Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015) – This Aquaman Kind of Works

Justice League Throne of Atlantis Poster

 Aquaman has always been a Justice League member I’ve cared the least about. When it comes to the alien perspective, give me Martian Manhunter or for nobility and royalty give me Wonder Woman…Aquaman was always just kind of there, the noble who works with the Justice League. Given these facts, Aquaman atually works in regards to this film, the villains are the ones who don’t.

      “Justice League: Throne of Atlantis” was directed by Ethan Spaulding and written by Heath Corson and produced by James Tucker.

     The story involves the Justice League being pulled together when forces in Atlantis begin to act against the surface world. It is up to them to find out the reasons why and the heir to the throne Arthur Curry / Aquaman to stop the war and save the world.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Wiedmann is part of what makes these movies great. His soundtrack gives power to the action and the scenes and gives the world an epic feel.

The Animation – WB Animation is truly awesome. This is one thing DC is continuing to do right post Bruce Timm so I salute their studio. It’s a shame they can’t pull this off with their live action films.

The Action – The action is fantastic and the fight scenes between the people of Atlantis and the surface world is handled really well.

The Justice League – The Justice League is really fun, minus Superman and Wonder Woman who don’t feel like characters, just concepts and whose romance feels contrived…but minus them I like the rest of the team.

Hal Jordan / Green Lantern – Nathan Fillion really owns this role. His relationship with Batman is fun as we see he is the guy with good intentions but can’t see the bigger picture. He has a great moment in the final battle where he uses his ring to make a giant mecha suit. He plays off the rest of the League really well.

Barry Allen / The Flash – Barry doesn’t do as much as he could have done but for what time he appears he bring lightness to the brooding of this Universe.

Victor Stone / Cyborg – Cyborg is the heart of the team and the one always looking out for Earth. He is the one who pulls everyone together to solve the mystery of the submarine and discover Black Manta’s and Orm’s plan.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Batman is great in this and the only one who Orm doesn’t completely defeat at the end. He stays out of the fight and figures out how to defeat Orm’s trident leading up to Aquaman claiming the throne. It is Batman with Cyborg who reveal Orm’s killing of the Queen to the world.

Arthur Curry / Aquaman – Aquaman reminds me of Thor and Hercules. He is half-Atlantean and his arc is discovering and claiming his birthright. There are elements of “Lion King” to it as well as his brother Orm is the one he is stopping when Orm kills his mother. For what it’s worth I liked the character and he worked in this film, which is good given this film is about him.

Okay: Queen Atlanna – We never get why she is so focused on peace with the surface world or her relationship to her possible warrior husband who died. She is a mystery and because of it her motivations are never fully known. She wasn’t bad but she was missed opportunity.

Mera – Mera is okay, but her romance with Aquaman is contrived, there is no leadup to them being attracted and liking one another it just kind of happens. She’s a great fighter at least.

The Cons: Diana Prince / Wonder Woman – She is there to motivate Superman and that is it. She’s a plot device and it sucks. She is Superman’s romantic partner and that is it.

Clark Kent / Superman – Way too overpowered and may cheating on Lois Lane? Seriously, was is the deal with Superman in “The New 52?” He is just an all around overpowered dick. He’s everything wrong with Damian Wayne tenfold.

Black Manta – This guy also is just evil and has unexplored reasons for the things he’s doing besides the desire for power. He has a cool design but he is just wasted as a character and never felt like a threat.

Orm – He’s blatantly evil (kills his own mother) his motivations are never fully explored and he has no redeeming qualities. Seriously, this guy is a terrible villain and his design is awful too. He looks like bad cosplay of an orc when he wears his mask.

   This was an enjoyable film and better than the “New 52” Batman films (seriously Damian brings those films down). I like this new Justice League minus how unrelatable Wonder Woman and Superman feel. Neither feel fully fleshed out as characters and Superman is the Damian Wayne of the Justice League. He is way too overpowered so whenever he is free the fight has no stakes. I’m surprised he didn’t defeat Orm honestly, and I’m glad he didn’t…Aquaman had to win something and his entire arc was reclaiming his birthright “Lion King” style. So I would recommend this film, it isn’t a favorite, but it is good.

Final Score: 8 / 10

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Batman vs. Robin (2015): Fascinating Villains But Execution Doesn’t Quite Work

Batman vs Robin

    This was a film that was enjoyable but didn’t quite work. Like the rest of the Damian Wayne stories, Damian is still way too overpowered and Nightwing is still nearly invisible but is gold in any scene he’s in. If anything this made me want to read the comics that inspired the film, “Batman: The Court of Owls” as the Court is a pretty awesome villain group and I like the way they do things. I want to learn more about them thanks to this film.

     “Batman vs. Robin” was directed by Jay Oliva, written by J. M. DeMatteis and produced by James Tucker. It is the sequel to “Son of Batman” and based off the comic “Batman: The Court of Owls” by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion.

     The story involves Damian having issues with Bruce’s killing policy as Batman learns more about the reason for his parents getting killed when a mysterious legend when he becomes aware of The Court of Owls who try to get Bruce Wayne to join them and to turn Damian Wayne into a weapon for them.

The Pros: The Animation – WB and DC animation continues to be beautiful. I don’t like a lot of things about this New 52 Universe but the animation is still one of the best parts and something DC has always been better at than Marvel.

The Action – The fight scenes are awesome as the Court of Owls send agents who actually feel like a threat anytime Batman or the Bat Family takes them on. You feel the stakes and it lends power to each scene.

The Soundtrack – Wiedmann continues to create a great soundtrack that captures the mystery of these films and the antagonists and heroes within them.

Dollmaker – Weird Al plays this guy and he is messed up. He turns children into feral dolls and his getting killed by Talon was one of the best parts of the film. Great and creepy enemy…

Dick Grayson / Nightwing – Sean Maher really owns this role and I hate that he hardly ever gets any screen time or is relegated to Damian’s babysitter. This is a character who was Robin, why isn’t more done with that? He continues to be one of the highlights of every film he’s in but is never given much to do. At least we get to see him fight the Court of Owls and Damian.

Alfred – Alfred is the father figure who helps Bruce learn how to be a dad and Damian to feel loved. I like how he is the warmth in the Bat Family and brings out the better nature of our characters.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce is overcontrolling in this and it blows up in his face, we see him learning how to be a dad in this and it is great seeing that arc. I just wish more could have been done with Bruce and Samantha as well as The Court of Owls and Bruce. Damian steals the storyline that should have belonged to Bruce Wayne.

The Court of Owls – These guys set everything in motion for the Wayne’s to die so that they could control the city. They are a great puppeteer organization and I wish we could have seen more of what they do as there are many members and they are all the rich of Gotham and around the world.

Talon – Talon becomes Damian’s mentor and the anti-Batman as he kills murders and the corrupt. He is also insane too as he called the cops on his dad leading to his dad getting killed and slaughtered the Court of Owls in Gotham to take control of it.

Okay/Con: The Writing – The dialogue is a bit stilted at times and could have done with more showing rather than telling.

Damian Wayne – Damian continues to be one of the weakest parts of these films. He beats everyone he fights so there are never any stakes and he continues to be a jerk or cross the line that Batman lays down so he just stays static. I was so happy when he left Wayne Manor at the end.

The Cons: Damian’s Plot Armor – Damian defeats Talon, Nightwing and even Batman to some degree at different points throughout the film. Seriously, he has no weaknesses or very good plot armor. It is annoying because he isn’t even noble and his plot armor and overuse just brings down the story.

  This was a story that could have worked better if Damian wasn’t such a Mary Sue/Gary Stu and actually had vulnerability and could lose some of the fights he gets into, and if the story hadn’t been all about him. Nightwing appears and he is great in all his scenes but he is so underutilized and ends up being Damian’s punching bag most of the time. The motivations of the Court of Owls were also never fully explained which hurt the story. I didn’t know what they wanted in the end or what their vision for Gotham was outside of power for the families controlling it. These are the things that kept it from being good and kept the film in the realm of enjoyable.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016): Honoring the Old “Teen Titans” Show and Creating a Great Original Story

Justice League vs Teen Titans poster

    “Justice League vs. Teen Titans” is a lot of fun. As someone who grew up on Bruce Timm’s justice league and the old original animesque “Teen Titans,” this is the first time with these films I’ve felt the spirit of both really captured, while still remaining true to “The New 52” tone they’ve had going on in all these films. The Teen Titans are really who carry the film and this is there story and it is their development and actions that end up making this a favorite film for me.

     The film was directed by Sam Liu, written by Bryan Q. Miller and Alan Burnett and produced by James Tucker.

SPOILERS ahead

     The story involves Trigon’s (Jon Burnthal) attempt to return to Earth to destroy it and to use his daughter Raven (Taissa Farmiga) as the way to do so. When the Justice League investigates he takes control of a few members leaving the Teen Titans to team to together to stop him and save the Justice League.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack at moments reminded me of Bear McCreary which added a lot to the haunting nature of Trigon and the pasts of Raven and Damian. Frederik Wiedmann once again did a fantastic job.

The Animation – WB and DC continue to put out great animated films and this one is no different. The world is dark but beautiful and feels epic in feel.

The World – The world is rich as we get an appearance of Trigon, the Legion of Doom, the Justice League and Teen Titans. This world is huge and still gives room to explore many of the characters within it.

The Characters – The characters are what carry this film and the reason to see it. Whether it is certain Justice League members or the Teen Titans as a whole, these are the folks who make this film fun.

Batman / Bruce Wayne – Batman is the only Justice League member not to get possessed and it is thanks to him that Cyborg is saved and later the rest of the Justice League. He risks himself in the process though and is out of it until the end.

Barry Allen / The Flash – Flash appears briefly but his comedic antics and comedic villains are both on display, even at the end. I like the Flash a lot now as he adds much needed levity to the super seriousness of “The New 52.”

Oliver Stone / Cyborg – Cyborg gets to be both Justice League and Teen Titans and brings pizza at the end as a callback to the show! He is great and we see that he is the leader when Batman is out of commission. He is pretty much a Teen Titans member and co-leader with Starfire over the course of saving Raven and getting to the final fight.

Dick Grayson / Nightwing – Grayson should have been in the final fight. I don’t know why he wasn’t as he’s pretty much Damian’s babysitter until Damian is dropped off at the Justice League. Maher is once again wonderful and brings charm to the awkward flirting that Starfire and He do with one another. We needed more of this character.

Trigon – Jon Bernthal is fantastic as the monster and power that is Trigon. I wanted to see more of this character and his influence on the world beyond just trying to enter it and sending his sons out. He still felt like a threat though, even though the final battle with him was kind of stupid.

Teen Titans – The Teen Titans are the best part of this film and really the main reason to watch this. I didn’t see “Teen Titans Go” and don’t plan on it, so this is the best version of them since that past 2003 show.

Koriand’r / Starfire – Starfire is the leader and she feels like an alien in this but also the idealist we saw from when she was in the show. Her dynamic with everyone is great as she is the glue and the one who helps Damian open up.

Jaime Reyes / Blue Beetle – Blue Beetle is cool and doesn’t put up with Damian’s crap. He is very much the Cyborg of the group (and not just because he is pretty much a cyborg from the alien tech melded to his body) as his personality is big, leading him to fight with Damian. I like how he doesn’t know the suit’s power…he reminds me of some of Venom’s hosts that way.

Damian Wayne / Robin – Finally Robin isn’t perfect (sort of)! We see his anger come out and how he was raised by sociopaths and it does make an impact on how he interacts with others when he invades the Teen Titans security, eggs Blue Beetle on and nearly dies because of it and confronts a demon taking the form of Ra’s Al Ghul, giving him the chance to face his past trauma and see how alike he and Raven are. Both having fathers out to destroy the world. His friendship with Raven is one of the best parts of the film. Loved that he neutralized Superman with kryptonite and later puts it back in his pouch as Superman frowns.

Garfield Logan / Beast Boy – Brandon Soo Hoo’s performance reminded me of classic Beast Boy from the 2003 “Teen Titans” show. He’s funny and his wit and humor make him gold in every scene. I love how he fights too and moves between small and large creatures to have the largest impact in a fight, and he does it a comedic way.

Okay: Wonder Woman – She like Superman feels a little too alien and even though she’s played by Rosario Dawson, I never got her character fully. I’m also biased against her design and miss the classic design, but that would be made up if she had a bit more development and motivations…she isn’t as bad as Superman at least.

Okay / Con – Justice League Development – We see them fight Lex Luthor and some folks at the beginning in the Legion of Doom but it never goes anywhere and the villains never feel like a threat. It’s cool to see Lex Luthor at least.

The Teams Working Together in the Final Fight – The fight in Trigon’s realm is cool, Superman’s fight against the Justice League and Flash, Wonder Woman and Superman against Trigon is just weak…so it ends up being an okay/con.

The Cons: Superman – This guy is alien, distant a jerk and has zero chemistry with any of the characters, and he’s supposed to be in love and dating Wonder Woman. I never got that and his presentation in this new 52 Universe feels off. I miss the Bruce Timm Superman, he felt like a real character at least.

Superman Stops Evil Justice League Alone – Cyborg and the Teen Titans are trying to get the crystal for Raven to trap Trigon in it again but they feel useless as Superman stops both the Flash and Wonder Woman who are also possessed before they even reach the portal. Seriously, the Teen Titans and Cyborg weren’t even needed, it’s implied through how easy he saved the other two Justice League members that Superman could have done it all himself.

     The only real downside to this was lack of development for the Justice League, which made sense given this was about the Teen Titans, and Superman being so overpowered everyone being there felt unnecessary. I hate this version of Superman, he’s distant and treats everyone around him like crap besides Diana and even their relationship doesn’t really work because we never see it develop so I didn’t feel chemistry in that relationship. Seriously, I look forward to when one of these films eventually kills Superman off. Besides that, the Teen Titans are awesome and the best I’ve seen the characters since the show that aired in 2003. This managed to capture that same spirit and be it’s own thing, which is the best that could have been hoped for.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. A favorite and worth checking out.

Son of Batman (2014): A Decent Telling of Damian Wayne’s Origin Story

Son of Gotham poster

    “Son of Batman” is alright. At times this film has moments of greatness only for it to be shot down by bad writing and not developing some of the intriguing characters more. This is a story that really deserved more time than the running time of an hour, which really brings it down the most it in the end. This is a film that is the origin story of Damian Wayne, but in many ways he is the least interesting character in this, and that isn’t completely is his fault, it is the fault of the writers, which I’ll get into deeper into the review.

     The film was directed by Ethan Spaulding and written by Joe R. Lansdale and produced by James Tucker and based on the story “Batman and Son” by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert.

    The story involves the assassination of Ra’s Al Ghul by his former heir Deathstroke forcing Talia to take her son, who is the son of Bruce Wayne to Gotham City and Batman to escape. It is here Batman must deal with the reality of being a father and Damian must face a world outside of League of Assassins.

The Pros: The Animation – DC animation continues to put out beautiful looking work, and this is no exception. I’d almost say it is worth it just for the character designs as you make take inspiration for your own character work if you are comic artist.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is haunting and beautiful and reminded me of McCreary’s “Battlestar Galactica” soundtrack. Fredrick Weidmann did a great job.

The World – The world is cool but underdeveloped. The League of Assassins is huge and going through a civil war between the Ghul’s and Deathstroke and we even get glimpses of this Gotham and Batman.

The Characters – The characters who receive development are pretty great or okay. Sadly not all of them got development but the ones who did are a pro for me.

Slade Wilson / Deathstroke – The apprentice abandoned by his master out for revenge…this is Slade’s arc and it is great as he schools anyone he faces until the very end when he loses to Batman easily and just loses to Damian. I wanted more of this character and why Ra’s didn’t choose him to lead. Thomas Gibson did a great voice acting job.

Dick Grayson / Nightwing – Sean Maher (Dr. Simon from “Firefly”) is my favorite character in this. He has depth and reason for what he does and you get him moving on from Batman. He is a warning and promise for what his future may hold. I like how he clashes with both Batman and Damian too.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Jason O’Mara is okay but his Batman is like a softer spoken Val Kilmer. I like Val Kilmer but most Batman are a lot better and same goes here. He is good but doesn’t even touch great. I wanted more of his relationship to Talia and further development with Damian, sadly we didn’t get that.

Okay: Ra’s Al Ghul – Ra’s is around for a little bit and dies. We see how much of a zealot he is and also how he is a caring Grandfather but that is about it. He dies way too early and his legacy is never fully explored.

Talia Al Ghul – Talia seeks revenge and gets easily beat by Deathstroke. Wasn’t impressed at all with that, though her relationship to Damian feels real as well as her love for Bruce Wayne. Morena Baccarin does a good job with what little she’s given.

Damian Wayne – Damian is a little too perfect. He hacks Batman’s computer, beats Slade in the final fight and gets over his anger way too quickly. For a guy raised in trauma he’s surprisingly well put together, which just made him feel like a Gary Stu/Mary Sue. He’s the core character and the driver of the narrative so I expected more.

The Cons: Killer Croc – Guy is just a giant monster and gets zero development. Great design but that means nothing when there is zero character behind it.

Doctor Langstrom – Beyond caring for his family we get none of the mad scientist tendencies. Why was he working for Ra’s prior? This is never answered, or how he got connected to Killer Croc. This was a shame as they are both Batman rogues, but this connection never went anywhere.

Deathstroke’s Plan – An army of Man-Bat’s…really? Batman defeated these guys so easily, you think the military is going to be that unprepared that they wouldn’t have some kind of sonar weapon. It was a stupid plan when Ra’s made it and Deathstroke continuing it was a shortfall on his part.

   This was an okay film. It strikes for good but never fully reaches there largely because so many of the characters that would be great in different contexts don’t get the agency and development they deserve. This film aimed high as it was giving us the origins of the one of the most famous Robins, yet I didn’t care about him. He was overpowered and seemed to have no flaws beyond anger that we never got to see him fully face. He was the definition of a Mary Sue/Gary Stu and it took away from the story. I wanted to know more about Deathstroke, Talia and Ra’s but an hour was not long enough to do so and the overall narrative suffered because of it. This is what made the film okay in the end…lack of development, too short of time and Damian’s too perfect tendencies as well as the main’s outside of him not being enough to carry the story. If you like Batman, check it out for sure. DC Animation hasn’t made any bad films I’ve seen yet, but this could have been so much more.

Final Score: 7.4 / 10

The Dark Knight Rises (2012): A Fantastic Film Exploring the Power of Ideas, Consequences of Lies and Finding Resolution

The Dark Knight Rises

     “The Dark Knight Rises” is the most controversial of “The Dark Knight Trilogy.” This is both because of how people see the villain and some of the story choices that were made in regards to the timeline leading up to the film and some story choices during the film. This is a movie that you’ll enjoy more if you fill in the blanks and take it from the logic of the past films. For this reason for me it is a favorite, though I understand why people hate it, while for me…I enjoy it more than “Batman Begins” as I found the structure for this a lot better and the emotional payoff much more rewarding. This is an ending and a great ending is hard to pull off and I believe this film does it, and I’m also biased in that I loved Bane as a villain…which I know many people did not. This film is about bringing some of the character arcs we have followed the last 2 films to a close and first and foremost it does that, and it does it well, even with all the flaws.

      The film was directed by Christopher Nolan who also wrote and produced it. Jonathan Nolan was one of the co-writers and the other producers were Emma Thomas and Charles Roven.

     The story takes place 8 years after the events of “The Dark Knight” and organized crime has been taken down by Batman (Bruce Wayne) and the Police Department through the Dent Act, formed after Harvey Dent’s death. A lie hides over the city though as the truth behind what Harvey became is hidden by retiring Police Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) as Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives in Gotham to destroy it forcing Batman out of hiding as he must deal with this new threat and others.

The Pros: Cinematography – Wally Pfister is once again great in casting shots. From the fights with Bane that contrast his strength and power, to the shadows that Batman fights from and Gotham Occupied with the snow showing us a dead city devoid of hope and embracing despair.

The Soundtrack – Zimmer once again creates an amazing score! From the chants of Bane’s theme to the beautiful piano piece for Catwoman that shows the mystery of the character. His score has always succeeded in elevating the story and this is no different as we see Bruce Wayne go from his lowest point of despair to rising beyond the identity of Batman.

Narrative and Pacing – Narrative and pacing are the best they have ever been in the Trilogy. The story never drags and there is a clear ending rather than a bunch of climaxes. The clear beginning, middle and end compliment the story and characters and create a fantastic resolution to the story.

The World – The World is fantastic! This is a world where I don’t believe Batman ever really fully retired…as long as organized crime was around he was fighting and he had to give something for the police to chase at the end of “The Dark Knight.” Just like the League of Shadows will never ever fully go away, neither will Batman as a character or identity others can adopt. Both of these things are ideas and this movie fully captures that. Any person can adopt ideas greater than themselves and use it for good (John Blake taking up the mantel of the Bat) or Bad (Talia and Bane seeking to destroy Gotham to end it’s corruption).

The Characters – The characters continue to be one of the richest parts of the series and what will keep me coming back and even finding inspiration in them for my own writing.

Daggett and Stryver – These two were meant to show the corrupt Business world and that even without organized crime that is with the black market and drugs, Gotham is still just as corrupt…it has just become White Collar. They are fun and they clearly had fun being bad guys and in these roles who were presented as mini-bosses but were just Bane’s patsies as he was the one with the real power all along. They were the ones rules by fear and money.

Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow – Crane is back and when Gotham breaks everyone out of Gotham and Arkham he becomes one of the judges in the Kangaroo Court. This guy is awesome and there is even the chance he escaped in the end. This character is a survivor who embraces the madness in himself and around him.

Lucius Fox – Freeman continues to own this role and is there to help Bruce Wayne heal, from his coming back as Batman to helping Batman save Gotham and giving him hints he survived at the end. Lucius is the stalwart ally who is always there and is the only person not to betray Bruce’s trust.

Alfred – Alfred loses Bruce and learns how important it is to face the truth. He shouldn’t have burned Rachel’s letter about her marrying Harvey Dent as it hit Bruce in the worst place, leading to his being asked to leave…only to return believing Bruce Wayne to be dead. Luckily he finds that Bruce does grow beyond his role as Batman which is what he always wanted. Michael Caine does a great job once again.

Miranda Tate / Talia Al Ghul – Marion Collitard does a good job as Talia. Bane is the great villain (Talia is just good) and I think this is largely because she is too much of the classic League of Shadows. She uses a clean energy generator as a weapon which has bringing people back to their base nature and back to nature…calling back to the eco-terrorist roots of Ra’s Al Ghul and his League. She breaks Batman’s heart too and we learn that she could have truly been a friend and lover and been changed had they met much before this movie. It is the death of her father and his rejection of Bane that inspire her quest and identity as Bane and her had been shown the worst of humanity and saw that in Gotham. It was the pit that needed to be cleaned.

James Gordon – Gordon like Alfred deals with the consequences of the lie in “The Dark Knight.” He loses the trust of his only ally on the police force (Blake) when it is revealed and we see that. He became corrupt and the consequence was Bane faced no resistance from the populace and the populace embraced his revolution to take Gotham apart. He finds resolution though when he learns that he inspired Bruce to become Batman and helped Bruce to heal when he needed it most. We also see him becoming a healer again at the end as he is one of the few leaders left in a city torn apart by war. Gary Oldman truly inhabited this role.

The Dark Knight Rises Catwoman

Selina Kyle / Catwoman – Hathaway is fantastic and is my favorite Catwoman! She is a character who does what she wants but also seeks to become more as she wants freedom which we see she never had due to her financial state and being trapped where she lived and in how she dealt with it by becoming  a thief. She shows virtue though as she comes back to save Gotham and saves Batman from Bane before Bane kills Batman. It is partially thanks to her that Gotham is saved. She becomes a hero and in it finds freedom.

The Dark Knight Rises Bane

Bane – Tom Hardy is awesome in this role! Bane is one of my favorite villains in this series along with Two-Face, the Joker and Scarecrow. He is threatening in both body and how he carries himself and psychologically. His arc is showing his ideals are true, that humanity will destroy itself and to fulfill the League’s quest to destroy Gotham. He gets this perspective from his time in prison and the price that was taken on him for saving Talia from the mob who killed her mother. He loses everything and is stronger for it as all he has to live for is Talia and the ideals of power. It takes Catwoman shooting him with the Batpod. I wanted to spend more time with this character. There is so much depth and threat to this guy and so much unknown, even with all we learn. Like the Joker there is mystery there…and it lends power to the character.

John Blake / Robin – John Blake is my favorite Robin (Robin is actually in his full birth name) he is the orphan who discovers Bruce Wayne is Batman when Bruce visits his orphanage as a kid. This inspires him to become a cop and we see that he is the one with Gordon fighting against the occupation by Bane and having the most success. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is awesome in this role and if more films had been made of him in the role as Batman or Nightwing working with Batman I’d have been there, or read them had they made comics about it. This character has depth and isn’t a punk but an idealist who loses the idealism and goes his own way, becoming the new Batman.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce Wayne’s arc is moving on from the loss of his parents and Rachel as the truth of both when he loses everything (his company, identity as Batman and being unstoppable, Alfred and Gotham) and after losing everything he finds Bruce again and is able to transcend the Batman identity and grow. Bane breaks him and it is in the breaking that he can heal from the scars he never addressed. The Pit is as much in his mind as it is a physical Pit and it is only in rising from both that he manages to save Gotham and himself. This is Christian Bale at his best as we see his full range of anger, despair, hope and content. This film is the much deserved resolution Bruce has been seeking since he lost his parents so long ago. Now he can be Batman and Bruce Wayne. The world is his and whatever he chooses to do it will no doubt be to help others as before but as a truly healed person, not the broken vigilante he was before.

The Breaking of Batman – This scene is powerful as Bane shows that he inhabits the idea of the League of Shadows and Batman better than Batman. He is the manipulator from the shadows who fights psychologically and physically. He breaks Batman totally and leaves him to suffer while Gotham is destroyed. It is powerful scene as he knows how small Bruce Wayne is in his identity in the end.

Climbing the Pit – The Pit is there to remind Bruce Wayne that he is more than Batman. He had gotten beyond fear and in doing so had nothing to live. In becoming an ideal he had trapped himself inside the ideal. It is only when he leaves room for fear to fail that he rises about it and finds Bruce Wayne again, which is the identity he lost the moment his parents were shot. Climbing the pit is healing both physically and mentally and becoming more than he ever was before.

What Desperation Can Breed / Revolution – Gotham is separated between the extreme rich and extreme poor. This leads to the revolution that Bane incites that leads to the easy occupation of the city and letting the city eat itself before it’s inevitable destruction.

The Cost of Batman’s Victory in “The Dark Knight” – The cost of victory is the occupation and death of Gotham. The mayor and all areas of authority get destroyed over the course of the war. Even though the city is saved from the bomb, the scars Bane left on the city will probably never be healed…which I think is something both Blake, Bruce and Selina realize, which is why they’ll be around to help. They have left the city, but everyone returns to Gotham.

Importance of Truth – Bane is able to so thoroughly break Batman and the city by revealing the truth of Harvey Dent which riles up the city against the rich and authority. There is only a small resistance and the mob turns on itself showing that the lie to save Gotham did nothing as eventually the city did turn on itself. The city’s base self was laid bare.

The Ending / The Power of Ideas and Growing Beyond Self – I felt this was done beautifully. Gordon realizes the child he comforted whose parents were shot (Bruce Wayne) became Batman, his friend and ally. Blake becomes the new Batman as he realizes the structures of Gotham are ones he can’t work with and he sees the corruption that Gordon saw but chose to work within to change and Selina and Bruce transcend their past identities becoming fully free…off the radar and the map and free to be whatever they want to be. Batman becomes Bruce Wayne which can hold both identities and more. Alfred get’s his happy ending finding that Bruce found happiness too.

Okay: The Writing – There are awkward dialogue moments and some extremes that shouldn’t have been in here (Batman having no cartilage in his legs, and his “retirement”), but the strengths of the characters and other moments like any moment with Alfred or the fight with Bane elevate it. So I’m putting it as okay.

The Cons: Talia’s Death – This wasn’t done well. She didn’t have to say anything…we knew her father’s dream was done if the bomb went off.

Dialogue Moments – There are some awkward dialogue moments in this…for example in the finale fight as Batman and Bane stare awkwardly at each other. It is stilted, but once they get fighting it is fine. There are other moments of wooden dialogue too, luckily they are only moments and not consistent.

   This is a film that ends the Trilogy really well. Batman moves on and at the very least becomes International. This film captures the idea behind “Batman Inc.” in many ways as we see him abroad but setting things up for Blake to inherent the mantel of the Bat. Bruce Wayne is both Batman (fixing the Bat Light) and Bruce Wayne (his living openly abroad). This is something he never had in any of the past films. Bruce Wayne was only Batman in the past films as he was unable to live beyond his obsession. It is only in realizing that Gotham will always have problems and need protecting but that can happen and he can live too. He takes Alfred’s advice and stays true to himself. In that way Batman dies so that Bruce Wayne who inhabits both identities can rise and there is something beautiful in that. I get why people hate it, but our heroes shouldn’t stay static. Let Bruce Wayne grow as all characters should so he can be more than just the traumatized child lost in fear. Bruce Wayne deserves better than that and this Trilogy is his story, his growth, his rising.

Final Score: 9.9 / 10

The Dark Knight (2008): A Masterpiece That Explores Virtue, Liberty and the Nature of Humanity

The Dark Knight

    “The Dark Knight” is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. It is more than just a great Batman film, it is a classic that illustrates just how great the medium of storytelling can be through the use of film. The best films can capture the best and worst of humanity and ask us questions about what it means to be ourselves. The best films challenge are assumptions and “The Dark Knight” is one of those films. This is also the Batman film with two of my favorite Batman villains. Both the Joker and Two-Face are two of the more complex Batman Rogues of all time and most of the stories that explore them are at least good.

     The film was directed, written and produced by Christopher Nolan who wrote it along with Jonathan Nolan. The film was produced by Emma Thomas and Charles Roven.

   The story involves Batman (Christian Bale) a year into his time protecting Gotham and explores the rise of the Joker (Heath Ledger) who escalates the war as Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) target the Mob with Batman and James Gordon (Gary Oldman) leading to the mob putting their fate in the Joker’s hands.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is the best it’s ever been in the “The Dark Knight Trilogy.” The contrasts of light and dark are best illustrated in the transformation of Harvey Dent and Two-Face and the scenes involving the Joker or Batman and the Joker together. This is a story of contrasts and the cinematography captures it beautifully. Wally Pfister once again did a great job.

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard created their best soundtrack thus far as we get the haunting theme of the Joker mixed with rising tension intermixed throughout the score. The story feels on edge because of how the music weaves so seamlessly with the plot. The aura of terror never goes away.

The Writing – The Nolan Brothers when they write together are better than when one of them teams up with Goyer. I think this is probably due to them understanding each other better which in turn allows them to explore the characters better and work the themes in without having what little fat there was in “Batman Begins.” The fact that it takes inspiration from “The Killing Joke” and “The Long Halloween” (two of my favorite “Batman” comics) is part of what gives the writing so much power. It pulls from great stories.

The World – The World is rich and feels lived in. From Sal Maroni taking over the Mob, the politics and corruption within both the District Attorney’s office and the Police and the politics between them. Batman is the one who holds this brittle vase together but the Joker gives it the push that makes it all fall apart.

The Characters – The characters are amazing in this. From the minor characters who were once faceless antagonists, to the large characters who express the themes of the story. The characters in this are a lot better than I realized until my most recent viewing.

Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow – He has a small role and is taken out early by Batman. The fact that he survived for so long is to his credit. He’s pretty minor compared to Joker and Two-Face is what the film shows as well as that he and Batman are both fit for Arkham.

Commissioner Loeb – Loeb actually gets exploration in this! We see all he’s doing to take out the mob and the consequences he takes for it, like his heavy drinking which makes it easier for the Joker to kill him. I like that we actually get to know the character this time.

Mayor Garcia – The Mayor is pretty great in this too as we see his courage in how he goes forward with the parade to honor Loeb and to give Harvey Dent the power he needs to go after the mob. I liked this character and wanted to get to know him more. His “real talk” with Harvey Dent is a powerful scene as it illustrates the growing war as the Joker’s victim is hanging at the Mayor’s window after the talk.

Detective Ramirez – Ramirez is a great character. She’s flawed as she’s looking out for her mother and this leads to her being in with the mob. We see that she isn’t all bad though she’s just ruled by fear which leads to her getting Gordon’s family to Two-Face. She is the symbol of the broken system.

Lau – Lau is a great character. The fact that he saves the Mob’s money on his own is great and he would have won if not for Batman ignoring international borders (one reason I don’t believe the 8 years or Retirement in “The Dark Knight Rises”). He ends up being burned alive on a pile of money buy the joker showing his role reversed as in the mob he was the most powerful person for protecting the money, but in the Joker’s city money means nothing.

Sal Maroni – Sal is great, he has a young arrogance about him that makes him fun anytime he’s on screen. He’s also a guy who can’t see all that long term as he is the one lets the Joker run havoc all over Gotham and in turn he can’t even escape because of it as Two-Face is waiting for him, changed by the Joker and with it Sal’s choice comes back to end him. In that way, he’s tragic in his own way.

Lucius Fox – Freeman gets more exploration in this as we see his ideals are strong on the side of personal liberty (one reason he might like Batman as an individual under no one) and when he stand against Batman’s NSA Spying Machine we see that it doesn’t matter how much he likes Bruce, he won’t let him become the Emperor of Gotham. No individual in Gotham should have all the power and Lucius stands by this even as he uses the machine once to help catch the Joker.

James Gordon – Gordon’s story in this is a tragedy. We see his distrust of Harvey Dent yet his belief in him too and how all of that is lost when the Joker breaks Harvey and James in unable to save Rachel Dawes. He is promoted to Commissioner when Loeb is murdered and never catches a break after that. For much of the film he is trying to save people from the Joker as the Joker is always one step ahead and the war against the Mob that he was working on with Batman and Harvey becomes nothing. In the end the war nearly costs him the life of his son though it does cost the life of Harvey Dent, which is something he is never able to live down as he embraces the lie that Batman killed Harvey Dent and hiding Dent becoming Two-Face.

Alfred – Alfred is great in this as Caine gives the mentor role power again. In this he illustrates how much it takes to defeat some enemies as we learn that Alfred was a pretty terrible person in Burma as he burned down an entire forest to catch one thief. This metaphor leads Batman to creating his NSA spying device showing that Batman did learn from Alfred and embraced the worst aspects of the fascist state that Alfred had once worked for. Luckily they both move on from that, but it shows how far both of them will go, in a way proving the Joker’s point about people.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – This is the film that tests the limits of Batman’s code as we see him fighting a losing war against the Joker when the Mob unleashes him when Batman, Gordon and Dent have almost defeated them. He never leaves his ideals of not killing in this but we see how far he’s willing to go as he metaphorically burns the forest of Gotham by spying on everyone to catch the Joker. It’s powerful and shows that Batman is willing to become a villain to stop a villain. In that way he is the Emperor of Gotham as the narrative of the Emperor being chosen in times of trial in Rome to protect the populace and how it lead to it becoming a permanent position. Batman not only loses his love in this and the respect of the city, but he loses his purpose as well as the Joker is proven right in many ways with the “Tragedy of Harvey Dent.”

Dark Knight Joker

The Joker – The Joker is an anarchist who lives to upset the status quo. He loves playing with people’s mind and comes up with different stories related to his scars to get into the heads of whoever his enemy is. Heath Ledger’s performance is one of the best villain performances of all times and is a classic for a reason. There is a reason you see at least one his Joker’s on Halloween or Comic Cons. His point is that humanity is just animals and civilization is a lie, so the only way to live is to live uninhibited by rules and he does this by destroying powerful figures or breaking them to make his points true. it is enough to turn Harvey Dent into Two-Face even if his “Prison Experiment” using the ferries doesn’t work. He doesn’t care about his life (as seen when he lets Harvey Dent flip the coin on his life) and lives purely for his ideals. For him the ideals are enough (like Batman) and like Batman it gives him power and makes him a symbol that can never fully be defeated. Even though Batman physically defeats him at the end (but is unable to kill him). R.I.P. Heath Ledger, you not only changed cinema forever but the culture with the character you played.

Dark Knight Two-Face

Harvey Dent / Two-Face – Harvey Dent is the idealist who in many ways represents humanity’s potential to rise to ideals and to fall into despair. His fall into Two-Face happens when he realizes all his plans to stop the mob are falling apart and his allies can’t even save the woman he loves. This makes him easy prey for the Joker who turns him into Two-Face leading to him embracing chance as his code of justice as he saw the law was unable to trap and prosecute the Joker, stop the Mob or save Rachel. In the end Two-Face is despair and in becoming a “Punisher” like vigilante proves the Joker’s point about how anyone can become a killer after a really bad day.

Liberty v. Security – Liberty v. Security is a major theme in this as we see Batman impeding on Liberty to stop the Joker when he taps into everyone’s cell phones. His very existence is an infringement upon Liberty too in a way as he is above the law yet enforces them. The Joker is one of the answers to this as is Lucius Fox who show that becoming a Dictator isn’t the answer.

Does Vigilantism Help? – Does becoming a vigilante help? We see in this that it probably doesn’t. From inexperienced look alikes who dress up like Batman and put themselves and others at risk and in turn lead to the rise of the Joker, who was never on the scene until Batman appeared. The question is never fully answered as Batman does capture the Joker, but since he might have helped create the Joker in the first place…does Batman’s existence help or hinder more in the end?

Fascism v. Anarchy – The main theme is one of fascism versus Anarchy. Batman is fascism incarnate as he is above the police and the law and enforces his own brand of justice that is everything but killing. In answer to that there is the Joker who seeks to destroy all systems that uphold the law so the people can do whatever they want and become their base selves. While Batman seeks to scare others into becoming their best selves.

Codes – The Joker’s code is that a person should live how they want and that life itself doesn’t matter, what is important is tearing down structures of power to get people back to their basic selves. Batman doesn’t kill because he sees the good in people and sees Batman as the hope that can inspire that. Harvey’s ideal at first is to the law and using it to stop corruption. It isn’t until he loses everything that his ideal becomes chance as he blames chance and entropy on all his sorrow.

The Nature of Humanity – Is humanity good or bad at it’s base? The Joker would say bad as shown by how the city turned on itself when he caused fear and terror while Batman who believes that humans are good as shown by the Ferry Experiment where the prisoners and civilians don’t kill each other…showing that humans can rise above their fears like he did. Who is right? That’s really up to you as throughout human history you will find proof of both, though I think there is more on the Joker’s side…humans have historically been far more cruel and selfish than good and giving.

Okay: Rachel Dawes – Rachel Dawes is an idea and never gets beyond that. For Harvey she’s the thing worth living for that feeds his idealism and keeps him strong, for Bruce Wayne she’s the way out of him being Batman and having a normal life. For both she is an escape and her death triggers the change in both our characters. She’s a plot device so never becomes great. She always is just okay.

Pacing – The pacing is alright but doesn’t quite work. There are many times where the film feels like the climax has happened but before you know 3 more climactic events have happened. This is the only real downside the film has besides Rachel Dawes.

    “The Dark Knight” manages to make even it’s minor characters compelling, even as the main drama goes down between Gordon, Dent, the Joker and Batman through whose perspectives we explore the ideas and get the drama. This film isn’t afraid to tackle big ideas and the possible consequences of those ideas. Not only that we get to see it through the eyes of fascinating villains or compelling heroes we care about. This gives power to the consequences are characters make that illustrate the ideas the film explores. These deeper ideas and complex characters keep me coming back and this is a film I will never grow tired of. It is always worth a second look as he each time the ideas are explored by the characters it gives a chance to explore one’s own thoughts on the answers to the questions. This film is one of the greatest films of all time.

Final Score: 10 / 10

Batman Begins (2005): The Power Behind Overcoming Fear and an Amazing “Batman” Film

Batman Begins poster

    “Batman Begins” is a great start to “The Dark Knight Trilogy” and a solid film on it’s own. Nolan could have lost the rights to make more of these films and this would be the best of the “Batman” Films at this point. Nolan creates a world that feels lived in and captures the noir feel of Batman as well as integrating the more fantastical aspects of Batman’s backstory into something more believable. This is supported by a strong score that Zimmer and some absolutely brilliant performances. There is very little wrong with this film.

      “Batman Begins” it was directed by Christopher Nolan who also co-wrote the screenplay along with David S. Goyer. The film was produced by Charles Roven, Emma Thomas and Larry Franco.

   The story involves the death of Bruce Wayne’s (Christian Bale) parents and his leaving Gotham city to get training in order to take on the criminal world. This leads his meeting Henri Ducard (Liam Neeson) who trains him to become a member of the League of Shadows, which he rejects leading to his return to Gotham and becoming Batman. But all is not as it seems.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography in “Batman Begins” is beautiful. The world is full of shadow with light used to illustrate the characters and creatures who make up the dark. Whether it is ninjas in the League of Shadow’s fortress or the criminals who inhabit the Gotham underworld. Wally Pfister did a fantastic job.

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard created a beautiful score for this film. It manages to capture the darkest points for our heroes and also their highest or most epic moments. From Batman calling in the bats for reinforcements…to anything related to the League of Shadows or Scarecrow. The main theme is also glorious and anytime I hear it I remember this Trilogy.

The Writing – The writing is fantastic, David S. Goyer when working with Christopher Nolan as a collaborator can actually tell a great story. The fact they pull from great stories like “Batman: Year One” and others helps. They pull from the best and make it fit their own universe.

The Characters – The characters are the strongest part of the Trilogy and “Batman Begins” is a great introduction to all our heroes, giving them arcs that mean something as they explore and reveal different parts of themselves and of Batman in their relationship with him. The only downside are some of the one-note antagonists, but I’ll get into them further down.

Lucius Fox – Lucius Fox’s arc involves his rise of power within Wayne Corporation again as he sees the big picture and uses cast off Wayne Tech to help Batman mount his fight against crime and the underworld. He saves Batman and the city by coming up with an antitode to the League of Shadows’s fear gas they use on Gotham and that Scarecrow uses on Batman. Morgan Freeman is great too and gives a lot of humor and depth to the character as he knows what is going on pretty early on when Bruce comes to him.

Carmine Falcone – This guy is a great baddie. He owns Gotham and it takes Bruce Wayne leaving Gotham in order to find a way and training to defeat him. Even after he’s arrested he only falls when Scarecrow shoots him up with fear gas. Before that point, Falcone didn’t fear anyone or anything and you had to respect the guy. He got the underworld and his tough talk with Bruce before throwing him out really illustrated just how thoroughly he owned Gotham and how broken the city is. Tom Wilkinson is really good in the role.

Alfred – Michael Caine is an awesome Alfred! He is the one who brings wisdom to Bruce and is someone Bruce can throw his ideas off of. He’s also Bruce Wayne’s only connection to his family and past as so much of his Batman self is his living of an idea where he has no room for personal connection because there is only the mission. Alfred brings him back down to Earth and centers him.

Sgt. James Gordon – Gary Oldman is amazing at Sgt. James Gordon! This is the first film version of Gordon that is actually explored as a character as we see he is the one who comforted Bruce as a child and like Batman strives to live by ideals in a world that is broken. He doesn’t rat on his friends but he doesn’t take mob or anyone’s money. In this way he is able to make change and it is in working with Batman his vision to help save the broken city helps come about as he is promoted, showing his ideals were heard. He is the reason Ra’s Al Ghul is defeated too as he destroys the train that was carrying Ra’s and the weapon.

Scarecrow

Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow – Cillian Murphy truly owns the role of Scarecrow and I get why Nolan kept bringing him back to be in later films. In this we see his rise to the most powerful (his institutionalizing of Carmine Falcone) but later see he is just a puppet of the League as he only sees power and holding the city ransom. This isn’t the whole story though as he gets pumped full of his own fear gas by Batman (revenging for nearly killing Batman with it earlier in the film) and this leads to him going fully mad and becoming the Scarecrow. He escapes the cops and Batman and is missing at the end of the film, showing just how resilient he is.

Ra's Al Ghul

Henri Ducard / Ra’s Al Ghul – Ra’s Al Ghul is smart at hiding himself as he presents someone else as himself to Bruce Wayne when he is training Bruce (to be a possible replacement in the long run, in the short run to destroy Gotham) and becomes Bruce’s mentor and friend. In the end he can’t even bring himself to kill Bruce and opts to give Bruce the same treatment he received as he burns down Wayne Manor and leaves Bruce under a burning log. This is a character I couldn’t help but respect as I got how someone who had been through so much could come to believe that you can only save civilization by destroying it so that people can see the full corruption and plant a new way of being. Neeson’s performance also lended a lot of empathy to the role.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Christian Bale makes a great Batman and I like the idea that he is only Batman and Bruce Wayne is a mask, even though it gives his Bruce Wayne identity and overly artificial feel sometimes. In the context of Nolan’s universe he really works because he is the ideal of Batman so there isn’t much room for the Wayne identity beyond enough to create cover for the vigilante and the true self that is Batman. His Batman manages to be both threatening, charming (jokes that don’t break the tone of the film) and real as we see just how new he is at this role and how far he’s come since his exile. His arc is going from one based in revenge akin to “The Punisher” to that of one based in a code of Justice where fear should help stop threats and the law should still rule.

Becoming Batman – From the scenes with Alfred discussing the idea, from the finding of the Batcave below Wayne Manor and finally working Lucius Fox to make the costumed identity…all of this is gold and some of my favorite parts of the film.

To Defeat Fear – One of the running messages and themes of the film is the confronting and defeating of fear. In all cases it is seeing that the bottom and falling is not that end and that every time you stand and face it you can defeat it. All the moments in Ra’s Temple really illustrate this well.

Batman’s Rule – “Do not kill.” This is what sets Batman apart from most vigilantes and most film versions of Batman have ignored this rule (as later broken versions of him don’t follow this rule). I’m glad Nolan brought it back as his striving for this role sets him apart, even from most of our Marvel heroes who kill without a problem. He strives for this, even if he doesn’t always succeed and that is commendable.

The World – The World is an amazing one, which is why I’m giving it it’s own section. We get to see a modern day take on Gotham, what the League of Shadows would do in the modern age (economic war) as well as the type of tech. Batman would need tech. that was used by military contractors to do what he does. I also like how powerful the mob is in this world and the fact that there are so many different players. It makes the politics of this world and Gotham fascinating.

Okay: Rachel Dawes – Katie Holmes is okay. She largely focuses as a plot device for Bruce Wayne to get beyond his “Punisher” mindset and to seek justice and a higher ideal than revenge…and besides that she is the love interest, but it never goes anywhere. The fight against the League of Shadows and Bruce Wayne against himself and his fears is much bigger.

Pacing – “Batman Begins” can be slow at times. Sometimes this works, so I’m not putting it at as a con…but it can be a con sometimes depending on your state of mind. This is a film to watch fully aware and if you are tired you most likely won’t enjoy the film. It takes time to meditate in scenes and characters and I know that isn’t everyone’s thing. It is also the reason for the pacing issue.

Okay / Cons: One-Dimensional Side Antagonists – There are only a few of these guys, and they are a stock Nolantype. Any large scale movie he does will have some of these characters I’ve realized as they are an easy way to show our protagonist(s) having victories.

Commissioner Loeb – Loeb is against Batman but we never get the reasons beyond him stealing the light from Loeb’s city. I never got Loeb’s anger which is a shame as fighting Batman and his relationship with Batman via Gordon’s actions could have been explored a lot more. Instead he is another faceless antagonist.

Detective Flass – Flass is just a stooge to show how corrupt the Gotham Police Department is. He is a bully and there is no depth to the character.

William Earle – The guy is just a corrupt CEO whose motivations we never learn of beyond power. He is a plot device to be defeated by Lucius Fox and Bruce Wayne.

     Besides the issue of pacing and the more one-dimensional antagonists connected to Bruce Wayne and Batman this movie is untouchable. The world that Nolan creates is one that feels lived in and corrupt enough that it would create a vigilante like Batman who would seek to right the wrongs within it. I also appreciate Bruce Wayne’s striving for virtue in all of his choices. This is something that is never an issue in any of the films before this. In this he takes seriously his rule of “Do not kill,” even if he doesn’t always succeed in that. Bale’s Bruce Wayne fits this role where Batman is his true self and Bruce Wayne is merely a mask he presents to the outside world. This fits Nolan’s style of writing and direction where exploration of ideas and how characters inhabit those ideas creates the story worth being invested in.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 A nearly perfect adaptation.