Search results: "Batman" (page 1 of 11)

Batman v Superman v The Audience

Courtesy DC Comics

I’ll say this right up front: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice could be good.

I know there are people on both sides of the fence, be they touting Nolan’s films and Man of Steel as superior superhero stories to anything Marvel makes, or shaking their metaphorical heads in dismay at the overly verbose and shockingly dour tone DC has taken with its heroes of late. Unlike these extremists, though, I can see both sides of the argument, despite the fact I lean more one way than the other, personally.

The thing to keep in mind, at all times when discussing matters like this, is that people have individual and subjective opinions. A person has every right to think another person is mistaken in their outlook on a matter, or to stick to their position in spite of arguments or even evidence to the contrary. The key, as in most things, is simply to not be a dick about it. There’s no need to take another person’s opinion on comic book characters, or most things for that matter, as a personal attack, and it’s certainly never cool to respond in kind and add fuel to an already ill-advised fire. You would think that, in defending a world populated by larger-than-life characters espousing truth and justice, those invested in that world would adhere to the same moral standard, rather than seeking personal gratification in the way a villain would.

Anyway, this movie could be good. I can see it working. Deconstructing superheroes is a fascinating take on their vibrant and grandiose world, breaking icons down into people and sorting through their thoughts and feelings. Zack Snyder is perfectly comfortable directing this sort of thing and getting the right performances out of his actors – I mean, he gave us Watchmen, arguably his best film. There’s potential here, and I can see it clearly.

However, I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve been here before.

I mentioned Watchmen, which is perhaps the best example of taking superheroes, with all of their propensity for being viewed as gods among mortals, and breaking them down into flawed, petty, and even cruel human beings. Thanks to Alan Moore’s writing, an excellent adaptation, and Snyder’s direction, this was conveyed more through visual storytelling and the actions of the characters, instead of verbose monologues and pretentious philosophizing. In that way, DC’s recent film adaptations have been unable to measure up.

The Nolan and post-Nolan films have a nasty habit of telling instead of showing. Getting into deep philosophical and psychological waters is fine, even admirable in realms of fluff entertainment like superhero comics, but stuffing those themes and thoughts into the mouths of your characters as a standard procedure is detrimental to the pace, tone, and overall effectiveness of the story. The trend of these films of late makes me a bit nervous.

As do the obvious nods to Frank Miller. As time has passed, Frank’s work has seemed more and more heavy-handed and pretentious. Sure, Sin City is a fun romp when you’re in your late teens or early twenties and the blatant blood and boobs of Miller’s noir fantasyland definitely plays to that demographic, but having characters narrate every single thought that enters their heads can get truly grating the more it happens. As much as 300 was a captivating visual showcase for what it was, I don’t think most people would praise it for its engaging characters. There’s also the unsettling fact that 300 seems to really like the dictatorial, nearly fascist Spartans a bit too much. Anyway, my point is that Frank Miller can be a bit full of himself and weighs his work down with pomposity and dreary, dismal visuals, and it looks like Batman v Superman is taking more than a few notes from his works involving these characters.

Now, I know that there are some audience members who just adore The Dark Knight Returns. Cool. Like what you like. Personally, I don’t think everybody in DC’s audience is going to be willing to jump on that bandwagon. Man of Steel strongly divided audiences, and I feel like Batman v Superman might widen that chasm, rather than repairing it. DC needs not only a smash hit at the box office, but also a fanbase as unified and confident as Marvel’s. It’s the only way they’re going to truly pull off their plans for the Justice League in any way that really competes with the Avengers.

I’d like to see them do it. I just don’t know if they can.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Batman

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

[audio:http://www.blueinkalchemy.com/uploads/batman.mp3]

The right-hand column of my blog (you fine Escapist folks know where it is if you’re a follower of mine so I won’t reiterate its URL) haunts me. I put a few things on my Netflix queue that, for one reason or another, I think would be interesting to review. The recent remake of The Taking of Pelham 123 looks ripe for taking the piss out of, Tron needs to be seen with fresh eyes unmasked by the glasses of nostalgia, Kingdom of Heaven is reportedly much better in a Director’s Cut format, and so on. Ideally, I would be able to watch these films and formulate their reviews while also working on the revisions of my novel. Unfortunately, we can’t all be Yahtzee Croshaw, what with his cushy Escapist gig and his shiny new blog and his upcoming novel and legions of rabid fans. Some of us have to continue working day jobs. And live in a dystopian nation of backwards politics hopped up on its own hype. And can’t seem to shake a World of Warcraft addiction. And aren’t as good-looking.

*ahem*

So here’s a review of 1989’s Batman instead.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Batman, as it appeared at the hands of Tim Burton back when I was a young lad who hadn’t quite discovered the true joys of the female form yet, mixes the origin story of the Caped Crusader with that of his primary nemesis, the Joker. Gotham City is currently being run not by its long-suffering mayor but crime boss Carl Grissom, who seems to be getting away with it while Batman beats up muggers. It isn’t until Grissom’s “number one guy,” Jack Napier, gets shot in the face and takes a swim in a vat of chemicals to emerge as the Clown Prince of Crime that Batman goes after the syndicate. Batman, or rather Bruce Wayne, is himself being pursued by photojournalist Vicki Vale, who wants to know the truth behind the eccentric billionaire’s disappearances and behavior. Despite being rich, charming and charitable, there’s something a bit off about him, and she needs to find out what if she’s going to keep sleeping with him.

This was the first real attempt to make a celluloid Batman that’s more in the veins of Frank Miller than the camp that permeated the character in the 60’s. It was actually the work in the late 70’s Detective Comics that influence the gothic look and feel of Gotham City in Burton’s film. The soaring dark towers, flying buttresses and stoic sculptures would seep through this film into its first sequel and the animated series, which is still one of the best depictions of Batman to date. The story of Bruce Wayne’s never-ending quest for revenge and the villains that are drawn out by his particular form of mild sociopathy is quite dark, and Burton’s early filmmaking style underscores this darkness, as well as not having Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter anywhere in sight.

Courtesy Warner Bros.
Fighting crime is serious business.

Michael Keaton plays Wayne in a very particular way. Instead of making the dichotomy between the jet-set playboy and the haunted superhero obvious with voice affectations or mannerisms, we see the line between the two as somewhat blurred. Both Bruce and Batman are a little stiff, the former due to social awkwardness and the latter constrained by a rubber suit. Neither character is particularly wordy, and Keaton shows how the strange lifestyle of fighting crime by night permeates into one’s daytime activities with Wayne’s habits, mannerisms and speech patterns. He’s not my favorite Batman, but he’s close, and he’s one of the few who really focuses on the character’s inherent oddness.

Given that this is Batman, however, the title character isn’t quite the most interesting one. Jack Nicholson’s Joker is still held by many to be the best, harkening as he does to the days of Cesar Romero’s way of punctuating his lines with an insane laugh and dressing in bright colors. He’s quite joyful and there’s a lot to like in the way he approaches the darkness and deep psychosis of the “world’s first fully-functioning homicidal artist.” Some of his gags work very well, too – the boxing glove in particular. Not all of them do, however, and while he does dispatch innocents and henchmen alike with an amusing disdain, for me his performance somewhat lacks the cold razor’s edge that Mark Hamill occasionally unsheathes in his voice acting and that Heath Ledger wielded with the adroitness of a master fencer.

Courtesy Warner Bros.
The Joker + Prince = winning combination.

The biggest surprise for me, however, was how much I ended up liking some of the less colorful supporting actors. Kim Basinger, while always nice to look at, wasn’t quite as interesting for me as Robert Wuhl’s dedicated reporter character of Alexander Knox. He’s convinced that the Batman exists despite all the denials of Commissioner Gordon and others in authority, and his pursuit of the truth is peppered with a few good jokes and the sort of newspaper tropes that make All the President’s Men and State of Play such great films. I was sorry he didn’t make it into the sequel – I thought that, after the public admission of Batman’s existence, he’d want to interview the hero in some sort of Gotham Globe exclusive. Sort of like Lois Lane trying to land an interview with Superman, but without trying to make it into a date, because that would be gay.

The late great Jack Palance chews up some of the scenery in a delightfully hammy way, Billy Dee Williams makes Harvey Dent a smooth-talking charming DA that makes me mourn what became of the character at the hands of Joel Schumacher, and Michael Gough brings us Alfred Pennyworth’s trademark grandfatherly concern and dry humor. The writing isn’t too terrible, the action’s decent and the special effects are practical effects that are aging somewhat gracefully so far. The soundtrack’s an odd but interesting mix of Danny Elfman and Prince. And as much as I like the Tumbler from Nolan’s Batman films, I’m always delighted to see a Batmobile that looks like a Goddamn Batmobile. Because when you’re the Goddamn Batman, it’s not too much to ask to have a little style in your Goddamn Batmobile.

Courtesy Warner Bros.
It runs on jet fuel and awesome.

All in all, this is a decent comic book film that helped Hollywood realize that adaptations from that media to theirs was not only workable, but financially viable. Batman was the highest-grossing film of 1989, had a great deal of influence on future cinematic superhero works and inspired the animated series that launched the DC universe on the small screen. That’s undoubtedly a success, and it’s worth putting on your Netflix queue if you want to see where it all began, or if you like black and purple a lot. Even 20 years on, it’s echoes can still be felt in modern works dealing with dedicated and slightly crazy normal people who put on costumes to beat up criminals, which is something I’ll touch on when I review Kick-Ass next week.

I’ll see you fine folks then, provided I can fit the review in between the daily quests of my idiotic second job and my attempts to remind myself that my manuscript doesn’t completely suck.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

IT CAME FROM NETFLIX! Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Logo courtesy Netflix.  No logos were harmed in the creation of this banner.

Batman: Arkham Asylum was released for major consoles last week, and the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive. Even Yahtzee had quite a few things to say in favor of the game’s merit. I played the demo on my X-Box and enjoyed it thoroughly, and I’m sure the full game would be just as good if not better. However, these are times in which new entertainment must be balanced with things like square meals and reliable transportation, and so rather than telling my wife & cat that it’s going to be Ramen Week, I’ll keep us all happily fed and review a Batman film from Netflix’s Instant selections. It stars the voice talents of Kevin Conroy, Dana Delany, Abe Vigoda and Mark Hamill.

Courtesy Warner Bros

I’m a fan of the recent reboot to the Batman movie franchise. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are equally brilliant and compelling films, especially in the usually hit-or-miss arena that is comic-book superhero adaptations. One of the best things about them is doing away with the camp of the 60’s TV series and the messes Joel Schumacher put on the screen. In some respects, I feel it’s a cue they took from the animated series that first premiered in 1992. It followed on with Tim Burton’s notion of an art-deco film-noir inspired Gotham City with long shadows, square-jawed gents, leggy dames and stories that were not only mature but well written.

Mask of the Phantasm is the first “theatrical” release the series produced and it showcases all of these aspects pretty well. A lot of it plays like an animated Batman Begins and while that’s not a bad thing in terms of content, storytelling or acting, it does have a bit of the “we’ve seen this before” vibe. That aside, the story about a Batman-like figure bumping off mob bosses while the Caped Crusader evades the police and a rather sleazy city councilman is decently paced and delivered with poise by the animators and voice cast. The highlight of it, for me, is when the Joker hits the scene.

Heath Ledger delivered a powerhouse performance as the deliberate, reasoned and completely psychotic Joker in the Dark Knight. He was unforgettable in his espousing of chaos and occasional dark creepiness. The Joker, as played by Mark Hamill (yes, that’s right, Luke Skywalker is the Joker) in Phantasm , doesn’t quite get that edgy but instead conceals his madness with a distinctive, almost constant laugh and a mercurial mood that is echoed beautifully by the animation. He’s no less dangerous than Ledger’s Joker, but he has more propensity for odd contraptions and lethal puns.

Kevin Conroy might be one of the best actors to play Batman to date, if not the best ever. The real Bruce Wayne, the public Bruce Wayne, and Batman himself have three different voices, and they’re not so dissimilar as to be jarring. Christian Bale should be taking notes. Batman’s voice is brooding and gritty without being distorted or ridiculous, Bruce’s public voice is light and carefree, and the real Bruce is somewhere in between. Conroy makes it sound easy, and he keeps us immersed in the experience of the story. He and Mark Hamill also lend their voices to the Arkham Asylum video game, which only increases the interest to a Batophile like myself.

At 76 minutes long and free of commercial interruption, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm gets us right into the action and doesn’t overstay its welcome. It suffers a bit from the comic book story tendency of leaving plot threads hanging at the end, but that happens so often in cinema these days it shouldn’t be a surprise. Since it’s available instantly from Netflix, you can bring it up through your web browser if you find yourself in need of lunch break entertainment and everybody else has gone out. However you watch it, if you’re a Batman fan, it’ll be time well spent.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.

Break Your Heroes

Courtesy Warner Brs.

We like to think of our heroes as strong. When they fight evil or overcome obstacles or succeed in their goals, we aspire to the same heights. Deeds of daring and feats of strength or cunning drive us to be the sort of people we want to be, impeccable and flawless paragons of the virtues we espouse.

Those sorts of struggles, though, are not what people like you or me face daily.

I think that I am not alone in regularly facing reminders of the failures from the past. People we’ve let down. Goals we’ve failed to achieve. Situations we’ve failed to resolve. Relationships we’ve failed to repair. A litany of shortcomings and false starts that goes all the way back to our first bad grade or broken heart.

Why should our heroes be any different?

Part of the problem I’ve always had with Superman (before Zack Snyder introduced me to a whole slew of new problems to have with the character) is that he is virtually flawless. Being superhuman in strength, speed, endurance, and knowledge makes it difficult for him to fail in any challenges he faces physically or mentally. While he does run into some emotional obstacles, his virtuous nature and righteous motivations rarely see him on the failing end of his endeavors. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I do like Superman, especially as a foil for Batman, but it’s hard for me to relate to the character, for the most part.

Not so with the likes of Max Rockatansky.

Especially as he is shown in Mad Max: Fury Road, Max is a thoroughly broken individual. He is motivated by a need to survive, fueled by anger and fear, and almost entirely selfish when he’s at his worst. But the experiences of the wasteland in which he roams and the plight of those he encounters awakens something in him. He never really escapes the trauma of his past – he is plagued by night terrors and assaulted by visions even after he embraces his righteous cause. And yet, instead of remaining in the thrall of his brokenness, he rises above it, to the point that others are looking to him for support and guidance, rather than treating him with distrust and derision. That, to me, is true heroism.

Therefore, writers, I encourage you to break your heroes.

“Kill your darlings” is a familiar phrase for many fiction authors, but when it comes to protagonists, there is a sadistic streak in me that says death is too good for them. The true power in our narratives, the thrust of the human experience that keeps readers turning pages and the thumbs of television viewers from changing channels, is in seeing broken people pull themselves together. Moreso than punching bad guys, rescuing prisoners, or saving the world, there’s an upswell of emotion that comes in a moment where you see the better nature of a character emerge from within the cracks of their outer shell.

Max: You need to take the War Rig half a click up the track.
Max begins to head towards the Bullet Farmer’s noise and madness.
Furiosa: What if you don’t come back?
Max: pauses Then you keep going.

Overcoming external obstacles is impressive to be sure. But overcoming ourselves?

That’s a bit of the supernatural in everyday life, my friends.

Movie Review: Interstellar

There is a sense of awe and wonder that comes over a lot of people when they behold images from deep space. Astronomers and physicists have long theorized about what awaits us in the void: new habitable worlds, wormholes, distortions of time, and so on. When filmmakers turn their eyes to this material, to what the future might actually hold, their visions take the form of films like 2001:A Space Odyssey and Moon, exploring not only science, but human nature and evolution. Now, Christopher Nolan has taken an exploratory flight into this rich and textured material with Interstellar.

Courtesy Warner Bros.

Environmental damage has lead mankind to the point that food is becoming scarce and the amount of oxygen in the atmosphere is depleting at an alarming rate. In survival mode, most humans have turned inward, eschewing science and engineering for farming. One obstinate man, test-pilot-turned-farmer Cooper, struggles to both make a living for his family and teach his daughter, Murphy, the truth. A phenomenon in Murphy’s room points Cooper in the direction of a hidden silo, where the remains of NASA have undertaken a daring, last-ditch effort to save humanity by relocating it to another world. The task of finding that world falls to Cooper and NASA’s scientists, but the means of getting to our potential new home will mean that he may not return until Murphy is much older… if she’s alive at all.

Christopher Nolan, as a filmmaker, has a proven record for the correct means to frame and present a shot. The depictions of cosmic phenomena in Interstellar are clear, intriguing, and at times, breathtaking. Nolan has also proven that his films ply towards fidelity for the real and the scientifically possible. One of the hallmarks of his Dark Knight trilogy, for better or for worse, places the world, villains, and gadgetry of Batman squarely in the realm of the feasible. Interstellar‘s physics and science, while at least partially theoretical, are presented with as much fact and fidelity as possible. Between these two aspects, Interstellar has elements that could have lead it to be this generation’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Courtesy Warner Bros.
Believe it or not, folks, space has three dimensions! Maybe more!

However, Christopher Nolan struggles with one of the most vital aspects of effective filmmaking: the human factor. The moments of awe-inspiring visuals, impressive and breathtaking all on their own, are often interrupted with a scientific explanation or an oppressive orchestral sting from Hans Zimmer’s bombastic, grandiose score. A great deal of this film’s significant run-time is occupied with in-depth scientific explanations of this or that portion of the goings-on, and while the film never makes the mistake of talking down to its audience, it does seem to have trouble properly conveying human emotion in the same way it does theoretical extra-dimensional concepts. This is a stumbling block Nolan has run into before, and he’s still not quite at a level of showing humans being human as, say Steven Speilberg, who was originally slated to direct Interstellar.

Thankfully, Nolan has the good sense to line up a well-rounded cast of excellent actors. It’s unfortunate that he has to make them work so hard to squeeze the right amount of emotional complexity out of his surface-level script, but these are masters of their craft. Matthew McConaughey, who has been enjoying a bit of a revival in his career, is completely comfortable and incredibly adept at conveying everyman pathos that makes scenes with his daughter deeply effective and puts his point of view squarely in line with that of the audience. Anne Hathaway and Jessica Chastain do the bulk of the non-main-character heavy lifting, every bit as effective and engaging as Matthew, bridging the gap between Nolan’s clinical, distant perspective on the human experience, and the realities of our everyday lives. It’s hard work, and the strain shows in places, but gets the job done.

Courtesy Warner Bros
When you’re not sure how to do the human thing, get the most human actors you can. This is one of them.

That is actually an apt description for the experience of Interstellar as a whole. In terms of a hard sci-fi epic that pushes the boundaries of our notions of what is possible in space exploration, it gets the job done. It’s very well constructed, and definitely takes the audience on a worthwhile journey, but the experience could have been tightened, the moments of wonder more awe-inspiring. There is a moment in Inception where the film stops explaining itself, and lets its story and drama unfold without further comment or pretense. That moment never comes in Interstellar. Its “twists” being either predictable or superfluous and its science suffering from nigh-constant in-universe fact-checking undercut what would have otherwise been a very effective storytelling experience. Interstellar could have been a breathtaking epic of proportions not seen since the days of Kubrick, and clearly had that ambition. The fact that it falls short of that mark just means that its flaws are all the more glaring, at least to someone like myself. It’s quite good, and worth seeing on the big screen, but I sadly doubt it has the kind of staying power we’ve seen with some of Nolan’s other work. What Interstellar does, it does well, but it could have done more.

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