Colin Farrell and Matt Reeves’ upcoming Penguin spinoff series for HBO Max has already created plenty of buzz. With the crime drama being compared to films like Scarface and shows like The Sopranos, The Penguin is set to raise the bar for Warner Bros television and superhero series in general.
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Robert Pattinson and Matt Reeves’ The Batman saw Farrell portray Oswald Chesterfield Cobblepot, also known as the Penguin, based on the character created for DC by Bill Finger and Bob Kane. Farrell was undoubtedly one of the standout elements of the film – which is the main reason his character is getting his own show.
Previous series have had elements of Gotham, but The Penguin will take a deeper dive and let viewers undertake an exploration of Oz, aka Penguin, unlike what we have seen before. Matt Reeves’ The Batman portrayed Penguin as a lower-level henchman under Carmine Falcone at the start of his crime career. The Penguin series is set in Reeves’ Gotham and will continue to explore Penguin’s rise to the top of Gotham’s criminal underworld.
The series will start after the events of The Batman. Colin Farrell returns as the titular Batman villain with Cristin Milioti as Sofia Falcone, Deirdre O’Connell, Clancy Brown as Salvatore Maroni, Michael Kelly as Johnny Vitti, Scott Cohen, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Carmen Ejogo, James Madio, Craig Zobel and Michael Zegen as Alberto Falcone. It will be produced by Matt Reeves, Dylan Clark and Rafi Crohn.
Production on the series was halted due to the WGA strike, and the series will likely miss its intended Spring 2024 release window.
Box Office Dominance
Superhero films have been the dominant box office movies for over fifteen years. The success of Marvel’s MCU meant that film studios have been adding more superhero titles to streaming services. The genre’s popularity has created a wave of television and cinema releases. Many filmmakers and pundits have felt that the genre is eclipsing everything and excluding other genres.
Marvel has been churning many comic book series, some successful like Loki and others unsuccessful, as with Secret Invasion and She-Hulk. However, the more unsuccessful series have been dominating the headlines. Marvel’s box office at the theatre has also been dwindling; the likes of The Marvels and Ant-Man: Quantamania have underperformed, resulting in critics and film analysts proclaiming that superhero fatigue has set in with viewers.
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Superheroes on TV
The Penguin series will be a test for superhero television. Loki season 2 had lower streaming numbers overall than season 1 but was considered a success compared to other series— the recent failures of Secret Invasion, She-Hulk, MoonKnight, etc. However, DC’s failures with the Arrowverse, Titans and Batwoman have highlighted how both DC and Marvel are hit-and-miss regarding TV.
Peacemaker has been a success for DC and Loki for Marvel, but overall, the streaming numbers could have been higher than they were. The failure of Marvel and DC films also feeds into the narrative that superhero properties have overstayed their welcome. The Penguin faces all these challenges, but if it taps into its potential and tells a great story, it could rejuvenate superhero television.
HBO and Max content chief Casey Bloys feels that superhero fatigue is not a cause for concern. Bloys believes a show like The Penguin could be what television and superhero storytelling needs. Speaking to Deadline, he said,
“I don’t know that it’s necessarily tentpole fatigue as much as it is a sameness of storytelling. I think the key, even within DC, is trying to tell different stories in different styles, to not try to do the same show over and over and over again.
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I would say Peacemaker is a very different show tonally than The Penguin. So, there’s not a uniformity to the storytelling, and I think that helps.” Bloys added, “Unfortunately, Marvel, as good as their shows are, there’s probably been a lot of them. That’s one of the advantages we have at Warner Bros. is it’s not just one set of stories. There’s a lot of stories you can go to.”
Bloys might be correct in his assessment. Different stories and characters require a unique template. Marvel has often been accused of using a single style and tone across most films and TV shows. It can work but makes everything too uniform and becomes a problem when a series or film misfires, potentially affecting everything else.
DC is more lenient regarding tone and style; their shows and films have variation and can exist apart from each other, much more so than Marvel. The Penguin series is an example; like The Batman, which was unrelated to the Snyderverse, it can exist in its world, completely separate from other superhero series.
Based on the first trailer, it looks more like a television crime drama and not a superhero show, which could work in DC and Warner’s favour if they balance the fantastical comic book elements with the real-world grit of a mob series.
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Sopranos and Scarface
Colin Farrell’s Penguin was different from Danny DeVito’s fantastical portrayal. Farrell played Penguin like a mobster, like Tony Soprano, Fredo Corleone from The Godfather and Al Pacino’s Tony Montana in Scarface.
The gritty and dark realism of Farrell’s Penguin could help the show become as compelling and gripping as other classic mafia series like The Sopranos. The Penguin producer Dylan Clark feels similar, “We’re doing one with Colin Farrell, as Oswald Cobblepot, seeing Oz rise to power, almost like a ‘Scarface’ story,” Clark said to SFX Magazine.
Colin Farrell also spoke to Entertainment Tonight and explained the nuances of his character.
“We have to get into what made him the man he is and also, it will pick up where this film finished off, I think. I think it’ll pick up a little short time after the last frame of this film,” Farrell said. “We’ll get to go on a little kind of left turn off to the world of Oz and how he’s beginning to kind of dream of filling a potential power vacuum that may exist.”
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Farrell continued, “It’s a lovely, lovely character, and explores vulnerabilities. His violence is apparent, his propensity for violence and his ability to use it as a tool is apparent, but also to see we all have soft spots. Every single person. And to be able to find that location, dig around it would be fun.”
Farrell’s sketch of Oz shows that Matt Reeves and the creators want to make something other than a simple, paint-by-numbers superhero television show. Farrell is a great actor with the repertoire and the ability to render a memorable portrayal of the Penguin. His film role in The Batman proved he could take a comic book villain, giving him a real-world persona with emotions and depth.
Speaking to Fandom, Batman director Matt Reeves reflected on how he views The Batman spinoff series as a mob story like Brian De Palma’s Scarface. The director said,
“The idea of getting to do the series and really sort of dive into the depths of who this character is and look at that moment where it’s kind of his Scarface moment,” Reeves said. “The moment where everyone’s underestimated him, he’s gonna reach for power in Gotham. Lauren LeFranc, who wrote it and who’s the showrunner, she’s so wonderful. She dug into the character. I kept showing her the movie as she was working on the script, before the movie was ever done.”
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Reeves seems aware that The Penguin series is lucky to have a talented actor like Farrell, who can portray a complex and captivating character. Reeves said to Fandom, “So the idea of us getting to go back in and work with Colin is super exciting,” “He’s so incredible in The Banshees of Inisherin. He’s just an amazing actor. It’s amazing because he’s so different in The Banshees of Inisherin.
But what he has beautifully, even as Penguin, as Oz, is, there is this level of vulnerability that he plays that is such a beautiful part of his soul, and he always finds this way to project into the characters, and I just think he’s really just very special. But more than anything, I just love him as a person.”
Reeves’ admiration for Farrell and comparing The Penguin to Scarface again underscores that series can move outside the superhero genre and cross over into crime drama, thus attracting an audience outside of comic book movies and series. Directors and filmmakers often have a love-hate relationship with comic book material.
The superhero genre comes with much baggage and a set rulebook enforced by fans. When directors cross the line and go too far in reinterpreting comic book material, they are subject to extreme backlash. Hence, filmmakers must work hard to stay true to the source material while adding their interpretation.
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The Penguin has no official release date but will return to production after Thanksgiving and possibly be ready for Fall 2024. Will Matt Reeves and Colin Farrell be able to match Marvel’s streaming success? Can Reeves and Farrell brush off the superhero fatigue mantra? Only time will tell, but based on the first trailer, the show looks excellent visually.
The Penguin might be a new Sopranos and develop into an epic crime saga. The story of Oswald Cobblepot in the capable hands of Colin Farrell might make the Penguin one of the best Batman villains to hit the small screen.
- Superhero films have been dominating the movie business. Their presence can obscure smaller films in different genres.
- Comic book movies’ success means studios produce more content for streaming services. This saturation can produce inferior superhero shows.
- The Penguin could become a great superhero series and help revitalise comic book storytelling on the small screen.
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