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Greetings. I am the Illusive One. For many years now I have been a huge video game player, movie viewer, and book reader. For almost as long, I have been a critic of these things and many people respect my opinions of these things and have often said I belong on G4 doing reviews on X-Play or a similar show. Sadly that is not likely to happen. So instead I shall do reviews for you, uninfluenced by other reviewers, of video games books, movies, and, occasionally, music and political actions. I hope you find this informative and helpful. Thank you for your time.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

            Well everyone, at long last the year’s most highly anticipated film has been released and dear God, I swear this poor film is jinxed.  First we had a bunch of dumbass fan boys post a lot of angry comments on Rotten Tomatoes pointed at the first people who dared to give the film a negative review before they even saw the film.  And to them I say SHAME ON YOU, FAN BOYS!  I mean, good God!  What is wrong with you people?  You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!  I understand giving a critic crap after seeing the film for yourself and seeing what the general consensus is and if they are against it, (I’ve done it a few times myself), but don’t pull this kind of crap when you haven’t even seen the film and general consensus has yet to been made!  I would expect this kind of behavior from Twilight fans, Skyrim fans, or even anti-Mass Effect 3 ending fans, but from Dark Knight fans?  A franchise of films that requires an average I.Q. to enjoy?  I’m disgusted with you people!  You’re giving other fans a bad name and pulling this kind of crap before you even see the film for yourself is beyond juvenile and this is something you should apologize for!  Then we had Rush Limbaugh’s dumbass accusation that the character of Bane to be a liberal attack on Mitt Romney, (I am not even joking about that one), and just what the hell?  And of course we had the Colorado shooting and my heart goes out to all those that were injured during the midnight showing of this film and my condolences to the families who lost their loved ones.  That whole affair is something that I honestly don’t have any words for.
            But I wasn’t going to let any of this change my opinion, enjoyment or hatred of the film so here we go.  The story takes place 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight and in that time Gotham City has become a city free of organized crime due to the actions of Batman and Commissioner Gordon in the previous film.  However the events of that film have taken their toll on Wayne both physically and mentally and he is now a broken shell of what he once was.  However he is forced to put the cowl back on when a man known only as Bane emerges as the new leader of The League of Shadows and is intent on finishing what Ra’s Al Ghul started in Batman Begin.  So has this film lived up to the hype and joined the ranks of great part threes like Toy Story 3 and Return of the King or will it join the likes of crappy part threes like X-Men 3 or Spider-Man 3?  Well, here are my thoughts on it.  This is The Illusive One’s Review of The Dark Knight Rises
            As with the previous film the special effects are fantastic and Nolan proves once again that he knows what he’s doing in this department as everything on screen, CGI or not, looks one hundred percent real and is an incredible breath of fresh air in a decade full of mostly synthetic looking CGI crap.  Likewise, the sound effects are great and again stand out from a lot of other films in this department with everything sounding the way I imagine it would in real life and not sounding like sound effects.  As with the previous two film and Inception the cinematography is once again Oscar level and I could not be happier that Wally Pfister, (the director of photography for these films), is getting the chance to direct his own film.  The man really deserves the chance. 
            Now as I mentioned in previous posts, Nolan has never been the best with action scenes as they always suffered from shaky camera, sloppy editing, or were just poorly choreographed.  This time around he has finally perfected them.  They’re epic, tense well-choreographed and just know how to get you pumped and ready to kick some ass.  Adding to the tension of these scenes is the fact that this film is the end of this story and because of this the threat of death is everywhere and you really have no idea who is going to live or die.  Granted I don’t think that they took full advantage of this but the threat is their all the same.
            Then we have our cast.  For starters, you have no idea how happy I am to see a good interpretation of Bane and Tom Hardy did a great job playing him.  He’s menacing, badass smart, intimidating and his plan to destroy Gotham is incredibly cruel and is very eerily up to par with current events and politics.  Gary Oldman, Michael Cane, and Morgan Freeman were all once again great in their roles, even if they have less to do in this film.  Anne Hathaway was perfect as Catwoman and they just could not have gotten a better person for the part.  New comers Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Blake and Marion Cotillard as Miranda are also pretty good in their roles even if they did seem a little tacked on.  I also really liked the way certain characters tried to push Wayne in different directions, with Alfred trying to get him to give up Batman and try to live a normal life and Gordon and Blake trying to convince him to put the cowl back on and it made for some interesting conflicts.
            Now the film has gotten a bit of criticism for the plot but we’ll get more into that in a minute.  Now, starting with what they got right, they knocked it out of the park.  Whereas the first film was more about Batman, second film Gotham City itself, this film is more about Bruce Wayne and the way everything has affected him both physically and mentally and the first and final acts of the film do a very good job of showing this.  In the first act, he is basically a broken man who has lost everyone he cares about and wants to become Batman again, possible out of suicidal tendencies and by the time the film ends you get the feeling that his arc is complete.  The final act of the film is one of the best I have ever seen, with incredibly tense action scenes and more than makes up for some of the drag in the second act of the film.  Adding to this is the general feeling that the characters may not live to the end which adds layers of intensity to the climax.  There are also a few really good twists throughout the film, especially concerning Bane’s identity that were genuinely shocking.
            And speaking of which, the ending is incredibly satisfying.  The less said about this the better but as of right now, you are not going to find a better ending to a superhero story on film.  Yea, there are a few loose ends that I wish they had done a better job of tying up but they do a fantastic job of ending Batman’s story and I could not be happier with the final ten minutes of the film. 
But the best part of this film, however, was easily the score.  Whenever that Deshi Basara music came on everything got better.  The action scenes were tenser.  The suspense build up was stronger and it just knew how to get the blood pumping and how to keep you on the edge of your seat and if Hans Zimmer doesn’t at least get an Oscar Nomination for his work on this film the people running that think should be burned alive for the snub.  Seriously, it is that good and well used.

There are, however, some problems with the film and they are big ones in my opinion.  The main thing it suffers from is that it’s just not as good as its predecessor.  The with the exception of Bruce Wayne most of the returning characters just aren’t as interesting or as fleshed as they were in the last film. Characters like Blake, Bane and Daggett just aren’t as interesting or compelling as characters like Harvey Dent, The Joker or Maroni with the latter of the three feeling a bit like a throwaway character.  The storyline likewise, while better than most of the stuff out there, just isn’t nearly as good and lacks the same levels of depth, complexity and realism as well as the daring of it which really takes away from the experience. 
The plot also suffers from two other major problems.  The first is the length.  It is a long film and unlike the last one this one can drag a bit, particularly during the second act of the film which was easily the weakest part of it and I just can’t help but wish they had taken that act in another route.  It also doesn’t have enough of Batman “being Batman” as it goes straight to his battles with Bane, mostly ignoring any kind of other crime fighting or battles with the police and I really wish that they had taken a few more plot elements from the first part the Knightfall story arc, (where Batman has to fight off a crap-ton of criminals who escaped prison before fighting Bane), rather than the direction they went in.   As a result it ultimately came off more as a broken warrior’s final battle then it did a superhero film.  While this is good in its own right I just can’t help but think that they could have combines the superhero elements with the final battle elements. 

All around, this is a very good film and great ending to Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.  But it is a flawed film.  Had it not been for the drag and relatively poor writing of the second act, (Seriously Nolan brothers?  I know you could have done better than that!), and the fact that Batman didn’t get enough screen time, this one could have easily been a rival to its predecessor and ultimately keep it from being a masterpiece and in my “Dark Knight” category.  What the film does have are some spectacular special effects, a great character study of Bruce Wayne, incredible action scenes, a few mind blowing twists, a solid villain, a great first and third act, an incredible and well used  score by Hans Zimmer, and one of the most satisfying endings that I have seen to any series.  While it doesn’t rank up there with great part 3 films like Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King or Toy Story 3 it is certainly not nearly as bad as films like X-Men 3 or Spider-Man 3.  It’s an all-around satisfying conclusion to the series and I highly encourage you to go see it if you liked the first two.

All Around

Comic Book Movie Rating

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Dark Knight





          And why shouldn’t I be?  It’s the sequel to what is easily the greatest superhero film ever made with arguably the best director to emerge out of the 2000s at the helm and is the most highly anticipated film 2012.  Now granted, this does leave a lot of room for disappointment but I’m keeping myself optimistic.  Chris Nolan has yet to let us down and I seriously doubt he will on this one.  But unfortunately, we still have some time before the film comes out and, as is customary here on The Illusive One’s Reviews, I’m going to give my thoughts on the film’s predecessor, The Dark Knight.  Now, before I go any further on this post, let me just warn those who haven’t seen the film that this post will contain spoilers as this one will be more about what I took away from the film and how I feel it has aged in comparison with the other superhero films out there.  It other words, it’s probably going to be more me going on like some crazy fanboy, (I get really passionate about comic book movies.  You should all know this by now), rather than a traditional review.  If you don’t wish to read something like that, I understand.  But I promise you, you will have a really, really, bad day if you don’t….

            But before I get into the magnum opus of comic book films, I want to give a few thoughts on its predecessor, Batman Begins.  To put it simply, I didn’t really care for it.  Why is this, you may ask?  Well, as I mentioned in my Amazing Spider-Man review, there was this odd period between 2004 and 2008 when comic book movies just seemed to suck and I just wasn’t into them anymore.  And, sadly, Batman Begins was not spared from my empathy and I just wasn’t into Batman any more.  It also didn’t help that the last major things that I saw him in were Batman and Robin and pre-Unlimited Justice League Animated series where he just came off as useless and out of place to me for the most part.  When I got around to watching it the film didn’t impress me and quite frankly, it still doesn’t.  Granted I do understand why so many other people like it, but it just didn’t do for me what it did for other people.  For starters, I didn’t think Christian Bale was a very good pick for Batman, mainly because of his voice, (like everyone else).  Katie Holms was just terrible, and I mean, terrible in her role as Rachel and I just can’t help but wonder what the casters were thinking when they put her in the role.  While I thought Liam Neeson was good as Henri Ducard, type casted though he may have been, as Ra’s Al Ghul, he failed to impress me.  Not that I didn’t like how they made the character more realistic, but his performance as the big bad of the film just didn’t do it for me.  The biggest problem I had with it, however, was the story.  Mainly, the second half as it just felt rushed.  This is something that all origin superhero films suffer from but this one just seemed really hurt by it.  In short, everything in the second half seemed like it took place over three days and it just seemed too compressed and was ripe with SSBS.  The whole twist with Liam Neeson turning out to be Ra’s I saw coming a mile away, as I did with the Scarecrow’s secret benefactors.  And finally, the action scenes sucked.  Redundant to say I know, but they just sucked. 
            However, there are good things to note in this film that I have noticed as I got older and they’re good if for no other reason than how they were expanded on in the sequel.  While Bale and Neeson were miscast the rest of the actor did pretty good jobs in their roles.  Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Michael Cain, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, and Rutger Hauer were good in their roles but couldn’t bring the film up for me.  It’s also worth noting that this is one of the few superhero films where they acknowledged that this is a real world with real problems and just beating up a bunch of criminals isn’t going to necessarily change anything, (something that most superhero films failed to do).  But in the end, it just wasn’t for me.  Maybe it was the time period it came out in.  Maybe there are more people out there who share my opinion of it and I just don’t know it.  Or I’m a complete minority on this.  Either way, this film just didn’t impress me the way it did others and remains one of “those” kinds of films for me.

            But then came along The Dark Knight.  Where do I even begin?  In a nutshell, this film is just great all around.  As I’m sure we all know, the story revolves around Batman as he, along with Lieutenant Gordon, and the new D.A. Harvey Dent as they try to take down the remaining mafia organizations in Gotham.  In retaliation, the mob hires The Joker, a freelance bank robber and psychopath to kill Batman and return the city to the status quo.  Little do any of them know, his plans are much bigger and darker in nature. 
            Now the first thing that this film got right was the acting, casting, and dialog.  To put it simply, nearly every cast member in this film deserved an Oscar Nomination and is a quantum leap from what they had before.  While Christian Bale is still kind of sketchy as Batman, (more on that in a later), his dialog with people who were on to his secret was spot on and well performed.  While I felt that Michael Cain, Morgan Freeman, and Gary Oldman were just ok in Batman Begins, in this film they get a lot more screen time, an update with their dialog and brought their A Game to their performances and, in my opinion, each deserved an Oscar nomination for the performances they gave.  The same can be said for Aaron Eckhart’s extremely underrated performance as Harvey Dent/Two-Face who was fantastic as both the charismatic D.A. and broken vigilante and in my opinion is the best version of the character ever brought to film, television, or videogames.
I have to say, Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel was a huge upgrade from Katie Holmes in terms of acting abilities.  It is true that she isn’t as attractive as Holmes, (shame on you people who thinks that automatically makes Holmes better), but she was a lot more believable in the role.  In short, she actually looked and acted like a lawyer and unlike her character in Batman Begins, actually serves a purpose in the film other then to be Batman’s love interest.  Many of the minor cast members were also great in their parts, giving it their all and are all still somehow memorable with limited amount of screen time, such as the characters of Stephens and Ramirez just leave a big impression despite having so few lines and screen time.  Easily the most un-appreciated actor in this whole film was Eric Roberts as the slimy, confident, cocky mob head Maroni and it just shocks me that this guy is still doing B movies after that performance.  Easily one of the most underrated comic book movie performances ever.

The guy who stole the show, however, and the one everyone remembers is Heath Ledger as The Joker.  What can I honestly say about him that hasn’t already been said?  The writing is for him is great, (I’ll go more into that later).  The performance is great.  The way his scenes are directed are great.  It’s just a great part.  The only thing that I can really do in this regard is bring up what some of the other fans already have and the inherent criticism that comes with the popularity of the portrayal.  The most common complaint that I’ve heard against it is that he’s not funny and that he should have been more like The Joker from Arkham Asylum and that’s the way the character should be.  But let’s really think about this for a second.  For starters, like a lot of other long running comic book characters, the character has changed so much over the decades it’s really impossible to say what the Joker is “suppose” to be like.  So saying how the Joker is “suppose” to be is a very loose statement at best.  Second, this portrayal, despite what some of the more hardcore fanboys say, does keep the essence of what the Joker is but at the same time does something new with the character.  For one thing, this Joker is funny.  The humor is darker and a bit more subtle but is their all the same and it’s all designed to make you crap your pants in fear.  And he is a psychopath who does deranged things often just for the sake of doing them.  The main difference between this version and others is that he actually has a major plan for Gotham and this is what ultimately makes this version of the character better but still a bit questionable among the more hardcore fans.
         But my opinion of this whole debate is just stupid.  All of the Joker’s are good in their own way.  However, I personally believe that this one has the best writing, as it trades in all kiddish jokes and ridiculous antics for a serious plan that was for Gotham’s sole, demented jokes that were scary as well as funny and an all-around shit you pants scary portrayal.  And that’s why so many people like this version.  It’s a very disturbing performance that gets under your skin.  The Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill versions are funny and enjoyable, but they never reached the same level of memorabilia, depth and intensity.  As far as Heath Ledger’s death is concerned, I really think that critics of the portrayal have blown that whole thing out of proportions.  It does account for a lot of added interest in the film prior to release and for its initial finical success but they did not blow his portrayal out of the water and it deserved all the praise it got.  

But what is good acting and good characters without a good plot?  Well, as The Avengers proved, a billion dollar grossing movie!  Ha, ha, ha, ha! (Seriously, though it was a good summer blockbuster and deserved its financial success).  But in all seriousness, the story of The Dark Knight is easily the best of any superhero movie and among the best I have seen for any film, rich with complexities, dark tones, and serious themes that hit you like a ton of bricks with layers of realism that had yet to be seen in any superhero film and still hasn’t been seen sense.  And quite frankly, it’s is a little difficult to talk about.  It expands on everything that was established in the first film and takes it to new heights.  For starters, the realism factor has been upped.  Batman doesn’t just beat the criminals up and leave then for the police to find or deals with everything on his own.  He actually coordinates with Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent and shares relevant information with them that will help take down the mob in a court of law.  It establishes that just doing the usual hero thing like beating up criminals doesn’t really solve anything and that it takes real people in power like cops and D.A.s to bring criminal to justice.  This is something that you NEVER see in other superhero films and gave it a very neo noir feel to it that perfectly blended with the Batman story line.
It also happens to be the only superhero film where the world they are trying to protect feels like a living, breathing entity on its own.  In other words, it was something that you were fully invested in and most superhero films just fail to do this effectively.  In this film they establish that this is a city in trouble and needs help.  It isn’t just some random alien invasion, or a CEO who wants control over people.  This is a city that has problems, with people in despair, where criminals run wild and is truly in need of saving and by the time the film comes to its end you are fully invested in said city’s fate and how things will work out.  Again, it is something that no other superhero film has done effectively before or sense. 

And then we have Batman’s battle with the Joker and everything about this was just fantastic.  Now, I give superhero films like The Avengers a lot of crap because their villains have very simple motives, be it just trying to get rich, take over the world, or just simple revenge.  The Joker’s motive for doing what he does and how he does it is a lot more complex and, again, are more realistic.  His motive is to spread anarchy and chaos, to prove to Gotham and Batman that deep down everyone is just as insane as he is and if pushed to a certain extent they will become just like him and how he actually does this is just brilliant in every aspect of the word, using what he knows about certain people to his advantage.  Essentially, it was a much grander and better thought out version of his plan in The Killing Joke.  And all of these things mentioned before moves the story along at a great pace ensuring that every plot device and line of dialog has some kind of use in the long term and never drags.   There really isn’t any other word to describe it other than say it’s the plot of The Dark Knight.
And of course we have all the themes that are intertwined with the film and are what really push the film into what I call “Dark Knight” comic book movie territory as opposed to just being “Good”, “Bad” or “Great”.  Now, other then maybe the Spider-Man films, the Bryan Singer X-Men films, and Watchmen, most superhero films don’t even try to have complex themes and thought provoking questions.  And even these films don’t quite hit you the same way as this one does as it take them to a whole new level.  Now all of the aforementioned things, (the living city and actual use of a legal system), make the film great but it’s the themes that solidify it.  The first is Batman’s no kill rule.  Again, this is something that most superhero films don’t address.  Sure there are superhero films where the hero never kills anyone intentionally, but they never really establish that it’s bad for the hero to kill off the villains.  This in turn, leads to the big themes of the film; escalation and how far one can go for justice and what is acceptable?  Like the animated series of the 90s it does address the possibility that Batman maybe doing more harm than good as The Joker was unleashed by the mob directly due to his actions and again is something that is rarely addressed in other comic book films.  The justice part was addressed in the first film but ultimately came off as a little preachy to me.  In this film, however, it was a very well addressed issue.  How far can and should one go for justice?  Are the prices you pay ultimately worth it?  Should one lie or kill in order to obtain that end?  In fact, by the time the film ends, you really don’t have any clear answers to these questions.  While what they ultimately do does resolve the problems the city faces it leave the audience free to interpret whether or not it was all worth it.  Was that what Chris Nolan intended?  I honestly don’t know but that’s the way I interpreted it.  

From the technical side of things, this film is easily one of the best I have ever seen.  In an age full of overused cartoonish CGI effects, The Dark Knight manages to have special effects that look completely realistic throughout the entire length of the film.  Unlike other films this one uses actual shots of cities, miniatures, and real explosions instead of computer generating everything and this resulted in me believing everything that I saw on screen which is an incredibly rare feat for any film to do.  The sound effects were likewise great and it’s probably the first time that I noticed just how different sound effects like gun shots and car crashes are from the spoken dialog in a film.  The action scenes are a vast improvement over those of the first film and are nail bitingly intense and keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time.  While they aren’t the best action scenes in the world, (Chris Nolan has been steadily improving on them but they still leave something to be wanted), compared to all the overblown, tensionless action sequences that most films have nowadays, The Dark Knight manages to pack a lot more emotion and tension into these scenes which is something worth noting.

            Despite all the good things that this film have, there are some legitimate faults with the film that I need to address and snuff out things that overanalyzes have tried to use to downplay the film.  Now, before I start bashing the over analyzers and bringing up said faults, there are some things that, as a Batman fan, annoyed me.  There are a number of little things that annoyed me and at times I wish that they called one character “this” instead of “that” but the big one for me was Two-Face.  Now as I mentioned before, this was easily the best version Harvey Dent/Two-Face to ever come to any adaptation and as a big fan of the character I couldn’t have been happier about how he turned out.  So, as you can imagine, it really ticked me off that they killed him off in the last ten minutes of the film.  Granted I understand why he had to die from a narrative point of view but it’s still irritating to see one of my favorite villains get killed off right after they get the character right after so many attempts.  But that’s just a personal issue I have with it and it’s not a real flaw with the film.

As far as legitimate faults go, however, this film has little to none and most of the so called “faults” don’t really amount to much more then overanalyzing.  Normally this is something that I don’t bother myself with as people who look at things like this usually tend to be idiots who need to get a life and stop being contrarians looking for attention.  But given the fact that a certain blogger has told me that he’ll bring this stuff up in a future post, I have to give my take and counter arguments to these opinions.  Now, unfortunately there are people out there who don’t know the difference between a legitimate problem with the plot and overanalyzing, so allow me to explain the difference.  Take The Avengers for example.  Bringing up the fact that Bruce Banner was suddenly able to control his transformation into the Hulk during the climax, when on that very same day he was completely out of control during the act on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier is a legitimate plot hole.  Bringing up the fact that Black Widow and Hawkeye should have been killed during the final battle because they don’t have any superpowers is overanalyzing.  Bringing up the fact that Thor’s return to Earth doesn’t amount to much more then “It’s magic bitch” is a legitimate fault with the film.  Bringing up the fact that half of the impacts Tony Stark takes throughout the film should have broken every single bone in his body is overanalyzing. 
So, where am I going with this?  Well, it’s about the most common overanalyzing complaint against the film.  The most common one and the only one that I’m going to address here is that some people say that the Joker’s plan was to complex and should have failed much sooner than it did; especially considering the fact that most of his men consisted of mentally disturbed thugs.  The overanalyzing in this case is a little more complex in this case as I’ve heard people bring up the fact that Navy SEALS couldn’t pull this off to questioning how the Joker would know people would act the way they did.  And quite frankly this is the kind of overanalyzing that give film critics and film buffs a bad name and it just disgusts me that people still do this.
But, because I’m me, I have to make some kind of overanalyzing counter argument to this and quite frankly, these arguments have some very simple explanations to them, as is usually the case.  It can all be summed up by simply saying that the Joker is a genius and just knows how people will more the likely act in certain situations.  Batman going after Rachel?  He saw the way he leaped after him earlier in the film.  Placing the bomb in the schizophrenic’s stomach?  Just needed a guy crazy and desperate enough to do it.  How did he know he could provoke the cop into a fight?  He killed like a dozen cops!  And cops are not known for their fair treatment of cop killers!  As far as the plan itself goes, a good deal of it was probably improvised as much as planned out due to the ever changing circumstances.  While he probably did know to a certain extent where he wanted to go with his plan he probably didn’t know how he would pull it off up until the later parts of the film.        
There is, however, a much more simple explanation to this and is the one that I personally prefer; IT’S JUST A FUCKING MOVIE!  AND A COMIC BOOK MOVIE AT THAT!  I mean seriously, if people can suspend their disbelief long enough to believe that a billionaire dressed up like a bat fights crime with the help of his butler and CEO are you really going to tell me that the Joker’s plan for forever tainting Gotham’s soul is too much and overly complex?  That is what made the movie so damn good!  Seriously people!  Stop the overanalyzing!  It’s pointless and there are much better things to do with your time!

Ok, now that I got that out of the way, there are some things that I do consider to be legitimate faults with the film.  While these aren’t things that cripple the film, they do keep it from obtaining a perfect score on my rating system.  The first major problem is Christian Bale as Batman.  Not that he’s terrible but when compared to the other people who have played him in the past like Kevin Conroy and Michael Keaton, his performance doesn’t really hold up.  The main problem is him trying to blend in normal society as Bruce Wayne the drunken Billionaire.  As people have pointed out, he comes off as someone who is looking for attention or as someone with something to hide.  In other words, if someone told me that this guy was Batman, you would probably believe it.  When in the Batsuit he uses that infamous voice and it gets old very fast.  When he has conversations with Alfred and Fox when not in his Batman outfit it does work but still doesn’t make up for the rest
Another gripe I had with it is hand to hand combat action scenes.  While they were a lot better than the ones in Batman Begins, they just seemed really staged.  A perfect example of this is Batman’s opening fight with the Scarecrow’s men.  It just looked like they were lining up to get their asses kicked or something.  Hopefully this is something that Nolan has stepped up his game on for The Dark Knight Rises but in this one it was sub-par.

And that’s really all I have to say about the film itself but to be honest, I don’t think I’ve done it justice in this post, as it’s really one of those films like Jaws, Star Wars, or The Godfather that’s beyond review and you just have to watch it and get your own opinion of it.  As it stands, this film is almost universally considered to be the greatest comic book film of all time, and maintains the highest approval rating and average score of the genera on Rotten Tomatoes, and the highest rated of the genera on IMDB and Metascore.  It also happens to be the only superhero film to win and be nominated for widespread Academy Awards and was the major cause for the criticism the Academy faced that year for its failure to give the film a Best Picture Nomination.  While there are some people who argue against this, you won’t get away with saying that films like The Avengers, Iron Man, or Watchmen are better films.  You may argue that they’re more faithful to the source material and that as adaptations they’re better or that you enjoy them more, (which I have no problem with), but as films standing on their own you simply won’t.  This was a film that showed that superhero and comic book films don’t have to be crowd pleasing shitty summer block busters and that they can be intelligent with thought provoking themes and complex storylines and characters and it really depresses me that more films of the genera haven’t followed this one’s example.
But anyway, as you can tell I love this film and not only consider it the greatest comic book film of all time but one of my personal favorites.  Nearly everything about it I just love from the casting, to the characters, to the dialog, to the story, to the special effects, to the direction.  It was fantastic all around and created the filmmakers created a movie that can only be described with one word: Masterpiece.

All Around

Comic Book
Movie Rating
Dark Knight Level

            So now that I’m done praising this movie up the ass, what are my expectations of The Dark Knight Rises.  Well, as anyone who have read my posts or talked to me when I first heard that they were going to do a sequel for sure I was indifferent.  This was just a film that I didn’t think needed a sequel as the ending to this one more or less wrapped everything up.  But when I saw that Bane was the main villain, Ann Hathaway was cast as Catwoman, the initial teaser trailer, and heard the Deshi Basara chant, I was as hyped as everyone else and my anticipation has only continued to build due to the insanely good advertising campaign.
As you can imagine, there are a number of things that I’m expecting from this film.  First, I’m expecting a great version of Bane, (one of my favorite Batman villains who has sadly been fucked up the ass sense the Knightfall Story Arc), action sequences that blow the first two out of the water and for it to be better than Batman Begins and The Avengers.  What I am not expecting, however, is for it to be better than The Dark Knight, (although I am hoping).  I just don’t think that THAT can be done.  The biggest fear that I have for it is that it’s going to borrow to much from its predecessor, (although given its 164 minute run time I don’t see that being likely), or that it will regress from the summer blockbuster Oscar bait tones The Dark Knight has and go for more shitty summer blockbuster tones and based on what I’ve seen in some of the later commercials, it looks as if it could go in that direction.  Still, I’m keeping my mind open and hoping for the best.  At the very least I could rant on about this The Dark Knight and am finally able to use this meme. 

            Did that make any sense?  Only if this one proves to be what we all hope for it to be.  So until next time, this is The Illusive One saying….


Friday, July 6, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

First off, let me wish you all a late Happy Fourth of July and I hope you had a great holiday.  Second, SPIDER-MAN!  Yea, if were to talk to me, someone who knows me or read my posts, you probably wouldn’t have ever guessed that I was a huge fan of Spider-Man when I was younger.  I loved the animated series, the toys, the stories and the characters, (and this was back when I didn’t give a crap about plots or characters).  Everything about it I just loved. 
However, as luck would have it, the Sam Rami films started to come out right when I was getting out of Spider-Man and superhero stuff in general.  I saw the first film in theaters and loved it, but the second two I have a lot of indifference towards.  Not so much because I think they’re bad, but they just came out at a time when I really just didn’t care about superhero stuff anymore.  Not to mention, the second and third films kind of came out when the genera was at a low; that weird period where the crappier superhero films like Fantastic 4 and X-Men: The Last Stand were coming out and started to dominate the genera, (thank you Dark Knight and Iron Man for turning that around).
Now the third film, as we all know, met with a huge amount hatred from fans, for a variety of reasons, including Emo Peter, the dumbass dance scene, the plot holes and, of course, little to no Venom.  The backlash against this film was so strong in fact, that Sony pulled the plug on any potential sequels, effectively killing the film franchise.  But then a few years ago they announced a reboot to the franchise, much like the way Batman Begins rebooted the Batman film franchise or the way Superman Returns tried to reboot the Superman film franchise with a new director, writer and cast.  And to be honest, this was the film coming out this year that I had the most indifference towards.  I just didn’t care about it and from the ads that I saw it looked kind of crappy.   But then I saw the generally positive ratings on IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes and made the decision to go see it and here are my thoughts on it.
The plot revolves around Peter Parker, as he attempts to try to find out just why his parents left him when he was four years old.  This eventually leads him to Oscorp Industries and his father’s old friend and fellow scientist, Dr. Curt Connors.  In the process he is bitten by a genetically enhanced spider which gives him superpowers that he uses to hunt down a robber who killed his uncle.  Along the way, he continues to help Connors continues his father’s work, which inadvertently leads him to become The Lizard, and it’s up to Spider-Man to stop him.  And I have to say, I really enjoyed this film and can honestly say that it re-awoke the Spider-Man fan in me that I long thought was dead.
For starters, the main storyline, while not Batman Begins good, (be ready for a lot of comparisons to that film), was surprisingly good and well-paced.  While it does deviate a good deal from its comic book founders in terms of the original origin story, they still did a really good job with it; in my opinion better than the 2002 film.  It made the transition from Peter being some nerdy photographer, to freaked out at his abilities, to being a bit of a dick with his abilities to both his classmates and criminal alike, (honestly who wouldn’t go a little nuts if they got super strength and speed), to the hero we all knew him to be.  It worked perfectly, better than most origin story films in my opinion.
What really surprised me about the film was Curt Connors/The Lizard.  Now judging from the way the film was advertised you would have thought that he would have been a straight up villain the way most of the villains in superhero films are.  And to be honest this pissed me off.  Curt Connors was always one of the more sympathetic villains in the comics and show series and the idea that he would become a straight villain just seemed like a huge betrayal of the character.  However, the advertising was completely lying in this regard and I couldn’t be happier about it.  His character is sympathetic and likeable and you really feel that he is a good man trying to do good things for the world.  I also really liked how they brought him into this, making him an old friend of Peter’s dad and how Peter goes in to fill his father’s shoes.  It was something that I thought was really cool and how it led to Connors becoming the Lizard worked really well.
Another thing that surprised me was that the acting and casting was, for the most part, spot on.  In this regard, the film was damn near Batman Begins good.  Andrew Garfield was perfect in this role, (which really freaks me out considering the guy is in his late 20s and can play a high-school student perfectly), going through the all the character transitions perfectly and in my personal opinion, is one of the better superhero casting decisions out there.  When he gets upset at people or feels awkward around them it actually seems like a like a legitimate response to the situation and that he is actually feeling what he’s portraying.  In short, he played the part perfectly.
Emma Stone, likewise, was a great pick for Gwen Stacy and the writing for the character was pretty good to.  Unlike Mary Jane from the previous Spider-Man films, she wasn’t some dumbass in distress with no purpose other than to be rescued.  She actually did helpful things and gave Peter a reason not to do what he was doing.  Rhys Ifans was also a great as Connors, and as I mentioned before the writing for the character was great, although I wish he had more screen time.  Sally Field was also pretty good as Aunt May but in my humble opinion, the best performance in this film came from Martin Sheen as Uncle Ben.  With a relatively limited amount of screen time he manages to leave a really big impression through his dialog and performance, scolding Peter for the way he uses his newfound abilities and trying to impart moralities and values to him.  It’s just a shame that he didn’t have more screen time because I honestly wanted to see more him.
The film also had a pretty good sense of humor, (although nothing that ever comes close to “Puny God” level of hilarity), knowing how to lighten things up to keep them from becoming Batman Begins level of serious but is serious enough to keep it from the Sam Rami level of goofiness and I felt they found just the right balance.
But the film does have some flaws, and like most of the other films I’ve reviewed this year, they do bother me.  For starters, Denis Leary was not a good pick for Captain Stacy at all and honestly I don’t know why this character had such a major role in this film as he really didn’t serve much of a purpose.  Well, he served one but it could have easily been done another way.  There were also a few wired plot holes that popped up every now and then but nothing to noticeable or damaging in my opinion, but like most superhero films, it contained a good deal of SSBS which continues to annoy the crap out of me.  There were also a few things that I felt could have been fleshed out a bit more in the story, like the relationship between Connors and Peter.  It seemed like they were setting up something really good and it was a bit of a shame they didn’t go further with it.  The same can be said about the school bully, Flash.  One moment he is one the biggest bully clich├ęs I have ever seen in a film and the next he is acting like a regular guy.  I mean what the hell?    
Where this film really failed to impress however, (and at times was flat out bad), was the technical department.  The first thing that really stuck out were the action sequences.  While they were better than say, Batman Begins, they really failed to impress and it’s painfully obvious that this was the director’s first action film.  The special effects were also kind of subpar.  For as much as I complain about CGI in films like The Avengers, in that film it was what I call good CGI.  The CGI in this film however, was awful, especially the design and animation of The Lizard.  I mean, that thing just looked bad.
And this may be a nitpick, but is it just me or did the editing seem wired at times?  Like they cut too soon, or a scene was missing a frame or two or jumped cut at certain parts?  Maybe I just blinked or something but it was something that kind of bugged me. 
Speaking of nitpicking, is it just me or was the Oscorp building the same building they used for Stark Tower in The Avengers?  I think it was!  Oh well.  Guess no Samuel L. Jackson kicking Spider-Man’s ass.  Mildly disappointing but what can you do?

In conclusion, this film was a lot better than I ever expected it to be and certainly a lot better than it had any right to be.  I went into it thinking that it was going to be a carbon copy of Batman Begins, and it is obvious that some things were lifted from it but it is not a rip off of it by any means and as I said earlier, it reawoke the Spider-Man fan in me.  The storyline was really good and the casting and acting was spot on.  While it does have problems in the technical department and it does take the film down a notch and keeps it from my “Great” category, it still doesn’t change the fact that the plot and character worked really well.  It isn’t Batman Begins good but I can honestly say that I enjoyed it more than the Sam Rami 2002 film.  If you’re a Spider-Man fan then I highly recommend that you give this one a look.  You won’t be disappointed.

All Around

Comic Book Movie Rating

Monday, July 2, 2012

Spec Ops: The Line

            In the video game medium, shooters tend to be the equivalent of summer blockbusters.  Their plots rarely make you think, the characters are serviceable and sometimes good but never come close to BioWare level of fleshed out, their usually tends to be more emphasis on multiplayer then single player, they revel in how many explosions they can make and how high they can make their body counts and they almost always end up as best sellers.  However, Spec Ops: The Line promised something different.  Part of a franchise that went defunct back in the early 2000s, Spec Ops: The Line was announced back in 2009 and was developed under the new game development company, Yager Development.  And when I played the demo a while back, I decided that I needed to play the full game.  And seeing as how everyone else is either distracted with Dawnguard, Lego Batman 2, or the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut, I decided to give this game some attention, considering no one else is.  So does Spec Ops: The Line prove that shooters can have great stories as well as intense gameplay, or is it just cheap cash in on the genera with a lot of false advertising?  Read on to find out.

The game takes place in U.A.E. city of Dubai six months after a series of massive sand storms hit the city and effectively cut it off from the rest of the world.  Before the city went dark however a colonel by the name of John Konrad volunteered his regiment, the 33rd, to help evacuate the city.  Unfortunately things didn’t go as planned and the regiment effectively deserted the army after Konrad refused an order to abandon the city.  The last anyone had heard from the 33rd, Konrad was about to attempt to lead a caravan of people out of the city.  Two weeks before the game starts a message comes out of the city, telling of the failure of the caravan and the deaths of many.  The army decides to covertly send a Delta Force team to investigate.  What they find, much to their surprise is civil war in the city between the 33rd, led by Konrad, and armed civilians, armed and led by various CIA agents and the recon team is forced to fight for their lives and find out just what the hell happened within the city and get the survivors out.
            And I have to say that when they promoted this game for its Heart of Darkness type story, they were not falsely advertising.  This is probably the only shooter out there that I can honestly say has a really intelligent plot, full of twist that I didn’t see coming, digging into intense themes with heavy visuals to compliment it, taking a lot of inspiration from Apocalypse Now! without directly ripping off it.  While the plots of games like Modern Warfare, Black Ops, Halo, and Gears aren’t horrible by any means, they aren’t exactly what I would call thought provoking.  This is a game that really digs into themes that no other developer that I know of has ever addressed and contains really dark plot elements to compliment it, and to be honest I’m honestly surprised that the game hasn’t gained more controversy over it.  And believe me, when I say these elements and themes are dark they are DARK, often digging into what is acceptable for the military to do and what is not.  Whereas other games would probably draw a distinct line on this and tell the gamer what is right and wrong matter Spec Ops does not, often putting you into “us or them” type situations and/or revenge dilemmas and leaves the gamer to choose what he or she thinks is ultimately right or wrong without being preachy about it.  A prime example of this is the question over who the real villains are.  You have the military, which are apparently a bunch of tyrants, the CIA led civilians who are constantly being intentionally led to horrible deaths by their leaders and then there is your group who constantly seem to make situations worse for both sides as the game goes on.
            There are, however, two major issues I have with the plot and I can’t help but turn my head at these things in confusion.  The first thing is that I’m not really sure about the whole “city being destroyed by sand storms” thing.  Now I openly admit that I don’t know how sand storms work but I just find it a little hard to believe that sand storms can constantly hit a city like that for months on end, effectively cutting it off from the rest of the world and making it all but uninhabitable.  The other, and the bigger one for me, is the ending.  I don’t want to spoil too much for you but it’s one of those weird, narrative shattering endings and, quite frankly, I didn’t think the ending needed it and it just raised so many questions and confuse the hell out me.
            But all around the storyline of this game was fantastic.  The situations, the themes, the atmosphere, and the way everything was built up was just incredible.  To put it simply, more videogames need to follow this game’s example in how to tell a story.  If for no other reason than this, the game is worth checking out for its story because it is incredible.

Like the plot, the characters are fantastic and complement the plot perfectly.  For starters you have the three main characters, Captain Walker, Lieutenant Adams, and Sergeant Lugo who are all incredibly compelling characters and have their own arcs.  Adams and Lugo both have their own sense of right and wrong and as the game goes on serve as kinds of moral compasses for Walker but the game is smart enough never to make either one of them right or wrong in any given situation, adding to the moral ambiguity that made the plot so good.  As the game goes on we see how the situation in Dubai affects them both physically and mentally we legitimately care for what happens to them and even question whether or not we actually want them to succeed given the way they’ve developed and how they’ve affected the city.
While I do question the voice casting decision for Konrad, the writing for the character was top notch and adds yet another dark element to an already dark and demented game.  While he is similar to Colonel Kurtz from Apocalypse Now! in physical appearance and the things he addresses, he is different enough to where he is his own character and not a direct rip off.  The same thing can be said for the about The Radioman; a voice who constantly gives the 33rd news about what the protagonists are doing much to their inconvenience.  While he is obviously inspired by the photojournalist from Apocalypse Now!, (listen to his voice and tell me he doesn’t sound like Dennis Hopper), their again is enough differences in their dialog and role to ensure that he is his own character.
While they don’t offer nearly as much to the game as other characters, the various CIA agents leading the civilians against Konrad add even more uncertainty to the game.  While they are the closest thing you have to allies in this city, their actual motives remain a mystery and when revealed you find yourself disgusted by the fact that you worked with them.
            One thing that I found really interesting was how the tone of their voices changed throughout the course of the game.  Now I’m not just talking about the way they do in cut scenes but the way they do in gameplay combat situations.  When the game starts, they talk in tones that are similar to the way the characters always talk in games like Mass Effect or Gears of War.  By the time the game reaches its final act the tone of their voices completely shifts.  Walker’s voice becomes hoarse and there is a lot more rage to it and he is clearly more passionate about killing his enemies and has an almost obsessed hatred of them.  The tone of your two teammates also shifts, going from taking your combat orders without question to grudgingly doing what you say, with clear resentment and distain in their voices.  It’s something that’s really interesting to see and I honestly don’t think there is another game out there that actually does this and I hope to see more games that do this. 

            Graphics wise, the game is slightly above average and its visuals match the game’s tone perfectly.  You actually see physical damage, dirt, dried blood and sand on the characters over the character over the course of the game, (you would be surprised at the number of games that don’t do this.  Looking at you, Gears 3!).  Oh and the music in this game is frikkin awesome.  It’s really weird, but music from the Vietnam War era always compliments these kinds of stories perfectly and almost makes the game feel like a throwback to the 1970s anti-war films like The Deer Hunter or Apocalypse Now!
            But despite all the good things that I have to say about the plot and characters, where this game really dropped the ball was in the gameplay aspect and it really drags the game down.  Combat mechanics are that of a basic 3rd Person Shooter and don’t really bring in anything new to the table short of burying your enemies under tons of sand, (which can be satisfying).  However, the actual combat often comes off as stiff and clunky and the control layout doesn’t really help with action buttons placed in areas that often seem to contradict those of other third person shooters.  The enemy AI is a little on the slow side often slow to react to your presence and often run out into open areas without cover and can make some battles a massacre.
The multiplayer fails on nearly every front, with very generic leveling systems and multiplayer types that we’ve seen a dozen times before and fails utterly to bring anything new to the table.  While the maps in this game are big, this ends up becoming an annoyance given the fact that there only 8 people are allowed per match and you’ll find yourself spending way too much time looking for people to kill rather than actually fighting.  Add to this is the fact that the gameplay mechanics seem even stiffer and clunkyer in multiplayer and you get something that just fails to impress in anyway.

So, did Spec Ops: The Line deliver on all of its promises?  Well, in the story and character department, yes.  It does for videogames what Apocalypse Now! did for films and what The Heart of Darkness did for books in the plot, themes and character department and that’s where the strength of this game lies; in the sheer darkness of all the things it shows.  Unfortunately the gameplay really drags the experience down and in this regard, it feels like it was developed back in 2008 or something, (four years can be a lifetime for games), with mechanics that were innovative back then but are more than a little old now.  I really wanted to like this game a lot more and give it a high rating and recommendation.  At worst it’s a solid rental for a campaign playthrough and at best it’s worth the 50 bucks that it costs on STEAM but I would wait for the price to drop a little more before making any decisions on buying it.  Ultimately, the story is worth playing through but the lack of innovation in gameplay just drags the whole thing down and that’s my final word on this game.

All Around