Tag: Batman (page 2 of 2)

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

My feelings on Christopher Nolan are well documented. I’ve gone in depth as to why the writer & director has earned my trust. Even his arguably weakest film to date, The Prestige, is interesting to me and overall a good film, even if it’s not quite up to the level of Inception or The Dark Knight. And as he closes his trilogy on Batman, Bruce Wayne, Gotham City, and the nature of heroism in the face of cynicism and despair, the question must be asked: is Nolan still worthy of my trust, and that of film-goers around the world?

Pretty much, yeah. The Dark Knight Rises is good. But before I talk about all the things it is, let me begin by telling you what it is not.

Courtesy Warner Bros

The Dark Knight Rises is not an immediate sequel to The Dark Knight. Eight years have passed, in fact, since the Joker’s reign of terror and the death of Harvey Dent. Batman’s act of taking the blame for Two-Face’s rampage has given the police unprecedented power, brutally cracking down on organized crime, throwing even the lowest mob peons into Blackgate Prison without bail or parole, and taking a massive psychological toll on Commissioner Gordon. Bruce Wayne, either the victim of an accident or beginning to succumb to the beatings he has dished out and taken as Batman, has become both reclusive and eccentric. He hasn’t completely lost his chops, though, as he catches a lithe and coy cat burglar making off with his mother’s pearls. And bearing down on the city is Bane, a mercenary with a peculiar speech pattern, utterly brutal methods, and a connection to the League of Shadows, the very organization bent on absolute justice that gave birth to Batman, who then destroyed it, or so he thought. We are told very little about the missing years, and shown even less, but the pieces are indeed in place for a massive endgame for Gotham City, and for Bruce himself.

The Dark Knight Rises is not without plot holes in general. In fact, the structure of the story seems a bit sloppy overall. I don’t mean that facts are missing and the audience is unable to put the pieces together. The story does work and has compelling, touching, and powerful moments. It’s simply assembled in an extremely odd way. The pace feels off at times, characters are explained to us rather than demonstrative in their actions, and as much as I can appreciate dichotomy in storytelling for emphasis and dramatic effect, there were times when the juxtaposition felt mishandled. No character exemplifies these problems more than Bane.

Courtesy Warner Bros
“You are in a lot of trouble, young man. To the principal’s office, let’s go.”

I don’t have a problem with Tom Hardy. I think he (and every other actor involved) did an excellent job. Nor do I have a problem with this iteration of the cerebral powerhouse that breaks the Batman (spoiler alert). I think that removing magical chemicals that make him a big slab of meat is a good move. The problem is that too much emphasis is placed on his ideology and personality and not enough is invested in making him truly intimidating. His malevolence, while keenly felt, is not motivated realistically. He is a monolithic sort of evil, Darth Vader without any of the pathos, and the film suffers for this. It’s not enough to cripple the film, not by a long shot, but it does cause things to limp here and there. The film is most certainly not perfect and, at times, not even all that smooth.

But it also is not a failure. The Dark Knight Rises does succeed in every single way it needs to succeed. It wraps up dangling plot threads from the other two movies. It allows long-standing characters like Commissioner Gordon and Alfred to have truly powerful moments, and also highlights the talents of newcomers John Blake and Selena Kyle. While we’re on the subject, Anne Hathaway was a perfect choice to play Selena. She completely inhabits the cat-like nature of the character, from a fickle streak to a truly independent spirit to loyalty and affection that are given on her own terms. It’s a shame we’ll only see her in this one film! Batman gets new toys, and while he isn’t seen as much as Batman in this film as in The Dark Knight, his presence is felt, just as much as Bane’s is.

Courtesy Warner Bros
The fact that she looks as good as she does is definitely the icing, rather than the cake.

I don’t think The Dark Knight Rises is the best film of Christopher Nolan’s career so far. It certainly isn’t the best one of his Batman trilogy. What it is, however, is very good, quite enjoyable, and an excellent way to bring the trilogy to an end. As much as the disjointed nature of the first act and some unnecessary repetition of themes and motivations don’t help the pacing problems of the story, the connections to the stronger films and the gaining momentum towards the climax of not just this film, but the Dark Knight story overall, carries us through to a satisfying end. I think the three films, as a whole, will stand up for years to come, even if this final entry into the trilogy limps or muffles a line here and there.

Stuff I Liked: John Blake is a great addition to the cast. The systematic way in which Wayne is both broken down and driven into his initial confrontation with Bane. Alfred staying true to his convictions, Lucius Fox cracking wise, and Gordon never giving up. The Pittsburgh location & elements. And do you suppose Nolan called up Aaron Eckhart and got permission to keep using his face?
Stuff I Didn’t Like: Don’t tell me what motivates our heroes, our villains, and the people caught in between, show me. The Batvoice. A couple of Bane’s lines were very difficult to follow completely; even if you can discern the gist, you miss out on a detail or two. The pace of the first hour or so feels very much off. There are undeniable plot holes.
Stuff I Loved: Cillian Murphy’s cameo. Wayne Manor and the new Batcave. Hans Zimmer’s score. Great shot construction and action sequences. The Bat. The dichotomy of Bane’s erudite voice and polite mannerisms with his brutal hand-to-hand skills and intimidating form. The last fifteen minutes. Everything – absolutely everything – about Anne Hathaway’s Selena Kyle.

Bottom Line: This is not Nolan’s best work. But Nolan’s work is always of such quality, such vision, and such passion that it’s hard not to appreciate it as simply good film-making even when it’s not blowing your mind. Because of the technical genius at work, the overall power of the performers, the spectacle of this tale’s climax, and the ways in which this trilogy is drawn to a close, I unreservedly recommend you go and see The Dark Knight Rises.

In Nolan We Trust

Courtesy Warner Bros

I’m very heartened by a few of the things I’ve been seeing in the form of trailers. The Hunger Games looks like it’s being faithful to its excellent source material, Men In Black 3 is promising a return to some of the original deadpan and quirky humor that made the first film so much fun (we’ll see if it delivers), and of course The Hobbit. Singing Dwarves. ‘Nuff said, Peter Jackson, shut up and take my money.

In the midst of all this, The Dark Knight Rises. As much as the trailer featured a smoldering Anne Hathaway, eerie chanting, a glimpse of Gotham during peacetime and the goddamn Batwing, most geeks just want to talk about Bane. Specifically, his voice.

Word round the nerdy campfire is that he was particularly muffled during the seven minute prologue sequence some audiences saw in IMAX theatres before Mission Impossible 4. And while his line to Batman in the trailer is clear – if you’re paying attention – people want director Christopher Nolan to fix Bane’s voice in post. The Hollywood Reporter, however, tells us Nolan will do no such thing.

This is hardly surprising to me. Chris Nolan gave us Memento and Inception. I won’t go into too much detail about Nolan’s earlier work as I’m saving that for the last ICFN of 2011, and my original review of Inception is still available. And remember that cage match I had between Inception and Ocean’s Eleven? Good times. But I’m wandering off-topic. My point is, even in work like The Prestige, Nolan as a writer & director does not make decisions lightly. Let’s consider, for a moment, why he’d choose Bane and go so far as to make these apparent design choices.

Remember how in The Dark Knight, the Joker rarely attempts to deal with Batman in a direct physical confrontation? He uses assault rifles and rocket launchers, goons and attack dogs, head games and innocent people. He never really seems interested in outright killing Batman, opting instead to try and dismantle the man’s faith and motivations. Physicality was about the last thing on anybody’s mind other than the notion that Batman would paste the Joker about seven different ways if it weren’t for his one rule.

Bane, on the other hand, is an extremely physical character. Rather than being divorced from his mind and his will, his body is an extension of it. He’s entirely single-minded and very driven, much like Batman. The substances pumped into him, via head-tubes in the comics and his mask in this upcoming film, allow his body to match the speed and power of his mind. Batman will always be limited by what his body can do and how much punishment it can take. Bane exceeds those limits, and he can and will push Batman past them.

Enter Christopher Nolan. What do you do after you pit Batman against an entirely cerebral opponent? You up the stakes, of course, by making his next foe not only cunning and ruthless but also a powerhouse. You don’t want to tip your hand too soon, though. You have to maintain the mystery. You can’t let the ending of your saga be a foregone conclusion. Maybe Bane will kill Batman. Maybe he’s not the same Bane from the comics for a very specific reason, one that ties into your first Batman film and one of the aspects of a fascinating character born out of the animated series. How do you keep people from taking too many guesses?

Remember, theatricality and deception can be powerful tools.

In addition to encouraging audience members to keep up with you rather than simply pandering to them, conveying Bane’s voice in a realistically muffled way adds a layer of obfuscation to Nolan’s work. It not only makes the character more mysterious and menacing, it gives the public at large and the cynical critics of the Internet in particular something to consider, gripe about and worry over. It distracts them from bigger questions. It waters their enthusiasm. It keeps them off-balance.

I’m not saying Nolan specifically made this choice on purpose to mess with people on the Internet, but at this point, I can’t put it past him. He’s enjoyed so much success so far and done it in such a cerebral way that people can’t help themselves. They’ll go to great lengths to seek out, analyze and ultimately downplay even the tiniest aspects of his work. Nobody can be this brilliant, you see. Nobody can outsmart the Internet. Nobody’s allowed to be this successful without creating a bomb. Remember that bit in the original Spider-Man where Osborn tells Peter that people love seeing a hero fall almost as much as they like seeing them succeed? Nolan’s a hero to many. To set him up for a fall this way can be cathartic. It would mean that everybody is fallible, and if he falls, other film-makers can rise to take his place, even from the relative obscurity of the Internet.

I say let Bane be a bit muffled, a little hard to understand. Make the audience work to fully understand every aspect of the work in front of them. It made Memento and Inception such brilliant works, after all, why not apply the same mentality to a comic book movie? Likewise, if you know the Internet’s going to be going through your work, even a two-minute trailer, with a fine-toothed comb looking for nits to pick, why not give them a cause for concern? Let them blow up over something relatively insignificant rather than ruminate on plot and motivational points. Because, let’s face it, even if Bane ends up losing a word or two to idiots in the cinemas who are too busy stuffing their faces with overpriced popcorn to pay attention, when they inevitably buy the Blu-ray combo pack they’ll just turn the subtitles on. Problem solved.

Looking back over what I just wrote, I might be coming off as a Nolan fanboy and my argument may be dismissed on those grounds. So be it. Such dismissals don’t address what I’m trying to say, which is that Bane is going to be an effective villain, an excellent counterpoint to the Joker, and I for one am really looking forward to discerning every word that comes out of that mask. Incidentally, you notice how the tubes are arranged in such a way to resemble skeletal hands prying his mouth open? I dig that.

Let me hear your thoughts on this. I’m curious. Do you still think Nolan is worthy of our trust? Is he pulling a fast one on the Internet so he can blow them out of the water in 2012?

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.

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