Film Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Also known as: Arkham, Gotham, Batman 3 (working titles), Magnus Rex (fake working title), TDKR (informal short title)
Release Date: July 16th, 2012 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Matthew Modine, Ben Mendelsohn, Burn Gorman, Juno Temple, Cillian Murphy, Liam Neeson, Nestor Carbonell, Desmond Harrington, Thomas Lennon, William Devane

DC Entertainment, Legendary Entertainment, Warner Bros., 164 Minutes

Review:

“There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you’re all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us.” – Selina Kyle

Where I’ve seen the first two films in this trilogy at least a dozen times each, I’ve only seen this one once: in the theater. If I’m being honest, I didn’t have much urge to see it again after my initial experience. But I’ll explain why as I roll on and review it.

I was pretty excited for this film but I also knew that it would be damn hard to top The Dark Knight or to try and replicate its greatness. Well, I wasn’t wrong. And while this isn’t a bad movie, it’s certainly the weakest of the trilogy and just falls flat when compared to the other two pictures.

To start, I was a bit perplexed when I first heard that Bane was going to be the big bad of the movie. I don’t necessarily have a problem with Bane but after following The Joker and Two-Face, I felt like the third film should’ve featured more of the old school villains, as opposed to bringing in a more modern one that is kind of boring by comparison. I mean, a Christopher Nolan movie featuring The Riddler, The Penguin or hell, even The Mad Hatter, could’ve been really intriguing.

What we got instead was pretty much a rehash of the threat and the plot of the first movie: Batman Begins. In fact, in this film, Bane is even tied to the same villainous organization of that film. We also get a curveball where we find out he really isn’t the big bad but that just kind of makes the overall story even more redundant.

I guess I understand why Nolan chose Bane, as he wanted to try and keep his Batman films grounded in reality as much as one can with a comic book property but seeing a secret Illuminati-type group descend upon Gotham City with the hopes of using a superweapon to destroy it is derivative of the director’s own work.

Now we do get Catwoman in the film but she is written to be the most sterile and boring version of the character I’ve ever seen. Sure, Anne Hathaway is stunning but for whatever reason, Catwoman just doesn’t feel sexy or believable as someone that can ensnare Bruce Wayne/Batman. She just isn’t interesting and it’s hard to imagine her as someone that could pull Bruce’s heart out of the pain it still feels, eight years after the death of Rachel.

Hell, Bruce’s little romantic moments with Miranda/Talia seem more genuine and their relationship isn’t supposed to be the one the audience is pulling for even before the big plot twist reveals itself.

The film’s overall story is trying to be as good of a thriller as the previous two. It just isn’t and that’s the real issue with it. While I do want to see the heroes beat the baddies and win out in the end, the film just comes off as repetitive and dull. It feels like a weak copy of the first two pictures with a much slower pace and a broken back side quest that slows the movie to a halt. I just can’t get as into it as I did the other movies.

Now I get that “breaking the Bat” and dropping him into a hole was about building him back up to make him stronger and that we needed to get him out of Gotham so that Bane could grow his power but it’s a half-assed recreation of the Knightfall plot. This story also only seems to borrow from it because it was Bane’s most iconic moment and biggest temporary victory in the comics. And with Batman overcoming his incredible injury and then climbing out of a hole deemed “impossible” to escape, it all kind of wrecks Nolan’s strive for realism. You can’t simply punch a popped disc back into someone’s spine.

I also hated the film’s ending but I think I’m done harping on the negatives, as I probably sound like I dislike this quite a bit, when I actually don’t.

The film is well-acted and that’s what really makes this work where it does.

I really dug Tom Hardy as Bane, even if his voice has become a social meme. I also just loved seeing the regular cast get back together for one more adventure. Bale, Caine, Freeman and Oldman are all so great in these roles and I loved the final act of the film where we get to see Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon get very involved. My only complaint about Caine’s Alfred is I didn’t like how Bruce pushed him away and left him without much to do in the second half of the film.

Additionally, I really enjoyed Marion Cotillard as the character who would reveal herself as Talia al Ghul. I only wish that we would have gotten to see her be more of a badass but her big reveal comes at the end of the movie and she’s not around much longer after that. Not having a Talia versus Selina fight was a missed opportunity.

The film also boasts great cinematography but why would anyone expect any less from Nolan at this point? I liked the brighter look of the town, especially in the third act, and how a lot of the film happens in daylight.

The final act, which sees Batman and the GCPD bring the fight to the League of Shadows in the streets was superb and chilling. Watching Batman and the cops take it to the villainous terrorists head-on was incredible and the best moment in the film. Watching Batman and Bane fight in a sea of people was also damn spectacular.

All in all, this is still one of the greatest superhero movies ever made. It just happens to be the worst of its trilogy and if I’m being honest, it felt like Christopher Nolan and the writers were just tired and wanted to move on to the next phase of their lives.

However, even if someone else would have to step in and do it, I’d rather see this film series continue, as opposed to seeing Warner Bros. keep trying to reboot Batman. Just let Nolan produce and pick the best creative team to help build off of his vision. I mean, a Joseph Gordon-Levitt Nightwing movie in this cinematic universe would certainly get my money.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Film Review: Pacific Rim: Uprising (2018)

Also known as: Pacific Rim 2, Solar Rim (alternate titles), Pacific Rim: Maelstrom (working title)
Release Date: March 15th, 2018 (Vue West End premiere)
Directed by: Steven S. DeKnight
Written by: Emily Carmichael, Kira Snyder, Steven S. DeKnight, T.S. Nowlin
Based on: characters by Travis Beacham
Music by: Lorne Balfe
Cast: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Jing Tian, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Adria Arjona, Zhang Jin

Legendary Pictures, UpperRoom Entertainment Limited, DDY, Universal Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

This sequel has been a long time coming. It has been in development since the original came out and was a surprise success in the summer of ’13. Guillermo del Toro was slated to direct it, as he did the first one. However, as time rolled on, he left the project to work on other movies. He still produced the film, though.

I liked the original, even if I don’t feel like it holds up with repeated viewings. I had high hopes that this one would at least be an entertaining popcorn movie. I did have some skepticism, however, as the trailers didn’t due much to peak my interest. Nevertheless, I wanted to give it a fair shot because I have been a fan of kaiju pictures since I discovered them as a small child.

To be completely honest, this film that I had some low expectations for, ended up being better than its predecessor. I don’t think that most people will feel the same way but the issues I had with the first movie were mostly fixed with this chapter.

My biggest complaint about the first Pacific Rim is that everything looked generic. Jaegers looked similar and didn’t have exciting designs, all the kaiju were pretty boring and redundant minus a few alterations and every battle was at night giving more visual pizzazz to the cityscapes than the actual titans battling. I liked Pacific Rim but it was pretty unimaginative from a guy as creative as Guillermo del Toro.

Another problem with the first movie, is that it is too basic from a narrative standpoint. Monsters show up, man makes robots, robots smash monsters. Sure, there are a few side plot threads too but it’s a simple movie.

Lastly, the final battle was some shitty underwater thing and the big bad boss at the end wasn’t really that cool.

In this new film, all of these issues are corrected.

The Jaegers have much cooler and unique designs, color schemes and are mostly seen during daylight hours. Also, their enemies don’t just consist of generic kaiju. Our hero Jaegers fight an evil Jaeger, as well as Jaeger/kaiju hybrids and in the end, three powerful kaiju that form into one incredibly massive kaiju like some sort of reptilian Voltron.

The plot was also more layered, had twists and surprises and wasn’t a predictable experience. There were new threats that were unexpected, a main villain twist that was awesome and the mythos was expanded on and enriched by new concepts and developments.

The final battle was beautifully done with a much better final monster than the previous outing. Sure, it is a CGI festival but it is all out in the open, takes place in Tokyo like a proper kaiju movie, moves on to Mt. Fuji and has a pretty incredible final blow to the giant creature.

Pacific Rim: Uprising feels like an anime come to life in the best way possible. It’s over the top, ridiculous and incredible in its scope and scale. But it feels right. And it is f’n fun.

I found myself caring about this cast much more than the one of the previous film. John Boyega and Scott Eastwood were a better macho duo than Charlie Hunnam and Rob Kazinsky from the first film. They had more personality, better charisma and didn’t seem like generic muscle heads mindlessly locking horns, huffing and puffing, to prove who was more alpha whenever there were onlookers.

One aspect of this film that I loved was that regular people are now building their own Jaegers. The girl in the film built a small but very cool and effective Jaeger. Actually, it is my favorite robot from this film series. I hope that this is a concept that is explored more in a sequel. Having hundreds of patched together, homemade Jaegers running into battle would be a cool sight.

I already know that my opinion of liking this more than the original will not be a popular one. People love Guillermo del Toro like they they love Joss Whedon: with blind, undying faith because they created something really, really good once.

This film is also heavy on action… real heavy. People will say it’s a soulless imitation of that “auteur” del Toro’s original vision. Well, even with being action heavy, it has more narrative depth and more creativity crammed into that soullessness than the original film.

There is destruction on a massive scale, lots of battles and once you get to the first big action sequence, the film does not really let up on the high octane intensity. But that is exactly what this film is supposed to be. It’s a friggin’ kaiju movie. It also has giant robots. You don’t go to see these things for anything but entertainment and because it pairs well with a giant bucket of popcorn and a giant bucket of soda pop.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Pacific Rim, the 2014 American Godzilla remake, Kong: Skull Island.

Film Review: Pacific Rim (2013)

Release Date: July 1st, 2013 (Mexico City)
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Written by: Travis Beacham, Guillermo del Toro
Music by: Ramin Djawadi
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Idris Elba, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman, Rob Kazinsky, Max Martini, Ron Perlman, Brad William Henke

Legendary Pictures, DDY, Warner Bros. Pictures, 131 Minutes

pacific-rim-poster4Review:

Let me start by saying that it has been a long time since I’ve had as much fun at the movies as I had the first and second time I saw Pacific Rim. Yes, I saw it twice. That is incredibly rare for me, as time isn’t a luxury I usually have but I enjoyed the film so much that I wanted to experience it on a big screen one more time before it left theaters. Besides, good or bad, how often do we get to see a kaiju versus mecha live-action cinematic feature?

Yes, this film is at parts cheesy and over the top and relies on a lot of CGI, things I am often times critical of. However, in the vein of kaiju films, these elements are almost customary. There is a place for such things and a film about giant robots fighting massive kaiju is that place. Regardless of those more traditional giant monster movie elements, this film still delivered a serious and emotional story that was entertaining despite the giant battles.

Have you ever seen Idris Elba in anything and not been pleased? Once again, in this film, he delivers and gives a great epic speech that rivals Bill Pullman’s speech in Independence Day. Apart from Elba, Charlie Day from It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia played a smart version of the character people have loved on his FX series. Day was awesome and I wish I’d see him in more roles. Ron Perlman, who shared almost all of his scenes with Charlie Day, played an entertaining character that was a perfect marriage of goofy and bad ass. Perlman’s Sons of Anarchy co-star Charlie Hunnam was the film’s lead but he was just as drab as he always is and I really didn’t care about him or his struggles. The other characters made up for Hunnam though. On a side note, with all these actors from FX shows packed into this film, I anticipate it being in regular circulation on that channel, all the time.

The action sequences in this film were spectacular. Pacific Rim actually has one of the best openings that I’ve ever seen in a summer blockbuster film. The Hong Kong battle is also a high point of the film, as a trio of Jaegers (the giant robots) take on a pair of kaiju. The big confrontation starts in the harbor and carries over into downtown Hong Kong.

Director Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth and many other films) serves up his patented visual style but does so on a much larger scale. This is my favorite of his films and has me hopeful for its sequel, even though he isn’t directing it.

There are only two negatives I want to point out about the film.

The first, is that the score is mediocre. The music is generic sounding and really repetitive. It does its job for the most part but it also distracts from the picture. There is nothing memorable about the soundtrack, other than it just feels like the same damn theme playing over and over again and it isn’t that good to begin with.

The other negative was the design of the kaiju. They were fairly cool but there wasn’t much to make them unique or anywhere near as cool as the kaiju of the 1960s and 70s. They all generally had the same look with a few minor tweaks here and there. The coolest was the one with the big knife on its head but that was really just a modern version of the much more awesome Guiron from the Gamera franchise. But then again, this is a movie where giant robots fight giant monsters and it was pretty effective, regardless of mediocre monsters.

If you want a film that is just a smash’em up ass kicking epic blockbuster, this is your movie. If you don’t want that, you are probably dead inside.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Pacific Rim: Uprising, 2014’s American Godzilla remake, Kong: Skull Island.