphic action scene. Ed Helms is a mean, but surprisingly sympathetic principal Mr. Krupp. A romantic subplot is added to humanize him a bit more.

Like the book, Krupp is hypnotized into thinking he’s the greatest superhero of all time! Although Captain Underpants steals the show as a dimwitted superhero, the friendship between George & Harold is the heart of the movie. They hilariously try to keep their principal out of trouble, but a classic villain gets in the way. Unlike his starring book, Professor Poopypants plots to eliminate all laughter. Nick Kroll voices a mean villain, but Jordan Peele voicing the nerdy tattletail Melvin Sneedly is more unexpected. Laughter saves the day and Captain Underpants gains powers in the process. Ending with terrible talking toilets and an appropriate song from Weird Al Yankovic. Captain Underpants will win over the young and the young at heart. “Tra-la-laaa!”

33. Captain Underpants

George and Harold laugh at Captain Underpants

Life is Good, but it Can Be Better

Wonder Woman 1984 is heartbreaking. I really wish the DC Extended Universe would get their act together, because I don’t know how many times I can be disappointed. Wonder Woman isn’t flawless, but it is the first DCEU movie I genuinely loved all the way through. The Amazing Amazon was finally given a film that both honored her history and made her a role model worth cheering for. Of course I was excited to see a sequel. Even after Warner Bros. continued mishandling their heroes in Justice League, Wonder Woman remained untarnished. Patty Jenkins returned to direct and Gal Gadot made the sequel her fourth portrayal of the iconic heroine. Setting the movie in 1984 made sense considering Diana’s immortality and the fact that 80’s nostalgia is still a thing.

Trailers made Wonder Woman 1984 look brighter and more optimistic. I was definitely excited to see the movie until the pandemic struck. Although it should’ve come out November or December 2019 like originally planned, Warner Bros. foolishly moved it to June 2020. It was frustrating to see all the theaters close and even more frustrating to slowly lose excitement for something I really wanted to see. Like most tentpole releases, WW84 was moved from August to October 2020. When Tenet failed to attract viewers, Warner Bros. sort of panicked and gave the movie a final release date of Christmas day 2020. Both in theaters and on HBO Max at no charge. Since I absolutely need to see a superhero movie on the big screen, I made seeing it a present for my family. I tried very hard to love Wonder Woman 1984, but I needed to stop lying to myself…

19. Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman runs through DC

Wonder Woman 1984 is yet another superhero sequel with an undeniable drop in quality. No matter how hard Rotten Tomatoes tried to convince you otherwise. I’ve never seen a movie go from 90% to 59% in a matter of weeks. It got so bad that Rotten Tomatoes had to change its critical consensus from glowing to lukewarm at best. I can’t say that I saw too many warning signs on the surface. Gal Gadot was still the ideal Princess of Themyscira after her performance won me over, but DC continued to cast the most unlikely actors to play their biggest characters. Well known comedian Kristen Wiig is the last person I’d expect to play Wonder Woman’s archenemy Cheetah. Wonder Woman has a colorful rogues gallery, but Cheetah is the villain I always wanted to see the Amazing Amazon go up against. I just never knew much about her comic book history or origin. Regardless, it was encouraging to know she’d be making her theatrical debut in the movie.

It was confusing, but I was just as happy to know Chris Pine would return as Steve Trevor despite dying at the end of Wonder Woman. WW84 is technically the first direct sequel in the DCEU. Batman v Superman doesn’t count as a Man of Steel sequel since the Dark Knight gets just as much attention. Birds of Prey doesn’t count as a Suicide Squad sequel since it’s more of a Harley Quinn spin-off. WW84 has no other DC superheroes or references to other films. I continued to believe in Patty Jenkins as a director, but now I think she’s part of the problem. Although she had a perfect understanding of Wonder Woman in her first movie, WW84 feels like she got way too much creative control with no one questioning her decisions. Starting with an agonizingly slow 2 hour & 31 minute runtime. There’s no reason why it had to be that long. I was happy to be in a movie theater again, but even I have my limits.

Wonder Woman 1984 begins promisingly enough with a flashback dedicated to part of Diana’s origin that was missing in the first movie. In the original Golden Age comics, Diana secretly performs in an Amazonian competition on Paradise Island to determine who brings Steve Trevor back to “Man’s World.” Diana wins the competition and her mother Queen Hippolyta reluctantly accepts her as champion. Since the competition would’ve slowed things down, WW84 makes it part of Diana’s childhood. I suppose Gadot’s cheesy narration should’ve been the first warning sign, but it was just nice to see the beautiful island of Themyscira again. It’s the only time we see Connie Nielsen and Robin Wright reprise their respective roles as Queen Hippolyta and General Antiope in the entire movie. Young Diana participates in the athletic event that includes a giant obstacle course, horseback riding, and javelin throwing.

She’s knocked off her horse and cheats by taking a shortcut. Her Aunt Antiope hammers in the film’s message about always telling the truth and her mother does the same with a not so subtle reference to another Amazon warrior. There’s nothing explicitly wrong with the flashback, but it is 11 minutes longer than it needs to be. The tone shifts considerably when we enter 1984. Thanks to movies and/or shows like Stranger Things, 80’s nostalgia is practically inescapable. If Wonder Woman is like Captain America: The First Avenger, then WW84 is like The Winter Soldier. But only for its American setting in Washington, DC. The 1984 opening scene is more like Superman III. It’s overly comical and sees the titular hero save several civilians at once. The entire sequence screams 1980’s with bright colors, questionable fashion, aerobics, and a mall as the first action set piece.

Every background performance either sounds off or is overexaggerated to the point of unbelievability. A gang of criminals trying to rob the mall is so over-the-top that it feels like a Joel Schumacher Batman movie. Most problems can be found in Wonder Woman’s first fight scene. Diana makes her grand entrance in the already perfect Wonder Woman costume. The red & blue colors are a bit brighter, but the only real difference is her 80’s hairdo. It was suddenly clear that Diana wasn’t going to use her sword or shield in any fight scene. I knew I was in trouble when Diana said “I hate guns” out of nowhere. Patty Jenkins was so certain that a hero who fights for love wouldn’t use harsh weapons or kill people. Some fights come to a screeching halt just so Diana can clarify no one will get hurt. Not that Zack Snyder ever got the memo. So Wonder Woman finally uses her tiara as a boomerang and only occasionally uses her indestructible bracelets.

It’s really her Lasso of Truth that she turns into an all purpose superweapon capable of swinging, catching bullets, deflecting objects, and even flying through the air. It’s almost never used as a straightforward lie detector, but it is shown to also reveal the truth to people. Wonder Woman knocking a criminal into an oversized drum, holding a criminal by the leg after flipping him, and throwing a child into a giant teddy bear while winking is the corniest thing I’ve ever seen in a superhero movie. I hope you liked it, because those 3 minutes are all we see of Wonder Woman for well over an hour! It’s almost like Patty Jenkins forgot this was a superhero movie and decided to make a romantic comedy in the meantime. I loved Gal Gadot as a wide-eyed optimist capable of great heroism, but the material she’s given really makes me question her performance.

Since World War I, Diana Prince became quite the wet blanket. She doesn’t go out with friends, date, or even own a TV. Her life can be seen in photos of her old war buddies, an elderly Etta Candy, and the watch Steve gave her. Steve Trevor is practically all Diana can think about half the time. She now works at the Smithsonian Museum where Diana encounters Barbara Ann Minerva. In the comics, Cheetah is three women and one man. Priscilla Rich is an ordinary human debutante with a split personality who grows jealous of Wonder Woman. Deborah Domaine is the equally human niece of Priscilla who befriends Wonder Woman, but ultimately takes on her aunt’s mantle. No one talks about Sebastian Ballesteros, so Barbara Ann Minerva became the definitive Cheetah. Unlike her predecessors, Dr. Minerva was an archeologist granted the appearance and powers of a superhuman cheetah by the god Urzkartaga.

Kristen Wiig is surprisingly fitting as a mixture of each Cheetah, but Barbara is literally every bespectacled nerd who feels invisible cliché. WW84 is almost exactly like Batman Returns with a less than confident woman gaining confidence by becoming a cat, and a shrewd businessman as the antagonists. Pedro Pascal comes full circle after his role in the failed 2011 Wonder Woman pilot. Maxwell Lord is a shrewd, but powerful businessman responsible for the formation of the Justice League in the 80’s. He’s had many appearances in animation, Smallville, and Supergirl. Jay Baruchel was meant to play Lord in Justice League: Mortal before the film was cancelled. So Max Lord made his cinematic debut in WW84 instead. I’m happy Pascal is getting a career boost, but there’s no reason to make him Latin or give him so much endless attention.

Maxwell Lord is an oil tycoon who does TV infomercials with the catchphrase, “Life is good, but it can be better.” He’s meant to represent Gordon Gekko, but modeling him after Donald Trump really makes me question critics who praised the film’s “escapist qualities.” I couldn’t care less about Lord’s crappy working environment, endless boring business discussions, or the fact that he has a son to make proud. It’s in the comics, but that doesn’t mean half the movie needs to be dedicated to it. Cheetah is practically sidelined in the process. A lot of time is spent on Diana befriending the nerdy Barbara who wants to be just like her. The movie also has a ton of catcalling that never feels natural. Diana saves Barbara from a creep without revealing her identity. At work, they both try to identify this movie’s McGuffin. A Dreamstone created by the Duke of Deception.

Wish fulfilment feels like a serious cop out when it can be used to explain Cheetah’s powers, Maxwell Lord’s telepathic percussion, or the sudden appearance of Steve Trevor. Barbara makes a wish to be just like Diana and ends up looking hotter in the process. She also gains the unintended side effects of Wonder Woman’s super strength that she uses in a random aerobics session. Lord steals the stone after seducing Barbara and wishes to become the Dreamstone itself. His comic accurate power of percussion ends up feeling more ridiculous with every wish he grants. Lord has to touch a person, but grows weaker after taking something in return. Before Lord became the stone, Diana wished to have Steve back. He does return at a gala, but it’s done in the most unnecessary way imaginable. Rather than have Steve Trevor appear out of thin air, Patty Jenkins thought it made sense to have Steve possess the body of a guy literally credited as “Handsome Man.”

Diana & Steve lovingly embrace, then proceed to use his body like a sex doll. No DCEU movie can ever seem to escape controversy of some kind. Chris Pine is still perfectly likeable as Trevor, but making him the new “fish out of water” goes on forever. Steve has an 80’s clothing montage, visits the Air and Space museum, sees airplanes, subways, and appreciates art. Didn’t this movie used to have a superhero in it? Things finally get back on track when Diana & Steve investigate the origin of the stone. Learning that every wish comes with a trick. Diana scolds Barbara for giving the stone to Lord and she grows resentful of having her wish taken away. Wiig is surprisingly convincing when she eventually turns evil. She beats up the creep who harassed her and fashions herself a cheetah print outfit.

Diana feels the effects of the stone when her powers diminish, but she still helps Steve fly to Egypt to confront Lord. Another ridiculously implausible scene is Steve & Diana using a plane that’s been sitting in a museum. Nevermind that it’s both full of gas and easy for a WWI pilot to fly. When Diana remembers radar tracking, she randomly gains the ability to turn things invisible like her father Zeus did for Themyscira. I can’t complain too much, because it finally gives Wonder Woman her iconic Invisible Jet. In the comics, the plane made up for Diana’s lack of flight capabilities. It’s a magical moment with Steve & Diana seeing fireworks on the Fourth of July, but it doesn’t feel earned after so many moments with the couple. Lord gains more oil from the ruler of Bialya. Even more time is dedicated to Arabian politics I couldn’t bother to understand.

Diana is drawn to his wish and finally suits up again at the 1 hour & 21 minute mark. If taking this long to see Wonder Woman again was supposed to be a recreation of the brilliant “No Man’s Land” scene, then they failed miserably. Not even with Han Zimmer’s infectious score. Still, it’s enough just to see Wonder Woman flip tanks even if her powers are slowing her down. The Israeli Gal Gadot saving Muslim children as Wonder Woman can’t be a coincidence. Lord gets away, but his power only gets worse until the whole world descends into chaos. I officially checked out when Lord meets the President resembling Ronald Reagan. Lord takes the President’s power in exchange for Cold War missiles that can destroy the world any second. More baffling is Lord interpreting the President’s global satellite broadcasting system as a metaphor for touching everyone on Earth. He plans to use the remaining wishes to make himself healthier.

Wonder Woman’s third fight scene at the White House is probably her best action set piece by default. Her Lasso comes in handy, but Steve being told not to kill doesn’t make things easy. Even though he could easily make a wish from Lord after handcuffing him. Barbara showing up in her Cheetah outfit is their best confrontation in the movie. Wonder Woman does her best, but she’s too weak to defeat her former friend. It’s clear that Diana has to renounce her wish after a tearful goodbye where she vows never to love again. Wonder Woman achieves flight by launching her Lasso into the air and floating on the clouds like Peter Pan. There’s no reason to question anything at this point. Diana returns home where she dons the golden armor worn by the bravest Amazon warrior in history.

In the comics, the gold armor was worn by Wonder Woman in the Kingdom Come storyline. I immediately recognized the golden eagle-like wingsuit, but that doesn’t mean it translates well to film. I think she only wears the costume to show less skin in the climax. Diana flies to the satellite base where she’s confronted by Cheetah after Barbara wishes to be an apex predator. The final Cheetah design leaves a lot to be desired. Rather than use makeup, Wiig’s fur is entirely awkward CGI that’s far too similar to Cats. Their fight is equally uninspired with Cheetah clawing Wonder Woman’s armor and their second confrontation ending after she’s electrocuted. It’s the last physical fight since Lord has to be taken down with words. SPOILER ALERT! Diana uses her Lasso on Lord to tell the world that all their wishes are inherently selfish and they should all be renounced.

Nevermind people who might wish for sick relatives to be healed or world peace. Lord’s past is also revealed at the last possible second with him becoming way too sympathetic after everything he’s done. Hugging his son is literally the last we see of him. The final scene set during Christmas is so sappy it feels like something on Hallmark. Diana finally experiences the world and talks to “Handsome Man” before soaring through the skies again. The mid-credits scene is just as cheesy, but at least it features a cameo that was a long time coming. The gold armor wearing Amazon Asteria is none other than former Wonder Woman Lynda Carter. WW84 nearly ruined my Christmas, but at least theaters were finally opening up again. I just hope the third installment learns from the sequel’s glaring mistakes. Wonder Woman 1984 is truthfully a disappointing step backwards for the Amazon.

20. Wonder Woman 1984

Wonder Woman in gold armor

Preceded by: Wonder Woman

Gotham City Sirens

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is Birds of Prey in name only. Along with a ridiculous overlong subtitle that should’ve been a warning sign from the beginning. Part of me will always be annoyed with the direction of the DC Extended Universe, but I’ve always been on board with each movie that was announced. Birds of Prey sounded like a step backwards. Suicide Squad is arguably the worst film in the DCEU. One of its few redeeming qualities was casting Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn. Joker may have been a hit the previous year, but I never asked for an R rated Harley Quinn solo movie. Yet Robbie was so attached to the Batman villain, that she produced Birds of Prey herself. The first problem is the title.

In the comics, the Birds of Prey are an all-female team from Gotham City. The team has always been known for including Oracle, Black Canary, Huntress, and Lady Blackhawk as team members. Their 1996 debut led to a short-lived 2002-2003 TV series, but they haven’t made many appearances outside of an Arrow episode. Birds of Prey is clearly a Harley Quinn movie since she was never part of the team in the comics. A Gotham City Sirens movie would’ve made more sense. Cathy Yan was chosen to direct despite having only one movie under her belt. The production design didn’t inspire confidence, the R rating felt unnecessary, and Yan saying the movie would “smash the patriarchy” made me nervous. I’m glad Birds of Prey was released at the beginning of 2020, because the movie bombing at the box-office speaks for itself…

17. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Harley Quinn and the Birds of Prey

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) was a financial failure for several reasons. There was no reason why the movie had to be R rated. If the target audience was supposed to be teenage girls or younger, then that part of their demographic wouldn’t have been able to see it. The PG-13 MCU isn’t gonna suddenly have an R rated movie that half their audience will miss out on. Birds of Prey is the only DCEU movie I didn’t see with my parents. As much as I enjoy Deadpool, I wish studios would stop thinking that’s enough to make a successful superhero movie. Christina Hodson’s script is so wannabe Deadpool without being clever. The violence is jarring and characters drop the F bomb every other sentence. To put things in perspective, Joker is a 2 hour & 2 minute movie with 25 F bombs. Birds of Prey is a 1 hour & 49 minute movie with 78 F bombs.

The surprisingly short runtime is one of the few highlights for me. The only thing missing is nudity. Which is weird considering Harley Quinn’s promiscuous nature. The rating is one thing, but I really have a problem with the costume design. Rather than wear her trademark red & black jester outfit or even her more provocative Suicide Squad costume that was at least red & blue, Harley wears a bizarre mishmash of colors. There’s her generic t-shirt and short shorts with pom-poms look and a diamond jumpsuit that’s pink & gold for some reason. It’s so inaccurate to the comics that it feels like a joke. Suicide Squad may have had overly edgy costumes, but at least they tried to look like the comics. Yan was given way too much creative control if Warner Bros. seriously thought fans wanted to see a 2020 superhero movie that looks nothing like the source material.

The movie is essentially Harley Quinn and maybe 30 minutes of Birds of Prey if you’re lucky. Ever since her Batman: The Animated Series debut, Harley Quinn was crazy fun to watch, with an infectious sense of humor, sexy jester outfit, and surprisingly mature abusive relationship with the Joker. I understand her becoming a fan favorite, but I’ll be the first to admit I don’t understand giving her so much attention. In the 28 years since her first appearance, Harley has appeared in almost every Batman related animated series, several animated movies, and a TV-MA animated streaming series based on her New 52 solo comics. She’s had many voice actresses throughout the years, but Arleen Sorkin has the definitive Brooklyn accent. Before Margot Robbie, Mia Sara and a stand-in voiced by Tara Strong were the only live-action portrayals of such a cartoony character.

Harley’s boost in popularity is mostly thanks to her joining the Suicide Squad in the New 52. Having Harley break up with the Joker is fine, but it doesn’t really work without Poison Ivy. Birds of Prey feels kind of pointless and lackadaisical, but I can’t say that it’s the worst thing in the DCEU. Not that I’ll ever understand how it got a 79% score on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s not a personal disappointment like Batman v Superman or a disjointed cringefest like Suicide Squad, but bored indifference isn’t something I want to feel for a superhero movie. I only watched it once in theaters and never bothered to rewatch it until very recently. Birds of Prey takes place 4 years after Suicide Squad, but it’s barely a sequel since the Joker doesn’t even appear. Jared Leto was such a bad Joker that I don’t blame them for avoiding a cameo. Still, it doesn’t make sense to have such a crucial part of the story happen entirely off-screen.

Animation is used to depict Harleen Quinzel’s mostly faithful origin story. How she was abandoned by her father, sent to a Catholic orphanage, became a psychiatrist, and fell madly in love with Mr. J. Even the animated Joker doesn’t look like Leto. When she breaks up with her puddin, Harley is thrown out on the streets of Gotham City. By my calculations, that’s approximately 14 times Gotham has been depicted on the big screen. With the exception of cutting her pigtails short, the only other comic accuracy is Harley joining a roller derby team, having a stuffed beaver, and getting a pet hyena named after Bruce Wayne. Apart from a Captain Boomerang wanted poster, Batman doesn’t make an appearance either. Harley makes a public statement about her emancipation from the Joker by blowing up the Ace Chemicals plant. Something that puts a target on her back. The plot is so thin that Harley is almost always seen in average situations like ordering a breakfast sandwich that’s given way more attention than it should.

She uses playful narration accompanied by Suicide Squad style visual stats to string together a random collection of women with practically nothing in common. Their only connection is the Batman villain Black Mask. A low level crime boss I never expected to see as the main antagonist in any movie. I never knew much about Black Mask apart from the black skull mask he wears at all times. In the comics, Roman Sionis forms the False Face Society, runs Janus Cosmetics, and is a much more intense villain who is fond of torture. The torture part works for the R rating, but cutting people’s faces off or forcing a woman to strip crosses the line. More attention is also given to him running a nightclub more like the Penguin. I’m happy Ewan McGregor is getting a career resurgence, but his Black Mask portrayal sucks. Roman Sionis is seriously over exaggerated, profane, ambiguously flamboyant, randomly sadistic, and never wears the black mask until the climax. He’s the poor man’s Joker.

Chris Messina plays his right-hand Victor Zsasz. Another Batman villain given way more attention than you’d expect. Cutting tally marks into his skin after every kill is also appropriate for an R rating, but it barely comes up in the movie. Since the DCEU can’t go one movie without a McGuffin, a diamond connects everyone as well. The Birds of Prey now includes Huntress, Black Canary, Renee Montoya, and Cassandra Cain. Barbara Gordon is nowhere to be seen as Batgirl or Oracle. Renee Montoya is similar to Harley Quinn for being a character created for Batman: The Animated Series. She’s just an ordinary hispanic Gotham City police officer revealed to be lesbian in the comics. Although she became the second Question in 2007, most of her history is as an officer. So I have no idea why Montoya is given so much attention in the movie. Rosie Perez feels like the odd woman out in a team like this.

Montoya builds a case against Sionas while investigating the recent Crossbow Killer. All the guys at GCPD push her to leave the force. Her sexuality is clumsily inserted in the movie with Harley’s narration saying a district attorney is her ex-girlfriend. Montoya crosses paths with Harley several times in an attempt to bring her in. Unlike the rest of the cast, Black Canary is seriously miscast. Her name is taken a little too literally with the African American Jurnee Smollett playing Dinah Lance. The co-star in a Harley Quinn movie is not how I wanted to see Black Canary make her cinematic debut. Black Canary has a complicated history, but a lengthy one that saw her as a member of the Justice Society and the primary love interest for Green Arrow. She’s always depicted in a sexy leather jacket & fishnet ensemble. The only confusing thing about her is there being two different Black Canary’s named Dinah Drake and Dinah Laurel Lance.

She appeared on Birds of Prey and Smallville, but her biggest claim to fame is Arrow. Katie Cassidy, Caity Lotz, and Juliana Harkavy never worked on their own, but together they created a convincing whole. Smollett’s Canary is barely recognizable as a lounge singer who wears mostly gold. Her trademark metahuman “Canary Cry” is vaguely mentioned by Montoya as a power belonging to her mother. Dinah crosses paths with Harley at the Sionas nightclub where her fight with sexual predators earns her a job as Sionas’ new chauffeur. Her job is to ensure the diamond gets to Roman. Until it’s stolen by Cassandra Cain. No character is more botched than their portrayal of a mute martial arts expert who can read body language. She’s still Asian, but Ella Jay Basco is an obnoxious kid with a cast who pickpockets people. I wish she was mute, because this Cassandra is a seriously annoying substitute for Russell from Deadpool 2.

She pickpockets the diamond from Zsasz and ends up swallowing it for the rest of the movie. Any attempt to get it out is just disgusting to think about. Dinah already knows Cassandra from her building and involves Montoya after she gets arrested. Harley becomes involved when she offers to get the diamond back after Sionas abducts her. But not before an extremely random recreation of “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend” with Harley as Marilyn Monroe. The only part of the movie that received consistent praise was the action. It’s fun to see Harley infiltrate the GCPD with beanbag cannons, using her baseball bat, dynamite, and roller skates in a car chase, but that doesn’t automatically make it John Wickian. A coke-fueled Harley apprehends Cassandra, only to grow soft during a brief mostly off-screen bonding session. Cassandra having no clue who the Joker is, is another minor annoyance. The only decent guy in the movie betrays Harley and she betrays Cassandra not long after they bonded.

The final bird of prey is Helena Bertinelli aka Huntress, known to the public as the Crossbow Killer. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is surprisingly inspired casting considering her long history in comic book related superhero movie roles. Bertinelli’s violent origin as the lone survivor of a mob family massacre remains intact, and so does her training to become an assassin at a young age. Unfortunately, the movie still finds a way to ruin her edge by turning her trauma and angry outbursts into a joke. Huntress hunts all the men responsible for her family’s death, but stops after killing Zsasz. All the women converge in a climax set at an amusement park. Harley convinces them to work together when Black Mask leads the False Face Society against them. Since the team comes together at the last possible second, none of them have any natural chemistry.

Harley uses her oversized hammer and the rest of them use her leftover gag weapons. They fight off the men and Black Canary uses her “Canary Cry” once in the entire movie. Huntress gives Harley a lift when Cassandra is taken. They face off at a foggy dock where Harley starts to believe in her own abilities. Sionas is killed in a graphic explosion and the women casually eat at a diner afterwards. Harley steals their car and rides off with Cassandra when the diamond comes out. It’s only briefly through narration that Huntress, Black Canary, and Montoya call themselves Birds of Prey while wearing vaguely comic accurate costumes. The title is even more pointless since Harley doesn’t even join the team. No wonder they changed the name to Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey after it bombed. There’s no reason to stay after-credits since it’s just Harley saying something about Batman that gets cut off. In the end, nothing new is learned and the entire movie is practically meaningless. Birds of Prey should have never been made like all of DC’s other failed projects.

18. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn)

Harley Quinn takes aim

Preceded by: Suicide Squad & Followed by: The Suicide Squad

Send in the Clowns

Joker put a spotlight on the Clown Prince of Crime. For better or worse, Joker exceeded expectations in the process. I don’t think I’m too far off in saying the Joker is the greatest supervillain of all time. The psychotic criminal clown is the perfect archenemy for the brooding Dark Knight. Although I always root for the hero, I can’t deny how entertaining the Joker is in every incarnation of his 8 decade history. He’s been the most famous evil clown in history, ever since his 1940 debut in Batman #1. He was supposed to be killed off, but the Joker’s popularity endured him as Batman’s greatest enemy. It’s ironic that Bill Finger, Bob Kane, and Jerry Robinson couldn’t agree on who created the Joker.

Since he’s never had a definitive origin. Its always been part of the intrigue to think someone could be so psychotic with virtually no explanation. Part of the reason why I was against a Joker origin story. Even if it was separate from the inconsistent DCEU, I wasn’t especially crazy about the supervillain solo movie trend that started with Venom. The first trailer wasn’t at all what I was expecting and the R rating made Joker seem more like a thriller than a simple comic book movie. I was still on the fence about a Batman movie without Batman, but I guess it worked for Gotham on TV. Despite an unnecessary amount of controversy and a laughably low 68% on Rotten Tomatoes, Joker rightfully became the first DC movie nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards…

15. Joker

Arthur Fleck becomes Joker

Joker is a character study that shouldn’t work as well as it does. Which is why comic books deserve way more credit for introducing such complex individuals. The Joker was always meant to be a crazy, but intelligent serial killer hidden under a permanent grin and clown motif. His most iconic look has always consisted of chalk white skin, green hair, a red smile, and a purple suit. Although he’s never had a definitive name or origin, the Red Hood falling into a vat of Ace chemicals tends to be the favorite. The Joker maintained his violent tendencies throughout the Golden Age, but the Silver Age turned him into a prankster with goofy gag weapons. Most kid friendly interpretations tend to lean on the clown’s silly side. It wasn’t until the Bronze Age that the Clown Prince of Crime got his edge back.

The Joker has had a profound impact on Batman’s life ever since. From killing Jason Todd (Robin) in “A Death in the Family” to paralyzing Barbara Gordon (Batgirl) in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. Not to mention his disturbingly unhinged portrayal in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. I’m not a fan of the more sadistic Joker in recent comics, but it is fascinating to think about the many ways you can interpret one character. Joker actors have always brought something new to the man who laughs. Cesar Romero was a creative colorful comedian perfect for Adam West’s Batman. Jack Nicholson was already an Oscar winning actor who practically stole the show as his darkly comedic version from Tim Burton’s Batman. The 1989 movie made use of his chemical toxin origin, controversially made him the killer of Bruce Wayne’s parents, and gave him the name Jack Napier.

Luke Skywalker himself Mark Hamill, is arguably the greatest Joker who debuted in Batman: The Animated Series on top of several animated movies and video games. Heath Ledger was on a whole other level as the most grounded Joker to date in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. He’s my personal favorite portrayal in a performance that more than earned an Oscar after his untimely death. Oscar winner Jared Leto sounded like a good idea for the DCEU’s Suicide Squad, but his overly edgy gangster Joker is laughable for all the wrong reasons. Turns out Joaquin Phoenix wanted to do a low-budget DC supervillain character study for years. His methodical acting style wouldn’t have worked for Marvel or any other franchise character. Ironically, Todd Phillips similarly wanted to direct a grounded comic book movie. Although horror directors were proving themselves in lighthearted DC movies like Aquaman or Shazam!, Phillips was a comedy director who proved himself with the darkest DC movie of all time.

Thanks to the success of Deadpool and Logan, Joker more than earns its R rating. Joker is meant to be a Martin Scorsese style thriller from the 70’s. Specifically Taxi Driver and The King of Comedy. An 80’s Warner Bros. logo is used, while the DC label is nowhere to be seen. The soundtrack makes appropriate use of songs like “Send in the Clowns,” Smile,” and “That’s Life.” Although it was unlike any superhero movie I’ve ever seen, I knew I couldn’t miss it. No matter how controversial the movie became. People preemptively decided Joker would inspire real life crime, while critics seemed to attack the movie for its treatment of mental illness. Although some people think this is a sympathetic take on a remorseless supervillain, it’s way more complicated than that. Joker delivers a matter of fact interpretation of a mentally ill loner in a society that abandoned him and treats him like trash.

Though I was afraid this would be a definitive origin, the “unreliable narration” approach keeps things ambiguous. This version of the Joker is Arthur Fleck. Despite not existing in the comics, it’s still weird that they’d call him Arthur when Aquaman already has that name. Joaquin Phoenix has the long hair of Heath Ledger, but his portrayal is totally different. Phoenix became practically anorexic after losing a ton of weight for the role. He’s also a chainsmoker, but the biggest distinction is his trademark Joker laugh being a neurological condition. Arthur’s uncontrollable laughter is so distinct that it’s impossible not to play along. You can tell how much Arthur is suffering thanks to Phoenix’s stellar performance. Parallels to Taxi Driver can be seen in a 1981 Gotham City that’s rat infested with piles of garbage creating tension between its citizens. Swearing only occurs when necessary, but they don’t hold back on uncomfortable violence.

Arthur is a party clown with dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian. Forcing himself to smile is disturbing, but it’s hard not to understand how difficult his life is when kids beat him with his own sign. Arthur has a therapist who doesn’t listen, co-workers who don’t respect him, and a mother who tells him to put on a happy face. Although I wasn’t completely sure how much of the Batman story would be involved, this was the first movie to give Thomas Wayne significant attention. I’m just glad Brett Cullen played him instead of Alec Baldwin. Thomas Wayne is a more controversial figure running for Mayor of Gotham. Frances Conroy plays Arthur’s mother Penny Fleck as an equally mentally ill woman trying to reach out to Wayne. Arthur is like Travis Bickle for his descent into madness and surge of power when a fellow party clown gives him a gun.

When the gun gets him fired, Arthur uses it to murder three drunken Wayne Enterprises businessmen who harass him on a subway train. Another moment that’s difficult not to understand his side of. Arthur comes one step closer to becoming Joker while dancing to the music in his head. Zazie Beetz has her second comic book role after Deadpool 2 as single mother Sophie Dumond. Her cynical attitude gains Arthur’s attention and he somehow starts a relationship with her after the subway murders give him confidence. Parallels to The King of Comedy are unmistakable since Arthur is obsessed with a talk show host named Murray Franklin. Martin Scorsese may have dropped out as producer, but getting Robert De Niro to play the host is perfect full circle casting. Similar to Rupert Pupkin, Arthur has delusions of Murray embracing him like a son.

Arthur’s failed stand-up routine only stands out for his uncontrollable laughter. Nudity is only seen in his journal/joke book. His hopes are crushed when Murry makes fun of his stand-up routine on his show. Although he feels like a success, Arthur’s life takes a downward spiral when it’s implied Thomas Wayne might be his father. A disturbing scene of Arthur at Wayne Manor is when we see a young Bruce Wayne. Dante Pereira-Olson doesn’t have much to say, but Arthur trying to entertain his future archenemy is unforgettable. Douglas Hodge is a similarly flawed Alfred who tells Arthur that his mother was delusional. Things get worse when his mother suffers a stroke and the police show up with questions about the recent clown related murders.

A murder that sparks a movement of sympathizers who target the rich Thomas Wayne for his comments about the less fortunate. Arthur’s supporters dressed as clowns are disturbingly close to reality. Arthur confronts his potential father, but Thomas doubles down on Penny being delusional and punches him in the face for touching Bruce. He seeks answers at the future Arkham Asylum, but his answers are far worse than he thought. SPOILER ALERT! Arthur was actually adopted, abused by his mother at a young age, and developed a mental illness over time. Fleck is so far gone that the entire relationship he had with Sophie was all in his head. Her ultimate fate is best left ambiguous. His mother’s fate isn’t ambiguous when Arthur coldly realizes his life is a comedy while smothering her to death. Things start to turn around when Arthur is invited onto The Murray Franklin Show.

Apart from his traditional party clown attire, Arthur truly becomes Joker when his old clown buddies drop by. The guy who ratted him out is brutally murdered with a pair of scissors, but the little person who was nice to him is spared. It’s easily the most bloody act in the movie followed by pitch black comedy when he can’t reach the lock. Arthur Fleck Joker is different from any other version of the clown. He’s got the long green hair and white makeup, but he looks more clownlike with a red nose, smile, and blue diamond eyes. Some people might call his suit purple, but I think it’s more of a maroon color. His look is as instantly iconic as Joker’s improvised dance on stairs from the Bronx, New York. It was a far bigger takeaway than what people assumed would happen after the movie’s release. The police catch up to Joker and begin a pursuit in the midst of clown protests. Joker takes advantage of it by inciting a riot that gets the officers attacked.

Although far from a traditional climax, Joker on a talk show is a comic accurate reworking of a moment from The Dark Knight Returns. Arthur requests Murray refer to him as Joker before entering the show with another little dance. The building tension of the scene is masterful as Joker tries to win over the crowd and Murray continues to make fun of him. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the screen when he admits to killing people. Despite the warning signs, Murray doesn’t stop the show. He engages Joker in an intense discussion about society until he’s suddenly shot. The death of Murray Franklin happens live and incites an even worse riot. Batman begins with an R rated depiction of Thomas & Martha Wayne being murdered in front of Bruce by Joe Chill in a clown mask. Joker is also born while wearing a bloody smile in front of an adoring crowd of anarchists.

The movie ends on another ambiguous note of Arthur in a mental hospital laughing to himself. Joker was nominated for Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costume Design, Film Editing, Makeup and Hairstyling, Sound Editing, and Sound Mixing. I was fine with the nominations since it won the most deserving awards. Hildur Guðnadóttir won Best Original Score for her haunting cello music. Joaquin Phoenix finally won Best Actor after being nominated for Gladiator, Walk the Line, and The Master. Since Heath Ledger also won an Oscar for playing the Joker, that made them the second pair of actors to win for playing the same character. Ironically, after Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro each won for Vito Corleone. All the pushback was meaningless when Joker became the first R rated movie to gross a billion dollars. Joker is like a joke that only so many people will understand.

16. Joker

Joker dances on stairs