Justice League (2017) – Movie Review

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I went into Justice League, DC’S most recent grab at Marvel’s success, with trepidation. Other than Wonder Woman, each DCEU film has left me somewhere between “meh” and “ugh”. Even when Joss Whedon (Avengers) came in to help a grieving Snyder finish the movie, their exponentially different styles worried me, and that worry was mostly justified. Yes, Whedon’s wit does bring a welcome shine to the gloomy proceedings and, unlike Batman v. Superman and Suicide Squad, keeps this movie from being an all-out slog. Still, it’s an awkward epic that can’t overcome the franchise’s dark doldrums. Just like every other superhero movie ever made, a charisma-less and bland villain with limitless power appears, bent on destroying Earth because of “reasons”. Superman still dead, the world must depend on lesser heroes to save them. Affleck is still a pretty good Batman, Flash is light-hearted fun, Aquaman is kinda cool, Cyborg is dull and dour, and Wonder Woman is still the standout. There are still certainly some interesting moments between the characters, but they’re mostly overshadowed by superhero-ethic clichés, stupid drama, bad CGI, and nonsensical logic (why are these guys such quick allies?) There really is just so much that doesn’t work: specific jokes, bad visuals, interpersonal relationships, muddy action, plot predictability. The main problem, though, is that DC and Warner Bros. think, through their previous films, they’ve given us enough reasons to care about this universe, and they haven’t. The positives here, mainly just seeing these heroes together on-screen, have left me mildly curious about the future of the franchise, but only barely. Otherwise, Justice League is easily the worst superhero movie of the year.

 

2 out of 5 stars

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The Dark Knight Rises (2012) – Movie Review

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First of all, Nolan has made the greatest trilogy of all time, and while the film probably won’t demand repeat viewings like The Dark Knight, it’s narrative structure and beautiful photography by Pfister, make this film the superior one in the series.

Where the first movie explored fear and the second movie chaos and anarchy, this film is based on redemption and pain, because as many people have stated, both Bane and Bruce experience pain throughout the movie.

And this is what makes Bane an interesting villain; he is very similar to Batman. As Nietzsche once said, “you stare into the abyss long enough, it will stare back at you”. Bane is Batman’s abyss, what he would have become if he had joined the League.

Structurally the movie fits in perfectly with the others, and this is what makes this the best trilogy of all. Everyone is dedicated to Nolan’s vision; from the cast to the crew, they believe in what he has done, and this makes it a better viewing experience for the audience.

The cast are fantastic and the ending is perfect. Wayne has paid his debt to Gotham, and Gotham to him, after all it took away his parents and made him unhinged. But this movie finally shows him at peace and the last scene confirms that this epic trilogy is over.

Nolan resurrected a franchise that died with the release of Batman and Robin, and has managed to give the movie a conclusion that not only respects the source material, but the audience as well.

A must see, and the best film of 2012.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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The Dark Knight (2008) – Movie Review

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Christopher Nolan must be one of the most admired men in the film industry of late. Having been handed a superhero franchise crumbling under its own campiness and trusted with the task of revamping it, adding a firm undercurrent of complexity without sacrificing the inherent enjoyment associated with a man dressing as a bat battling the criminal underworld, Nolan thrived upon the challenge, his Batman Begins providing a new height in the genre and one of the most acclaimed films of the year. And as seemingly impossible as it may have seemed to top his first effort, Nolan appears to have tapped into even more film-making genius, his peerless imagination, courage and unwavering control over every facet of his production making The Dark Knight a seamless, dazzlingly complex sequel to an already essentially flawless first effort – it is near impossible to envision the film being any stronger.

Though the film embraces similar themes and plays to all the strengths of the genre, in the end the film proves a ‘comic book movie’ essentially in name only, as it feels as if Nolan has seamlessly melded several films into one, the tone varying from ultra realistic crime dramas (such as Nolan’s inspiration, Michael Mann’s Heat) to using the template of the traditional superhero/supervillain conflict as a parable of good, evil and the constant ambiguity and overlap between. In a particularly chilling passage, the Joker disturbingly dissects the effects of Batman and himself on Gotham city and how the friction between “an unstoppable force and an immovable object”, or Batman’s unwavering dedication to justice counterbalancing the Joker’s obsession with chaos and disarray simply leads to everlasting conflict. “I feel like we could do this forever”, the Joker wryly states, and with such chilling, exhilarating and fiendishly complex results, the possibility is mouth-watering indeed.

In fact, if one was to extract any form of complaint from such a complex marvel of a film it would be that through the film’s consistent breakneck pace and flurry of new plot points and story arcs, the audience is somewhat deprived of the chance to savour some of the film’s elements, to take a moment to drink in the all-around-mastery, from the quiet character moments to the jaw dropping stunts or flooring performances. But there can be little doubt that this is fully Nolan’s intent, as The Dark Knight proves an entirely different animal than its predecessor: less about characters (though their development in the simply superb screenplay by Nolan and his brother Jonathan is near flawless) than broad statements, and the lack of quiet, reflective moments simply furthering the chaotic, uncertain feel of the story. However, despite the vast, epic array of content, it never feels like Nolan has bitten off more than he can chew, but rather the viewer is challenged to keep up with his immense vision.

However, those expecting a light-hearted, carefree action romp will find themselves somewhat taken aback, as the film is aptly titled, ‘dark’ being the operative word. Never before has a comic book film boasted a tone of such crushing realism and devastating, visceral wrenching of emotions. Yet despite the absence of outright bombastic fun, never does the question “why so serious?” emerge, as The Dark Knight could never have been anything but, yet never proves overly morose to the point of preventing entertainment. Similarly, those fearing the genre becoming overly cerebral need not fear the action frontier being sacrificed, as Nolan somehow manages to again up the ante on his first effort’s already breathless action sequences, providing enough explosions and brief but ferociously intense combat scenes to sate any action enthusiast without sacrificing an ounce of complexity. The sweeping, sumptuous cinematography and soaring score by two of modern cinema’s finest composers, Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard completes the sublime package, making for a technically savoury masterpiece.

Christian Bale once again gives a remarkable performance, breathing consistently credible life into each of the title character’s dual identities, providing a wistful desperation for a Bruce Wayne tantalised by the prospect of abandoning Batman while his alter ego is needed more than ever by his crumbling city. However, despite Bale’s powerhouse lead there can be no doubt that the film’s primary selling point is the flat out terrifying yet mesmerizing performance by the tragically late Heath Ledger. His anarchistic Joker unquestionably steals the show (no easy feat), flipping between darkly hilarious and chilling while remaining a consistently fascinating and compelling creation – a frighteningly real antagonist for the ages, and easily one of the most visibly unsettling and powerful performances in decades. Aaron Eckhart is similarly superb as Harvey Dent, Gotham’s new tenaciously dedicated district attorney, and his inevitable fall from earnest grace is truly affecting, with Eckhart perfectly essaying the shift from charismatic to horrifying. Michael Caine offers a perfect dose of wry humour and inspiration as Wayne’s trusted butler Alfred, and Gary Oldman gives a rousingly sympathetic performance as fiercely honest cop Jim Gordon, with Oldman giving one of the most credible heroic performance in recent memory. Morgan Freeman remains pure class as Wayne’s CEO and Batman’s secret outfitter, and Maggie Gyllenhaal proves a far superior replacement to Katie Holmes, adding a witty spark to an otherwise standard love interest role.

Never once patronising its audience, The Dark Knight proves easily the most mature, staggeringly intelligent, insightful, breathless and pitch black comic book adaptation to grace the screen in recent memory, and arguably ever. Indeed, the Joker’s declaration of Batman’s effect on Gotham’s criminals proves prophetic and parallels the effect of the film itself on its medium – there can be little doubt that The Dark Knight has changed the face of what can be expected out of a comic book movie, dispelling critical scorn and rivalling any “serious film” in terms of complexity and film-making mastery. Never again will the face of comic book movies be the same – “there’s no going back”.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Batman Begins (2005) – Movie Review

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It sickened me in the past to see the Batman movie franchise slowly digging it’s way to an early grave. After the quality Tim Burton films, the series pretty much went down the toilet, beginning a horrifically campy age of ‘Bat credit-cards’ and an armored Arnold Schwarzenegger tossing cringe-worthy puns at a Batman who seemed to be trying not to be embarrassed by the fact that his costume had nipples. So what could Warner Brothers producers hope to do to resurrect the franchise? Pretend it never happened, and start the whole series over again with a talented director, compelling story and capable cast.

Enter Christopher Nolan, the mastermind behind 2000’s ‘Momento’, widely praised as one of the most innovative films of the decade. As director/co- screenwriter, Nolan creates a richly dark, atmospheric world for Batman to inhabit, similar to that of the Burton films, but less cartoony. The film’s screenplay, written by Nolan and David S. Goyer is quality stuff, it’s true that some of the dialog exchanges can seem kind of contrived, particularly between Wayne and Liam Neeson’s character, Ducard, but it sounds so classy you tend not to care.

Nolan also puts a lot of trust in his audiences to stay put while the first hour of the film comprehensively explores Bruce Wayne’s backstory, with no cape donning and few fight sequences. Nevertheless, the pace never slows, and the story is so unexpected and fascinating (who would have expected a Batman film to begin in a prison in Tibet? only Nolan could pull it off!) there’s little chance of us losing interest. And this way, we really get a sense of who Bruce Wayne is, a trait none of the past movies were able to capture, including the Burton films. We see what drives him, what leads him to become this iconic crime fighter, and the reasoning behind the mask.

Of course, to help the audience get under Bruce Wayne’s skin, it doesn’t hurt to have such a talented lead as Christian Bale. Bale has been emerging as one of the most talented actors of his generation, and he brings that talent to a peak here, playing the darkest of all superheroes. If you were to break down the role of Batman/Bruce Wayne, you would find that it is essentially three characters: Wayne as Batman, behind the mask; Wayne’s public facade as the billionaire playboy; and the real, brooding Bruce Wayne. Bale plays all three of the characters to absolute perfection, and molds them together well enough to make it clear to show they are still the same person. He has been given tons of accolades for his performance already, and needless to say, he deserves every one.

And the sheer quality of the supporting cast is mind-boggling, if for the number of big names only. It’s very hard to find a weak spot in the incredibly strong array of performances here, but if one had to be found, it would have to be Katie Holmes. It’s not that she gives a bad performance, on the contrary, but just she seems too young to be convincing as a district attorney. For me, Michael Gough will always be the definitive Alfred, but Michael Caine does an excellent job of taking over the role, giving a very strong (and often funny) performance. Liam Neeson is sheer class as Ducard, Wayne’s mysterious mentor, as is Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Wayne’s arms manufacturer and provider of the Batman gear. It’s wonderful to see the incredibly talented and much underrated Gary Oldman as Sgt. Gordon, the only decent cop in Gotham, and he truly makes the role his own. Even cult favorite Rutger Hauer makes an appearance as Richard Earle, the ambitious head of Wayne Enterprises. And (surprise surprise!) the villains are also actually menacing for once, as opposed to cartoony and corny. Cillian Murphy just about walks away with the show as the truly chilling Scarecrow (the sequences involving his ‘fear gas’ are surprisingly frightening) Ken Watanabe is mysterious and creepy as guild leader Ra’s Al Ghul and Tom Wilkinson is very convincing as Carmine Falcone, head of the Gotham city mob.

Nolan’s knack for realism also comes as a breath of fresh air in this age of CGI bloated blockbusters – there are next to no computer generated shots in the movie, even a sequence with Batman standing on top of a high building staring down at the city was filmed with a stuntman. And it really works, the Batmobile actually interacts with it’s environment, and looks so much better real than computer generated. But don’t think that the film will come across as too serious and stuffy because of Nolan’s realism – true, Gotham seems too dark and dirty to come across as a fantasy world, but Batman Begins retains that unmistakable sense of fun that seems to only be present in comic book movies. We jeer and fear the villains, and cheer the hero as he lays his life on the line to vanquish evil and save the city. And that is how it should be. There’s even a surprising twist near the end, which is doubly surprising because it actually comes as a shock. What’s not to love here?

(and, further cudos to director Nolan for finally managing to make a swarm of bats actually frightening for once)

Overall, I’d have to label Batman Begins ‘A must see movie’ – it’s a well written, authoritatively directed, impeccably acted (especially by Bale’s powerhouse lead performance and Cillian Murphy’s sickly menacing Scarecrow) and very high quality production. Indeed, most other summer blockbusters could learn a thing or two from Batman Begins. If the Batman franchise died under it’s own gaudiness years ago, let us rejoice this glorious rebirth – Batman truly does begin here.

 

5 out of 5 stars

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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 and 2 (2012) – Movie Review

One of the most beloved Batman tales finally gets the animation treatment. So influential was Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” that it inspired Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan when they were crafting their live action Batman movies, as well as the 1990s Batman animated series (which gave birth to an entire universe of DC animated shows). Warner decided to split the tale, originally spread over 4 issues, into 2 movies. Turns out that it was an excellent decision which not only successfully adapted the first half of Frank Miller’s epic, but added layers to the story and characters that the limited page count of the graphic novel could not leave in.

Rarely does an adaptation surpass the original source material. But Dark Knight Returns is just such an example of an animated movie that is not only true to its source material, but expands upon it. The original was great; the animated adaptation makes it better. The story will sound familiar to anyone who watched Christopher Nolan’s “The dark Knight Rises”. It has been years since Batman went into retirement. Billionaire Bruce Wayne now drifts from day to day hoping that the people of Gotham can take care of themselves. But now, a new threat emerges: The Mutants. A vast gang of street thugs led by their grotesque but incredibly strong and savage leader. Despite his age, Bruce is forced to become Batman once again to save his city. But can the aging crime fighter stand up to a threat that is faster, stronger and more powerful than he has ever been? And what happens when Batman comes face to face with his old nemesis Two-Face? Beyond the narrative lies a thorough deconstruction of the Batman character, especially when played opposite the two main villains, Two Face and the Mutant Leader. Both villains serve as a dark reflection of Batman himself. Like Two Face, Bruce Wayne and Batman are presented as two separate personalities fighting for control. But is Batman truly just a mask Bruce wears? Or is it the other way around? And as for the mutant leader, both he and Batman operate as a symbol to inspire others to action. One a symbol of chaos and crime, the other a symbol of hope and justice. But if the mutant leader’s extreme acts can rouse Batman to return to vigilantism, so too can Batman’s actions rouse criminals to return to their old ways (as one character claims in the story).

The characters are brought to life by a fine voice cast who nail their roles perfectly. Peter Weller of Robocop fame takes the role of Batman; a role that may comes across as a monotone baritone at first. But Weller infuses Batman’s voice with nuance and subtlety which fits the character well. The only downside is that despite wanting to show a dichotomy between Batman and Bruce Wayne, Weller uses the same tone of voice throughout the whole movie; Compared to previous voice actors, like Kevin Conroy, who used different speech patterns and tones for Wayne and Batman.

A lot of deep themes about the nature of heroism vs vigilantism abound in this tale, all of which were in the original comic but just expanded upon in the animation medium. On that note, the animation presented here is the perfect balance of fluidity and art detail. Iconic frames, memorable battles and atmospheric scenes are replicated faithfully. Movie goers will be able to see many scenes that Nolan’s Batman trilogy lifted from THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, including a fight scene illuminated intermittently by a gun’s muzzle flash. Its only downside is that Warner decided to use its generic color palate rather than replicate the muted tones and heavy grays colored by Lynn Varley in the original artwork.

Fans would be pleased at how true to the original this is and how it expands on the original, smoothening out the rough edges while adding a whole new dimension to the characters. The action is intense and beautifully animated, accompanied by an epic score by Christopher Drake. This is a true ADAPTATION that does not translate the comic wholesale but translates the comic while making full use of the animated movie medium.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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