“Dredd” (2012) Review

I’ll preface this by saying that I’ve never read any of the Judge Dredd comics. In fact, the only prior experience I’ve had with the character is the 1995 Stallone film of the same name. I’ll admit that I don’t have the best gauge for determining how faithful Dredd is to its source material, but I assume the general absence of blue contact lenses, screaming the word “LAW”, and Rob Schneider is a step in the right direction.

While I never knew much about the Judge Dredd character per se, I was always fascinated by the implications surrounding him. His story takes place in a dystopian society overrun with everything from overpopulation to crime and the only things standing in the way of total chaos are a team of law enforcement officers called “Judges”. The Judges are interesting because they’re the last line of defense, but at the same time, they represent policing in its most efficient and dehumanizing form. The Judges’ responsibilities blend those of police, judge, jury, and executioner. No trials, no warrants, no peers. This makes Judge Dredd an extremely complex subject for a comicbook film. He’s a hero, but kind of a tyrant at the same time. Where the Stallone film fails is most of the narrative involves Dredd operating outside of this society and his conventional set of duties, so we hardly get to explore any of the contradictions and implications of the character.

The camera mugging also didn’t help.

Unfortunately, Dredd doesn’t really do this either. Dredd is kept in the confines of this city this time, which gives us a better glimpse of the society in which he operates, but the film overall doesn’t leave a lot of room for analysis. To sum up Dredd in one word: spectacle. Almost from the beginning, the action is brutal and persistent, the visual effects are exaggerated and (way too) drawn out, and tensions and emotions are always running high. It does a good job of getting the audience swept up right away, but at the cost of our critical faculties. There’s simply no time to really get a handle on this world and the complexities of the people supposedly protecting it. Most of the plot involves Dredd (Karl Urban) and his rookie partner Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) trapped in an apartment building, constantly on the run from drug lords and violent criminals who won’t stop until blood is shed. And boy, is a lot of blood shed in this movie. While this gives Dredd a fun Die Hard kind of feel, it places the characters in a situation so intense, it denies the audience a chance to really think about what’s happening.

But to give credit where credit is due, Dredd is a very entertaining movie. Karl Urban does a great job as Judge Dredd. Aside from occasionally trying to emulate Christian Bale’s “bat-voice”, Urban plays the character extremely cold and no-nonsense. You really can’t imagine Dredd doing anything other than working. This is probably the closest we get as an audience to the inhumanity a character like Judge Dredd lends himself to, which is only perpetuated by the fact that we never see his face (supposedly the one unbreakable rule of the comics).

A rule the Stallone flick happens to break in the first 15 minutes.

As mentioned, the action scenes and visual effects are ongoing and exaggerated to a spectacular level, and they keep the audience engaged. The villains are quite cookie-cutter, but have an omnipresence that allows for a lot of suspense and they overall prove worthy adversaries for Dredd. The pacing is also very quick and smooth, with tragic and comedic moments timed very nicely. The 3D effects are kind of pointless, but I would recommend seeing the film in IMAX or UltraAVX if you get the chance because it is very enjoyable from a visual standpoint.

If you find yourself able to see through all of the bells and whistles, however, you’ll find that Dredd lacks substance. A film about a the future of our society really should make room for some kind of social commentary, but you get the feeling that Dredd is copping out and putting shiny objects in your face instead. Even if those shiny objects are really enjoyable to watch.

I give it 3/5.

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“The Expendables 2” (2012) Review

The problem with the first Expendables movie is its premise is inconsistent with what we actually got. It’s funny, action-packed, and very entertaining overall, but it simply doesn’t feel big enough. In other words, it’s not “80s big”. The Expendables was intended to be a throwback to the action blockbusters of the mid-to-late 1980s that feature impossibly excessive action sequences with insane amounts of carnage, all topped off with a few one-liners to kill the tension. Yes they’re implausible and corny, but that’s what makes them so much fun to watch. You’d think a film that features Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, and Bruce Willis in an oversimplified mercenary story that practically screams “high body count” would inevitably cause you to leave the cinema with your eyes bugged out and hair blown back due to the sheer epicness of what you just witnessed.

Bingo!

But no. Unfortunately, The Expendables feels more like a gritty modern-era action flick that takes itself way too seriously considering its purpose. It’s a good film, but not what we had expected. When The Expendables 2 was announced, it felt like the sequel that no one wanted, but got stuck with anyways. Then I saw it.

“Holy tap-dancing cows!” is a phrase that comes to mind. The Expendables 2 is a dramatic change in gears, to say the least. Everything it does well in its predecessor is simply made bigger and everything else is changed to ensure you couldn’t possibly take this movie seriously at all, but still love every second of it. The cast has grown (introducing other 80s stars Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme, and giving larger roles to Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger), the action is insane to the point of parody, the arsenal of weapons and vehicles is jaw-dropping, and the whole thing is caked in a thick layer of 80s action movie tropes. To name a few: the dialogue is cheesy and riddled with one-liners, everything explodes, the bad guys have the aim of drunk Stormtroopers while the heroes can fire directly into the sky and still mow down a row of enemies, and the word “subtlety” is nowhere to be found. The antagonist is actually named “Villain”, for crying out loud.

This was his concept art.

It’s what the first movie was supposed to be and succeeds across the board in this sense. For a movie that’s so undeniably 80s, however, the burning question is why release a film like this today? It’s one thing to pay tribute to a previous era of film history (such as Scorsese’s Hugo), but another to actually include the stars of that era. As I’ve already gone over in greater length in my review of Total Recall, the action movies of the mid-to-late 80s were supposed to showcase a tough America: one that could not only stand up to then-pressing threats such as the Soviet Union or the aftermath of Vietnam, but eliminate them completely. People like Stallone and Schwarzenegger were America’s “hard bodies”, who defined the American male and his seemingly non-existent limits of hypermasculine power. When the Cold War ended and Reagan left the White House, these films naturally stopped serving a purpose and went away while America’s onscreen saviours would go on to do movies like Batman & Robin and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.

America!

The Expendables 2 is a fascinating film to read politically. While it carries over the stars and tropes of 80s action, it doesn’t carry over its themes. America’s Cold War heroes have fundamentally changed. They’ve aged considerably and are more aware of their vulnerabilities, but more importantly, they’re acting independent of the US Government. They’ve gone from saviours to a team of mercenaries-for-hire, who often find themselves clashing with America (here embodied by Willis, reprising his role as CIA Agent Church) or acting in defiance of it. There’s an especially telling scene where Stallone introduces the team as “Americans” and Jason Statham turns to him and says in his thickest, most Stathamiest accent, “Since when?” Even when the Expendables and the Government unite towards the end of the film, Stallone makes it crystal clear that his team is still calling the shots. The Expendables 2 is significant because it shows us that America’s hard bodies are still active, but find themselves in a world where they’re not wanted. As a result, they no longer seek to prove anything about America so much as they simply want to prove something to themselves. They’ve become (dare I say?) expendable.

I give the film 3.5/5.

“The Bourne Legacy” (2012) Mini-Review/August Updates

I’ll start with a brief, super-belated review of The Bourne Legacy. It’s well-made and mostly enjoyable. The action is well done and the disorienting shaky-cam that plagues the other moves is toned down much to my satisfaction. Jeremy Renner does a decent job as Aaron Cross, a Jason Bourne-like member of a similar program to Treadstone, called “Outcome”. Cross is quick on his feet and charming to an almost sociopathic degree, which is more what I would expect a member of such programs to behave, but he lacks the wonderment and moral conscience that makes Jason Bourne human, and therefore relatable. It’s easier to project ourselves onto Cross’ female companion Dr. Marta Shearing (Rachel Weisz). She’s involved in the Outcome program, but largely oblivious to what it is, and simply gets caught in the crossfire along with Cross (OH–his name suddenly makes sense) when the government decides to shut down Outcome after Bourne exposes Treadstone in the previous film. The whole “wrong place/wrong time” element works well for a movie character because we’ve all been there in reality and can potentially make us really care about what’s happening on screen. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to truly care about Shearing as she’s played off merely as a damsel in distress, which is a jarring juxtaposition to the strong, latent heroes the female characters of the Bourne films have become famous for.

The biggest issue with The Bourne Legacy is that it’s largely unnecessary. It doesn’t so much move the series forward as it does sideways. The story focuses on how completely different characters operating a completely different program belonging to a completely different government organization react to the events of The Bourne Ultimatum. Occasionally, we see glimpses of what becomes of certain characters from the other films, but all in all, The Bourne Legacy begs the question “so what?” It’s like making a sequel to Top Gun and having it be about the family of one of the enemy pilots shot down at the end of the first movie. There’s also the noticeable absence of the elements of discovery and thirsting for answers that drive the first three Bourne films. Each previous Bourne movie peels off yet another layer of Treadstone and Jason Bourne comes closer to discovering who he truly is, but in this film, everyone already pretty much knows where they stand and there are no more secrets to uncover. While being on the run from an organization who considers you merely being alive as a liability is a really interesting premise, it isn’t explored deeply enough in this film to serve any real purpose. Cross and later Shearing know exactly why they’re being hunted and never end up uncovering crucial information that reveals some dark, incriminating secret about Outcome like you would expect. This forces their motivations to simply be self-preservation, which is enough to sustain a film per se, but not an interesting or engaging film by any means. The whole thing plays out like a clunkier version of The Terminator where Shearing is a more helpless Sarah Connor and Cross is Kyle Reese if he were mostly void of humanity.

Also, nobody is being chased by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I give The Bourne Legacy 3/5.

Okay, now onto some updates. It’s that time of year again where I collect my books and go back to school. Or steal my daddy’s cue and make a living out of playing pool … wait, where was I going with this? As the lecture halls and library beckon, that means there will be a few changes to Frepow Films in the coming months. I’ll still be releasing reviews on Wednesday, but they’ll be shorter and more compact like the one you see above. I’ll also be doing reviews every other Wednesday instead of once a week. If I find I can handle the workload, I’ll move it back to every Wednesday. In the meantime, please keep an eye on the blog for updates. As the year goes on, who knows where things will go and I’m more than open to experimenting with new content and even bringing on guest writers or another blogger to do a bi-weekly column or help out with reviews. It will be an interesting year.

I’ve also recently made @FrepowFilms my sole Twitter handle and will be updating it much more frequently now, so follow me if you want to stay in the loop!

That’s all for now and I’ll be returning around the beginning of September with my review of The Expendables 2!

“Total Recall” (2012) Review

Oh, look! Colin Farrell is out remaking our childhoods again. I can understand why they remade Fright Night. The young adult vampire story is a big seller right now and if nothing else, the original Fright Night certainly has a healthy dose of vampires and young adults, so a remake made a lot of sense.

It also stars David Tennant, which automatically makes any movie worth it.

I have a much more difficult time, however, wrapping my head around a Total Recall remake. I know that Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 original isn’t a masterpiece per se, but it accomplishes everything it needs to. It’s fun, suspenseful, and accurately captures both the panic and excitement the question “What if everything you thought you knew about yourself was wrong?” lends itself to. Yes, it can be a bit campy and silly (after all, it is an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie) and some of the special effects, while innovative, have not aged well, but I don’t feel these qualities alone prime the film for a gritty reboot.

The original Total Recall is also a very politically charged film that played an important role at the end of the Cold War. Throughout most of the 1980s and the first year or two of the 90s, Western audiences were treated to an onslaught of films starring “All-American” action stars such as Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. Susan Jeffords coined the term “hard bodies” to describe these actors for they represented a strong, incorruptible, and unbeatable America that could be showcased in the final years of the Cold War. Some of these films are more blatant in their political agendas such as Rocky IV, which displays physical and moral dominance over the Soviet Union, and Rambo: First Blood Part II, which essentially serves to undo the war in Vietnam, but Total Recall is an interesting film in the bunch. By 1990, the Cold War was all but over and what better way to show this than have the hard-bodied Schwarzenegger travel to the degenerative, near-uninhabitable Mars (its red surface I’m sure is no coincidence) to assist a group of rebels overthrow the corrupt, oppressive governing body and single-handedly transform the planet into a place of beauty and freedom.

No, he does this LITERALLY single-handedly.

The political reading of the film isn’t quite that simple, however. Just like RoboCop’s warnings about the corporatization of policing, Verhoeven makes sure capitalism isn’t overlooked in Total Recall either. The film’s villain Cohaagen (Ronny Cox), while a dictator in many respects, is a businessman at heart. He privatizes Mars’ natural resources, maintaining a dangerous monopoly over oxygen and protection from the planet’s radiation to the point that citizens have to pay in order to survive. On Mars, life is a privilege for the wealthy, while the poor suffer serious mutations as a result of shoddy accommodations. It’s in this critique that I feel a remake of Total Recall could be warranted. Just like vampires, the economy and the implications of its current state are hot issues. The rebel motif has also gained relevance in today’s society with the ongoing political protests in the East and the Occupy Movement still a recent memory in the West. Perhaps it’s time that the political message of Total Recall was updated for this generation so it can accurately reflect back to us our emotions and anxieties in a time of change and unrest as effectively as the original does so with the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of global capitalism.

Or it could just be a shallow, mindless action flick.

In spite of Wikipedia’s claims that the remake exhibits stronger political overtones than the original, I certainly didn’t pick up on any. The Mars plot is understandably scrapped this time in favour of a near-desolate Earth where the remaining population is divided into the rich citizens of the “United Federation of Britain” and the working class of “The Colony”. The plot is updated so that Quaid (Schwarzenegger in the original, played in this film by Farrell) is fighting his own brainwashing to uncover a plot to invade The Colony and replace its citizens with synthetic robot workers. While an interesting angle, it’s not explored nearly as deeply as it should be in order to convey any semblance of a politically relevant message. There is something to be said about the working class being phased out for the sake of efficiency and profit maximization, but this has been an ongoing issue to some degree since the dawn of industrialism. Not exactly the most topical issue. You don’t exactly get a 99% vibe from The Colony either. The rebels are virtually stripped of their importance, more or less existing simply because they were in the original movie, and despite being constantly exploited and ostensibly on the brink of extermination, there’s a disturbing contentedness to The Colony’s citizens. There’s a scene early on in the film where Quaid delivers the standard “Do you ever wonder if there’s more to life than this?” speech and is mocked by a coworker over it. As for Cohaagen’s evil scheme, the whole thing feels less like the byproduct of corporate greed and more like a rehash of the Third Reich with his planned invasion of the ghettos to exterminate the population and replace them with his own flawless synthetic workers.

He’s also blond, but I fail to see the relevance.

A lack of deep exploration seems to be Total Recall’s biggest problem across the board. The film often passes up developing and examining the meaning of its own aspects in favour of something that just looks really cool onscreen. The environments of the film are visually very striking and I enjoyed the action sequences, but they’re simply not enough to sustain a story. One of the more notable additions to the remake is the introduction of the synthetic police force: an army of robotic officers intended to more efficiently carry out the law. There are some very chilling implications of an increasingly ubiquitous and inhuman police presence and you think the film would explore this considering how gung-ho Cohaagen seems to be about them, but they’re instead reduced to mere henchmen that are more visually dazzling than real people because they short-circuit and sometimes blow up when you fight them. The same issue comes up with Cohaagen (Bryan Cranston, in this film). There’s something very unsettling about the villain in the original Total Recall being a suit. Perhaps it has something to do with the realness of an antagonist who reflects the people running the world at the time, not to mention the fascinating contrast with Quaid. He’s the Lex Luthor to Schwarzenegger’s Superman. But in this film, they decide to “cool him up” by making him younger and highly skilled in martial arts and knife play. The character feels quite contradictory as a result and a lot of focus is taken off of what truly makes him a menacing villain.

“I’m warning you. I know Kung Fu.”

If it stood on its own, I might of been kinder to Total Recall. It still manages to capture to some degree the intensity and suspense of learning your life is a lie, it’s fast-paced and action-packed, and the strong visuals prime the film for an enjoyable IMAX/AVX viewing, but it’s still a remake. We already have a Total Recall movie, so it automatically becomes the job of this film to justify why we now need two of them. It fails in this regard. There’s nothing about the Total Recall remake that doesn’t work better in the original and the changes they do make to the story and characters come off as simply trying to make this movie seem different – an effort that appears trivial at best and undermines the strength of the film at worst.

Just in case there weren’t enough pictures of Bryan Cranston.

I give it 2.5/5.

“The Watch” (2012) Review

For a movie that had apparently been in development since 2008, The Watch certainly feels like something that was thrown together at the last minute. Reading even a little into the film’s background, you would think it had all the elements to be a comedy hit. First and foremost, it was developed with Ghostbusters in mind: the plot revolving around a group of everyday guys (played of course by comedic actors) banding together to take on an alien invasion. Take that tried-and-true premise, put Akiva Schaffer of Lonely Island fame in the director’s chair, and bring aboard Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg to rewrite the script and suddenly this movie looks very promising. But as history has proven, a cool concept and dream crew don’t always guarantee a good film. Just ask RoboCop 2, which had everything going for it from Irvin Kershner and Frank Miller at the helm to being a sequel to FREAKIN’ ROBOCOP! Or the more recent cancelled Superman project with Tim Burton as director and Kevin Smith writing the script. With a formulae like these, you’d think “How could they possibly screw it up?”

Believe me, they can … and they will.

Unfortunately, The Watch feels less like the brilliant lovechild of some of the biggest names in comedy and more like some kind of Frankenstein’s monster with various incompatible pieces forced together, resulting in this tragic heap that isn’t quite sure what it’s supposed to be.

I’ve seen enough versions of the movie to know that existential crises never end well.

The main issue of The Watch is that it can’t seem to decide whether it’s a raunchy comedy or a gory sci-fi chiller. The tone and pacing of the film suffers dramatically because of this, resulting in many attempts at building humour or suspense being undermined by jarring switches from one genre to the other. One scene features the neighbourhood watch (comprised of Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, Vince Vaughn, and Richard Ayoade) singing along to BTO’s “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” and hilariously messing up the lyrics and a few scenes later, they’re staring at the bloody, mangled corpse of R. Lee Ermey. One minute, Jonah Hill’s trying to put the moves on Ben Stiller’s wife and the next, a police officer is brutally murdered by an alien shoving its claw through his chest. Then there are the instances where the film tries really hard to seamlessly blend the two genres, but instead we’re treated to some of its more unsettling moments such as when the gang supposedly kills an alien and proceeds to desecrate its body while posing for pictures like they’re in a really twisted Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel.

And for those movies, that’s saying A LOT!

I’m not saying that comedies should be void of gore. Evil Dead 2 plays the gore up to exaggerated levels specifically for laughs. Shaun of the Dead uses it to remind the viewer of the severity of the protagonists’ situation in a type of dramatic juxtaposition. While The Watch presents a similar juxtaposition, it seems like not much thought was put into why it’s there. This is problematic because it leaves audiences unsure about how they should feel about what’s going on in the film. If the audience can’t decide whether they should be amused or afraid, they’ll naturally respond by being neither.

Another contributing factor is that the aliens feel like an afterthought and their scenes play out without much regard for what they do for the film overall. This doesn’t have to do with just the gore, but the entire plot surrounding them. The aliens are void of any motivation, logic, or real personality. They’re malevolent and want to invade Earth, but we’re never given any explanation beyond “They’re aliens. It’s what they do.” Phase One of their master plan (don’t worry, no spoilers) involves them infiltrating the human race by killing random people, stealing their skin, and assuming their identities, but they leave the bodies of people they’ve killed lying around to be discovered by innocent bystanders and the police. You would think their disguises would be rendered useless, but the film seems to ignore this gaping plot hole so we can have all these crazy twists at the end when we discover which characters are actually aliens (hint: it’s the least developed ones). I’m not sure how the alien plot was handled in the original script, but in the rewrite it feels like it exists solely for the purpose of giving the main characters something to do.

The Watch, I suppose, is watchable (hey look, a pun), but just barely. It has some chuckle-worthy moments and a few amusing cameos to keep you engaged plus the alien effects are actually pretty cool, but most of this is ultimately overlooked as a result of disjointed pacing and ever-changing tone as the film clumsily switches back and forth between genres. Do yourself a favour and stick to Ghostbusters.

It gets 2.5/5.

“The Dark Knight Rises” (2012) Review

They often say that the third movie is where the series starts to go downhill and boy, does no film exemplify this better than the third installment of the Batman franchise. Nothing manages to outrun the long reach of mediocrity in this film. The story is oversimplified and cliche, there is absolutely zero respect for continuity, and the chilling, dark tone of the first two films is completely thrown out the window in favour of colourful spectacle that does nothing but undermine the integrity of Batman. The characters, who the previous films worked so hard to establish as likeable and worthy of emotional investment, are suddenly reduced to walking parodies of themselves. It’s like Batman is a completely different person and you can forget everything you’ve come to know and like about Harvey Dent because they just seemed to stop caring about how things played out with the character.

And there you have it, my review of Batman Forever.

On an unrelated note, one of you left this on my living room floor.

If nothing else, Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman film series has made any past cinematic blunders with the character seem like a long-forgotten bad dream and the third and final installment The Dark Knight Rises is certainly no exception. I won’t go into a long list of all the things this film does well because its success in many of these areas is expected. By now, Nolan’s Dark Knight films are widely regarded as a near-impeccable blend of action, drama, and comic relief, all of which underlies a story that’s an effective balance of both plot and character drives. They’re highly respectful of the character and tone of Batman, who continues to be portrayed brilliantly by Christian Bale, who continues to make us laugh with his infamous “Bat-voice”.  At this stage in the game, to praise The Dark Knight Rises for these triumphs is like praising the sky for being blue – there’s really not much of a point.

Unless you’re making an ELO record.

Where the film does deserve a lot of praise, however, is in the things it manages to improve upon and the risks it takes. There’s a few obvious improvements such the ditching of the shaky-cam for fight scenes, thus giving the audience much more holistic, less disorienting action sequences. But some much deeper aspects of the film series are improved as well, most notably the dark, realistic tone. The Dark Knight Trilogy has taken great pains over its course to present the concept of Batman as something totally plausible in the real world. Up until this film, this has meant giving the films a gritty, authentic look as well as sparing audiences from some of the more far fetched aspects of the Batman universe such as Killer Croc and “Bat Shark Repellant”. While The Dark Knight Rises continues this tradition, it feels far more topical than the previous films. Perhaps the other two films are also like this and I just didn’t pick up on it, but I really feel like The Dark Knight Rises accurately captures a lot of the anxieties of today’s world, making the film feel that much more realistic. There are some blatant nods to the economic crisis, occupy movement, environmental issues, and so on, but the film also addresses some fears that we perhaps don’t give a lot of thought to such as the digitization of records and societal obsession with information gathering. In fact, a major subplot of the film involves a character trying to obtain a program that wipes all information on her from every database on the planet because she is so restricted by her digital footprint.

An item that will surely be a hot commodity when all the college students
with Facebook profiles become old enough to run for public office.

Whether this topical realism of the film will severely date it remains to be seen, but for the time being I think it definitely works in favour of the tone the film is trying to maintain.

In terms of risks, I’d argue that Nolan gambles a fair amount with this film. There were times during the preproduction stage of The Dark Knight Rises that felt like a parade of unpopular decisions. I’d heard reservations about everything from the inclusion of Bane as the main villain to the casting of Anne Hathaway to the seeming abundance of Batman rouges (including Catwoman, this film has five) to the increasingly plausible rumour that Bruce Wayne will be killed off. Nolan even goes ahead and includes some things in the film he explicitly stated he never would. Instinct would dictate the film would be a slap in the face to fans of the character and series, but Nolan pulls it all off without a hitch. I personally have come to trust Nolan in respect to creative decision making because if history has proven anything, it’s that the man knows what he’s doing. Now I’m not innocent by any means. I jumped on the “Who the hell is Ra’s al Ghul?” bandwagon in 2005 and the “Heath Ledger as The Joker?!?!?!” bandwagon in 2008, but Nolan has consistently put my skepticism to rest and he continues to do so with this film.

Alright, let’s get to what everyone really wants to talk about: the bad guys. First off, Tom Hardy does an excellent job as Bane. Up until now, most audiences are only familiar with his appearance in Batman and Robin, which reduces him to a moronic, roid-raged minor villain who was only included in the film to cash in on as many Batman characters as possible because, you know, action figures and stuff.

Oh boy! Now I can relive all the disappointment right here at home!

Naturally there was a lot of concern over whether Bane could carry a film as the main antagonist. The Dark Knight Rises is proof that he can, predominantly because the film presents the side of the character most people aren’t aware of. In the comics, despite being strong enough to knock down a building by peeing on it, Bane is actually highly intelligent, conniving, and a master strategist. Most of the antagonists in Nolan’s trilogy are also very cerebral, more focused on breaking Batman’s spirit over his bones, but Bane is one of the only villains in the franchise who can effectively do both. Is he the best baddie of the series? Hard to say. One thing I love about The Dark Knight trilogy is that the villains vary so much in their methods and motivations that it makes comparing them an incredibly difficult task. I will say that Bane is definitely one of the more interesting of the bunch and is up there in terms of dishing out the most damage against Batman, which is at least good enough for this film. Hardy’s performance brings a lot of life to the character and captures his essence beautifully. He especially deserves major props for being able to convey the intense, cunning nature of Bane despite his voice and most of his face being obscured for the film.

Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle/Catwoman is also a real treat. I will admit that the character seemed a bit shoehorned in at times and the film probably could’ve survived without her. That being said, it wouldn’t have been nearly as strong. While The Dark Knight thrives on moral ambiguity, this film doesn’t hesitate as much in establishing good and evil. Selina brings back that important element of uncertainty as all throughout the film, she sits on the fence like a … dare I say cat? The complex, contradictory nature of the character keeps the audience constantly guessing who she’ll be an asset or liability to next and it works well. People were worried whether pretty-girl Hathaway was up to the challenge, but I was pleasantly surprised. She’s definitely the Heath Ledger of this film in terms of the discrepancy between what was expected of her and what she delivers, which happens to be an excellent performance that probably does the character more justice than any previous cinematic portrayal.

Granted, the bar wasn’t exactly set high.

For all it does well, however, The Dark Knight Rises isn’t perfect and has its share of shortcomings. The main problem is that it’s quite predictable. This isn’t the fault of writing or direction, but rather a problem inherent in the fact that this film is the trilogy’s conclusion. Sort of like how in a prequel, the audience expects certain events and character developments to transpire, the final film of a franchise has to deal with these same inevitabilities. All the loose ends need to be tied up nicely and the characters have to be bid farewell in a manner satisfying to the audience. This presents its own set of minor problems in the film such as the rushing along of certain plot points and the underdevelopment of certain characters, but the main issue is that the audience expects a certain outcome, which renders everything in the film as simply leading up to that inevitable point. This ends up taking a lot of bite out of the film’s developments and twists because they’re reduced from matters of what to matters of how and when. For example, much of the mystery is taken out of new characters such as John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) because everyone knows that to introduce them in the final film means they must serve some kind of important purpose and because there’s only one film to develop them, it becomes obvious rather quickly what those purposes will be. That all being said, the film does the best it can with this issue and with all that the audience does see coming, it still manages to surprise us in certain places.

SPOILER: The whole thing was one of Patrick Bateman’s fantasies.

The Dark Knight Rises is a highly satisfying conclusion to The Dark Knight trilogy and gives the series the send-off it deserves. Is it the best of the series? I can’t say, but it wraps everything up very effectively and is anything but an unexciting farewell. A necessary film for any fans of the character and franchise.

I give it 4/5.

“Brave” (2012) Review

There was a time when all you had to say was “It’s from Pixar” and it was enough to get just about anyone to race to the nearest cinema and view a film whose financial and critical success was practically inevitable. Since their feature-length debut with 1995’s Toy Story (although more so in the last decade), Pixar Animation Studios has become the arbiter of quality in animated feature films. Their movies have not only consistently made piles of money at the box office, but are virtually shoo-ins for Academy Award nominations. For a long time, it was as if they could do no wrong.

Then Cars 2 happened.

We don’t talk about the darker days…

Yes, Cars 2 did very well at the box office and proved the franchise was lucrative enough to open up “Cars Land” in Disneyland last month, but the film is such a deviation from Pixar’s usual caliber of cinematic quality, it’s generally looked down on by both fans and critics and has the unique distinction of being the first and (so far) only Pixar movie not to receive a single Oscar nomination. I get it, you can’t judge the quality of a film or filmmaker solely on what critics think and you especially can’t use Academy Award nominations as a gauge or else nobody would watch more than a handful of movies each year, but this is Pixar we’re talking about. Maybe I’m holding them to too high of a standard, but they’ve certainly and by and large consistently proven that they’re worthy of such a standard. It’s like having a personal chef who serves you all this amazing, sophisticated cuisine every single day and then one night, he serves you a Whopper with fries. Sure the food may be okay, but you’re still going to look at him and go “Really?”

There had better be caviar on this thing!

It’s tempting to view Brave as Pixar’s attempt at a comeback. Their quality is no longer as easily taken for granted and they now have something to prove. However, as the studio’s triumphant return, Brave unfortunately falls a bit short. It’s just not on par with most of Pixar’s other work. That being said, it’s a very, very good film. It’s highly enjoyable with a satisfying balance of humour, drama, and action. The characters are very likable and you certainly have an emotional investment in them. As usual, the cast is star-studded and spot-on featuring almost impeccable performances by the often-underrated greats Billy Connolly and Julie Walters. It’s also a very well-made film. One thing that’s constantly improving with Pixar in spite of film reception is the quality of their animation. The movie looks just amazing and you don’t need 3D glasses to fully appreciate this. While Brave may not assure us that Pixar is back in full force, it at least lets us know it’s on the mend.

The plot borrows from the standard princess story template: a young princess (in this case, a member of Scottish royalty named Merida, played by Kelly Macdonald) is all set to marry some royal suitor that she hates and through a series of events, she manages to take control of the situation. The film’s a classic battle between tradition and autonomy and where the theme of bravery comes in (hence the film’s title) is being brave enough to recognize that we determine our own destinies. Despite being the glue intended to hold the movie together, the presentation of this theme introduces some major flaws in Brave and ultimately holds it back from being truly great.

Admit it, this is all you were thinking about for the last two sentences.

Brave follows the trials and tribulations of Merida, who in spite of her mother Elinor’s (Emma Thompson) wishes, refuses to marry a suitor and demands to choose her own path in life. Merida stubbornly casts a spell on Elinor in order to get her off her back and ends up turning the poor woman into a bear. Yeah, you read that right. A bear. Naturally, rest of the film is devoted to Merida and Elinor learning to put aside their differences and restore balance to the kingdom, etc. That’s all well and good, but Merida’s story has virtually nothing to do with the type of bravery described by the film. It’s stated numerous times that bravery is being able to take control over your own fate, but this is something Merida’s been more than capable of since the beginning of the film. In fact, the whole awkward turning-her-mom-into-a-bear thing is the direct result of her being so desperate to have some kind of say in her own destiny. So what changes does Merida really go through over the course of the movie? Sure, she gains more of an appreciation for what she has (I probably would too if my parents turned into bears), but at no point did it feel like her bravery was being tested or pushed to the limit. She had that bravery all along and she knew it too. And of course Merida never really has to reassess her desire to choose her own path either because a film that tells impressionable girls to obey orders at all times and learn to love those with whom they are forced to be with doesn’t exactly send the best message and I doubt Disney would give it the go ahead.

More than once.

I feel like Elinor is the real main character of Brave. She’s the one who goes through all the changes. It’s her line of thinking and attitude that is challenged the most and she’s the one who ultimately puts it all on the line during the film’s climax. As a result, it is she who truly discovers the meaning of bravery. Yes, Merida learns lessons too, but they’re not nearly as significant nor remotely in keeping with the themes of the film. Yet the film focuses on her, which turns out to be its biggest flaw. I almost got the sense that the filmmakers were aware of this too since any references to Merida’s development as a character feel very much like an afterthought. The most notable of these references is the final scene of the film where Merida marvels at Elinor’s changes and Elinor turns around and basically says “Don’t forget, you changed too” as if the audience forgot she was the main character. The whole thing felt like one of those old Shake ‘N Bake commercials where the mother does all the legwork preparing a dinner, but the little kid steals the thunder by running in at the last minute declaring, “And I helped!”

Overall, Brave is well done. It’s everything you could want from a Pixar movie. It’s just not everything you’ve come to expect from them. All the elements for a great movie are definitely there, but they’re just not presented in the most effective way. As a result, the development of the main character is largely inconsistent with the film’s themes and messages, giving the general feeling that the focus of the film is off. Regardless, it’s enjoyable, satisfying, and worth-seeing.

I give it 3.5/5.