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

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: The Dark Knight (2008)

Also known as: Batman Begins 2 (working title), Rory’s First Kiss, Winter Green (fake working titles)
Release Date: July 14th, 2008 (Buenos Aires & New York City premieres)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cillian Murphy, Nestor Carbonell, Eric Roberts, Anthony Michael Hall, Ritchie Coster, Michael Jai White, Colin McFarlane, Tom “Tiny” Lister, William Fichtner, David Dastmalchian

DC Comics, Syncopy, Legendary Entertainment, Warner Bros., 152 Minutes

Review:

“Don’t talk like one of them. You’re not! Even if you’d like to be. To them, you’re just a freak, like me! They need you right now, but when they don’t, they’ll cast you out, like a leper! You see, their morals, their code, it’s a bad joke. Dropped at the first sign of trouble. They’re only as good as the world allows them to be. I’ll show you. When the chips are down, these… these civilized people, they’ll eat each other. See, I’m not a monster. I’m just ahead of the curve.” – The Joker

I was a bit apprehensive about revisiting this for the first time in a long time. The reason being, is that I remembered it as being perfect and it was the movie I saw in the theater more times than any other. But with so much time passing, I had worried that my take on it now could have soured a bit.

I’m glad to say that it didn’t, as this is still a masterpiece of crime fiction and social commentary.

As far as superhero films go, I still think that this is the greatest one ever made. I think a lot of that has to do with the realistic approach of the film and just how real and plausible it comes across even though it features a man in a bat costume and a criminal in clown makeup. Not to mention a guy with half his face burnt off and some wonky sci-fi gadgets like the incredibly high-tech sonar surveillance computer.

This is a film where just about everything went right. It was a perfect storm of great writing, great direction, great acting, stellar cinematography and an incredible musical score.

It was well balanced between action and drama and even with its somewhat lengthy running time, there isn’t a wasted moment in the film. Every scene has meaning and every scene does exactly what it needs to without dilly dallying and slowing the pacing down. At the same time, the timing is impeccable and this film perfectly creates tension when it needs to. The whole film is about escalation and the final product is a perfectly curated example of that.

It’s sad and tragic that Heath Ledger died before this was released. It would’ve been cool for him to have seen the final product and to have enjoyed the fanfare and praise his performance as The Joker got. It’s hands down one of the best performances of that decade and even though his death gave the role an added level of mystique and importance, it stands on its own as one of the greatest villain portrayals in motion picture history.

Additionally, I also really liked Ledger’s version of The Joker, as he kind of did his own thing with the character and it forced Nolan to kind of portray the character differently than what was originally intended. And while it might not be a perfect adaptation of the comic book Joker, which no film has done thus far, it kind of exists as its own, great thing and it added so much to this already stellar trilogy.

My only real complaint about the film was how growl-y Bale’s Batman voice was. I much preferred his voice in Batman Begins and I think most people did, as well. I’m not the only person to point this out and in fact, it sort of became a social meme after the movie’s release.

That being said, the Batman voice doesn’t wreck the film and I still think it’s a damn near perfect movie that transcended the superhero genre, forever changed it and hasn’t yet been eclipsed regardless of some of the superb comic book movies that have been released since.

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

Comic Review: Gotham City Sirens: Book One

Published: October 28th, 2014
Written by: Paul Dini
Art by: Guillem March

DC Comics, 314 Pages

Review:

I didn’t know much about this series but I really like Paul Dini’s Batman work, especially what he did on the near perfect Batman: The Animated Series. I also like how he wrote Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy on that show and thought that Dini gave them a fantastic dynamic, as well as superb chemistry.

This series adds Catwoman to that mix and since Dini did well with her character on that animated show, it just seemed like another reason to give this a shot.

Even though I anticipated liking this, I was still surprised by how good it is!

This brings the three women together as roommates, as they try and keep each other on the straight and narrow path, trying to be reformed criminals doing a little good in the world. Of course, things can’t be that simple.

The Riddler also plays a big role in this, as he helps the women where he can. That is, until he feels betrayed and personally hurt by them towards the end of this volume.

This is a pretty thick collection of stories, as it includes the first thirteen issues of the ongoing series. Within that, it features several story arcs, all of which are pretty good. There isn’t a dull moment in this run of issues and I actually really liked the standalone Christmas story that saw Harley return to see her family.

Dini gives us a lot of info on the backstory of all these characters and shows how some of their stories had some overlap at different times, whether they knew that then or not. For instance, the moment Harley met Ivy, she also met The Joker. Both characters would have an immense effect on her life.

So much happens in this and all of it is good. I dug the hell out of it much more than I thought I would. I’m sure I’ll read and review the second volume in the very near future.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other Paul Dini Batman-related comics.

Film Review: Batman Begins (2005)

Also known as: Batman 5 (working title), Batman: Intimidation (script title), The Intimidation Game (fake working title)
Release Date: May 31st, 2005 (Tokyo premiere)
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Written by: Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer
Based on: characters by DC Comics
Music by: Hans Zimmer, James Newton Howard
Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ken Watanabe, Mark Boone Junior, Jack Gleeson

DC Comics, Syncopy, Warner Bros., 140 Minutes

Review:

“But I know the rage that drives you. That impossible anger strangling the grief, until the memory of your loved one is just… poison in your veins. And one day, you catch yourself wishing the person you loved had never existed, so you would be spared your pain.” – Henri Ducard

When this first came out on DVD, I watched it almost weekly for a few years. I loved this film and to me, at least at the time, it was the greatest Batman film ever made. Hell, before the DVD release, I think I saw this at least three times in the theater.

I would end up liking The Dark Knight even more but the Nolan trilogy started with this film and it was a great introduction to his more serious and realistic Batman film series.

In retrospect now, I like the 1989 Batman slightly better but it’s magic was undone by the later films that followed and even though it took eight years, Batman Begins was the cinematic reboot that we needed after the Schumacher Batman pictures.

This film is so good, as are the ones that follow, that I’ve kind of accepted that no one will ever make a Batman film series as great. Frankly, these are the best films that Christopher Nolan has made and while the first film in a trilogy can often times feel like a practice run, this one is fairly close to perfect.

My only real gripe about it is that the pacing feels a bit disjointed at times. But there is also a lot of story and a lot of characters to balance here. I think that Nolan got much better with that in the next film. These aren’t things that break the film in any way but if I can’t give this a perfect score, I feel that I should explain why.

This is still energetic and every scene feels necessary. But it also feels like so much was wedged into it that it could’ve actually benefited from an extra 20-30 minutes. And that’s not something I’m usually a fan of, as I love 90 minute running times and this picture is already well over two hours. But when a film is this good, I never seem to mind that it requires more of my time.

Nolan got the best possible performances out of all of the actors involved and everyone in this is absolutely perfect. This was well cast and even Katie Holmes, who was replaced in the sequel, pulled off the best performance of her career. Normally, I wouldn’t put her at the same level as everyone else in this movie but she held her own and I was disappointed that she was recast in The Dark Knight.

In closing, this is a stellar motion picture where everything just works in the right way from the direction, cinematography, acting, the musical score by Hans Zimmer and the great character development.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: the other two films in The Dark Knight Trilogy.

Vids I Dig 397: Comic Tropes: Denny O’Neil: Crafting Grounded Heroes

From Comic Tropes’ YouTube description: Denny O’Neil was a very good writer and a great editor. A man who was good at stripping away the more exotic elements of a character and finding a way to focus on their core personality. From acclaimed runs on Green Lantern/Green Arrow to Batman to Iron Man, he was a top writer in the 60s and 70s at DC and Marvel. He also edited Frank Miller’s acclaimed run on Daredevil, invented the name Optimus Prime and oversaw the Knightfall epic where Bane broke Batman’s back.

This episode takes a look at Denny’s career including his rare missteps and tries to contextualize how his real life experience informed his writing style. He was a college graduate, a sailor in the US Navy, and a self-proclaimed hippy. And there’s still a lot we can learn from him.

Film Review: V for Vendetta (2005)

Release Date: December 11th, 2005 (Austin Butt-Numb-A-Thon)
Directed by: James McTeigue
Written by: The Wachowskis
Based on: V for Vendetta by Alan Moore, David Lloyd
Music by: Dario Marianelli
Cast: Hugo Weaving, Natalie Portman, Stephen Rea, John Hurt, Stephen Fry, Rupert Graves

Anarchos Productions Inc., DC/Vertigo Comics, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Fünfte Babelsberg Film GmbH, Silver Pictures, Virtual Studios, Warner Bros., 132 Minutes

Review:

“People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” – V

While this is a film that kind of blew me away in early 2006, when it hit regular theaters, it doesn’t have quite the same effect on me now. Maybe it’s because I’m older and my views on the world have evolved, allowing me to see through the simplistic, good versus evil formula that this story employs.

It’s still a damn good movie and it’s hard not to pull for the heroes as they stick it to real fascism in an Orwellian type of world but its solutions to the problem aren’t really solutions and they’re kind of juvenile and reckless.

And honestly, is it really a film about smashing fascism or is it a film about a guy simply out for personal revenge and using his theatrics to inspire regular people to put themselves in danger in an effort to get him what he selfishly wants?

Either way you chop it up, it’s still an entertaining film that leaves the audience with a lot to ponder and for fans to discuss till the end of time. Hopefully, those can be rational discussions as we now live in a world where shitbirds want to burn everything down because, “ermahgerd ferscism ers baaahd!”

The film is perfectly acted and I’m saying that as one who rarely likes Natalie Portman. She is great in this and so is everyone else. Hugo Weaving is the real glue that holds it all together, though, and he was able to give the performance of a lifetime while fully obscured by a mask and a cloak.

Since it’s been so long since I’ve seen this, I forgot how much it deviated from the original story and after having recently read it, I’m not sure why, as the structure and story of the comic seemed more effective to me. Some of these alterations are major, like all the TV station stuff. I guess it makes sense for the film but it wasn’t necessary in the grander scheme of things and it makes me wish that this were more of a beat-for-beat adaptation like Watchmen mostly was.

This is a story that would probably work better as a television series. Granted, nowadays it’d be butchered and reworked into some sort of weird amalgamation of shit like the Watchmen TV series but the comic is paced in a way that would work better in an episodic format over ten or so episodes.

As a film, however, this mostly works. I feel like it succeeded at generating the emotion and weight that it needed but some things were left out and could have made it even more effective.

In the end, it’s still solid, looks great and it showcased incredible acting performances from its stars.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the comic it’s based on, as well as all the Watchmen comics and film.

Comic Review: Nightwing: The Target – One-Shot

Published: July 25th, 2001
Written by: Chuck Dixon
Art by: Scott McDaniel, Aaron Sowd, Dave Stewart

DC Comics, 48 Pages

Review:

I read this just after finishing another Nightwing one-shot by Chuck Dixon: Our Worlds at War.

This also came out just a few weeks after that other one yet it doesn’t seem tied to it at all but I guess I should read the collected editions and see how it all comes together.

Still, this was written by Chuck Dixon and it was a damn entertaining, self-contained story. Unlike Our Worlds at War, I didn’t feel like I was missing a big chunk of the story.

In this, Dick Grayson is a cop when he’s not Nightwing. He gets framed for a murder caused by the police brutality he tried to stop. The dirty cops frame him but obviously they don’t know he’s Nightwing and pretty damn resourceful. Grayson takes on a new superhero personality: The Target.

As The Target, Grayson investigates his own case in an effort to clear his name and to bring the hammer of justice down on the murderous, dirty cops.

This also features a cameo by Batman but it is a Nightwing story and Dick Grayson takes it upon himself to set the record straight and to get justice for the victims.

In the end, I enjoyed this a lot and I thought The Target persona was really cool. But I also feel like this could have been stretched out over a longer story arc. It’s short and sweet but I felt like more could’ve been explored and it might have been cool to see Dick as The Target for much longer.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Chuck Dixon era Nightwing and Batman comics.

Comic Review: Nightwing: Our Worlds at War – One-Shot

Published: July 11th, 2001
Written by: Chuck Dixon
Art by: Rick Leonardi, John Lowe, Noelle Giddings, Jae Lee (cover)

DC Comics, 36 Pages

Review:

While this was released as a one-shot comic book, it is tied-in to a larger story arc. Therefore, working as its own story, it kind of falls flat, as I wasn’t privy to the details and didn’t have the context to fit this into.

It’s pretty enjoyable though for those who like the relationship between Nightwing and Oracle. They’ve been my favorite semi-romantic pairing in comics since it was first teased and they’ve always had good chemistry when written well. Thankfully, this benefits from having Chuck Dixon as the writer, as he really gets both characters and their bond.

And ultimately, this story is carried by that bond.

Other than that, this sees our heroes traveling backwards through time in an effort to arrive at a place where the story’s unseen villain can’t touch them and thus, alter their present and future.

This is pretty short but we do get to see several different scenarios of the heroes coming into a new time and having to immediately deal with the threats waiting for them. In the end, they have to find a way to outwit the villain who is orchestrating these traps.

I wasn’t aware that this was tied to a larger plot and it probably would’ve read better had I known that beforehand and actually read the whole arc. However, there is still enough to sink your teeth into and it just further solidifies why these two characters are two of the most beloved in DC Comics lore.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other Chuck Dixon era Nightwing and Batman comics.

Comic Review: He-Man: The Eternity War

Published: 2014-2016
Written by: Dan Abnett, Rob David
Art by: Pop Mhan
Based on: Masters of the Universe by Mattel

DC Comics, 341 Pages

Review:

I didn’t have the highest of expectations going into this massive story arc but I’m really happy to say that this was one badass read! I loved it! It also really reinvigorated my love of everything revolving around Masters of the Universe, which was one of the first franchises I went crazy for as a kid.

However, other than that fairly satisfactory reboot animated series from 2002 or so, there hasn’t been much that has really re-energized my love of the property. As an adult, going back to the original cartoon was met with some disappointment, as it doesn’t play well for a forty-ish year-old man.

Maybe I should have expected more, as I typically enjoy Dan Abnett’s writing, specifically his recent run on Aquaman, which included a segment of the larger DC Comics universe that one could say is similar to the universe of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe.

Abnett impressed me greatly, as he really taps into the core of the MOTU mythos and really gives all of these characters life and purpose. I guess this is set after a previous story in the DC Comics MOTU canon but I didn’t realize that until after I already started this. But I’d like to go back and give that stuff a read, even though the earlier stories weren’t penned by Abnett.

Anyway, Abnett took a well-crafted world and expanded on it, adding a lot of really good context to the larger scheme of things while also weaving together these characters in new and interesting ways. It was cool seeing how their relationships and rivalries have evolved since this was presented in its original animated form. I especially liked how She-Ra was tied to Skeletor and Hordak and then the swerves that the villains kept pulling on one another.

This was a masterfully articulated story of epic proportions without a dull moment and with each issue building off of the previous ones, while never losing steam or getting too far ahead of itself. It was grandiose in the great way that great comics can be but it didn’t just become pointless spectacle like so many big event comics come across in the modern era. Frankly, it is one of my favorite things that Dan Abnett has ever worked on.

Additionally, the art by Pop Mhan is absolutely spectacular and stunning. His character designs were perfect, as was his dynamic action, backgrounds and use of color. There isn’t a single bad thing that I can say about the art.

This is a near perfect storm where everything kind of went right. This is a great example of how to make a great comic book based off of an intellectual property that isn’t directly owned by the publisher. The writers of I.P.s like G.I. Joe, Transformers, Doctor Who, Star Trek and Star Wars should really take note.

Rating: 9.5/10
Pairs well with: other modern Masters of the Universe comics.

Video Game Review: Batman: Return of the Joker (NES)

I never played this game and I guess I kind of missed out, as I probably would’ve really liked this, back in the day.

I was a fan of the first Sunsoft Batman game for the original Nintendo, as it came out and was tied to the 1989 Tim Burton movie.

I never realized that this one was a direct sequel to it and I guess that makes it exist in an alternate timeline than the cinematic universe of the same era. Granted, these games are very different than the ’89 movie in that they have a very sci-fi/cyberpunk aesthetic and deviate from the film’s story quite a bit.

So in this version of a sequel, the Joker has survived. They’ve also given him more of a comic book look, as opposed to using Jack Nicholson’s likeness. I’m assuming that was because the licensing fees to use his visage once again was too pricey and unnecessary in the grander scheme of things.

The game looks very similar to its predecessor; however, they’ve given Batman a larger sprite and stripped away the mechanics only to replace them with something worse. The weapons system may seem more advanced but it’s kind of confusing, tedious and annoying. Also, you can’t bounce off of walls and scale them like you could in the previous game.

This also adds in a few jetpack shooter stages that play more like a Gradius game than a normal Batman title. It’s kind of cool but I would’ve preferred having more standard levels with some good design. In fact, the levels in this game feel very small and are conquered too quickly.

Most of the bosses are just a big pain in the ass. Additionally, the first time you fight the Joker, he flies around in a pod like Dr. Robotnik from the Sonic games. It’s not cool and it’s pretty lame. The second time you fight the Joker, you basically fight a Joker-themed super computer. It’s also lame.

This game had some promise and I mostly enjoyed it but the improvements just ended up being disappointments. I would’ve rather just gotten a redesigned version of the first game with new levels and bosses.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: the previous Sunsoft Batman game for the NES