Comic Book Review – Batman Vol. 7: Endgame (The New 52 – 2016)

batman vol7 endgame

The Batman\Joker ‘Endgame’ storyline that has been building over the space of the past few issues culminates in the 7th New 52 Batman trade. After a less-than stellar series of sidesteps in Vol.6, Vol.7 showcases Batman at his best. Scott Snyder has put together a nail-biter of a conclusion, bringing in the Court of Owls, along with a coterie of Batman’s long-term adversaries, and throwing them into the mix of a Gotham driven to the brink of destruction (again) by The Joker’s virus. It would be unfair to discuss how it all plays out, but things come to a head in a grand finale that will dramatically affect the Batman line for quite a few issues to come.

Highly recommended.

 

4 out of 5 stars.

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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

dark knight rises

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: Assault on Arkham (2014) – Movie Review

batman assault on arkham

The world of the “Batman: Arkham” video game is brought to vivid animated life with DC and Warner Bros. Home Entertainment’s “Batman: Assault on Arkham.” The Dark Knight takes a backseat to the bad guys in what is the comic book equivalent of a heist or search and rescue flick much like “Red,” “Ocean’s 11,” “Escape from New York,” and others. The movie takes place after the events in “Batman: Arkham Origins.” It’s an exciting and humorous romp that will thrill fans of the game franchise and “mature” enthusiasts of super heroes.

Amanda Waller puts together a team of super villains to infiltrate Arkham Asylum and complete an unfinished job. She wants the Riddler assassinated for secret knowledge he possesses. Black Spider, Captain Boomerang, Deadshot, Harley Quinn, Killer Frost, KGBeast, and King Shark are all forced to comply to her wishes thanks to an explosive planted in their necks which Waller can detonate if they won’t fulfill her demands.

One thing DC animated movie buffs will be happy about is the return of Kevin Conroy in the role of Batman. The rest of the voice cast is fine, but they’re overshadowed every time the Dark Knight appears on screen. Troy Baker does his best Mark Hamill impersonation as the Joker. I really thought it was Hamill until the credits rolled at the end.

A word of caution to parents out there with children who love super heroes. “Batman: Assault on Arkham” isn’t kid-friendly in any form or fashion. It’s rated PG-13 for violence, sexual content, and language. We’re not talking your typical comic book violence, either. Several heads are blown off for example. Harley Quinn shows quite a bit of skin and there’s a scene of Deadshot and her tumbling around in bed together. The language is on par with what you would get in any action movie released today starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Liam Neeson, or Sylvester Stallone. However, the “F” word is never dropped.

“Batman: Assault on Arkham” will thrill fans of the video game franchise it’s based on. People unfamiliar with the “Arkham Asylum,” “Arkham City,” and “Arkham Origins” universe need not worry. I don’t play the games and had no problem jumping right in.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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Batman vs. Robin (2015) – Movie Review

batman vs robin

More a mash-up of two of the most highly regarded Batman stories in the last 20 years than its title implies, “Batman vs. Robin” stands alongside the better efforts of Warner Bros. / DC’s direct-to-video animated endeavors.

While I’d argue that Grant Morrison’s “Batman vs. Robin” and Scott Snyder’s “Court of Owls” comic stories warrant their own movies, screenwriter J.M. DeMatteis (one of the creators behind the brilliant ‘Justice League International’ comics during the late 80s) does a commendable job tying those stories into a cohesive story.

Bruce Wayne/Batman (Jason O’Mara) is still getting used to the newest addition to his Bat family — his recently discovered son Damian (Stuart Allan). Unlike his other young protégés (read: Robins), Damian was raised by The League of Assassins and his more violent tendencies frequently puts him at odd with Batman’s philosophy of ‘justice, not vengeance.’

The two also clash over Bruce’s reservations over introducing his newly found son, not even to his girlfriend Samantha (Grey Griffin). The combination of these factors gradually lead to Damian feeling trapped within the walls of Wayne Manor when not out on assignment. Batman and Robin’s bond is further tested by the arrival of Talon (Jeremy Sisto), a vigilante willing to go to greater extremes than Batman and wants Robin to be his new partner. As Robin considers the offer, Batman learns that a childhood legend of the clandestine Court of Owls and their assassins – the Talons – may be real and could be hatching a plot to eliminate him.

The film is steered by the assured hands of direct-to-video master helmer, Jay Olivia (“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1”, “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2”, “Justice League: War”, “Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox”) – who along with another crackerjack direct-to-video creator, Ethan Spaulding, is keeping the flag flying at full mast in the DC animated universe. As anyone who’s familiar with Olivia’s prior action/animated classics would expect, “Batman vs. Robin” skews a bit violent — get used to a lot of gratuitous blood sprays — but the man also knows how to stage fluid, easy-to-follow, and extremely realistic action scenes even with multiple combatants. Like the comics, the Talons prove an actual threat to Batman. Olivia even works in a newer Bat accessory in a pivotal fan-pleasing scene.

There are just a few minor problems that hold the movie back from being in the top tier of Warner Bros. / DC’s Home Entertainment productions. My biggest gripe is the shoddy treatment of Nightwing (Sean Maher), who is constantly made to look inferior to both Damian and the Owls in combat. Granted the film isn’t called Nightwing vs. Robin, but making the original Robin more competent would make everyone else look like elite fighters as opposed to Nightwing being the weak link. As a nice nod to Morrison’s storyline where Nightwing assumes the role of Batman and teams with Damian, DeMatties and Oliva give them a few scenes to play up on their relationship.

Additionally, DeMatties and Oliva initially set up a good mystery about the Court’s leader, but the payoff is a bit too Scooby Doo- esque as the evil top dog is the only other major character introduced. Talon’s character model is also too fashion-savvy to be in sync with Sisto’s outstanding voice work.

“Batman vs. Robin” is sure to entertain you regardless of whether you’re an old-school Batman follower, an ardent fan who’s up-to-date with all the latest development in the caped crusader’s comic arcs, a causal follower of a few highly interesting comic issues (more of the graphic novel kind), just someone who’s kept abreast with Batman’s celluloid renditions, or just a thrill-seeking fan of action movies.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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