30 July 2012

DARK KNIGHT LEGEND: Batman: Earth One [Comics]

Batman: Earth One [Hardcover]
Release Date: 10 July 2012
Creative Team: Geoff Johns (Writer), Gary Frank (Artist)

Over four years ago, DC announced over two Earth One books to be released in the not-too-distant future, Superman: Earth One (released in 2010) and Batman: Earth One, and while the re-imagined Superman origin story has been out for what feels like eons [the second volume is already well in development and close to release], eager fans have finally gotten their/our hands on this gem. With one of the most prolific writers in the industry tackling a new origin of the Caped Crusader, and with some absolutely stunning artwork, the anticipation for this was nearly as equal as The Dark Knight Rises. But the most important question regarding this book is, were the changes interesting enough to warrant this new saga?

While I could easily take in any twist of the Superman origin story out of curiosity, I'm much more protective of Bruce Wayne and his journey - no offense to Kal-El, but anything to make his arc richer and more interesting is well worth the effort. In regards to Bruce, he already has such a complex, nuanced, engaging beginning that the idea of twisting it in someway seems...well, unnecessary. So, naturally, as a rather sizable Batman fan, curiosity drove me to check this baby out as soon as possible, and overall, yes, this is a different (not exactly new, just different) take on Bruce Wayne that makes his journey diverse enough from other mythos to make it worth a read. This is truly a Bruce driven by revenge, not justice, a young man who can think of little else but the death of his parents and has zero experience fighting in the real world, leading to disastrous results as he engages Gotham's criminals.

Two character bits that interested me the most, right off the bat: a Jim Gordon that doesn't push, that does what he's told and minds his own business, controlled by fear, and Mayor Oswald Cobblepot, who seems to have been implicit in the Wayne murders over fifteen years ago. Taking Jim Gordon, the only man Batman could ever really trust (next to Alfred), and making him a shell of what he could be, trying to stay under the radar and not attract the attention of scary men, is a twist well worth exploring in its own book. For the first half of the narrative, Gordon remains the frightened cop, but thanks to his worst fears becoming realized, we see the birth of the Gordon we all know and love. Perhaps it happened too quick in the life of these Earth One books, but when Jim is pushed too far and turns into the man with a renewed moral code, it's a beautiful sight to behold. And the first exchange between Gordon and Batman is equally fantastic.

And Mayor Cobblepot. Now I'm not very hip with the intense, detailed mythology of the Batman comics, so I don't know if, when, or how often the Penguin was mayor of Gotham City, but regardless, I like this plot point, and I like the overall story to it all: his role in the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. That is interesting, and the plot of a conspiracy to murder the Wayne's is absolutely gripping in its own way. Additionally, as the books narrative comes to a close, Cobblepot meets his maker, and his death is publicly blamed on Batman. Nice twist to the narrative, and leaves Batman in a familiar place in the eyes of the Gothamites and with his resolve to be better, to improve, Bruce Wayne and Batman are well placed to become the dark knight we all know he can be.

So we have a Gordon as a servant to the corrupt, and Cobblepot as mayor pulling strings around the city. Another fantastic re-imagining of a character in good ol' Wayne Manor butler Alfred Pennyworth, who is no longer the old, frail man who spouts off the exact right advice Bruce needs, but instead is a kick-ass fight instructor who has mentored Bruce into a thinking, calculating, vengeful fighting machine. The dynamic between these two is so different from what we as fans are used to, that these two engaged in discussion is well worth picking up the book alone.

The world around Bruce is different from what we're used to, but the character himself is still very much the recognizable icon we all know and are intrigued by. In the category of differences, the most substantial element is that he is motivated purely by revenge in this narrative, a passion that Bruce has felt in all Batman stories, but has given way to justice. Bruce isn't quite there yet, but it's a hurdle that's on the horizon. For now, Bruce is obsessed with the notion of a conspiracy revolving around his parents death, and Batman is the instrument of fear that he will use to bash the truth out of guilty parties. The Batman is forming, slowly, but he's in there.

As you can see from these sample pages to the right and bottom center, the art is exquisite, and worth the price tag alone.

In the end, Batman: Earth One is different just enough and investigates alternate aspects of the narrative to the point it justifies the new series. Hopefully, whenever the next Earth One book lands in stores, it won't be another four years after its announcement. Strike while the iron is hot type of thing. Anyway, good beginning, setting the stage for some unique developments to come, and I, for one, am looking quite forward to whatever Johns has in store. Grade: B+

27 July 2012

DARK KNIGHT LEGEND: 5 Fantastic Scenes in The Dark Knight Rises


proudly presents



Hello all, and thanks for continuing to check out our coverage of the Batman movies! Today is, as the title clearly says, a list of five fantastic scenes from The Dark Knight Rises, officially out a week ago. And tomorrow concludes a look at the movies with my ranking of all seven flicks, best to worse (I bet you think you know what the worse is! Eh, yeah, you're probably right). Following that, reviews will be forthcoming of the newly released re-imagining of the Batman mythos, Batman: Earth One, followed by the critically acclaimed The Dark Knight Returns.

I hate that I even have to say this, but in this day 'n age where people bitch and complain a lot about spoilers, I'm forced to emphasize this duhness: the following post contains explicit SPOILERS, both visually and in writing. So, ignore this if you haven't seen the movie, and then feel bad that you haven't seen the bloody movie.


24 July 2012

DARK KNIGHT LEGEND: The Dark Knight Rises [2012]


proudly presents


The Dark Knight Rises

At the time of this writing, I've only had one screening of the movie to build my thoughts on. This is not enough. Therefore, instead of structuring this as a real, thoroughly written review, I'm going to resort to the simple and elegant Liked/Disliked format. Also, before continuing, people should know that I like to discuss a movie as a whole, which includes lots and lots of plot details. Thus, if this must be said, there are spoilers ahead.

I fully expect my opinion and outlook of The Dark Knight Rises to change after time, so perhaps before the month is out I will write a detailed review of the movie (like that would be necessary by that point, but it's worth posting for the sake of writing it as a Batman fan), but for now, enjoy the following, and hand me your thoughts!

I Rise

- Selina Kyle very easily owns this movie, as played to perfection by Anne Hathaway. It's funny, that the single aspect I had the most trepidation about ends up being the single aspect I am most readily giddy to praise. If not for Hathaway, the costume, and the character's arc, I'm not sure exactly what my #1 answer of what I liked would be. She's surprising in her delivery, she's swift in her ass kicking, she's brutal in her performance - she's everything Selina Kyle needs to be. And her rapport with Batman is nothing short of fantastic. Similarly to Heath Ledger, it's always the people Nolan casts that I find most bizarre that end up blowing it right out of the water. She is stunning, not only in her absolute gorgeousness, but the ferocity she brings to the role and the flirtatious side she has with Batman. I love with Michelle did with Selina in Batman Returns, but I think we just may have got our true, definitive Selina Kyle. After all, Hathaway's doesn't die and is resurrected by magical cats. Cat food for thought.

- Flying solo this time, Hans Zimmer had a lot to live up to after the brilliant score for The Dark Knight (co-written by Begins collaborator James Newton Howard), and he more than lived up to expectation. Although, in all fairness, any movie that frequently uses a tribal chant to create a sense of all-out war and terror has already booked me. I love me some chorus work, especially when it's all epic-sounding. And on a sorta related topic, I do want to make brief mention of how I like the deliberate absence of score during the first Batman vs. Bane fight. It added immensely to the uncomfortable, eerie, brutal melee that went down. There's tons of cues from the previous movies, and tons of brand new cues for this flick to make this movie feel like the tying up of a cohesive whole. A listen to just the soundtrack captures that same mood splendidly. Great job, Zimmer, great job.

- However, Zimmer, now I'm friggin' chanting 'Deshi deshi basara basara' all frakkin' day long!

- Cinematography was, once again, top notch. Nolan seems to favor medium shots over all other types, and I think it serves him quite well. Gives his movies a style all of their own.

- Like everyone else, I knew John Blake was more than meets the eye. He couldn't just be some idealist cop who makes it good with Alfred. Nah, there had to be more to it. Plus, casting Joseph Gordon-Levitt for just a bit part? Forget it. But even before the final minutes reveal - JoGo made me Believe in John Blake, and wherever his character was going, I was following. Wherever Warner Bros. brings this series after Nolan's tenure is long gone, I'm confident in thinking that this is the last we'll see of John Blake, or anything related to the Nolanverse. Which is a shame, because this would be a brilliant direction to continue forward. That said, if this is, indeed, the only appearance of Levitt and Blake, it was presented in marvelous fashion. Reminds me to say:

- I really, really liked the dialogue-heavy scene between Blake and Bruce Wayne, where he flat-out tells Bruce that he knows he's Batman, and lists why. The dialogue here is spectacular; talking about being an angry child, and how people can tolerate that anger for only so long before they grow tired of it, so to make everything alright in the world, he had to adopt a smile, to hold that anger in, and it's a similar face to the one Bruce Wayne, billionaire orphan of Gotham, wears wherever he goes. One hell of a strong scene.

- Bane is not as strong as a presence as he has a right to be, and when all is said and done, he's basically Talia's bitch, but I would be remiss to put this in the negative column. Although Bane didn't live up to everything he could be from a character/story standpoint, my god, if Tom Hardy didn't deliver perhaps one of the most chilling performances. And I cannot state enough how much I am deeply in love with the Bane voice. Screw the complaints about it being muffled and shit, it's spine-chilling, it's unusual, it's sorta Darth Vader-y, and it's the voice of "pure evil." Freakin' A, Hardy and that voice were pure brilliance.

- Bringing things full circle was a very clever idea. So, major kudos to the writing crew for making that decision. I love when endings harken back to the beginning.

You Fall
- The single most important function of The Dark Knight Rises is serving two masters, two stories that are of the utmost priority: the resolution to Bruce Wayne and his journey as The Batman, and the stability of Gotham City. One of these are addressed, the other is unfulfilled. Bruce Wayne finds the peace he deserves, he finds the strength to die as Batman and to live as Bruce Wayne. But Batman was born to save the city, to bring it out of its corruption and the devices of evil men. With Bane's revelation of the lie the city's peace was founded on - the lie of Harvey Dent murdered by Batman - there should be outcry, or at least a major consequence. After all, hundreds (if not thousands) of inmates were imprisoned under the Harvey Dent Act, that alone should have ramifications for the future of Gotham. Where we leave Gotham at the end of this movie is a place that still very much needs help, that's in some form of disarray. And although I have no problem with the path they have set for John Blake, I do have problem with Bruce Wayne officially retiring before his single goal had been fulfilled: his peace should be directly linked to Gotham's prosperity, I feel. Perhaps I am alone in this feeling, but I think Gotham didn't get the resolution it deserved.

- Compared to the previous two movies, Gary Oldman's Commissioner James Gordon seems very off from the place of a performance. Even his voice doesn't seem the same, it's changed movie to movie. But despite how he was acted, which I didn't like, I thoroughly enjoyed how he involved himself in the narrative. Gordon was very kickass and instrumental in everything after his brief stint in the hospital. 

- Batman has been entirely out of work for eight years? So, okay, the lie was established to create something for Gotham to be united in, to create peace, blah, blah, etc. Got it. And the cops would be after him, leading to some danger if he were to go out and do his thing. But he's Batman, ladies and gents, and this is the one and only time I feel Nolan didn't get a grasp on the character. Batman needs to be out in Gotham and fight crime. He has to. Okay, fine, peace is in the making, but there's still a mugging a few streets away, there's still a child who will be a orphan one night because The Batman wasn't there to save his soul or what have you. The Batman was very much needed, and Bruce hanging up the cape and cowl for eight whole years, becoming a recluse - that part just doesn't make sense to me.

- Overall, what was the purpose of having Taggert in this story? I mean, I know his plot functions, but as far as unnecessary characters are concerned, Taggert could easily have been cut in favor for more time with Bruce.

- So for five months Bane takes control of Gotham, although he's telling the people of Gotham that it's a free city, do with it as you please, seeming like the good guy, yet all this time he's planning on having that nuke go off and everything (including himself and Talia) get blown to bits? Why not just blow the shit out of Gotham right out of the ballpark? Maybe I'm missing an integral part of the plan (wanna 'xplain it to me?), but it's Bane and Talia's whole 'Screw over Gotham' thing that just...doesn't jive well...

- This is more of a nitpick that I noticed: the opening introductory scene for Bane (widely regarded as 'The Prologue') features a far different dub than what previewed before Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol in December. At this point, I've memorized the tonality and inclinations of Bane's dialogue in that prologue, and with the exception of two lines, Bane's voice was different in the movie than it was back in December. After all the backlash Nolan got for making his voice too muffled and nonsensical, his solution was apparently to up the sound quality of Bane a hundred percent over the necessary limit and choosing alternate takes from Hardy that didn't quite capture the same menace from Bane as before. Sigh, oh well.

- I was a little disappointed by the fights, not going to lie. But by the same token, I understand from a story level that we can't have a long-dormant Bruce suddenly able to offer something of a worthwhile brawl with a strong, lethal, calculating Bane. That said, and maybe this calls more to how it was filmed, but the rematch was nowhere near as epic as I was hoped it to be, either. This was the literal fight for Gotham's soul, I expected it to be something more - amazing. Still, parts of it were quite spectacular, such as a growing ruthless Bane just swatting about, laying everything he's got at Batman, who isn't ready to back down.

The Journey
If there is one single thing about all else that I very, very much like/love from The Dark Knight Rises, it's the prison subplot. It's ingenious, I feel, one of the most brilliant strokes of the entire Trilogy. What this subplot represents on a thematic level, let alone character level, is staggeringly genius. We begin with Bruce Wayne very much in a prison of his own making, a recluse, whispered by society as a crazy man with scars and golem-like features. The first level of 'rise' we get is Bruce deciding to get back into the game after Gordon's hospitalization, but it's not entirely successful. He hasn't thought things through. He's a bit reckless. He's not the man he once was. He was unprepared, and in his rush to aid Gotham, Bruce ended up with a dislocated vertebra and locked in Bane's prison thousands of miles away from Gotham. Broken in body, desperate in soul, with the aid of fellow inmates, Bruce begins to rise.

"Sometimes, a man rises from the darkness" is what Alfred tells Bruce concerning the backstory to Bane. Supposedly only one has ever made it out of the prison, and that was a child. The why is the secret. In one of the TV Spots, Bruce remarks "I'm not afraid, I'm angry." After being purged of that fear in Batman Begins, he's used fear as an instrument, but he wasn't subject to it. The wise doctor in Bane's prison reveals Bruce's folly: how do you strike harder, fight faster and longer, if you aren't driven by the biggest human motivator - the fear of death. He needs to tap back into that fear, the fear of loss, of failing the city, of dying in Bane's prison. And without a rope, without aid, Bruce make a third and final climb. And when we arrives at the most important moment of the narrative, Bruce looks at where he needs to jump, and from behind him, in the wall, a group of bats burst forth and startle him. Whether they're real bats or just a part of Bruce's psyche doesn't matter, what matters is that he's feeling fear again, he's tapping into it, and that will be his saving grace. He closes his eyes. He breathes. He jumps. He catches.

Bruce Wayne rises.

Bruce rises from the pain of Batman, of all the tragedy and the loss in his life, and Batman rises from the criminal nearly every member of law enforcement sought to capture or kill to become a symbol of hope and inspiration. The hero Gotham needed. He never became the "hero with a face", as many surmised may be the case after all the emphasis on that notion in The Dark Knight, where Gothamites fought alongside Bruce Wayne on the steps of City Hall or Bruce the billionaire saving the world in a shinning mirror of Harvey - but we did get a different iteration that, for Gotham, they don't need the face underneath, they have their "hero with a face", and that face is Batman.

Thematically, and from the title alone, rising from the ashes is what this whole Trilogy is about, originating with the 'Why Do We Fall?' line from Begins. And this movie, I think, would have benefited just a little bit more if time was spent with Bruce in captivity, because this scenario wasn't ever one I'm sure fans were treated with before.

However Batman has left Gotham, whatever Bruce Wayne does with his life, and whatever becomes of John Blake and the choices he makes - Christopher Nolan, Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer have crafted a trilogy that is to my generation what the Original Star Wars Trilogy no doubt was for the earlier generations.

Thank you, Chris, Jonathan and David, crafting one of cinema's great epics, 2003-2012.

T H E     E N D

17 July 2012

DARK KNIGHT LEGEND: Batman & Robin [1997]


proudly presents


 Batman & Robin

Some sixteen years later, and Batman & Robin is universally heralded as the Apocalypse of Batman, so, so, sooo bad that it beat the shit out of the franchise and left it dying on the ground. The horrible puns, the lame one liners, the beyond ridiculous script and gadgets and everything that encompasses this movie. Not one iota of the flick is considered even halfway decent by the fanbase and general critics alike. As for me, I think it all comes back to the feeling of Batman Forever - it depends entirely on how you enter the party.

Looking back at all four of the Original Movies (encompassing 1989-1997), we see the Dark Origin of the character, where the mysterious masked man dressed as a bat strikes fear into the hearts of Gotham's criminals and works with the police - in the shadows. And as Gotham enters a new generation, so does the dark knight, no longer secluded to the darkness and whispers of fearful bad guys, but a front and center symbol of justice. Gotham's icon, boasting incredible gadgetry and friends, stopping at nothing to save Gothamites. Enter Batman & Robin, the conclusion of Batman's 'journey'. No longer the instrument of fear, Batman is a celebrity, One of the People, and the manner in which his exploits are dramatized resort to humorous sound bites, sulty villains and one-liner villains, and a tongue-in-cheek tone that, 'hey, isn't this fun? Let's have an nifty adventure with all these cool new toys!' We've come full circle. Batman, the celebrity icon of the late 60's on television, now once again the crown prince of jocularity and bafoonery on the cinema screen.

Taking it in as a Batman fan who immerses himself in the world that Christopher Nolan realized and the dark and gritty graphic novels that celebrate the ambiguous, obsessed crime fighter, watching Batman & Robin is very, very difficult. So the only way for me to be okay with it, to not just hate on every second of the movie, is to recognize that the Batman brand evolved. At the time these were made, audiences didn't want a genuine character, or a genuine story of the man behind the mask or his motivations behind that life choice. They wanted a comic book, on the big screen. And that's exactly what they got.

But because this is Batman & Robin and thousands of words have been written on it in both a comical and serious manner, chronicling exactly how shitty the film is, I'm going to approach this review more in a bullet point, topic-like manner. So, let us begin:

* "You must be new in town. In Gotham, Batman and Robin save us. Even from plants and flowers." This is spoken to Poison Ivy before she becomes a insatiable vixen by a reporter, in response to Uma Thurman's plea to Bruce Wayne that action must be done to save Mother Earth (!). I dare say that this quote from the reporter just about sums up the entire tone of the film. It blatantly speaks to the duo's celebrity status, and considering that the woman is speaking with complete earnestness, it seems that plants and flowers as big bad's is just another day in the park in Gotham. More than that, it speaks volumes to a Gotham that is content with sitting back and letting Batman and Robin do all the work for them. They "save us", meaning that Gothamites - well, they don't seem to really make any effort to take care of themselves. So, corny line, but surprisingly lots can be taken from it.

* I'm perfectly fine with a character using a pun or two, or saying "freeze" a lot because his newly christened name is "Mr. Freeze", but there's a lot, and there's the amount Arnold Schwarrzzennegger says it. I (stupidly) didn't tally it all down, but I would not be surprised at all if the number of times "freeze" was said by Arnie's mouth alone would be in the hundred range.

* "What is Batman, if not an effort to master the chaos that sweeps our world? An attempt to control death itself." Oh my God, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman is actually trying to bring some sort of drama and pathos to Batman in this movie? Futile, but bravo Akiva for making the attempt. Still, it's a interesting way to look at the character. Batman making himself Master of Death, refusing to allow anyone to die on his watch. And in this universe, Batman isn't against killing, so there's a tad more credence to that. But still, how are we supposed to take Batman seriously in a movie that features this:

* George Clooney is a great Bruce Wayne. He has the charisma, that look of a billionaire playboy who couldn't give less of a shit about the city, and the New Random Girl to have his arms all over. But as Batman? Horrible, horrible casting. His face looks all freaky deaky as the Bats, and just not representative of the dark knight. That said, I need to recognize the tone change from Kilmer to Clooney, and then maybe I'll be okay with it. Outlook, not so good.

* Barbara Wilson? Alfred's niece? Okay....

* Speaking of Alfred, I'm beyond glad Goldsman gave the fantastic actor some genuine material to work with. I love how Barbara comes into the mix and tries to shame Bruce and Dick for having Alfred in this line of servitude, and Alfred's response later, that he has the greatest honor to serve heroes - that's tremendous writing and acting. Michael Gough really owns this movie, and makes it a far memorable experience than the goofy one liners and obvious action figure cash-ins.

* Horrible one-liners aside, Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze were actually kinda fun villains. All pretense of being serious movie monsters was dropped, and Uma and Arnold where given free license to just ham it up and just go nuts. This makes for Uma's Poison Ivy to be the second most entertaining bad "person" of the Original Films. Bane, though, is a disgrace. It's insulting to the original intention of Bane, and it's an insult to all moviegoers. Even at the age of seven, I know for a fact - I was un-freakin'-amused.

* I could get into suit designs and how they're absolutely ridiculous (see pic below), but as we all know, they're all simply meant to be flashy, with absolutely no desire to think of them in a real world setting. They look the part, but they aren't really the part. Many have remarked that Schumacher designed the costumes to have similarities to Greek sculptures, make them akin to the heroes of the past, I take it. Then what might one gather from the pic below? Greek heroes changed outfits between one scene to another for a more splashy effect before they head back out in battle?

* Batman & Robin is a pretty shitty movie if you're coming to it from the viewpoint of someone who worships Batman Begins and everything Christopher Nolan has done for the saga (such as myself), but it helps - barely - to understand that the intent of this movie wasn't to be good, even. Which is a monumental shame. It's that aim which killed the Bat franchise for several years. The dark knight became a laughing stock, an embarrassment. We've reached the pinnacle of its 1960's cartoonish glory, and when it's resurrected eight years later, audiences and fans were treated with the pinnacle of Batman being Batman, for good. Just sad it had to come to this before we came to that.

16 July 2012

DARK KNIGHT LEGEND: Batman Forever [1995]


proudly presents


Batman Forever

"Because I Choose To Be" | Full disclosure right now: this review of Batman Forever is going to be a predominantly positive review, because of the fact I saw it for the first time at the age of five and I loved every little second of it. The hilarious jokes, the thrilling opening sequence with Two Face at the bank, the Batmobile, the over-the-top performance from Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey, the vibrant colors, the fight scenes, the ending, Robin, the riddles - everything about Batman Forever I loved unabashedly and to this day, despite its many problems and just plain badness, I can't hate it, because Batman Forever made me fall in love with the caped crusader. This was my movie, and although this film signals the beginning of the end of the Batman series on the movie screen for quite some time, I find myself constantly going back to it and, at times, defending it.

So that's what this is going to be. Me saying, I like Batman Forever, and this is why.

First and foremost, let's look at the films depiction of Bruce Wayne. What they could have done is make this character unrecognizable to the one began by Keaton, or turned him into a super muscular dude with snark, or given him super powers, or something. Point is, they could have messed up this character majorly. They did not. In fact, they kept Bruce Wayne very much grounded and in tune with Keaton. Michael Keaton brought a darkness and damage to Bruce Wayne, and in Returns there was a bit of comedy to the role, and all these elements remain true in Batman Forever. More than that, this film pushes the psychology of Bruce Wayne further than any film outside of Batman Begins [2005].

The memories of his father's journal that will never be written in again. The singular bat that emerged from the darkness and heralded the beginning of his destiny. The choice and drive to ensure that no one would ever have to endure what he endured ever again. The lecture to Dick about revenge and the countless faces that become your victims. Right there, the basic elements that constitute Batman are explicitly stated. This is Batman. So anyone saying that Keaton is the definitive representation of Bruce Wayne and Batman, I daresay take a closer look at Kilmer and this films interpretation. For all intents and purposes, it's the same guy. Keaton could just as easily walked into this role. But the point is that whatever negative press directed towards this movie, they got Batman and Bruce Wayne down. So that leads me to believe these are the areas people hate:

- The nipples on the batsuit. Honestly, it wasn't distracting, so I didn't care too much. It will become more dominant and obnoxious in the next one, so I'll probably complain during that review, but here, it doesn't hurt it. A commenter I read frequently brought up that women's garments are sexualized by heterosexual males in the comic strips, sporting nippes or giant breast plates that don't really serve the character well. A understandable argument. After all, including nipples on the batsuit makes no sense. Guess we'll chalk it up to artistic liberties taken by Schumacher for his own personal reasons.

- Two Face and the Riddler. Understandable hatred directed towards these two, and I won't fault anyone for hating the film because of them. But, again, I'd probably just say, your enjoyment or hatred of these two, and much of the movie, depends on how you approach Batman Forever.

- The jokes. Y'know, I didn't mind 'em too much. They were chuckle worthy. Again, this is a hammy Batman movie, not Burton's dark and serious tone. This was to be expected. So reflecting the mood of the film, it fits right in home. Can get to be a little much, that said...

Er, nevermind, actually. I feel like I'm rambling too much and not making a point. So, in essence, Batman Forever, it's a favorite of mine. Why? Because as a child, it made me fall in love with the Bats. I enjoy that the writers continued making attempts at analyzing Bruce Wayne (there's apparently a deleted scene after the attack at Wayne Manor that has Bruce with temporary amnesia and is reminded of who he is by the visage of a giant bat - I'd like to see that, gorgeous symbolism). I enjoy the wackiness of Two Face even though the Batman fan in me should absolutely hate it. I love the nifty gadgets and rides Batman and Robin use to thwart evil. I just have fun watching the flick.

If we were to look at these four original movies as a timeline of storytelling evolution, we've now exited the dark, somber, moody, analytical part of the character and are now in the transition period to something far, far worse than anyone could have expected, but at the same time, a movie that excels mightly at what it is....

Val Kilmer as Bruce Wayne/Batman | You either love him or hate him. Kilmer says every line of dialogue as Wayne and Batman in the same measured, deep, kinda sleepy tone. His face never changes with the sole exception of a far-too wide grin spread across his face when Dr. Chase reveals that, instead of Rubber Nipples, she actually fancy's a normal bloke for once. But it works. By the same token, though, by maintaining the same manner of physicality and speech pattern, there's so little to discuss about Val Kilmer's portrayal as Bruce Wayne/Batman, that, in actuality, it's the script I'm most impressed by and not so much him. Perhaps it's the strength of the script that sorta....transferred that haunted, tortured persona onto the screen instead of Kilmer himself.

Concerning the character of Bruce Wayne, I have two objections about what happens in this movie: [1] Bruce states that he's never been in love, which goes entirely against the established mythology of the first Burton Batman movie. And really, what does Chase offer that the other gals didn't? More directness? And [2], what sense in the universe makes Bruce quitting being Batman so he can enjoy his love-fueled days with Dr. Chase reasonable? It's a stupid subplot, and at the very least, if a writer is going to make this action reality, it deserved more than just one brief scene before he dons the cape and cowl again. It needs to be a monumental decision, not a simple, 'well....I think that's about enough of that being Batman thing...cos this chick, who I've only been on a few dates with....yeah, gotta give up everything to be with her...' Ugh.

But enough negatives. Kilmer was fine as Bruce. And even though Keaton emoted more, there's just something about Kilmer that - despite what I wrote above - I find him to be the second most enchanting Bruce next to Christian Bale.
Tommy Lee Jones as Harvey Dent/Two-Face | This is a pretty big area where my opinion tends to differ from pretty much everyone else. See, I flippin' love what Tommy did here. It's as if he saw what Jim was doing, and thought, 'Screw you, you aren't going to over-top me!' and bolstered his performance up several pegs. This is Tommy Lee Jones as a unbridled psychopath who is very much treating Batman Forever as nothing more than a comic book movie (and, perhaps, deservedly so). Obviously I wouldn't call this the definitive portrayal of Harvey Dent as a character [since there's very, very little of the true Harvey Dent in this character at all], but it's an absolutely hilarious, totally fun interpretation of Harvey using his one-side deformity as a sort of excuse for MPD. The key to just enjoying Two Face and the Riddler is resigning yourself to just sitting back on your couch, and just allowing these two actors to simply ham it up times a billion, because they aren't playing characters, they're reinforcing the cartoony cultural depictions of villains. Exaggerated movements, lots of yelling, obsession with money and jewels, scantly clad ladies at their service, a lavish, secret lair, and in the Riddler's case, some Ridiculous Evil Scheme. But where Jim Carrey is annoying, Tommy Lee Jones is just brilliantly crazy.

In this day 'n age where there's shorts every once in a while before the movie (typically before Pixar flicks, I know, but still...), I would have loved to see some five minute mini-thingy with Tommy's Two Face stuck with another dweeb of a villain and teaching him the ropes or something. Overall, in the end, I loved Tommy's Harvey Two-Face because he's just so much damn fun. He's silly, he's psychotic,and he's a memorable nutters villain. Yes, he's not the Two Face he should be, but under the context of this movie, he's exactly the Two Face he needs to be.

Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian | Three ladies in three movies. Batman moves fast. So now we have a psychiatrist, Dr. Chase Meridian, who wants nothing but to bone the rubber out of Batman. But then she encounters Bruce, and realizes that he's a cool dude, and to make things even more nice, he's a bit of a damaged bloke, that he's got some darkness in him. At night, Batman arrives outside her door for a booty call, but Chase, ever the tease, declines the rubber monster and instead decides she fancies herself some dark and brooding turtle-neck wearing Bruce Wayne. Things get even better when it's revealed that she really doesn't have to choose at all! She can have both Bruce Wayne and Batman all in one! So she's got a damaged psyche she can assist nursing back to health, and she's got a tall, dark and handsome billionaire ready to quit his profession as a hero and spend his days immersed in a love fest with her! Life is good to Dr. Chase Meridian.

Surprisingly, despite what I wrote above, Kidman's Dr. Chase actually isn't all that bad of a character. She seems to be able to take care of herself (minus the being captured part in Act Two), she likes to wear sexy outfits instead of casual, comfy ones, and in regards to the plot, she helps peel layers of Bruce's mind to reveal memories he's long suppressed. So Dr. Chase isn't a rubbish female protagonist, or worthless or unnecessary for that matter. It's a good character who just seems to be very outwardly horny (good for you, luv). But as for the connection between Bruce and Chase, that comes across as a little less believable, especially the whole leaving-Batman-behind-cos-I'm-in-love bit. The scenes these two share don't emphasize enough of a connection to make that subplot make sense.

Jim Carrey as Edward Nygma/The Riddler | Just wanna note, The Riddler laughs more often than the Joker ever did in Batman [1989]. Just sayin'. Alrightey then, I think we can all agree that Jim Carrey was cast as the Riddler only for star power. As to whether it was the right choice or not, in the context of what this movie is, I'd say yes, absolutely. If I were to objectively look at the character of the Riddler (who Carrey's Edward Nygma hardly shares any similarities to), then Carrey and this Riddler would be one epic fail of epic proportions. Carrey exaggerates every tiny thing. His eyes. His hair (!). His legs. His arms. His head. His words. His vocals. This is a man who approached the character not as some sort of performance, but more like, 'How fuckin' crazy can I get?' And with an approving nod from Mr. Schumacher, amped up his insanity even more. These are caricature villains, and deserve to be looked at such. I mean, c'mon, let's take a gander at the Riddler's big, brilliant evil plan: using his device thingy to channel the brains of Gothamites watching the tele and taking their bank accounts and credit card number information so they can rich and happily ever after. Laaammmee.

Chris O'Donnell as Dick Grayson/Robin | If Robin were ever to be resurrected in the Batman reboot following this Friday's The Dark Knight Rises, this is a model example of how to do it. O'Donnell is wonderful in the role, full of rage at the death of his parents, finding purpose in fighting crime, battling with his desire to kill Harvey, trying to one-up Bruce, etc. This is how Robin needs to be done. If there's one bright spot for fans, I would think it would be O'Donnell's Dick. Sure, he might not completely adhere to the character established in the comics, nor the circumstances of his family's death, but O'Donnell sells the character quite well. It's a shame the script doesn't seem to have too much time for him, though, and O'Donnell does the best he can with what he's given. All that emotional character stuff is handed to Bruce, leaving Dick very little room to change as a person. In the Third Act as the decision comes whether to allow Two Face's death or save him, Dick makes the choice we all expect him to....because that's what's expected, not because it comes organically from his character. So as Robin, he looks great, and this is the right way to go. Just sad thing is, they should have done better with his character.

Gotham City | Still a combination of miniature work and digital imagery, Gotham stays very much in line with the design of the Burton Era, but, y'know, everything that was once dark, is now lit up like a freakin' Christmas tree - times a thousand. Vibrant colors abound. If we're under the assumption - as the movie is - that Batman Forever takes place in the universe first established by the Burton movies, then I guess we can surmise that Gotham entered a new period where the dark and brooding Gotham instead celebrated lights and decorated its gothic architecture with lush designs and...I dunno, glowy stuff. And it's populated with its own unique-to-this-generation gang of Neon/Blacklight street thugs with glow sticks and other sparkly weapons ready to take on anybody who enters their turf. So it's a different vibe to Gotham, but it's still very much the same, and I respect that creative decision. Pretty awesome, I dare say.

 Notes, Quotes and Discussion |
  • Riddler: "Was that a little over the top? I can never tell." Yes, Carrey, your entire performance can be constituted to a little over-the-top.
  • Chase: "You like strong women. I've done my homework. Or do I need skintight vinyl and a whip?" Very nice reference to Batman Returns, and also emphasizes that, despite how jarringly different in tone these Schumacher movies are to the Burton films, they are, nonetheless, supposed to constitute one single universe/chronology. 
  • Batman Forever. Quite often I hear/read folks who absolutely despise this title. What does it mean? That's rubbish! Who makes these titles? To me, I think it's a great title, and better than Batman Returns. With that title, it makes no sense in the context of, well, he never left! Batman's been swinging around Gotham doing his own thing, y'know? Now if it were the case of Dark Knight Rises, when he's gone from the spotlight for a period of time and then re-emerges in Gotham, that title would be apt, but as it is, it ain't so much. Anyway, that aside, this title makes great sense in context of some nifty dialogue. In the Third Act Batman tells The Riddler, "I am both Bruce Wayne and Batman. Not because I have to be. Now, because I choose to be." This about sums up the Schumacher interpretation of Batman and explains away the title. He chooses to be Batman, and he will be Batman to his dying breath. Or if that isn't satisfactory enough answer, who Batman is, what he symbolizes, Batman, in life or death, will be forever.
  • Two-Face: "Yes of course you’re right, Bruce. Emotion is always the enemy of true justice. Thank you, you’ve always been a good friend." These simple lines allude to a greater relationship between Bruce and Harvey than is ever realized in the movie, and that's a big, gigantic pity.
The Final Word | Let's say, if I was a teenage or adultish Batman fan in 1995 and I saw Batman Forever, my initial reaction to watching the film unfold before me on the screen would be utter outrage at the blasphemy and ridiculousness that's tarnishing the Batman name. As it is, I was five, and this movie seemed, in its own weird way, designed for me. I loved The Riddler, Two-Face, the gadgets, the whole damn lot. I can also say the whole Dr. Chase Meridian having a hard-on for Batman flew over my head, thankfully, nor did the thought cross my mind of 'damn, Bats, you're cycling through girls at a pretty quick rate, dude.' Point is, Batman Forever is the type of movie that's very dependent on your taste. As opposed to Batman & Robin, which is a bad movie no matter what way you slice it, there's actually some genuine good fun and depth here, making it not entirely a piece of crap. I genuinely like the movie, but I can entirely understand why others wouldn't. Acquired taste. RATING: 8/10

14 July 2012

DARK KNIGHT LEGEND: Batman Returns [1992]


proudly presents


Batman Returns (1992)

"Two Truths" | Batman Returns is an interesting movie to take in. Whereas with the previous film, it was a Batman movie with Tim Burton at the helm, it's reversed here - Batman and the characters are the mercy of Burton's method of madness and oddities. Furthermore, Returns pushed the boundaries of a 'dark' superhero movie to surprising heights, to the point it's baffling Warner Bros. released this Christmas-themed beast (in June). Honestly, it's almost as if there is no right/wrong, good/bad with this movie, because it's one of those films that easily divides people - lots of people love it, and others despise it. As for me, there are parts of Batman Returns I like a lot, specifically the dynamic of Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne together, but otherwise, I can comfortably say I'd be fine holding off rewatching the movie until the Batman reboot hits theaters in about five years from now.

So what I did like - every scene with Selina and Bruce together. The super awkward but kinda-nice-in-a-weird-way dimly lit date at the mansion, or the absolutely exquisite scene at Shreck's dinner ball which boasts excellent dialogue and performances. And when in costume, the energy that ignites the movie as Batman and Catwoman circle one another and then strike. It's brilliant, and I don't exaggerate in saying that Catwoman quite easily makes the movie for me. That's not to say I particularly liked her 'origin' story, specifically the whole resurrection-by-cat-licks thing, which is, well, too bizarre for my taste. But to see that change in Selina, from humble, mumbling secretary to Max Shreck to this outward, confident, no-hold-barred individual, it's great to watch that, and it's well written to boot.

In fact, the script's pretty damn good. Sure, they change up the Penguin's origin quite a bit, take some liberties with Selina Kyle, and Max and his wicked evilness pretty much go nowhere, but all things considered, this is a solid endeavor. It touches on the psychological aspects of each of the characters, it gives motives to everyone, and even offers some genuine humor, this time not solely from Alfred. Danny Elfman comes back onboard as composer, crafting a less atmospheric tune and instead going for a vibe that fits the circus folk that assist Mr. Penguin. But despite how good the script and its actors are, there's just something about Batman Returns that doesn't make me fall in love with it, like I should. When Batman and Catwoman share the scenery, the movie is firing with electricity and I perk up in my seat anxious to see where this goes, but when the Penguin and Max come into view, it's still well written, just far less engaging.

Maybe that's the rub. Lacks the ability to grab me and immerse me in that world. Christopher Walken didn't help, either. For a movie that plays itself very seriously, Walken is simply unable to make anything work. His style just gives me the giggles, and the eye liner and pure white hair do him no favors.

So with this as Burton's last time in the directing chair of a Batman movie, what can be said about him and the two films he gave us? They certainly were ballsy going the route they went, and although I know the fans appreciated the more straightforward tone, I am curious how the general public reacted. Were they receptive of Batman how he should be presented, or were they crying fowl at the lack of camp and camera winks? Burton developed a world, takes on Gotham and its characters that are entirely his own. Tim Burton is the greatest asset and greatest villain to Batman and Batman Returns, in that ultimately, his very specific style can impede on the viewing pleasure (specifically with this one, in regards to Penguin and Max more than anything else). But it's hard to really judge Burton, because during this time period Frank Miller graced comic readers with The Dark Knight Returns which went darker and weirder than any film has ever attempted, making these movies nearly Disney by comparison.

I'll end it with this: I don't love, love, love these Burton movies. I hardly take a look at them. I like the Batsuit design. And Danny Elfman's score. But I don't enjoy them or become super engaged by them. When I watch these two movies it's more like I'm trying to find what other people love about them so damn much instead of liking or hating it myself. And writing that is going to be contradictory because elsewhere I write how I think this is a damn good movie. Maybe that's the best way to sum up the Burton films. Contradictions. It's good... ... ... but it's bad.. ... ..

Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman | Even moreso than the '89 film, Keaton shows off his strength as both Bruce and Batman. We see a Batman who appears to have a slight bit of glee in his job, as he smiles when placing an explosive on one of the clown folk, and a Wayne that actually cracks a joke at least once in a scene. Plus, in accordance with working the dumb-playboy angle, we get to see a good amount of Wayne's aloofness. He shows the outside world that sure, he's Mr. Billionaire, but he doesn't seem to be a confident figure (as seen in his conversation with Max in the beginning where he comes across as a bumbling idiot). To the outside world, he's got them fooled, but when he starts letting people close to him (e.g., Selina), a bit of that facade starts to shed and the two of them reveal their second sides.

Just blimey - honestly, Selina/Bruce/Catwoman/Batman make this movie. I said it before and I'll say it again, damnit!

As a kid watching this for the first time, I recall being floored by the moment in the climax as Batman rips his rubbery mask off to reveal the face underneath. It was astonishing! Batman revealed himself! The mask came off! It was a beautiful, powerful moment and cool beyond description. Now, it's still a highly effective scene as two damaged people try to find a 'happy ending' together, only for Selina's lust for revenge to win out [hey, Bruce got his revenge last movie, so why not her?]. Though this time, I did notice how the black around his eyes disappears when he takes the mask off. How bouts that for some humorous inconsistency. But I get the purpose - it'd be a tad freaky for Bruce to have two black circles around his eyes during a rather emotional scene.

Taking this as Keaton's last outing as Bruce Wayne and Batman, gotta say - I was highly pleased with his performance. Forcing myself to block the Nolan movies out of my head as much as possible, I have to appreciate exactly what Keaton brought to the table. He presented the man with dual identities, who is haunted by the murder of his parents, who doesn't approach dressing up as a bat as something funny, but a duty, a horrific image to inspire fear. Keaton isn't the definitive Bruce Wayne, but he got so much right he's a very close second. 

Danny DeVitto as Oswald Cobblepot/Penguin | What a poorly developed character. Borderline tragic, really. Well, poor choice of words, the character's meant to be a tragic dick. It's difficult to suss out my feelings about this guy. Sure, I'm a tad peeved that the Oswald Cobblepot we get here isn't the one from the comics, that we don't have a intelligent man who aims to take the Bat down. Nah, what we got instead is a true Tim Burton creation - which is understandable, because it's the freedom to be as Burton-y as he wanted that got him to come back for another go at the Bat - a small, fat, curly, frakkin' ugly misunderstood, sociopathic, horny guy who is more toad-y than penguin (the male version of Dolores Umbridge!). But fine, accepting what we have here, let's take a look at his character.

Continuing with the duality theme, Oswald is struggling between his animalistic side known as 'The Penguin', where he chows down on fish all day long and hangs with some circus freaks, and the respectable public figure that is, for some reason, running for mayor as his destined legal name, Oswald Cobblepot. In the end, Oswald's nature wins his ambition to order Gotham around, and basically just decides to blow the whole place to nothingness. Well, at least be satisfied with the deaths of several thousand Gothamites. No hateration towards Danny DeVito, he did just fine with what he had to work with, but something about the Penguin just doesn't work. Maybe it comes down to him simply not coming across very villain-y, which is, I recognize, a odd thing to say for a guy who was about to kill thousands. But Penguin, he's more like an adult child still in diapers and complaining about how the world doesn't understand him. Bats should just lock him up at Arkham and be done with it. And Gotham's fascination with the Penguin, and willingness to even take him seriously as a mayoral candidate - baffles me.

The grossest, and maybe even the funniest, thing from the whole movie? Penguin's death. He picks out an umbrella with the intended purpose of using it as a gun against Batman, only for it to be one of the cute ones. And this is the gross, perhaps too much part: black 'blood' gurgling from his mouth as he dies and his bulbous thuds to the floor. Not the prettiest sight, and makes the character all the more pitiful. So Batman was all about revenge and our dark side, Batman Returns is about our duality and animalistic nature? Overall, no fault to DeVito, Penguin just didn't work for me.

Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle/Catwoman | A performance so damn good it nearly makes up for the abomination of that Halle Berry Catwoman [2004]. Almost. For the two scenes she's Ms. Dorkable, Pfeiffer sells it perfectly, a disheveled woman who has no social life to speak of, is consumed with her work, and not remotely appreciated by her employers. And what does she get for it? A near-near death experience. Thanks to a certain connection to a cat or a dozen, she gets a second chance. A rebirth, as someone entirely new. Complete opposite of the clumsy, mumbling Selina Kyle she was. Now she's a woman with complete control over her body, her attitude, and takes everything by the balls. No bullshit. Her taste in costuming is questionable, but with such a perfect performance - and chemistry with Michael Keaton in each of their scenes together - who am I to complain about her outfit? It works.

Notes, Quotes and Discussion |
  • The Bat Signal. Sure, it's cool and all, Bruce seeing the signal up in the sky and standing all heroically. But the downside of that is, it takes a bit of time to get everything on, go zoom zoom with the Batmobile, and then arrive at the scene of the crime. So, depending on where the crime is happening, hypothetically, Batman really wouldn't be there until, say, a half hour after the signal lights up, in which case there would really be no reason for his being there by that time. Thus, erm, I think it would be better if Burton just shot Batman already in Gotham, overlooking the people from one of the many gothic skyscrapers, cos that would make more sense - plus be very pretty!
  • Alfred: "Must you be the only lonely man-beast in town?" 
  • Does there really need to be so much posing? Ugh. Sadly, it's something that's not leaving anytime soon. I did find it a nice visual confirmation of Bruce's obsession, that he looks at the world in an orderly fashion, and picks out his identical rubber suit and boots in a seemingly orderly, meticulous manner. 
  • Bruce: "Security? Who let Vicki Vale into the Batcave? I'm sitting there working, and I turn around, there she is: 'Oh, hi, Vick, come on it.'" One brilliant line accomplishing both a fan service and just being hilarious (harkening back to Bruce's sense of humor, which seems to have grown loads since the first film). After all, that was a head-scratching 'huh?' choice on Alfred's part. Vicki knew something was up, but I wouldn't credit her with the wisdom to find out Bruce's deep, dark secret on her own. And Bruce's explanation of Vicki's being goneness isn't exactly completely satisfying, but, y'know, we got Selina now - see ya later Vicki!
  • Just a quick note, but I did appreciate how the movie seemed less filmed on studio lots and instead had a more expanded range, opening up Gotham City to more than just a few street corners. Amazing what a few establishing shots and new locations can do. Still, Gotham lacks the grandiose, gigantamus, industrial vibe it should, and we sorta get that in Batman Forever, but more on that later...
  • Penguins blowing up Gotham. Just want to, y'know, emphasize that plot point...
The Final Word | A commenter on the SuperheroHype! forums said not to look at Batman Returns as a action movie. After all, Burton isn't particularly skilled with choreographing and shooting the action to make it look nifty and fluid. But to look at the film as a simple character study. Bruce and Selina attracted to each other as broken creatures ("split right down the middle"), the similarities of Batman and Catwoman, and a hint of...I don't quite know...something between Batman and the Penguin ("Must you be the only lonely man-beast in town?"/"You're just jealous I'm a genuine freak and you have to wear a mask!", "You might be right.") in the 'freak' department. It's a movie that definitely works in the script and the chemistry between Michael Keaton and Michelle Pfeiffer, but at the end of the day, Returns is a movie that just doesn't ask me to come back to it. The film's dark, sure, but it's not too dark in tone, just visuals. There's not too much here you wouldn't find in The Dark Knight, really.

Overall, good movie. But yeah, a tad over-rated. 6.5/10

13 July 2012



proudly presents


Batman (1989)

"I'm Batman" | At this point in Batman's career, two movies are in a continuous battle amongst fans as to which is the better: The Dark Knight (2008), Christopher Nolan's story that shattered box office expectations and proved to studios and audiences alike that superhero movies can be taken seriously, too, or Batman (1989), Tim Burton's take on the Caped Crusader which is applauded for its adherence to a dark tone and Jack Nicholson's portrayal of The Joker. Hate to say it, but as a Batman fan, I've never really been too fond of Burton's original, and so it was with not a large amount of enthusiasm that I gave this flick another chance.

Perhaps abstinence made the heart grow fonder, but Batman was far a more interesting movie this time around, and a bit more enjoyable. I still have a few issues, which I'll get to presently, but for now I'll yabber in generalities.

Batman successfully captured the dark knight aspect of the legend, becoming a tale whispered by criminals in dimly lit street alleys or some unbelievable, mythic beast the Gotham Police Department simply shrug off as nonsense. So establishing Batman as something more than just a man, the screenwriters got it right, and Burton visually conveyed that beautifully (although I could do without so much blatant posing shots; really takes me out of the narrative) with him lurking in the shadows or hidden by mist. He's something elusive, and striking when he finally emerges from the darkness. So when criminals and the police finally see the Batman in all his black and yellow glory, their respective exclamations of "Oh my God!" have quite the ground.

They've also captured the detective aspect of Bruce Wayne, if only marginally, and (sorta) obsessive side (although I would call it more a inability to trust) as we see his video camera setup at his mansion. Only amount of detective work that goes on is Bruce in front of his computer looking at video files and old digitized computer clippings. Thankfully there's Batman: The Animated Series to remind me how the whole detective part of his character should be done. On a quasi-related topic, by films end Batman becomes, basically, an accomplice with the GPD, but never once is Batman considered anything more than a vigilante that needs to be caught at all costs - his sudden turn into the city's hero is far too...awkward.

We get to see many of Batman's really expensive and awesome gadgets and 'toys' to the point that the three year old in me still really, really, really wants to run at the nearest Toys 'R Us and pick me up some of his nifty thingymajiggies! But the most impressive weapon in Batman's arsenal is, I dare say, the Batmobile. If we're judging purely from an adaptation standpoint, the Batmobile is, perhaps, the most faithful from book to screen element in the whole movie [instead of going realistically, which the Tumbler fulfills quite neatly in the Nolanverse]. It's gorgeous to look at, slick, boasts one hell of an armor-y protective device, and has automatic pilot. So that's pretty damn nifty, but even moreso, the Batwing. My God, I don't think there's been a action figure I've wanted more lately [note: nah, I really wanted one of the Leviathan's from this year's Avengers movie]. With the Batwing's introduction in the Third Act to its firey end on the steps of the church, it's a beauty.

For a movie clocking in just a little over two hours, Batman moves along at a fast pace. The hero of the shadows is introduced within the opening minutes (after a magnificent credits sequence showcasing the emblem - score one for establishing fantastic atmosphere), Jack Napier soon after, and the plot gets rolling around the half hour mark. Just enough time to establish the primary characters and, perhaps the most important character of them all, Gotham City. Dark atmosphere, gorgeous, gothic landscape, the reclusive billionaire, a mysterious man-bat lurking in the shadows, crime bosses fried and lackies taking over - this world of Batman is fantastically realized, and major props to Tim Burton for having the vision to bring it all to life. It nearly makes me forgive his latest cinematic travesties (excluding Dark Shadows, me likie that).

Batman redefined the character for a whole generation, and for that I'm thankful (before the same franchise knocked it back down into Death's Door), and it's a very well done movie. There's just things that simply don't work for me, and, I guess, there's just not enough. More thoughts below...

Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne/Batman | Keaton's got Bruce Wayne and Batman down, ladies and gents. Now it's just a pity the script doesn't give him anything substantial to show his ability. As Bruce, Keaton channels the playboy persona effortlessly (although I could argue with myself over the little creaks in Bruce's armor, where that devil-may-care playboy vibe gives way to the tormented, obsessed individual underneath the facade), and gets his broody sulkiness on as a distressed Batman. When he dons the cape and cowl, Keaton is Batman. Sure, I'd like his costume to have real functionality and purpose like the Nolan movies gave it, but seeing as how this is nothing more than an adaptation, it looks fantastic, and Keaton really grabs the physicality of the character. The menace. The symbol. The dark.

Again, if only the script was superior, this would probably be Keaton's crowning achievement in his career. Fantastic work.

Jack Nicholson as Jack Napier/The Joker | Frankly, Jack Nicholson is Jack Nicholson. I don't see The Joker in his performance, and I never have. Or perhaps it's a consequence of Nicholson playing so many mentally off-their-knockers characters, that by this point I assume Nicholson is just a ego-maniacal looney. Either way, The Joker we see here has never impressed me, not as a portrayal, nor as a character, sorry to say.

Concerning the depiction of the Joker in this film, from a physical standpoint, I don't get it. Now, there's a very good chance this originates from the comics and it flew over my head, but I have nothing but venom for the way the Joker's smile is kind of etched into his skin, where it's a permanent smile. It's not creepy, not disconcerting, it's just ugly and cartoonish for a movie that is trying to be serious. This Joker isn't a representation of anything, there's no real purpose to him or driving factor - he really quite is some white faced gangster maniac who's tired of taking peoples bullshit and decides, for some unexplained reason, to go clown-y. Mentally, Napier is off his rocker, sure, so that accounts for his deranged psychology and iconic laugh, but externally, the reasoning behind the persona isn't explained - it's the comic trope of, 'he's just the bad guy named [this] just, y'know, because...'

Overall, obviously, Nicholson doesn't do it for me, and now having seen Ledger's work as the character, this is laughable as a result. But I appreciate that Burton and Nicholson grounded the Joker in the cinematic sense of reality, and that somehow, someway, his Joker has a profound effect on folks when they saw it for the first time. To me, I just don't...really see the Joker onscreen. I saw Jack Nicholson with face paint.

The Vicki Vale Effect | Bruce Wayne decides to let her in the 'know' and the Joker becomes fixated with her. But why her? I blame it largely on the script and not on the talent of Kim Basinger, but there's nothing attractive about Vicki. Hell, it certainly didn't seem like Wayne had much of a interest in her during their odd, awkward date at the mansion, and then Alfred decides that it's her, Vicki, the Woman Above All Others, that Wayne needs and lets in on the secret - just kind of absurd. The Joker's fascination with the woman can be explained away by his complete neuroses, but I just can't wrap by head around Wayne and Vale. There's nothing there, at least nothing the script offers. As a standalone character, independent of the men in her life, Vale actually is a strong, driven individual who, it seems, will do literally anything for the scoop (even though I'm pretty sure she didn't write one bloody article during the whole lifespan of the movie). So good character, just rubbishly used.

Gotham City | I just want to say, it was completely fantastic to see miniatures again! Last time I saw a miniature city that looked proper was, I'll say, 1998's GODZILLA, although I know ILM delved into some miniature work with the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, but that series is so over-laced with CG it's impossible to tell what was at one time real. Using outstanding miniature work, the visual effects crew and Burton collaborate to make a unique Gotham City, one that has a New York vibe but is entirely its own creature, from the type of people who walk the street, to the gothic, greek statues that overlook the streets and buildings - there's a culture there that's very Burton and very Gotham. Now, what Gotham becomes in the later films isn't all that flattering, but the sort of decaying, lumbering city that the Batman '89 crew realized is gorgeous. From an obnoxious nerdy standpoint, it's a tad frustrating that by building a city from the ground up, it forces space limitations to the type of visuals we get [shots tend to be more contained instead of vast and scope-y], but it's worth overlooking considering what's done right here.

The Score | Danny Elfman rarely impresses me, but task him with a superhero score, and he gives you something extraordinary and iconic. With Batman, Elfman delivers a theme to the dark knight that I will forever associate with the character. It's dark and brooding, but at the same time, heroic and full of action: absolutely exhilarating. Elfman's theme for Batman absolutely deserves to be up their with the classics, such as John Williams' themes for Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones and Jaws, or John Carpenter's Halloween, or Monty Norman's James Bond theme, etc. Basically, great, great score, and one of the very, very few times I'm actually happy to say the name "Danny Elfman."

I am not, however, a fan of Prince. And I am not a fan of Prince in Batman. Facepalm.

Notes, Quotes and Discussion |
  • Batman: "It's not exactly a "normal" world, is it?" This Gotham City as envisioned by Tim Burton is anything but normal, making Bruce Wayne's journey into Batman seeming much less crazy when compared to the environment he lives in. Perhaps that's what was intended with the character all along, constructing an environment from the ground up that it was only a natural consequence that something like the Batman would rise from the decay and corruption.
  • Harvey Dent: "We've received a letter from Batman this morning. 'Please inform the citizens of Gotham that Gotham City has earned a rest from crime. But if the forces of evil should rise again, to cast a shadow on the heart of the city, call me'" Personally, this feels kind of out of character with everything set up prior to this. Before, Batman preferred to work in the shadows, do his own thing, strike fear into the hearts of Gotham's big bads, and wasn't exactly on the best of terms with the police department. Now, Batman entrusts them with this rather expensive piece of equipment to say, 'Look, I'm on your side, so give me a ring when trouble gets to be too much for you to handle, k?' Nah, doesn't work. 
  • The Joker: "This town needs an enema." How true, Joker, how true. Quite possibly your best line yet, because of how relevant it is to Gotham City and Batman's quest.
  • Batman kills people. This could harken back to the old, old days of comics when Batman always wore a gun or dispatched criminals not by a moral code, but by any means necessary (1939-1942). If that's what Burton and team were going for, then sure, this jives with character. But it's odd to see the Batmobile, with Batman driving, go into a giant factory where there's most likely loads of people still working and then blow it to kingdom come. At the very least, we know he blew up about six of the Joker's goons. And then it could be argued that Batman very consciously 'killed' the Joker by creating the means of his death. If we find Batman guilty of this, then Batman has been fueled by revenge, not a sense of justice or obsession to ensure that no kid on the streets of Gotham will lose their parents like he did. This goes back to my general feeling of, they captured the mood and style of Batman quite well, but lacked the essence of the character.
  • Jack Napier is responsible for the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. I understand the rich dramatic tension it adds to the Batman/Joker scenes in the cathedral, and that origins are reworked constantly in both mediums, but this hits me wrong. There's something so...simple and in a weird way beautiful that their deaths were at the hand of a normal Gothamite. The connection now, just feels dishonest and clumsy. Anyone have different thoughts?
The Final Word | Having just revisited it, I surprisingly quite like Burton's Batman and even enjoyed parts ot it. That said, it's not a movie I fancy taking a look at frequently. For me, it doesn't grab me as either Batman Begins or The Dark Knight do - it doesn't have a narrative that engages the audience member, or the complexity of character, or hell, even the fun that Batman Forever offers - and that's fine, because this is it's own animal, and I respect that. So I'll summarize it down to this: Batman is the right type of movie for some people, but it ain't my type of Batman movie. It's good, but it ain't great. RATING: 7/10

Check back tomorrow for


11 July 2012

Top 22 Reasons I Love Amazing Spider-Man

The big Sony gamble of the year paid off quite well last week when they released The Amazing Spider-Man, the reboot to the Web Slinger instead of opting with a Spider-Man 4 which would have pitted Peter against the Volture. Now having seen Amazing Spider-Man a total of twice (and more to come, before The Dark Knight Rises), it's safe to say they made the right call, and I frakking loved it.

Instead of writing a long-winded review where I go nowhere, I instead decided to take a page out of a friend's book and instead write a review by a numerical pointing of what I loved from the film. Sure, I had some bits I didn't like and I, like many people, kept looking for scenes and dialogue from the trailers that never made it to the final cut, but this was a successful ride. If you wanna know why I love the film and look forward to this story continuing read on, otherwise I'd love to hear your opinions about the flick. Voice below! And enjoy!

1. Andrew Garfield freakin' owns the role of Peter Parker and, for that matter, of Spider-Man without even breaking a sweat (although he does suffer injuries). He brings the right amount of charm in his moments with Gwen, sass with criminals, pathos in regards to the loss and regrets, and a overbearing sense of fun as he begins his web slinging journey. Simply stated, there is no other that could pull this off as well as Garfield; he was born for the role.

2. On a similar path, Emma Stone's Gwen Stacey is fantastic. As a character, Gwen is intelligent and resourceful, never the damsel in distress. She has her own defined personality, her own look and style, and she's most definitely a match for Peter Parker, as Emma Stone is a perfect match for Andrew Garfield. Stone is the perfect Gwen, bringing enough of her own Emma-ness whilst servicing the character largely. This is relates to...

3. The chemistry of Emma Stone and Andrew Garfield sizzles through the movie. Sure, they're brilliant in their respective roles, but when they share the screen together, holy freakin' crap. Director Matthew Webb and the casting director hit the goldmine. Two specific scenes come to mind when I think about Stone and Garfield, the first being the hilariously (and accurately) awkward 'wanna do something?' conversation at school in the hallway around the halfway mark, and....

4. ...the big rooftop revelation scene. Garfield made me grin as Peter can't find the words to say what he needs to say to a frustrated Gwen, who begins to walk away, but in a impulsive move where actions speak larger than words, Peter uses his webbing and pulls Gwen back. In a state of shock, putting two and two together, Gwen and Peter share their first kiss. And it's one of the biggest, damnest 'awwwwww' moments of the entire trilogy, a fantastic character moment for both Gwen and Peter, a nuanced and comedic scene for Garfield and Stone, and just the right 'coming out' sequence the writers could possibly have come up with. Love, love, love it.

5. Spider-Man becomes human finally. By this, I mean in the Raimi movies, Spider-Man always felt like a hero, that there wasn't a person underneath that mask and that there was no jeopardy - Spidey would always get out of the sticky situations A-okay. Here, there was a real sense of danger and physical exertion, such as the riveting sequence as a wounded Spider-Man barely has the strength to climb a building [in Act Three] and limps into battle, unsure of victory, but damn sure gonna do whatever he can to stop the Lizard regardless....

6. Ben's death is wonderfully orchestrated. One of the big things I wasn't looking forward to with this trilogy reboot was being subjected to yet another 'poor Uncle Ben gets with the being shot and Peter gets angry and feels immensely guilty about the whole thing' beat by beat story. Instead, it's tastefully presented, and because of the manner in which it's approached, it feels brand new again.

7. After Ben's death, Flash Thompson chooses to confront Peter, and in a moment of insatiable anger, Peter pins Flash against the lockers, and in a beautiful moment that humanizes Flash instead of keeping him as a stock bully, he relates to Peter, saying "I'm sorry, I'm sorry." It's a beautiful moment played by both parties, and a real sign above all else that this script cares about character just as much, if not more, than the action.

8. The use of Norman Osborne, as a presence in the movie but not a physical person, was inspired. It's Osborne's persistence in gaining this formula from Conners that pretty much sets up the events of the story. Furthermore, it's just as brilliant having Osborne in the background as a dying, desperate man. It would appear that Osborne is being setup as the big villain throughout the trilogy, and this could not have been a better way to establish him in this universe.

9. Peter's a science wiz, and finally, the movies captures Peter's genius status, and it's fantastic to see that brilliance come onscreen. To him developing the all-important equation to altering Oscorp Industries technology to suit his purposes, this is a Peter Parker who is intelligent and thinks everything through. I especially love the webbing Peter constructs in the sewer during his search for The Lizard - pure brilliance. This brings us to...

10. Spider-Man has web shooters again! I wasn't in the camp of people who were all, 'argh! His webbing originates from within his body, this is blasphemous!' But still, it's nice to see the technology-based web shooters come into play, and even more, gadgets conceived by Oscorp, but altered to Peter's specifications. Brilliance and awesomeness all in one.

11. James Horner delivers one amazing score. Ultimately, there are instances where I can't help but get a sort of Titanic vibe, but this wouldn't be the first time a veteran of the music industry tends to repeat themselves (here, I'm thinking specifically of John Williams, although I love that man, don't get me wrong, a lot of his later scores are very similar). Here Horner captures just the right amount of everything - the teen angst, the fun and dark side of discovering power, big battle scenes, and most importantly, what it means to be a hero. All of that is in the score, and I couldn't be happier.

12. In the category of discussing web shooters, I found the method in Spider-Man's slinging from building to building to be much improved and naturalistic. Even though Spider-Man himself felt more CG during those scenes, the reality of motion was more honest here than the Raimi trilogy, and that is an accomplishment well wroth noting.

13. The dinner scene with Peter and the Stacey family is, perhaps, the most important scene in the movie, and the one that firmly births Spider-Man, the "hero New York needs right now" [like it? I coined it from The Dark Knight ending monologue. Yep, brilliance, brilliance!]. Captain Stacey comments that Spider-Man's actions have all been directed towards a specific type of individual, that his motives aren't pure but driven by a state of revenge or desire, not justice. It's these comments that inspire Spider-Man, where everything clicks in his head and the pursuit of Ben's murderer takes the back burner and his mission as Spider-Man begins.

14. Speaking of dialogue, I have absolutely no qualms about the famous line "with great power, comes great responsibility" being dropped from the reboot, and I quite like the replacement speech Ben gives in its stead. Here it is, in full, I believe: "Your father lived by a philosophy, a principle really. He believed that if you could do good things for other people, you had a moral obligation to do those things. That’s what’s at stake here. Not choice, responsibility. " It says all the necessary ingredients, but what I like best is the last line, which really resonates: Peter has no choice, he must be Spider-Man, because he can do those things that others can't. I apologize for geeks who were waiting for the famous line, but it's been so overused that it's exhausted and rather, dare I say, annoying. So kudos to the writers for inventing this.

15. Amazing Spider-Man does for Peter Parker what Batman Begins did for Bruce Wayne - we came to intimately care about the character and his journey, instead of just waiting impatiently for them to don the costume and mask and get to some crime fightin' ass kickin'. When Peter becomes Spider-Man, it's spectacular cinema to watch, but those forty-minutes of establishing the character of Peter Parker - who he is, what he stands for, his personality, his loss, his brilliance, his crushes, etc. - make the rest of the movie so much more important. And this is a lesson I hope is followed in 2013's Man of Steel, I need to fall in love with Superman, because as it stands, I'd rather just rewatch an episode of Smallville instead. But enough of that, this is Character Building 101, and although all this should seem obvious, it's not followed as often as one would think.

16. Just a fun one: these 20+ year old actors were convincing high school students. Not a single second of Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst had me thinking, hey, these two are high school young. Negatory to that, my friends. But this....yeah, this is how it's done. Kudos to Garfield and Stone - again.

17. Perhaps one of the most important parts of any Spider-Man story is the presentation of the Spider-Man suit. Well, duh, really. And here, we're given a darker, leaner, slicker design, everything suited for practical use. Basically, I love it. Originally I interpreted it as a harsher design to give this series a edge over the more brightly colored and comic booky suit, but now, after seeing it in action, it's just perfect. Beautiful design, beautiful construction, all of it - love it.

18. Stacey's Final Words are heartbreaking - and yet, from a writing standpoint, creatively genius. Instead of Peter becoming mopey and realizing that the people he love will always be a target to those who want to destroy him, the dying man of the girl he loves and who he respects gives his (nonverbal) approval of his actions but requests the one impossible thing: leave Gwen out of this. And naturally, this leads to one hell of an emotional scene with Gwen and Peter in the rain, where every beautifully written word is fantastically delivered.

19. Spider-Man's sass is back! One of the trademark elements of Spider-Man's character is his inability to shut up in the face of bad guys and spout off hilarious wise cracks at often inappropriate times. There's tons of that, and I love the movie for that. Unfortunately, a bit of that attitude is already featured in Peter, so when Spidey gives fun commentary to, say, the car thief, it's not all too surprising because we expect it from Peter, but it's the level of fun that makes it all grin-worthy fun. Spidey's journey is that of responsibility, yeah, but at least the kid's having fun while doing it.

20. The Stan Lee cameo! Great use of a comic legend.

21. Peter saving the kid on the bridge. The mask. The relating from one person to another. The saving. The heroism. If someone watches this movie and fails to recognize their Spider-Man, there is no other scene that best captures the Web Slinger and his code and personality than this. Naysayers have my full permission (you're welcome) to diss the first forty minutes of character development, or the actors, or the special effects, or whatever you want, but this scene where Peter and the young boy talk is nothing short of perfect and inspired. This is Spider-Man, and he's here to stay.

22. The Raimi Trilogy was all about 'how do we bring this comic book to life?', and the Untold Story Trilogy is all about 'who is Peter Parker and who is he as Spider-Man?' The importance of the writers and team behind the new Spider-Man films concentrating their efforts on characters cannot be overstated. One trilogy brought a comic book to the big screen, this trilogy is bringing characters and choices to the big screen, and for that, Webb and James Vanderbilt deserve an enormous amount of handshaking and accolades. Whatever problems that come with The Amazing Spider-Man (of which there are) or whatever direction the next two movies take, this movie has so much right: it's about the characters.

For these 22 reasons and a bunch more than I probably failed to mention, I love me The Amazing Spider-Man. I feel that Marc Webb and the creative team did something extraordinary in rejuvenating a franchise that already told an origin story and had three successful films. Boasting a talented cast and a strong screenplay that got so much right, it's safe to say that whatever sequel(s) they got planned, I'm already eagerly anticipating them - which is a far cry from my indifferent approach to this movie just a few short weeks ago.

Although, someone in the marketing department should be faulted for showing snippets of the (rather lameish) mid-credit sequence in the trailer. Disappointment.

I do have some problems with some parts of the movie, but my pleasure watching the movie outweighs its faults, so I won't dwell on them as much. But I do wish Sony and Webb hadn't exercised the Untold Story part of the narrative - the big selling point of this financial gamble. It's not entirely gone, there are story elements and shots that allude to the (probable) story that were left on the cutting room floor. Wherever Peter's story may go, I hope the same creative team - director, writers and all - are able to realize that singular vision. Because right now Spider-Man is in fantastic hands, and it'd be a pity for this franchise to follow the same pattern as, say, the Daniel Craig James Bond: extraordinarily brilliant first film and piece of rotten garbage second outing.

Anyway, 2014, get your ass over here pronto!