Sunday, July 29, 2012

Summer Movie Review - The Dark Knight Rises

Even though The Dark Knight Rises has been in theaters over a week now, the Sector still had to offer up an opinion on what is now the final installment in this version of Batman.  Director Christopher Nolan envisioned his idea of the Dark Knight over 10 years ago when the character was on life support thanks in partly to the royal crapfest that was Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin.  From molded nipples on the Batsuit to George Clooney’s wrecking of the iconic superhero, Warner Brothers came within a Bat’s short and curly hair away from ending the franchise.  Luckily the suits at Warners decided they needed to go in the opposite direction from the Burton/Schumacher era into the more “real” world Nolan was offering.

Nolan’s first film in the series was Batman Begins in 2005 which became a huge success both critically and financially and set into motion what would become the judging barometer of superhero films to follow.  With the initial success of Batman Begins, Nolan followed up three years later with The Dark Knight in 2008.  Rarely a sequel to a film enjoys greater success than its predecessor; The Dark Knight has grossed well over a billion dollars and earned the late Heath Ledger an Academy Award for his portrayal of Batman’s arch-nemesis, The Joker.  It also set the bar so high for Christopher Nolan, that whichever road he decided to take to end his trilogy would be wrought with some controversy, excitement and disappointments; and make no mistake about it – The Dark Knight Rises – is all of that and then some. 

If you haven’t seen this movie yet and don’t want to be spoiled – then this is your last and only warning.

The Dark Knight Rises takes place about 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight where Batman with Commissioner Gordon’s acquiescence, takes the fall for the death of Harvey Dent to cover up the villainous actions by the former respected Gotham District Attorney thus keeping Gotham’s citizens from losing hope in the true system of law and order.  Well according to the film the ruse was a success as helped to create the Dent Law – a nod to the Patriot Act? – which in essence, helped to eliminate mob control over Gotham.  But as Bane actually says to Batman in the film, 

“Victory has made you weak.”

Gotham is now relatively crime free and Bruce Wayne has hung up the cape and feeling the years of physical abuse of his body.  The man is a virtual mess with cartilage loss just about everywhere, concussion damage to the brain and who knows what else but it’s his damage to his soul that is far more difficult to repair.  It seems that Nolan has placed Bruce Wayne in a world that no longer needs him but it’s the fight that Wayne only knew and fed off of and has now left him a Howard Hughes type.

I see the parallels between pre and post 9-11 in regards to the Dent/Patriot Act and how the success of becoming secure can create a false sense of calm and self-congratulating.   It also reminded me of the line from The Dark Knight where Dent says, “Either you die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”  Regardless Nolan has done something that probably makes most fanboys annoyed – he makes Bruce Wayne human with all the failings that come with it.  In the comics, Batman would never sulk, or hang up the cape or tire out or become so distraught with the loss of the love of his life to retire.  He’s everlasting in every regards.  Well, in order to create a relatable version of the story Nolan had to show this.  I have no issues with it.  

Even when Alfred admits to Bruce that he destroyed the letter Rachel gave him in The Dark Knight.  The letter which said she was in love with Dent and wanted to spend her life with him.  Alfred decides to leave Bruce because he feels that he’s simply wanting back in the game to kill himself; I can feel how difficult it would be to leave someone you love because you felt it was the only way to save them from themselves.  It also illustrates how the theme of keeping lies for the sake of others always ends up costing in the end.

The character of Bane played by Tom Hardy, had to be the hardest role to play since he had the ghost of Heath Ledger’s incredible performance looming over his head.  Hardy wasn’t horrible by any means but was nowhere near as mesmerizing as Ledger’s Joker and essentially his Bane character was simply the junk yard dog to the real villain in the film.  I had issue with his odd muffled British voice and in fact my cousin reminded me it sounded like Darrell Hammond’s Sean Connery from SNL.  That was weird.  Bane comes to Gotham to finish what Ra’s Al Ghul didn’t in the first film. 

Nolan once again mixed canon with creative license by insinuating that Bane was the son of Liam Neeson’s Ra’s Al Ghul from The Dark Knight, causing fanboys to have meltdowns in their seats.  It did make for a somewhat interesting if not predictable plot point towards the end involving another character who actually is related to Al Ghul.  Another sore point for me was when Bane actually picks Batman up and what seemingly looks like he’s breaking his back, as in the Knightfall comic series. It was at that point in the film where I became disillusioned and felt Nolan was trying to squeeze too many ideas into a 2 and a half plus hour movie.  I guess you can take the movie out of the big studious but you can’t take the suits out of the big movie.

After Bane sorta snaps the Bats back he then kidnaps him, finds time to fly to some remote part of the world, and places Bruce in the prison he spent time in – you know so he can set up a flat screen in his cell so he can watch on CNN as he blows up Gotham.  By the way did I forget to mention that Bane has a nuclear device that’s ready to go cablooey hidden by his people in Gotham.  Did I also forget to mention that one of Bruce’s cell mates pops one of his vertebrae back into place and just a few weeks later, he’s up and ready to rock?  I kid you not it pays to have a chiropractor as your cell mate.  Yeah this part of the film really had me wondering if the writers just said, screw it, its Batman we’re gonna make bajillions anyway.  Really Nolan is this how you want this to end?  Come on.

I wasn’t taken aback by Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle.  In Nolan’s “real” world she’s never referred to as Catwoman, which is fine – she is by default obviously.  Her motivations didn’t explain how it ended with her and Bruce at the cafĂ© and without spoiling it much further, there was just no reason for her to be with him anymore.  A bright spot however in the film was Joseph Gordon Leavitt’s character of police officer John Blake.  Again I won’t totally spoil it for you but yes, he’s who you’re thinking he is and at the end you’ll get the idea and how overarching the studios influence must have been here. 

I kinda get it.  It definitely leaves the door open at least conceptually if the studio wants to continue with these characters but with a different director at the helm.  I tell you what though, it flies in the face of what everything Christopher Nolan said about this being a definitive end to “his” trilogy.  Perhaps he was just being coy, he did say “HIS” trilogy.   The Dark Knight Rises wasn’t a bad film.  It was just an unfortunate victim of its predecessors success; A familiar theme throughout.

Overall the Sector gives The Dark Knight Rises 2.5 out of 4 stars.   

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Summer Movie Review - The Amazing Spiderman

We should just get this out of the way but I have been of the mindset that the Marvel/Sony reboot of the Spiderman franchise was done too soon and all about merchandising.  Both I believe are still true but after seeing The Amazing Spiderman  I have to admit, it doesn’t bother me as much as it once did.  I know this is going to hurt all the die-hard fan boys out there who view Sam Raimi’s Spidey trilogy as the Citizen Kane of superhero flicks but as enjoyable as those films were, they weren’t without their own flaws.  I do get it; Sam Raimi set the bar pretty damn high.  Marc Webb with his take on this classic character pole vaulted it Olympic style and I’m pretty sure soiling the Russian judge’s underoos along the way.

When I first heard that the director, Marc Webb, was going to take a “darker” more intense look at the character I immediately went into eye-roll mode.  Here we go another “dark” superhero movie dripping in angst and then somewhere along the way I found out that Peter Parker would be this brooding, hoodie wearing, teen struggling with the weight of the world on his shoulders – bearing it all on Facebook with witty quotes of course.  All I could see in my mind’s eye was a total screw job by the studios with the suits deciding Spiderman meets Twilight.  Just what we need an Emo Spiderman.  This was my first mistake.

Webb took a bit of artistic license with the backstory of Spiderman and for some of the die-hards that’s totally sacrosanct.  I’m not going to say they’re off base because if Spidey’s your guy and you’ve enjoyed the history of the character, this movie does change things completely but trust me in a good way.  I feel it will be revealed over however many sequels the studio can squeeze out of this version but it should be interesting.  In this version Peter Parker’s parents are missing (or are they?) and have close ties to Oscorp – the company founded by Norman Osborn who in the comics became Spiderman’s arch-enemy the Green Goblin. 

Instead of feeling betrayed by that change I think it’s enhanced this story in ways Sam Raimi’s didn’t in terms of Peter’s father/son relationship, which was never really touched on.  It opens up a whole new level of emotions that you’ll see throughout the film as Andrew Garfield who plays the Parker/Spiderman role flawlessly.  As much as I enjoyed Tobey Maguire’s take on the character he never did physically come across as the wall crawler to me.  Garfield is physically gangly, embodying the lean look that was made famous in the comic book.  If The Social Network introduced us to Andrew Garfield, The Amazing Spiderman will make us not forget him any time soon. 

Peter’s love interest in this film isn’t Mary Jane Watson, made famous by Kirsten Dunst in the Raimi films.  Instead we have Gwen Stacy played very nicely by Emma Stone.  Now for those of you who DO know the history of Spiderman, Gwen was Peter’s first love and was killed by none other than Norman Osborn.   I totally see where Webb is going with this and I have to say I’m impressed.  He’s absolutely building an emotional crescendo with – I hope – a huge payoff in the end.  I’ll get into that a bit later but as someone who wasn’t a fan of Miss Dunst’ sometimes annoyingly clueless attitude, the writers of the Amazing Spiderman, James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Cloves have begun to weave a solid story with fantastic character dialogue that will OVER TIME connect with everyone.  Again, I’ll get into that later…patience.

Rhys Ifans plays the dual role of mentor and adversary to Parker as Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard.  It seems Connor’s and Peter’s father, Richard,  were colleagues at Oscorp, researching ways to combine human and animal DNA to find cures for diseases, etc.  It looks as if Webb is going down the Island of Doctor Moreau road when it comes to supplying enemies for Spiderman.  Some of Spidey’s enemies from the comics were The Vulture and Rhino.  Can we say potential sequel villain?  Ifans does the role justice and the CGI to create the Lizard wasn’t as horrible as many had been saying leading up to the film. 

Speaking of CG I can now see how incredibly different it is when a film relies heavily on CGI as the Raimi films did and how this film opted for more realistic action scenes that required real people doing stunts the old fashioned way.   Sometimes less is more and filmmakers like Webb and Christopher Nolan who decry the use of CGI should be modeled after.  The CGI in The Amazing Spiderman flowed perfectly and wasn’t overdone, making for a more “real” look and feel to the film.  Having just seen the Raimi films on FX recently, I could point out the differences easily.  The idea of doing things digitally just because you can is quickly losing steam in Hollywood.  Sorry George “Jar-Jar” Lucas. 

Overall this was one of the finest superhero origin based movies I’ve seen.  In spite of the deviations from canon, which if handled by the writers properly, will make for at least 2 more really solid sequels that will give the audience a real sense of who Peter Parker really is.  What I alluded to earlier was in regards to the writing and if you’re going to see this film, just listen and watch the relationship Peter and Gwen have throughout.   If Mary Jane is Peter’s true love and Gwen does actually meet the same fate as she did in the comic, then this film was what Casino Royale was to James Bond.  Peter has to know loss beyond that of his parents to know love and I have a feeling that’s where this is headed over time.  Time is the key to these types of films and it seems the studios are finally learning that they don’t have to cram every single idea and emotion into a two hour block.  Doing so only cheapens the payoff – if any – for the audience. 
The Sector gives The Amazing Spiderman 3 out of 4 stars.