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RoboCop (2014)

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I must confess to not having seen the original 1987 RoboCop film, so you unfortunately won’t get a comparison of the old to the new here. However, that also means that this is a review from the perspective of someone who watched the movie just to watch the movie rather than to look for comparisons.

RoboCop stars Joel Kinnaman as police detective Alex Murphy, who is nearly killed by a crime boss for getting too close to his business. Thanks to Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton) and Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) of OmniCorp, however, what is left of Murphy is merged with the latest robot technology, making him a lean, mean, crime-fighting machine, as well as saving his wife (Abbie Cornish) and son from having to mourn his death. But things get complicated when the question arises: who is more in control – man or robot?

I actually – surprisingly – enjoyed the film. It wasn’t one that I was particularly looking forward to, but I decided to give it a chance and was pleased with the result. Gary Oldman is the standout performance for me; his character’s internal conflict – do I do what’s ethical or what I’m told to do? – is well-acted and makes us sympathize with him rather than hate him for his actions. Michael Keaton as Raymond Sellers is also great. I haven’t seen Keaton in a true “bad guy” role before, though Sellers isn’t a “villain” in the traditional sense…he just wants money. Joel Kinnaman as the eponymous robotic cop does a decent job as a robot, but I didn’t think he played the human side of the character very well, even at the start of the film when he wasn’t yet part robot. He played the character almost completely emotionless, almost to the point that he was completely monotone.

*mild spoilers ahead*

The real problem with this movie is that characters don’t make reasonable decisions. Sellers randomly turns murderous toward the end of the film, which doesn’t make sense, and Murphy’s wife’s reaction to security alarms going off after confronting Sellers is to turn against what she just said about not wanting to see or speak to Sellers again and joining him on the roof, which is mostly just for the convenience of the plot.

That being said, there was a scene or two that got me emotionally involved, such as the scene when Murphy first comes home to his wife and son as family, but that tension is never built upon any further. In fact, there’s a moment in the film when RoboCop, now under the full control of the organization rather than his own free will, is told about his son’s social problems resulting from his father’s absence. This information sparks a change in Murphy, and he returns home, but instead of trying to amend his relationship with his family, he starts investigating his own murder. I would have liked to have seen some sort of reconciliation between him and his family at this point rather than saving it for the very end of the film.

In the end, this movie turns into more of just a generic action movie, albeit a mostly entertaining one. The visuals and technology displayed are impressive, and the action scenes were enjoyable, but too much of the story and character relationships were not given justice. Even the music score by Pedro Bromfman was sort of hit-and-miss for me; he utilizes the original theme from the 1987 film, which just doesn’t make sense to me. If you’re going to reboot a film, why not reboot everything like composers have done with Batman Begins (2005), The Amazing Spider-Man (2012), and Man of Steel (2013)? The theme was too 80s for me, which probably worked for the original film but felt out of place here, as did most of the rest of the score. The themes of biased media, family, and morality that the filmmakers tried to emphasize were not developed as well as they could have been, but, like I said, RoboCop is an at least decent action movie that I thought was fun to watch. I can’t speak to how it compares to the original film, but it’s still worth watching at least once.

-Chad

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material

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Man of Steel (2013)

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Note: As always, this will be as spoiler-free as I can make it. If the need arises, I will warn of spoilers before they are given.

Superman is not my favorite character. I have never much cared for the character, whether it was just a lack of interest or a disdain for the character’s so few weaknesses. Admittedly, I am not entirely familiar with the comics, having only read the original Shuster/Siegel Superman comic from Action Comics vol. 1 #1 from 1939 and Grant Morrison’s Action Comics vol. 2 #1 for DC’s New 52 revamp. I have seen one or two of the older Christopher Reeve Superman films, but, aside from the few flashes of those films that I remember, Superman Returns (2005), and the two comics I have read, I just don’t know much about the character. All that goes to say that you should take my opinion of Superman as a character with a grain of salt. Anyway, despite all of this, I was anxious to see Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel because it is the first live-action reboot of the character in film since Christopher Reeve donned the suit in 1978’s Superman, and I hoped that it would change my opinion – or, at least, my interest – in Superman. Having seen the film, I can definitely say that I am now interested.

As I mentioned, Man of Steel is a complete reboot of the character in live-action film, so this film acts as an origin story for the character. We are introduced to his parents, Jor-El and Lara Lor-Van (Russell Crowe and Ayelet Zurer, respectively), and we witness Kal-El (Superman’s birth name) escape with the aid of his parents while General Zod (Michael Shannon) leads a coup against the Kryptonian government in anticipation of the looming demise of the planet due to its unstable core. Kal-El escapes to Earth, where he is found and adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Kevin Costner and Diane Lane), and Zod and his followers are banished to something called the Phantom Zone (according to this Wikipedia page, it is “a fictional prison dimension featured in the Superman comic books”) before the planet’s destruction. The rest of the film follows Kal-El/Clark Kent’s (played by Henry Cavill) quest to discover who he is meant to be. He comes across familiar faces such as Lois Lane (Amy Adams) and Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), and he must decide who he is going to be in order to save the people of Earth from the wrath of Zod, who has come to take his revenge.

This movie avoids the convention of most superhero origin stories by interspersing Superman’s childhood with the present-day, only flashing back to those important moments that featured a moral decision that helped to make him the man he is today; in other words, the origin story is told in the same way that Christopher Nolan’s 2005 Batman Begins (my review) is told, which makes sense because Nolan produced this film while the screenwriter, David S. Goyer, wrote the scripts for both this and Batman Begins. That being said, this in no way feels like a rehash of Nolan’s earlier work, and the feel of the two films are completely different. This Superman movie is not by any stretch of the imagination a “gritty” reboot, a term which has often been used to describe Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Rather, it is a more grounded interpretation of the world’s first superhero…with “grounded” being a figurative term since we see quite a bit of flying to be enjoyed. The universe is more optimistic, the character is not haunted by his past in the same way that Bruce Wayne is, and the film as a whole is much more fun.

The first three-quarters or so of this film are much more of a character study than anything else. We don’t see Superman flying around in his suit saving the world, but we see a suit-less Clark Kent travelling the world, helping people however he can, trying to find his purpose on Earth. He is faced with moments of anger and must decide whether to throw a punch or walk away, and he is confronted with the imminent death of innocent people and must decide whether to save them and reveal his powers or let them die and keep his secret. These moments always feel very honest and quite intimate. Henry Cavill does at great job at playing Superman; not only does he look the part, but he plays the character with the proper innocence, conviction, and nobility. Amy Adams as Lois Lane brings an interesting spin to the character, as she’s no longer the damsel-in-distress type, but rather the type who will travel the nation on a scoop and will be a part of the action instead of a simple observer of it. Lane has a palpable confidence in herself, and her relationship with Superman feels genuine. Michael Shannon as Zod is fantastically maniacal, though he plays so much more than a madman; as the character explains later in the film, he is a man who has had all purpose in his life stripped away, an argument that brings a compelling moral perspective to the discussion of right versus wrong or, rather, good versus evil. Kevin Costner’s Jonathan Kent is an admirable father figure, helping Clark to make sense of his powers and what he is meant to be. In short, the entire cast does a fine job, including the lesser-known cast that makes up the military personnel and Zod’s followers.

The last quarter of the film has me conflicted. Basically, it turns into an all-out superhuman boxing match, with Metropolis as the ring. Sounds awesome, right? Well, parts of it are, but parts of it are just entirely gratuitous. I mean, I’m talking more buildings destroyed by two Kryptonians than were destroyed in New York by the six Avengers and an entire army of hostile aliens in 2012’s The Avengers (my review)! I understand the need for an all-out super-battle for these characters, but leveling a city seems like the wrong way to go about it…I just don’t see what it accomplishes. I have also heard of controversy over Superman’s decision at the end of this battle (if you’ve seen the film, you know what I am talking about), but here’s my opinion: it was led up to appropriately and seemed like a realistic outcome to an impossible situation. Whether the decision is out-of-character for the comics version of Superman or not is irrelevant because this is a new movie version of Superman, not the comics. The entire film is about him making moral decisions and having to choose to preserve Earth or to preserve Krypton, and this final decision seemed to me to be an appropriate climax.

One final aspect of note is the Christian allegory present in the film. Superman has always been seen as a Messianic figure; like Jesus, he was sent to Earth by his father to eventually become a sort of savior for mankind, though, of course, this is a different sort of savior. There are all sorts of references to the story of Christ, from Jor-El’s statement at the start of the film (“He will be a god to them”) to Jonathan Kent’s statement later (“You have another father who gave you another name. He sent you here for a reason”). At one point, Clark asks his Earth-father why God set him apart and gave him powers, and at another point he asks a priest for advice on how to approach the situation at hand. These parallels are well-done and give us Christians at least another reason to admire Superman as a character.

Overall, this movie is quite a bit of fun and is largely what I was hoping for. The ending fight may be a bit over the top for me, but the slower parts of the film are just along the lines of what I wanted: a Superman who isn’t absolutely sure of himself or his abilities, a Superman who is still trying to find his place in the world. There is no gimmicky kryptonite to weaken our hero, but he is instead given a worthy opponent who can match him punch for punch and make him question his sense of right and wrong. Nothing feels like a rehash of what has already been done, bringing a new breath of life to a franchise that really needed it. Henry Cavill is a wonderful Superman, and, with Hans Zimmer’s incredible score accompanying him, Man of Steel gives us (or at least me) the Superman film we’ve been waiting for.

-Chad

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action and destruction, and for some language

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Hans Zimmer, here!


Batman: The Long Halloween (1996/1997) – Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale

Continuity-wise, The Long Halloween sort of follows Year One‘s story-line, continuing Batman and Gordon’s quest to rid the city of crime. The Long Halloween, like Year One, was a huge influence on the Christopher Nolan films Batman Begins and  The Dark Knight; in fact, there are a couple of scenes in the graphic novel that were translated directly to The Dark Knight. While Year One introduced Batman and Jim Gordon, well, The Long Halloween introduces pretty much everyone else, from Catwoman to the Joker to the Riddler and so on. We even see Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two-Face! 

Christopher Nolan, director of the newest Batman film trilogy, called The Long Halloween an “epic tragedy”, and that description is right on the mark. A murderer who comes to be known as “Holiday” starts killing people on holidays, and everyone tries to figure out who is doing it, including The Joker and The Riddler…a “this town isn’t big enough for the two of us” kind of thing. It’s bloody and dark.

The art in this graphic novel is fantastic. Everything is so sharp and dense and, though I hate to use this word, gritty. It’s got a sense of realism that makes the story all the more compelling, and the limited color range of the artwork adds to this even more. The darker, more bland color scheme gives a sort of crime noir feel to it.

Bottom line: The Long Halloween is one of the top 5 best Batman comic story arcs of all time, and it heavily influenced the Nolan Batman films that we all love. It’s dark, brutal, and completely engrossing; if you’re a Batman fan at all, you’ll love it.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

-Chad


The Dark Knight (2008)

The Dark Knight, though it is a “superhero movie”, transcends that stereotype and becomes something so much more: it’s a crime epic.

Let’s be honest: Heath Ledger’s Joker is what makes this film so good. Not that the rest of it isn’t good…that’s not what I’m saying. But Ledger’s Joker is the first thing that people remember about this film, and for a good reason. Ledger dedicated himself more fully to the role than I’ve ever seen an actor do before, and it certainly shows onscreen. This interpretation of Batman’s most infamous adversary is scary and twisted; from the grimy hair and smeared makeup to the gruesome scars to the obsession with knives, The Joker is a character that you so badly love to hate. Despite how unsettling the character is, Ledger delivers his lines with a dark humor that makes you laugh in a “why-am-I-laughing-at-this-this-is-horrible” kind of way.

Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent/Two-Face is great as well. Watching Dent throughout the film is interesting because, if you’re verse in Batman-lore, you know that Harvey Dent and Two-Face are the same person, but you don’t know if he’ll get there in this film or not. For the first half of the film, we see how strong and determined he is to clean up the city, but, as things get worse, he begins to change. Eckhart does a fine job with showing his character’s deterioration; in a way, it reminds me of Anakin Skywalker’s decline into Darth Vader. It’s his love for Rachel and his anguish at her death that drives him into madness, and Eckhart plays Dent’s strong emotional downfall fantastically.

Batman’s incorruptibility is put to the test in this film as he faces both of these men; he doesn’t know if it’s something that he can survive or withstand because, for a while there, the more days go by that Batman doesn’t reveal his true identity, the more people die because of him. Bale brings all of Batman’s emotions across magnificently in this film, a certain improvement over the previous film when there was little emotion to come across.

Overall, The Dark Knight is what every superhero film should strive to be: dramatic, personal, and real. We see the best of people (on the cruise ships with the detonators) and the worst of people (The Joker), but Batman stays strong through it all and stands for what he knows to be right, no matter whether it reflects on him in the best light or not. With Heath Ledger’s best performance ever and a supporting cast of incredible actors doing an awesome job, The Dark Knight is a force to be reckoned with.

-Chad

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of violence and some menace

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, here!


Batman Begins (2005)

I saw this film on the big screen for the first time last night at the trilogy IMAX screening, and I was blown away. Just reinforces my belief that films were meant to be seen on the big screen in a theater.

What fascinates me about Batman – and what is shown so well in this film – is that he’s a human like you and me, albeit a wealthy one. Like us, he’s driven by his emotions, which stem from the loss of his parents and his desire to destroy injustice. Drawing heavily from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One (the definitive origin story of the character; my review), Batman Begins introduces us to a man who doesn’t become Batman to get revenge for his parents’ deaths but rather a man who becomes Batman to create a world where a young Bruce Wayne wouldn’t have been a victim.

The idea of taking your fear, mastering it, and using that fear to manipulate your enemies is an incredible notion (also taken from Batman: Year One), and it’s an interesting way to present the character of Batman. It’s a simple but extraordinary explanation for Bruce’s reasoning for using a bat as his symbol of justice and incorruptibility.

Christian Bale makes a great Batman. We never see an emotional side to him in this film, but we do see a defining change of character: we start off with a Bruce Wayne who brings a gun to the trial of the man who killed his parents, set for revenge, to the Bruce Wayne who learns to fight and survive in the criminal underworld, to the Bruce Wayne who trains with Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows, and finally to the Bruce Wayne who doubles as masked crusader and millionaire playboy.

I don’t really have too much to say about this film; there’s nothing in particular that I dislike about it, and any flaws it does have don’t matter because the film is a setup for The Dark Knight…and we all know how that turned out. Christopher Nolan is one of those rare directors who is able to so clearly create a world so separate from yet so connected with our own, with fantastic, believable characters who we are able to identify with on some personal level, even a character like Batman. This film redefined what a “superhero movie” was capable of being, setting the foundation for several more realistic reboots of classic comic characters and for two more films starring our Dark Knight.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard, here!


The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Here’s a brief spoiler-free review of the final film of the Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.

Taken as a whole, this film was fantastic on nearly every level, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t have any faults. I had problems with understanding certain characters, from Bane (especially) to Miranda Tate to Jim Gordon to Bruce himself. A couple of the plot points in the first half confused me a bit, but the second half was so incredible that it made these and any other minor faults seem like nothing. Initially, I didn’t agree with some bits of the ending, and, because of that, I decided that it was slightly behind The Dark Knight in terms of quality, but I’ve been mulling things over since the movie ended – it’s starting to grow on me, so the final film of the trilogy may end up being my favorite. Old faces and new faces alike do an awesome job onscreen, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt as John Blake and Tom Hardy as Bane standing out as particularly great. Overall, it’s an outstanding film; if you enjoyed the first two, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if you enjoy this one as well.

Now, onto the review FILLED with spoilers, so, if you haven’t seen the film yet, DON’T READ ON. (skip to end for spoiler-free conclusion)

There are two key bits of speculation that have been circulating the Internet for quite some time now that proved to be correct: 1) Marion Cotillard as Talia al Ghul and 2) Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the man who will take over for Batman. Good job, Internet people! Also, Batman did technically “die”, so there’s a third speculation come true.

Bane proved to be one of my favorite film villains of all time. Sure, I had trouble understanding him at times, but Hardy’s presence onscreen was bone-chilling and terrifying. I’m not going to sit here and waste time comparing him to Ledger’s Joker, but both had a quality about them that made it difficult to look away – no matter how badly you wanted to at times. The most fascinating part about this character is that he is the first villain who could physically best Batman…and he does in an awful way. Though we couldn’t see most of his face, Hardy did a fantastic job with communicating through his body language exactly who Bane was and what he was capable of. I wish that there had been more of a defeat of Bane by Batman, but I suppose that the defeat we witnessed was the only one that mattered because the title of “head villain” was passed on to Miranda Ta- oh, excuse me – Talia al Ghul.

Hathaway as Catwoman was very good as well; in fact, I managed to watch the film thinking, “hey look! It’s Catwoman!” instead of thinking, “hey look! It’s Anne Hathaway!”, which is a plus for someone like her who hasn’t done a film like this before. She looked the part and did a fine job with the character.

I was very impressed with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his character; he came out of nowhere, but he certainly exhibited the detective abilities and physical skill needed to be a future Batman…more on that later. The leadership he showed in gathering the forces in Gotham to fight and bringing Batman back to the city was outstanding, and I really felt myself rooting for the character…and not just because he was on Batman’s side.

Since I’ve read both of Michael Caine’s autobiographies now, watching him onscreen in The Dark Knight Rises was a particular treat, especially because we got to see him display a wide range of acting ability in this film than we did in the previous two films. When he cried at the end of the film, I nearly cried; Caine is a wonderful actor with a career spanning decades, and seeing him deliver such a powerful performance in this film at his age (he’s 79 years old) was a great thing to witness.

Of course, I can’t neglect to mention Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman. Not much to say here, but they both did a fantastic job with their roles, especially Oldman.

Christian Bale’s as Batman was admirable in the sense that we see him truly fight for the first time – not physically, necessarily, but for his life, something that we hadn’t seen from Batman before this film. He’s a man who has been through quite a lot both physically and emotionally, and he has suffered in just about every way that a man can suffer. Bale does a great job with truly showing Batman’s humanity in this film…for the first time, the person who wants him dead knows his true identity, so there is no way for him to hide or use theatricality to his advantage. It’s man vs. man, and there’s no darkness to hide in anymore. Bale displays Bruce’s resolve to give the city all that he has and makes not only Batman a hero, but Bruce Wayne a hero as well.

Aside from a slightly confusing first half (which, thanks to Wikipedia’s Plot section of the film’s article, isn’t all that confusing anymore) and the occasional problems with the voices, my only issues regarded the ending. I knew that I didn’t want Bruce to die, so that’s nice, but I wanted him to return to Gotham and have an emotional reunion with Alfred. At least, that’s what I wanted at first. Walking away, however, and taking some time to think about it, I was actually pretty satisfied with how they ended it. Batman is no longer a villain in Gotham but a hero instead, and Bruce Wayne has reached that point in his life when he no longer needs Batman…he is finally at peace, living out his life the way Alfred wanted him to. That being said, I still wish that we had seen more than just an acknowledgement between the two.

I also don’t know how I feel about the whole “(Robin) John Blake is the new Batman” part of the ending; if it was just meant as a teaser that will be left alone, cool. I like it. BUT I really don’t want to start a new franchise with Gordon-Levitt as the focus – Chris Nolan has made it pretty clear that he won’t be doing any more Batman after this film, and I don’t want a sequel trilogy or whatever to be made and it pale in comparison to what Nolan has done with Bale in these three movies. Who knows…maybe it could be good, but I don’t really want to take that chance. Of course, the decision isn’t up to me, so we’ll just have to see where Warner Bros. takes it from here…if anywhere.

***SPOILERS OVER***

I’m having trouble with deciding which film I like more: The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises. On one hand, I don’t want to like this film more just because it’s the last film of the series. On the other hand, I don’t want to like The Dark Knight more just because of Heath Ledger’s Joker; I’m trying to find a balance between the two so that I can make a decision excluding those factors. Though The Dark Knight Rises didn’t end the way I wanted it to when I walked into the theater, I walked out of the theater thinking that maybe, just maybe, Nolan’s ending was better than the one that I had fantasized for the film on my own. So, for now at least, I’m going to call this a tie, but it’s entirely possible – and highly likely – that the finale of the trilogy will come out on top.

As fans of Batman, we all have Christopher Nolan to thank for bringing this incredible character to the big screen in such a big way and for dedicating himself fully to finishing what he started. Batman Begins was groundbreaking, The Dark Knight was breathtaking, and now, with The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan has brought a third, final film that ends the trilogy in a hugely satisfying way.

-Chad

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

MPAA: PG-13 – for intense sequences of violence, intense sequences of action, language and some sensuality

P.S. – Read my review of this film’s score, composed by Hans Zimmer, here!


Batman: Year One (1987) – Frank Miller/David Mazzucchelli

Last week, I decided to order a few graphic novels online, and, supposedly being the best Batman comic ever written, Batman: Year One was at the top of my list, along with The Long Halloween and The Killing Joke (don’t worry; The Dark Knight Returns is also on my list!). They all arrived in the mail today, and Year One was the first I read.

Holy awesome, Batman! I’ve only read a few comics in my day, and none of them were Batman; this blew them all out of the water. Though I really enjoyed the artwork, it was the story that really amazed me. It was well-written and did something that I didn’t expect from a Batman comic: it focused more on Jim Gordon than Batman. You see, the “Year One” in the title refers not only to Bruce Wayne’s first year in the suit but Jim Gordon’s first year on the Gotham police force as well, and he’s really the focus of the story.

It’s quite clear to see that Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer’s screenplay for Batman Begins drew heavily from this graphic novel, borrowing elements like Batman’s reason to dress like a bat, the inner corruption of the Gotham PD, and other like elements. Lieutenant Fox (as he is at this point in time) is tough and well-liked by the community but not by his co-workers, adding on stress to an already stressful job. We see the effect of the death of Batman’s parents in his childhood and how it affects him as an adult, and we see that, even early on, Batman does whatever he can to stop crime without killing.

The emphasis of the story is summed up at the start of one of the chapters, when it refers to Gotham as a city that “likes being dirty”, and it’s the job of Gordon, a clean cop in a dirty PD, and Batman, a caped crusader who instills fear in the criminals of Gotham, to wipe out crime and make the city a place that no longer needs a Batman.

The art is fantastic, the story is grounded and real, and it is the definitive origin story of Gotham’s Dark Knight. This is a great place for anyone to get started in Batman comics.

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

-Chad