Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

Back when they first announced the sequel to The Dark Knight was to be titled The Dark Knight Rises, I thought that was just a working title. It just didn’t have pizzazz or that something that was going tell you the next movie was going to kick ass. It was only an extra word added to the 2008 movie’s title. I figured in coming months, they’d announce a new title and say, “ha-ha, we fooled you…we weren’t going to name it The Dark Knight Rises!”

But they didn’t make such an announcement.

My next thought was that this was, in actuality, Batman 3. And it got me thinking: Most part three movies suck! I mean, look at Superman III…and Halloween III (although, I do like that movie)…and Jaws 3…and Godfather III…and most recently, Spider-Man 3. It’s almost a given that all part three films always bite the big one.

To top it off, I started thinking about the trailers I had seen for The Dark Knight Rises. None of them were anything spectacular that made me get up out of my seat and shout, “I can’t wait for this movie!”

So, with all that in mind, I wasn’t in a hurry to see this film.

But I found myself, the other day, in a need to get my pick-up an oil change. My wife actually said, “Why don’t you take it to Sears at the mall and go see a movie while you wait for it?” So that’s when I decided, half-heartedly, to go see The Dark Knight Rises.

Let’s start with the story.

It’s been eight years since the events from The Dark Knight. The Harvey Dent Act was passed to help get criminals off the street and Gotham City is a much better place to live, striving almost perfectly. However, a new villain is coming to terrorize Gotham, named Bane (played by Tom Hardy), who is an unstoppable force and a former member of the League of Shadows. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has made himself a recluse after giving up being Batman and because of it, his body has deteriorated as he walks around his mansion, in hiding, using a cane. Also on the prowl is a cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who is only looking to clear her record and start over with a clean slate.

Without giving too much away, and keep the first half of this review spoiler-free, I’ll talk about the performances of the actors.

Christian Bale, at the beginning, seems a little out of sorts with his characterization of Bruce Wayne. But once the movie gets moving along, he seems to fine tune it and get right back into character. As Batman, however, he appears to slip right into character as if he’d never left it.

Michael Caine also returns as Alfred, and he’s amazing as Bruce Wayne’s trusted butler, but he’s only in the movie for a short amount of time.

Gary Oldman is back again as Commissioner Gordon. Oldman’s performance is good, but not as commanding as it was in the first two movies.

Morgan Freeman, back as Lucius Fox, brings back that lightheartedness from the first two movies, which is good to have that levity in such a heavy-handed comic book movie such as in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films.

As I get into this review, I’ll mention some other noteworthy performances by the other actors.

I guess I’ll get into what I liked about this film first, and then talk about what I didn’t like.

The score was awesome. Hans Zimmer kept up the movie’s intensity and amped up the action scenes as well as the dramatic themes perfectly. Although it’s more or less the same cues we’ve heard before, he still didn’t disappoint or veer off with something totally different that didn’t fit the film.

When Batman makes his first appearance, I loved it. Showing up on the Bat Pod to go after all of Bane’s cronies on their motorcycles was an awesome scene, especially the brief comedic scene involving the overzealous rookie cop who shoots at him.

Tom Hardy’s Bane is pretty powerful in this film. He definitely shows it in his performance that his character is Batman’s toughest challenge yet. The only complaint I have, while not Hardy’s fault, is his voice. But that can be discussed later. Without the issue with the voice, Tom Hardy as Bane was a force to be reckoned with. When I first heard Tom Hardy was going to play Bane, I didn’t think it would work. But I was wrong!

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Officer-turned-Detective Blake was probably the stand-off of this film. He is such a great young actor; it’s hard to believe he’s the kid from TV’s Third Rock From the Sun. Although I didn’t like where his character went at the end of this flick, his performance deserves an award for this movie.

Lastly, the most bad-ass part from the film is…The Bat. The new vehicle featured in The Dark Knight Rises is simply called "The Bat." Once you see this thing unveiled in the movie, it’ll give you goose bumps.

Now, for the things I didn’t like in the movie, I have to give you ample warning…there will be spoilers…so don’t say I didn’t warn you. I’ll even feature a cool spoiler logo here.
Okay, so first and foremost, the one thing that bothered me throughout the whole movie was Bane’s voice. I know…I know…that’s the complaint everybody’s talking about, but I’m sorry…it bothered me and took me out of the movie each and every time he spoke. I just found it a little too amplified, like it was coming out of some electronic device. The thought of Darth Vader kept coming to my head every time he spoke. It was a good, realistic choice to have him needing the mask to feed him anesthesia, rather than having him wear a mask for no reason. Equally an excellent choice to not include the comic book rendition of having tubes feeding steroids into his body to bulk himself up at whim. But, bottom line, that voice threw me for a loop.

I know we couldn’t have Bruce Wayne recuperate too quickly after Bane disposes of him earlier in the film, but when he’s stuck in that remote prison after Gotham’s destroyed, it’s such a long drawn out and boring part of the movie. All we see is Bruce trying to escape and fail, then we see how desolate Gotham became after it was destroyed, then back to Bruce in the prison trying to escape and fail, then back to Gotham…it had me looking at my watch a few times.

As for the first showdown between Batman and Bane…that was colossal! Ending nearly the same way as it did in DC's Batman "Knightfall" comic book series was so cool, but the follow-up or rematch between the two near the end of the movie started off awesome, but ended unsatisfyingly. Though I liked the unexpected twist that Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) was really Talia Al Ghul, daughter of Ras Al Ghul, and how she stopped Batman from subduing Bane, it was very unsatisfying that Batman was essentially saved by Catwoman. Basically, if Catwoman didn’t show up, Bane would’ve probably killed Batman. So we never get the redeeming triumph of Batman over Bane.

Finally, my last complaint would be about Detective Blake and where his character ended up at the end. Since Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan said there would be no Robin featured in these films. So why does Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character set up to be Robin at the end of the film? And if that’s the case, why the name change? The first Robin was named Dick Grayson, not Robin! Yeah, we find out, when Detective Blake goes to pick up some belongings he had, he reveals his real first name—a name he doesn’t go by—is Robin! What???!!!

I know trying to make a better film than the previous one, The Dark Knight, would be impossible, so I can’t fault Christopher Nolan for that, but this film, as a whole, didn’t seem as epic as the aforementioned film. Seems like they tried to make it ambitious and grand, but instead, it seemed choppy and didn’t flow as well.

But don’t get me wrong, this film was very enjoyable and is a good close to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy; I just think it could’ve been better. If I had to compare it to The Amazing Spider-Man, it’s hands-down a way better film. Compared to most part threes in film history, I’d say this was a good effort. I’ll definitely add this to my Blu-Ray shelf when it’s released later this year—a claim I can’t say about The Amazing Spider-Man (are you seeing a trend here?).

My final “bit” on The Dark Knight Rises?

Overall, this movie is solid, with great performances throughout. If you’re not a Batman comic book fan, you probably won’t see anything wrong with this outing. I’m not that big a fan of the comic book (I’ve always been a Marvel Comics fan over DC), but I know a little bit about the characters portrayed in this film, so that’s why a lot of things bothered me. But I enjoyed and, for the most part, was satisfied with the ending. It left room for more sequels, if Warner Bros. goes that route. But, more than likely, the franchise will be rebooted yet again. I’d say, go to your local movie theater, buy a tub of popcorn and a soda, sit down, turn off your brain, and enjoy a good Batman movie!

You can reach me on Twitter: @Just CallMeManny.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

Well, what can I say about The Amazing Spider-Man besides the obvious complaints everyone else has been moaning about?  Am I going to say this reboot/remake was unnecessary?  Of course.  Am I going to compare it to the three films by Sam Raimi?  You can count on it.  Will I give it a fair review?  Without a doubt.

Let’s start by how this film was marketed, shall we?  In many of the teasers shown, whether as a trailer before a feature film or a TV spot, it’s said to be the untold story of Spider-Man.  Well, after viewing the film, in a nutshell, it’s the story of Peter Parker being bitten by a spider and gaining the abilities of said spider, and having to go up against a villain who is transformed into a monster.  What’s untold about that?  Sam Raimi did that in 2002, a short ten years ago!  It’s been told!

Okay, I’ll save the rest of my gripes for the review, so let’s get into the film.

I guess the untold tale would be how this film starts, showing Peter’s parents (Campbell Scott and Embeth Davidtz) and how they had to suddenly leave their son behind with his aunt and uncle (Sally Field and Martin Sheen).  It seems that Peter’s father, Richard Parker, was some intelligent scientist who had some research that other people were very interested in—so much so that they ransacked the Parkers’ home to find it.  From then on, the story continues just as it did in Raimi’s 2002 classic, with Peter (Andrew Garfield) dealing with his life as a nerd in school until he finds his father’s old briefcase in the basement.  He discovers a tie to Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) and the work they had been researching, so Peter goes to the doctor to search for answers.  Meanwhile, Peter’s love interest, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), seems to be stuck in the story for no apparent reason than to make it easy for Peter to meet Dr. Connors and to have a tie with Captain Stacy (Denis Leary).

Now, I don’t want to get into spoiler territory (there isn’t much to spoil anyway), but there is so much in this film that made me angry that it’s hard to put into words.

Let’s start with the suit.  Why did it have to be modified?  The suit in Raimi’s movies was not exactly like the suit in the comic books, but it was close enough to the classic look.  Why change it?  If the filmmakers did their homework, they’d know that many times Marvel worked in a new look every once and a while, only to change it back after fans complained.  What’s with the built-in sneakers?  And the suit, at times, didn’t fit Garfield’s frame right.  The suit in Raimi’s films fit perfectly all the time.

Going from organic web-shooters to mechanical…why?  I guess I know the answer to this.  The comics have Spider-Man using mechanical web-shooters that Peter created and a lot of fans the first time around complained when they went with the webs shooting naturally out of Peter’s wrists.  But that made sense (in a fantasy world kind of way).  If a person is going to have the abilities of a spider, why wouldn’t he gain the capability to shoot webs as well?

Now, as for Peter’s abilities, there doesn’t seem to be a seamless continuity.  At times, he’s not able to control his spider abilities, but sometimes it’s no problem.

During the first part of the film, after he gains his spider powers, Peter makes it his mission to find a wanted man who has a tattoo of a star on his left wrist.  This leads to a ridiculous part of the movie that left me shaking my head.  He finds a guy fitting the description of the wanted man.  Turns out it wasn’t the guy, but he roughs him up a bit until, all of a sudden, a bunch of thugs start showing up.  I don’t know where all these guys were before, but they start coming around dark corners, from another side of a fence that Peter tries to go over to get away, and out through doors of a building a few stories up!  That scene left me saying “what the fuck?”

With all that aside, let’s talk about the powers Peter gained and his web-shooters.  First off, I guess I don’t have too big of a problem with how he had gotten his powers.  In the comic book, he was bitten by a radioactive spider; in this flick, he was bitten by a mutated one.  Whether it was on his neck or hand—it doesn’t matter.  What I have a little problem with is how he developed his web-shooters and the webbing.  He basically steals (!) the webbing from Oscorp, but develops the shooter.

What’s with Spider-Man divulging his identity so easily to everybody?  He’s trying to save a kid and takes off his mask, he just meets Gwen Stacy and shoots his web to move her close to him, Captain Stacy has his gun trained on him and he turns around (already unmasked) instead of jumping away.  It’s even apparent that Aunt May knows what’s going on!  None of this would ever happen in the comics!

Also, “bullet time” has been used to death in nearly every action movie released since The Matrix trilogy, and it’s disappeared in the last five years or so.  But, hey, let’s use it tiredly one last time here in The Amazing Spider-Man.

One last thing: it was a cute thing for filmmakers to add a scene after the movie ended and a few credits rolled, but it usually made sense or gave us a wink.  Bullseye gave us a last shot, showing us he was still alive at the end of Dare Devil.  The same thing happened inWolverine when we saw Deadpool at the end.  And all the movies (Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America) leading up to The Avengers had a purpose.  But this scene after a few credits at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man was stupid.  There was no clue as to who it could be or what was going on…it was simply a meaningless tag-on to the movie just to copy what all these other comic book movies are doing.

What’s my final “bit” on The Amazing Spider-Man?  The movie is a thorough retread of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man, totally not needed and a waste of time.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some good action scenes and some interesting things along the way…but again, it’s all been-there-done-that material.  Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone and Rhys Ifans all turn in good performances, albeit with the material they have to work with, but that’s not saying much.  I saw it in 3D and, looking back, I don’t know why it was shot in 3D because nothing stood out.  Unless you’re a diehard Spider-Man fan, skip this flick until it’s available for rental, because there’s definitely nothing new here.  In fact, wait until it shows up on cable TV because I wouldn’t even pay three bucks to rent it.  I can’t believe a sequel has been green-lit already, but that’s the way things go.  To me, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is the best comic book movie ever made and this flick didn’t even come close.  Skip it.

You can reach me on Twitter: @Just CallMeManny.