Saturday, 21 July 2012

'The Dark Knight Rises' (2012)

 "What are you?"
"I am Gotham's reckoning."

It's the big one - Chris Nolan's last ever Batman movie. And it shows because he goes out with a bang! Seriously - a big frickin' bang! The problem is, The Dark Knight was so well-received (although I think Batman Begins is the superior film) that expectations are ridiculously high for Rises. It doesn't quite reach the pedestal.

The first half hour is, forgive me for saying, boring. A lot of plot lines are set up and characters float around stating their opinions which makes the opening seem like one big introduction to a university thesis. It makes you very aware that the movie is going to tackle some big issues over the next two hours, but it's a little jarring. We want to see more action in this action film! So I was worried 30 minutes in. But around the 45 minute mark, everything kicks off! And from that moment, you never look back and your half-hour boredom feels ok.

Anne Hathaway is fine as Selina (who we are never actually told is Cat Woman), but that's all. A lot of praise has been dumped on her, but I see nothing major about her performance that warrants it. Her character constantly reminded me of Black Widow, and that role was done better in The Avengers. Neither is the character really necessary and it seems like her removal would not only unhinder proceedings, but would actually improve the movie.

Tom Hardy gives an incredible performance as Bane, who commands every scene he's in, even the ones where he just lurks in the background. He's a great villain and perhaps even more memorable than the Joker. In the way Begins showed us a political idealist/tyrant and TDK gave us a psychologically unstable madman, Rises shows a truly unstoppable physical and spiritual force who you should be very afraid of! It's just a shame that his character isn't done even the tiniest bit of justice towards the film's close. Spoilers aside, it's just not very good.


Where Rises falls down is in the waffle. I'm not averse to a 160 minute movie, but here it seems gratuitous. With some serious streamlining, the film could be so much better. Get rid of a bunch of characters (Cat Woman, Lucius Fox etc) and give proper attention to the likes of Alfred (who only ever turns up to provide moralistic discussion for the audience and is forgotten about then conveniently brought back when the plot needs him) and newcomer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). It's funny, because I felt The Avengers was too short - so we should take half an hour from Rises and throw it to Marvel to play with.

Don't get me wrong, Rises is a good film. But there's too much excess baggage to make it as brilliant as people are saying. But no matter how floppy it may feel, there's something very satisfying about how Nolan ties Rises into the first two instalments, digging up previously-explored themes (even if they are annoyingly signposted with big flashing flashbacks!).

Bane's mission is epically terrifying in its scope, and Bruce Wayne's journey is emotional, compelling, and inspiring. It's a fine movie across the board, and only has a few problems that keep it from a 4-star rating. If you can get through the first half hour (and you should because Nolan has earned your patience!), then you're in for a story of massive scope handled with a very human eye. So rather than not enjoying Rises, you'll love it, but at the same time be ridiculously frustrated by the few shortcomings that are a heavy drag on the story. Whilst incredible in parts, the rather awful elements force the rating to an annoying middle-road.

Read more of Neil's reviews.

Monday, 16 July 2012

'The Amazing Spider-Man' (2012)

"You seriously think I'm a cop in a skintight red and blue suit?"

It's hard to review this without referring to the original 2002 Spidey movie, so we might as well just dive straight in - it's better. Not by loads, but by a fair bit.

Obviously the special-effects and CGI are worlds ahead. Also, liberties are taken that assume a decent knowledge of Peter Parker's outings, meaning the film can get things moving faster and explore more elements of the story. So on that level, The Amazing Spider-Man owes a bullshit-clearing debt to its origin movie. This remake advantage, however, also has its problems - we know what's going to happen and when. So how does a movie do the same thing without boring the audience?

Drama - this is where The Amazing Spider-Man beats the original to a bloody pulp. Key moments that we know are coming (such as the radioactive spider bite) are wrapped in a tense drama and emotion that the original never had. Which is more compelling - a boy gets bitten during a routine school trip, or a boy gets bitten after sneaking into a science lab to discover secrets about his dead father? It's a no-brainer. And it's like that throughout - we don't mind re-seeing moments from the first film because they're wrapped in a different, more compelling story.

Grounding the movie entirely in high school is also a good move, giving it a better sense of realism and making Peter Parker a more relateable character. The relationship with Gwen Stacy is more basic than the one with Mary-Jane seen in the first movie, but it's also more compelling. There's less awkward "he likes her but she doesn't know he exists" moments, and more of the "they like each other but there are always obstacles". In this case, they take the form of Gwen's super-cop dad and a giant killer lizard. Life's shit that way.

Which brings us to Peter as a character. Andrew Garfield does an incredible job, making both Peter and Spider-Man the same person. It was a problem with the 2002 film - I never felt the guy in the mask was the guy we saw in plain-clothes. But this Spider-Man is closer to the comics - a smart-mouthed fun-having superhero. Parker is still a geek, yes. But now he's a cool geek - one of those alternative Ramones-loving guys who doesn't care what people think. It's a better, more relateable character and it's the Peter I always wanted. Garfield also brings a great emotion to the role, particularly in a scene with Martin Sheen's Uncle Ben, which culminates in a destroyed door and one of those moments we know is coming!

The one element that doesn't surpass the original is in Rhys Ifans' Dr. Curt Connors/The Lizard - Ifans does a good job, but his character is a little too much of a mad scientist, and you'll be hard-stretched to find a better man than Willem Dafoe for the job. There's nothing in this remake as cool as Green Goblin's mocking: "You've spun your last web, Spider-Man. If you had not been so selfish, your little girlfriend's death would have been quick and painless. But now that you've really pissed me off, I'm gonna finish her nice and slow. MJ and I, we're gonna have a hell of a time!"

So overall, The Amazing Spider-Man is great film. I know it's cool to rail against "pointless" remakes (I'm looking at you Halloween/Nightmare on Elm Street/Friday 13th/Wicker Man/Psycho!), but this one (a) works, and (b) brings enough new material to the table to actually make it worth doing. By the end of the movie, I found myself desperate for a sequel. You can't argue with that! Recommended.

Read more of Neil's movie reviews.