“Gotham” Season 3 – Great Villain Arcs But Story is a Little Cluttered

  This was a cluttered season but also gave some of the best villain moments throughout this entire series. When I was watching it as it was coming out on Fox I eventually got a bit burned out during the first half of the Mad City arc but after it came to Netflix ended up marathoning it and got a much greater appreciation for what the writers were trying to do. This was a season where I think the writers must have thought they might be canceled after, because the ending gives enough of an end that it would have been a good ending to the show. There are character endings and also beginnings for some major events. I’ll save that for the spoilers though, for now this season is worth your time if you’ve been watching the show thus far.

The story involves the recovery of those who broke out of Indian Hill at the end of last season and a re-alignment of powers as Fish Mooney leaves town with Strange, leaving Penguin to fill the power vacuum as he decides to run for mayor, and a new threat arrives on the scene in the form of The Mad Hatter who wants to make the city mad with his sister’s blood. From here the story unfolds as the Court of Owls continues to manipulate events behind the scenes as Alfred, Bruce and Jim must deal with these threats.

SPOILERS ahead

The Madness Arc / Mad Hatter / Tetch Virus Arc  – The Mad Hatter is a creepy and wonderfully scary villain. He is all about mind games and the whole arc with his sister is tragic as his obsession is what destroys any sort of friendship or connection they might have had. This fuels his madness as it her blood that the Court of Owls wants and uses to infect the populace. By the end it is unknown where he is and his arc is eventually defeated by Hugo Strange and the GCPD, but together Jim Gordon gets infection, Commissioner Barnes gets infected (becoming The Executioner), Lee Thompkins and countless others. The Mad Hatter is the core driving threat through the season, even after he is in Arkham.

The Creation of The Riddler – This is the season where we finally see Edward Nygma become the Riddler. Before there was always hints of it and he had been a villain and murderer prior, but this was where he sought an identity that was unique after he shoots Penguin and leaves him to die. It is really cool seeing him at the top of the criminal underworld as his obsession is with quality art, science and the areas of higher learning. He kicks off his killing spree by killing a bunch of professors. This fit the character beautifully and Cory Michael Smith has really grown into this role.

Return of Jerome / The Joker – The weakest Joker in live action thus far is Jared Leto, his Joker is the only one where there isn’t a threat about him and his drive is so weak (money, Harley Quinn). Jerome is the Joker who inhabits the philosophical sociopathy of the character as when he is resurrected the first thing he does is a call for a “Purge” style event where people can do whatever they want, as he attempts to corrupt Bruce Wayne before killing him as they tour the circus. It has elements of “The Killing Joke” in it and when he is defeated by Bruce Wayne, you know he’s coming back. This is where the character truly comes into his own in “Gotham” and the fact that he has a Jokerz cult already gives him even more power than he has in a lot of the different versions of him.

The Rise, Fall and Rise Once More of Penguin – One of the main arcs this season and really of the show is that Penguin will rise fall and rise again. He’s like The Drowned God as each time he comes back he is powerful than before. In this we see his love for Nygma lead to his undoing as he kills Nygma’s love out of jealousy and soon realizes no one liked him, they only respected him out of fear. It is this realization after he is no longer Mayor and Fish forgives him that we see him come into his own. He grows as a person and puts Nygma behind ice as a reminder never to love again as he incorporates Fish’s gang into his own after her death by the hands of Jim Gordon. Robin Lord Taylor’s Penguin continues to be one of the best parts of this show.

The Arrival of Ra’s Al Ghul – Another major arc of this series is the reveal of the League of Shadows who are shown to be the ones pulling the strings behind the Court of Owls and that the past times Gotham has been destroyed is because of them. They are extremely powerful in this and brainwash Bruce to the point that he stabs Alfred and has to save his life. We also see that the Tetch Virus was never that big of a deal to them as Ra’s (played amazingly by Alexander Siddig) reveals that knowing Bruce will be his heir is enough and that he is nothing but patient. Whether he still is in Gotham or was ever in Gotham is unknown as his robes appear empty when Bruce tries to slash him. I really like this version of the character and I really hope the show doesn’t mess up. Siddig is perfect for this role.

Okay: Selena and Bruce’s Lovestory – This was really kind of lame. I’m not putting it as a con because it did develop their trust issues and why they’d never work as a couple, but it went nowhere and was pointless.

The Cons: Cluttered Storytelling – Hugo Strange and his creations, Penguin as Mayor, The Court of Owls, the Mad Hatter, the creation of the Riddler the rise of Barbara, The Executioner’s creation and the League of Shadows. There is so much this season and it clutters the overall execution.

The Bruce Wayne Clone – This arc didn’t go anywhere. He was there just to give time for Bruce to get brainwashed and was only a plot device. What a lame end to an idea that could have been done decently this season.

The Handling of Lee and Barbara – Lee is the damsel nearly the entire time and can’t be trusted with anything and Barbara is crazy and turns on anyone, even those who are her allies. I hate how women have been handled overall in this show and it is a major factor that kept this season from being great. In the end Barbara dies so that arc went nowhere and Lee once again leaves Gotham, which already happened before, so who knows if she’ll be back again.

Overall this was an extremely solid season, even with how cluttered it became with so many arcs going on. The weakest parts were really the heroes. Jim Gordon was okay and I liked his moral grey that he had early on and kept through the season, but Bruce really didn’t have a great moment until he knocked out Jerome / The Joker and showed that all the setup the past seasons was finally going somewhere. It had some things I really loved, like Alexander Siddig as Ra’s Al Ghul, Nygma coming into his own as the Riddler, Hugo Strange showing up a few times and of course everything with the Penguin and Joker. This was where the series shined and made it a solidly good experience I’d recommend.

Final Score: 8.5 / 10

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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.

“Gotham” Season 1 – Establishing the Crazy City, The Moral Grey and Characters

Gotham Season 1

     “Gotham” was a series that I didn’t expect to like. Part of the reason is it does start out slow and the child actors are the weakest part of the series…but once the Gang Drama starts up it gets really fascinating. I grew to care about the different fighting Crime Lords  and wanted to see what they would do to rise and how they would fight one another. This is a show that is a Noir and as someone who has always enjoyed Noir style films the city of “Gotham” is the perfect location to tell a Noir Drama which over time pulled me and from there I grew to care about the series.

    The series was created by Bruno Heller who was also one of the producers along with Danny Cannon, John Stephens and Ben Edlund.

      The story is about Jim Gordon’s (Ben McKenzie) return to London and him facing the corruption of the city with his partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) as the drama between the Crime Lords tear the city apart as Gordon tries to establish order and solve the mystery behind the Wayne Murders.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World of Gotham – Gotham is a fascinating world..and as a fan of Batman I really enjoyed this interpretation. What kind of world would it take for Batman to be a good thing? A pretty broken and crazy world and that is the world of Gotham, where the good are few and become corrupted and a new bad will always rise.

Law and Order  – The Law and Order side of Gotham is fascinating and we get to see some of Batman’s rogues and allies here and see what motivates them.

Edward Nygma – Nyma is fascinating as the awkward riddle man who is drawn to one of his coworkers who gets into a lot of abusive relationships. It is from him being the outsider and obsessive that we see him become corrupt when he kills his crushes abusive boyfriend, hides it and from there he breaks. Cory Michael Smith gives a tenderness to the character that isn’t often seen.

Sarah Essen – Sarah Essen is in charge of the Station and we see her advocate for Jim and Bullock, including risking her life when Zsasz comes for Gordon’s head on orders from Falcone. From here we see her walking the very thin line between her job and corruption as she does all she can to help. Zabryna Guevera is good.

Harvey Dent – Harvey is shown to be the driven and idealistic lawyer willing to take the fight to the Mob, until Loeb comes in and cuts out his feat from under him and we learn he will fight but he toes the line because he does have ambition. He doesn’t stop being Gordon’s ally though, even through it all. Nicholas D’Agosto is wonderful.

Leslie Tompkins – Leslie starts out as a Doctor in Arkham, but after her and Gordon hunt down one of the escapies she joins GPD and becomes their doctor as the past was fired for corruption. She is really cool and it’s great seeing Morena Baccerin (Inara from “Firefly”) again.

Harvey Bullock – Harvey is one of my favorite characters on the show. He’s the corrupt cop in so deep with the mob but because he is he knows how to keep peace on the streets and cut deals. It is the idealistic Gordon who changes him as we see him risk for more than himself and put himself out there helping Gordon reform Gotham and the GPD. Donal Logue is fantastic.

The Thugs and Crime Lords – These guys are the best part of the show, not the crazies…but the crime lords who use Gotham as their chessboard. Each of them has such fascinating motivations and it is a joy to see how those unfold.

Victor Zsasz – Zsasz is wonderful in this as the brutal thug and enforcer who has no fear. It is he who breaks Fish’s number 2, Butch and turns him into Falcone’s puppet. He also survives the gang war and upheavel at the end showing that he’s a survivor. He’s also really creepy too as he puts a cut on his body for every hit he does.

Butch – Butch is Fish’s number 2 who is broken by Falcone. He is the guy who turns on his friend because he believes in Fish only to lose it all when Zsasz breaks him and turns him into Penguin’s pet. He tries to rebel against it but fails in the end when Penguin reigns triumphant.

Carmine Falcone – Falcone is  an old world crime boss who keeps all his deals and shows that he can play the long game. When Fish plots rebellion he uses Penguin to reveal her as well as to reveal his rival Sal Maroni. In the end he is done with it all though as he goes into retirement away from it all as the fight is out of him and he’s tired of people and betrayal. Falcone’s primary drive is power and order and when order is lost all he wants is safety where he can keep his own power and order away from the chaos of Gotham.

Sal Maroni – David Zayas is awesome as Sal Maroni. After seeing him play a stupid and kind character in “Dexter” he is amazing as the smooth criminal who plays his cards really well right until the end when his insulting Fish Mooney leads to her head shotting him. His drive is respect and family and we see how his old friendships are what put him at risk, as well as his need for revenge and to be the leader of his world.

Fish Mooney – Jada Pinkett Smith is awesome as Fish Mooney! Her character loses everything at one point when she is in the Dollmaker’s prison, yet we see her insight and lead a prison rebellion, escape and in the she is the one who kills Sal Maroni. My money is on her being alive even though Penguin pushed her into the river in the final fight. Her first name is Fish afterall, and she’s survived more than that. Her character like Penguin is a survivor who is absolutely ruthless against her enemies. Her drive is to protect her own and to rule and from that respect.

Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin – Robin Lord Taylor is wonderful as this manipulative, rat punk who rises through the ranks betraying Fish, Falcone and Maroni to become the King of Gotham…and in the end he succeeds. He proves in this world ruthlessness and being without morality will get you what you want. Gordon also owes him a favor so he has control over GPD in his own way too, plus Gordon doesn’t kill so there is that. One of his primary motivations is caring for his somewhat insane mother and giving her the illusion that he is an honorable man. He goes full crazy and ruthless when Maroni tells her the truth of who he is.

Main – The main cast who isn’t GPD isn’t as strong at this point and I’ll get into why further on. Alfred, Barbara and Jim Gordon are great though.

Barbara Kean – This show is Barbara breaking as we see her isolated and living with Selina Kyle and Poison Ivy and eventually being chosen and broken by the Ogre turning her into a mad murder stuck in Gotham after she kills her parents and tries to kill Leslie.

Alfred Pennyworth – Sean Pertwee (son of Jon Pertwee the 3rd Doctor from “Doctor Who”) does a great job as Alfred. He’s an ex-marine still bearing the weight of the things he was made to do (one reason he doesn’t believe it in anymore) and it is that guilt that leads to an old friend almost killing him. He is the moral center for Bruce Wayne who is angry and broken and he is the one who supports and trains Bruce as best he can.

Jim Gordon –  Ben McKenzie is actually a pretty good actor. In this we see a man driven by his job and code forced to make compromises for the greater good and from it slowly grow corrupt in his own way while his actions lead to the rise of the Penguin as the new King of Gotham. His story is a tragedy as his ex Barbara goes insane from a serial killer and Loeb does all he can to hurt Gordon so the GPD will not change.

Okay: Selina Kyle – She is just a punk and we don’t know why she does the things she does. She’s a blank slate and it is only the actresses performance that elevates her above a con.

Bruce Wayne – Bruce has the same problem as Selina. He is a blank slate though he does have a little bit more development. He is obsessed and a bit of a savant and may be autistic which lends some depth to Bruce that isn’t often seen or explored in regards to his character. It is that helped me get through the okay performance by the child actor.

Arkham – There is nothing unique about Arkham Asylum. I cared so much more about GPD Headquarters and the Penguin’s and Fish’s Lounge than this place…which is sad is this location is so central to the mythos.

Cons: Poison Ivy – She is just a mean kid from an abusive household. No depth, nothing interesting…a waste.

Commissioner Loeb – He’s a one-dimensional corrupt man trying to protect his insane daughter. Really wanted more from this character as Falcone, Maroni, Fish and Penguin all have more development.

   This is a show I’d recommend for sure! The weakest parts are when there are child actors and the first third of the series isn’t all that strong, but when the betrayals begin happening and Gordon’s desire to reform kicks into full gear the story really takes off. If you like Batman and that universe you will probably like this show. It is a fascinating and twisted Noir that enjoys it’s place in the Batman mythos. I’m looking forward to Season 2 and where the story will go.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10