Man of Steel (2013, Zack Snyder)

man-of-steel

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Clark Kent has always known he’s special – but he soon learns that his extraordinary powers are because he’s from a distant planet…

Good guys: Kal-El is born in the first scene. When his home planet, Krypton, is threatened with destruction, his parents send him to Earth for safekeeping. He’s adopted by a Kansas couple, the Kents, who call him Clark. He occasionally uses the superpowers his alien heritage gives him – saving his friends after a bus drives into a lake, for example – but his new dad implores him to keep his powers secret, even if that means letting people die. As a grown man (Henry Cavill), Clark drifts from job to job – fisherman, barman, unspecified helper at a scientific outpost. He miraculously saves some workers from a burning oilrig, then moves on before questions can be asked. At the outpost, an alien spacecraft has been discovered in the ice. It’s from Krypton and contains a hologram… type… thing… of Clark’s dead biological father, who tells him his history and gives him a skin-tight blue outfit with a red cape. This dad wants Clark to reveal himself to the world, leaving Clark in a quandary. Then Kryptonian crim Zod shows up and calls him out. (This happens when Clark is 33 – just one of a few messianic references.) After a very long fight between the two, Superman – as he’s been dubbed by some soldiers – kills Zod by twisting his neck. Clark then realises he needs a job that will let him go incognito into dangerous situations, so – despite having no experience or qualifications or degree or CV or references or previous published work – gets a job at a national newspaper. Cavill makes a good stab at the role: he’s likeable and deserves a better film. Meanwhile, the talented Amy Adams is wasted as bland journalist Lois Lane. She meets Clark when she reports on the discovery in the ice. Once back in Metropolis, she reminds editor Perry White (Laurence Fishburne) that she’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. From the lifeless article she’s just read out to him, it’s difficult to see how. She then tries to track down a vanished Clark and finds him at his adoptive father’s grave. When Zod arrives, he demands that she join Clark as his hostage – this seems to be solely so she can then later escape.

Bad guys: General Zod is a Kryptonian villain who stages a coup, but is then tried and imprisoned in the Phantom Zone. He’s sent there in a spaceship that looks like a penis but later escapes… because… plot. Heading to Earth to look for the Codex (a DNA database or something), he threatens to destroy the planet if he doesn’t get what he wants. Rather than give an acting performance, Michael Shannon just shouts a lot.

Other guys: Clark has two fathers, each played by Robin Hood. Russell Crowe trots out his vaguely British accent from Master and Commander as Kryptonian dad Jor-El. He’s more kickass than the Marlon Brando version, but is killed during a punch-up with Zod. He later appears to his son (and Lois, and Zod) as an interactive, omniscient hologram. Meanwhile, Kevin Costner plays Kansas farmer Jonathan Kent, and it’s a decent performance. When a very sudden tornado strikes, Clark chooses to watch Jonathan die rather than – as earlier with the school bus and later with the oil rig – risk people seeing him do something superhero-y. Diane Lane plays Jonathan’s wife, Martha. Richard Schiff from The West Wing plays scientist Emil Hamilton: it’s a tiny role, but he’s the classiest thing in the film.

Best bits:

* In a flashback to his youth, Clark can’t cope with his hypersensitive sight and hearing – he sees people’s skeletons and veins, and hears every tiny noise all at once.

* The early scenes of Clark wandering from town to town – presumably in New England – have a gentle, airy, soft-rain quality.

* Clark’s first test flight (the music cue is terrific).

* Oh, look: it’s Harry Lennix from Dollhouse as an army general.

* Faced with Zod’s ultimatum – reveal yourself to the world or risk innocent lives – Clark goes to visit a priest. When Clark reveals that he’s the alien Zod is looking for, the priest gulps.

* Lois is just about to refer to her new friend as ‘Superman’ but gets interrupted.

* In an interrogation room, Clark can not only see through the two-way mirror but also into the next room where some soldiers are preparing a sedative.

* The dream-world image of Clark sinking into a massive pile of skulls.

* The fake Jor-El talking Lois calmly through her escape attempt.

* Lois tries plugging Clark’s zip-drive thingy into a Krypotonian panel, but it gets stuck. “It’s supposed to go in all the way!” she cries with a straight face.

* An oil tanker seen in the interminable fight sequence at the end has a Lexcorp logo on it. It made me think of Gene Hackman and I smiled. Soon afterwards, we get a shot of a satellite with a Wayne logo: Batman will be in this film’s sequel, due out next year.

* After Clake has got his new job, Lois knowingly says to him: “Welcome to the Planet.” He replies, “Glad to be here, Lois” – the final line of the film.

Review: Positives? Well, Henry Cavill and Amy Adams are likeable enough. Kevin Costner’s solid too. And the film’s flashback structure works quite well – we cut to them when they’re relevant to the narrative rather than in a strict chronological order. But on the whole, this is mediocre stuff. It was produced by Christopher Nolan, who also gets a ‘story by’ credit. The magic he brought to his Batman reboot series is woefully misjudged here. In the same way that a pantomimic approach didn’t fit the film-noir character of Batman in the 1990s, a sombre, earnest take on Superman is really missing the point of his sunny, optimistic, noble story. The film also throws away the template’s best element: the lead character *being* Superman but *pretending to be* Clark Kent. Here, he’s Clark until the halfway point, and then he’s Superman. An even bigger problem is how it’s staged by director Zack Synder. The prologue on Krypton sets the scene. It’s full of technobabble about meaningless MacGuffins that have presumably been discussed at length in story meetings but struggle to punch through in the film. There’s also a massive amount of computer-generated sets, backdrops and creatures. There are lots of irritating handheld camerawork and fake crash-zooms on effects shots. It’s very poor cinematic storytelling. In fact, the cinematography is mostly terrible throughout – the frame is often so full of stuff that all becomes confused and meaningless. And just when you’re wondering why you’re bothering to continue, you get a 35-minute action climax, which is relentlessly dull disaster porn. CGI buildings get destroyed and CGI people get thrown through the air with masturbatorial glee. It’s like watching a Transformers film – or someone else playing a computer game. Character, storytelling, wit and panache have all been left far behind. At one point, Superman races to save a guy falling from a helicopter. Later in the sequence, he couldn’t give a shit about entire skyscrapers being levelled by a spaceship *he* crashed.

Three broken necks out of 10.

Next time: Everything is awesome!

The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan)

DarkKnightRises

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Batman has been missing for eight years, having taken the blame for a killing spree. But a mercenary called Bane is threatening Gotham City…

Good guys: Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) – bearded, injured and using a walking stick – has been hiding in his rebuilt mansion for years. False rumours have spread that he has eight-inch fingernails and pisses in jars. When he catches a thief nicking his dead mum’s pearls, he returns to the Batcave to investigate her; then when Jim Gordon is critically injured by a new baddie, this motivates Bruce to rejoin the world properly. However, he loses control of company – and therefore his fortune. He also meets and sleeps with a sexy woman called Miranda Tate, so swings and roundabouts… Batman gets the burglar, Selina, to take him to see the mercenary threatening the city, but is soundly beaten by Bane. Broken and injured, Bruce is dumped in a medieval prison in a non-occidental part of the world – the same pit where Bane grew up, in fact. He’s forced to watch TV news of Bane terrorising Gotham City. A friendly prisoner helps Bruce get back on his feet, and after a few months he’s able to escape (only the second ever person to do so). He returns to Gotham – how he sneaks in, given that the city has been cut off by Bane, is not explained – and with help from Selina, Jim Gordon and policeman John Blake, takes on and defeats Bane. Batman then flies a ticking nuclear bomb out to sea. We assume he’s been killed, but then Alfred later spots him happily having a coffee with Selina in an Italian cafe… John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, good) is a decent cop who grew up in a kids’ home. He becomes a trusted ally of Commissioner Jim Gordon. After Gordon’s injured, Blake insists on seeing Bruce and reveals that he’s (rather implausibly) worked out that he’s Batman. At the film’s conclusion, we find out that Blake’s real first name is Robin and he’s given the coordinates of the Batcave: the mantle has been passed… Gordon is again played by Gary Oldman. He also learns Batman’s real identity during the course of the film. Alfred (Michael Caine) is unhappy with Bruce hiding away in Wayne Manor, but is then equally grumpy about him becoming Batman again – there’s no pleasing some people. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) has been trying to run Wayne Enterprises in Bruce’s absence, but it’s not been going well.

Bad guys: Bane is played by Tom Hardy. We have to take that on good faith, though. His face is hidden by a permanent gasmask, while all his dialogue – pretty obviously dubbed on afterwards – is muffled and in a strange sing-song accent that leaps about all over the shop. At the start of the film, he gets caught on purpose (like the Joker in the last film… And Silva in Skyfall… And John Harrison in Star Trek Into Darkness… And Loki in Avengers Assemble…). It’s so he can get his hands on a scientist being held by the CIA. Bane’s lair is built in Gotham’s sewers, underneath Wayne Enterprises, and he has loads of dumb henchmen. We’re told he was behind a coup in Africa and grew up in a prison – described as “hell on earth” – but killed all the other inmates. He became a student of Batman Begins baddie Ra’s al Ghul, but was then excommunicated for being too much of a fruit-loop. He holds Gotham to ransom with a nuclear bomb, cutting the island city off from the rest of the country for months. It descends into chaos with kangaroo courts and rich people being attacked by mobs… Although initially presented as a friend to Bruce Wayne, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard, attractive but unconvincing) is actually Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s and an old ally of Bane’s. She used to be in that prison too; Bane was her protector until she escaped and returned with her dad to free him. Posing as Miranda, she weasels her way onto the Wayne Enterprises board so she and her pal can get hold of its clean-energy machine, which they then adapt into a nuclear bomb. The clues are liberally sprinkled before she reveals her true identity… We also see Ra’s al Ghul: Liam Neeson returns for a ghostly cameo, while Josh Pence plays him as a young man in flashbacks.

Other guys: Never referred to as such – although newspapers have dubbed her ‘the cat’, as in cat burglar – Catwoman is played by Anne Hathaway. Selina Kyle is a thief who poses as a waitress to break into Wayne Manor and half-inch Bruce’s fingerprints (an assignment given to her by Bane). She’s been promised a ‘clean slate’ in return: a computer virus that wipes all records of a person from every database in the world. Blake arrests her, but she’s freed when the prisons are emptied – she’s tempted to flee, but ends up helping Batman defeat Bane. Hathaway is sassy, slinky, sarcastic and sexy. Nestor Carbonell returns from The Dark Knight to play the mayor (ironically, he looks slightly older here), while Cillian Murphy completes his trilogy of Batman movies by appearing briefly as Dr Jonathan Crane.

Best bits:

* Oh, look: it’s Aidan Gillen off of Queer as Folk as a CIA agent.

* The prologue on the plane – the perspective is all over the place as the plane is tipped up, and there’s a dramatic shot from above as it falls to the ground.

* Oh, look: Wollaton Hall is the new location for Wayne Manor. It’s a country house near Nottingham. In June 2002, I went to a one-day music festival in its grounds and saw Green Day, Iggy Pop, The Levellers, Rival Schools and many other acts.

* Oh, look: it’s Brett Cullen from Lost as a politician. He’s mates with Meat Loaf, don’t you know.

* Bruce rumbles Selina as she steals from his safe. At first, she’s coy and innocent, then the facade drops: “Oops,” she deadpans.

* Oh, look: it’s the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, standing in as a Florence cafe. I live near the ORNC and visit it very often: I was there in the morning of the day I rewatched this film, actually. The scene is a dramatisation of a fantasy of Alfred’s, which pretty much tips you off as to what the ending of the movie will be.

* Oh, look: it’s Burn Gorman from Torchwood as Philip Stryver, the intermediary who hires Selina.

* Oh, look: it’s Juno Temple as Selina’s mate Jen.

* Selina beating people up, then pretending to be helpless when the cops burst in.

* Bane and his goons have raided the stock exchange and are fleeing through the streets. The lights in the lower-level streets all go out in sequence – then Batman appears. (It’s a good chase, though it does appear to go from day to night in about 30 seconds.)

* The cops think they have Batman corned in an alley, but he comes out of it in his massive hovering Batwing aircraft. “Sure it was him?” asks Blake sarcastically after he’s flown off.

* Lucius Fox taking Miranda down to the secret underground bunker where the clean-energy generator is stored. They get there via a Bond-villain-esque sinking floor.

* Selina: “Mr Wayne, I’m sorry they took all your money.” Bruce, after a beat: “No, you’re not.”

* Oh, look: it’s Tom Conti as an inmate of Bane’s prison.

* Oh, look: It’s Ben Roethlisberger and his Pittsburgh Steeler teammates as the squad of Gotham’s American football club.

* “Let the games begin…” Bane sets off a series of explosions all over the city, including most dramatically underneath a football stadium – the grass falls away into the ground as the kick-off returner obliviously runs downfield. All the bridges are destroyed, and all the police – yes, all of them – are trapped in the sewers.

* Oh, look: it’s William Devane off of 24 as the president.

* Bruce’s attempts to escape the pit. The imagery smartly echoes the scene from Batman Begins when Thomas Wayne pulled his son out of a well.

* The improvised courtroom, with Dr Crane sat high in a judge’s chair.

* Philip Stryver is given a choice of sentence by the court: exile or death. He chooses exile, which means being forced to walk across the frozen river… Of course, the ice breaks and he falls in.

* Lucius refers to Selina as Batman’s girlfriend. “He should be so lucky,” she purrs.

* Miranda to Batman: “[Bane’s] not the child of Ra’s al Ghul. [Movie-villain dramatic pause] I am.”

* Oh, look: it’s Desmond Harrington from Dexter as a policeman.

* Selina, on the Batpod motorbike, kills Bane by firing a cannon at him. She says to Batman: “About the whole no-guns things. I’m not sure I feel as strongly about it as you do.”

Review: Being the final part of a trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises draws together themes and plotlines from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – and it feels tonally more connected to both of them than they do to each other. It’s also director Christopher Nolan merging his Batman cast with the cast of Inception, the film he made immediately before this. Michael Caine and Cillian Murphy had already been in both, but now he’s brought over Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to play this film’s three main guest roles. There’s a complex (convoluted maybe) story, which throws information at you in clumps at a frantic pace. It’s too long. Eagle-eyed viewers will easily spot the twists coming. And there are also a few *very silly* plot developments. The entire police force go down into some sewers when they get a tip-off – does that seem either plausible or smart? And yet… And yet… I really enjoyed seeing this again. Christopher Nolan at 80 per cent is still a fantastic experience.

Eight vertebrae protruding from your back out of 10.

Next time: Superman rebooted! For real this time.

The Dark Knight (2008, Christopher Nolan)

The Dark Knight

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Gotham City is terrorised by a maniac calling himself the Joker…

Good guys: Wayne Manor has been destroyed, so Bruce Wayne is now living in a penthouse and using a secret base underneath the docks for all his secret Batman stuff. Early on, he goes to Hong Kong to find a fleeing money launderer and delivers him to Gotham’s District Attorney, Harvey Dent. Bruce sees Dent as the new crime-fighting hope for the city, so also helps him by throwing a big fundraiser. But when the Joker begins his reign of terror, Batman faces a dilemma – reveal his real identity or risk more people being killed… So he destroys all evidence of his activities and prepares to ‘come out’, yet Harvey beats him to it and announces that *he’s* the Batman. It’s a trap to lure the Joker out, but he soon escapes and kills Bruce’s childhood friend, Rachel Dawes. After capturing the Joker and saving Jim Gordon’s family from Dent (who’s gone loopy, murdered some people and is then killed himself), Batman falls a long way and is injured. In order to maintain Dent’s reputation as Gotham’s rallying-call hero, Batman chooses to take the blame for Dent’s actions and goes on the run… As in Batman Begins, Bruce has a trio of older men who help him out – Alfred (Michael Caine), Lucius (Morgan Freeman) and Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman). Alfred offers sound advice, Lucius gets to go on the Hong Kong mission, while Gordon plays a big role in the plot: he’s stages his death to trick the Joker, then gets promoted to police commissioner.

Bad guys: The Joker (Heath Ledger) is a psycho-punk terrorist – he’s tellingly referred to by that word – with blurred clown make-up, facial scars and a charity-shop suit. He is “an agent of chaos” who revels in destruction. In a brilliant move that makes him more mythic, we never find out who he is or where he’s from, and he tells contradictory but always chilling stories about how he got his scars. As the story begins, the Joker is knocking off mob banks. He then goes to the gangsters and offers to kill Batman for half of their fortune. When he’s arrested, he arranges for Dent and Rachel to be kidnapped – Rachel is killed and Dent is severely injured. The Joker escapes by taunting a policeman into fighting him, then blowing up the station with a bomb smuggled in inside a prisoner’s stomach. He gets all the mob’s money back and burns his half because it’s mayhem and disorder he wants, not cash. He then puts explosives on two ferries – one carrying civilians, one carrying convicts – and gives each the detonator for the other boat’s bomb. It’s a morbid social experiment designed to test Gotham’s morality. The last we see of him, he’s hanging upside down from a rope – high above Gotham and laughing uncontrollably. Ledger *commands* the film whenever he’s on screen. It’s a thrilling performance – as mercurial as it is manic. He’s full of threat and danger and menace.

Other guys: Aaron Eckhart (very good) plays Harvey Dent, the charismatic new DA who’s dating Rachel Dawes. He shows his mettle early on by disarming a witness who pulls a gun on him in court, then complains when the guy is taken away: “But, your honour, I’m not done…” He impresses everyone with his dedication to bringing down the mob – but when Jim Gordon is ‘killed’ and Rachel identified as the Joker’s next target, Dent’s anger boils over and he kidnaps a henchman. He tosses a coin to see whether the guy should live or not… He then pretends to be Batman in order to draw the Joker out of hiding, but the Joker retaliates by tying him up next to some barrels of flammable liquid. When a bomb goes off while Batman’s saving him, half of Dent’s face is burnt away; elsewhere, Rachel is killed. Now fully off the deep end, Dent goes on a revenge spree – killing gangsters based on a coin-toss decisions and even kidnapping Jim Gordon’s family… The role of Rachel, meanwhile, has been recast since Batman Begins. Katie Holmes declined to return (no great loss), so we now have Maggie Gyllenhaal, who’s *much* better. She’s a stronger presence in the story, feels like a grown-up and is a lot more interesting. Also on show are: Anthony Michael Hall as a TV reporter; Nestor Carbonell (Richard from Lost) as the mayor; Eric Roberts as mob boss Sal Maroni; Chin Han as the money launderer Lau; and Cillian Murphy, who reprises the Scarecrow from Batman Begins in a fun cameo.

Best bits:

* The incidental music by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard. It’s one of cinema’s great scores – often scratchy, unsettling, nightmarish, unbearably taut and foreboding, sometimes sweeping and bombastic.

* The opening image – a slow helicopter shot tracking in towards a skyscraper’s window, which then smashes open.

* The prologue. Clown-masked bad guys burst into a bank, each killing a colleague as his usefulness passes. The casting of William Fichtner as the bank manager is a deliberate nod to the 1995 film Heat, in which he featured and which was a massive influence on this movie. The sequence is capped by the Joker pulling off his mask to reveal his terrifying face: “Whatever doesn’t kill you,” he snarls, “makes you *stranger*.”

* Gotham City Police Department’s noticeboard of Batman suspects: Elvis, Abraham Lincoln and Bigfoot.

* The fake Batmans (Batmen?) in hockey pads.

* Bruce crashes Rachel’s date with Harvey Dent so he can see the new DA up close. When Harvey says the restaurant might not let them push two tables together, Bruce says, “Oh, they should. I own the place.”

* The Joker walks in on the gangster’s powwow.

* The Joker’s magic trick: making a pencil disappear.

* Oh, look: it’s Chucky Venn from EastEnders as a mob henchman.

* “Why so serious?!”

* While reeling off the multitudinous charges facing the mob – “Seven hundred and 12 counts of extortion, 849 counts of racketeering, 246 counts of fraud, 87 counts of conspiracy murder, 527 counts of obstruction of justice…” – the judge finds a joker player card amongst her papers. She ain’t long for this world, then.

* Harvey asks Alfred about Rachel: “Any psychotic ex-boyfriends I should know about?” “Oh, you have no idea…”

* The Joker terrorises the fundraiser.

* The Joker dangles Rachel out of a window. “Let her go!” order Batman. The Joker says, “Very poor choice of words…”

* The executive who figures out that Bruce Wayne is Batman and goes to Lucius Fox to extort him. Lucius says: “Let me get this straight. You think that your client, one of the wealthiest, most powerful men in the world, is secretly a vigilante who spends his nights beating criminals to a pulp with his bare hands – and your plan is to blackmail this person?! Good luck.”

* Gordon is shot while protecting the mayor.

* Oh, look: it’s Sarah Jayne Dunn from Hollyoaks as Maroni’s bored girlfriend.

* The action scene with the armoured vans. It begins on urban city streets, then goes down to the claustrophobic lower levels. Batman starts in the familiar Tumbler Batmobile, but then detaches the front axle and it becomes his new Batpod motorbike. The Joker and his crew have an 18-wheel articulated lorry with a graffiti S added before its ‘Laughter is the best medicine’ logo. The chase is tense and visceral, and there’s a seamless blend of genuine stunt work, scale models and judicious CGI. The best moment is the lorry flipping over lengthways: an audacious stunt clearly done for real.

* The lights suddenly go on in the interrogation room and we see Batman stood behind the Joker.

* The mobile phone inside a guy’s stomach.

* The Joker hanging his head out of a car window like a dog.

* Harvey’s burnt face – a superb special effect.

* The Joker’s massive pile of money, which he then burns.

* The Joker dressed as a nurse – wig and all – but still with the same macabre make-up.

* The Joker blowing up a hospital. There’s a glorious shot of him walking towards camera as explosions go off in the background; they come to a stop, so he shakes his remote-control gizmo and pushes a button; this kicks off the collapse of the entire building – all done in one single take.

* The camera turning upside down so the Joker, hanging high above Gotham by his feet, appears the right way up.

* The final montage – Gordon trashing Batman’s reputation and praising Harvey Dent, all for the greater good.

Review: This film has such a pulse. A heartbeat. An unstoppable momentum. Director Christopher Nolan used IMAX cameras for key action sequences, which makes the whole thing feel absolutely enormous. It’s an epic story on a massive canvass, and has more wide, open spaces than any other Batman. You feel the city stretching out beyond the borders of every frame. A big influence is the Michael Mann crime thriller Heat (if you don’t know it, check it out: it’s wonderful). There are many similarities between the two: a sense of tension always bubbling away under the surface; a personality-driven conflict between the good guy and the bad guy; a tense bank raid that shows off the villain’s ruthless determination; and the use of a city as a character in its own right… Also, as in Heat, The Dark Knight’s two principle players – Batman and the Joker – are not a million miles apart. They’re both ‘freaks’ using force to impose their will. The Dark Knight starts off as a gangster plot. How can Batman and the cops bring down the mob? And it’s based on standard tropes of good guys and bad guys, mobsters and the police, law and order and courts and judges. Everyone knows where there are. But the injection of the Joker – a shot of spiked adrenalin – adds unpredictability and uncertainty to everything. The film soon becomes a post-9/11 story about terrorism, democracy vs fascism, and whether ends can justify means. How do you deal with or defeat someone who doesn’t play by your rules? How important are civil liberties and personal privacy when you’re trying to protect society? There are no easy answers. The Joker is entropy-in-action: a force of nature constantly chipping away at Gotham City’s structured society and revelling in the decay. He can’t be reasoned with and he can’t be intimidated – and that’s terrifying. Big, bold, complex, provocative and dangerous, this is the superhero genre’s equivalent of The Godfather Part II or The Empire Strikes Back. It’s monumental. Daunting. Impressive. Threatening. Challenging. Fascinating. *Ambitious*. It’s the best film so far this century. I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface with this review.

Ten school buses out of 10.

Next time: Mumble mumble Gotham’s reckoning! mumble mumble…

Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006, Richard Donner)

superman2RD_1

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

In the late 1970s, director Richard Donner began filming two Superman movies at the same time, but was replaced by Richard Lester before the second one had been completed. The Superman II released in 1980 used some of Donner’s footage but Lester re-shot certain scenes, dropped others and added lots of new ones. I’ve already reviewed that version. Then in 2006, the original raw footage was dug out of the archives and Donner was given the chance to assemble a version as close to his original vision as possible. (In some cases, to keep the story flowing, he was forced to plug small gaps with Lester material.) Rather than a full-blown review, here I’ll just deal with the differences from the original. It’s not a complete list; just thoughts on the more interesting ones…

New best bits:

* The new opening recaps the key events on Superman: The Movie, using different takes of Zod’s trial and including clips of Marlon Brando (who was cut from the original Superman II to save paying him more money).

* Some new trippy shots of Zod, Ursa and Non in the Phantom Zone.

* The ending of Superman: The Movie is retro-fitted to suit the new story: it’s now Lex Luthor’s rocket that frees Zod and co from their prison, not – as in the 1980 Superman II – a nuclear bomb. All the stuff in Paris with the bomb, which was added by Lester, has been excised.

* A cracking new Daily Planet scene. The latest edition of the paper refers to the end of film one, telling us Superman saved the day and Lex Luthor was sent to prison. Jimmy Olsen says it’s a shame Clark Kent missed all the excitement and Lois replies that Clark is “never around when Superman’s here…” This gets her thinking and she draws Clark’s glasses, hat and suit onto a photograph of Superman. The action continues into…

* A new scene in Perry White’s office. Lois keeps dropping hints that she’s guessed Clark’s secret, which make him uncomfortable. Perry then assigns them both to cover a story about honeymoon scams in Niagara Falls (a plot point that was unexplained in the original cut). The whole exchange is snappy, witty and enormously charming. Then the scene takes a turn when…

* Willing to bet her life on her deduction, Lois casually jumps out of the window, assuming Clark will have to turn into Superman and save her. Unwilling to do that, he races down to the street level in a flash and secretly engineers it so she lands relatively safely on a market stall.

* Because of the above, the scene of Lois throwing herself into a river – cooked up by Lester – has been jettisoned.

* In the familiar Fortress of Solitude scene, Lex and Miss Teschmacher see a hologram of Jor-El rather than some random Kryptonian dude.

* The film’s most striking change is the addition of a scene in Clark and Lois’s hotel room were she shoots him to test her theory that he’s Superman. When Lester took over, he replaced the scene with one where Clark puts his hand in a fire but isn’t burnt, confirming Lois’s suspicion. Inconveniently, Donner hadn’t got round to filming the gun scene before being fired. Serendipitously, however, he had used it when testing actors for the roles of Lois and Clark – and both Margot Kidder and Christopher Reeve’s filmed auditions still existed. So footage from those two tests are cut together to form the scene in this film. The eye-lines don’t always match and Reeve’s hair changes alarmingly depending on which test the shot has been taken from (he played Clark in Kidder’s audition) – but it simply doesn’t matter. It’s a sensational scene. After Lois has shot him, Clark stands erect and his expression changes. In a masterful bit of acting, Reeve turns into Superman before your eyes. “If you’d been wrong, Clark Kent would have been killed,” he says. Lois smiles and says, “With a blank?” She holds up the gun. “Gotcha.”

* A fair bit of Zod terrorising small-town America has been deleted.

* There’s more Jor-El when Superman asks the hologram of his father what he should do about Lois. In the 1980 cut, Brando was replaced with the presumably much cheaper Susannah York. Here, Lois looks on from afar dressed in the top from Superman’s costume (they’ve just had sex). In a creepy moment, the hologram seems to notice Lois and turns to her menacingly. Later on, there’s another snatch of Brando when Superman wants his powers back – the hologram seems to become real for a moment and touch his son’s shoulder.

* In the scene of Zod, Ursa and Non trashing the Daily Planet, Lex’s line, “When will these dummies learn how to use the doorknob?” has sadly been cut.

* A few of the more slapstick moments from Zod terrorising the public have gone.

* Lex now doesn’t get sidelined (and played by an obvious stand-in) during the final showdown in the Fortress of Solitude.

* There’s a new ending. Rather than Clark kissing Lois to make her forget he’s Superman, he turns time back a few days. We see Zod’s destruction being put right, Perry White’s toothpaste being sucked back into the tube, and Lois’s expose article being unwritten. This ending was the original, original plan for the climax of Superman II. During production, though, it was decided to use the idea at the end of Superman: The Movie instead – hence why Lester had to come up with the kiss, and why this version essentially repeats the gag from the first film.

* A capping scene back at the Daily Planet with Clark being the only person who can remember the events of the film. Christopher Reeve, seemingly effortlessly, pulls off a brilliant bit of business when trying to hang his hat and coat on a rack.

* Even though it now makes no sense – time has gone back to before their first encounter – Clark still returns to the diner to embarrass the bully who beat him up.

Review: There’s a certain Frankenstein’s monster quality to this. We get a mishmash of familiar scenes from the original Superman II (some shot by Richard Donner, some shot by Richard Lester), previously unseen footage directed by Donner, and screen tests that were never meant for public view. However, just like the 1980 original, this is a terrific movie. The subplot of Lois trying to prove that Clark Kent is Superman works much better in this version – and it’s generally a real treat to see new footage of Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder in their prime – while it does make more sense to have Jor-El give his fatherly advice.

Nine screen tests out of 10.

Next time: Why so serious?

Superman Returns (2006, Bryan Singer)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Having been away for five years, Superman comes home to Earth – just as Lex Luthor is kick-starting a new diabolical plan…

Good guys: In the years since Superman IV, there’d been numerous sequel or reboot projects that had failed to take flight. Directors such as Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Tim Burton, Michael Bay, Martin Campbell, Brett Ratner, McG and Wolfgang Petersen were attached or asked; actors as varied as Ben Affleck, Nicolas Cage, Will Smith, Christian Bale, Josh Hartnett, Jude Law, Paul Walker, Brendan Fraser, David Boreanaz and Ashton Kutcher were considered, courted and in some cases actually cast in the lead role. But when Bryan Singer took over as director, he decided upon the unknown Brandon Routh to be the new cinematic Superman. He’s doing a Christopher Reeve impression for the most part, but if you’re going to steal then steal from the best. The character has been off in space for five years, searching for the wreckage of his home planet (guess what: it’s not there any more), but crashes like a meteorite near the Kent family farm. In his Clark Kent persona, he returns to his old job at the Daily Planet, but when he hears about a crisis aboard a 747 he turns into Superman and comes to the rescue. He then meets up with old flame Lois Lane as well as her new partner, Robert, and their son. The boy’s age means that maybe Robert’s not the father… Superman later spies on Lois, Robert and Jason (bit stalker-y, this), and is upset to hear Lois deny she once loved Superman. So he flies into space and floats above the planet like a god. He can hear the entire Earth at once, but his ears zero in on a bank robbery in Metropolis. (All those rapes will have to wait, I suppose.) When master criminal Lex Luthor creates a new landmass off the eastern coast of America, Superman flies there to sort him out – but the ground is tainted by Kryptonite, so he’s incapacitated and gets stabbed. Lois arrives to save him, then he dives into the ocean and lifts the entire continent up out of the water and flings it into space. Job done. Lois, meanwhile, is played by Kate Bosworth. It’s a dreary, dead-behind-the-eyes performance, empty of energy and charm. It’s difficult to fathom what either Clarke or Robert see in her. At the start of the story, she’s researching a story about a new space shuttle. When the plane she’s on falls out of the sky thanks to a power surge, Superman arrives to save her – knowing he’s back in town, she now feels guilty about writing a recent article called Why the World Doesn’t Need Superman. We get a gag about how she’s a poor speller – but she’s still about to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize (give it to the Daily Planet subs, I say). Mum-of-the-year Lois then takes her five-year-old son along when she investigates the source of the power surge, and they both end up being kidnapped by Lex Luthor.

Bad guys: Lex is played by Kevin Spacey, who’s having great fun with the role. After Superman failed to show up for a court date, Luthor was released from the prison sentence he was given earlier in the series. He’s since been conning an old woman (Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in 1948-1950) out of her fortune. Using a massive luxury yacht as his base, Lex now has a number of sidekicks and a plan to create a new continent so he can sell the real estate. Using crystals stolen from Superman’s abandoned Fortress of Solitude and some Kryptonite nicked from a museum, his creation is a jagged, desolate outcrop in the north Atlantic. Why anyone would want to live there is not addressed. Luthor’s chief lieutenant is the sarcastic Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey, who would have made a much better Lois Lane). Kal Penn – sometime Kumar, sometime politician – is one of the henchmen. For reasons not explored, another is constantly filming things with a video camera.

Other guys: James Marsden turned his back on the X-Men series in order to play Richard White, Lois’s boyfriend and the nephew of the Daily Planet’s editor. For third-act reasons, he has a seaplane docked outside his house. Young Jason is played by Tristan Lake Leabu. Frank Langella appears as Perry White; Sam Huntington doesn’t get much to do as a wide-eyed Jimmy Olsen. Eva Marie Saint, who won an Oscar for On The Waterfront and was in North by Northwest, plays Martha Kent. Coincidentally, her Waterfront co-star is also in Superman Returns – in a move that’s maybe a smidgen too pleased with itself, the film re-uses 1970s footage of Marlon Brando playing Jor-El.

Best bits:
* The creepy opening scene: Lex lying to the old woman he’s conned as she dies, then confronting her disgusted and disinherited family. Pulling off his wig, he hands it to a distraught little girl. “You can keep that. The rest is mine.”

* The interior of Lex’s yacht – a huge studio set that tilts from side from side.

* Clark’s dog drops a tennis ball at his feet, so he throws it and it flies miles into the distance. The dog starts to run after it, then stops, turns and whines a whine that clearly says, “You bastard.”

* The Daily Planet newsroom. It’s hectic and feels old-school – men in suits, ties and braces, women in tank tops – but also has computers and plasma-screens.

* Lex and his gang return to the empty mansion. A dog is eating a bone. Kitty wonders what happened to the other pooch…

* The room filled with an enormous and enormously detailed model train set. WANT!

* “Wow, that’s really something, Lex,” deadpans an unimpressed Kitty when his demonstration fails to happen. “Wait for it,” he says. She does, for a second, then repeats, “Wow, that’s really something, Lex.”

* When the model train set is trashed by the power surge, we get gags referring to older Superman movies: the earthquake from film one, the destruction of Mount Rushmore from film two and the plant fire from film three are all recreated in beautiful miniature.

* The first appearance of Superman, climaxing in a moment when he holds up an airliner vertically by its nose to prevent it crashing into a baseball stadium.

* The emergency editorial meeting called now that Superman in back. Perry White rattles off assignments: “Okay, everybody, listen up. I want to know it all, everything. Olsen: I want to see photos of him everywhere; no, I want *the* photo. Sport: how they going to get that plane out of the stadium? Travel: where did he go? Was he on vacation? If so, where? Gossip: has he met somebody? Fashion: is that a new suit? Health: has he lost weight? What’s he been eating? Business: how is this going to affect the stock market? Long term, short term? Politics: does he still stand for truth, justice… all that stuff?”

* Lois and Clarke in a lift, which is filled with other people reading the Daily Planet (headline: ‘The Man of Steel is back!’) There’s muzak and the pair trade nervous glances.

* Superman standing before a machine gun, the bullets bouncing off his chest. The bad guy then takes out a handgun and unloads into Superman’s face (steady…), but the bullet harmlessly impacts on his eyeball and slides off.

* Kitty driving manically through the city, endangering lives left, right and centre, as a diversion while Lex breaks into the museum. (She later slaps Lex and says, “I was going to *pretend* the brakes were out!”)

* A quick reference to Gotham City.

* Lex finding Lois on his boat while he’s cleaning his teeth.

* Lex: “Kitty, what did my father used to say to me?” Kitty: “You’re losing your hair?” “Before that.” “Get out?”

* While being held hostage with his mum, Jason plays the piano aboard Lex’s yacht. In a pleasingly whimsical moment, the henchman guarding them sits next to him and joins in.

* A shock wave hits Metropolis.

* Every time the Superman theme tune swells up.

* Superman picks up a continent.

* Lex and Kitty get stranded on a tiny atoll in the middle of nowhere. They have a helicopter… but no petrol.

* The final shot: a deliberate copy of Superman: The Movie’s final image.

Review: It feels a bit mean to criticise Superman Returns. Its heart is clearly in the right place and I don’t doubt the love put into it. But it largely doesn’t work. Slightly strangely, the film is a sequel to Superman II. It ignores the events of Superman III and Superman IV, and asks you not to worry that 25 years have passed yet no one’s aged. After a caption card that sums up the backstory, we hear Marlon Brando’s voice and John Williams’s theme music before a credit sequence modelled on the 1978 movie. That’s just the start of references to those earlier films – and, while plainly well intentioned, it’s a big problem. The film is just too deferential, too afraid to be bold. It doesn’t have a voice of its own, and as a result lacks zip and drive. It’s also too long and falls into that action-movie trap of having a really boring final third. (In comparison, the previous year’s Batman Begins gets more interesting the longer it goes on.) Visually, the cinematography is going for a romantic, classical look. It’s very soft, perhaps because the movie was shot digitally rather than on film; has lots of muted colours such as turquoise, sea-green and yellow; and often looks like an old painting – something to be admired from a distance rather than something to get wrapped up in. The film’s not a disaster, by any means. Routh and Spacey are great and I’d have loved to have seen them again. But it’s nothing special.

Six Pulitzer Prize-winning articles out of 10.

Next time: Superman II redux’d.

Batman Begins (2005, Christopher Nolan)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Bruce Wayne is haunted so much by the murder of his parents that he decides to invent a vigilante persona to battle crime in Gotham City…

Good guys: As a young boy, Bruce Wayne falls into a well, where he’s scared by some bats. His millionaire father rescues him but is later murdered – along with Bruce’s mum – by a mugger. Aged about 20, and now played by Christian Bale, Bruce goes to the mugger’s parole hearing with the intent to kill him. However, a gangland assassin beats him to it – so instead Bruce travels the world and loses his “assumptions about the nature of right and wrong”. He ends up in a prison in Bhutan, where he accepts an offer from a strange man called Ducard to train as a ninja. But when he refuses to murder someone on the orders of Ducard’s boss, Ra’s al Ghul, Bruce returns to Gotham with a new crime-fighting agenda. Realising he needs a symbol – “something elemental, something terrifying…” – he focuses on his own fear of bats. A cave underneath his mansion provides a hideaway; the applied-sciences division of his father’s company gives him access to as much hardware as he needs. Bruce makes contact with Sergeant Jim Gordon, the only noble policeman he can find, then sets to work: his first target is local mobster Carmine Falcone and his drug trafficking. As the Batman – dressed in an all-black combat outfit and cowl, and with a growly voice – he soon becomes famous in the city. To ensure his cover, meanwhile, Bruce ostentatiously acts like an immature playboy in public. He soon has a run-in with the Scarecrow, a master criminal plotting to poison Gotham’s water supply, then discovers that Ra’s al Ghul is actually engineering the chaos… The inherent problem with the traditional Batman story – why should we feel sympathy for a good-looking, intelligent, ridiculously rich yet altruistic playboy like Bruce Wayne? – sadly isn’t helped by casting the po-faced and unlikeable Christian Bale, but there’s more interest elsewhere. Bruce has a trio of allies, all of whom are surrogate father figures. Michael Caine (fun) plays concerned butler Alfred; Morgan Freeman (droll) appears as Lucius Fox, Bruce’s pal at Wayne Enterprises; while Gary Oldman (excellent) plays Gordon. The latter’s look (glasses, moustache) echoes how the character appeared in Batman: Year One, a seminal comic book from 1987.

Bad guys: Liam Neeson, who used to be an actor before his recent conversion into Steven Seagal, plays Ducard of the mysterious League of Shadows. We also meet the League’s honcho, Ra’s al Ghul (Ken Watanabe). As the story progresses, we get hints that someone is operating the principle bad guys – so it’s not a thundering surprise when Ducard reappears two-thirds of the way through and reveals that actually *he’s* Ra’s al Ghul. He wants to purge the corrupt Gotham City, so releases lots of dangerous prisoners to cause chaos and then pumps toxic gas into the air. Before his surprise return to the action, we think the Big Bad is Cillian Murphy’s chilling Dr Jonathan Crane. He’s a psychiatric doctor who uses a hessian scarecrow mask and a hallucinogenic spray to drive people insane with fear – one of his victims is Falcone (Tom Wilkinson with a hammy American accent).

Other guys: Bruce’s childhood friend/romantic interest, Rachel Dawes, is an idealistic Gotham DA. Katie Holmes is miscast in the role: she’s just not strong enough and the character makes little impression. Linus Roache plays Bruce’s dad, Thomas. Rutger Hauer is Earle, an executive at Wayne Enterprises who wants to take control of the company. Mark Boone Junior plays corrupt cop Flass.

Best bits:

* After brawling with a group of Bhutanese peasants, Bruce is pulled away by some soldiers for ‘protection’. “I don’t need protection,” he says. A soldier says, “For their protection!”

* Bruce’s training montage. (Shame there’s no 1980s pop hit, though.)

* Oh, look: it’s Gerrard Murphy from Doctor Who: Silver Nemesis as a judge.

* The trippy, shaky image when we see Bruce’s POV while he’s affected by drugs. (It reminds me of Mirrorlon, a TV technique used in early Doctor Who serials to create an unstable image.)

* Bruce says he’ll need a crime-fighting identity. Alfred suggests it’s to protect Bruce’s loved ones. “You’re thinking about Rachel?” asks Bruce. “Actually, sir, I was thinking of myself.”

* Oh, look: it’s Charles Edwards from Downton Abbey as a Wayne Enterprises executive.

* Oh, look: it’s Christine Adams (who’s in the Allison Janney episode of Studio 60, my single favourite piece of television) as a secretary.

* Alfred suggests they order 10,000 cowls in order to avoid suspicion. “At least we’ll have spares,” says Bruce.

* Bruce tests the Tumbler, a massive military bridging vehicle. “Does it comes in black?” he says, almost drooling.

* Bruce’s first outing as Batman – a creepy, slasher-movie scene at the docks.

* “What the hell are you?” “I’m Batman!”

* Batman tying Falcone to a searchlight, so the resulting image in the sky looks like the outline of a bat.

* Batman standing on a skyscraper, surveying his city. (Never really worked when Torchwood copied this idea, did it?)

* Alfred wakes Bruce up at 3pm. “Bats are nocturnal!” he moans.

* “Would you like to see my mask?” asks Dr Crane. Terrifying. Absolutely terrifying.

* Batman is dosed by the Scarecrow. “You look like a man who takes himself too seriously,” says the Scarecrow, pre-empting some of this film’s reviews. “You need to lighten up,” he adds as he sets Batman on fire.

* Bruce asks Alfred to keep some party guests busy. “Tell them that joke you know.”

* Batman squirts Crane’s gas in the Scarecrow’s face – so the Scarecrow then sees him as a demon.

* The Tumbler in action. Gordon looks on and says, “I gotta get me one of those.”

* Oh, look: it’s Shame Rimmer as a guy working in a water-company control room. (I’ve decided to assume it’s the same man he played in Superman II.)

* The climax on the monorail.

* The sequel-baiting gag at the end: Gordon mentions a new bad guy who leaves joker playing cards at the scenes of his crimes.

Review: Most versions of Batman mix up eras, styles and fashions, but this chooses to flatten those differences out. Whether Bruce Wayne is eight, 22 or 30, Gotham looks the same. It’s a recognisable, modern-day American city, with a vertiginous monorail system being the only outlandish embellishment. And that’s telling. Verisimilitude is the order of the day. Jokey self-referentialism and heightened production design have both gone. Other than a few dry quips from Alfred and Lucius Fox, there’s also precious little humour on show. This film actually heralded a vogue for take-it-seriously reboots of established film series – I’ve already reviewed 2006’s Casino Royale and 2009’s Star Trek, two films I adore. But as well as a play-it-straight agenda, it also has the feel of a graphic novel come to life. Scenes tend to be short, for example, and there are lots of pithy exchanges rather than conversations. Also, the threat is a sinister and secretive crime syndicate with grandiose plans. It’s an interesting combination. Perhaps it takes too long to build up steam, and I’m no fan of the dour Christian Bale. But there are lots of plusses. The second half is very enjoyable. Cinematographer Wally Pfister gives a real sheen to every image. There are plenty of interesting locations, which have been surprisingly rare in Batman movies so far. CGI is largely sidelined in favour of some stunning old-school modelwork. And Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard’s music is ace. Good stuff.

Eight rare blue flowers that grow on the eastern slopes out of 10.

Next time: Superman rebooted! Kind of. In a way. Well, not really. Look, it’s complicated…

My 30 favourite films

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So, a few years ago – in order to complete an Empire magazine readers’ poll – I set about compiling my top 10 films. Narrowing them down that far was too tough, and I ended up with a shortlist of 30. Since that time, I’ve made one change: GoodFellas was reluctantly dropped for the most recent movie on the list.

I’ve added links to any films I’ve blogged about elsewhere on this site, whilst clips indicate my favourite five…

Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959)

Monty Python’s Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979)

The Empire Strikes Back (Irvin Kershner, 1980)

Raiders of the Lost Ark (Steven Spielberg, 1981)

A Christmas Story (Bob Clark, 1983)

WarGames (John Badham, 1983)

Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985)

Clue (Jonathan Lynn, 1985)

Aliens (James Cameron, 1986)

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986)

Withnail & I (Bruce Robinson, 1986)

Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)

D.O.A. (Annabel Jankel and Rocky Morton, 1988)

A Fish Called Wanda (Charles Crichton, 1988)

Licence to Kill (John Glen, 1989)

The Hunt For Red October (John McTiernan, 1990)

JFK (Oliver Stone, 1991)

Sneakers (Phil Alden Robinson, 1992)

Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

12 Monkeys (Terry Gilliam, 1995)

Heat (Michael Mann, 1995)

Se7en (David Fincher, 1995)

The Usual Suspects (Bryan Singer, 1995)

Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino, 1997)

L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997)

Out of Sight (Steven Soderbergh, 1998)

American Beauty (Sam Mendes, 1999)

Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001)

The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan, 2008)

Easy A (Will Gluck, 2010)

Catwoman (2004, Pitof)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

After accidentally learning a dirty corporate secret, Patience Phillips is murdered – but then magically resurrected with a new feline persona. She is now a Catwoman…

Good guys: Patience is played by Halle Berry (who’s better than the material and is very watchable). She’s a designer in the marketing department of a cosmetics company; she’s ditzy and meek, but gets on well with her colleagues. One night, when delivering a new poster design before the midnight deadline, she overhears executives discussing the fact their products have long-term side effects – so they kill her to keep her quiet. After drowning, her body washes up on shore… where a CGI cat finds her, summons more moggies, and mystically brings her back to life. Patience now has cat-like reflexes and senses, but can’t remember being killed. Renewed, she strikes up a romance with a policeman called Tom Lone, aggressively deals with her noisy neighbours, and tells her boss he’s an untalented, unethical egomaniac (so he sacks her). She soon cuts her hair short, starts wearing black leather and intervenes when she spots a jewellery robbery in progress. After learning that she is the latest in a long line of ‘Catwomen’ – women imbued with powers of a cat by a goddess – she gets herself an even kinkier outfit and seeks revenge on the men who killer her… Tom is played, boringly, by Benjamin Bratt. He’s a cipher rather than a character: a romance for Patience, an inconvenience when he investigates the Catwoman’s ‘crimes’. In the grand tradition of these films, he doesn’t realise at first that Patience and the Catwoman are the same person – but, to give him his due, he works it out.

Bad guys: Sharon Stone phones it in as Laurel Hedare, who runs the cosmetics company and knows full well her products cause more harm than good. She used to be the face of the company, but her husband (George, played by Lambert Wilson) replaces her with a younger model.

Other guys: Patience’s friendly colleague Sally (Alex Borstein, the voice of Lois in Family Guy) fulfils the ‘bubbly best mate’ role. She collapses in the street due to the damaging effects of a new beauty product she’s been using. Ophelia Powers – a former professor who knows all about Catwomen mythology and info-dumps the important bits halfway through the film – is played by Frances Conroy. Michael Massey appears briefly as henchman Armando.

Best bits:

* The title sequence, which uses a montage of cats and masked women from history to set up the themes of the film, is well edited and has some excellent music.

* Sharon Stone watching mournfully as huge display boards with her face on them are taken out of the office building.

* A fun time-lapse shot dramatising the office emptying while Patience works late into the evening.

* A dead Patience’s eyeball switching from round iris to almond-shaped – she lives again.

* Now a Catwoman, Patience sleeps on a shelf, naps in the middle of the day, and hisses at a passing dog.

* Patience driving through the city on a stolen motorbike – a rare instance of the movie’s flashy camerawork suiting the scene.

* Patience Googling the history of cats – we then get, essentially, a repeat of the title sequence. It’s a shame we’ve already seen all the images, as they fit better here.

* Patience holding up two very different dresses and asking Sally which one she should wear on her date. “Are you going to a church or the Playboy Mansion?”

* Having seen a cat do the same, Patience gracefully slides between the bars of her prison cell.

Review: There’s no real connection between this and any previous film – aside from a brief moment when Patience sees pictures of previous Catwomen and one of them is Selina Kyle from Batman Returns. It also has little to do with any particular comic book, other than the basic idea of course. It’s a bland, by-the-numbers story, which feels underwritten in every way. Characters are dull, events are predictable, and there’s no intrigue or subtlety to anything. There’s also little subtext or satire, which in a film about female empowerment and society’s obsession with beauty and youth is rather strange. But Catwoman’s biggest problem is just how irritatingly directed it is. The camera sweeps, pans, glides, swoops, cranes, tracks, twists and turns – but with little sympathy with what’s actually happening in the story. It’s a director showing off rather than storytelling. That man is former visual-effects coordinator Pitof. It’s ironic, then, that the CGI just isn’t good enough and is used too often. The film’s got a terrible reputation. And it *is* mostly rubbish. But, I’ve got to admit: I’ve seen worse. Switch your brain off and it passes 100 minutes well enough.

Four cans of tuna out of 10.

Next time: Batman rebooted!

Batman & Robin (1997, Joel Schumacher)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Another pair of super-villains – ice-cold Mr Freeze and eco-terrorist Poison Ivy – team up and cause all kinds of trouble for Batman, Robin and their new friend, Batgirl…

Good guys: It’s amazing this film didn’t stop George Clooney dead in his tracks. He was still in ER while filming Batman & Robin – having taken over the lead role from Val Kilmer, who was busy on The Saint – and was only a couple of years into a promising movie-star career. He’s clearly one of the world’s most charismatic actors, yet just seems embarrassed to be here. Bruce Wayne has a long-term girlfriend, but is reluctant to commit to her; he’s also worried about Alfred, who’s dying from a degenerative disease. Dick Grayson (Chris O’Donnell for a second time) is now Batman’s full-time partner-in-crime-fighting. Robin has a motorbike and everything. But he gets annoyed by Bruce’s patronising, protectionist attitude and strops off, saying he’s going to go solo (a tiff exacerbated by the film’s villain). The pair also have a new member of the team. Barbara Wilson turns up unannounced at Wayne Manor in a school uniform (“Please be looking for me,” says Dick when he answers the door). She’s Alfred’s niece and is on a break from her studies at Oxbridge Academy in London – yet has an American accent. She seems timid at first, but then sneaks out at night to take part in illegal street racing. After she open a box the dying Alfred specifically asked her to leave alone, she learns Bruce’s secret. Wanting to help, she defines herself as Batgirl and joins in during the climax, dressed in a body-fitting costume pre-emptively built by an AI programme in the Batcave. Alicia Silverstone is staggeringly awful in the role. It’s like they’ve filmed her first reading of the script.

Bad guys: Arnold Schwarzenegger gets top billing for his pitiful performance as Victor Fries, aka Mr Freeze, a scientist who has been affected by an accident that means he has to remain at a frozen temperature. He has an ill wife in a cryogenic tank, ice-skating henchmen, and a relentless need to make laborious puns at every opportunity. Schwarzenegger was a boyhood favourite of mine. I endlessly rewatched The Terminator, Predator, Commando, The Running Man, Twins, Total Recall and others, while I sneaked into a cinema to see Terminator 2 when I was only 12. It’s all the more depressing, then, to see him miscast and floundering in this garbage. Mr Freeze’s ally in the story is Poison Ivy (played by a flamboyantly rubbish Uma Thurman). She starts out as Dr Pamela Isley, a botanical researcher whose work is being exploited by deranged Dr Jason Woodrue. When she confronts him, he tries to kill her – but she’s instead swallowed by the earth and emerges as confident, flame-haired Poison Ivy. She has a grudge against Bruce Wayne because of his company’s poor record on the environment, and teams up with Mr Freeze (and a super-soldier called Bane, who Woodrue was working on before Poison Ivy killed him).

Other guys: Michael Gough actually gets an emotional subplot in his fourth and final appearance as Alfred. Elle Macpherson plays Bruce’s girlfriend, Julie Madison – it’s a role that feels like it’s been cut down in post-production (presumably because she can’t act). Pat Hingle reprises Commissioner Gordon one last time. John Glover (Scrooged, Gremlins 2, Robocop 2, and the voice of the Riddler in Batman: The Animated Series) plays Woodrue. Jesse Ventura has a cameo as a prison guard.

Best bits:

* There aren’t any.

Review: A two-hour toy advert. Perfunctory plotting, plywood performances, plastic production design, crass comedy, diarrhoeic dialogue, senseless stunts and a general air of ‘Will that do?’… Is this film some kind of elaborate practical joke? A Starship Troopers-like satire of mediocre movies? If so, I’m missing the joke in a phenomenally powerful way. It’s by no means the only disappointing ‘fourth film’ in a series – Thunderball, Superman IV, Police Academy 4, The Omen IV, The Next Karate Kid, Alien: Resurrection, The Phantom Menace, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Terminator Salvation, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The Bourne Legacy, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides – but it’s easily the worst. Apocalyptically atrocious.

One fetishistic close-up of Batman’s vacuum-packed arse out of 10.

Next time: Catwoman gets her own movie!