[Batman Day] Batman Begins (2005)

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, Katie Holmes, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Cillian Murphy, Tom Wilkinson, Rutger Hauer, Ket Watanabe

Screenplay: David S. Goyer, Christopher Nolan

140 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense action violence, disturbing images and some thematic elements.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Cinematography

IMDb Top 250: #116 (as of 9/14/18)

 

Happy Batman Day, everyone! Celebrate with some comic books, cartoons, and Batman movies, like Batman Begins.

The Batman franchise was in a bad place in the early 2000s. After the trainwreck that was Batman & Robin, the franchise was limping and needed to be fixed. Even myself, a hardcore non-retconner, can say that there was no other way. In stepped Christopher Nolan (Interstellar, Dunkirk).

Batman Begins takes the story of Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale, American Hustle, Hostiles) all the way back to its not-so-humble start. By now, we all know the big piece, the death of Bruce’s parents, but Batman Begins delves into his complex relationship with butler Alfred (Michael Caine, The Quiet American, Sherlock Gnomes), his combat training with The League of Shadows, led by Ra’s Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai, Isle of Dogs), and the mistakes he makes along the way to the hero we all know and love. As Bruce is honing his skills, crime boss Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton, Denial) and corrupt psychologist Dr. Jonathan Crane (Cillian Murphy, 28 Days Later, TV’s Peaky Blinders), working for an unseen nefarious foe, are setting Gotham City down the path to destruction from within, and Batman, with the help of Sergeant Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman, Darkest Hour, The Hitman’s Bodyguard) may be the only one who can stop them.

This was the kick in the ass that the Batman franchise needed to stay fresh. Something I’ve learned in the years since Batman Begins is that there will always be a new Batman. He’s like Robin Hood and Peter Pan. They just keep coming back. This comeback, however, is just that damn good.

Christian Bale kicks ass as both Bruce Wayne and Batman. He chose to portray each half of his persona as a completely separate character, as it he had multiple personality syndrome and Batman is just another person living within him. Then there’s The Voice. I’m a firm defender of The Voice within Nolan’s realistic take on the Caped Crusader. Otherwise someone would eventually be able to figure it out. It is notable that he packed on the muscle for the role, the insane method actor that he is, having just come off The Machinist.

Speaking of the realism, Nolan took special care to craft a Gotham as realistic as possible. The gothic tone of the World’s Greatest Detective is still there, but Batman’s tech is as grounded in reality as possible. Even its villains stick to somewhat tangible backgrounds, with Crane’s Scarecrow become a truly horrific legend. Murphy’s portrayal is near and dear to my heart with the Scarecrow being my favorite Batman villain, and while originally I took issue with the way Nolan elected to recreate this character, I soon found myself heavily engaged in his frightening take. Ra’s Al Ghul is another character that usually takes on an otherworldly visage in that, if I am correct, he is often shown as having survived for over 600 years, dying and reviving due to The Lazarus Pits. Now, it could be true of the character we see in the finished film, but Nolan never once brings it up. In fact, the way he portrays Ra’s Al Ghul is haunting in its simplicity.

What’s great about Bruce Wayne is how compelling he is without the Batsuit, and how driven he is, just like his counterpart. Being the World’s Greatest Detective is something that applies to both Wayne and Batman, and Nolan, alongside co-screenwriter David S. Goyer, gave us time to connect with Bruce before introducing his superheroic other half.

I think if there was one thing I didn’t like about the film, it falls to some marketing mistakes and the fact that the film doesn’t firmly enough plant itself as being a reboot. Much like the ill-fated Ghostbusters: Answer the Call, Batman Begins almost plays itself up as a prequel to the 1989 Tim Burton Batman. There are clues as the film goes on, most notably in the death of Bruce’s parents, but as the convoluted mythology of the previous Batman series never really had itself nailed down, one wondered if the film was connected, and it wasn’t until its follow-up, The Dark Knight, released in 2008 that we finally got our answers. I just think fans struggled throughout the film’s runtime trying to figure out what it was.

Nitpicks aside, Batman Begins is nearly perfect. There are some slight issues with things like placing the film within a franchise timeline and a few acting slips (looking at Katie Holmes on this one), but all in all, Batman Begins isn’t just one of the best Batman films, it’s one of the best films of any kind.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, click here.

For my review of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, click here.

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[#2018oscardeathrace] Darkest Hour (2017)

Director: Joe Wright

Cast: Gary Oldman, Lily James, Kristin Scott Thomas, Stephen Dillane, Ronald Pickup, Ben Mendelsohn

Screenplay: Anthony McCarten

125 mins. Rated PG-13 for some thematic material.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Picture [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Actor [Gary Oldman] [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Production Design [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Cinematography [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Makeup and Hairstyling [Pending]
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Costume Design [Pending]

 

I had been under the belief that Darkest Hour would not score a Best Picture nomination. While it seemed to be trending for it late last year, that steam was lost by 2018’s start. I don’t think there were any doubts of its nominations for Best Actor in Gary Oldman (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Hitman’s Bodyguard) and Makeup/Hairstyling, but the question looms: is Darkest Hour worthy of Best Picture?

Darkest Hour recounts a small but important slice in the life of Winston Churchill (Oldman), specifically his appointment to Prime Minister to his fateful speech at Parliament. His strained working relationships with secretary Elizabeth (Lily James, Cinderella, Baby Driver) and King George VI (Ben Mendelsohn, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, TV’s Bloodlines) are particularly highlighted, as is the disdain felt by his predecessor Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time) and Edward Wood, Viscount Halifax (Stephen Dillane, The Hours, TV’s Game of Thrones).

Darkest Hour is a damn fine character piece. The work given by Gary Oldman here is exemplary, and I dare say it like we always do, it may be his best work to date. That’s truly saying something about the prolific actor who seems to get better and better with each outing. He deserves the Oscar. I’m calling it.

That isn’t to take away from the amazing work from the entire cast. Lily James shines in her scenes, Dillane and Mendelsohn are fully fleshed out adversaries, and Kristin Scott Thomas (The English Patient, Only God Forgives) is terrific as Clementine Churchill. It only breaks my heart that we didn’t get to see the late great John Hurt as Neville Chamberlain. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing bad about Pickup’s performance, but I feel like Hurt was perfect for the role and the film’s dedication to him proves how missed he is as a screen presence.

Director Joe Wright’s film is an ambling presentation of the stellar work of its cast. The faults come with the pacing of the film. The movie loses its focus as it inches closer to its finale, and I feel like the film was nominated purely because of Oldman stellar achievement. The pacing doesn’t kill the film, but I think it does lose its Best Picture quality with it.

Overall, I won’t fault this tremendous achievement. Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour is a great movie, and it works even better if you double-feature it with Dunkirk or, hell, put The Imitation Game in there too for a WWII marathon. While the film gets a little too meandering at times, this is high-quality film-making from Wright. This timely film is definitely worth your’s.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more Almighty Goatman,

[#2015oscardeathrace] Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

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Director: Matt Reeves

Cast: Andy Serkis, Jason Clarke, Gary Oldman, Keri Russell, Toby Kebbell, Kodi Smit-McPhee

Screenplay: Mark Bomback, Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver

130 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Achievement in Visual Effects (Awards Not Yet Announced)

 

Matt Reeves (Let Me In, Cloverfield) seems like the kind of guy I could have a beer with. I’ve watched interviews and it just seems like he gets the craft because he has such a passion for it. That passion shines through in his new film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set ten years after the previous installment, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. In that time, over 90% of the world’s population has been depleted by the so-called Alzheimer’s cure that gave Caesar (Andy Serkis, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Arthur Christmas) and his apes advanced intelligence. Caesar and his fellow apes, including military commander Koba (Toby Kebbell, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, The Counselor), have created a utopia outside of San Francisco. They haven’t seen a human in two years, but then one day, his apes run into Malcolm (Jason Clarke, Zero Dark Thirty, White House Down) and his people, who is able to come to an agreement with Caesar and the apes to rebuild the power grid. This alliance is short-lived, as there are some on both sides who do not believe in peace, and it just might be Caesar and Malcolm that pay for the sins.

Film Summer Preview

If Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a great example on how to reboot a franchise, then Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is a lesson on how to create an incredible sequel. This film takes everything that was good about its predecessor and makes it better. Director Reeves has a passion for the Planet of the Apes franchise and that shines through here. The plot here is something that I thought I had seen before, but the beautiful screenplay veers into territory I didn’t expect and, when combined with Reeves’ choice to linger on the emotional beats longer than another director might, create a powerful film about the nature of humanity.

Andy Serkis finally receives the top billing he is owed. Caesar truly is the star of this film, and the incredible CGI work is just better than I thought it could get. The film starts out with a nearly silent opening, not even introducing the humans until at least 20 minutes in. This gives us a chance to catch up with Caesar and his apes. Caesar is welcoming his second child, but his mate has been ill since birthing. His relationship with Koba is central to us, as he has known this ape for over ten years. They have grown together. It is interesting to see the lessons that are being taught, rudimentary though they may be, things like Apes Do Not Kill Apes.

When the central conflict of introducing the humans occurs, we officially understand Caesar’s need to protect his group.

Even though Caesar is the star, Toby Kebbell’s portrayal of Koba is a definite scene-stealer. This menacing creature has been scarred from the tests performed on him back at GEN SYS. His distrust for humans causes a rift in his friendship with Caesar. And he is just terrifying.

Gary Oldman (The Dark Knight Rises, RoboCop) is very much a smaller character with a major impact on the plot, and he is one of the most interesting humans in the film. He is a tortured man who has lost everything, and his scenes linger on total breakdown. I was constantly tormented by my position on his character.

There is another great relationship between Alexander (Kodi Smit-McPhee, The Road, ParNorman) and the ape Maurice. The two bond over a book and serve as a parallel to some of the more angry confrontations.

I loved that, rather than do a complete sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes that takes place immediately after, this film stands alone while also giving subtle nods to its predecessor. We see how Caesar feels about his past, and his provides the momentum he needs to further develop.

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In essence, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes has a lot in common with the opening to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Matt Reeves gives us perhaps the best Planet of the Apes film in the entire canon (not to mention one of the best films of the year) this go around, and it excites me for where this series is headed.

 

5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

For my review of Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes, click here.

RoboCop (2014)

robocop2014a

Director: Jose Padilha

Cast: Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson

Screenplay: Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier, Michael Miner

117 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action including frenetic gun violence throughout, brief strong language, sensuality and some drug material.

 

In order to make a solid remake, you need to analyze the areas where the original incarnation succeeded and also find avenues to bring something new to the table. RoboCop tried this, and for what it brought to the table, it worked just fine. The problem stems from the fact that this film could’ve worked so much better as a reboot than a remake. There were avenues laid out in the original series, and they could’ve been examined closer. The original RoboCop is not that far back.

robocop2014c

Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman, TV’s The Killing, Safe Haven) is a cop on the edge, and he has nothing but contempt and handcuffs for crooked cops. When an attempt is made on his life, Murphy is left horribly disfigured and limbless, essentially dead. But the folks over at OmniCorp, including CEO Raymond Sellers (Michael Keaton, Batman, Birdman) and lead science doctor Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman, The Dark Knight Rises, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) have new thoughts for Murphy. They turn him into RoboCop, a cyborg officer with a human heart.

RoboCop tries new things, but not enough of them. It comes off as a TV movie version of the original, a copy made with a poor printer. Kinnaman’s performance comes off as wooden, which doesn’t work since Alex Murphy is supposed to be struggling to find humanity in his new metal body. Gary Oldman gives us some batshit crazy work here, probably the best in the film. Michael Keaton plays up his villainy and reminds us why we love him. Then there is Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) who portrays Pat Novak, a television personality who essentially takes over the satirical commentary that the original film had. He was interesting but ultimately pulled me out of the film. This script just doesn’t differ or add enough to be worth the trouble.

Let’s talk about the violence. Where is the blood? I know that it shouldn’t be an issue, but this RoboCop is so tame that one can’t help but wish for the days of RoboCop being a badass. This Alex Murphy, a badass he is not.

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Maybe RoboCop is the beginning of a new franchise, and if so, it has a lot to learn about creating a world. As for now, RoboCop 2014 doesn’t have this.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

ps. I also miss the 1987 RoboCop score…

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