Quick Movie Review: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

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Watching Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, it’s very evident how different humor in action films was in 2001 compared to now. This is before Iron Man. Before having refreshing levity in your movies was an obligation. Back then you could make a dry, self-indulgent blockbuster that takes itself too seriously and still doubles its budget at the box office. In 2018, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider would be a flop. It tries to be funny a couple times, but it never succeeds. Luckily it’s fairly entertaining regardless.

Lara Croft, played by Angelina Jolie, is an expert collector of ancient artifacts. In this adventure, her deceased father (played by Jon Voight–seriously) leaves her a key that will help reunite two halves of a triangle that will allow whoever posses it to travel through time. She must find the two pieces before the Illuminati do. The Illuminati want to misuse the triangle’s power.

Despite some unclear motives, the premise is pretty straightforward and easy to follow. Yet, everything happens with convenient punctuality. And it feels like the director is merely completing mandatory steps to further the plot rather than letting it all move along fluidly.

Jolie does a pretty good job with her role, but the movie is short on supporting talent to offset Croft’s brooding demeanor. The villain is lackluster and Croft’s goofy sidekicks aren’t necessarily C-3PO and R2-D2.

Everything about this movie tells you that the filmmakers aren’t comfortable with any sort of humor they’re given or supposed to include.

And based on the unnecessary shower scenes and the skintight clothes that Jolie wears, you’d think that Tomb Raider was directed by a 13-year-old boy. It’s just way too cool for itself.

I don’t really have any problems with the unrealistic Fast and Furious-type action, but here it’s mostly uninspired. Not quite as slick or original.

I can see people in 2001 viewing this film as below them, but we can watch it now and enjoy it as a product of its time. If nothing else, it’s fairly entertaining.

Twizard Rating: 72

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Quick Movie Review: Road House (1989)

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Often times, the hero of an action movie is broodingly void of any human emotion. Too cool to laugh or smile. But Patrick Swayze knows just how to make his character realistic so that we can actually relate. He doesn’t just make himself a cookie cutter of every other action hero before him.

Swayze’s charisma carries the somewhat uninspired dialogue that tries to sound deeper than it is. And maybe it is a little deep. Surprisingly. Perhaps even philosophical. Some lines come off as cheesy, but you hardly notice when it’s Swayze saying them. But most other actors can’t handle them quite the same.

James Dalton, played by Swayze, is a famous bouncer, who is hired by the owner of a notorious bar in small-town Missouri to help clean up the bar and eliminate all the fighting. Along the way, he develops relationships with people in this town, attempting to protect them from a corrupt businessman who is the de facto town dictator.

Road House is the very definition of a guilty pleasure movie. It’s a movie about bar fights. Yet somehow it manages to take it one step further than that. It actually makes a lot of nice artistic choices, which is interesting considering that, on the surface, it’s a cheap action flick.

And at times it’s obvious. Even losing itself for a minute, nearly becoming unraveled about halfway through. It realizes that there haven’t been any fights for awhile, so it throws in a couple in vain, even though we stop needing them. As it turns out, we actually become genuinely invested in these characters and the story around them.

The fight scenes are actually amazing. They’re well-choreographed and very realistic. But what keeps the film afloat is still Swayze himself. His demeanor helps the movie not take itself too seriously, even when you know it probably wants to.

Twizard Rating: 85

Quick Movie Review: A Wrinkle In Time (2018)

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There’s a reason why Madeleine L’Engle’s 1962 novel hasn’t been adapted into a feature film before. (There was a forgettable 2003 mini-series, but that’s it.) The story just doesn’t translate to the screen well.

In this most recent version, director Ava DuVernay tries to show us the abstract concept, yet attempts to market the film towards teenagers–succeeding at neither. It’s likely that the powers-that-be had conflicting opinions about which direction the film should go.

From early on, you can tell that A Wrinkle In Time tries to be too cool. But it’s not nearly as cool or fun as it thinks it is. It finds itself stumbling when trying too hard to appeal to a younger audience, and seems awkwardly out of place when it tries to pontificate. It tries to do so much that it’s unable to retain any distinct personality.

The premise seems promising, but never really takes off. And while there are a lot of fun time travel concepts introduced, the filmmakers fail to capitalize on this intrigue.

Thirteen-year-old Meg Murry (Storm Reid) deals with the four year anniversary of her father, Dr. Alexander Murry’s mysterious disappearance. Because of the opening scene, we know that he’s some sort of scientist who’s into time travel and inter-world teleportation. He was apparently looking for the key to allow himself to do so.

So for the whole film, Meg, her brother, and her friend travel from world to world searching for her father.

The story forces this mystique that’s fun at first, but gets old. It never fully explains itself or feels worth it. Disney is trying to put together a narrative version of a concept. An interesting one, but not one that can afford to lack any integrity–or else you get an end product like this one.

But the truth is, even if the novel could be executed well in narrative form, this version of A Wrinkle In Time doesn’t have the other ingredients that typically make a film good, either.

The whole movie is disjointed, from the aimless directing to the convoluted script–which gives us plot points that merely serve as functional to the overall story. There’s no forgetting why everything is happening. We’re hardly ever able to get lost in the movie itself.

Then there’s the acting. It’s pretty bad considering the talents involved. Most of the performances (e.g. Reese Witherspoon, Levi Miller) are reminiscent of overacted children’s theater, while the ones with more potential (e.g. Michael Peña, Zach Galifianakis) go underutilized.

The visual effects don’t quite look as up-to-date as they should. But the art design is impressive, so it’s visually pleasing. You might ask how such a beautiful film can be so underwhelming. It’s because it’s more into itself than it should be. And we’re not nearly as impressed with it as it is with itself.

A Wrinkle In Time is a story about the abstract nature of the universe, and to its credit, the film editing is just as abstract. But at times it’s just too much. Once again: It’s a narrative version of a concept and it just doesn’t work.

There are glimpses where we can see it resisting the urge to give into typical cinematic formula. Yet there are other instances where we’re reminded that this is a movie made by Disney, trying to sell tickets and not much more.

So then we’re suddenly not surprised that such a bad movie can somehow manage to make us invested enough to feel for its characters (I’m giving credit to the musical score).

A Wrinkle In Time is a movie conflicted with itself. Subtle details become vague and unexplained, while the filmmakers belabor the obvious through redundant and boring sequences. Its point is that darkness is the only thing that moves faster than light. But the way it interprets that darkness is much more subjective than a moral compass would have it be.

And now I’m belaboring my own point. But at least mine doesn’t take 2 hours to do so.

If you want a similar, more watchable movie, check out 1984’s The NeverEnding Story. It covers much of the same ground but with much less of an agenda.

Twizard Rating: 54

Quick Movie Review: Thelma & Louise (1991)

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I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film that so beautifully depicts the great American road while also showing it’s unforgivingness at the same time. A dichotomy that’s a consistent theme in Thelma & Louise.

Two best friends fed-up with the men in their lives and looking for a weekend away, set out on a road trip to exercise their freedom. But along the way they realize that exercising their freedom may also cost them their freedom as well.

Thelma (Geena Davis), a somewhat naive young woman with a neglectful and unappreciative husband, is looking to let her hair down and live a little, while Louise (Susan Sarandon), a brash waitress who sits around impatiently waiting for her boyfriend to commit, is sort of the adult in the room with Thelma. However, both women are constantly looking out for each other, reinforcing each other’s bad decisions.

While it’s not usually too preachy, there are very obvious feminist overtones. Although it takes some subtle, and perhaps unaware, stances on whether putting a gun to a cop’s head and locking him in the trunk is not as bad as a truck driver making suggestive gestures at women from his cab. It’s not as black or white as the characters make it seem. And while men might relate to the characters otherwise, these types of quasi-contradictions may keep some of them distanced still–aware that perhaps the filmmakers’ personal opinions might be getting in the way of the integrity of the story.

But the true key to appreciating Thelma & Louise is to not quite put its characters on a pedestal. Instead accepting that they, too, make horrible mistakes. Maybe the characters have black or white opinions, but the film wants the audience to question them. Coincidentally, that’s the conflict that often happens when you’re out on the open road learning about yourself and about life.

Towards the beginning, not long into their trip, the characters find themselves in a honky tonk bar in their home state of Arkansas. Thelma finds herself dancing closely to a man, who later attempts to rape her, which eventually leads to Louise killing him. Fearing that the cops won’t believe their story, their road trip turns into a run from the law.

With the seal of crime now broken, Thelma and Louise now find it easier to commit even more felonies. So badly that they cause it to escalate into something much bigger than they had originally anticipated, unearthing aggressions that they previously kept tame.

Opposed to other road films where the events that take place on the road feel outlaw-ish and unregulated, this one features a manhunt for the two women, led by Detective Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel).

At one point, Detective Slocumb states that eventually Thelma and Louise’s luck will run out. It’s funny to think that they’re lucky, when it’s a lack of luck that gets them here in the first place.

A road movie is far from an original concept, however Thelma & Louise manages to add just enough to it so that it stands on its own–putting it towards the top of the list. While candid and gritty as road films most often are, this story also has heart. Not in a sappy way, but in a way that lets you connect with these characters who find themselves down a rabbit hole.

Much of the emotion stems from Keitel’s character, who has empathy for these women and understands that it isn’t, in fact, black or white. While every cop in a 3-state radius is looking for them, Keitel is begging the girls to come in for questioning. Not like a normal movie cop would, but like he’s sincerely invested in their wellbeing. And he is. He grounds the film and shows that at least the screenwriter knows that not all men are bad.

Callie Khouri’s script is refreshing. The humor is so organic and the scenes never feel contrived.

And how the two leads manage the script is what makes the film take off. Both Sarandon and Davis are convincing. They feel real and you forget that they’re acting. Davis is transformed here, and her character continues to do so seamlessly over the course of the movie.

The film creates such a cool vibe that lets us know we’re still holding onto the 1980s. It was released in 1991, but most everything about it screams “’80s”. Proving that the ’90s didn’t fully kick into gear until ’92 or ’93.

It was a time with real maps and no cell phones. For this and less obvious reasons, Thelma & Louise simply couldn’t be made these days with the same clamor or spirit.

My biggest gripe is that it doesn’t quite give us the ending we want. Instead, giving us one that doesn’t make as much sense, and that doesn’t properly justify some of the events leading up to it.

But Director Ridley Scott does an excellent job, otherwise, of making a film that will evoke any memory of an amazing road trip through the United States. Which is interesting, considering how the story is somewhat about misfortune. But it’s also a little about the personal growth that comes out of that misfortune. A bittersweet lesson that the road won’t ever let us forget.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Game Night (2018)

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Rachel McAdams is a really good actress, but she’s never been in straight-up comedies. In fact, if you think about it, she hasn’t really been in one since 2004’s Mean Girls–the movie that catalyzed her stardom. So putting her opposite Jason Bateman in Game Night is a smart choice. The two of them have great chemistry. In fact, it’s so good that it nearly overshadows the rest of the film. Luckily, the well-crafted script helps to keep it together.

The comedy often falls apart when they aren’t on screen. And while McAdams does a superb job on her own, it’s Bateman who is the thread holding it together with everyone else. He changes the dynamic of their jokes. Others are funnier when Bateman is in the scene merely because of his presence–the anticipation of how we expect him to react. That tension is what makes him one of the best straight-men in this era of comedy.

Bateman plays Max, who has inferiority issues with his brother, Brooks, played by Kyle Chandler. Everyone loves Brooks and is constantly affirming Max’s insecurities. And from early on, we get a sense that the whole film is going to be one of those spit-on-the-protagonist stories.

But it’s not. Brooks is very obviously not a nice person, yet everyone is still blinded by his apparent coolness. However, Max’s wife, Annie (Rachel McAdams), sees right through Brooks’ nonsense and the film wisely never pins her against her husband.

Every week Max and Annie host a game night at their house. Usually it consists of charades or Pictionary, but this time Brooks puts together an elaborate murder-mystery game for them to play. However, they don’t realize that they’ve embarked on a real-life mission to solve an actual kidnapping.

It’s not that the other actors in the film aren’t funny, it’s that they’re just given too many one-liners, making them one-dimensional. One of the characters, Ryan (Billy Magnussen), is the stereotypical dumb guy. In the movie he’s funny, but tragically overused. Almost as though they had too many jokes for him and just couldn’t decide which ones they liked best. Many of them fall flat. Not because they aren’t funny, but because the audience doesn’t know they’re funny.

But on the plus side, the characters’ jokes always fit the characters, and there was obviously some sort of archetypal distinction between each one.

Game Night has some nice deep moments. The sentimentality isn’t forced or cliched or obviously pointed to. It’s well-written.

And I would be remiss not to mention the always-great Jesse Plemons as Max and Annie’s creepy neighbor, Gary, who always tries to invite himself to their game nights. He’s featured in the film a perfect amount and it’s always a treat when he’s included in the scene.

Twizard Rating: 89

Quick Movie Review: Phantom Thread (2017)

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I don’t mind needing to give a film my attention. But Paul Thomas Anderson turns everything into an unnecessary 2 and a half hour movie. in fact, I truly think he believes that every film should be longer than 2 hours.

In Daniel Day-Lewis’ supposed final film, he plays Reynolds Woodcock, a dress maker in 1950s London. His day-to-day life is very routine, until he meets a young lady, Alma (Vicky Krieps).

Woodcock is a bit crazy and obsessed with his own creativity. Alma immediately falls in love with him, but he is very blatantly just using her as his inspiration. We get the idea early on that this is a pattern with him. He finds a woman, exploits her in order to enhance his work, then eventually she gets tired of him and leaves. Only this time, the woman fully buys into his nonsense. Alma is fully committed, but all he wants to do is take. It’s actually almost too painful to be entertaining.

But something tells me we’re not here to be entertained. We’re here to learn about a particular unhealthy relationship and the truly deep nuances of its dynamic–however unrealistic it all is.

Woodcock’s insanity leads her to find her own crazy, which makes her do terrible things. We know Alma deserves better. He’s so impossibly hard to love, but she does it anyway.

It’s also a look into the culture and the commonly tortured life of a fashion designer of that era by dissecting the psychoanalysis of Woodcock himself.

Day-Lewis is expectedly great. From the very first moments, he never tries to capture the camera. Almost as though he doesn’t realize he’s being filmed at all.

While the story is painfully slow at times, Anderson takes full advantage of the long runtime. He builds tension and develops the complex relationship. There are some excellent and memorably distinct scenes. Unlike his film The Master, where all of the scenes just bleed together. Phantom Thread is intriguing up until the final ten minutes when it completely turns heel and becomes totally weird, breaking the consistently even tone.

In the end, Phantom Thread is a excellently crafted work of art. However, you can’t help but think that the film is just as self-aggrandized as Woodcock, himself.

Twizard Rating: 92

Quick Movie Review: The Darkest Hour (2017)

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Often times when actors play historical figures, there’s a small inkling we have that they’re still only acting. Whether it’s due to forced or phony idiosyncrasies, or an unnatural sounding cadence. But there are those rare performances where the actor truly becomes the person they are portraying. So much so that you never once think about the actor. Some examples being Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham Lincoln or Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe. And now you have to add Gary Oldman in one of the best acting performances you will ever see.

What Oldman does as Prime Minister Winston Churchill feels so effortless. Each word and facial expression is so subtly nuanced. At times you can barely understand what he says, but even that is beautiful too. Everything he does feels so natural as if it’s actually Churchill himself.

A lot of it has to do with director Joe Wright giving Oldman the freedom to have at it. In a 2-hour film, it’s harder to keep up this kind of perfection for a leading actor. There’s more screen time to mess it up. But Oldman’s true genius is able to surface, with Wright honing it in.

The film depicts Churchill’s coming to power in 1940 and dealing with Hitler and his attack on British troops at Dunkirk. Most of Churchill’s advisors agree to come to a peace treaty with Hitler, but Churchill’s conscience keeps telling him otherwise. He doesn’t want to fall into the same trap that other countries have–feeding into and negotiating with an evil tyrant.

Initially, Parliament writes off the Prime Minister as a buffoon, but he rises to the task. And you get to see the growth of his relationship with those around him, especially King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn).

Most of the movie takes place in a war strategy room or at Churchill’s home. The subject matter is dry, but you feel its weight. Churchill is exhausted and we are too, in the best way possible. Like after a great workout at the gym or completing a 300-page novel. It’s tough, but we feel accomplished afterwards. If you struggle with slower films, I suggest watching the movie Dunkirk first. Although it, too, is slow for an action film, it really helps put all of this into context.

But the script, written by Anthony McCarten, is so fluid and catchy. It helps that the real Churchill always talked as though he was scripted anyway. But Wright and McCarten could’ve just told the story. Instead, they make the scenes memorable. You can tell they had fun making the project and that McCarten enjoyed writing it.

Perhaps the only issue is that, before we care about the ancillary characters, the film tends to flounder when Oldman isn’t on screen. This gets fixed about halfway through, once we’re fully committed.

Lily James plays Churchill’s secretary, Elizabeth Layton. James is flawless in her role, proving that she has the potential to become one of Hollywood’s best talents.

After watching The Darkest Hour, you will feel like you know Winston Churchill the man, as well as understand what he went through while in office. Luckily we have the perfect guy to show us.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Lady Bird (2017)

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I’m curious how people who can’t relate to Lady Bird will interpret it. They will see a good, well thought-out film with a very intentional and inspired script. But will they be able to see the deceiving magnitude of this small story? Filled with scenarios that may seem random and non-cohesive, but actually aren’t, coming together to serve a symbiotic purpose in the end. There are films, like Get Out, where seemingly random events take place and you obviously know they will all come together in the end. Whereas Lady Bird has these events that seem more like they’re organically just telling a story. And we smile when we realize their purpose. Or perhaps consciously we won’t. And that’s where director Greta Gerwig’s brilliance shines best here.

Saoirse Ronan plays Christine, AKA Lady Bird, a high school senior who is still discovering how to rebel against her mother, with an attitude that’s oddly reminiscent of Claire Danes’ Angela Chase. Amongst the unpopular kids, she’s a little edgier and worldly, but with the popular kids, she’s obviously out-of-place.

Attending Catholic school, Lady Bird toys with liberal ideas for the sake of them being liberal ideas. Often times liking the concept of their existence rather than actually having a full grasp of them–haphazard arguments and all.

Personally, I find the film extremely relatable. Growing up Catholic at Catholic schools in liberal California, most of my friends no longer practice their faith–or never have. From talks with many of them, I know that, although they’ve strayed, it’s something that stays with them in their hearts and their conscience.

Lady Bird is also Catholic by upbringing only. Basically. The disciplines learned. The idea of sacrifice. When she’s in the comfort of her school and her family, she rebels against it, but once she leaves and is no longer encapsulated in it, she’s able to better understand it all and grow from it–actually using it as a remedy for her homesickness.

A huge part of the movie is Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother, eloquently played by Laurie Metcalf. Metcalf’s character is a study of neurotic OCD before it was trendy (the film takes place in 2002). She has an obvious complex. Outwardly, her daughter can never do good enough. She mirrors her own insecurities onto Lady Bird, often insulting the way she walks or dresses. To everyone else, it’s obviously some sort of deep-rooted jealousy, but if you called her out on it, she’d probably say she doesn’t do any of it at all. She’s a true nuisance. Yet she has so much vulnerability that you still seem to love her. And Gerwig shows her in a way only capable of being shown by someone who’s loved someone just like this in her own life. Perhaps.

The film and the narrative have an extremely indie feel to it. The script is poignant, but sometimes a little too expository. A result of the raw disjointedness that comes with the genre’s territory.

Lady Bird may feel like many other films, but the beauty of it is that once you dig deep, it’s not. It’s largely about the title character and her mother, yes, but it also makes you pay attention to those around them. Gerwig creates all these little subplots within this universe. They don’t all necessarily have a direct impact on the main storyline, but they all help to serve a greater purpose. They shape Lady Bird’s life and give it a bigger meaning. While as teenagers, we think the world revolves around us, we (hopefully) realize as we get older that it definitely doesn’t. Gerwig reminds us of that. The best line in the movie is, “Don’t you think, maybe, they are the same thing? Love and attention?” Well said. And a good reminder these days.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Black Panther (2018)

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Unlike other Marvel films, Black Panther’s premise isn’t convoluted or confusing. The fluid storytelling helps, but it also does away with aliens and paint-by-numbers villains. It doesn’t require any esoteric knowledge or a following of every previous Marvel movie up until this point. In fact, you barely remember that it’s part of that universe at all.

The story follows the African nation of Wakanda and its heir to the throne, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Wakanda is thought to be a third world country by the rest of the world, but it secretly has an infinite supply of the metal called Vibranium. Vibranium can cure disease, supply unlimited energy, and is used to make indestructible armor and the most powerful weapons you could ever imagine. T’Challa’s conflict is whether or not to share this technology with the rest of the world to help them. Will the world use it peacefully, like the people of Wakanda? Or will they abuse its power, invoking greed?

Boseman does an excellent job as the title character, proving once again that he’s one of the most reliably consistent actors in Hollywood. He carries the film well, showing us both earnestness and pride. There may not be anyone else who could have done this convincingly, properly giving us as good of a character transformation as he has.

On the other side of T’Challa is Killmonger, an Oakland-born villain who knows of Wakanda’s Vibranium and thinks it should be used to help the oppressed conquer their oppressors. Killmonger comes from the streets and has turned his frustrations into violence–like many do–but this time, he has somewhat of an “in”.

You get where he’s coming from and agree that Vibranium should be used to help people, but don’t necessarily like his violent approach to getting it done. In fact, T’Challa gets it too. The hero and the villain have the same end goal, but their way of going about it is just different. One is a tyrant while the other is a compassionate leader.

Killmonger is one of the most intriguing Marvel villains to date. He and X-Men’s Magneto. We dislike them, yet are given empathy for them. Killmonger is willing to sacrifice everything, including people he loves, for his beliefs, while the Wakandans are willing to sacrifice beliefs and morals for their own country. It’s subtle, but extremely poignant.

Wakanda has a lie that’s gotten out of hand. Like any big and necessary change, there needs to be conflict and civil disagreement beforehand. And that’s what happens here. Some serve their nation because of their own personal obligation, while others see that this is about much more than that. It’s about serving the greater good.

As far as surface-level stuff, Black Panther isn’t entirely unflawed. Other than a cool car chase sequence towards the beginning, the action scenes are lacking a bit of originality. However, the score by composer Ludwig Goransson and its utilization by director Ryan Coogler makes them feel epic. The whole movie has this feel. Maybe more than any other in this cinematic universe. And that’s with the subpar action.

The film is so nuanced. It helps that it has a director rooted in the independent film world. Coogler conducts the drama on the same level as the best we’ve ever seen in an action film. He knows how to build conflict and tension, and how to make the audience think. A little food for though is always good.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Batman Returns (1992)

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1989’s Batman is, arguably, a good movie. It tends to be overshadowed by Jack Nicholson’s Joker, relying so heavily on him that you forget what the actual plot of the movie is.

In Batman Returns, Danny DeVito plays the villain, Penguin, who helps carry this movie (and is actually much creepier than the Joker), but it never becomes solely about him.

Batman (Michael Keaton) tries to stop Penguin and the corrupt Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) from taking full control of Gotham City. Meanwhile, Shreck’s vendetta-filled ex-assistant, Selina Kyle (Michelle Pfeiffer) is figuring out how to become Catwoman.

It’s fun the watch the 1989 film first (and as a completist, I think you should), but it’s far from necessary. There are basically zero references to the predecessor. Luckily.

They’re both directed by Tim Burton, known for his dark and macabre style. Yet, this film does absolutely everything better than the last. There’s an actual coherent story, clearly defined motives, nuanced depth of the characters, and there are several villains to occupy us with.

The script explores much less of Bruce Wayne’s history, yet he seems more filled-out here. Possibly since Keaton appears to have an actual invested interest in both main villains–and so do we as an audience. Batman has no prior history with them, but he seems to have more at stake still.

It also helps that both Catwoman and Penguin are much more complex characters than the Joker. Their stories are more poetic. And so is this movie.

Batman Returns actually has something to say. With subtle jabs at the the media and our headline-grabbing culture.

It’s also more than just a superhero movie, but a character study paying dividends even in its final moments.

It’s also important to note that composer Danny Elfman’s score compliments Burton’s auteur in this film much better than the last. In those three years, he really found and established his style that we all know him by.

Twizard Rating: 100