“The King’s Man” First Trailer!

No offense to director Matthew Vaughn, but now was probably the worst possible time to release this trailer. At least for me – probably only for me.

You see, I have only recently finished watching The Last Czars on Netflix: a semi-dramatized documentary about the final days of the Russian Czar Nicholas and his entire family, who were brutally murdered in 1918 during the Bolshevik Revolution. Their story was very closely linked with that of the highly mysterious monk and spiritual healer Grigori Rasputin. Now, I went into this six-episode series knowing full well what happened to each and every one of these people, and how they died horrific deaths: what I did not know was how the series would choose to depict each and every one in the most awful ways imaginable – from Rasputin’s terrifying ability to defy death several times even while he was poisoned and brutally injured, to the slow and agonizing deaths of the Czar’s four daughters, who were probably the last of the family to perish since they were wearing diamonds sewn into their clothes, granting them a temporary immunity to their murderers’ bullets. I was expecting the deaths to happen off-screen, preferably with a minimum amount of anguished screaming. I watched it at night (could it get any worse?), and I couldn’t sleep for hours afterward. The next morning I tried as hard as I could to forget what I had just witnessed.

And who shows up in today’s first trailer for the upcoming spy thriller The King’s Man? That’s right – the bearded monk Rasputin, looking rather more fictionalized, and showing an impressive skill at wielding…glass ornaments? Teapots? I’m not entirely sure what he’s holding at the 1:18 mark, but it’s also very difficult to focus on anything other than those wide eyes, eyes which supposedly hypnotized and enchanted the Czarina of Russia, to the point where she was unable to break free of his spell. I suspect we even see the Czarina in the trailer: one of the two women clinging to Rasputin’s arm as he strides through an elegant ballroom. Then again, the characters in this film are clearly only loosed based on their historical counterparts, since the IMDb page reveals that the fabled spy Mata Hari will also be in this movie, played by Gemma Arterton (who’s been getting her fair share of spy thrillers recently, coming off the unexpected success of Murder Mystery on Netflix), alongside characters like Field Marshall Haig; U.S. President Woodrow Wilson; the Kaiser Wilhelm II, Czar Nicholas II, and King George V of England, all played by Tom Hollander, which makes me suggest that somehow all three warring heads of state are going to be revealed to be the same man; and…and Rasputin’s real-life killer, the Russian prince Felix Yusupov (played by Daniel Brühl, Marvel’s “Baron Zemo”).

And this is what has me slightly upset. Not the fact that Rasputin is actually as terrifying as all get-out, and his portrayal in this film by Rhys Ifans looks even freakier (well, okay, that too), but the knowledge that this film is going to necessarily fictionalize a whole bunch of this part of history. Now, don’t get me wrong: I like historical fiction. Usually, seeing Mata Hari cross paths with Rasputin wouldn’t be a problem for me – but coming at this time, just after I’ve watched the most grim, grisly, realistic depiction of this very intense period of human history…well, it’s just coming at a bad time. Especially because this has so much potential: it could do so many things – it could, for instance, seek to capitalize on the very popular myths of the “escape” of Russian princess Anastasia Romanov. Let me stress that those are myths: trust me, I’ve just watched the documentary – the bodies of all seven Romanovs have been found as of this writing, and Anastasia is among them. She did not escape, no matter how much we may want to believe that she did. I’m going to make myself cry just writing this, because I loved imagining all the creative ways in which she could have made her daring escape from the House of Special Purpose. But, sadly, none of it’s true.

Anyway…that’s all I’m trying to say. At this moment, watching this trailer, my emotions on the subject are very raw, and I’m not currently relishing the idea of watching our British protagonists smuggle the princess out of Russia before the Bolsheviks (or Mata Hari?) can catch her. I don’t even know if that’s one of the film’s plot points – but if it is, I’d rather not know about it for a little while.

Moving on. The rest of the trailer looks really good, though I do have one other complaint. Namely, that this film already looks like it’s trying to copy certain aspects of my all-time favorite World War 1 film, Wonder Woman. Like, literally, right down to some of the shots in the trailer, such as when Ralph Fiennes (I think it’s him, at any rate) gets thrown through a wall by an explosion, while holding what looks to be a Germanic shield of some sort: it’s basically this shot:

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But with a lot less dimension: seriously, if you’re going to throw a guy through a wall, have him…I don’t know, fall from a height or something? Instead the man in question just falls onto a really barren patch of gray dirt. Not very visually interesting, if you ask me.

Aside from probably coincidental similarities (such as the scene of British soldiers going up over the trenches), we also have the peculiar appearance of a very familiar name in the cast: that of General Ludendorff, whom Wonder Woman fans will remember for his large role in that film, where he was…a glowing superhuman possessed by the Greek god Ares. I know, I was just complaining about fictionalization.

But leaving all that aside, I’m still a sucker for anything set during the Great War; I like Ralph Fiennes as an actor; and I think this film definitely has potential. It’s got elegance, wit, and a good dose of classic British daring-do. Let’s see how it is – and whether it’s got Mata Hari smuggling Anastasia out of a Russian empire controlled by King George – before we make any assumptions.

Trailer Rating: 6/10

Robert Pattinson is Batman!

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Yesterday’s CW Batwoman trailer declared very definitively, in a cringey opening monologue, that “The Bat’s not coming back” – well, that might be true enough for the CW network, which ignores DCEU continuity. In their alternate universe, Batman has left Gotham City and is thought to be dead.

But guess what? The DCEU ignores CW continuity (and sometimes their own continuity) too, so yesterday they revealed that, no, the Bat actually is coming back. And he’ll be played by Robert Pattinson.

The DCEU has always had a problem with having to recast many of their lead actors every so often – their latest Superman, Henry Cavill, is out, and their last Batman, Ben Affleck, is also gone: Affleck’s Batman didn’t even get to have a solo film before he was unceremoniously ousted. Personally, I was not a fan of the “Batfleck”, as his character was dubbed by social media. His performance in Justice League (which, granted, was a bad movie to begin with) was stiff and monotone, and his suit didn’t even fit him properly – seriously, the Bat-suit has to fit. The Dark Knight was reduced to a badly-costumed parody.

But with director Matt Reeves at the helm, DC’s upcoming The Batman is expected to go dark and gritty, with a take on the iconic character closer to that of Christopher Nolan’s sensational Dark Knight trilogy.

Apparently, the Robert Pattinson casting hasn’t been locked down yet, with Nicholas Hoult (star of the recent biopic Tolkien) also on Warner Brothers’ shortlist. But it seems obvious to me that Pattinson is the better choice, and could actually bring some interesting stuff to the table, if he were chosen for the role of the Caped Crusader. Reeves’ Batman movie will follow a young Bruce Wayne in the 1990’s, possibly as a follow-up to The Joker, which will open this fall – with that movie already being tossed around as a potential Oscars contender, it seems likely that The Batman will also have a dramatic and artistic approach to the comic-book source material. This has been Pattinson’s own interest, of late, as the former Twilight actor has branched out into the indie and art film genres – even set to star in a film directed by Christopher Nolan himself. Yet the mainstream DCEU is still conflicted between going dark and serious or light-hearted and ridiculous, with both paths looking fortuitous – the successes of the very dissimilar The Dark Knight Rises and Aquaman exemplify this.

But with Batman, there really should be no doubt in anyone’s mind: gritty is the way to go. You can’t have a Gotham City that isn’t shadowy and hostile, and you certainly can’t explore Batman’s impressive and classic roster of villains without going deep into the darker parts of the human psyche. Bruce Wayne himself is a hugely interesting character with plenty of emotional depth that could be explored in detail by a professional actor – rather than just making Batman yet another superhero with high-tech gadgets. If the script is top-notch and the DCEU isn’t afraid to possibly alienate an audience that would prefer more family-friendly, humorous fare, then I think The Batman could even prove itself a worthy Oscars competitor – superhero films have never really been Academy darlings, and the actors in them least of all: except Heath Ledger, who was given a Best Supporting Actor award for his role as the Joker in The Dark Knight. Maybe – just maybe – Pattinson can build on his experiences in the indie genre to elevate Batman to the same status.

And maybe, though it’s unlikely, his take on the character might be successful enough that we could see another (better) Justice League movie. The romance that was built up between Ben Affleck’s Batman and Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman might finally make sense – considering that Pattinson is much closer to Gadot’s own age than Affleck was. Of course, it all relies on The Joker and The Batman being good movies. I am definitely jumping a bit far ahead of myself.

The Bat is back. And hopefully this time he’s here to stay.

Richard Madden Joins “The Eternals”

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The cast for Marvel’s upcoming film The Eternals continues to take shape – and continues to nab big-name actors, with Richard Madden of Game of Thrones being the latest addition to the team roster. While Marvel has not yet released an official statement on the casting, Madden is believed to be playing the Eternal Ikaris, one of the film’s three male lead characters. So let’s take a brief look into the character of Ikaris, and what we might expect to see from him in the film.

Ikaris is one of the major Eternals, possessing the ability to fly, manipulate energies through molecular distortion, and teleport. He is immortal and invulnerable to most weapons (who isn’t, in the MCU?). He was born thousands of years ago, in Siberia, and inspired the ancient Greek legend of Icarus – well, technically his son did that, but I’m trying to keep this simple. Ikaris is the cousin and arch-nemesis of one of the Eternals’ greatest villains, Druig, who is also expected to show up in The Eternals. I have a theory we might see Druig even earlier, in the Black Widow prequel, and Ikaris’ Russian origin might suggest another connection, however tenuous. In the comics, Druig hunts Ikaris, searching for the location of the Pyramid of the Winds, located in the Arctic Circle – if Druig does appear in Black Widow, he might be looking for Ikaris, following a trail that could lead him to the sacred Pyramid in The Eternals.

In another comic run, Ikaris and the Eternal Thena defeat Druig in the fictional Russian state of Vorozheika, where Druig is attempting to win the allegiance of other Eternals. Ikaris and Thena have a long-standing conflict that could add another dimension to his character. But it is Ikaris’ relationship with another Eternal, the sorceress Sersi, that has frequently been rumored to be a crucial aspect of the Eternals film: it could make The Eternals the first MCU film to actually focus on a romantic storyline. Previous attempts to make love stories fit into Marvel films have all fallen a bit flat, with the designated “love interest” characters feeling one-dimensional and boring – for instance, Sharon Carter, who fell in love with her aunt’s ex-boyfriend; or Doctor Strange’s ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer, who was just…there; or Jane Foster, Thor’s girlfriend, a character that did not deserve to be gifted the incredible talents of actress Natalie Portman – and apparently Portman agreed, since she stepped out of the role after Thor: The Dark World and wouldn’t even return for a cameo in Avengers: Endgame – the filmmakers had to use old deleted footage of her instead.

So having a love story be the possible focus of a Marvel film could be one of two things: one the one hand, it could go down like the Fosters, Carters and Palmers of previous films – or, with a decent amount of screentime lavished on it, it could actually be pretty decent. In my opinion, the greatest comic-book movie romance of all time has to be that of Diana Prince and Steve Trevor in DC’s 2017 hit Wonder Woman, but maybe a similarly adorable couple could replace them – or at least try to come close. Richard Madden seems likely to be starring alongside Angelina Jolie as Sersi, so that dynamic should be interesting, if nothing else.

DC Takes A Whole New Approach With “The Joker”

Yesterday, at CinemaCon, Warner Brothers showed the first trailer for an upcoming release – The Joker, which stars Joaquin Phoenix and will open in October. The movie is going to be an origin story for the iconic Batman villain, and will be set in the 80’s, long before the DC universe as we know it: however, this may not be such a bad thing, as the DC universe is currently going through some renovations, to say the least, and the whole idea of a shared universe with all the DC characters is becoming more and more unlikely with every passing day – most recently, the Wonder Woman creative team have made headlines with their repeated statements that their next film, Wonder Woman 1984, won’t be a sequel: it will be a stand-alone film, for the stand-alone Wonder Woman universe, which apparently doesn’t actually exist in the DCEU proper – it’s all getting very confusing. Actually, it’s interesting to note that Wonder Woman 1984 and The Joker both take place in the 80’s, though I doubt there will be any connection. It’s unclear if The Joker will even have any connection to Matt Reeves’ Batman movie, which is still very much a top-secret project.

Anyway. Getting back to The Joker itself: the thing is, this movie clearly doesn’t want to fit into the DCEU at all. Just based from this trailer, we can see that this movie looks to be all the things that, at the moment, the DCEU is steering away from – dark and gritty realism with a dash of the macabre. It only makes sense when dealing with a character like the Joker: unpredictable, dangerous, defying expectations. We see in this trailer, in fact, the makings of a movie so unlike any previous comic book movie that I would not be shocked if it gets nominated for some Oscars next year – of course, it’s far too early to say that for certain, but it is definitely worth keeping an eye on. Black Panther was able to score a nomination for Best Picture this year: could The Joker be the next comic book movie to do so?

It might seem presumptuous to say “yes”, but take a look at this trailer: this is an intricate and profound character study of Arthur Fleck, the man who will become the Joker – there is sadness here, and a grim and unflinching portrait of a man scarred by emotional trauma. This Joker is not stylized or done up to fulfill comic book fans’ expectations: this Joker is stricken to the core by pain and anguish, he is depressed, tortured, on the brink of taking his own life. He has a job as a sign spinner outside a bankrupt store, where he dresses like a clown, intent on bringing “laughter and joy to the world”. He is robbed and beaten up, and even ends up at the Arkham State Hospital, an iconic location in Gotham City.  The locale looks like the New York City of the late 70’s and early 80’s, and its brutality is also reminiscent of that period.

But Arthur Fleck finds purpose in a new life – a life of crime, that gives him the opportunity to be free, careless, independent. He who once ran from the police now hounds them. He who once hid in the shadows now makes a dramatic entrance at a protest, somersaulting down a flight of steps. He who once slouched over, dressed in dark clothes, trudging through the filthy streets, now dons a new outfit: the painted smile, the green wig, the brightly colored suit. He no longer slouches – now, he leaps over taxi-cabs and strides elegantly down hallways, dancing for the great audience all around him, the people of Gotham. “I used to think that my life was a tragedy,” he says. “But now I realize it’s a comedy.”

And the people embrace him and take him as their figurehead in their rebellion against the forces of law and order. This is not a movie about a supervillain, this is a movie about a man who just happens to become a supervillain: it’s almost like historical fiction, uncovering the truth behind this classic character of comic book mythology and delving deep into his troubled psyche.

There is, however, one hint that may or may not indicate a connection to the wider DCEU – there is a scene, near the end of the trailer, of the Joker meeting a young boy, though the two are separated by the bars of a metal gate. This boy may not be the young Bruce Wayne, but there’s a strong chance that he is.

So no, aside from that one hint (that may not even be a hint), The Joker does not have a connection yet to the DCEU. But it doesn’t need one. It is entirely its own thing, its own bizarre and beautiful being, and it stands alone. The DCEU is moving towards being a fun, family-friendly environment – this stands out as a dark, harsh exception. But this movie (at least from the trailer) seems almost to enjoy and embrace its complete uniqueness.

Trailer Rating: 8.5/10

Ezra Miller’s New “Flash” Script

It’s been common knowledge for months now that Warner Brothers is still working out what to do with the DCEU. They’ve experienced a pretty uneven string of hits, mild successes, and epic fails – from the peak of their creative genius, Wonder Woman, to the disastrous Justice League. But last year’s Aquaman proved to be a billion-dollar hurricane at the box-office, and paved the way for a new take on the DCEU – one that is light-hearted, cheesy, over-the-top, and…well, still completely discombobulated. The emphasis now was on making DC movies stand-alone adventures, without trying to tie them into some bigger universe. Gone was the grim-faced Henry Cavill; gone was the dour Ben Affleck; gone was Geoff Johns, the man behind Justice League: gone was the dark and serious tone of the prior DC movies.

And then, today, we learn that Ezra Miller is making one last effort to try and stop DC from going down this path.

Ezra Miller, the actor who has portrayed The Flash in Justice League and Batman vs Superman, is set to star in an origin movie titled The Flash, which should start production later this year. Just the other day, however, we got news that Miller is taking it upon himself to completely rewrite the script for the movie.

Yes, Miller has enlisted the help of author Grant Morrison, and is going against the wishes of Flash writers John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, who currently have a very light-hearted, funny script written for the film, in keeping with Warner Brothers’ new approach to making DC movies. Miller, on the other hand, is writing a much darker, more serious screenplay, and is actually showing incredible bravery in doing so: the official writers don’t seem to be backing this idea, and Miller’s future in the DCEU could be at stake. His script could be submitted as early as next week, which means we will soon learn if a new Flash is coming onboard, and Ezra Miller will be joining the lengthy list of cast and crew members kicked out from the DC franchise.

My feelings are quite conflicted: I do not like this new approach to DC movies, where they all have to be completely stand-alone and ridiculously comical. It works for one or two, like Aquaman, but characters like Wonder Woman would not, in my opinion, benefit from a more humorous approach, and the Flash, even though we’ve only seen him as a funny character, certainly has the capability to be more serious. Ezra Miller has done a great job as the dark and brooding Credence Barebone in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what’s inspired him to rewrite the script – to complement his own expanding talents as much as to help out the DCEU.

So what will happen? I have an uneasy feeling that Ezra Miller’s script probably won’t ever see the light of day, and the Flash will be recast. But maybe…just maybe…there’s a chance that Miller’s script is too good to pass up on, and the movie will end up being a more serious installment in the DCEU. Maybe Miller can initiate a new tonal style for DC movies, who knows? Despite what Warner Brothers likes to claim, none of their “serious” films were all that serious, except Wonder Woman, so this would be a great opportunity to expand the brand.

We should find out next week.