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

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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.

The Last Witch Hunter (2015): Good Actors Can’t Save This Script

The Last Witch Hunter Poster

    “The Last Witch Hunter” isn’t good, it isn’t so bad it’s good…but it does have what could have been a good film within it if it had handled things differently than it did. There is a great cast here and it feels like a Vin Diesel passion project. For what it’s worth I didn’t hate it, but it was a bad film.

    The film was directed by Breck Eisner. and written by Cory Goodman, Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless and produced by Mark Canton and Bernie Goldmann.

    The story involves Kaulder who defeats the Witch Queen (Julie Engelbrecht) and is cursed with immortality in the process. In the present the With Queen’s followers are attempting resurrect her and it is up to Kaulder and the Dolan (26th played by Caine, 27th by Wood) to stop him.

The Pros: The World – The idea of Witches being born of another species is kind of cool. It gives them a faerie vibe especially as they specialize in nature spells in most of what they do and the Witch Queen functions in a tree and connecting people like roots.

Okay: The Actors – The actors all do alright, but the cons drive them down and keep their performances from being great.

Vin Diesel – His Kaulder has two emotions, fearless and fearful and nothing in-between. This is largely the fault of the script more than anything else so Diesel becomes an actor more wooden than Groot.

Rose Leslie – Ygritte from “Game of Thrones” is sassy in this as as the rebel witch but her character is never given any motivation. She owns a magic bar that she loses when the Witch Queen’s minion destroys it but that is about it. She is there to be rescued and the love interest.

Michael Caine – He is the 26th Dolan who is protecting and advising Kaulder and also lies to him as they keep the Witch Queen’s heart which is why she’s still alive. He is nearly killed by her minions but Kaulder saves him and we learn he was going to tell Kaulder the truth. Still only okay as a character though.

The Cons: The Script – The writing is terrible and makes George Lucas look great by comparison. It hurt to listen too as we are given so much tell and not any show and the tell isn’t even told that well.

The 27th Dolan – Elijah Wood does an obvious betrayal and there is nothing that can save it, this is one of his worst performances.

The Witch Queen – Her hatred of humanity is never fully explained and she just wasn’t all that threatening or scary.

The Special Effects – The cinematography isn’t unique or special in any way and there is nothing that keeps this from being a made for tv film.

  This was a film that is really forgettable, it’s enjoyable the times the idea of the world comes through but there is so much bringing it down, especially the writing. It is easily one of the worst films I have watched this year.

Final Score: 3 / 10

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014): A Masterful and Fun Deconstruction and Celebration of Classic Spy Thrillers

Kingsman The Secret Service

    Watching this film made me realize just how much of a fan I am of Matthew Vaughn’s work and that I look forward to reviewing “Snatch” and “Lock,  Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.” He is a director who specializes in action, but it always drives the plot and his films are always so much fun. I haven’t seen the two films mentioned above but “Stardust,” “Kick-Ass” and “X-Men: First Class” are some truly great films, and “Kingsman: The Secret Service” should be added to that list as well.

      As stated above, Matthew Vaughn directed the film as well as being one of the writers and producers. The other writer was Jane Goldman and the other producers were David Reid and Adam Bohling. The story is based off the graphic novel of the same created by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons.

    The story follows Eggsy (Taron Egerton) who is brought in as a potential recruit to the Secret Kingsman after his Father who was in the Guard saved Harry code name “Galahad” (Colin Firth). He must face the class discrimination from the guard as well as help them to defeat the threat of Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) who plans to use a chip to make humanity destroy itself as his chosen few create a new humanity from the ashes.

The Pros: The Action – The action is amazing in this film! Whether it is Harry taking on a Religious Cult that has the chip turned on and winning, or Eggsy and Merlin infiltrating Valentine’s Headquarters, the action is fantastic and stands out. It manages to be both beautiful and elegant, like the Kingsman.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful and compliments the music and writing as it emphasis where a character is emotionally or provides a contrast to the scenes. George Richmond did a great job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is a lot of fun and usually country, or rock or disco will be playing over the action giving it a surreal feel while also showing just how brutal it is. It’s a great use of cinema and music to create such memorable scenes, it is thanks to the soundtracks that so many of the fight scenes stand out beyond how well they were filmed. Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson did a great job.

The Story – The story is simple, but it works. Eggsy is the outcast from a poor family pulled into high society and ends up discovering a gentlemen is not based on sex or class, it is about how you treat others and yourself. This is a story that has been done before and there have been tons of spy movies, but this one manages to set itself apart in that Valentine kills Harry and doesn’t give him a chance to escape and Valentine actually succeeds for a few minutes at the end.

The Characters – The characters are the most memorable part of the film, this is due both to the acting and the writing as all of them have distinct personalities that further elevate the plot.

Harry – Colin Firth owns this role as an older badass who manages to take on multiple people on occasion as well as emphasizing that a gentleman is not based on class, race or sex but on how one acts. This comes through all the time with his character when he confronts Arthur to his relationship to Eggsy. His death by Valentine actually means something because of it.

Roxy – Sophie Cookson is good as the nervous recruit who manages to be the new Lancelot. She is great at following orders in contrast to Eggsy but also has much more fear, though that doesn’t stop her from befriending Eggsy and standing up for him against the entitled prats. She stops Valentine by destroying one of his satellites before he can activate the chip the first time.

Gazelle – Sofia Boutella plays Valentine’s assassin and she is fantastic! She has swords for legs and only loses at the end because of a poisoned knife in Eggsy’s shoe. She is a true believer and truly loves Valentine. She is the one who isn’t afraid to kill or murder while Valentine in contrast to his goals is sensitive and afraid of murder and blood. It is great seeing her in action! She kills the first Lancelot who Jack Davenport plays. Not putting him on the list because he was around for such a short amount of time we didn’t get any character.

Arthur – Michael Caine plays the corrupt leader of the Kingsman and he joins Valentine since he thinks humanity deserves to be destroyed due to everything he’s seen in the field. His betrayal I saw coming since it is a cliche point, but Caine handles it well and he is complicated every time we see him as he truly cared for Harry.

Merlin – Mark Strong plays the hacker who manages to help beat Valentine and survive it all. He is the brains and also the one who has great chemistry with Eggsy and Valentine as he never had the same class hangups that Arthur did. Mark Strong makes this character both arrogant and sensitive.

Valentine – Jackson is such an amazing actor! In this we see him play a senstive character with a lisp who just wants to save the world and plans to do it by having humanity destroy itself and keeping the idealists all for himself in order to build a better world. He’s truly a criminal mastermind and his character reminded me a lot of the villain he played in “Unbreakable.” He is weak but brilliant and clearly villain though not a simple character.

Eggsy – Taron Egerton plays a poorer Englishman whose father was a Kingsman. He is a thief and crook who turns around and becomes a gentleman as he begins to care for others beyond his family. His arc is cliche but his character is great as he is self aware of the the spy tropes, like Valentine, this makes him smart and self aware as well as funny too.

Deconstruction of Classic Spy Films – We get to see the weapons room, the gentleman fighter and even sleeping with a princess over the course of Eggsy’s growth while at the same time Valentine and Harry referencing the films they drew inspiration from like Bond or Bourne and throwing those elements away for the smarter move. It was very well done and I like that the self awareness enriched the film.

The Cons: The Introduction – The introduction is a random military operation in a middle eastern country where Eggsy’s father risks his live to save Harry. It would have meant more if we knew something about the operation and the people but since we don’t it functions only as a motivator and was the weakest part of the film thematically and writingwise.

Professor Arnold – Mark Hamill plays this character and all he does is function as a plot devise. W enever get ot know him, we just know what he does. What a waste of Mark Hamill. Wasn’t impressed with how this character was written at all.

This was a really good film that I highly recommend. Not only does it deconstruct and celebrate the genre it drew inspiration from but it manages to be just an all around great film in both music, characters, story and cinematography. I definitely recommend this film to anyone who loves spy films and I plan on reading the graphic novel after this, given there is a lot here and this world has potential to be explored further.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

Interstellar (2014): Creating a Future

interstellar-imax-movie-poster

      We complete the First Sci. Fi. Movie Week with “Interstellar.” “Interstellar” is by no means the greatest film of the year, or the greatest science film I have watched…but it is great and a favorite. The themes it explores with humanity at the edge as explorers and as a dying species speak volume to problems that exist or could arise and the possibility of something more. The folks in charge of this did their research as well, of course there are science fiction elements since this is a fictional film, but a lot of how they present ideas are solid. I’ll get into more of what I mean in the assessment.

    The film was directed by Christopher Nolan who was also one of the writers and producers. His brother Jonthan Nolan was the other writer and the other producers were Emma Thomas and Lynda Obst.

   The premise is the not so distant future where the death of crops has turned society into an agrarian society with limited means. This has lead to extreme environment devestation and dust storms are a usual occurrence. In this world former NASA pilot Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is raising his children with their grandfather (), after tracking a strange occurrence he stumbles on the last of NASA who have a plan for discovering a new planet to settle since Earth is dying. He decides to take the mission, and the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: The Cinematography – “interstellar” is a beautifully visual film. Be it the desolate wasteland Earth is becoming, or the Black Hole that they pass through or any of the different worlds…each feels large, unique and powerful. Hoyte van Hoytema really did an astounding job.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is beautiful and great. It is Hans Zimmer so it makes sense. My one issue with it was sometimes it was difficult to hear the dialogue because of how loud the music could become. The techno rhyme throughout the film gave it a very real high science fiction feel though and Zimmer is once again amazing.

The World – The world is rich in this Universe. From Earth being a dying world where climate is making crops unsustainable, to a planet of Water, a planet of Ice and the planet Amelia settles and how Space is shown as well as Cooper’s Station at the end. It is a Sci. Fi. Universe that feels real and close enough to our own to inspire us to try and make that reality (the good parts anyway).

The Science – We are presented different scientific concepts that strengthen the film. From the bend of space and time in regards to Black Holes or theoretical wormholes would work, to planets with greater gravity where time is faster or slower than on Earth. These ideas haven’t really been tackled all that well in modern cinema (that I can think of) except this film.

The Main Cast – The main cast is fantastic. I’ll get into the details of the characters and their arcs next, but I found the drama rich and the dilemmas real.

Amelia – This is not Hathaway’s greatest role as her motivation is one of the simplest ones…to find her boyfriend. She has other aspects to like love of exploration but when it comes down to the final choice that is her focus and is part of what leads to her ending as she heads off to Edmund’s planet at the end. Hathaway does a good job with what she’s given though, and she does survive.

Tom Cooper – Is the son who becomes stuck in the mindset of the dying Earth as he has lost children but refuses to leave as his home is all he has left. When Murphy calls him out on it he asks he never come back again leading to her burning his crops and attempting to save his children. He is the one whose scars are the most blatant after Cooper left as he sends his father a video of him saying good-bye. He moves on and becomes a part of the world destroying himself and his family. Casey Affleck does great.

Doctor Mann – Matt Damon plays a character who has gone mad and sees the only end because of how Doctor Brand used him. He wants humanity to die because he’s stared into the abyss and seen only humanity’s destruction. He nearly succeeds too and it’s only due to TARS, Amelia and Cooper that he doesn’t. His story is a tragedy as he had to live alone with his fears on a strange world with no way of getting back and knowing he was sent to die…all he had was sorrow.

TARS – Is the Artificial Intelligence that travels with them. TARS is pretty cool as it has personality and wit and the ability to make choices and withhold information. It builds a relationship with Cooper by the end and saves Cooper and Amelia a few times. I like it’s design as it’s like dark metal Tetris cubes all put together, and the voice is human but alien sounding. Glad that it survives the film.

Professor John Brand – Michael Caine’s character is the one who sets everything in motion and who didn’t have all the answers. In this way he was sending the crew off on a suicide mission which Murph finds out later as he’s on his death bed. She takes up her father’s and Brand’s work and makes sure he doesn’t die in vain as all of his character drive is for the salvation of humankind. He’s idealistic, flawed and very human.

Donald – John Lithgow play’s Cooper’s Father-in-Law and is our glimpse into the past/our present as he talks about everyone owning electronics and devices and how people get anything. His view is a reaction to this as he is fine with the way things are and values being a farmer and having a family. He’s let go of the past and moved on.

Murphy Cooper – Murph is our main protagonist on Earth as she joins Brand’s team to try and find a way to get off of Earth or reach the team that went through the Black Hole. We see that even as a young child she is curious and really attached to her dad as she is unable to talk to him after he leaves and only talks to say that he isn’t there when he said he would be. Resolution is reached in this as she works with her dad to solve the equation that makes colonizing space possible and finding her Dad. In end they meet and she’s an old woman, but they are finally at peace. The Coopers saved the human race. I really liked her character.

Cooper – Cooper is the one who is reluctant, but goes when he learns how bad Earth is getting since it would be the last chance he has to save his kids. His story is sad as his actions destroy his relationship to his son and for his daughter for a lot of her life. In the end all he has is the mission until the Black Hole placed by the Future humans gives him a way to communicate the equation or Murph which leads to his eventual rescue and the colonizing of the Solar System. He is there as his daughter dies and in the end takes off to go and search for Amelia as he fixed TARS who he became friends with and the adventure is all he has left. It’s bittersweet but awesome as it captures the essence of his character and how living his dream…no matter how costly it was, shaped him to forever be that explorer.

The Messages – There are a few messages in this film, the greatest of which is our ability to create a future. The Black Hole that’s a Wormhole was created by us to make certain that we would have a future in the first place. We see this in how Murph working with her father through space and time is able to figure out the code which makes human colonization of space possible and we see it in how TARS, Amelia and Cooper work together to get the ship back and stabilize it after Mann attempts to destroy it and in the afterword where we see people worked together to create Cooper Station off of Murph’s vision.

Okay: Red Shirts – There are two crewmen who die, but they are so unmemorable that they aren’t really worth mentioning. There’s the one who knows the science and math who Mann kills and the other guy who dies on the water planet because Amelia tries to do the mission to the point of stupidity and puts them all at risk. Their deaths only exist to raise the stakes, so they are at least successful at that.

The Cons: The Beginning – I really didn’t like the beginning. It was showing interviews with old people who are implied to be the people we’ll be seeing (and we do) and this shows that everyone lives. We don’t know how the characters live, but they live. This takes away from what could have created good tension, since there already is so much tension in the film.

Doctor Mann’s Story – I wish we could have got more of his story…be it from Professor Brand, who was his friend…or more of his story when we meet him and find out he’s an antagonist. I get why he is mad but I still don’t fully get it…What was his life on Earth like? We know how Amelia’s and Cooper’s life was, why not Mann?

   This was a great film and a wonderful way to end the First Sci. Fi. Movie Week. I highly recommend this film if you like Nolan, High Concept Science Fiction and space travel as it executes all of these really well. The minor characters don’t get justice done to them, but the main is given good exploration in what motivates them and in how they relate to one another.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. A few things could have got more exploration, and I would have cut out the spoiler beginning.