“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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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

“Batman” in Film – Upcoming Reviews

Batman Symbol

     After the “Disney Marvel Franchise Adventure” I figured it was time to return back to DC and to visit the area of DC Comics where the greatest amount of live action films have been good…so Batman, which seems to be the only thing that DC live action can seem to get right some of the time versus their other heroes which have either not been tackled beyond television (Flash, Green Arrow) or have even more bad films to their name (Green Lantern, Superman). Batman is the only one has enough live action films to really show a range in quality that can give a full illustration of what keeps bringing us back to this amazing character.

     I’ll be staring with the Adam West “Batman” from 1966, going through Burton’s “Batman” and “Batman Returns,” as well as doing “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin” before I get to Nolan’s “Dark Knight Trilogy.” I’ve already reviewed “Batman v. Superman” but will include it when I get to rating the different takes on Batman and rating all of the Batman films as a whole from Worst to Best.

    This is going to be quite an adventure and also a change of pace, which should be good. Batman is one of my favorite parts of the DC Universe and I can’t wait to see the Affleck’s solo flick if it comes together. This is a character who speaks to human vulnerability and strength better than nearly any hero in comics, which is why there has been so many films made about him.

   Many of these films are my favorite and some are some of the worst to come out of cinema. Suffice to say this is going to be a fun reviewing adventure and I look forward to hearing your own thoughts on the films that are reviewed and the final ratings at the end.