Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Review

The Dark Knight Rises

Batman is one of my favourite...things...ever.  The Dark Knight (2008) is one of my favourite movies ever.  The Dark Knight Rises was...sorely underwhelming.
Spoiler-free Review:  It's not worth seeing in theaters.  Skip it, maybe wait to find it on TV and, if you like it enough, buy the DVD (hopefully found for a low price).
I didn't hate it, but I was never very engaged by it and, especially after the previous installment, was quite let down.
Spoilerific Review:
The good:
-Action scenes are well-done.
-A particular sequence of Catwoman and Batman taking down several of Bane's underlings is very fun to watch.
-The effects work is great and everything is visually totally believable.
-Most of the performances are top-notch.
-Anne Hathaway actually made a really good Catwoman.
-John Blake is, for most of the movie, a very intriguing character.
-Scarecrow, or rather Dr. Crane, makes a cool cameo.
-There are some cool references to Knightfall.
-The final shot of the movie (John Blake ascending the elevator to the Batcave) is pretty damn satisfying.

The bad:
-The story is an absolute mess of tiny plotholes and pointlessness.
-Batman somehow manages to hide 'The Bat' (his new airborne vehicle) in a dark alley with nobody noticing.  Keep in mind that The Bat is huge.  It's not like a tiny flying bicycle.  You've probably seen it in the trailers.  He hid that in an alley.
-Batman is beaten by Bane, taken to a prison far from Gotham in a totally secluded area, left with no money, identification or anything, and, following his escape, somehow gets back to Gotham within a matter of a few days with absolutely no explanation.
-Bane's defeat is incredibly anticlimactic and also not very clear.  I was certain he was about to get back up. After leaving the theater, I couldn't even remember what happened to him for several minutes.
Batman was actually on the verge of defeating Bane in a pretty cool fight before he's interrupted; Bane's defeat would have been far more satisfying if that fight had actually reached such a conclusion.
-Batman's voice.  It's still the laughable, roid-raging Cookie Monster voice and it's still painfully goofy and out of place.  He continues using this voice even when talking to Catwoman totally alone after she already knows who he is.  That's just pointless.
-Bane's voice.  I've heard it described as "Sean Connery playing Darth Vader" and I think that's pretty accurate.  So, we have the two most major characters with incredibly cheesy, out of place and hard to understand voices.
-Bruce Wayne's introduction (re-introduction?) is a little too reminiscent of the recent Sherlock Holmes for my taste.  I doubt this was a conscious move on Nolan's part since both movies would have been in production during the same period of time but it still bugs me.  There's an eerie sense of déja vu when you see Bruce as an eccentric shut-in in much the same way as we were reintroduced to Holmes in A Game of Shadows.
-Catwoman's entire role was pretty useless.  Her involvement with the main plot is so minimal that it rivals the hackers in Michael Bay's Transformers.  She has a subplot to herself that never ties into the main story.  Ultimately, she's a plot device used as a way to bring Batman to finding Bane's sewer dwellings.
-Catwoman's drive during the movie is to get her hands on a program called The Clean Slate which can wipe out somebody's criminal record instantly.  Why she was ever motivated to be a thief in the first place is never explained and how she thinks wiping her name from computers is going to give her a new life when John Blake already showed her that they have hard copies of crime papers and photos of her is also never explained.
-There is a double twist that first tells you that Bane is Ra's Al Ghul's offspring but then you find out it was actually this movie's iteration of Talia Al Ghul (who had been under the guise of Miranda beforehand).  The twist itself is actually good, but the purpose it serves is...well, totally nonexistent.  It would have served the story just as well if it was just left as Bane being Ra's's son.
-Joseph Gordon-Levitt's character, John Blake, discovers Batman's identity through what has got to be the most nonsensical BS that this entire movie series has to offer.  It basically boils down to, "We're both orphans so when I saw that fake smile on your face, I knew you had to be Batman.".  Blake was set up to be extremely proficient at detective work (so much so that even though he starts the movie as just an officer, Gordon insists that he changes positions to detective) so it would only seem logical to have him discover Bruce Wayne is Batman by way of something that was actually tangible.
In the season 3 finale of The Batman, Batman's identity is discovered by a robot built by Professor Strange (D.A.V.E.) who used statistical analysis to uncover the truth and we see the exact statistics he went through and...that was really cool.  It was a great plot and a great explanation as to how someone (or something) with enough intellectual prowess, analytical thinking and access to the right information could discover who Batman is.  Nolan gave us some "fake smile" bit that left me unsure if I was supposed to be emotionally invested in the idea or left cringing at such a horrible macguffin.

The what?:
-The Robin namedrop.  Near the end of the film, John Blake reveals that his first name is actually Robin.  This seems to just be a nod to fans of the character.  The ending of the film actually seems to imply that Blake is ultimately going to become the next Batman.
It's just a very strange namedrop, and seemed pretty pointless.  I would have personally found a 'Terry' namedrop pretty cool though that would probably go over the heads of most of the audience.
-The entire ending is just...what?
Batman hooks a bomb, that has a blast radius of 6 miles and approximately 2 minutes before detonation, to The Bat and flies it out of Gotham.  There's a serious issue with the time it would take to hook up the bomb, then fly it out of the city limits, then fly it 6 miles away from the city limits fast enough that it doesn't detonate, but perhaps the larger issue is the incredibly weird fake-out ending.  Batman apparently dies when the bomb goes off but following scenes suggest he made a last second escape.  How?
Lucius Fox is told that Bruce Wayne fixed the autopilot on The Bat (which was brought up a few times through the movie) several months earlier.  OK.  So, still, how did Batman escape the blast?  He's shown in The Bat in the shot immediately before the explosion.  Even if you consider the cut between those shots a time jump (which shouldn't be possible considering how little time was left on the bomb's countdown), that still fails to explain how he could have gotten away from the 6-mile-wide explosion.
We know he was still in The Bat after exiting the city limits because we can see the ocean through the windows of The Bat.  Considering the time and distance he had to travel in both directions (out of Gotham in The Bat, and then back to Gotham by...swimming?) it doesn't make sense that he survived.  Telling us the autopilot was fixed does not give us a full explanation.
And of course, one of the last scenes of the movie, we see Bruce Wayne, totally fine, out of the country, enjoying a date with Selina Kyle (Catwoman), so we're given little choice to take his apparent death as ambiguous.  The movie just says, "he didn't actually die, because he didn't actually die, so deal with it.".

It's far from the worst superhero movie (far from the worst Batman movie in fact) but it still pales in comparison to both of its predecessors.  I really don't think that it's worth rushing out to see as soon as possible.

I really wanted to love both this and Amazing Spider-Man but they just aren't very good.  I say, out of your options, see Avengers (if you haven't already) and skip Bats and Spidey.  If you have seen Avengers and still really want to check out one of these other two, go for Spider-Man.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man Review

The Amazing Spider-Man

Well, I haven't done a movie review in a while so here goes.  If you do not want spoilers for this movie, stop reading now.  My critiques of this movie require that I spoil plenty of it.

Everyone who doesn't want spoilers is gone now, right?


I liked it.  I didn't love it.  I think Sam Raimi's first Spider-Man movie was an all-around better movie and a better representation of the character.  Webb's Amazing Spider-Man catches some of the hallmarks of the character that Raimi didn't while dropping some others.
So first off, what I liked:
-The acting is way better than the acting in the Raimi films.
-The action is also much better; the fight choreography is extremely clever and makes great use of Spider-Man's and the Lizard's abilities.
-Spidey has web shooters in this one and we even get to see a montage of the construction process.
-Rather than being killed off, Dr. Connors is somewhat redeemed in the movie's climax; still being jailed but shown to be regaining his compassion.
-True to the comics, Gwen Stacy is the first love of Peter Parker in this universe (although it does skip over Daily Bugle receptionist Betty Brant as his first girlfriend and, in fact, leaves the Bugle entirely absent from the story).
-Again true to the comics, Flash Thompson becomes a Spider-Man fanboy.
-The entire second half of the movie is very thoroughly entertaining.
-Spider-Man is a trash-talker; a hallmark from the comics that Raimi missed.

What I didn't like:
-There are a couple of unresolved plot threads (which may be lead-ins for sequels though I can't be sure):  Norman Osborn never appears on-screen, but is said to be dying and Connors is in charge of curing him.  Once Connors becomes the Lizard, Norman's never mentioned again.
-I forget the character's name but there is an Oscorp employee who shuts down Connors research and is attacked by the Lizard at one point but survives and...totally disappears for the rest of the movie despite being portrayed as a prominent character until then.
-Aunt May is vaguely implied to suspect that Peter is Spider-Man in one scene but we never get any confirmation that she knows.
-The characters of Harry Osborn and Eddie Brock are nowhere to be found.  This isn't really an issue with the quality of the film as much as it is a personal nitpick.
-The first half of the movie really drags.  I found myself amazed that it had only been 2 and a half hours when I walked out of the theater; it felt like it had been at least 4.
-Barring 2 very short shots, the 3D was not utilized very well.
-The mid-credits scene hardly set anything up.  It was an obvious sequel hook but told the audience nothing about what they could look forward to.
-There is an awkward period joke between Gwen Stacy and her father; disturbingly reminiscent of the masturbation joke between Sam and his parents in Transformers (2007).

What I absolutely hated:
-The handling of Uncle Ben's death and the following pursuit of his killer.  It starts out mostly the same; Peter lets a criminal go due to a petty grudge against the man who was robbed.  The criminal happens across Uncle Ben and shoots him.  Then things totally fall apart.
First note that Peter's grudge against the victim of the robbery (in this case a convenience store clerk) isn't even legitimate; he was short 2 cents for a bottle of milk and the clerk refused to let him buy it.  More importantly is the movie's failure to even recognize the entire point of this whole situation.
Peter doesn't go after the criminal right away, learn it's the same guy he let go earlier, and realize his folly.  No.  In this iteration, he goes out for revenge after realizing that it was his fault.
The original flow did a great service to the entire "responsibility" theme of the character.  Spectacular Spider-Man even built upon it by having Spidey ultimately save the crook in honour of what Uncle Ben taught him.  In The Amazing Spider-Man, that's all thrown right out the window.
Peter already knows he screwed up but, in complete disregard of Uncle Ben's teachings, spends several nights beating to a pulp every crook he can find who he thinks might be the same guy.  Keep in mind that he does this before being able to confirm whether or not he's attacking the right person (checking for a defining tattoo only after breaking a few ribs or so).  And, of course, he does this once before having a mask putting himself and everyone he might be seen with in danger.
Incidentally, Uncle Ben's killer is yet another unresolved plot thread; Peter gives up the search for him after Captain Stacy, at a dinner Peter attends, makes note to mention that everyone Spider-Man is attacking has similar features.
So rather than give up on his revenge because he wants to honour what his only real father figure taught him shortly before dying, this Spider-Man gives up just because the police are on to him.
That is not responsibility!
Changing the origin story for the sake of originality is a fine idea; probably a good one in this case since everyone knows the original story by now and it's nice to have something new.  This particular change, however, made little sense and only served to damage one of the strongest themes of the titular character.

The recent boom of superhero movies was lead by Sam Raimi's 2002 Spider-Man film and it's easy to see why; that movie was very good.  It represented the character mostly accurately, it had an incredibly concise script (there was maybe 20 seconds of filler in the whole movie), the story was well-told and the effects were state of the art for the time.  (Unfortunately, the following two sequels didn't keep up the quality.)
10 years hence, Marc Webb has quite an act to follow and I don't think he made as strong of a movie.  It's worth seeing, though not in 3D, and it has some good and refreshing takes on certain aspects.  It also has some significant problems (that will probably irk comic fans more than the average movie-goer).
In the end, I doubt I'll be making room for this movie on my shelf.  It's just OK.

I played through the 3DS game in the week leading up to the movie (perhaps a mistake since it takes place after the movie and spoiled certain plot points) and just want to say that it's OK too.