Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Story by David S. Goyer & Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by Christopher Nolan & Jonathan Nolan

Rating: B+

Christopher Nolan and the rest of the creative team really dug themselves into a hole with The Dark Knight. They made quite possibly the greatest comic book movie of all time, featuring one of the brilliant performances in film history by the late Heath Ledger playing their character’s most compelling villain. Then they had to reconvene and write a third installment that would live up to the brilliance of its predecessor and close out their trilogy in a way that works. Although The Dark Knight Rises is not quite as good as The Dark Knight, it is by far the best super hero trilogy closer yet.

The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after The Dark Knight, a period during which Batman has disappeared and Bruce Wayne has become a recluse. Crime is almost non-existant in the city thanks to new laws inacted in Gotham City in honor of the late Harvey Dent, who is portrayed as a hero despite his fall. The relative peace of Gotham is destroyed with the coming of Bane, a terrorist leader hell-bent on annihilating Gotham under the false pretense of freeing it. Seemingly reluctantly involved is Catwoman, a woman named Selina Kyle who works as a thief to earn enough to get rid of the past she wants to get away from. With all of the trouble that starts to tear apart the city, Bruce Wayne comes out of his shell as Batman is forced to re-emerge.

There were two key issues based on the early information and trailers about the film that were the cause of most concern. The first of these is the casting of Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, which seemed suspect based on the scenes of her in action in the parts shown in the trailers. As it turns out, she very quickly proves that she is capable in the role, although not extraordinary. The second and most important concern was that Bane is a fairly boring villain after using both Two-Face and the Joker in the previous films, arguably the two most important villains in Batman’s canon. Bane is generally portrayed as a Mexican wrestler crossed with a ‘roid rager, and that doesn’t quite live up to the former District Attorney-turned-serial-killer of Two-Face or the Clown Prince of Crime. The film version is a signficant improvement over Bane’s depiction in the source material, but he is definitely not as charismatic or thrilling a villain as any of those previously shown in the series.

The biggest surprise of the movie is how much Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s storyline as young cop John Blake really made the movie. He is a very intelligent and capable cop, who in quieter times would obviously rise up in the ranks very quickly. It is hard not to be reminded of the idea of a young James Gordon in his absolute belief in the right thing, although we suspect Blake might even surpass Gordon in that respect. His relationship to Bruce Wayne and Batman in the film is a wonderful symbolism of what Batman as a figure means to all of the people in Gotham who don’t believe he was responsible for the death of Dent. Gordon-Levitt is outstanding in the role, and both Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman turn in their best performances in the trilogy for their parts as Alfred Pennyworth and Lucius Fox, respectively.

Despite the underwhelming villain, the plot of The Dark Knight Rises is outstanding and the build up to the finale is really well done. There are some really great twists that won’t be spoiled here but that upped the satisfaction level, despite at least one major one being far too heavily foreshadowed. A final judgement on a film of this scope really has to be made after repeated viewings, but it is at least a very good conclusion to the mythos. There is a lot to say from a comic book geek perspective in terms of things that seemed strange to leave out, or choices made in the end about certain characters, but these are qualms that probably wouldn’t even be noticed by someone without a familiarity with the source material. In the end, it is hard not to wish that a better villain than Bane had been chosen to close out the Nolan trilogy, but it is hard to complain about the film as a whole.


Film Review: Batman: Year One (2012)

Batman: Year One
Directed by Lauren Montgomery & Sam Liu
Based on work by Frank Miller

Rating: A-

Frank Miller has two very important legacies in the history of Batman. The first of these is The Dark Knight Returns, a completely non-canon alternate reality story in which Batman comes out of retirement in middle age to kick some more ass and act like a total asshole. It is often seen as one of the great comic book stories of all time, but portrays Batman as chauvinistic and completely unlikable in attempt to make a grittier version of the dark knight. It is criminally overrated.

The second and far superior story that Miller contributed to the history of Batman is Batman: Year One, an aptly titled telling of Batman’s first year fighting crime as the caped crusader while future police commissioner James Gordon endures his first year on the force in Gotham as an honest man in a dishonest police department. Gordon is really the main character of the story; almost all of the narrative is from Gordon himself, voiced perfectly by Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame in this film version. Catwoman also appears in an almost-so-minor-it’s-pointless supporting role, portrayed very capably by Eliza Dushku. Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica is Detective Essen, Alex Rocco is mob boss Carmine Falcone, and Benjamin McKenzie is Batman himself.

A film adaptation that takes the source material and translates it to the screen exactly is almost pointless, but thoroughly enjoyable anyway. Although there is absolutely nothing different about it, seeing the film is a lot like reading the original story for the first time, and that has value. The voice cast is almost entirely stellar, although Batman could have been better cast. The visuals are perfect, and the entire production makes for an animated film that is just as enjoyable as the Christopher Nolan live action films. That being said, if you have already read the book, there is nothing new to experience here. Still, if you can appreciate a quality transfer between two mediums, Batman: Year One will be enjoyed.

Film Review: The Amazing Spider-man (2012)

The Amazing Spider-Man
Directed by Marc Webb
Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent, and Steve Kloves

Rating: B+

Rebooting a franchise that had three films making just about a billion dollars each in box office sales only five years after the last in the series doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. Despite terrible reviews for the final chapter, Sam Raimi’s film version of Spider-man was popular and made a completely ridiculous amount of money. Why start fresh? It was hard not to wonder before going in to see The Amazing Spider-man, but now it makes a lot more sense.

While the Raimi trilogy was enjoyable in spite of some problems (Tobey Maguire was never great as Spidey, Kirsten Dunst was cute at times and unbearable at others), this new reboot of Spider-man directed by Marc Webb is the real Spider-man that comic book readers have been hoping for since the web-slinger originally made it to the big screen. It is a significantly more faithful adaptation, featuring Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy rather than Mary Jane (who was a much later girlfriend in the comics), and getting rid of the film Spider-man’s natural web-slinging ability in favor of the technology based wrist attachments of the comics. Most importantly, though, is the tone; Raimi’s trilogy was too light to be taken seriously, while Webb has just enough grit and the right kind of humor to make a film that feels decidedly more like the real Spider-man.

Andrew Garfield is a perfect encapsulation of the two major versions of Spider-man in comics, the traditional Earth-616 incarnate that you would see in any Spider-man comic, and Ultimate Spider-man, the slightly younger modern reimagining that started not long before the Raimi franchise. Garfield has the awkward nerdiness and the humor exactly right, with much help from a really great script. Emma Stone is absolutely perfect, adorable, and brilliant as Gwen Stacy, which makes for her inevitable exit in some film to come all the more unfortunate.

If The Lizard is a villain you appreciated from the comics or the animated show, you are significantly more likely to be pleased with him as a villain in The Amazing Spider-man. Fans who are more used to Venom or Dr. Octopus may find him a little tepid, and his character could have been slightly better executed in the new film, but anyone who grew up watching the Spider-man cartoon in the 90’s probably got as excited as I did seeing the Lizard wearing that battered lab coat. Rhys Ifans plays the part of Dr. Curt Connors perfectly, although the visual representation of the Lizard following his transformation sometimes looks a bit awkward.

The type of viewer who never reads a comic book and whose only exposure to Spider-man is his appearances in live action films is much more likely to be disappointed with this movie than someone who reads the stories or watched the cartoons. The Amazing Spider-man is really the Spider-man for comic books fans, whereas Raimi’s trilogy was the Spider-man for popcorn movie goers. Both have their merits but the fact is that, aside from Alfred Molina’s outstanding role as Doc Ock in Spider-man 2, The Amazing Spider-man improves in every department.

The Dark Knight… Rising?

The first trailer released for the upcoming final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s Batman film trilogy left a lot of movie goers worried about the quality. The newest trailer seems to have completely changed that perspective, as the worried comments around the internet have seemingly shifted entirely to enthusiasm and excitement. Some critics specifically point to Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of Selina Kyle/Catwoman in the new trailer, saying “See, she can do it.” We struggle to see what about this trailer is causing such excitement, though.

Bane as a villain is generally completely boring in the comic source, so it is a major task to turn him into something interesting to watch in a movie. It is easy to see that Nolan and company will at least do a superior to job to Joel Schumacher’s vision of Bane in Batman & Robin, but to say that something will be better than that is not saying much at all. Judging from the trailer alone, he is still not going to be remotely as compelling as Heath Ledger’s Joker, Cillian Murphy’s Scarecrow, or Liam Neeson’s R’as Al Ghul. The costume looks silly rather than sinister. The voice being used alone is enough to cause concern, as it sounds over-produced and just… lacking.

Anne Hathaway may be a little better in the trailer than expected, but it is still hard to expect a lot. She is a fine actress who has performed very well previously, but the role of Selina Kyle just doesn’t seem like the right fit. While Hathaway is a very pretty actress, she doesn’t seem to exude Catwoman’s sexuality. Aside from being highly intelligent and agile, Catwoman has to be able to use her sexuality as a weapon, especially against Batman. Nothing about this trailer suggests that she will live up to the challenge in any significant way.

Further speculation has been launched about Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s role in the film. Apparently there are quite a few fans who are comfortable with a 31-year-old actor playing Robin, a character who is supposed to be in his early teenage years when joins Batman. Even allowing for a little bit of aging for Nolan’s verse, Levitt barely passes for a college age kid, and definitely won’t be able to pull even that off for much longer. Although Levitt is a very good actor, casting him as Robin would be a mistake.

Although the first two films in the trilogy were excellent, The Dark Knight Rises seems to unfortunately be setting up for another let down third movie in a super hero trilogy, following in the footsteps of the borderline god awful Spider-man 3 and the enjoyable but weak third X-Men film. While final judgment must be reserved for when the film is actually released, it does not bode all that well.