(Video on-Demand, May 2017) The Fifty Shades trilogy keeps going with this second instalment and the results as just as dull as viewers of the first film can imagine. While the BDSM content has been toned down in favour of a far more conventional romance, Fifty Shades Darker still plays like a direct-to-video romantic thriller enlivened by more explicit than usual sex scenes. It’s remarkably boring, especially as the plot is so threadbare. Stalkers, ex-lovers, etc.: how ordinary. Dakota Johnson is, to her credit, still the best thing about the movie: her acting runs circles over the impassible Jamie Dornan, and she will probably have a career after this series wraps up. Kim Basinger also has a decent small role, but otherwise there isn’t much to say. There’s quite a bit of wish fulfillment in the way the film lingers in high-priced sets and gadgets. There’s even a bit of sunshine when the two characters take a sailboat out for a day. Roughly half a dozen sex scenes interrupt the dull story for even duller moments—the recurring “panties removal” motif is interesting, but not much else. Otherwise, the film does spend quite a bit of time short-looping its dramatic developments (the boss is lecherous? Wait two scenes and he’ll be gone. Christian Gray disappears after a helicopter accident? Wait two scenes and he’ll be back) while spending its last fifteen minutes setting up its third instalment. We know it’s coming. There’s nothing we can do about it.
(Second viewing, On TV, December 2016) Recognizably cut from the same cloth as the first Wayne’s World, this sequel treads more or less the same style of silly comedy, although it’s really not quite as fresh or good as the original. As the plot devolves into jealousy and music festival mechanics, while avoiding some of the most amusing fourth-wall-breaking of the original, the result isn’t as memorable as its predecessors. (While I was able to quote from the original for years, I remembered maybe two jokes from the sequel.) Mike Myers, Dana Carvey and Tia Carrere return from the original and are in fine form—even though much of Kim Basinger’s subplot feels far too long and is only redeemed by its last joke. Good bits include Charlton Heston being shoved in the film as a better actor, but too often, the film falls in love with its own jokes and runs them into the ground long after they’ve stopped being amusing. Wayne’s World 2 is an adequate follow-up to the first film, but not essential. It hasn’t aged as well, and clearly anticipates issues that would dog later Mike Myers films.
(Second viewing, on DVD, June 2009): With the critical and commercial success of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, it’s becoming easier to forget about Tim Burton’s reinvention of the character, before it slid once again in franchise-killing high camp during the Joel Schumacher years. And that’s a shame, because despite some increasingly dated aspects, Batman still keeps an operatic grandeur that resonates even today. The story is thin and eighties-fashion still peeks through the self-conscious blend of historical references, but the entire film remains intriguing. Health Ledger may have taken over the Joker’s look, but Jack Nicholson’s take on the character remains magnetic. Only an underwhelming finale falters visibly: While everyone remembers the Batman/Joker showdown in the streets of Gotham, fewer will recall the following sequence taking place in a cathedral. Two decades after the film’s release, the special edition DVD can afford to be candid about the film’s rushed production, last-minute producer-driven script changes and casting choices. Alas, director Burton’s commentary track could have benefited from judicious editing: His “you know?”s start grating early on and never fade away.
(Third viewing, On Cable TV, June 2016) I hadn’t watched Batman in more than ten years, but another look was more than warranted given rapid evolution of superhero movies since then. Tim Burton’s Batman turns out to be a significant step in the evolution of Batman’s movie portrayal from sixties silliness to Nolan’s grimmer portrayal. It’s certainly trying to be more serious, but it can’t completely manage it. It doesn’t help that Burton’s vision for his characters (and particularly the joker) is so colourful and exuberant: it’s tough to keep a straight face at what Jack Nicholson pulls off in his completely unrestrained performance. Otherwise, it’s fascinating to see in here the seeds of the modern superhero blockbuster, albeit with pre-digital effects, restrained cinematography and somewhat more silliness. (Not included in the movie, but far more important, are the media tie-in and marketing effort surrounding the film, which I remember more than the movie itself) Michael Keaton is better than anyone may remember as Bruce Wayne/Batman, while Kim Basinger is spectacular as Vicki Vale. The ending is a bit dull (the Joker shooting down the batwing is memorable, but the subsequent cathedral sequence isn’t), but there are enough good scenes along the way to make it worthwhile. It’s probably impossible to overstate Batman’s impact on the modern blockbuster industry, but there’s actually a worthwhile film underneath the hype.