Sunday, July 29, 2012

Iron Sky

As published in Issue #31 of F*** Magazine Singapore

Movie Review                                                                                                             10/7/12


Starring: Julia Dietze, Götz Otto, Udo Kier
Directed by: Timo Vuorensola

             There are few movie villains audiences love to hate as much as the Nazis. This is probably because they were villains in real life too, and represent a dark and tragic chunk of modern history. For a long time, the Third Reich, with its severely-uniformed storm troopers, inhumane torture and experimentation and goose-stepping soldiers, were Hollywood’s go-to bad guys, be it in serious war films (Schindler’s List, Sophie’s Choice) or pulpy action-adventure flicks (Raiders of the Lost Ark, Hellboy). Many films that didn’t directly contain Nazis had them as inspiration for their own villains: where do you think George Lucas got the name “Stormtrooper” from?  

            As of late, Hollywood has turned their attention to other easier targets (Arab terrorists, African warlords and North Korean despots) and Nazis have been relegated to a cliché, not to be found outside documentary films. This Finnish-German-Australian romp brings the dastardly fiends back, in the form of the “Space Nazis” sci-fi subgenre, touched on in several old Star Trek episodes and in the novel Rocket Ship Galileo, by Robert A Heinlein of Starship Troopers fame. Naturally, it takes a silly, irreverent tone and pretty much runs with it.

            It is the year 2018, and as part of her re-election campaign, the President of the United States (Stephanie Paul as an ersatz Sarah Palin) has sent an African-American astronaut, James Washington (Christopher Kirby), to the moon. On the lunar surface, he is ambushed by, you guessed it, Nazis. After their defeat in 1945, a band of Third Reich-ers hightailed it off the planet and have been hiding in an elaborate, Swastika-shaped base on the far side of the moon. They are led by moonfuhrer Wolfgang Kortzfleisch (Kier), whose second-in-command Klaus Adler (Otto) is set to marry Renate Richter (Dietze), the beautiful daughter of an Einstein-esque mad scientist (Tilo Prückner).

            The nefarious moon Nazis have been planning a return to Earth, and attempt to harness the computing power of Washington’s smartphone to power their space battleship. However, as they often do, the phone runs out of battery power, so Klaus and Renate take Washington back to earth to retrieve more. The two Nazis are recruited by Presidential aide Vivian Wagner (Peta Sergeant) to revamp the President’s campaign with Nazi-style propaganda. Meanwhile, Kortzfleisch has figured out that Adler plans to overthrow him, and brings a fleet to earth himself, beginning the invasion. This leads up to a climactic space battle with the space warship “USS George W Bush” leading the other countries’ spacecraft (including Australia’s “Dundee Irwin”) against the space Nazis.

If all that sounds pretty nuts, that’s because it is. Iron Sky's biggest success is attempting to pull off its premise, which is equally ridiculous and entertaining. Recalling old-fashioned "Nazisploitation" and sci-fi movies, the film revels in the sheer absurdity of the plot and tries to get the audience to have fun along with it. The acting is decent, an eclectic mix of German, Australian and American actors who apparently all relish playing up the stereotypes, subtlety be damned.

Götz Otto, standing at all of 198 cm, is the stock muscle-bound Germanic henchman in human form and is probably best known as the evil henchman Stamper in the Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies. Incidentally, he was also in the much more serious Nazi-themed film Der Untergang (Downfall), source of the infamous “Hitler rant scene” that spawned a thousand gag subtitle parodies on YouTube. In fact, this film pays homage to it with a shot-for-shot spoof enacted by Vivian Wagner, expressing her anger at the ineffectiveness of the presidential campaign. There are several stupid but gut-busting jokes along those lines and this is by all accounts a fairly funny movie, however given how ripe for comedy the premise is, it certainly could have used more humour.

It's plain to see that this farce is a labour of love; even though the subject matter isn't serious, some serious effort was put into bringing it to the big screen. About 10% of the film's budget was donated by fans (who are thanked by name in the end credits), and the opening credits reveal a myriad of other monetary sources and individual sponsors. Admittedly, the movie looks great; the design of the Nazi moon base and the various spacecrafts is quite eye-catching and the space battles are pretty fun to watch and could perhaps rival Hollywood films in quality. The CGI work is consistently terrific, even if the practically-done elements (boy is that a cheap-looking spacesuit) may be a little lacking.

The filmmakers presented a teaser trailer at the Cannes Film Festival way back in 2006 in the hopes of getting funding for their ambitious idea and, slowly but surely, the acquired the funds to pull it off. However, having a long gestation period, the film's Sarah Palin analogue provides slightly dated and weak satire, and on the whole the film definitely comes off as more haphazard than your typical Hollywood production. It desperately wants to be a wacky, modern-day Dr Strangelove, but has far too little impact to be even in the same neighbourhood as Kubrick’s satirical masterpiece. Its jabs at Nazi Germany and modern America are many, but relatively insight-free.

However, audiences don’t want a discussion on indoctrination, propaganda and the militarisation of space, they want to have fun – and you’ll be hard-pressed to say this isn’t. It’s definitely worth checking out because it's certainly a cool ride – it’s the small carnival that comes to town that you may like better than the expensive mega-theme park. After the end credits, the camera pulls back, bringing a neighbouring planet into frame and hinting at who the villains might be for a potential sequel. Count us in as interested.
SUMMARY: Look out; because the heil is falling from the sky – while it lacks punch, this quirky, accessible sci-fi action-comedy is somewhat worthwhile amusement.


Jedd Jong

Magic Mike

As published in Issue #31 of F*** Magazine, Singapore

Movie Review                                                                                                             20/6/12

Starring: Channing Tatum, Alex Pettyfer, Cody Horn, Matthew McConaughey
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh

            Everyone starts somewhere. Elvis was a truck driver, Peter Parker was a nerdy high-school student and Abraham Lincoln was a vampire hunter. Before he was taking out Cobra vipers in G.I. Joe or teenage drug dealers in 21 Jump Street, Channing Tatum was taking off his clothes as a 19-year-old male stripper in Tampa Florida. With this premise as a jumping-off point, Magic Mike tells the tenuously autobiographical tale.

            Channing Tatum plays Michael Lane – odd job working and erstwhile furniture designer by day, the stripper of the title by night. At his roofing job, he comes across Adam (Pettyfer), a 19-year-old ne’er do well who lives with his disapproving sister Paige (Horn). Mike takes a shine to the kid, whom he nicknames, well, “The Kid”, and brings him along to Xquisite Male Revue, where he dances. There, Adam meets the gang of male strippers, led by the cocky (pun totally intended), charming Dallas (McConaughey). It’s not long before Adam finds himself onstage and he becomes an instant hit. However, life in the spotlight (and in g-strings) soon gets to Adam’s head, with Mike and Paige caught in the crossfire.

            With every female starlet stripping to their skivvies onscreen as a rite of passage, the guys finally get their due, and this is sure to be a welcome change for the gals and gay men in the audience. The knee-jerk reaction is to point and snigger and yes, director Soderbergh doesn’t underestimate the power of his target demographic (which this reviewer is not a part of) and hands out what you came for in spades. However, if he thought that putting Cody Horn and Olivia Munn into bikinis and slipping in one scene of Mircea Monroe’s silicone-enhanced bare breasts would even the playing field, he was sorely mistaken. Brace yourselves for a boatload of butts though thankfully, you don’t get to see Tatum’s pole.

            It would easy to slap the label “Showguys” on this film and call it a day, but Soderbergh is a better director than Paul Verhoeven by far and the movie treats the vocation with a fair amount of dignity – well, as much dignity as leather vests and star-spangled thongs deserve. The cry of “strippers are people too!” is present in the form of Mike’s sensitive custom furniture design aspirations and the attempt to show he has a life outside of the strip club. Also, the film doesn’t look as flashy as one would be led to think; Soderbergh doesn’t treat the cast the way Michael Bay treats helicopters and sunsets. However, if you came to see Tatum and co. wiggle their collective behinds, you’ll be counting the minutes till the movie moves back into clothes removal mode.

            Tatum is a famously wooden leading man, but he is a good dancer – after all, he is a Step Up alum. Soderbergh seems to know that the rest of the cast can’t offer a lot beyond their chiselled abs and wisely lets Tatum do the bulk of the dancing. It does stretch credibility to think Adam would become an ace dancer overnight, as it is shown he doesn’t have much dancing experience to start with. Tatum and Pettyfer have a decent bromance that doesn’t reach the heights of Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law in the Sherlock Holmes movies or the Wolf Pack in the Hangover flicks, but it works and is portrayed fairly realistically. Pettyfer has been pushed hard in recent years as a pretty-boy hunk to watch, but frankly he’s not a great actor though he is better than Tatum. He’s got a persona that falls exactly in-between clean-cut and bad boy, and that alone would make most girls go weak at the knees.

            Cody Horn has pretty much sprung out of nowhere to take the female lead, but a little research reveals she’s the daughter of former Warner Bros. Studio head Alan Horn. Before you shout “nepotism”, let it be known that she’s... just okay. She pulls off the watchful, strait-laced older sister thing decently, though she does have trouble with more emotional scenes, and her sexual tension with Tatum doesn’t fully ignite. She looks like if Kristen Bell and Kristen Stewart had a daughter, which does sound slightly appealing, but it’s hard to see her as a prominent Hollywood starlet in future.

            Just when you thought Matthew McConaughey was back on the straight and narrow with the legal thriller The Lincoln Lawyer, he’s back to his shirt-phobic ways playing, in essence, himself. If anyone can pull off the cowboy huckster thing, it’s McConaughey and his built-in Texas drawl. He even sings a self-written ditty and plays the guitar. He’s backed by a bunch of TV stars: Matt Bomer from White Collar, Joe Manganiello from True Blood and Adam Rodriguez from CSI Miami. As eye candy, they fit the one-dollar bill, but it’s a good thing they’re given supporting parts because they’re very clearly small screen actors.

            It’s tempting to write this one off based on the two words “male” and “strippers” and, guess what – you won’t be completely wrong. It’s a celebration of the intriguing double standard where women are allowed a night of squealing, voyeuristic debauchery whereas a man who does the same would be considered a pig (the real pig that does appear in the movie is adorable). Perhaps it’s revenge for how a girl who sleeps around is labelled a slut, while a guy who does the same is a stud. Even though there is an effort made to construct a semi-serious drama around the premise, we’re left with more flesh than fleshed-out characters, and a very unsatisfying ending.

SUMMARY: It’s more than just almost-naked men, but only barely – the “magic” here is mainly smoke, mirrors and buttocks.


Jedd Jong

Seeking A Friend For The End of the World

 As published in Issue #31 of F*** Magazine Singapore.

 Movie Review                                                                                                             19/7/12


Starring: Steve Carell, Keira Knightley
Directed by: Lorene Scafaria

            Hollywood has long had an obsession with the end of the world. A cataclysmic, humanity-threatening event is a cinematic goldmine for awe-inspiring visuals and shocking images of large-scale devastation, as Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay know all too well. It can serve as a somber platform for contemplations on mortality and our place in the universe, as with Melancholia, or a chance for characters to weep their hearts out over their life’s regrets and attempt to set things right, as with Deep Impact. Then there are the ever-popular post-apocalyptic science-fiction adventures, such as the Mad Max, Terminator and Matrix films, that have straggling survivors forced to adapt to unforgiving landscapes and enemies.

            Writer-director Lorene Scafaria of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist fame has delivered something quite different: a dark romantic comedy about the lead-up to the end of the world. There are no expensive CGI shots or elaborate practical effects, no rousing speeches about rising up against alien invaders and no technobabble about the scientific properties of “the inevitable end”. In fact, the failure of a space shuttle mission to destroy a massive asteroid on a collision course with earth is merely mentioned on the radio as a framing device in the opening seconds of the movie.

            That asteroid has been given the innocuous-sounding nickname Matilda. Everyone knows what’s coming, and many have taken this as an excuse to literally live life like there’s no tomorrow. Nothing is taboo – there are random orgies and lootings, respectable middle-class types shooting up heroin, and parents making their kids drink alcohol. Strait-laced insurance salesman Dodge Petersen (Carell) will have none of it, and desperately wants to live out his last days in normalcy. His neighbour Penny (Knightley), a peppy, winsome wild child of sorts, comes knocking on his window in need of consolation after a break-up. The unlikely pair quickly forms a bond and embarks on a road trip to fulfill their respective last wishes – seeing her parents over in England one last time for Penny, and reuniting with a long-lost first love for Dodge. As doomsday draws ever nearer and things get out of hand, Dodge and Penny slowly realize that all they’ve wanted may be right in front of them.

            The film sets out to be a scathing, pitch-black comedy on how our lives can be almost entirely diminished of meaning when faced with a scary ultimatum and seems somewhat nihilistic. There are stabs at modern popular culture in the form of TIME Magazine’s “Best of Humanity” issue, putting Oprah Winfrey on the same pedestal as Jesus Christ. We’re meant to laugh at the juxtaposition of a grim future set in stone and random acts of debauchery, when really it’s rather off-putting. Also, suicide is never funny. However, the film quickly hits its stride once Carell and Knightley form their pair, and it is then that one realizes this would have worked so much better as a drama with comedic moments rather than a black comedy with pathos lurking beneath the surface.

            What really drives the movie is the sheer sweetness and the tender romance that blossoms against a surreal backdrop. It’s the discovery of how much simple joys can really mean in the face of certain doom, the incomparable effects of listening to a vinyl record, enjoying a home-cooked meal or having that one last phone call to the family. The sentiment that it’s never too late to mend a broken relationship or a broken heart. There are moments that are stunningly earnest in comparison to what went before, and it is a shame that Scafaria felt the need to temper this with broad, raunchy humour. Sure, there are certain inventive gags, including one where Dodge finds an adorable abandoned dog with the attached note “sorry” – and proceeds to refer to the dog by that name. This film may not have elicited many belly laughs, but it sure did elicit tears by the end.

            The movie rides on Carell’s tried-and-tested comedic shtick of an everyman flung into an outrageous situation and coping in the most mundane ways possible, greeting everything with a shrug and a confused smile-frown. He is likeable to a fault, and one certainly feels for Dodge as the film enters more heartfelt territory. He shares more chemistry with Keira Knightley than one might think, as on paper the two sound like pretty bad matches. Keira Knightley is far more watchable here than as the token female in action and fantasy flicks, she relishes having the chance to play the kooky sweetheart perfected by the likes of Zooey Deschanel and Anne Hathaway.

            Since the focus is squarely on Dodge and Penny (and Sorry the dog), there isn’t much in the way of a supporting cast; there are quite a number of characters who pop up never to be seen or heard from again. Comedian Patton Oswalt seems particularly wasted (in both senses of the word) as Dodge’s friend at a dinner party. Derek Luke’s stereotypically chivalrous and tough ex-military type who was a former flame of Penny’s is okay, but his and several other characters do bring to the mind annoying one-off eccentrics who crop up in almost all road trip movies. William Petersen of C.S.I. fame seems to have packed on a few pounds and fares better as an amiable truck driver from whom Dodge and Penny hitch a ride. But the show is stolen by Martin Sheen, whose performance in the last act is absolutely heartbreaking.

            Props have to be given to Scafaria for tackling such an unusual and ambitious topic in a comedy and it seems she has started a trend – look out for Seth Rogen’s End of the World next year, starring Rogen and a bunch of his celebrity pals as themselves at a party when doomsday unexpectedly comes knocking. Scafaria also shows a knack for writing sweet, non-cheesy romantic and emotional scenes. So in the end (heh) it’s quite a waste that she felt the need to embellish this story with several off-key, off-kilter comedic touches.

SUMMARY: Seeking a Friend seeks to blend cynical, unsettling comedy with nice touches of the sentimental, but they are even odder bedfellows than Steve Carell and Keira Knightley.


Jedd Jong Yue

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Solace in a Time of Tragedy: movie theater mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado

Solace In A Time Of Tragedy: The mass shooting at a movie screening in Aurora, Colorado 

As all of you probably know by now, there was a tragic shooting at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. All of us here at F*** want to offer our condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in the shooting, and this writer would like to say a few words about this.

As a fan of movies and someone who visits the cinema often, this senseless, infuriating and saddening act of violence hit home for this writer. This was truly such an awful thing to happen, especially since it brings to mind another horrible shooting that took place in Colorado. The victims of this Aurora theatre shooting were people who just went to catch a movie and enjoy themselves, nobody should ever have to die this way. What makes this even worse is that it seemed like it was part of the show initially and that many were attending in costume, as fans often do for midnight showings of huge films, so the killer - dressed in a riot helmet and a bulletproof vest - appeared to be part of that crowd. The killer began his attack, which started with deploying a gas canister with the use of a dispersal device, during a scene in the film with shooting and explosions - it is speculated that the shooting was planned to coincide with this scene to take advantage of and disorient the movie audience.

In the wake of this tragedy, something that is inevitable will be the blaming of the film franchise for these atrocities, that this tragedy will become a soapbox for one or more views. This is not a new thing. Oliver Stone's controversial film Natural Born Killers has allegedly inspired more than a few copycat killings, and The Deer Hunter incited some to commit suicide via Russian roulette. In the wake of the Columbine shootings, films such as The Matrix and The Basketball Diaries, that featured gunmen clad in leather coats and wearing sunglasses, were brought up as possible inspirations for the killings. I am in no place to wholly dismiss any of these claims, but this writer feels that such claims are ultimately somewhat futile attempts at rationalizing essentially senseless, devastating acts of violence. 

It’s never so simple as one or more pieces of media making a reasonable person of sound mind snap and go completely over the edge. Films, music, books, video games and other forms of media can certainly influence the thinking and attitudes of those who access them, but it would be hasty and irresponsible to jump to such conclusions. James E. Holmes, the killer in this instance and currently in police custody, is believed to have acted independently, the latest in a line of "lone wolf" gunmen and terrorists who have wreaked havoc domestically. At this point, not very much is known about this person, yet it would be easy to say "watching Batman movies made him do it". Perhaps this form of rationalization, this basic and tenuous cause-and-effect reasoning seems satisfying and helps to make sense of it all - but in the long run, it's not going to help anyone by demonising any one movie or video game based on isolated incidents.

Then of course there's the whole can of worms about gun control. Now, this writer often whines about living here in Singapore, where of course it can sometimes be stifling and where rote learning and following the rules to the letter are often rewarded over creativity and going off the beaten track. However, we probably all are grateful for the degree of safety we are afforded here. Yes, one could say "guns don't kill people, people kill people", but having access to firearms certainly makes it much easier to carry out such brutal attacks. The documentary film Bowling for Columbine presents statistics that show that the rate of gun-related crimes in Canada is much lower than in the United States, despite the widespread availability of guns in Canada. Filmmaker Michael Moore postulates that it is the climate of fear in the US created by mainstream news media and the reinforcement of paranoia-fuelled stereotyping that is a contributing factor to the high number of shootings there. This writer has neither the knowledge nor the expertise to comment properly on this issue and most things Moore presents need to be taken with a large pinch of salt, but it sounds like a fairly substantiated claim. Fear is a powerful motivator and can drive people to take extreme measures.

And it most likely could just be that this was a deeply troubled and unstable individual. A person who needs help but was either not recognised as such or unable to access such help. In a newscast on this story, ABC News Senior Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas is asked by the news anchors about the possible reasons as to why a person may commit such an act. "These things happen on a regular basis in the United States, multiple shootings like this. Unfortunately, it is individuals who are sometimes unstable, sometimes they have political motivations, but often, as we saw in the Tucson shooting, it's deranged individuals with no clear sane reasons for the activity." When asked about the gun laws in Colorado, Thomas says he is unsure of the specificities, but states that the last time he checked with Federal law enforcements authorities, there were over 200 million guns in circulation in the United States – that number is actually slightly closer to 300 million. "We buy guns in this country, just like we buy other products, and that's just a fact of American life."

In the end, this writer wants to say that he left the Singapore premiere screening of The Dark Knight Rises with a sense of hope, that despite the violence and oppression depicted, individuals with courage, strength and iron resolve rose up in the face of those odds. The film made it a point to show that idealism, optimism and pure intentions do not always go unrewarded, even under the bleakest of circumstances. This writer does not think this was a film made with the intent to incite uprisings and to glamourise dangerous dissidents. I guess we can all agree on this: targeting a movie premiere attended by large masses of regular people was an act of evil, and the way in which the killer is described to carry out the attacks implies that this was not a last-minute idea and that he had tactically planned to perform this shooting in advance.
The director and stars of The Dark Knight Rises have come out to show their empathy and solidarity. Christopher Nolan released a statement, saying “I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie. I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime.
The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me.
Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families.” Anne Hathaway, who plays Selina Kyle in the film, said "My heart aches and breaks for the lives taken and altered by this unfathomably senseless act. I am at a loss for words how to express my sorrow. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families," and on Twitter, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (John Blake) said "My most sincere sympathies go out to the families of the victims in Aurora.”
Christian Bale Visits Colorado Shooting Victims
Actor Christian Bale also visited the surviving victims of the tragedy in hospital in Aurora. He did this on his own accord, not under instructions from the studio or anyone else. The actor was certainly not obligated to do this, but this was a genuine act of charity that definitely brought cheer to those recovering from the physical and mental trauma wrought by the mass shooting. This was most definitely not a publicity stunt: Bale is not one of those actors who craves the limelight; he is often awkward and uncomfortable in interviews even when the topic of discussion is his films, let alone his personal life. The media sometimes portrays Bale as a tortured and volatile artist, but this show of solidarity certainly shows that the man has class and heart to spare.
The reason why this hit so close for many of us, even on the opposite side of the world, is the ubiquity of going to the movies. A night or afternoon out at the movie theatre with friends or loved ones is an almost universal form of relaxation, entertainment and escape, and has been for a very long time. We surrender ourselves to the screen as we sit in darkness in thrall of projected images. We feel safe, but we are vulnerable – just as Nolan pointed out in his statement. However, never let this incident frighten you from going to the movies. Michael Agrusso (ItsJustSomeRandomGuy), an internet personality best known for his comedic parody videos made with action figures, said it best in a sombre and heartfelt tribute video:
“I still love movies, and comics, and superheroes. I look to them for escape, for hope, and just because they’re so much dang fun. So all I’ll say is this: this weekend, please. Enjoy a movie, or a comic book, or a comic book movie. And it’s not about how otherwise they win or anything, just do it because you enjoy it. Better yet, enjoy it with friends or loved ones, not to forget about the tragedy but to appreciate the things and people we love in life. Movies and comics offer so much by way of opening us up to worlds of imagination we never knew existed, and superheroes offer us lessons in morality, they give us hope for ourselves and all of humanity, as well as hope that we can be the heroes of our own stories, should such the occasion arise. And they empower us with the belief that each of us can make a difference. I’d like to think that these are things we all could use right about now. I don’t know how to make sense of a senseless tragedy like this, but I know how I’m going to cope with it: I’m going to the movies. Take care.”
And we at F*** Magazine hope that all of you reading this will do the same.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

For F*** Magazine, Singapore

(The following review is spoiler-free)

Movie Review                                                                                                             18/7/12


Starring: Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Anne Hathaway, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Directed by: Christopher Nolan
Warner Bros/Legendary Pictures

Is it bright where you are
Have the people changed
Does it make you happy you're so strange
And in your darkest hour, I hold secret’s flame
You can watch the world devoured in its pain

            So go the lyrics to Smashing Pumpkins’ The End is the Beginning Is the End, from 1997’s Batman and Robin. It seems at least a little ironic that a song from the worst Batman film ever made seems to sum up the plot of what is possibly the best Batman film ever made. Christopher Nolan, his brother Jonathan, wife and producer Emma Thomas, co-plotter David S Goyer and their whole production posse seem to have had a Sisyphean task thrust upon them in topping 2008’s The Dark Knight, widely hailed as the best comic book-based film ever made and having bragging rights as the only Batman film that won an Academy Award in an acting category. Laconically put, they have. They have made a Batman film better than The Dark Knight.

            Eight years have transpired since the events of the last film, and a frail and battered Bruce Wayne (Bale) has gone into self-imposed exile within the walls of the rebuilt Wayne Manor, haunted by his perceived failure as the Dark Knight. Gotham City has settled into a comfortable position as a hellhole reformed, and there seems to be no further need for Batman or his ally Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), himself tormented by the fateful death of Harvey Dent all those years ago. The new CEO of Wayne Enterprises Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard) is facing the absorption of the company by the amoral John Daggett (Ben Mendelssohn)  and appeals to Bruce Wayne to put the fusion energy machine developed by Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) into action.

            However, the sinister, brutish yet ruthlessly cunning masked criminal Bane (Hardy) has revolution on the brain. He puts into motion a devastating and far-reaching master plan that will lead to Gotham’s downfall, giving the greedy and corrupt elite the retribution they deserve. Meanwhile, Bruce catches the thief Selina Kyle (Hathaway) stealing a precious memento from him, and they play their requisite game of cat-and-bat. The rookie cop John Blake (Gordon-Levitt) sees that there is hope yet for his broken city, as deputy commissioner Foley (Matthew Modine) dismisses the efforts of Blake and Gordon. Now more than ever, Wayne feels the weight on his weary shoulders and must pull himself together to save and liberate the city that turned on him.

            It’s quite safe to say that there has very rarely been a film with such hype and anticipation heaped onto it, a film so widely viewed as an event rather than a mere movie. There has also very rarely been a tougher act to follow than The Dark Knight. However, those involved seem to have taken this immense challenge head on and spectacularly shattered the brick wall of lofty expectations with a motion picture that delivers on such a grandiose scale Cecil B DeMille would be jealous. It’s not so much the filmmaking tools that were available to Nolan, as there are many movies with high production values that fall flat story or character wise. It’s the sheer craft and dedication plain to see which make it all the more satisfying to soak in.

            Nolan has said that he and his brother were inspired by Dickens’ classic story A Tale of Two Cities, and that it just so happened that the recession and the “Occupy Wall Street” movement occurred, so if he is to be believed, it is partial coincidence that this is a very, very timely story. Bane’s role in the story is that of zealous liberator who sees himself as a saviour who “frees” Gotham from the clutches of the 1% by ambushing the stock exchange, isolating Gotham City from the country at large and seizing control through intimidation and bravado. There are many parallels to be drawn to such events as the Hurricane Katrina aftermath, the 9/11 attacks and the Oklahoma City bombing. This is also echoed by the characterisation of Catwoman, who steals from the rich not to give to the poor, but rather to spite the rich. Bane launches an attack on a sports stadium right after “The Star-Spangled Banner” is sung, and there is a shot of a tattered American flag. A city’s resolve broken, with Batman and his allies stepping in to patch it up in the face of insurmountable odds.

            While no one actor in the film matches the tour de force of the late Heath Ledger’s turn as the Joker in the previous instalment, the overall effect of this film certainly carries more impact. For one, it follows a solid plot line and doesn’t lapse into false endings the way The Dark Knight sometimes did. Some felt that Nolan might fall into the trap of a tangled web of subplots and extraneous villains along the lines of Spider-Man 3, but it is safe to say he didn’t.

The big thing this one does that Part 2 didn’t was it ties back to the previous instalments, making character arcs come full circle in a deeply satisfying manner. Also, it is more faithful to the source material than one might think; this isn’t merely a war movie with Batman characters tacked onto it. There are some explosive plot twists and revelations – comic book devotees may see these coming a mile away, but Nolan plays a game of “maybe I will, maybe I won’t”, so that when such turning points occur they are truly sensational.

            Bale has made it clear that this will almost certainly be his last outing in the cape and cowl, and as the backbone of the trilogy, he has done an outstanding job. His portrayal gives Batman the combination of a tortured psyche, an iron resolve and a remarkable physicality, and it is great to see him rise again. Michael Caine’s Alfred has a slightly reduced role in the story, although he is given a rift with Bruce Wayne and it is intriguing to see the strongest relationship in Bruce’s life undergo quite the testing. Newcomer Joseph Gordon-Levitt could have felt out of place in Nolan’s grim Gotham, but as John Blake, his fresh-faced, idealistic optimism may actually be his greatest asset.

            Compared to other villains who have appeared in Batman films, Bane is a relatively recent introduction in the comics, having made his debut in Batman: Vengeance of Bane #1 in 1993. Tom Hardy does quite the job of making Bane more than Batman’s mental and physical match. Half his face obscured by a mask that is a cross between an attack dog’s muzzle and venomous spider, the actor still manages to be charismatic and larger-than-life while displaying commendable restraint. This certainly is very many notches up Robert Swenson’s portrayal of Bane in Batman and Robin, in that film reduced to a barely-articulate, brutish errand boy. Throughout the whole film, Hardy talks with a Sean Connery-esque lilt that makes him sound amused by all the suffering he has caused – but he briefly switches to a more sinister tone during his brutal one-on-one encounter with Batman in the middle of the film.

Despite being widely lauded for his strengths as a writer-director, Christopher Nolan’s Achilles heel is widely regarded to be writing women. He breaks that spell with Catwoman, her characterisation damn near perfect and portrayed with very surprising skill by Anne Hathaway. This reviewer was amongst the scores who doubted the decision to cast the actress best known for playing kooky sweethearts as a dangerous femme fatale, but Hathaway sure did pull this one off. Her Selina Kyle is confident, self-assured, oh-so-seductive and quick with a scathing remark, but Hathaway also conveys the well-hidden torment within her. And she also performs one of the best exasperated eye-rolls in cinematic history! Marion Cotillard fulfils the more traditional damsel-in-a-degree-of-distress role, her Miranda Tate kind and disarming, and it is easy to see why Bruce Wayne would fall headlong for her. Of course her character has her own tragic past, and Cotillard can be counted upon to deliver that aspect of Tate too.

            Beyond the story and performances, The Dark Knight Rises looks, sounds and feels like the event it is touted to be. Cinematographer Wally Pfister throws in some very inventive shots, including a brief moment where a charging Batman is lit by muzzle flashes, and delivers dizzyingly gorgeous panoramas as well. Chris Corbould and his practical effects crew help stage several awe-inspiring action set-pieces, and the tone is set well with an opening scene involving a staged plane crash orchestrated by Bane. There is a level of admiration to be had when a film fits a massive brawl shot on Wall Street, the Mehrangarh Fort in Jodhpur, India and a terrorist attack on a football stadium (Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field) into one movie. It’s also of note that most films of this kind try to cram in shiny gadgets to sell more toys, but apart from “The Bat" most of Batman's gadgets are recycled from the second movie in the name of practicality.

            Christopher Nolan and co. have brought the curtain down on their trilogy in truly bittersweet fashion. These three films were emblematic of The Dark Knight rising, rising from an outrageously campy, seemingly franchise-killing film. This is the final cape flourish, the big send-off, the tearful goodbye. As Dickens wrote in the book that partially inspired this movie, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” – this is the Caped Crusader’s finest hour, and seeing this incarnation hang up the cape and cowl is quite saddening indeed.

SUMMARY: The Dark Knight Rises takes Nolan’s trademark blend of spectacle and thought-provoking substance up to eleven, delivering a meaty, satisfying last course of the Batman set meal – and you’ll want another taste as soon as you’re done.


Jedd Jong Yue