Tag Archives: the dark knight

Skyfall: A Review – Plus News!

27 Oct

2012 has been a year of much-anticipated movies. The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit – all of them would have been the most hyped-about film in any other year. Then, of course, there’s Skyfall. The trailers have had people salivating for months. Early reviews called it the best Bond film ever made. And it ever-so-nearly lives up to the hype.

Sam Mendes has done an absolutely tremendous job in bringing Bond back to the fore after the disappointing Quantum of Solace. It’s full of great performances, has a water-tight script, and best of all is absolutely stunning to look at. The direction is vibrant, varied, powerful, and even a little emotional at times. Even if it’s not the best 007 venture ever, it’s certainly the best-looking one.

Skyfall takes a lot of risks, too. It’s a serious film with a surprising level of depth for a franchise built on the foundation of “man kills man, man sleeps with woman, man makes pun”. Without going into spoiler territory, it touches a little on the aftermath of a service agent’s life after missions, and what happens to an agent left behind by his agency. Not only that, but (whisper it) Skyfall briefly delves into James Bond’s personal history, and even M’s back story.

It’s also very interesting in terms of scale. The finale is not a villain’s volcano lair; in fact, the film drops in size steadily. In the first half of the film, Bond is in his natural habitat: jet-setting across the world, killing people and getting frequent flyer miles at the same time. But slowly, the scale shortens. We go to London, and then to a plot of land in Scotland. The end, in contrast to most Bond films, is incredibly small-scale and introspective. In spite of this – or perhaps because of it – it packs an incredibly powerful punch.

It’s rounded off with some great performances too. Judy Dench gives us another look at the stoic, witty M she so successfully portrays, and Daniel Craig simmers with pent up aggression throughout. Newcomers to the series Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris and Ben Whishaw deserve plenty of credit as well: particularly Whishaw, who brings Q bang up to date.

Javier Bardem steals the show, though. His performance as Raoul Silva is absolutely terrifying. A Bond villain to be proud of, he is dangerous, charming, seductive, funny, and completely and utterly insane. His plot doesn’t revolve around world domination, or wealth – he is not the greedy Bond villain archetype in the style of Goldfinger. Instead, Silva is entirely focused on the destruction of M and the MI6. He’s not a Blofeld. In fact, if he’s to be compared to anyone, it’s quite possibly The Joker from The Dark Knight.

It’s not the only comparison this film bears to Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece, either. There are certain directorial similarities – in particular an abundance of breathtaking location shots, and a grounded sense of realism. The most important similarity, though, is the desire to build a film around themes instead of set-pieces. Skyfall has a message beyond “watch things get blown up”, and as a result, it is a much stronger movie than your regular popcorn-munching blockbuster.

There are a few quibbles to be had, of course. There are a few more light-hearted moments that jar a little with the overall tone, and there’s a particularly silly scene with Komodo dragons that doesn’t quite work. Thankfully, the film only has these few, minor problems.

In short, Skyfall is fantastic. It sits happily in the top tier of Bond movies alongside the likes of Goldeneye, Diamonds Are Forever and You Only Live Twice, continues 2012’s magnificent run of excellent major releases, and most importantly does something new – and positive – with one of the most beloved movie franchises of all time.

Apologies for the lack of new posts in the last couple of weeks. There have been a few exciting developments recently, one of which I can talk about. A number of my film fanatic friends, along with yours truly, have formed a brand new site called Geek Clique. We’re going to bring fantastic reviews and opinion pieces on film, including both new releases and retrospectives. If you head over to the site now you’ll see a wealth of other James Bond content.

So, if you fancy having a gander it would be much appreciated!

You can also see my awkward attempts at 8-bit sprites.

More new content here, and at Geek Clique, soon.

The Dark Knight Rises: A Fan’s View

21 Jul

Yesterday you got my spoiler-free review of The Dark Knight Rises. Today, though, expect many spoilers as I go through the movie with my Batman fanboy hat on.

First up, let’s talk about Bane. Nolan stays fairly faithful to his comic book character – the frightening intelligence, incredible strength, charisma, etc. But there were a few changes made, and necessary ones at that. Bane no longer has an addiction to Venom, the super-strength drug of the comic. His history is tied more to that of Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows, too. For a long while in the film, you are even lead to believe that Bane is the son of Ra’s al Ghul. Personally, I thought that was a neat touch, and makes the eventual reveal of who really is the child of Ra’s al Ghul more spectacular.

Ra’s al Ghul’s epic beard dislikes you, Bruce.

Bane also has most of the immediately quotable lines in the film. His speech in front of the prison is absolutely breathtaking, and moments such as “do you feel like you are in charge?” are so intimidating you end up squirming in your chair whenever he is onscreen. There’s also the underlying subtext of Bane, Talia, and the League of Shadows. They recruited the down-and-outs, the nameless of society, the poor. What did they promise them? That the city would be theirs. There’s a distinct anti-money, anti-capitalist bent in the film, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence given the 99% and Occupy protests. The League of Shadows bastardized and manipulated this movement to suit their agenda – an astute choice of reasoning from Nolan.

Then you’ve got Nolan’s Selina Kyle. The announcement of Anne Hathaway as Kyle/Catwoman caused a lot of concern amongst the fanbase, much in the same way that Heath Ledger’s as the Joker did. Thankfully, she doesn’t disappoint and turns out to be my favourite Catwoman. Why? Well, first off, I don’t think the name ‘Catwoman’ was mentioned in the entire film. Most importantly, though, is the fact that the more ridiculous backstory about her ‘reincarnation’ as a cat (in the likes of Batman Returns and the Catwoman movie) has gone. She’s an expert thief with tremendous skill, and that’s that. The rest of her character? Well, it’s character depth. Nothing supernatural, nothing science fiction, just a human being. And it works brilliantly.

It works in Burton’s films, mainly because of all the gothic awesome.

Other than that, I loved Scarecrow’s cameo appearance. It would have been a shame if he hadn’t appeared, given Cillian Murphy’s role in the other two films. A nice little touch, particularly given his ties with the League of Shadows. Meanwhile, John Blake’s reveal as ‘Robin’ was a wonderful touch. There were plenty of rumours surrounding his character from the off, but his true identity was kept a secret (at least to me) until I saw the film. It keeps an important tie to the ideals of the first film – an idea is more powerful than a man. Bruce Wayne is ‘dead’, and Batman is ‘dead’. But there is the possibility of his return through John Blake – as a new Batman, a Robin, or a Nightwing. Will it happen under Nolan’s stewardship? It’s really beside the point. The circle is complete.

And more important is that it leaves the door open, at some point, to a return to the trilogy from Nolan. I don’t expect a quick fourth film in, say, three years’ time. But, I do have a little dream of Christopher Nolan directing an adaption of The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller’s glorious imagining of the future of the Batman universe. In ten to fifteen years, after Nolan’s directed a Bond film or two? I certainly wouldn’t be against it…

I’d like to see Hush in a movie too, but it’ll always be a long shot.

The comic book storylines also had an obvious influence on The Dark Knight Rises too. There’s a clear parallel to Knightfall, where, most memorably, Bane breaks Batman’s back and takes over the city. But there’s also plenty from No Man’s Land, a series where Gotham is cut off from the rest of the country by a terrible earthquake. Somehow Nolan has managed to tie both series together, along with making it an important part of his own, unique universe.

Nolan is the best thing about this series, obviously. His direction is flawless, unique, and theatrical. Most importantly, aside from a few quips the series takes itself very seriously. There’s none of the wisecracking of The Avengers, for instance. The lack of dependence on CGI to make the films work also keeps its grounded feel, with none of the tacky quality of Marvel’s own films. The Dark Knight Rises continues the series’ amazing set-pieces and iconic moments. The Joker standing in front of a burning pile of money, or the original film’s training with Ra’s al Ghul have been joined by some incredible scenes. My personal favourite was when Batman’s symbol is lit up to show his return to Gotham, perhaps due it its similarity to a scene in The Crow. The films are classic, traditional storytelling at its finest.

“OMG! The Dark Knight Rises is soooooo 1994!”

Of course there are a few gripes to be had. There’s plenty of cliché to be found – but the way the film is made, these clichés only seem to add to the experience. One personal thing that confused me was exactly how Bruce Wayne was able to get from his prison to Gotham in about a day, and in particular how he was able to get back into Gotham when it was under such surveillance. I’ve now just accepted it as ‘he is Batman, he can do pretty much anything’.

Finally, I’m going to share with you something I can’t unsee. At the end of the film, Batman flies off over the sea with a nuclear bomb, trying to get rid of it. I couldn’t help but be reminded of this scene from the original Adam West Batman film:

Sometimes, you just can’t get rid of a bomb. Now we know how Bruce Wayne survived – clearly a brave dolphin helped him out.

I’m genuinely sad to see that the Nolan Batman trilogy is over. All three of them are amongst my favourite films and I genuinely think it’s the best trilogy in film history. Whoever takes over the Batman franchise after Nolan is going to have a tough time on his hands.

The Dark Knight Rises: A Review

20 Jul

WARNING: this review may contain spoilers. I’m going to try to avoid it as much as I can, but I don’t know if I can avoid every detail. Rest assured there won’t be any major spoilers below, but if you want to escape any knowledge of the film then maybe read this after you’ve seen it. Deal? Okay then.

Warning: your car may look awesome after reading this review.

The most anticipated film of the year has been released. The final part of one of the most-loved film series in history. Part of a franchise that is adored by millions of people and who get very angry when things get messed up. Some pretty big expectations that Christopher Nolan had to deal with right there. He needed to get it spot on.

And, rest assured, he did. The Dark Knight Rises completes the Dark Knight trilogy with ease and confidence, bringing a satisfying conclusion to the series and cementing its place in cinematic folklore.

Just one word of warning, though: if you expect this film to start off with the same intensity as The Dark Knight, then you’re going to be disappointed. This movie is long. Nearly three hours, in fact. It is slow, introspective, and character-based for a good eighty minutes. There is an intricate level of build-up before the real action starts. The thing is, the movie is all the better for it. For one thing, we get a view of Bruce Wayne without Batman, and without the simple life that he longed for in The Dark Knight. He has deliberately isolated himself from his previous lives, and is a hollow shell of the man from the previous films; rather than living a double-life, he has lost both.

Don’t be so sad, Bruce!

Instead of focusing entirely on Wayne, though, plenty of the plot developments come from two of the newcomers to the series: Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake, a street cop with ideals of justice, and Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle, a professional thief.

Both of them give fantastic performances, particularly Hathaway, who comes out of her comfort zone of the-nice-girl-who-is-a-bit-clumsy and adds depth to a character often given a one-track treatment. Her Kyle is dangerous and smart, able to use different personas to get what she wants. John Blake, meanwhile, is a character whose faith in the system is slowly eroded, and Gordon-Levitt can add another dramatic, developed performance to his résumé.

Let’s talk about the villain though. A character ruined in Batman & Robin, Bane received a mixed reaction when announced as the antagonist of The Dark Knight Rises. Tom Hardy, though, delivers to us a Bane far away from his previous, campy version. Instead, Hardy is terrifying – articulate, charismatic, intelligent, yet brutal and deadly. There’s no hint of the character’s use of the muscle-enhancing drug Venom, as in the comics, and is instead given a variation on his original back-story. I’ve got to say, this is probably my favourite version of Bane: grounded, real, yet still a real adversary.

Spoiler: Batman and Bane become best buddies.

The rest of the cast are superb as well – you know what you get from the likes of Gary Oldman, Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman, but Matthew Modine also gives a good performance, as does Marion Cotillard. And what is there to say about the direction? It’s fantastic, and trademark Nolan. Grand, sweeping shots, fantastic action sequences, tension built up to the max, and all of it augmented by sharp dialogue and another brilliant score from Hans Zimmer.

So where does that leave us? Well, in my opinion, The Dark Knight Rises gives us the best trilogy…well, ever. Now, I know that is a very extreme claim, but let me back it up. Each film is fantastic, yes, but it’s more than that; they each build upon the one before. The origins of Batman Begins, the new adversary of The Dark Knight, and now the conclusion of the story, and the conclusion of the character arcs – The Dark Knight Rises joins up effortlessly with the stories of the other two films.

Often trilogies fall at the final hurdle – X-Men, Blade, and Spider-Man are some comic book examples – by failing to give an acceptable conclusion. The trilogies that do succeed – the ‘Dollars’ trilogy, Romero’s Dead films, Die Hard, and Indiana Jones for instance – often contain three films that are not really dependent on each other. Rather than tell a complete story, they tell three very separate ones. Thankfully, The Dark Knight trilogy joins the likes of Toy Story, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings in giving us a complete arc.

But could Batman blow up the Death Star? Yes. Yes he could.

So, let’s have a moment to think about this: Christopher Nolan has made a brilliant trilogy out of a guy who dresses like a bat and beats people up. Not only that, but has suffered the potential wrath of fans of the original comics by making radical changes to it. By removing the supernatural from it entirely. By casting actors who raised eyebrows like Anne Hathaway and Heath Ledger. The Dark Knight trilogy has proved that you can take comic books and make serious movies about them, with genuine themes and values, and with unique characters.

Give that man a goddamn medal, right now.

In Defence of Remakes, Reboots, Prequels and Adaptations

6 Apr

Probably not the best way to start this, but I just saw The Thing. The 2011 one. And it…erm…wasn’t very good. Supposedly a prequel, it followed the story of the original to the letter, had renamed versions of the same characters in it, and had nearly shot-to-shot scenes from the original (want a tense scene where they check who and who isn’t the Thing? And then it goes wrong? You got it!). It was worse in every single way. It was tame, the characters were stupid, the special effects were generic, and it wasn’t scary.

However, all is not lost when it comes to prequels, sequels, and reboots. They’re often seen as a lost cause from the off, and I’m just as guilty as everyone else in this.

But, in themselves, these films aren’t evil. Look at how many brilliant films are adaptations: The Godfather trilogy, Schindler’s List, Blade Runner, The Shining, The Green Mile, The Shawshank Redemption, Dr Strangelove, and every goddamn Disney animation that was made for decades. Lots of cult and classic movies are too: The Running Man, Rambo, Death Wish and Total Recall for instance.

Quaid's reaction to the news he is being played by Colin Farrell

Some of the best films ever made have also been remakes of previous movies, such as The Magnificent Seven or Cape Fear. The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and The Fly – what I like to call the ‘Triforce of Body Horror’ – are all remakes of 1950s films based on even older fiction. Going briefly over to television, The American Office is vastly superior to the British original.

What I am trying to say is this: remakes and adaptations are not a new thing and sometimes they can be absolutely brilliant.

The Descendants and Drive were two of my favourite films of 2011. The Dark Knight is one of my favourite films of all time and it’s a sequel to an adaptation of a comic book and also a reboot of two previous versions of the franchise. The Departed, in 2006, was a remake of the Hong Kong movie Internal Affairs. The Social Network was based on real-life events and on a non-fiction book. Never Let Me Go was adapted from an equally-brilliant novel in 2010. Children of Men. The Girl with the Dragon tattoo. 3:10 to Yuma and True Grit were both remakes. 21 Jump Street, loosely based on a 1980s TV show, is the funniest thing I’ve seen in years.

Seriously, see this movie.

This summer, the most-hyped films are The Dark Knight Rises, The Avengers, Prometheus, and Amazing Spider-Man. I think at least two of them are going to be genuinely fantastic movies, I’m sure they will all be entertaining, and not one of them is a new intellectual property.

That’s not to say, though, that is isn’t worrying that there are few original ideas. When I saw the trailer to Total Recall 2012 I groaned. When I heard about the remake of Robocop I wanted to cry. When Michael Bay told us about Teenage Alien Ninja Turtles I wanted to gouge out my eyes.

Speaking of franchises that are totally original: a comic, then toy and cartoon line, then live-action movie series

But this isn’t because they are remakes. It’s because there is something wrong with film at the moment. With the way they are produced and directed. The Nightmare on Elm Street, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, Assault on Precinct 13, The Thing, and Alfie weren’t bad films because they were remakes and adaptations: they were bad because they were awful films. House of Wax, Rollerball (oh dear god Rollerball), Planet of the Apes, and The Day the Earth Stood Still weren’t bad films because they were remakes: they were bad because the scripts were bad, the direction was bad, or the performances were bad.

The Wicker Man would not have been better if it was called Snuggleberries

There is something wrong with films at the moment. And that thing is safety. Remakes aren’t a new thing, and remakes weren’t always good (go and watch the 70s King Kong, I dare you). But at the moment films are made with safety and security in mind. So many films look like they have been directed by the same person. It’s the same in independent film – how many versions of Garden State have you seen under different names? People are choosing ideas that are likely to make them money. And who can blame them? If they make a box office bomb, their career is on the line. In the recession, there is less money for new intellectual properties. There is so much more of a risk involved, and these people need to eat.

So you want to know how to stop this rot? How to stop studios making the same film over and over again? Go and see films that look interesting, that look innovative, or that look just plain damn awesome. Scott Pilgrim was a bomb at the box office because people didn’t go to see it. It was also rather darn good. It was also also an adaptation.

It doesn’t matter if a film is a remake, an adaptation, a reboot of a series, a prequel, a sequel, or a spin-off. If it looks good, if it looks like it does something that interests you, or that it does something new, go and see it. That way, directors will be more likely to make risks. To make films that matter. To make remakes that surpass the original versions based on the sheer quality of the final product.