MARCH RECAP: 3-in-1 Review! (The Batman, Turning Red, and Kirby and the Forgotten Land)
Hey everybody, so ignoring the fact that we’re already almost halfway through April, how about those March releases, huh…? A lot of good stuff has been dropping recently and I want to put my two cents in so I’ve devised this little speed round of sorts to cover The Batman, Turning Red, and Kirby and the Forgotten Land all in one special March recap three-in-one review! So without any further ado, let’s jump right in!
(This mini-review contains a few mild-ish spoilers for The Batman (2022).)
Back in high school, I had something of a weird and unprompted comic book phase where, through my love for superhero movies, I became briefly invested in the source materials that the movies stemmed from. I even bought and still own some comics but my favorite series was always the Batman (I’m a particular fan of Batman: Death of the Family, the ending of which still haunts me.) Batman didn’t just have the great artwork, gritty action, and storied world of consistent and recurring characters, it also offered something few other comic books could that made it stand above the rest. You see, an oft-overlooked facet of the dark knight is his title of “the world’s greatest detective.” Many people forget that he’s more than just a caped crusader, but also an adept gumshoe with a powerful intellect, and with that come many epics of intrigue and mystery that few other comic book heroes could ever hope to replicate. In this very manner, The Batman, directed by Matt Reeves, is less of a high-flying superhero movie and more of a back alley gritty detective flick.
Now, I really appreciate Reeves’ devotion to this particular angle on the character. He really delves deep into a side of the Batman that’s not always at the forefront during his cinematic adaptations. However, with it comes some drawbacks. Specifically the fact that this is a three-hour-long movie, and worse than that? It feels like a three-hour-long movie. If a movie is well-paced and/or entertaining enough, it can immerse the audience into forgetting about ludicrous runtimes. For example, Avengers Endgame was also a three-hour-long marathon of a movie but the insane stakes and action kept me so invested that I had no concept of how much time had passed at all. The Batman, however, suffers from less-than-stellar pacing which causes the three-hour runtime to crash down under its own bloated weight. The length isn’t insufferable, though, as the movie is still consistently interesting and kept me mostly engaged, but I was definitely uncomfortably aware of how many times I was mistaken when I thought it was beginning to wrap up.
An argument for this pacing and length can be made though, as a detective story needs pillars of exposition and dialogue to prop itself up. After all, you can’t have an intriguing mystery without setting things up first of course. The problem is that most people walk into a Batman movie expecting an action movie, something this movie definitely offers and it is very, very good action at that, but it also takes many dialogue-dedicated detours to drive the detective mystery plot, something that ultimately hurts the pacing of the movie, especially towards the latter half. By the third act, we’re still sorting out who all the different secondary characters are while also trying to unravel the mystery as it’s laid out before us. With all of this piling up at once, a lot of the plot gets lost in the mess and I found myself leaving the theater with some questions about the plot that really could have been better clarified if the story wasn’t so busy trying to uphold a cast of dry secondary characters at the same time. Ultimately, while I do appreciate the attempt, I think The Batman suffers from trying a bit too hard to interpret the detective elements of its titular character to the medium of the big screen.
The more purely sleuth-centric material works much better in the context of a serialized medium such as the comics. It also dawned on me while writing this mini-review just how well this movie would have worked as an episodic series. This idea happens to be entirely feasible as a spin-off series dedicated to the Penguin character was already announced, which is ironic considering Penguin happened to be a filler character within the confines of the film who felt like he served to slow the movie more than compel it. Now imagine instead that The Batman was a series, and instead of dedicating an entire second act to the Penguin just for him to be a red herring it’s staged as maybe one or two episodes of a series that could move on from him for the final act much more organically. The detective mystery would keep the audience coming back for each new episode, the denser cast of characters and B-plots would have more breathing room, even the finale feels like it would be functionally much more satisfying as a series finale in that context. The movie has almost two different resolutions, one that deals with the Catwoman/Falcone plotline and the other that deals with the Riddler, both of which only happen to be tangentially related. This double finale is a major detriment to the pacing as the plot pretty much ends twice but in the context of a series, this would be much less awkward and service the story’s characters in a much more effective way without making any asses sore in movie seats. The more I go on, the more sure of this idea I become, it’s practically a perfect answer for this movie’s pertinent pacing issues and would make it considerably more compelling and enjoyable. I’m so self-assured in fact that I’ll go so far as to add it to my newly itemized list of personal hot takes along with my priorly articled Grappling Hook Theory.
As far as Batman film adaptations go, this is probably the darkest and most macabre atmospherically. Robert Pattison’s portrayal of the titular character expertly captures a younger, slightly more inexperienced and rageful version of the dark knight most of us aren’t as familiar with. This character choice and portrayal bolster some of the primary themes of the film, like the proposal that maybe Bruce Wayne acting out his grim, vengeful vigilantism on the streets of Gotham to set an example for evil-doers might accidentally also be setting a worse precedent for others who use his actions to validate their own homicidal vengeances. It’s honestly a really unique and interesting angle that I’ve never seen a Batman story tackle before and I honestly wish it was a bit more front-and-center as it’s almost lost under the heavy layers of detective mystery that take up a majority of the screen time.
I’m a sucker for the bittersweet. I love to watch the hero lose, get beat down, and have their shit kicked in. A common complaint lobbied against superhero movies as they increasingly drown out the cinema market is that they’re all the same, the heroes always just win in the end, so what’s the point? But that’s not always the case, and when we see the heroes lose it’s usually when these movies are at their finest. Some of my favorite movies feature the protags getting absolutely curb-stomped. In The Batman, Batman does pretty much almost nothing right. He saves almost nobody. There’s a scene where the Riddler strapped a bomb to some poor schmuck Saw-style and Batman has to work with the hostage to solve three riddles to save him. Do you know what happens? Batman doesn’t save the day. The man blows the hell up and Batman gets launched across the church they’re in. And it’s one of the best scenes in the movie. It’s thrilling, tense, and really wrangles the detective out of Batman.
While the pacing issues and slightly over-dense plot aren’t easy to ignore, it’s also very hard to miss just how well-composed this movie really is. The cinematography and score are both incredible and definitely the best that any live-action Batman has ever seen. The acting is especially strong, with characters like Zoë Kravitz’s Catwoman and Paul Dano’s Riddler being just as good if not even better than Pattinson’s Batman. Both are super impactful characters for Batman to play off of in ways that not only allow Bruce Wayne to grow and evolve as a hero-detective but also allow them to each absolutely shine in their roles. They are easily some of the best parts of this movie.
I can say for certain that this is a very strong Batman film. It has amazing cinematography, powerful sound design, excellent acting, some awesome action, and a fairly interesting mystery. I still firmly stand by my idea that it would probably work twice if not thrice as well spliced up as an episodic series and that doing so would solve the major overlying pacing issues the story suffers from. It’s not just a superhero film, it’s a detective film… But not just that, it’s also, much to its own detriment, a three-hour-long film. I don’t regret seeing it but if you plan to, definitely make sure to buckle in because it’s a bit of a doozy in terms of runtime.
Have you ever seen a trailer for a movie or a show or some form of media and just had something inside you know for sure that it would be exceptional? For me, that exact phenomenon happened with Pixar’s latest animated feature, Turning Red. The day the first trailer dropped, I just knew it was going to be something special. I was instantly charmed by the fantastic character designs and the upbeat and quirky behavior that saturated every second of those teasers. It’s not even like this has any specific plot beats or tropes that I’m a fan of, I just had a feeling that this movie was going to be really good. So were my premonitions justified? Or was I just putting blind faith into a forgettable family couch flick?
Set in 2002 Toronto, Turning Red takes us back to the early '00’s in what’s almost a love letter to the era underneath the story. It celebrates the time without being overly in-your-face about it, exactly as any period piece should hope to be. I draw attention to this little detail just because I love seeing stories set in this time period. I think it’s underutilized and it’s nice to see a story explore this era and the nostalgia that comes with it a little bit. We follow our protagonist, Meilin Lee, a dorky thirteen-year-old middle schooler who, via a hereditary enchantment, transforms into a giant red panda whenever her emotions run too high. This movie is a coming-of-age story that goes the way of Pixar’s last film, Encanto, by foregoing a traditional antagonist for familial tension and tackling the issue of intergenerational trauma cycles. Through this, we're given the character of Meilin’s mother, Ming Lee, who is loving but ultimately doting and overprotective during a very critical juncture in her daughter’s adolescent life.
All the characters in this movie are enjoyable as well as super well designed. Meilin has a team of three friends she goes to school with and I love that their friendship is portrayed as exactly what they are, dorky girls who love boy bands and have silly crushes. It’s a small thing for sure, but I love how they’re portrayed so honestly as being kind of cringey because honestly who wasn’t a bit cringey in middle school? But those were simpler times, and that’s exactly what the movie gives us as we follow the girls who try to exploit Mei’s panda transformation to earn enough money to see their favorite boy band, 4★Town, in concert. Speaking of which, and coming back to the early '00’s vibe that delightfully manifests in this movie, the soundtrack is heavily inspired by the rising craze of teenage-girl-catering boy bands of the time. And it works really well! It fits the vibe and themes of this movie to a tee with catchy pop beats. And not just the boy band centric songs are great, this song has a strong soundtrack all around! Just listen:
This film also vastly exceeds with another thing in particular that I really appreciated during my watch-through: the colors. The way it’s beautifully utilized in both character and set design and the way it even weaves in thematically with each character and their different ideals is such a powerful use of this movie’s artistic potential to its fullest. This is one of those movies where almost every single shot is a spectacle. On top of that, the animation is insanely fluid and entertaining to watch. I love it when female characters are allowed to be expressive in exaggerated and cartoonish ways because you’d be surprised at how rare that actually crops up in animation. It’s a movie that’s rich with culture while also juggling the period piece and the charming coming-of-age story on top of all that. I definitely think that this is a part of the new age revolution of animation ushered in by such modern masterpieces like Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse and takes clear inspiration from 90’s anime, both clear indications of the newer generation of animation which is just lovely to see.
It’s an incredibly well-told story that tackles not only a bit of a transparent metaphor for puberty but also the increasingly adverse role parents often play in young adolescents' lives as they change and come into their own. It covers so many bases expertly at once, whether it’s tense arguments between Meilin and her mother, Meilin and her friends being goofy, or Meilin coping with turning into a giant red panda suddenly it manages to carry it all insanely well, without letting any of them suffer, which is a sign of really strong pacing. It knows how to slow down and handle an emotional scene and even gives side characters their own little spotlights like the father character who was utilized in such a pleasant way which was a really nice surprise. I totally could have seen it easily just passing the dad off as a background character with no real weight in the story whatsoever but he's an actual character in this movie! I really loved the finale as well. I can see how some people might not like it so much because it’s a little silly in ways but I think it’s honestly a perfectly fitting ending for the narrative the film builds up for the audience. On top of that, it delivers in so many ways that are insanely gratifying to watch and ties everything together in such a cute and clever climax. And the following epilogue segment is equally as witty and charming, this movie is just such a treat all the way through.
Before its release, this movie actually received some controversy on Twitter because people were complaining that it was a step down in quality for Pixar and that it was designed for a narrow demographic or unrelatable. These are very lame criticisms as this movie is a blast for anyone to watch, and you don’t specifically need to be a Canadian Chinese teenager to relate to it. Representation in the media is a very important thing and it’s something that this movie handles very well while also offering a very enjoyable, relatable, and charming movie for all audiences. There were also complaints that they talked about periods? Which is an awfully strange thing to get upset about seeing as it’s literally just a bodily function and nothing more.
This is definitely my new favorite Pixar movie and even just one of my new favorite movies in general. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is that gives Turning Red its abundant charm that captivates me so much. Is it the fantastic character design? The astounding and consistently beautiful use of color theory? The incredibly well-told coming-of-age story? The representation of cultures both ethnic and teenage? The snappy soundtrack? Maybe it’s just all of those things together but this movie really resonated with me and I can’t recommend it enough. Go watch Turning Red, I know a lot of this may just be my entirely subjective gushing but even so this is still a super fun and cozy movie to enjoy.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land
I’ll be upfront here, I’ve never been a Kirby fan. I know, I know, dissenting against the pink puffball is like kicking puppies, but Kirby just never really had any significant presence in my life growing up. Sure, I remember friends on the block having Return to Dreamland or Epic Yarn for the Wii and playing co-op a handful of times, and from those distant traces of memories I can attest to some semblance of a childhood fondness, but my first time actually owning a Kirby title wouldn’t come until the Switch era with Star Allies.
Now, I love easy games. I’m an easy game aficionado. I’ll take a Super Lucky’s Tale over a Bloodborne any day of the week and you can hold me to that. But Star Allies? Star Allies is considered an easy game by the metric of a franchise with games where you can’t even take damage. Star Allies complete lack of difficulties left the game feeling incredibly shallow for me. Light and fluffy, much akin to the puffball himself, but without any lasting impact like a meal that just doesn’t fill you up. The whole game was severely underwhelming and did not bode very well for my personal outlook on Kirby’s games.
So when they announced Kirby and the Forgotten Land, I was a bit on the fence as to whether or not I should buy it. As it happens, though, I’m a chronic “hype beast'' and can’t resist being suckered into buying a product if I see it talked about online or by my friends consistently enough. In my defense, the game was graphically impressive in the showcases I saw and I did manage to hold out about two and half weeks before caving which is impressive by my standard. But you can only deny your own nature for so long and I eventually found myself leaving the local Walmart sixty bucks poorer and the new owner of a game I wasn’t even sure I’d like. But hey, I may be a hype beast but I’m also a person who believes in second chances. So how does my second trip around the block with Kirby fare?
Rest assured, this is a definite step up from the lackluster mediocrity of Kirby’s last Switch foray. Forgotten Land revitalizes Kirby with a whole new dimension, the third dimension. I can say that the level design is a definite highlight of this adventure, offering a well-crafted playground of obstacles for Kirby to traverse. And yes, it is harder than Star Allies, which is admittedly a very easy bar to clear and still doesn’t make the game very hard overall as it’s still a Kirby game after all; but I can admit the game did make me acknowledge the existence of my health bar which is something I can’t necessarily say for Star Allies. A large contributing factor to this was the game’s bosses, which are consistently a good bit of fun. One thing I really must commend the game for is how it never overstays its welcome. Way too many games I’ve recently dabbled with rely on long, dedicated portions of playtime that I simply can’t spare which makes games like this all the more attractive with levels that last for just the right amount of time and no challenge ever feeling like it went on for too long.
The primary objective is to scour the land seeking out captured Waddle Dees and freeing them from their cages, a goal that never grew old and maintained a high standard of satisfaction from the beginning of the game to the end. The game is very good at compelling you to find more, capturing the spirit of a collectathon by feeding the player hints at how to unlock more that they missed at the end of each level and making them common enough that the task of collecting them all seems just less than daunting enough to be doable. There are also Treasure Roads, short mini-challenges that reward the player with currency to upgrade Kirby’s power-ups. I agree with my co-writer Edric’s sentiment from their own excellent review (which you should totally check out as their word as an actual fan of the franchise probably weighs with more credence than my own) that the level-to-treasure-road ratio is a bit oversaturated on the treasure road end but I still found them enjoyable as they never lasted longer than about two minutes tops. This collection-based gameplay loop in both the main levels and the treasure roads heavily encourages replayability and keeps you hooked even after the credits roll.
One of the headline features of any Kirby game is the power-ups, and while Forgotten Land has a comparatively lower number that had me initially a bit disappointed when I discovered there were no more new abilities for me to discover, the newly introduced upgrade mechanic helps to keep them feeling fresh throughout the entire game. My personal favorite is the “Needler” ability, which uses a kinetic play style that promotes dealing damage by boosting Kirby and letting him roll about for longer. There’s also “mouthful mode,” the premier gimmick of Forgotten Land, which allows Kirby to utilize various large inanimate objects to solve puzzles and traverse levels. This also manages to stay decently fun and never grows particularly old although I will admit some transformations were a bit better than others. I remember the “lightbulb mouth” form was in particular just a bit lame overall.
The game does suffer a bit by being a tad run-of-the-mill. It’s a brand new Kirby experience in thrilling 3D, sure, but it’s also very much another 3D platformer where you explore a grassy, nature-filled starting area followed by a water-centric area, desert area, late-game fiery/volcano area… fight a different boss at the end of each of them, a few mini-games on the side, throw in a boss rush or two, power-ups, collectibles, yadda yadda yadda, I’m sure you catch my drift. It’s no creative revolution that makes contemporary franchises’ formula-redefining Switch titles like Mario Odyssey, Breath of the Wild, or Pokémon: Legends Arceus such notable standouts. Forgotten Land doesn’t push the envelope the same way its sibling series do, it’s just moved another rung up the dimensional ladder to an already established paradigm. There’s nothing here that’s especially groundbreaking or worth remembering a few years down the line. It does expertly translate a 2D formula into a 3D platformer with strong game and level design and makes for a very well-made and fun game, but I can’t help but feel it comes up a little short when lined up with other series that also had a recent renewal.
Admittedly, it’s hard to put Kirby under the harsh lens of comparisons because I feel that, in an isolated environment, this is objectively an incredibly sound, well-made, and fun game. I enjoyed this game a lot and intend to continue seeking out stray Waddle Dees I missed in my first playthrough, which is definitely the hallmark of a good game if you can keep a player coming back for the post-game (which this game does offer outside of wrapping up collectible counts, another highly commendable attribute.) While I don’t think it’s any jaw-dropping, genre-shattering advent of a new age of gaming, it’s certainly still a very fun game that I can recommend to anyone, especially a fan of the franchise, for an enjoyable time.
Phew! Well, that covers all that I wanted to touch on from March. Thank you so much for reading, I really appreciate it! We've got some promising projects coming up on the horizon as well. Moon Knight, something I had a similar good feeling much akin to my aforementioned high hopes for Turning Red, which was promptly validated in much the same way as it had an insanely strong opening episode. Spy x Family, an anime adaptation of a beloved manga series, also recently dropped its pilot and I can attest to its sweetness and similar promise of good things to come. 2022 is already a powerhouse for good media and it doesn't seem like it's planning on slowing down anytime soon so for the time being I'll do my best to put out all the reviews I can! Thanks again and until next time!