Monday, 23 July 2012

Extensive Thoughts on The Dark Knight Rises

Before I jump into my thoughts on The Dark Knight Rises, let me set the scene…

The Dark Knight is one of my favourite films of all time, but I was a bit dubious when it was announced The Dark Knight Rises was going into production in 2010 and that it would be the concluding part in a trilogy.

My first thought was what was the point? It would likely never be as good as The Dark Knight and I was satisfied with the way that film finished (even if it was open-ended with Batman on the run). The story of Harvey Dent was over and it wasn’t likely we’d see a return of the Joker (for obvious reasons). There were no major cliff-hangers or story points that needed to be tied up as with Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, etc and therefore no third instalment necessarily required.

Despite The Dark Knight following on from Batman Begins, the two films work as standalone films and you don’t really need to have seen either one to fully appreciate the other. A trilogy implies a through line so essentially Part 1, 2 and 3, which from the first two films didn’t really seem apparent. Batman Begins works well as a prologue or set-up and The Dark Knight works as Batman’s first true adventure. So to set up a concluding part in the trilogy seemed a bit forced, when the individual stories appeared to already be finished.

My main concern was that usually when a sequel (or a trilogy) is pushed for financial reasons it can sometimes taint the previous films and not make them feel quite as special, the Matrix comes to mind…

Anyway the movie marketing started in early 2011 and it felt a bit weak, a diluted version of the marketing that had been previously done for The Dark Knight (you can read my comparison here). If the movie followed suit I was in for a big disappointment and back to my original question of “What was the point?”

Then in the last few months the movie marketing started getting better and more exciting, little snippets of the premise were revealed and I got sucked into the hype and couldn’t wait. I booked my tickets for the first public showing I could get to, it turns out this was 5am on a Friday morning in a digital IMAX cinema.

I told myself, I don’t expect it to be better than The Dark Knight, but as long as it’s a solid film I’d be happy. So now I’ve seen it, what are my thoughts…

Firstly, is it better than The Dark Knight?

Secondly, is it better than The Avengers? The comparison is inevitable considering the huge success critically and commercially of this movie.

The answer unfortunately (although not unexpected) is no to both. That’s not to say it’s a bad film by any means, it just doesn’t surpass these movies. Admittedly The Avengers is a very different type of superhero film, but I feel in terms of delivering on the hype The Avengers over-delivered and The Dark Knights Rises doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

The comparison to The Dark Knight is more straightforward being directly linked, however the two films do feel quite different. Whereas TDK sped along at a constant pace, with every scene and character interaction thrusting the story forward and lifting the stakes higher, TDKR takes it’s time to tell a more intricate and complicated story (which honestly isn’t as complicated as it’s been made). This is partly what stops the film being great, the extra detail and supporting (but not essential) characters slow the film down and stop it being the edge of the seat rollercoaster that TDK was.

The film builds slowly to its climax making the three hour duration noticeable. It also might as well have been called "The Dark Knight Rises Twice". Due to the way the story is structured, in the first half you get a Bruce Wayne recovering psychologically to become Batman and then the second half recovering physically to rise as Batman again.

My comments previously about how the two previous films worked very well as standalone films also doesn’t apply to Rises, as the story is directly linked to Batman Begins and the circumstances we find most of the established characters in at the start of the film are as a direct result of the actions carried over from the TDK.

The above points may sound negative and suggest I didn’t like it, which isn’t the case. I thoroughly enjoyed the film, my expectations were just set extremely high. I’ve seen it twice now and although after the first time I saw it I was slightly underwhelmed, after a second viewing I appreciated it much more. It may not be the best (or tightest) film in the trilogy, but as a conclusion to the over-arching story it’s a great finish and probably makes The Dark Knight trilogy one of the greatest trilogies of all time.

Okay now on to specifics, so spoilers follow….

I felt the ending concluded Bruce Wayne’s story satisfyingly but at first glance appeared to be more open-ended then either of the previous two films. However I think this is a better way of closing the trilogy, and rather than setting up a fourth film I think the ending is more a way of reinforcing some of the character points referenced earlier in the film. i.e. Batman as a symbol will live on forever, whereas Bruce Wayne’s story is over and he can move on with his life outside of Gotham.

A few articles I’ve read have discussed how they disliked the film as it was not true to the source material. However the conclusion of Bruce Wayne’s story has never really been told before in any media, so this is the first time we’ve seen an interpretation of how he would move on from being Batman. There’s technically no source material for reference and this is how the Nolan’s envision the Wayne story being completed, which you’ll either accept or not.

What elevates TDKR is when you realise that this was never a planned trilogy (my original “but now unfounded” concern) and the amount of ways the concluding chapter ties into situations set-up (at the time unintentionally) from Batman Begins and seem like they were always meant to pay-off. It really is genius when you see the flash back of Bruce Wayne’s dad saying “Why do we fall, so we can pick ourselves back up” from BB and then Bruce is literally pulling himself up out of the Lazurus Pit to rise again. There are loads of moments like this, some of which I’m only connecting as I write this. Exceptional film making.

So how was Bane? Straight away he’s no Joker, but let’s be honest he was never going to be. Tom Hardy plays him extremely well and he has one hell of a presence when he’s on screen, he’s not quite as interesting a villain and due to his nature is more of a one dimensional character. Bane’s voice was also inconsistent, at some points it was absolutely crystal clear and seemed unrealistically louder than anyone else, yet at other times it was muffled and I struggled to understand some of his dialogue.

I felt the film tried to over tell you how much of a badass Bane was and over explain to the audience why Batman should be scared of him (mostly with Alfred’s dialogue). Whereas Joker’s motivations and background were never explained and I think this made for a much scarier villain, people fear what they don’t understand.

For Chris Nolan to choose such a physical villain was an interesting choice. His films have always been very cleverly crafted and played mind games with the audience, this is definitely his strength and is why the Joker worked so well. Unfortunately, I’ve always felt Nolan’s weakness was in fight scenes, so the main antagonist to be an ultimate fighter is again something that isn’t as strong as TDK.

I’m going to be honest I had my doubts about Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman prior to seeing the film, but she is actually one of the stronger elements of the movie from a character perspective. I felt she was a bit under-used later in the film, and her romance with Bruce seems to come out of nowhere, but apart from that she was very good. I was also hoping that once Taila Al Ghul was revealed we’d end up with Batman/Bane fighting at the same time as a Catwoman/Taila fight but it wasn’t meant to be.

Speaking of Taila Al Ghul, unfortunately this twist in the film was ruined for me as since the leaked pictures came out last year, I’d already assumed this is who she was playing so the reveal didn’t have the same impact as it should have! In fact if you read this post I wrote almost year ago, it’s surprising how much I got right!

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character Blake is a great addition to the cast, and provides the film with its hope and motivation, compared to the dis-heartened Bruce and Commissioner Gordon.

All the other supporting cast deliver great performances, and deliver some hard hitting and emotional acting (especially Michael Caine) that will cause a few tears to roll.

As with the previous instalments, Hans Zimmer’s soundtrack is literally incredible and blows any other movie music this summer out of the water. Myslight issue is that I’d say the music is so powerful it actually pushes you towards certain emotions, without the film necessarily taking you there itself deservedly. For example, there’s a point where Batman and Catwoman are heading to Bane’s lair taking out various henchmen and it all feels very heroic/upbeat and like this is the best thing you’ve ever seen, however without the music they’re pretty much just walking a long a corridor… Also I can’t really remember a specific theme for Bane, whereas the Joker had the (now) iconic screeching.

The cinematography is also phenomenal, with Gotham feeling even more real than it did in TDK. You’d be forgiven for thinking Gotham was actually a real place and to be honest I don’t think it’s felt quite so much like New York previously.

I could write for hours on this, but I think it’s time I stop.

It’s too early to say where The Dark Knight Rises sits amongst the other two films, well next to Batman Begins really, The Dark Knight is a lot better and think it will always be my favourite. So as it stands…

The Dark Knight – 10/10
Batman Begins – 9.5/10
The Dark Knight Rises – 9/10

What were your thoughts?

In addition to writing original content for MoviePush, I link to a lot of articles all over the web through my twitter @rossbishop mainly focused on movie marketing. If you’re interested and like to keep up to date, please follow me.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Thoughts On The Amazing Spider-Man Movie

The Amazing Spider-Man is a really hard film to review, so I’ve decided to write up my thoughts / opinions on the movie rather than properly grade it.

On the whole I thought the movie was really good, however there are aspects of the film that just don’t feel quite right. They aren’t necessarily bad but they just feel a bit out of place in this world and unfortunately stop the film being “amazing”.

I think this is mainly down to the realistic tone of the film; don’t get me wrong I loved the grittier approach, especially when it came to character and emotional pieces. However this tone contrasts quite negatively with the more comic book aspects of the film (Spider-Man’s powers and the predominantly CGI villain choice for example).

I wasn’t a huge fan of the corn-ball type humour in the original Raimi trilogy, but I think they’ve possibly gone too far the other way for realism’s sake here (and you can probably blame The Dark Knight for that). Realism works for a character like Batman as he doesn’t have any super-powers, but Spider-man is automatically a more fantastical character and therefore feels slightly out of place in a “real” world. Funnily enough I think the tone of Marvel’s recent releases would have been more suitable.

I don't really have a problem with them re-telling the origin story so soon after the Raimi trilogy, it feels different enough to justify the re-boot and ultimately wipes the slate clean for future movies.

Anyway that’s my general thought on the film, the rest I’ll bullet point as good and bad: -


The Amazing

Spider-Man/Peter Parker – The film nails Spider-Man, in terms of his movement and style of wall crawling/web-swinging, this is exactly how you would envision a real life Spider-Man to move and jump around. On the flipside these mannerism translate perfectly to Peter Parker so you really believe Andrew Garfield as both Peter and Spider-Man (previous films haven’t achieved this half as well). Likewise Peter Parker’s personality is a lot closer to how he is in the comics, he’s still smart but has an aura of cool about him. Tobey Maguire was always a bit too dorky for me and the sarcastic wit was pretty much non-existent. Andrew Garfield is the definitive Spider-Man/Peter Parker.

Action Sequences / Web Slinging - this again relates to the physicality of how Spider-Man is portrayed. The few sequences where we actually see Spider-Man fully swinging through the city streets are incredible, both the real sequences and the CGI assisted scenes. The action scenes are also great, they're not on the same scale as The Avengers but they take full advantage of all of spidey's abilities and are fun to watch. I particularly enjoyed the school and sewer scenes.

Uncle Ben’s Death – Although not as true to the comic version, I felt it was handled much better (from an emotional perspective than the first Spidey film) and you really feel Peter’s pain during and following the sequence. Also (again) slightly changed from the comics, Peter’s initial transformation into Spider-Man is driven more by revenge (than the typical with great power comes great responsibility motivation) which in these circumstances I think is more realistic. The responsibility realisation still comes, but is developed more naturally throughout the character development of the film (so doesn’t feel as cheesy).

Peter & Gwen’s Relationship – This feels more genuine than the relationship between Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in the previous trilogy, but I guess that’s what you get for hiring the director of 500 Days of Summer.

The Casting - in general every actor is incredibly well cast in the film, playing their respective roles perfectly. I don't think I could say a bad thing about any of the cast or the acting.

The Stan Lee Cameo - a genius bit of film-making which works perfectly in the movie and gives it one of its more comedic notes.

The "Not-So-Quite" Amazing

The Lizard – I think this is more the fault of the films tone than the character himself. It’s odd that for a film that aims to be as realistic as possible, that they chose to use one of the more unrealistic villains which relies heavily on CGI. I think the Lizard would have worked a lot better in one of the Raimi films (who I think was originally being prepped for Spidey 4).

Ignoring that though the characters motivations seem to change half way through the film for no real reason (other than he’s gone mad and is now bad). In the comics Dr. Curt Conners unwillingly transforms into the lizard and loses control, in this version Conners repeatedly and willingly turns himself back into the Lizard (so loses any sense of sympathy). I think something was cut that would of helped explain his motivations more clearly, which leads me onto...

Deleted scenes – I get the feeling that there is definitely an extended cut of the film, as there was a lot of stuff from the movie marketing that’s not included in the final film, including full scenes, phrases and even action shots. Remember the POV shot from the first trailer that was about a minute long of Spider-Man swinging across the city? It’s in the final film but quick cut in to a 10 second sequence?! This is more of a disappointment from myself, but I doubt the regular movie goer would notice.

Editing / Pacing - The pacing feels a bit odd, as the first hour really takes it’s time to establish characters and set-up situations, but the second half skips along. This is the section where the film seems to have the most cuts (re the above points) with characters and story threads just disappearing and being forgotten. Saying that though, the film still feels like a long film so I can see why the cuts were made! But I’d have left the full POV shot in and the football joke that worked great in the advertising.

Unmasking – Seriously for someone whose trying to keep their identity a secret, Spider-Man takes his mask off a hell of a lot (to the point where Peter’s running around his school fully suited minus the mask). I get that the studio want people to believe Andrew Garfield is Spider-man, but as I said previously the mannerisms are so well translated across both alter-egos you fully believe this is the same character. Hopefully in the next film the mask will be left on a bit more!

I know I've listed several bad points, but as I said at the start of this post I did really enjoy the film, the bad points are more slight disappointments rather than actual bad elements.

I think the real potential for this series lies in future instalments and if they stay true to the comics there are some interesting and tragic circumstances leading up for some of the characters.

We still have J.J. Jameson, Norman Osborn, potentially Harry Osborn and maybe some of Spidey's other love interests to be introduced, but I hope they take there time telling the story. If the Green Goblin is going to return, I hope they build to it organically and don't rush him and save him for the third or fourth film.

And let's be honest, if a film leaves you wanting to see the continuation of the story it's done something right!

In addition to writing original content for MoviePush, I link to a lot of articles all over the web through my twitter @rossbishop mainly focused on movie marketing. If you’re interested and like to keep up to date, please follow me.