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

The Dark Knight Rises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dark Knight Rises Catwoman

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

The Dark Knight Rises Bane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 9.9 / 10

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

The Dark Knight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dark Knight Joker

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

Dark Knight Two-Face

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 10 / 10

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

Batman Begins poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scarecrow

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

Ra's Al Ghul

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Score: 9.8 / 10 A nearly perfect adaptation.

The Lego Movie (2014): The Connection in Fun

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This movie was really good. I wouldn’t consider it a favorite, but as a story and comedy there was so much that is great here, this film would be impossible for me to dislike. There are lots of reasons for this but some of the major ones are the creativity of how it was done, the message and the fantastic cast of characters and the actors behind them. Which is saying a lot for a movie that arose out of a toy property.

“The Lego Movie,” was directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller who also wrote the screenplay and were two of the writers for the story. It was produced by Dan Lin and Roy Lee and the last two writers of the story were Kevin and Dan Hageman.

The premise begins with Lord Business (Will Ferrell) seeking the “Kragle” which is being protected by the wizard Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman). He is defeated by Lord Business but makes a prophecy that “the Special” will find the Piece of Resistance that can stop “the Kragle” and save the Lego Universe. From here we pick up with our everyday guy Emmet (Chris Pratt) who stumbles on the Piece of Resistance and finds Lord Business and his men hunting him down. It is up to Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and others to protect him and try to stop Lord Business from destroying them all by using the “Kragle.” From here the story unfolds.

SPOILERS ahead.

Here is the assessment of the story:

The Pros: The World – The world is wonderful and extremely meta. It is akin to the word of Toy Story where the legos exist in two worlds. The world where they were made by “The Man Upstairs” and the world where they move and interact and are much more than toys. It is here that the reality of “The Man” and his child that leads to what makes the world real. There is also a richness in the sheer variety of universes, from the main one, to Lord Businesses Tower, to the Old West and many more. What can you make with legos? That is the essence of this universe and “The Builders” are leaders within it because of their creativity.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack reminded me a lot of “Wreck-it-Ralph” in how it was a mixture of electronic and orchestra. The theme song “Everything is Awesome” is one of the best illustrations of this. It fits with the childish theme and epicness of creating your own adventure with toys. Mark Mothersbaugh did great.

The Characters – The main cast has some pretty interesting characters, some of whom have some great arcs. I’ll give them both an individual section why, at least the ones I consider pros.

Vitruvius – Morgan Freeman plays the lead wizard who sacrifices himself to try and stop Lord Business. He invents the prophecy to show that the power and being a “Special” is in everyone. He doesn’t really have an arc, but it’s Morgan Freeman and he clearly had a lot of fun playing this mentor role for Wyldstyle and Emmet.

Batman – Batman is Wyldstyle’s boyfriend and his arc is growing to respect Emmet who sees as boring and stupid. He’s an interesting character who is extremely self involved (goes to party during a crisis) but has a good heart as he supports Emmet and Wyldstyle and appreciates Emmet’s arc.

Good Cop/Bad Cop – Liam Neeson plays a cop with two personalities who serves Lord Business. At one point his good half is erased by Lord Business and he is nothing but a cruel weapon against the heroes…but he comes around after Lord Business turns on him and draws “Good Cop” back on his face so he is once more back to balance. His story is that quest for balance and I wish we’d had more character moments with him.

Lord Business – Lord Business is creative and an inventor who doesn’t feel appreciated so he wants everyone to be in order and keep things as they should be. This leads to him using the “Kragle” to freeze people in place and using his robots to set people up how he wants them. He is a clear bad guy but Emmet changes him when he recognizes him for his creativity in mirror of the son recognizing the dad’s creativity too. It’s a great scene and he becomes a good guy in the end. I didn’t mind this as he was cartoony so could go either way at the end. Will Ferrell does fantastic.

80’s Astronaut – Charlie Day is a wonderful actor! The first time I saw him was in “Pacific Rim” and in this his character brings the energy up to 11. He wants to build a spaceship and keeps getting shutdown but when he has the chance too he helps save the day and builds an awesome ship as well as hacking into Lord Businesses system since it’s 80’s technology.

Wyldstyle/Lucy – Elizabeth Banks plays a pretty cool character who is doing everything to be different but learns in the end that you don’t have to be different to be a hero. We see her recognize that after Emmet’s sacrifice and how she inspires the normal folks to rise up and fight against Lord Business. I liked her character except she never broke things off with Batman before almost sharing a moment with Emmet. That is one thing I would have changed. Though that defined their relationship pretty well, neither really listened to each other they just liked doing cool action adventures together.

Emmet – Emmet is the everyday guy who can build a Bunk-Couch for his friends. Chris Pratt was perfect for this role as he plays the overly excited nice guy really well. His arc is finding that who he is is okay and that he is special and everyone is special. This leads to his sacrifice, meeting the humans and saving their relationship in his action to save his world. It was done really well, though I wish his character had more depth. Lucy is probably the deepest character in the film. Emmet sort of becomes deep after but that is largely because he becomes active in his own life and no longer passive.

The Message – The message was great, there is beauty in chaos and sometimes it is important to follow directions…but most of all it’s in having fun with others that we make connections that count. Will Ferrell is a collector and businessman and when his son is playing with the toys he is the one using the “Kragle” to glue them into place. It is his son who is freeing them. In the end it is Emmet moving in reality that sparks the change and the father finally relates and begins to play with his son when he realizes how important imagination is and how distant he’s been. It’s a beautiful scene and great acting on Ferrell’s part.

Okay: Side characters – Most of the side characters are just gag characters. Whether it’s Metal Beard, the Green Lantern and Superman joke where Superman keeps trying to avoid Green Lantern while Lantern thinks he his best friend as well as the wizards like Dumbledore and Gandalf. They function more as pop culture references and in-jokes more than anything else.

The Cons: Nothing at Stake – My biggest issue is when it goes meta it feels like nothing is at stake. A father and son are playing with toys so in the end they can reset the world if they want too in the end making all of our characters’ sacrifices nothing. This is my biggest issue with the movie. The meta moments were sweet but they did cost the stakes.

Tone – The tone is kind of all over the place. At times it is funny and making fun of itself, other times it is serious and dramatic. This is another reason I can’t consider it a favorite film. It feels like it doesn’t quite know what it wants to be beyond a child playing with toys.

This film is worth checking out! It isn’t a favorite film and it isn’t a “Wreck-it Ralph” or “How to Train Your Dragon,” but for the sheer fun of it all and the great message it brings…it’s something you don’t see everyday. I’d watch it again and I’m curious if that if a sequel is made if it will become a favorite. Until then, this is really good as it is.

Final Score: 8.4 / 10

Lucy (2014): Marvel, Make that “Black Widow” Movie

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“Lucy” is a movie that has garnered controversy for a lot of reasons. One which I think is justified (all the Taiwanese Characters in this film are gangsters or passive characters) and some which is not (the 100% use of brain premise is crap).

Here is the science on why using 100% of your brain and won’t give you god-like powers and why it is a myth that that we only use 10%: http://www.wired.com/2014/07/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-10-brain-myth-explained-in-60-seconds/

Now that the junk science of the premise is out of the way we can get into the real problems, with the story and I’ll get more into the Taiwan issue later, and also where it stands tall.

“Lucy” was written and directed by the French director Luc Besson, and produced by Europacorp.

The story of “Lucy” is around Lucy (Scarlett Johansson, a college student who is forced into becoming a drug mule when her boyfriend blackmails her into delivering a mysterious package to Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik of “Oldboy” fame). He is than shot and the drugs that she was given are surgically put into her body. After they break she is given superpowers as the story unfolds from there.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Pros: Lucy – Marvel…Disney, please be paying attention. A “Black Widow” movie would be amazing. Scarlett Johansson has the talent for this as demonstrated in “Winter Soldier” and demonstrated as soul lead in this film. She plays vulnerability (calling her mom when she is feeling connected to everyone and everything) to hardcore (taking out the gangsters) and all the other feelings. She owns this role and is a hero worthy of Ridley from the “Alien Franchise” and Sarah Connor of the “Terminator Series.” We need more heroines like her, and definitely more who are women of color. At this point I’m up for any action star though that breaks out of the white male with stubble hero trope.

Mr. Jang – He should have been in charge of an international gang. Having all the gang members we see Lucy fight or who threaten Lucy just promotes horribleness of the other, which is a shame for what it promotes, and the fact that Choi Min-sik is fantastic! He is a worthy foe and manages to destroy most of the people who stand against him. I want to see more of his work now beyond just this and “Oldboy.” The man is a master of his craft. In this he is so cruel and frightening that you see why Lucy is afraid and you get why he is such a threat. He should have been  given an international crime syndicate given he was selling global.

Professor Norman – Morgan Freeman is here once again as the great mentor. Lucy reaches out to him when she realizes what has happened to her, given it is her theory she is living. He is the one who tells her to give and create with what time she has, which she embraces, even when he begins questioning it. He is great in this role and is there to explain a lot of what is going on.

Pierre Del Rio – He is the awesome French detective who helps Lucy stop the other mules and defends her when she is giving all her knowledge in creating a super computer. He is a great character and is the love interest that reminds her of her humanity. As he says to her at one point when she’s defeated some of Mr. Jang’s minions with her mind. “Why do you need me?” She kisses him. “As a reminder…” It is a sweet moment and he is great in the guy in over his head who does the right thing. Also, he is a French actor of arabic descent, the actors name is Amr Waked. Can’t wait to see him in other things!

Lucy’s Goal – Lucy’s goal and mission is good and admirable. She takes all the knowledge she gets from the Universe in the process of becoming one with it and gives it to Mr. Norman and the science team. She believes harm comes from ignorance and that full knowledge can stop that. It’s actually a pretty big endorsement of philosophy and science and one thing that I really loved in the film.

Cons: How Taiwan is Handled and Racism – The biggest Con is what I brought up at the beginning. Most of the gangsters are Taiwanese except for the first surgeon who puts the drugs in the mules. This is bad and could have easily been countered by a single nice person in Taiwan standing up for Lucy. We get none of that and the characters are all evil or passive. That isn’t fair to Taiwan or the Taiwanese people and was horrible writing on Luc Besson’s part. Mr. Jang should have been the head of an International Crime Syndicate, he was cruel and smart enough to do so. That also, could have easily solved this issue.

Editing – There are some strange editing moments, like going between the African savannah and and Lucy’s situation at the beginning. As well as seeing the missing link Lucy too. It was jarring, same with the going between Lucy’s predicament and Professor Norman’s explanations.

The problem in how Taiwan was handled and the editing really keep this film from being great. It is a good action film that has a good point about science and an awesome heroine but doesn’t realize it’s full potential because of how it handles Taiwan. Would I recommend it? If you are looking for a heroine of the likes of Ridley and Sarah Connor, Hell yes I recommend it. But know these problems. This was written and directed by one guy and whatever issues he had with Taiwan really come out, which is a shame cause it does bring the film down beyond just the editing issues.

My Final Score for this film is 8 / 10. Good but not great and giving a much needed heroine to cinema. Also, Marvel…Scarlett Johannson is amazing. Get on that “Black Widow” film!

Glory (1989): Memorial Day and What is Forgotten

Glory

The reason I chose to review this movie besides the fact that I had never seen it before, but because today is Memorial Day. Memorial today was created to honor the fallen soldiers of the Union and the Confederacy (http://www1.va.gov/opa/speceven/memday/history.asp)…Yes, the Confederacy, the group that was fighting to defend and uphold the immoral institution of slavery. I think this is one thing that people forget that should not be forgotten. War is complicated and sometime necessary, slavery is not. It is a clear moral wrong yet historically we still honor many of the people who perpetuated it (this doesn’t apply to all members of the Confederacy but definitely many of them given what the Confederacy’s goal was). How can I honor soldiers who believed and upheld wrongs or choose to commit wrongs today against their fellow man. It is for this reason I use today to honor the victims of war and the honorable soldiers who lived/live right action.

“Glory” is about the first all African American volunteer regiment and their leader Colonel Shaw who is dealing with the conflict within his own regiment and inside the Confederacy during the time of the Civil War. Here is my assessment:

The Pros: The Actors – Denzel Washington steals it, with Morgan Freeman taking a close second. His raw emotion and reality behind his eyes of the character (former slave) he is playing…there is a reason Denzel Washington is one of my favorite actors. This movie was living proof of that. Charles Elwas of “Princess Bride” fame also does a great job contrasting the order of Matthew Broderick’s Colonel Shaw.

The Message: The movie achieves a few things with it’s themes and messages such as the reality of slavery and how immoral it is (largely through Trip’s (Denzel Washington’s character’s) eyes, the horror of war (you see the blood and heads exploding), racism (both the Confederacy’s overt racism through Slavery, and member’s of the Union and how they saw African Americans as less than them and kept resources from them as well as paying them less). There is also a theme of solidarity too, for example when Colonel Show chooses for himself and the white soldiers to go without pay because of how little the black soldiers were getting paid. This movie also avoids turning Shaw into a White Savior which I appreciate e a lot. He isn’t perfect and he grows and much of the movie is more focused on his men than him.

The song before battle:

The Battles: Are really well done. There are consequences to each one and it shows the consequences of weapons and what they do to bodies. It doesn’t hold back, which is appreciated.

Okay: The Historicity – The movie is mixed in regards to how accurate it is in regards to history. The changing views of race by the Union soldiers is accurate but the fact that in the movie they were presented as former slaves isn’t accurate – most were free men from Massachusetts. Here is a good summary of the issues of history in the film: http://cwmemory.com/2008/10/21/the-54th-massachusetts-regiment-in-myth-memory-and-history/

The music: Beyond the song for battle it was okay, just not super memorable, not a soundtrack I would seek out.

The Character Arcs: The character arcs could have been handled better. Trip’s and Shaw’s arc were great, but a lot of the characters either didn’t have a character arc or existed as archetypes (The wise man, the rebel, the academic, the corrupt officer, the racist officer) to serve a role for Trip and Shaw. This is okay, but it doesn’t make for great storytelling.

The movie was good, and Memorial Day can be a good thing…but we cannot allow ourselves to forget the wrongs done by our nation, ancestors and done during war. By ignoring or forgetting we do a dishonor to all the good men and women who do live or lived with virtue and the real struggle people faced, like those in this film.

The Ending: Without giving away spoilers it sticks to the message, but for a movie with so much hope in it at times I think any sweet at all would have made it better, showing that someone connected to these people knew them…and remembered.

I would recommend this film, it is a story that needed to be told and still does to this day.

I would give this movie 8 / 10.