Friday, July 20, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

In 2005, director Christopher Nolan presented a new perspective on one of the most beloved comic book heroes of all time: Batman. With the film Batman Begins, Nolan reinvented the character and gave a darker and more realistic tone to the Batman origin story. With actor Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, portraying a much more believable and human character as he embarks on a journey to become The Dark Knight after his parents murder. Batman Begins was a huge success both critically and in the box office. With the teaser of the arrival of  The Joker at the end of the movie, fans eagerly awaited the sequel. With The Dark Knight (2008), Nolan re-introduced Batman's arch-enemy: The Joker, as played by Heath Ledger, whose unique and disturbing depiction resonated deeply with fans and critics. Unfortunately, the untimely death of Heath Ledger occurred six months before the release of the movie. Although his death had a huge impact on the release, the aggressive, viral advertising campaign by the studio made the movie a huge success. (Read my review!) While a third movie was in the works, it was admitted that Christopher Nolan was hesitant about returning to the franchise, but agreed to come back to conclude the series with the help of his brother Jonathan Nolan and David S. Goyer who also helped to write the screenplay.
The Dark Knight Rises takes place eight years after the events of The Dark Knight when Batman took the blame for the death of D.A. Harvey Dent (
Aaron Eckhart) a.k.a. Two-Face. Since that time, the Batman has disappeared but Gotham City has enforced the new Dent Act which helped to rid the city of organized crime. While Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) is conflicted in revealing the truth about Harvey Dent, Gotham honors the anniversary of his death with "Harvey Dent Day". Bruce Wayne, having given-up being Batman, has now become a feeble recluse, injured and having to use a cane. With the arrival of the mercenary Bane, Bruce must face him as Batman once again in order to save Gotham from chaos and destruction. After his fall, now he must rise as Batman returns better than ever to confront his most dangerous and formidable adversary yet!
In The Dark knight Rises we are introduced to four new characters: one is Officer John Blake (
Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who at first seems like an ancillary character representing the new guard of Gotham's police force, but who later becomes an important figure in the plot. The new "love-interest" for Bruce Wayne is Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), a wealthy investor working on a clean energy project. The Dark Knight Rises marks the return of Batman's most popular femme fatale: Catwoman! Anne Hathaway plays Selina Kyle, a talented jewel thief, dubbed a "Cat" burglar in the news. Although she is never actually called "Catwoman" in the movie, her black cat-suit and cat-like mask makes it obvious. Catwoman previously appeared in Batman Returns (1992) played by Michelle Pfeiffer and also laughably by Halle Berry in Catwoman (2004). While Pfeiffer's Catwoman was a more supernaturally endowed, sultry/sexy Catwoman, Hathaway's Catwoman is much more subtle and realistic, but with a strong, independent, confidence.
Tom Hardy as Bane
The most anticipated of characters is the introduction of the villain Bane, played by (Tom Hardy), Bane is a mysterious mercenary, bent on the destruction of Gotham City. The character of Bane, who is a more modern Batman villain having broken Batman's back in the "Knightfall" storyline during the 1990's, had also previously appeared briefly in the campy Batman & Robin (1997) played by Jeep Swenson, a former WCW wrestler who coincidentally died shortly after the release of the movie. The Dark Knight Rises' Bane is a much more menacing and imposing villain, with an odd face-mask that electronically modulates his voice. Whereas the comic book Bane merely wore a Mexican-wrestler mask and was fueled by the steroid-like drug "Venom" (also in the Joel Schumacher movie), this Bane has a very strong Darth Vader-like presence. His role as a crime-boss/terrorist/mercenary is a much more believable and realistic antagonist. The final battle between Bane and Batman is an intense moment as Bane has literally taken Gotham hostage, threatening to destroy it with a nuclear bomb. The new Bane has met with a lot of speculation and criticism from the beginning since the first teaser trailers and we first heard the "muffled" words of Tom Hardy's character. While his face-mask is both intended as functional and visually striking. The practicality of it however, seems somewhat bizarre as Bane often has very long and articulate dialogue which is often very hard to understand at times. Also, the bizarre inflections of his voice makes his words seem both melodramatic and threatening at the same time. Unlike the previous movie Bane, this Bane is presented more like the comic book version as a highly-intelligent, articulate and extraordinarily strong character. As with the introduction of The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008), (which is never mentioned once in The Dark Knight Rises, either out of respect to Heath Ledger or to not take focus off of the purveying plot of the trilogy.) The introduction of Bane is particularly unique and suspenseful, it involves a botched CIA plane ride where Bane has already made a name for himself in the underground and a desperate CIA agent attempts to reveal bane's identity and his plans but to no avail. It is somewhat disturbing and confusing to discover Bruce Wayne's fate after the events of The Dark Knight, where once stood a confident and powerful man, now is a broken, disheveled, shut-in making us wonder how he could have ever been The Dark Knight at all. Surprisingly Anne Hathaway's portrayal of Catwoman is very close to both the modern Catwoman and "Year One" Catwoman. She is constantly playing off Batman as both an ally and an enemy, which is what makes her character interesting and a fan-favorite. As a fan I think my favorite aspect of this movie is how the story comes together full circle, referencing the events of the first film, particularly the plot involving Ra's al Ghul (Liam Neeson), who is my favorite Batman villain.
Anne Hathaway as Catwoman
The Dark Knight Rises is the final chapter in Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight Trilogy". Like the third act to any epic story, The Dark Knight Rises is literally the rise after the fall. As Thomas Wayne (Linus Roache) said in Batman Begins,  "And why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up." The Dark Knight Rises is a bold, intense, edge-of-your-seat experience! It is the culmination of years of hard work from a truly devoted and remarkable director, who approached these films as a serious epic. Christopher Nolan utilized a human-centered story as well as state-of-the-art camera technology and special effects to tell a story that is both unique and thought provoking. I believe these films to be the definitive Dark Knight films. While both the Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher movies added to the Batman film canon, in attempting to capture on film both the dark side and the campiness of Batman. After Batman's 70-year-long history in many mediums, he has become more than just a comic book character; he is an idea, a symbol. To paraphrase Bruce Wayne/Christian Bale in Batman Begins as a symbol, Batman can be "incorruptible and everlasting."While Nolan's films have been a success both critically and financially there will always be those who will deride his efforts. Even before the release, this movie has been met with an enormous amount of both hype and criticism from the media, critics and fans alike. (Who Cares What Critics Think?) After seeing it I felt an enormous amount of awe and relief that this trilogy has successfully come to an end. Not since the original Star Wars Trilogy or even the Indiana Jones franchise have I felt that a film franchise has met the expectations of it's responsibility to the movie-goers and fans. In an age where comic-book movies have dominated the box-office and set trends in Hollywood for the last decade and all other franchises have met with disappointment in the end to their respective trilogies. As with Blade: Trinity (2004), X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) and Spider-Man 3 (2007), and even further back with the original Superman franchise with Superman III (1983), have all failed miserably! But with The Dark Knight Rises, having come full-circle, I believe it can be considered to be a "perfect trilogy", bringing all three films together successfully into one epic finale!

Personal Note: I was able to see The Dark Knight Rises at the midnight screening at one of my local theaters. It is always quite an experience to go to these events. Yes the theater is packed with people; it's crammed, hot and noisy. The roar of applause and the cheer from the fans with every epic moment "brings a smile to my face"! I enjoy seeing the die-hard fans dress up in costumes both store-bought, professionally made and even amateur/half-assed. As a fan, you feel comfort and acceptance knowing you are surrounded by your fellow fans. Never would I have considered that something so positive like this could bring so much fear and uncertainty. In response to the tragedy where Gunman killed 12 people at The Dark knight Rises screening in Aurora, Colorado, in our post Columbine or 9/11 world, where can we truly consider ourselves safe? It only takes one person who chooses to act in the form of violence to make us think and realize that we have to be vigilant and careful. Any number of things could have been done to prevent this but ultimately something like this is unpredictable and it will happen. It is a harsh reminder of our reality and while it is true that life imitates art or vice-versa art cannot be blamed entirely for someone’s actions. The fact that the media is blaming the violence in the film for this act is ridiculous and I think this TIME article says it best as "Nolan does not use violence in his movie gratuitously. His message is one of economic disparity and of desperate people driven to desperate acts." We wish that there were superheroes like Batman, and in these troubled times especially. We turn to escapism and fantasy during hard times, just as depression-era children turned to Batman in the first place. We must face the fact that we can never really escape reality. Instead we learn from heroes like Batman and his message and strive to make the world a better place.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Special Movie Review: Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope

This week is THE biggest annual comic book convention of all time: San Diego Comic-Con International 2012, and unfortunately...I won't be there! Comic-Con is like nerd Mecca and once a year, fans from all over the globe come and revel in all things comic books, movies, video games, anime, costumes, everything! We here in Texas have some pretty impressive conventions of our own like Dallas Comic-Con, but NOTHING compares to SDCC! Many fans like me dream of going Comic-Con, but whatever lack of funds or determination prevents you from going, fear not! Fortunately a group of geeks, nerds and filmmakers got together to make a documentary of epic proportions guessed it: Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope! For anyone who has never been to a comic convention of any kind, you may be in for a shock. For those of us (like myself) who are regular attendees of conventions like this, get ready for an in-depth look at THE biggest convention in the world. Director Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me (2004)) with producers and fellow geeks: Jeremy Chilnick, Matthew Galkin, Thomas Tull (The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises)and Harry Knowles (Ain't It Cool News), present us with the definitive look at the biggest yearly pop-culture event. The executive producers of the film include Stan Lee, Joss Whedon, Harry Knowles and Gill Champion, so you know it's going to be great!
L to R: Champion, Lee, Knowles, Whedon, Spurlock
The film focuses on the experiences of five individual attendees during San Diego Comic-Con 2010, which includes aspiring artists, costumers, dealers and love-struck fans. The film also features interviews from some of the most important and influential figures in comics and pop-culture like Joss Whedon, Frank Miller, Kevin Smith, Matt Groening, Seth Rogen, Eli Roth and of course Stan Lee! The film was released earlier this year in April to select theaters and is currently available on Pay Per View, On Demand, YouTube, iTunes and is now available on DVD. This is not the first film to give audiences a look into the world of Comic-Con. Back in 2004, Mark Hamill (Star Wars) directed and starred in Comic Book: The Movie. While that film was more of a mockumentary with Mark Hamill playing a devoted comic book fan named Donald Swan, Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is more like a reality show featuring the real-life experiences of these five people.
As you follow their stories, you start to feel for them and empathize with all their hard work, especially with Skip, the struggling artist trying to make it into comics who is repeatedly rejected. The most revealing of the stories is with Chuck Rozanski, the owner of Mile High Comics, the largest comic book dealer in the U.S., who gives us a very eye-opening view of the future trends of Comic-Con: "Even though they have comic in the name of the event, very little of the convention anymore is actually comics." While it's true that Comic-Con was originally about comic books, the convention has become the biggest venue for any and all pop-culture properties and merchandise including blockbuster movies, video games, anime, toys and collectibles.
Costuming and cosplay is also a big part of Comic-Con and the story of the designer, Holly is very interesting as her team creates very unique and impressive costumes from the Mass Effect video game. Some of the craziest moments in the documentary come from following one particular rabid collector who makes a mad-dash for the Hasbro booth to get a hold of the exclusive collectibles such as a rare 18" Galactus figure.
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan's Hope is a highly entertaining and revealing hour and a half for any fan who's ever been to comic convention. Even if you're not a fan of comics or conventions, this is an interesting look into a world that you may have scoffed at before. Yes, I relate to the people in this film, we are all nerds, geeks, collectors, fanboys alike and it's hard to argue with the hundreds of thousands of attendees that sell-out this convention every year. These fans are the ones who buy movie tickets, video games, toys, collectibles, and even in an economic recession, Comic-Con still thrives and grows. After seeing this documentary, it only makes me want to go to SDCC even more, however, the usual restrictions keep coming up every year such as airfare, hotels, and of course money, that prevents me from attending. Hopefully, I will get to go someday, like a devout pilgrim making the journey to the holy land. When I make it to Comic-Con, I will get down on my knees and thank the comic gods that I have come home! Maybe I'll see you next year at SDCC 2013?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man

As Super-Hero Summer 2012 continues after the release of Marvel's biggest blockbuster ever: The Avengers and in anticipation of The Dark Knight Rises; comic book fanboys like myself can wet their appetites with The Amazing Spider-Man! Barely ten years ago director Sam Raimi's trilogy starring Tobey Maguire as the (not-so young) web-slinging, crime fighter gave us Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004) and the disappointing Spider-Man 3 (2007). Now we have to ask ourselves: "Do we really need another Spider-Man trilogy?" Not to mention after last year's laughable and highly accident-prone Broadway musical, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark", it seemed as though the Spider-Man craze had died off. But since the announcement of Sony/Columbia's reboot of the Spider-Man franchise back in 2010 under director Marc Webb ((500) Days of Summer (2009)) and starring Andrew Garfield (The Social Network (2010)) as the newest wall-crawler; fans and movie-goers were at odds with this latest reboot released so soon after the originals. Despite the hype and the outcries of fanboys everywhere, The Amazing Spider-Man is the beginning of a whole new trilogy!
After his parents mysterious disappearance, a young Peter Parker is left with his Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) and Aunt May (Sally Field), who raise him like their own son. Still left with questions Peter soon finds his father's briefcase which leads to seek OSCORP's leading scientist in cross-species genetics: Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans). With the help of intern and fellow student Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), he searches for answers on what his father was working on and the cause of his parents disappearance. Meanwhile, Peter is bitten by a genetically engineered spider which gains him super-powers like the ability to crawl walls and super-human reflexes becoming Spider-Man!
Gwen Stacy
Like anyone who has seen the previous movies or who has ever read a Spider-Man comic book in the last 50 years, we all know this story! It's hard to write a review of this movie without citing the previous movies, while this isn't a sequel or a prequel it is only fair that it be measured so. As a reboot, The Amazing Spider-Man really brings nothing new to the origin of the friendly-neighborhood Spider-Man we all know and love! Everybody knows how Spider-Man came to be. The main difference being the return to a younger version of the character more akin to the early Spider-Man comics. As we return to Peter Parker's high school life, which the 2002 movie barely focused on, we get to see him more as a teenager. True, while Andrew Garfield, 29, is no younger than Tobey Maguire, who was 27 at the time of the first Spider-Man movie. But with his youthful, thin physique, he is just as appealing as Tobey's boyish looks which convinced audiences that a young, twenty-something man could still play a 17-year-old (just look at Luke Perry!). While Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker was more of the shy/nerdy teenager, Andrew Garfield's portrayal is more of an "emo" outcast. While he demonstrates an ingenious level of intelligence, he appears more like the stereotypical hoodie-wearing, skateboard-riding teenager! While this Spider-Man is also much more playful and wise-cracking at times like in the comics, at other times he is very dull. Another difference is that the new Spider-Man deals with his parents which the others never even mentioned. There is one aspect of the new Spider-Man that hearkens back to the original comics in that of Spider-Man's mechanical web-shooters. While the 2002 Spider-Man has organic web-shooters like the Ultimate Spider-Man version. While the new Peter Parker is creative enough to make his own web-shooters, the material he uses is however OSCORP's creation and not his own. One of the biggest differences in the 2002 and 2012 versions is, of course, the love interest: instead of Mary Jane Watson, as played by Kirsten Dunst in the first movies, we get Gwen Stacy, who had appeared previously (however briefly and rather blandly) in Spider-Man 3 (2007) played by Bryce Dallas Howard (26 years-old at the time). Now Emma Stone (Zombieland (2009)), age 24, is the newer, younger Gwen Stacy. As most Spider-Man fans know, Gwen Stacy was Peter Parker's first crush in the comic books. While Emma Stone certainly looks the part, her character is completely changed making her a science geek too, even going so far as to make her an intern at OSCORP while she's still in high school! Captain Stacy also has a more prominent role in this movie, whereas James Cromwell played Capt. Stacey in only a few scenes in Spider-Man 3, Denis Leary plays the police captain in the new movie. Which seems a very fitting part since he recently played a firefighter in the FX TV show Rescue Me (2004-2011).
The Lizard: Comic To Screen
While Spider-Man's rogues gallery is comprised of many bizarre and colorful villains, and as how the original trilogy had already introduced both Green Goblins (Norman and harry Osborn), Dr. Octopus, The Sandman and Venom, the next most logical villain to appear was of course: The Lizard! Being one of Spider-Man's earliest and most ferocious villains (and my personal favorite!), there of course is some major changes to his origin. Making Dr. Connors an employee of Oscorp for one, makes for some huge ramifications in the story. While the movie mentions Norman Osborn (who must inevitably become The Green Goblin) on several occasions, he is never actually seen! (SPOILER: be sure to stay a little longer for the credits, you just might be surprised, or confused!) As Dr. Connor's researches various reptiles' ability to regrow limbs, as he suffered from the loss of his right arm, (although it is never mentioned how, either from birth or by injury) yearns to regrow his own and others afflicted with lost limbs. In developing a serum derived from reptile DNA, he is able to regrow his arm but with the side-effect of turning him into The Lizard! It is interesting to note that many of Spider-Man's villains in both comic and film are most often some form of mad scientist from Green Goblin to Doc Ock and Dr. Connors and there is always a tragic aspect to their experiments. It is also interesting that in the new movie, the vile of green liquid/gas which turns Dr. Connors into the Lizard is very reminiscent of the concoction used to turn Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe) into the Green Goblin in the 2002 movie, they both have the OSCORP logo on them too! As The Lizard goes insane (talking to himself too, sound familiar?) he seeks to turn humanity into reptiles as well. While the movie version of The Lizard looks very similar to the comic book version, even in wearing the tattered lab-coat at times, his face remains very humanoid-like, keeping the facial features of the actor visible. While the CGI Lizard is impressive, I can't help but notice a very strong resemblance (particularly in toy form) to a Goomba from the horrible 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie! My biggest picky about this movie comes from an effects standpoint whereas the rest of the movie is chock-full of CGI goodness, it is when Peter Parker happens upon a "batch" of genetically engineered spiders who are kept in this black-light room, which makes the spiders glow-in-the-dark like some cheap carnival haunted house prop!
While many may wonder why Hollywood and Marvel Studios insisted on rebooting the Spider-Man franchise, the super-hero/comic book movie shows no signs of slowing down. The Avengers showed that super-hero movies are still popular, even more-so, and especially profitable in earning almost $600 Million and The Amazing Spider-Man itself pulled in $75 Million in it's opening weekend! Essentially it all comes down to money and keeping the property and franchise alive. While The Amazing Spider-Man is entertaining I would have been just as happy if they simply continued from the original trilogy or even made it a prequel of sorts. It wouldn't be that hard to continue the story with another actor, Marvel movies have done it before with three different actors playing Hulk and also two Punishers. Yes, I enjoyed the 2002 Spider-Man much more than The Amazing Spider-Man, but they are very similar movies in many ways. The originals were fun, and even a little campy thanks to Sam Raimi but Spider-Man has never been as dark as Batman, as this new one tries to make him. Spider-Man has enough character flaws already than to just make him into another "Emo" teenager. Take a lesson from Uncle Ben, Hollywood: "With great power, comes great responsibility." Just because you have the money and ambition to reboot a franchise, doesn't mean that you should. I've accepted the new X-Men with X-Men: First Class and I can't stop singing the praises of The Avengers, but we shall see what this new Spider-Man franchise will hold. Only time and box-office returns will tell...

LINKS: The Official Amazing Spider-Man Website