Thursday, 26 July 2012

The End of an Era

It is only July 22nd, but I think I can happily say that The Dark Knight Rises is my favourite film of 2012, if not the best film of 2012. And yes, I say this remembering that I still have "The Hobbit" to look forward to in Novembr. I just watched "Batman Begins" for the umpteenth time and reminded myself that this trilogy didn't only achieve greatness with "The Dark Knight", this trilogy began and ended with a bang!

In "Batman Begins" we saw the dawning of an intelligent superhero film. What has always made Batman unique and more interesting than almost all other heroes is his total lack of superpowers. We don't have to believe in magic or aliens or science that's so advanced, it's barely even science anymore! Thank you Dan Brown for that inspiring quote. Batman, and indeed all of his enemies and allies, lives in the real world, our world, and Nolan has captured this so perfectly and has reminded us with his franchise what the true essence is of Batman's character, whilst at the same time adapting the hero in a completely new and unique way!

Creating a third and final film which did justice to this legacy was not going to be easy. Only someone as talented and imaginative as Christopher Nolan could achieve it and, boy, did he!

The most appropriate and fitting word to describe this franchise finale I think has to be "epic". Christopher Nolan does epic better than any other director, as we saw with "The Dark Knight" and as he has proved once again with "The Dark Knight Rises". This film isn't without its flaws, there are moments in the plot which may seem somewhat unclear or slightly random, however, these are but small moments in an incredibly thrilling, visually stunning, beautifully performed and almost flawlessly directed film, which will, I believe, go down in history forever as one of the greatest superhero films ever made - a list which "The Dark Knight" could possibly forever top!

(Spoilers coming for "The Dark Knight":) "The Dark Knight Rises" follows on eight years after the end of "The Dark Knight". Gotham City's DA and White Knight, Harvey Dent, aka Two Face is dead and as a tribute to his legacy a law has been enacted, the "Dent Act", which has taken down most of the city's organised crime and created a period of peace or, at the very least, something which seems like peace. To Gotham's misfortune, however, Bane (Tom Hardy) then arrives on the scene to destroy this harmony and bring war back to Gotham. Bruce Wayne, having lived the past eight years in hiding, the ghost of  Wayne Manner, is forced to reemerge as the Batman for one last fight, only this time, it looks like he might not win!

Nolan has created some of the best, most complex and intricate stories of the past decade. This is one of his greatest attributes as a director: "The Dark Knight", "Inception", or even the less well-known "Prestige". He is the master of movie twists and this new superhero triumph is no exception! No character is without motive or depth in this film. This isn't just a comic book romp, but an intelligent, moving film. Furthermore, in all of its 2:44 minutes, I wouldn't name one unnecessary scene or one moment of lull.

So many stories intertwine! The ongoing inner struggle of Bruce Wayne. Most of his loved one's dead, fighting practically alone to save the soul of America's most corrupt city. Such complexity and varied emotions which we experience through Bruce require a skilled actor to portray, one not typical to the super hero genre. Rise up Christian Bale, a method actor and a fantastic one at that. Bale puts his entire self into his roles, risking health and sanity to do so, not unlike the physical and psychological torment Bruce Wayne puts himself through to be the caped crusader. Nolan's casting is careful and very deliberate. He won't just go for a Hollywood name to draw in big crowds, something which really pays off if you want to make a great film.Christian Bale makes so much more sense as the Batman than George Clooney and who else would have cast Heath Ledger as the Joker or put the Brit, Tom Hardy at the centre of 2012's biggest blockbuster!

Bane has his own backstory and a strong mystery surrounding his origins. The second and third Nolan/Batman films almost have to be described as having multiple protagonists, rather than merely the hero dominating centre stage, as is typical in other super films, such as the Spider-Mans and perhaps most obviously in the Iron Mans. In TDK, the Joker is allowed almost as much screen time as Batman and is arguably a far more interesting character. In TDKR, both Bane and the morally ambivalent Catwoman are fleshed out and allowed to develop as people, not merely iconic images.

Bane initially appears to be purely motivated by a dark and corrupt soul, if he even has one! But as the movie develops layers are added and, as always, Nolan proves to have chosen a more interesting Batman villain that merely going for one of the obvious ones from the various cartoon series: the Penguin, Mr Freeze (*shudder*). Hardy is a great actor, he exudes force and has an amazing and imposing presence. He dominates a scene and can be terrifying. Yet, despite having bulked up immensely for this part, we can sense as an audience, behind the brutish facade, that there is great intelligence in those eyes and that voice. Bane was never merely a brute in the comics, but a genius and Hardy displays both these characteristics well. That said, I believe towards the end of the film, as Bane becomes less of a central threat, his character and story are side-lined and sacrificed a little and we don't get to finish with him properly. Furthermore, as stated above, there are slight confusions and blurs in his back story, which are mostly deliberate on Nolan's behalf but don't always feel so. Perhaps Nolan has tried to do too much at once?!

That said, I have nothing but praise for Hardy's performance and, indeed, for the other two main characters added to this film: Selina Kyle, aka Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and police officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). Hathaway is so good at being totally sexy and feminine, but also completely bad ass. You don't feel like her amazing body and obvious appeal sacrifice her power and independence. She is a strong female lead! This blend of sexy and super are best depicted when Catwoman uses her high heels to cripple an attacking thug. I kind of wish I was her.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the young, idealistic policeman, who still believes in good overcoming evil and is utterly incorruptible. Commissioner Gordon (the wonderful Gary Oldman) is getting older and a new generation of moral law enforcers are needed to lead the battles he once led. Gordon-Levitt is given a lot of screen time, which I will always support, and makes a potentially boring character cool and someone you can root for! He is so good-looking and yet in a way that can be completely understated and allows for him to be both an appealing lead but also a great character actor. I definitely see him as one of our generation's greatest talents.

One aspect of Nolan's franchise which cannot be faulted is his dedication to fantastic fight scenes. At the end of the day, this is a Batman film and we as an audience don't have to wait patiently until the end for a satisfying punch! So many of the Avenger precursors fell into the boring trap of saving up one big fight for the end - which was often disappointing and brief - and focusing the entire first three quarters of the film on backstory, character building and amusing shenanigans! TDKR has multiple confrontations between Batman and Bane, between Catwoman and various mobsters, between policeman and vigilantes, and between pretty much all of Gotham's citizens at one point or another.

We can always rely on the Dark Knight trilogy for amazing effects and magnificent stunts. In "The Dark Knight" it was the truck flipping over as Batman battled the Joker on the streets of Gotham and in "The Dark Knight Rises" we are not left wanting for brilliant stunts from our actors and our props. The Batmobile alone - not even a Batmobile any more really, but now just called "the Bat" and basically some sort of plane - with its detachable motorcycle is always learning new tricks and always exciting to watch. The well-known trailer clip of the collapsing football field is probably this film's rotating truck, but there are many more amazing feats to rival it. Nolan's imagination is almost unparalleled in cinema. It's worth watching his DVD extras to see him describe how he comes up with these hugely expensive and visually stunning scenes, which often only allow for one take.

The costumes manage to mix the traditional ideas we have of Batman, Catwoman etc, with a modern twist and avoid the camp, spandex-y theme of many of its predecessors. There are no pronounced nipples on Bale's costume! Catwoman's cat ears are goggles and the Batmobile is a military vehicle designed to jump rivers, looking more like a tank than a sleek winged car.

Music and soundtrack are also one of this trilogy's high points. The original score to these films is so iconic now, there is so much to recognise from "The Dark Knight". Every noise in this film, ever piece of music, every chant, every cry, everything is placed carefully to make you feel something specific, to send shivers down your spine, to make you lean forward subconsciously in your seat, to make you grip your armrests in suspense! I do believe, along with films such as "Gladiator" and "The Lord of thee Rings", that the Dark Knight trilogy has one of the best and most emotive soundtracks of any film to date.

All of that said, what truly makes this third and final installment worthy  of concluding one of the film world's greatest franchises is its ending! When awaiting Harry Potter 7, I wasn't sure it was possible for any book to be good enough to satisfy my needs after such a great series. Likewise, I wasn't sure that even Christopher Nolan could make a film to follow "the Dark Knight", let alone both amazing Batman films. However, like with the seventh Harry Potter book, Nolan has achieved this beyond doubt! I don't want to give away any spoilers, that would be beyond cruel, so all I will say is that you will come out of the cinema both sad that such an amazing franchise has ended, but utterly convinced that it couldn't have been given a better send off!

Is this new instalment as good as "The Dark Knight"? Probably not. For me, the main things holding it back are a slightly less sleek plot and, unsurprisingly, the lack of Heath Ledger's unparalleled performance as the Joker. That said, saying TDK Rises isn't as good as TDK is like saying  "Goodfellas" isn't as good as "The Godfather". TDK was cinematic perfection, a film that you don't expect to arrive more than once a decade and "The Dark Knight Rises" is still a cinematic masterpiece and a greater film than 99% of directors will ever achieve. Well done, Chris! I can't wait to see what you do next!

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Film News 15/07/2012

Looks like the new Dragonball Z movie is set to be animated rather than live action, Dragonball Z rather than Dragonball, and with Akira Toriyama himself well involved! All of these points have to be good news and are an encouraging sign that this could actually be a good DBZ movie which will please fans.

Saiyan Island has an article with all the deets so far!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Film News 10/07/12: New Dragonball Movie!!

Shonen Jump is counting down to the official revelation of the new (non-animated) Dragonball movie!

It would appear to be another Dragonball movie, rather than Dragonball Z based, which is a shame, but it also seems to be completely unrelated to 2009's awful "Dragonball Evolution", which, despite the fact that I did enjoy it and will always appreciate an attempt   to bring my favourite TV series to the big screen, was pretty bad it must be said. I'm not sure if this adaptation will be another Western version or if it will come from its home country, Japan, but the official announcement is set for this Saturday, so hopefully much will be revealed then!

This is my face right now: :-D !!! Special thanks to my lovely Sophie who learned of this story and informed me, due to her unrivalled knowledge of the anime world!

Monday, 9 July 2012

Film News 09/07/12

Michael Fassbender, my Liebling, is set to star in the movie adaptation of the popular game, "Assassin's Creed"! I haven't played it myself but I get the general idea and who better to play a dark, troubled, menacing character than Fassbender aka the young Magneto?

For more info see this blastr article!

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Spidey's Webb

This is it, the first of 2012's Great Triumvirate: "The Amazing Spider-Man", "The Dark Knight Rises" and "The Hobbit". OK, I've been corrected, I should say the second of this year's Great... um... Quadrumvirate? Anyway, No.1 was "The Avengers" which did reach all hopes. Not expectations, it exceeded those, but hopes! Anyway, back to the actual topic here, "The Amazing Spider-Man"!

First of all though, what kind of a film comes out on a Tuesday? Who goes to the cinema on a Tuesday? I know Wednesday has it's films, but let's be honest, it's all about Friday. There was a time, not more than a month ago, when I wouldn't have cared about the release date as I didn't have a job and I could go to the cinema whatever day I wanted, ensuring I could see all the important films the day they were released! Alas, not any more! But, again, back to the point, I saw TAS today, something I've been excited about for so long! I'm sure I first heard of this film about two years ago when I discovered that some guy called Mark Webb had cast the nerdy, English, relatively unknown Andrew Garfield as my favourite super hero of all time! Did it reach expectations as "Avengers Assemble" did? I'm not so sure, but it definitely entertained and it definitely did not disappoint!

Starting with the cast, because we all know I LOVE Emma Stone and am hugely fond of Andrew Garfield, this film has done very well, it cannot be denied. Garfield, though approaching 30, is a brilliant choice to play the awkward but intelligent and emotionally complex teenage Spider-Man, or Peter Parker to his friends. One of Spider-Man's strengths as a comic is the character depth and interesting backgrounds of its leads, especially the eponymous hero. In this film especially there is a focus on the absence of Peter's parents and their strange disappearance, leaving him to live with Aunt May and Uncle Ben, two of the Spider-Man universe's most well-known characters. Garfield has to balance some strong emotions and life changes in this film: the loss of his parents; the discovery of a possible clue to why they disappeared ten years after it happened; the fresh loss of another loved one; first love; and to top all this off, intense physical transformations and, as we all know, the great responsibility that comes with great power. This isn't as easy a role to play as one might expect from a super hero franchise. Spider-Man has emotional depth perhaps only matched in comics by DC's Batman. Andrew Garfield has proved time and again that he is a diverse and powerful actor and this performance did not not slip from that. He also has a great charisma and likeabiltiy which I believe is key to Peter Parker and the script has tried hard to stay true to Spider-Man's wise-cracking, humorous side as he arrests car thief after car thief, all delivered very naturally by Garfield.

Emma Stone can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned, though it must be acknowledge that this part is not the most challenging of her career. She's sweet and witty and completely believable as a girl in her late teens despite again being 5 or 6 years older than her character. The chemistry between Stone and Garfield is obvious, probably helped by their real-life relationship (that lucky bastard!). Ifans is another actor who never fails to deliver a stand-out performance. Though I don't believe Curt Connors proved as interesting a villain as the Green Goblin in 2002's "Spider-Man" or Doctor Octopus in 2004's "Spider-Man 2", as a character he is made very three dimensional. An old colleague of Peter's father, Richard Parker, he is a scientist at Oscorp (run by Norman Osbourne, the Green Goblin himself, though not yet in this instalment) who dreams of a human race without weakness and strives to find the cures for human diseases in animal genes. His own personal tragedy, the loss of an arm, is the main force that drives him, and like many of Spider-Man's enemies, he is a well-meaning, gentle man, driven to madness and villainy by horrific events in his life and a lab experiment gone very wrong. When will they learn? After Spidey, these experiments never go right! Ifans masters both the sweet but troubled Curt Connors and the cruel and ambitious Lizard. He is not just a Hollywood actor, he is a real actor with great range and a strong presence and this film is no exception to that. Also, I love Sally Field as Aunt May! She is the perfect mother figure and a genuinely good actress.

The visuals and the graphics are also to be praised. Spider-Man's new outfit is very cool. I've always loved his spandex suit, it's complex and well designed, it looks bad ass despite the fact that he's covered himself in blue and red skin-tight fabric, and it's just practical! Plus his entire face is covered, unlike say Super-Man or the Green Lantern, so we do not have to suspend belief when a family member doesn't recognise him. Where costumes are concerned, I actually believe Webb's film beats Raimi's. Maguire's outfit was very cool, but this new version is darker and looks more like its designed for battle. The Lizard is a formidable looking foe and Ifans' face has been well incorporated into it's lizardy facade. As with the first films, your breath catches in your throat and shivers run down your spine in the scenes where Spidey swings through the great heights of New York City, though I find these scenes too few and far between.

As to plot, I love the detail of the back story which this film provides. Adding the intrigue into Peter's parents is the main aspect which sets this apart from Raimi's films. Luckily this film got its villain right, unlike "Spider-Man 3", whose main flaw is its attempt to fit three complex villains into one plot: Sandman, Green Goblin 2, and Venom. The Lizard is a very interesting character in this film. I believe he is generally one of the stronger Spidey villains, and he has been allocated a strong back story as Spider-Man has. I never understood Raimi's choice of the Sandman in SM3, I've always found him a dull baddy. Furthermore, at no point does this film slow down or bore because it fits so much plot in.  There's a blooming romance; the mystery surrounding Peter's parents; the contentious relationship between Peter and his surrogate parents, May and Ben; the foreboding and invisible presence of Norman Osbourne; all on top of the Spider-Man origin story and then the ongoing battle between Spider-Man and the Lizard. 

That said, I did not enjoy it as much as, or believe it was as good a film as, "Spider-Man" or SM2. Let's pretend 3 didn't happen, shall we? The main reason I love the character of Spider-Man is because I believe he has the best powers and, with good special effects, watching Spidey swing through Manhatten, climb vertical structures, shoot web and just generally do some bad ass gymnastics is all breath-taking and I think this film's main flaw is that, although these were all done brilliantly and the fight with the Lizard in the high school is amazing and thrilling to watch, there isn't enough time dedicated to fights and to Spidey, especially with all the focus on the Peter half of him. This was a great film, just not as great as its forerunners.

Despite this, I thoroughly enjoyed this film, would rate it AT LEAST 8/10 and will be incredibly disappointed if a sequel isn't announced soon. Garfield deserves to be a massive star and this franchise has fantastic potential to keep getting better. If you haven't seen it yet, make sure you wait when the credits start for an extra scene a few minutes in. Gosh, I do love Marvel so!