Friday, July 20, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

Like many of you, I get caught up in the excitement around franchises.  As a kid, I loved watching Batman: The Animated Series as it aired when I came home from school.  Not to date myself further, I actually liked Batman Forever as well.  The franchise was reinvented, on the heels of Spiderman, X-men and Superman.  I’m sad to say the best in this series was the second movie, The Dark Knight, and there is no other way around it.  There may be SPOILERS ahead, so read at your own risk.

I bought tickets for the trilogy last night, hunkering down at six for the first movie.  As the credits rolled, I turned to my friend Lay and said, ‘I don’t remember any of this.’  Batman Begins was released in 2005, though it seemed far more dated.  The first movie introduced the audience to a newer Batman with the same origin story as the original.  Christian Bale playing troubled Bruce Wayne as he seeks to make people safe by dressing up in a costume and beating people to a pulp with his bare hands.  Not a wholly sound character, but the deep flaws make the movie that much more compelling.  Seeing Batman Begins and The Dark Knight back-to-back did lend me to this true epiphany, I thought Katie Holmes was the better of the two female leads, but if your choices are her and Maggie Gyllenhaal, this really isn’t a fair competition for either of them.  This reminds me of an episode of Family Guy about both Jake and Maggie being insufferable, but it could be my limited lucidity over less than three hours of sleep.

The synopsis of Batman Begins is only relevant because the third movie ties the story together, but in all honesty, only ties the first and third movies together, glossing over the second movie almost entirely.  The critical piece to remember is the main villain, Ra's al Ghul was killed at the end of the first movie, but there is more to the story he told Bruce Wayne about what he’d lost and sent him down the path that he was on with his League of Shadows.  There are also a few cameos of characters from the first movie that are nice to see in the second and third.

In the second movie, by far the strongest of the three, we meet Joker, Batman’s greatest adversary.  What makes Joker such a great challenge is his lack of balance, in short, his insanity.  Joker has no rules and doesn’t want to make money, but kill everything in his path.  The Dark Knight came out several years ago and why this wasn’t the third in the series still baffles me.  Heath Ledger went to a great dark place within himself and to have an encore to his actions that pales in comparison is a disservice.  I won’t go into any detail summarising this movie, there should be no need.

The final instalment did what I call the ‘superhero flaw’ for movies.  In the first two movies, there were two villains for our hero to contend with, in this final set piece, we have four.  This is a testament, to me, that more doesn’t actually mean better.  Rest assured, the movie started late, and when a two hour and forty minute movie starts late, with twenty minutes of forgettable previews, the expectations grow tauter.  The story begins several years after The Dark Knight, placing Batman in hiding, as well as his alter ego Bruce Wayne.  Gotham City has been cleaned up, crime a memory.  Word begins to travel that a new ‘bad guy’ is running around, Bane.  Bane is ruthless, young and wears a crazy mask.  He also talks in a South African accent despite Bane’s original origin story setting him in South America.  He is seemingly working for ‘John’ Dagget, though in the comics, his name is Roland, it took me forever to figure out what was wrong with his name.  Bane comes to Gotham under the guise of assisting Dagget in taking over Wayne enterprises.  With the help of Selina Kyle, Catwoman, Bane gets Wayne’s fingerprints and they destroy his estate, losing all of his money.  Alfred walks out on him once he realises that Bruce, in his hampered state, expects to challenge Bane.  Catwoman walks him right into the trap and Bane, as he does in the comic, breaks Batman’s back.  He whisks Wayne to a prison halfway across the world, one he can’t easily escape from.

As my friend pointed out, for more than an hour, there was no Batman in the Batman movie.  I can appreciate the need for solid storytelling, but I sometimes struggle with this as many Twilight fans did with New Moon where there was no Edward for the majority of the story.  The advantage Batman has, other than superior writing is the fact that the movie was so long that you may not notice Batman missing for a third of it.

The story unfolds in predictable fashion here and I don’t want to continue to spoil the movie if I can help it.  Needless to say, Bruce once again overcomes his fears and returns to Gotham when it has been turned into a war zone.  Bane has trapped most of the police department and put the rich on trial, sending them to their deaths to cross the frozen river or be shot.

What started out as a manageable story begins bloated and uninteresting after a few hours.  The plethora of villains makes the movie busier than it needs to be.  And with more bad guys comes more good ones as well.  The cast has a good mix of good and bad, but there is little that makes any of it compelling.  A sub-plot with Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Blake is almost laughable as the story comes to a close.

I want to say I’m an unbiased party, that I came in expecting a good movie, but I didn’t.  After The Dark Knight, I expected to be blown away, not bored at varying points of the movie.  It is a good movie, don’t get me wrong, and I will give credit where it is due, both Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy are fantastic additions to the cast, but Christian Bale has long run out of any leeway from me.  The gravelly voice is also a joke and his characterisations of Wayne are more of a caricature than a representation.  Kevin Conroy, the voice actor for Batman for the past twenty years, emotes more with just his voice than Bale does with his entire body.  Even the always reliable Gary Oldman and Michael Caine aren’t nearly up to their normally high level of acting.

The only thing I can take away from this movie is disappointment.  When you wait a series out, as we fans have done with so many series, I find myself expecting more and more and more, and often times there is less and less.  On the whole, it wasn’t a bad movie, but as a viewer, an educated one about this genre, I feel more troubled by the incessant changes and additions they made instead of seeing the story for what it was.  If you distract so heavily from the source material, as David Yates does in the final Potter movies, fans often come away with mixed feelings, as I do now.  As a midnight movie, it wasn’t a bad choice, but looking back, the past three I’ve been to have all been movies that disappointed me.  And if you read this blog, you know I’ve raved about other movies, and much of it is tied up in expectation, but that isn’t all of it.  The Dark Knight Rises deserves it’s lacklustre reviews because it isn’t the blockbuster that should have followed The Dark Knight, and that is a shame.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Movie Review: The Amazing Spiderman

I think it would be pointless to rehash the Spiderman story, it isn’t new, thanks to Toby Maguire and company.  It’s hard to also get that bad taste out of your mouth after watching the third entry of the series, but I went ahead and said, for $6, I think I can commit.  Was I disappointed?  Of course, I’m a comic book geek (there, I’ve admitted it).  Was I surprised at being disappointed?  Not in the least.  Spiderman is one of the few comics that truly belongs in animated form or in a comic, the on-screen version never turns out like the comic, never, and not based on special effects.

In the newest entry of Spiderman, arguably the original was the one that started the great comic book craze, the cast is totally redone and the story is recreated.  There is no tie to the original save for the stayed and true appearance of Stan Lee.  As a comic fan, I have to stop and comment on the lack of Steve Ditko, who is the co-creator of the series.  He and Lee had a falling out years ago and while I’ve no doubt he makes money off the series, is never given the credit he deserves.  Anyway, in place of the occasionally talented Toby Maguire enters Andrew Garfield, to me, little known British actor who apparently has a feud with Robert Pattinson, can’t imagine why.  Opposite Garfield is the adorable Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy, previously played for three seconds by Bryce Dallas Howard in the 3rd Spiderman movie.  His aunt and uncle were played by Sally Field and Charlie Sheen, both fantastic as Aunt Mae and Uncle Ben.

Casting aside, nothing new is seen in this version of Spiderman.  Peter loses his parents at an early age, grows up with his aunt and uncle, gets bullied in school and gets bitten by a spider that magically transforms him into a superhero.  He watches his uncle die and then decides to be a crime fighter.  Where Garfield excels is where Maguire failed, the comedic timing of Spiderman.  Peter Parker always made jokes, Toby Maguire isn’t funny and wouldn’t know funny if his life depended on it.  Garfield had a way of delivering lines that made them as entertaining as Parker makes them in the comic.  But that is the last advancement to Spiderman that fans can expect from Garfield.  He has the same lost look and sad eyes that Maguire mastered long before and delivers his action in the same metered way Maguire did.  It all seemed very orchestrated, and I know it is, but I shouldn’t be able to notice that.

The rest of the story revolved around the story of Dr. Curt Connors, the man who turns himself into the Lizard.  He reveals nothing to Peter of the truth of his relationship with Peter’s father, but finds the variables to growing his arm back, and in so doing, transforms himself into a crazed half-man, half-lizard, bent on turning NYC into ground zero for lizards.  Of course, Spiderman stops him, but at the cost of Gwen Stacy’s father, Captain Stacy of the NYPD played by Denis Leary.

The movie was about what I expected.  Garfield was passable as Spiderman/Peter Parker, the rest of the cast fell into place in their supporting roles.  Truth be told, the ‘adults’ of the cast were great, the kids, Garfield and Stone were somewhat mediocre in comparison.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved Emma Stone in Easy A, but her version of Gwen Stacy wasn’t great, but just good.  There were quite a few scenes where Gwen should be anything but funny, but Stone is just too funny for her own good and didn’t seem to get serious much, if at all.  I thought she could have, but pulled away from it.

As I said before, for $6, this is worth seeing, but otherwise it isn’t a ‘stop what you’re doing to see’ movie.  I had hoped it would be better, bring a fresh take to this overdone series, but it didn’t.  If anything, it makes me miss the Ultimate Spiderman reboot done about ten years ago by revered comic scribe Brian Michael Bendis, if you don’t know him, shame on you.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hina's Bucket List

This is really just a first draft, but some of you asked about this, so here we go.  Some items on the list are not for the public.

  2. Be an expert at something
  3. Be nice
  4. Lose weight and keep it off
  5. Meet more characters in costume
  6. Be a character in a costume
  7. Own an adult car (read boring or possibly a Volvo)
  8. Meet someone nice
  9. Meet someone who actually likes me for who I am and not what I can do for them
  10. Be treated like I matter by people I care about
  11. Have my wedding where I want it, not where everyone else wants it
  12. Be the bigger person
  13. Watch the Capitals and Nationals win a championship
  14. Do something both dangerous and stupid and live to talk about it
  15. Learn how to paint or draw
  16. Re-learn Russian
  17. Learn French or German
  18. ‘Get’ religion
  19. Run a half marathon and full marathon
  20. Finish all the video games I own
  21. Read all the books in my queue
  22. Stop selling on ebay/online
  23. Visit all the ballparks and hockey stadiums in one season
  24. Attend a Superbowl
  25. Attend a World Series game
  26. Attend a Stanley Cup Finals game
  27. Travel more (here and abroad)
  28. Travel by train somewhere
  29. Visit the official/original Planet Snoopy in Cedar Point
  30. Visit Charles Schulz’ Museum
  31. Live abroad for at least one year
  32. Attend the San Diego Comic Con
  33. Attend E3