K & M Commentary: The Many Reactions to Superman/Batman

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One of the biggest bits of news filtering out of this year’s San Diego Comic-Con was that Warner Brothers and DC Comics would be featuring Batman in the Man of Steel sequel slated for 2015. Now you can imagine the plethora of comments and opinions that immediately followed the announcement. They ranged from childlike jubilation to doomsday prophecies! But considering what little information we have so far isn’t it all just speculation at this point? But ya know, we bloggers love to speculate. That’s half the fun.

There are several ways to look at the announcement and several legitimate points of view. Lets look at some of the prominent opinions coming from the news:

1. Some see this as nothing more than a desperate cash grab and an attempt to catch up to Marvel’s bustling movie universe. Now there’s no denying that there is an element of truth to that. Clearly Marvel has taken a huge lead in the comic book to big screen category. With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and to a smaller degree the recent “Man of Steel” film, the DC Comics universe has failed to really flourish on the big screen. But that doesn’t automatically mean that this is desperation or a cash in. It’s not as if a Superman/Batman collaboration is completely unheard of. The two have shared a largely successful comic book with each other for years now. Therefore it wouldn’t be a stretch to see them together on the big screen. As for desperation, while I had never heard a confirmation, I had heard that the idea of bringing these two iconic superheroes together in a movie had been played around with before. With Nolan’s trilogy in the books, this would be as good a time as any to bring along the next vision of Batman.

2. Some have already written this idea off as a disaster. They believe this will ruin and undermine everything that Christopher Nolan accomplished in his Dark Knight trilogy. Many think that shoehorning Batman into the new Superman franchise does a disservice to the character and runs the risk of alienating fans of the one great property that their movie universe possesses. Again, these are some legitimate concerns but very premature ones. With such little information out there about how and how much Batman will be used, it’s really impossible to say anything with certainty. Again, there is a wealth if history between these two characters so it’s reasonable to believe that Batman’s inclusion could be done really well.

3. And then there are those that are bubbling with excitement. I must admit, when I first heard the news I fell into this category. As a long time comic book reader, the thought of these two phenomenal heroes meeting on film as thrilling. The possibilities are endless. This could be the launching point into the new Batman series. This could be the launching point of the Justice League film that has been talked about for years. In my eyes the potential for something great is off the scales. But optimistic fans have reason to be cautious. Again, we don’t know very much. Will Batman be utilized in a way that makes for a good movie AND keeps the character on the same firm footing where Nolan left him? Will his role be weighty enough to feel justified and warranted? These are real concerns but none are bigger than this: Who will play Batman? For me this is a crucial ingredient to making this whole thing work. There’s a lot of complexity and layers to the Bruce Wayne/Batman character and poor casting could derail every bit of potential. This is enough cause to be a little cautious.

So is there reason to be concerned? Absolutely. Is there reason to write it off? Absolutely not. In fact I think the sheer potential of the idea is enough to get fanboys and movie fans excited and curious. But whatever your position one thing is for sure, Warner Brothers has everyone talking about this and that’s a good thing. Now here’s hoping they deliver the goods. After all, in the end that’s all that matters.

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THE THROWDOWN : Christian Bale vs. Michael Keaton

Wednesday is Throwdown day at Keith & the Movies. It’s when we take two movie subjects and pit them against each other and see who’s left standing. Each Wednesday we’ll look at actors, actresses, movies, genres, scenes, and so much more and see how they stand up one-on-one. And it’s not just my opinion that counts. I’ll share my take and then open up the polls to you. Visit each week for a new Throwdown. Vote each week to decide the true winner!

This week’s Throwdown is a Bat-Battle to the death between Michael Keaton and Christian Bale. Both of these men wore the cape and the cowl and were undeniably the best that did so. This isn’t measuring which had the better movies. This is all about who was the better Batman and whose performance you liked the best. Forget Kilmer and please, please, please forget Clooney. These two guys WERE Batman. Now you vote and decide who was the best.

BALE vs. KEATON

Christian Bale was a fantastic choice to help revive the Batman franchise after Joel Schumacher’s disastrous “Batman and Robin”. Director Christopher Nolan took Bale and built a more grounded and believable Bruce Wayne and took him through some pretty dark places during his immensely popular trilogy. But it’s Bale’s performance that’s key. He unquestionably gets better and better with each movie and by the end of the trilogy he made the character his own. He also has the physical abilities to sell it all. Bale was a wonderful Batman and there’s an easy argument to make that he’s the best caped crusader to hit the big screen.

It may be easy for some people to dismiss Michael Keaton’s two movie tenure as Gotham’s Caped Crusader. But for those of us who remember standing in line in 1989 to see Tim Burton’s “Batman”, we most certainly appreciate how well the actor embodied Bruce Wayne. I’ve always been a fan of Keaton’s but I wasn’t sure about him taking on this role. He was a pleasant surprise and he’s a key reason that the first film worked so well. He’s a much different Batman that Bale but that’s in large part due to the material. Even in the second picture “Batman Returns”, a movie I’m not crazy about, Keaton shines. He left the role just before the franchise was destroyed but his stint still holds up today.

So who is it? You’ve got two very different actors giving two very different depictions of Batman. Forget their movies. This is about the men behind the masks. Bale or Keaton…your votes decide.

Batman & Warner Bros. – What Comes Next?

I still remember anxiously waiting in line at the movie theater during June of 1989. It was the weekend for Tim Burton’s “Batman”, a movie I had been anxiously waiting for. Warner Bros. had done an excellent job building up the film in an era (unlike now) with no easy access to the internet and other modern methods of promotion. The film was a huge success and it ended up raking in over $400 million dollars. After it came “Batman Returns” in 1992 – a movie that had its moments but still fell terribly short of the first film both in quality and in money earned. Joel Schumacher took over the franchise with 1995’s “Batman Forever” and although the box office take went up, the quality went down even more. Schumacher then finished his execution of that Batman series with the hideous “Batman and Robin”, a movie that made considerably less money and remains completely unwatchable.

After a lengthy layoff, Warner Bros. brought Batman back in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, a series that has already been heavily discussed on this blog. The Warner approach was a good one – place the character in the hands of a capable visual and intellectual storyteller and let him share his own vision of the Dark Knight. It worked wonderfully both in terms of box office revenue and the quality of the films. For my money, the Nolan trilogy features the greatest superhero story ever told on film and it’s a rousing cinematic accomplishment.

But now Nolan is done. “The Dark Knight Rises” has hit the theaters and once again Warner Bros. has no strong chess piece on the superhero movie board. “The Man of Steel” is due out next year but we all know how their last attempt at bringing back Superman went. I was a fan of that picture up until the end where Bryan Singer and company completely blew the entire film. “Green Lantern” was the studio’s most recent attempt at getting another major superhero franchise going. And while I enjoyed parts of the movie, it was a cramped and poorly conceived story that both fanboys and casual moviegoers couldn’t latch on to.

So the question remains, what’s next? Warner Bros. and DC Comics are both desperate to tap into some of the success that Marvel Studios has had through a series of highly successful and genuinely good superhero flicks. And while “The Man of Steel” is on the horizon, questions certainly remain about it. Other DC Comics properties are in the works but let’s face it, now that Batman is gone, Warner Bros. doesn’t have a single heavy-hitting superhero film franchise to call their own. And when it comes down to it, Batman has been shown to be the studio’s anchor in the genre. So when Batman returns (and he most certainly will return), my advice would be to follow in the footsteps of the Dark Knight trilogy not in terms of the story but in how the studio approaches it. Find a creative visionary – someone with a unique but intelligent visual storytelling style – and let them share their vision. But (and this is a huge but) they had better choose wisely.

REVIEW: “The Dark Knight Rises”

The superhero genre has been going strong for several years now and I’ve been wondering when was it going to run out of steam. At what point was the quality of the films going to suffer leading audiences to say enough is enough? In 2005 Christopher Nolan made a great contribution to the genre with “Batman Begins”. He followed it up with 2008′ s phenomenal “The Dark Knight”, a film that was not only one of the best sequels ever made but a demonstrative statement showing that superhero films can be legitimate and powerful forms of cinematic entertainment.

That brings us to “The Dark Knight Rises” the final film of Christopher Nolan’s Batman run and the end of what could easily go down as one of the best movie trilogies in motion picture history. “The Dark Knight Rises” is smart, layered, gritty, moving, and action-packed. Nolan not only wraps up his series in a competent and satisfying way, he gives us one of the most potent and energetic movie experiences you’ll find – a near perfect mix of comic book action, socially reflective drama, and expert storytelling. If these are the kinds of films we could get regularly from the superhero genre, I see no limit to their lifespans.

This film takes place 8 years after Batman rode off into the shadows at the end of “The Dark Knight”. Batman is a fugitive, unjustly but willingly, wanted for the murder of Harvey Dent. There have been no Batman sightings during this time and crime in Gotham City has declined due to an inspired city leadership and law enforcement armed with the Dent Act. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has become a hobbled recluse, spending all of his time in a closed off wing of Wayne Manor where long-time family friend and faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine) is his only contact with the outside world. Gotham has become lethargic in its approach to crime and peace time has made the city leaders careless. Everyone except commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) and Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a devoted young patrolman. With their guard down, the city is hit head-on by a brutal but calculated terrorist named Bane (Tom Hardy). Bane’s destructive assault on Gotham cripples the city and as all-out anarchy takes hold, the need for Batman is greater than ever.

Morgan Freeman also returns as Lucius Fox, Bruce Wayne’s close friend and acting president of Wayne Enterprises. Fox is struggling to keep the company afloat following the poor position Bruce left him in. In addition to Hardy and Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway joins the series as Selina Kyle, a cat burglar who steals out of Robin Hood-like motivations but also with a single more direct purpose in mind. Also new to the cast is Marion Cotillard. She plays Miranda Tate, a Wayne Enterprises board member and philanthropist with a great interest in green energy technology and Wayne’s investments into it. Matthew Modine plays Deputy Peter Foley, a spineless officer who is more interested in making a name for himself by catching Batman than stopping the coming storm at the hands of Bane. We also get Ben Mendelsohn as a slimy self-serving Wayne board member with his hands in deeper in than they should be.

Nolan takes this amazing collection of acting talent and throws them all into his smorgasbord of plot lines and dramatic twists. But he never loses control of the film and everything comes together in an extremely satisfying way. Nolan incorporates several relevent and current issues into the story, none more prevalent than the entire class warfare theme. Selina has a very anti-rich people mindset seeing the wealthy as a key cause to society’s ills. Bane himself seeks to take the power out of the hands of the wealthy, the local government, and law enforcement and give it to the poor and downtrodden. But Nolan doesn’t sugarcoat or promote anything. In fact he shows where an extreme and unbridled class warfare position can lead. Some may say that his presentation is heavy-handed but I felt it worked perfectly in the greater context of the story.

Nolan and his brother Jonathan wrote the screenplay and even with the heavy exposition in the first 30 minutes – clearly intended to fill the audience in on what has transpired during the missing 8 years – the movie moves at a crisp and fluid pace. As with all of Nolan’s pictures, there are layers of story that unfold to reveal deeper meanings and cool dramatic twists that should please both comic book fanboys and lovers of good storytelling. He doesn’t dumb things down nor does he ever patronize the audience. The film sets the table for us then causes us to attentively hang on for dear life – a most pleasing challenge. Much like “The Dark Knight” there are no shortcuts here. The film isn’t just a loud summer studio comic book adaptation. It’s brilliant cinematic storytelling that takes a superhero concept, laces it with a true sense of reality, and presents it to us in a beautifully crafted package. Another example of why Christopher Nolan is one of our best directors and visual storytellers.

I’ve mentioned the cast but they deserve more than just a few words. Bale IS Batman and this is his strongest work of the entire series. We see him as a broken and vulnerable man as well as the growling caped crusader. Bale has no problems relaying either to the audience. Anne Hathaway is also very good as Catwoman (even though she’s never called Catwoman) and while I wasn’t certain she completely belonged in Nolan’s more realistic Batman universe, he never overdoes the character and Hathaway sells her well. Tom Hardy will undoubtedly face comparisons to Heath Ledger’s Joker from the last film but that’s terrible unfair. The two villains couldn’t be more different and Hardy’s Bane easily stands on his own. Hardy spends the entire film behind a mask but his body language and brute swagger makes him a most menacing villain. Gary Oldman is fantastic as always as was the lovely Marion Cotillard. Michael Caine is wonderful and has some of the best exchanges with Bale. Unfortunately he disappears in the second half of the film. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt continues to prove he is a solid young actor. Perhaps the only weak spot was with Matthew Modine who I never really bought into. His character only adds one small thing to the story and Modine never makes him all that compelling or interesting.

Technically “The Dark Knight Rises” is the jaw-dropper I expected it to be. Nolan’s stylistic flare and incredible camera work do a great job of capturing the panic and dread of a city under siege. The special effects are stunning and the action sequences are big and boisterous. Nolan gives us some new Batman toys as well as some old favorites and they’re used in several cool crowd-pleasing ways. I also loved the fight choreography. You know by the trailer that there is going to be a Bane and Batman showdown and Nolan builds it up with undeniable intensity. Then when the payoff comes, we aren’t hampered by herky-jerky camera movements. Instead Nolan lets the fights take place without any fancy gimmicks. It was incredibly satisfying. I also loved Hans Zimmer’s score. Some have voiced dislike for his ever-present pounding music but it worked for me. I felt it contributed to the intensity that the film is going for just as Zimmer’s scores have done for the previous two Batman movies.

“The Dark Knight Rises” once again plunges the people of Gotham and us into the depths of fear and dread while examining evil and the darker side of society. Yet the film always allows us hope. This is certainly another dark story but the stakes are high and the ending is exceptional and rewarding and the perfect goodbye to a phenomenal trilogy. I wanted to stand and applaud. The film stretches the boundaries of the comic book genre. It’s large in scale, full of story, and absolutely engrossing throughout it’s almost 3 hour running time. “The Dark Knight Rises” is far more than simply great. It’s a modern classic featuring mesmerizing performances, fist-pumping action, and genuine intelligence. It’s a visual spectacle. It’s emotionally and intellectually stimulating. It’s a text book lesson on the melding of big budget flamboyance with smart and challenging storytelling. It’s hard to accept that this is Nolan’s final Batman film but he has given us a gift – a groundbreaking series of films capped by a truly glorious finale. What a ride it’s been and what a way to end it.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4.5 STARS

“THIS WEEK IN MOVIES” (MAY 4th)

It seems like every week we get new goodies leading up to the releases of “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Prometheus”. This past week was no different. If you haven’t had a chance to see the “Prometheus” International Trailer you are really missing out. Ridley Scott’s upcoming sci-fi picture is still shrouded in mystery and each tidbit of information we get adds another piece to the puzzle. The “Prometheus” International Trailer gives us some new footage featuring the same breath-taking special effects and amazing production design. I still have tons of questions about the film but this trailer  gets me even more excited. Click any of the links to check out the “Prometheus” International Trailer. The film is set for a June 8th release.

 

Some very cool bits of news from Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”. The movie’s promotional campaign is off and running. Early in the week “leaked” scans of some Gotham City documents hit the web including a police issued arrest warrant and a wanted poster for Batman, a letter from the deputy commissioner, and a photo of evidence on it’s way to forensics. I posted full scans of these earlier in the week (you can find them by clicking  THIS LINK). Fun stuff!

But perhaps even more exciting was the release of “The Dark Knight Rises” Trailer #3 ! At first it was set to debut attached to “The Avengers” movie but through a clever viral web trick, the trailer was unleashed earlier and it doesn’t disappoint. “The Dark Knight Rises” Trailer #3 features loads of new footage and answers some questions about Bane and especially Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman). View “The Dark Knight Rises” Trailer #3 by clicking any of the links above. The film is set for a July 20th release.

 

Staying with the superhero news, have you had a chance to see the “The Amazing Spider-Man” Trailer #2 ? This is a movie that I have been a little reluctant to get excited about. This reboot didn’t excite me at first but after seeing “The Amazing Spider-Man” Trailer #2 that has changed. If you haven’t seen it, click on any of the links and tell me what you think. “The Amazing Spider-Man is due out July 3rd.

 

NEW IN THEATERS (MAY 4th)

  • “THE AVENGERS” (PG-13) – Action/Superhero
  • “THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL” (PG-13) – Drama/Comedy
  • “THE KID WITH A BIKE” (PG-13) – Foreign/Drama

* It’s a great week to hit the theater. A big budget, action-packed blockbuster, a fun little movie aimed at older audiences, and a poignant foreign drama. I hope to see all three.

5 PHENOMENALLY AWFUL SUPERHERO MOVIES

In honor of this Friday’s release of “The Avengers”, I’m spending the week looking at comic book/ superhero movies. Yesterday we listed 5 Phenomenal Superhero Movies. Well, just like every other genre, you have good movies and you have some real stinkers. Today I’m listing 5 Phenomenally Awful Superhero Movies. As with yesterday’s list, this one stays within the comic book arena. The main difference is that these films simply got it all wrong. Unfortunately there were plenty to pick between and I found it a little difficult narrowing it down to five. Nonetheless here they are. As always I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, but there’s no denying that these 5 superhero movies are most certainly not phenomenal!

#5 – “X-MEN: THE LAST STAND” (2006)

It’s a shame that a franchise that started so good could fall so far in such a short time. “X-Men: The Last Stand” was the third X-Men movie and by far the worst. Bryan Singer, the director of the first two films, left and Brent Ratner took over. But the biggest problem was with the story. The ridiculous liberties that were taken with the team were simply unforgivable. The series went from being about a superhero team to being a Wolverine and Jean Grey love story. The special effects are really good and the production value is fine. But X3 turned the series on its head. “X-Men: The Last Stand” severed its ties to its comic book roots and proved to be a franchise killer.

#4 – “JONAH HEX” (2010)

Talk about a great example of a missed opportunity. Jonah Hex has more than enough wonderful source material to make a great movie. Why on earth did the movie stray so far off course? “Jonah Hex” is an absurd and often times incoherent mess than only gives the audience brief glimpses into what makes the character great. What’s even worse is that Josh Brolin is perfect as Jonah Hex. The makeup combined with Brolin’s portrayal is right on target. Unfortunately the material is so ridiculous and lame that it’s impossible to enjoy what he’s doing on-screen. Then you have the casting of Megan Fox who offers up one cringe-worthy line after another. Even the often times reliable John Malkovich is like fingernails on a chalk board. “Jonah Hex” is one of the most poorly written movies I have ever seen and even at only 81 minutes, it drags on forever.

#3- “THE SPIRIT” (2008)

Acclaimed comic book and graphic novel writer Frank Miller wrote and directed “The Spirit” and I have to say he should stick to books. “The Spirit” is an absolute mess right from the start. The movie is a lifeless and emotionless film that is a good example of style over substance. Miller’s over-the-top style works visually but the material is so flat and grating. Miller’s self-indulgence make some scenes seem to go on forever and it’s truly a laborious task to make it through the picture. The actors drudge along never developing a single character worth caring about. It’s almost as if Miller simply forgot the difference between print media and cinema. Whatever the reason, “The Spirit” is a movie that I pray I never have to see again.

#2- “CATWOMAN” (2004)

I’m not alone in calling “Catwoman” a terrible movie. It’s one of those rare movies that I honestly wasn’t able to make it through. I struggled with leaving it off this list simply because I never finished it. But then I asked myself WHY I never finished it? Oh yes, because it was absolutely horrible. Loaded with ludicrous and cheesy dialogue and a paper-thin story, “Catwoman” takes a great DC Comics character and butchers her all for the sake of putting Halle Berry in a cat suit. Both Berry and Sharon Stone are laughably bad and the material is no better. The direction, the special effects, the character development, all of it is subpar and the result is a disaster that some have said derailed Berry’s once promising career. If you’ve seen “Catwoman” (or if you’ve tried to see it), you know exactly why it’s on this list.

#1- “BATMAN AND ROBIN” (1997)

The first Batman movie franchise wasn’t the best. The first film starring Michael Keeton and Jack Nicholson was a lot of fun but after that it slowly started going downhill. The series hit rock bottom with Joel Schumacher’s abhorrent “Batman and Robin”. Schumacher’s film was a catastrophe and was the ultimate death knell for the franchise. Nothing in “Batman and Robin” works. It takes such a flippant and arrogant approach to Batman and his universe. It’s never as funny or as clever as it thinks it is and Schumacher seems more interested in clowning around than making a quality film. George Clooney is a fine actor but he was a terrible Batman and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze is one of the worst characters in film history. I have a laundry list of faults associated with “Batman and Robin”. Maybe it’s my affection for the source material, but it doesn’t take much to see that this is a poorly made movie on almost every level. It’s absurdity is off the charts and it’s lazy, unfunny attempts at humor never let up. I hate “Batman and Robin” and there is a reason why it’s accused of killing the Batman series.

So there they are. Do you agree or disagree with my list. See something I may have left off? Please share you comments below.