Tag Archive | "The Dark Knight"

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Off the Radar

Posted on 03 January 2014 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. Today, the success of X-Men and Spider-Man send studios looking for adaptations at smaller comic book publishers.

By 2003, movies from comic books were a big deal. The success of the X-Men and Spider-Man films indicated that there was gold in bringing comic characters to life, and Hollywood wanted to get in on it.

Unfortunately, most of the big guns were taken. Sony had Spider-Man and Thor, Fox had the X-Men, Fantastic Four, and Daredevil. Universal had the Hulk, and any DC Comics characters had to go through parent company Warner Brothers first.

Luckily for producers all over town, the comic book industry had expanded so there were a number of other viable companies putting out comics, all with characters ready to be brought to the big screen. Well, the powers that be might have thought they’d be ready. But as we’ll see, sometimes audiences thought differently.

BulletproofMonkBulletproof Monk, the comic, was a comic book by committee. The concept was originated by two men who never put fingers to keyboard, nor ink to Bristol board. Michael Yanover and Mark Paniccia created Flypaper Press and a content farm for their ideas, which they would hire writers and artists to flesh out and produce.

One of these concepts was one that would take the Asian Kung Fu film, move it to a city and add Star Wars type mysticism to it. They hired Michael Avon Oeming, who would later gain fame working on Powers, to do the art and asked relative newbie Brett Lewis and indie veteran R.A. Jones to do the writing. Gotham Chopra, son of Deepak Chopra, was brought in as a consultant on the Eastern mysticism in the story. And that story became Bulletproof Monk.

Yanover and Paniccia started shopping the concept to Hollywood before the second issue even came out. They got interest from John Woo, whose movies were an inspiration for the concept. Woo eventually agreed to produce the film. His frequent collaborator, Chow Yun-Fat, was cast as the titular monk. Heath Ledger might have made his comic book film a few years before his turn as the Joker in The Dark Knight, as he was in line to star as the Monk’s assistant, Kar. He dropped out to accept a role in The Order, and Seann William Scott took his place.

Bulletproof_Monk_8627_MediumIf Yanover and Paniccia were thinking they might have a Men in Black style underdog hit on their hands, they were sorely mistaken. The film opened to horrible reviews and only made $37 million worldwide against a $52 million budget.

Bulletproof Monk might have been committee designed to be a film franchise, 30 Days of Night was a comic book concept that went nowhere, was then proposed as a film idea and was shot down, before IDW Publishing decided to publish it as a comic. It is also one of the most inventive approaches to horror to ever come down the pike.

As the film Insomnia told us, parts of Alaska experience 24-hours of sunshine for weeks at a time. The flip side of this is that they also experience 24-hours of night for weeks at a time.

30-days-of-nightNow, consider if you were a vampire. You have to hunt your prey—humans—for food—blood—in the small window of time you are both awake. The sun is deadly to you, so you stay behind closed doors and windows in the day time when people are out doing their business. And most people stay indoors when the sun goes down, so your pickings are slim—from the late shift workers, college party crowd, etc.

For you, a month of darkness is a great thing. Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith thought so. That’s why they wrote 30 Days of Night, a comic about a cadre of vampires that relocate to Barrow, Alaska and use the small town as their personal smorgasbord.

The series sold loads of copies, spawned numerous print sequels, established IDW as a publisher of note, raised the profile of both Niles and Templeton (who were nominated for Eisner Awards, comic’s version of the Oscars, for the series), and attracted Hollywood’s attention. Yes, the concept that was at first unwanted as both a comic book and a film would end up being a success at both.

04934874_In 2002, Sam Raimi’s Senator International picked up the rights to the comic. Niles wrote the first draft of the script, which was rewritten by Stuart Beattie and then again by Brian Nelson when director David Slade came on board. Josh Hartnett played the town Sheriff, Melissa George his estranged wife, and Danny Huston played the leader of the vampires.

The film was a success, making $75 million worldwide against a $30 million budget. It was a huge success on home video, which led to a direct-to-video sequel and two prequel miniseries on FEARnet.com.

2-poster41You get the feeling that Disney was itching to get into the comic book film business for a long time, because in 2007 they purchased the rights to the Top Shelf miniseries, The Surrogates, a high-concept story set in the sci-fi genre, for its Touchstone shingle.

The story concerned the future of 2054, where everyone has an idealized, mind-controlled robotic duplicate of themselves that they use for everyday interaction while they stay home in their ugly flesh and blood bodies. When someone starts destroying the Surrogates, which kills the owners in the process, an anti-Surrogate cop needs to get to the bottom of the mystery behind it.

surrogates_movieThe film, produced in part by Elizabeth Banks, was directed by Jonathan Mostow and starred Bruce Willis as the cop. The cast also included James Cromwell, Ving Rhames  and Rosamund Pike, which would make for a pretty good film, you would think. Unfortunately, critics gave it mostly negative reviews. The film made $122 million worldwide, a disappointing figure when you think it cost $80 million to make.

Whiteout was another high concept comic book series. Published by Oni Press and created by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber, it is a murder mystery set in the scientific stations of Antarctica. It centers on a U.S. Marshall by the name of Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) who must investigate the murders of several scientists before she retires her post.

Whiteout_posterThe comic was nominated for a number of Eisner’s, but the 2009 film adaptation was not what you’d call award-worthy. Many would pin the blame for the film’s flopping ($17.8 million worldwide versus a $35 million budget) on it having a female lead. But the 7% fresh rating it got from critics couldn’t have helped. Pity poor Gabriel Macht. This film, in which he plays a UN agent, came at the end of a three year span of completely awful movies he starred in (joining 2007’s Because I Said So and 2008’s The Spirit).

Next, Kevin Smith’s favorite hero gets the big screen treatment, does well, and is never seen again.

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STATE OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: The Highest Of Highs, The Lowest Of Lows.

Posted on 07 December 2012 by William Gatevackes

Back in May, I couldn’t wait to write this column. I started this yearly recap of comic book films mainly as a counterpoint to the number of articles in the mainstream media bemoaning the fact that comic book films exist at all and the journalists who are trying to speed up them going out of favor.

So, when The Avengers broke big, setting all sorts of box office records and becoming not only the highest grossing film of the year, but also the third highest grossing film of all time, I thought 2012 was going to turn out to be one of the best years for comic book films in their entire history.

And it was. But it was also one of the worst years as well.

In the early morning hours of Friday, July 20, James Eagan Holmes entered the crowded Theater 9 of the Century 16 multiplex in Aurora, Colorado. The theater was full of fans eager to be the first to see The Dark Knight Rises, the last film in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. They would become victims of one of the most violent crimes in recorded history. Holmes, dressed in armored clothing and carry numerous firearms with him, opened fire in that crowded theater. By the time shooting had stopped, 58 people would be injured, and 12 people would be killed.

It is impossible to talk about the year in film in any context without talking about the Aurora shootings. The joy of seeing a film in a crowded theaters full of your fellow fans is forever tainted. This type of exuberant film fan became prey that night.

Now, four months on, it is still easy to look back on that night and see only the darkest part of human nature. An evil man methodically came up with a way to kill as many people as he could. It doesn’t get more sinister than that.

But I found that when great darkness shows its face to the world, there is always a bright and shining light that rises up to greet it. It’s natural to focus on Holmes and his despicable acts. But I also look towards the example of Matt McQuinn, who shielded the bodies of his girlfriend and brother with his own, sacrificing his life to save theirs. I look to Jarell Brooks, a young man who was wounded getting a woman and her two small children, people he didn’t know, to safety. I look to Emma Goos, who stayed in the theater to tend to the wounds of an injured victim while the shooting was going on. I look to All C’s Comics Collectibles, the Aurora comic shop that started the Aurora Rises charity to help benefit the victim’s and their families and I look to the numerous comic artists and writers that helped make that charity an ongoing endeavor  I also look to Christian Bale, who, on his own with no fanfare and publicists in tow, visited the Aurora area after to shootings to give his fans whatever comfort he could.

Yes, the Aurora shooting gave us a glimpse of the worst that humanity had to offer, but it also gave us a glimpse of the best that humanity has to offer as well. And while we filmgoers will never be free of the paranoia that night in July caused (especially when just two weeks ago a plot to do a similar shooting in Missouri during a showing of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 was, thankfully, stopped before it could be put into fruition), we should never let that fear stop us from doing the things we enjoy. We might never be able to stop bad things from happening, but we can always be there to help each other out when they do.

Now that I’ve said what I needed to say on that, let’s go back to the frivolous world of comic book films.

List taken from BoxOfficeMojo.com (http://boxofficemojo.com/yearly/chart/?yr=2012&p=.htm)

As of last night, comic book adaptations hold three of the top five spots on the yearly highest grossing films list. I’m sure Skyfall and the aforementioned Breaking Dawn, Part 2 might have some say if The Amazing Spider-Man stays in the Top 5, but even if it does fall out, we will have three comic book adaptations in the Top 10. And that has never happened. The closest we came to that was in 2008 when The Dark Knight and Iron Man were one and two and the original superhero comedy Hancock was number four. Add to that the fact that a sequel to another comic book adaptation, Men in Black 3, was #11 this year and you have a very good year for the comic book film.

Even Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, a film with a well-deserved 18% fresh over at Rotten Tomatoes and which debuted an underwhelming third in its opening weekend was able to make over $132 million worldwide against a $57 million dollar budget. Yes, I am a fan of comic book movies and even I am stunned by that fact. That’s why Nicolas Cage keeps on getting to make movies.

The only true flop of this year’s six comic book adaptations was Dredd, whose $30,931,946 worldwide take was considerably less than its $50 million budget. I can only assume that the Sylvester Stallone version killed just about any interest anybody might have had in the character, which was a shame. I found the film a faithful adaptation of the original source material which held up well as a film on its own.

As lucrative as this year was for the comic book film, it is a year in flux. The Avengers marked the end of the first phase of Marvel’s film slate, and Phase 2 begins next year with Iron Man 3 in May and Thor: The Dark World in November. It will be interesting if they can carry any Avengers momentum over into those releases, or will fans force the studio to prove itself all over again.

And The Dark Knight Rises closes the Nolan era on DC/Warners’ Batman property. They start anew with their Superman franchise with The Man of Steel in June. There’s a lot riding on this new take on the character, as Warners is looking to not only get a franchise to replace Nolan’s Batman films on their docket, but also potentially use the film as a springboard into their planned Justice League film and to bring other DC comic heroes to the big screen.

In addition to those three films, there are at least nine other comic book adaptations scheduled for next year, including Hugh Jackman returning as Logan in The Wolverine, sequels to Red, Kick-Ass,300 and Sin City, and properties from publishers such as Dark Horse, Boom! and other smaller companies. 2012 proved that people still are willing to go to see comic book films. However, odds are that not all of the films released next year will be great successes, so we can expect the mainstream doubters to start the chorus of the comic book films doom next year. But for now, let’s bask in the highs the comic book film rose to, and take a moment to contemplate the lowest lows they experienced this year.

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Opinion: NEWSARAMA And The Infuriating Power of Lists

Posted on 03 August 2012 by William Gatevackes

In this day and age, if you are a form of media that covers another form of media, eventually you will come up with a list. Rolling Stone has put out special, oversized volumes about what songs, albums and guitarists are the best in their eyes. Entertainment Weekly can be counted on at least one issue a year feature a list of some kind, most recently it was the “50 Best Films You’ve Never Seen” and “25 Best Cult TV Shows From the Past 25 years.” And VH1 and E! have made it a staple of their programming.

The reason why they turn to list making is simple–because it’s popular. In a world full of opinionated people, any collated list  that represents the authoritative ranking of anything will get attention. People want their tastes validated. Or, they want to see how wrong these media outlets are. These lists sell copies.  They garner high ratings. They get shared on Facebook. They get linked to. And the more controversial the better, For example, take Sight and Sound‘s yearly poll’s swapping of Citizen Kane with Vertigo and the furor that kicked up.

But sometimes, it appears that there’s more that goes into constructing these lists than just picking the best or worst of a particular medium. Some lists seem to be compiled just to garner controversy. Yes, there will be “no brainer” items on the list, but there will also be notable omissions as well. There will be items included that seems to serve no other purpose than to make people angry. And even if you agree with every item put on and left off, you have the rankings themselves to quarrel over.

A sterling example of this are two lists that have appeared on Newsarama.com, one of the oldest comic book news sites on the Internet, over the last week. One was the “10 Best Comic Book-Based Movie PERFORMANCES Of All Time” and the “10 Worst Comic Book-Based Movie PERFORMANCES of All Time.” Both lists were compiled by the “Newsarama Staff,” and both are controversial in their own right. At best, the lists were sloppily compiled with mind-numbing gaps of logic, at worst, the list were compiled deliberately to anger comic book movie fans and generate controversy.

Here is Newsarama’s 10 Best List:

  1. Heath Ledger, The Joker, The Dark Knight
  2. Robert Downey, Jr, Tony Stark/Iron Man, Iron Man, Iron Man 2, & The Avengers
  3. Gary Oldman, Commissioner Gordon, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises
  4. Hugh Jackman, Wolverine, X-Men, X2: X-Men United, X-Men: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men First Class
  5. J.K. Simmons, J. Jonah Jameson, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3
  6. Tom Hiddleston, Loki, Thor & The Avengers
  7. Chloe Grace Moretz, Hit-Girl, Kick-Ass
  8. Andrew Garfield, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man
  9. Anne Hathaway, Selina Kyle, The Dark Knight Rises
  10. Chris Evans, Jensen, The Losers
And here’s their 10 Worst:
  1. Most Everyone and Anyone in Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies
  2. Halle Berry, Storm, X-Men & Patience Phillips/Catwoman, Catwoman
  3. Billy Zane, The Phantom
  4. Matthew Goode, Ozymandias, Watchmen 
  5. Nicolas Cage, Ghost Rider & Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
  6. Julian McMahon, Victor Von Doom/Doctor Doom, Fantastic Four & Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer 
  7. Seth Rogen, The Green Hornet, The Green Hornet 
  8. Tobey Maguire, Peter Parker/Spider-Man, Spider-Man, Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man 3
  9. Christopher Reeve/Brandon Routh, Clark Kent/Superman, Superman, Superman II, Superman III, Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, Superman Returns 
  10. January Jones, Emma Frost, X-Men: First Class

I have serious problems with these lists, problems that go way beyond differences of opinion (although I’ll have to comment on one glaring disagreement because if I don’t, my head will explode). The problems cause me to question the validity of the lists and Newsarama’s intentions. I’ll create my own list of where Newsarama’s logic went wrong, perhaps deliberately.

The lists are “best comic book-based performances” not “Best SUPERHERO comic book-based performances”: Granted, Newsarama focuses mostly on the mainstream superhero genre, and adding another word to the already gangly title would have made it even ganglier, but we have to take the titles of these articles to heart. That means, this should be the definitive list of ALL performances from ALL movies based an ALL kinds of comic books. Yet, there is no Paul Giamatti from American Splendor on this list. Nor is there Thora Birch or Steve Buscemi from Ghost World or Tom Hanks, Paul Newman or anyone else from Road to Perdition. 

I could go on. But what these titles are doing is advertising one thing and selling us another. And that is a recipe that is custom made to generate the kind of “you left XXX of the list” controversy that builds up links.

The Green Hornet? The Phantom? Comic Book-Based?: You’d think a news website with 10 years of independent coverage of the world of comic books would be able to tell what films were made from comic books and which ones weren’t. Baring that, you’d think they’d be able hire writers with an active connection to the Internet and the ability to access Google from it. Newsarama apparently is able to do neither.

The Green Hornet was based on a radio program that began in January1936. The Phantom was based on a comic strip that began in newspapers a few weeks after the Hornet made his first broadcast. . While both were adapted into comic books, neither originated there nor were their comics their most remembered incarnations. Calling The Green Hornet and The Phantom “comic book-based” would be like calling Star Wars and Star Trek comic book-based. And you can find far worse actors than Seth Rogen and Billy Zane in those franchises.

This might seem to be just a matter of semantics. But I believe it is indicative of the hap-hazard way these lists were constructed. Because you don’t have to look too hard to find two more bad performances in a film that was actually based on a comic book.

To Newsarama, “all time” means “within the last 12 years”: With the exception of The Phantom, the Schumacher Batman films, and the early Superman movies, all the films on the list were made after 2000. That means out of over 70 years of comic books being made into films, only a little over a decade of films were being seriously considered.

Yes, there have been a whole lot more comic book films to chose from in the last 12 years. But, as I realized doing my History of the Comic Book Film feature, the comic book film did not begin with X-Men. What? Newsarama couldn’t find a top ten worthy bad performance in SheenaRed Sonja, Howard the Duck or in Dolph Lundgren’s Punisher? And on the good side, what about Brandon Lee’s Crow, Jack Nicholson’s Joker or Wesley Snipes’ Blade? The fact that there wasn’t one performance from the above that made either list is a disservice to what Newsarama was trying to create. It shows tunnel vision, something that handicaps any attempt at creating a comprehensive list.

Their selection process is dubious and abitrary at best:  They pay lip service to the quality work Chris Evans has done in a number of comic book films, yet make a point of telling us that they can pick only one performance of his for the list (and the pick his least well-known role at that). Yet, Hallie Berry gets slammed for playing both Storm and Catwoman. They lump the combined casts of two films as one entry, and two actors who had played the same role almost 20 years apart as another selection.

You get the feeling they were making up the rules as they went along. Or, rather, constructing the rules of selection so that it suited them best.

Take, for instance, this “ground rule” from the introduction to the worst list.

…it would be way too easy and frankly not all that much fun to pick-on a lower class of Hollywood actor in barely feature-quality train wrecks like Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four or the 1980s Captain America. So yes, Shaquille O’Neal, you get immunity this day.

Okay, I’m no fan of Shaquille O’Neal, and I’m sure he would want his being left off a list of bad actors argued, but the reason Newsarama left him of the list just doesn’t make sense. When Shaq made Steel, he had already made two feature films (Blue Chips and Kazaam). And Steel was a $16 million dollar film made by Warner Brothers, not some film made for $200 and a bag of potato chips in someone’s basement. Could Shaq be considered a “lower class of actor”? Probably. But so could Billy Zane, king of the B-movie. Maybe if Shaq had a small part in Titanic, then Newsarama would have considered him worthy of inclusion.

This is how they defend their position:

Well, Tobey’s Peter Parker was naive and earnest enough, but he just didn’t have Parker’s inner beauty.

Yes. Really.

Putting Christopher Reeve on the list of worst actors might have been done just to anger people: I’m trying not to believe that they’d do something so wrong just to generate site hits, but Newsarama is not making it easy by how they open their defense of their opinion:

Yes, we’re going there, and in advance, we’re genuinely sorry you’re upset.

Yes, they went there, but did they go there thinking their opinion would be controversial, or knowing it would be controversial and get a lot of reaction?

Listen, whenever you have a list like this, there will be items on it that butt up against conventional wisdom. But seldom has there ever been a case where something flew in the face of overwhelming public opinion like Newsarama is is doing here.

If you are going to “go there,” then you’d better have an incredibly strong argument to back up your position. Unfortunately, Newsarama doesn’t.

…Reeve just wasn’t that accomplished a film actor.

In defense of this position we could point to his lack of much of a post-Superman resume, but the truth is now 30-plus years later with a more critical eye we simply don’t find his portrayal of Superman and Clark Kent very much like any Superman or Clark Kent we know… or like, for that matter.

His Clark wasn’t mild-mannered, he was a cartoonish buffoon. His Superman far too earnest and eager-to-please for someone with the power of a god. In short, he was a mild-mannered Superman, frankly lacking in the charisma you’d expect from an actor playing a cultural icon. A more theatrical rather than natural actor, Reeve’s Superman was a caricature of a comic book Boy Scout superhero and not a fully developed character.

Where to begin. Hmmm.

I wonder who this editorial “we” is? Perhaps it is someone who  is 12 and has only known the John Byrne interpretation of Superman. But, the character was around for 50 years before Byrne revamped him. Back when the film was made, the comic book Superman was a more staid version of the one found in the film. The mental image the editorial “we” has of Superman is so contrary to what the character’s image really is that it makes it seem that this entry came from a website that wouldn’t know a comic book if it fell in their lap, not a “respected” comic book news site.

I’m so glad they didn’t use Reeve’s lack of a post-Superman career as their only defense for their position, because is a defense that could be swatted away with one word–typecasting. Typecasting is the reason why Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher had less than stellar careers after Star Wars, and why Harrison Ford’s post-Star Wars career is so extraordinary. It is what the cast of the Harry Potter films are struggling with now, and what the cast of Twilight is working hard to avoid. Once you become so associated with such an iconic character, it’s hard for Hollywood to see you in any other role. This was the reason for Reeve’s lackluster post-Superman career, not lack of talent.

But Reeve’s performance was pitch perfect as Superman. I don’t know what the editorial “we” was thinking, but Superman doesn’t stand “Sarcasm, Bullying and Badassery”, he stands for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” Yes, Reeve’s Superman was earnest–and honest and forthright–but that IS Superman. And Reeve played him in such a way that he never was hokey or corny.

As for Clark Kent, Reeve played Kent as a role Superman was himself playing. Superman portrayed Kent as an awkward and bumbling fool so no one would see through the flimsy disguise and put two and two together. It’s a brilliant piece of acting, and if you aren’t able to pick that up, then you have no business talking about acting performances whatsoever.

I have to laugh at the  “30-plus years later with a more critical eye” part. Like that is supposed to win us over, that they’re looking at the performance in a serious manner as an adult, and therefore, he is right. That might have held more water if Chris Sims and David Uzumeri didn’t take a similar look back on the first Superman back in March for rival comic book news site Comics Alliance.  They ripped the film to shreds, but still called Reeve’s performance, and these are direct quotes, “amazing” and “darn near perfect.” So much for that argument.

Taking this into consideration, it’s hard to not believe the trashing of Reeve was done purely to garner controversy. If so, at least it worked. Not only am I talking about it, but also many comic book professionals, the people Newsarama make a living covering, took umbrage with the list as well.

Creators like Amazing Spider-Man writer Dan Slott:

Marvel Comics editor Steve Wacker:

And legendary comic writer Mark Waid:

That tweet set off a Twitter war between Waid and Newsarama editor Lucas Siegel,which is not the behavior you expect from an editor who should be keeping a journalistic distance from one of people he would be covering, but it is the kind of behavior you’d expect if you want add more controversy to the already controversial matter.

Another sign that this whole thing might be hit bait is that they spun of the controversy to another article on the site, an OP/ED piece by frequent Newsarama contributor Vaneta Rogers , glorifying Reeve’s performance and giving yet another page full of ads for Newsarama from the controversial list.

I hope this isn’t the case, that Newsarama is manipulating the popularity of lists to gain hits for itself. Presenting honest, well-formed and well-thought out opinions is always something that should be striven for. But putting out incendiary opinions in a clumsy and hap hazard manner isn’t. And it looks like Newsarama did the latter and is trying to pass it off as the former.

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Review: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

Posted on 21 July 2012 by William Gatevackes

The core of The Dark Knight Rises is a fairly sloppy movie. Large chunks of dialogue are devoted to exposition. Plot points in the first half of the film clearly telegraph the “surprise” plot twists in the second half. And the plot itself, while loaded with twists and turns, is fairly simplistic.

But, even while taking all of this into consideration, The Dark Knight Rises is a great movie and fitting end to the trilogy Christopher Nolan started in 2005. This is due to Nolan’s direction, the stellar acting by the wonderful cast, the great editing by Lee Smith, and the powerful score by Hans Zimmer.

The film takes place exactly eight years after the end of The Dark Knight, and Harvey Dent’s death on that night has become a citywide holiday. Crime is at an all time low, yet all is not well in Gotham. Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has retired his Batman identity, but, without a purpose to his life, he has become a virtual recluse. Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman) is wrestling with his conscious over glorifying Dent, a man who tried to kill his son, and demonizing Batman, the man who saved his son’s life.

Things take a turn for the worse for Gotham with the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy). Bane is a dangerous and bestial mercenary who at first appears to be a soldier in a corporate war between Wayne and an evil business rival by the name of Daggett (Ben Mendelsohn). But things aren’t what they seem with Bane, and his true intentions will have dire consequences for both Gotham and Batman, consequences not even Bruce/Batman’s new allies–honest cop John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), eco-friendly business woman Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), and cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway)–can help Batman stop from coming.

This film is more a sequel to 2005′s Batman Begins than 2008′s The Dark Knight. While the latter was one of the most successful films in movie history, only two plot points–the death of Harvey Dent and the cover up afterwards, and the death of Rachel Dawes–are mentioned yet the Joker isn’t. Of course, there would few actors able, or willing, to follow in Heath Ledger’s shoes in that particular role, and to recast the part would be sign of disrespect, but his storyline in that film has interesting parallels and contrasts to the plot of this film. It would be a stronger film is these comparisons were addressed or even acknowledged. But as it stands, the film closes the circle and makes the series a true trilogy, telling one wide-reaching story arc.

The film is almost three hours long, yet nothing is wasted. There is no fat or gristle here, just meat. Every scene serves a purpose. And while this means that, yes, there are a lot of Chekovian guns being introduced that many savvy film goers will be able to figure out how they will be used by the third act, that is not necessarily a bad thing. In a summer where there are films that barely introduce plot points and often forget to follow up on them, it’s refreshing to see so much forethought and planning put into a script. And the long running time allows moments for all the characters, and there are a lot of them, to grow and become fleshed out. Even minor characters get juicy character moments.

Editing and score are vital parts of any film, yet are often overlooked by audiences. They say the only time you notice editing was when it is bad. Not so, as I noticed Lee Smith editing and how good it was. When there is a lengthy patch of exposition-laden dialogue, he inserts a beautifully shot (by cinematographer Wally Pfister, once again in top form) scene that shows what the actor is describing. During action scenes, the narrative shifts back and forth from character to character, location to location seamlessly and at just the right time building tension along the way.

Hans Zimmer is an old pro at scoring and naturally his score here is top notch. It adds layers and dimension to the story, evoking the perfect mood at the ideal moment in a great compliment to what is going on on the screen.

Trying to single out an actor in the cast for special acclaim is like trying to pick just one player from the 1927 New York Yankees to be on your All-Star team. When a cast has 15 Oscar Nominations and five Oscar wins between them, there is little doubt that there will be a plethora of great performances to choose from. But if I had to pick one cast member to give an Oscar nod out of only one member of the cast, I’d choose Anne Hathaway.

Her Selina Kyle, the character comic book fans know as Catwoman, is a multi-layered, complex character. Hathaway’s Selina is a woman who must wear a number of different masks, a tricky thing for any actress to play. But Hathaway knocks it out of the park. I can’t say that I’ve been overwhelmed by anything I’ve seen Hathaway do in the past, but I was overwhelmed here. Hathaway plays Selina as bold and naive, strong and insecure, coquettish and earnest, usually within the span of a one scene. The other characters are kept guessing as to what persona Kyle is presenting, but the audience is always kept in the loop. Hathaway puts a more realistic stamp on the “bad girl with a heart of gold” archetype. It’s a brilliant piece of acting.

Tom Hardy’s Bane will be unfairly compared to Ledger’s Joker, so I am not going to compare the two (if I was going to compare Bane to any film villain, it would Darth Vader, if only for the breathing apparatus dialogue). Hardy plays Bane with the gusto of a Shakespearean actor playing Hamlet for the 49th time. He owns the role with confidence and bravery. In a world where every superhero movie can’t wait to remove the masks from their characters, you have to give credit to Hardy for working with half his face covered. Hardy will also be unfairly criticized for having his words swallowed by the mask. But, in truth, I didn’t find him any harder to understand than I did Gary Oldman, and all Oldman had blocking his dialogue was a mustache.

If there was one weak link in the cast, it was Mendelsohn as Daggett. It might be just me, but his performance annoyed me so much that I had to mention it here. He played the role more like a caricature than a character, chewing scenery and employing body ticks in lieu of developing any form of true characterization. Thankfully, he’s not in the movie for long, but whenever he’s on screen, I found it painful to watch.

As for the other cast members, you can expect your typical excellence. Michael Caine doesn’t have a lot of screen time this time around, but he makes the most of it. Gordon-Levitt plays what could be a boring role–the honest cop–with nuances and facets that makes John Blake interesting.

Christopher Nolan combines all of these elements in such a way that makes for a satisfying film. You willingly overlook its flaws because the trip Nolan is taking you on is so interesting. He sets an epic tone for the film while keeping it grounded in reality.

This supposedly is Nolan’s last time directing Batman, although he does leave an obvious opening to continue this story (albeit in a way that I doubt Warner Brothers would be interested it). But if this is Nolan’s last time at “Bat,” then he went out in a grand fashion. This film is a fitting end to an era.

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HISTORY OF THE COMIC BOOK FILM: Batman Begins Again

Posted on 18 May 2012 by William Gatevackes

In a multi-part series, Comic Book Film Editor William Gatevackes will be tracing the history of comic book movies from the earliest days of the film serials to today’s big blockbusters and beyond. Along with the history lesson, Bill will be covering some of the most prominent comic book films over the years and why they were so special. This time, the Bat-franchise goes back to the beginning with Batman Begins and to the Academy Awards with The Dark Knight.

After the debacle that was Batman & Robin, Warner Brothers was looking to start over at square one. Joel Schumacher thought that was an excellent idea, and said as much in a 1998 interview with Entertainment Weekly:

It’s unlikely the studio will stick with the shticky tone of Batman & Robin. But if it does, count Schumacher out. ”The only way I would do another Batfilm is if we went back to the basics,” says Schumacher. His ideal Batman movie would be based on Miller’s Batman: Year One, a prequel to The Dark Knight Returns, a no-frills account of Batman’s first year of crime fighting. ”It would be nice to take the bigger-is-better concept out of it,” he says, ”and just go pure.”

Schumacher had originally wanted to adapt Frank Miller’s legendary origin redo when he signed on for Batman Forever, but Warners’ executives, wanting a more kid accessible piece, ignored his wishes. They would ignore his wishes again. But this time, it would be with him doing a reboot based on Batman: Year One.  The studio thought that was a good idea, but were looking to Miller and director Darren Aronofsky to handle it.

While this seemed like a comic fans’ dream—Miller co-writing a script with a hot, up-and-coming director in Aronofsky—it was not meant to be. The version of Miller’s script I read had more in common with his Sin City comics than his 1987 storyline that the film was named after. This version found Bruce Wayne living on the streets, working as a mechanic at a garage in the bad part of town, directly across the street from a whorehouse. It was heavy on violence and adult themes, something that would have been perfect for the Martin Scorcese/Robert DeNiro pairing in the 1970s but ill fitting for a 2000 Warner Brothers studio looking for a PG-13 film to bring in the teens.

The studio, after briefly considering a Batman vs. Superman film, would turn to Christopher Nolan next. Nolan gained much acclaim for co-writing and directing the inventive indie drama, Memento. He was still a relatively unproven director—this film would only be his third big studio film he directed—but Warners made an excellent choice. The film Nolan made, Batman Begins, ranks up there with the best comic book films ever made.

Nolan paired with David S. Goyer, a Hollywood screenwriter with comic book writing experience, to create a film that while wasn’t  directly adapted from any one particular comic book, drew pieces from the overall Batman comic book history to create their narrative. The plot involves Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne’s training to become Gotham City’s protector, eventually saving it from destruction by his former mentor, Ra’s Al Ghul (Liam Neeson).

The entire cast of the film is the best cast any comic book film has had or likely will have. It was chock full of Oscar winners (Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, and, eventually, Bale), Oscar nominees (Tom Wilkinson, Ken Watanabe, Neeson) and quality actors like Cillian Murphy and Gary Oldman. Oldman, who would eventually get an Oscar nod too, was especially good as the film’s moral center, James Gordon. Playing against type as a decent, honest man, Oldman gives one of his best, if somewhat underrated,performances of his illustrious career.

It seemed like it would be almost impossible for Nolan to top what he did with Batman Begins, but he did it on The Dark Knight with the help of a spectacular addition to the cast—Heath Ledger.

Heath Ledger’s untimely death of an accidental prescription drug overdose has added a mythic quality to his performance as the Joker in The Dark Knight, that his deep immersion in the character scarred his psyche in a manner that led to his overdose (the drugs found in Ledger’s system are commonly used to treat anxiety and insomnia). It feels unseemly even to bring it up, but I do so to make the point that the performance would have been mythic even if Ledger survived.  His Joker is the defining Joker. And I am saying that while having the utmost respect for the work Jack Nicholson and Mark Hamill have done with the character.

The Joker is written in the movie as a force of nature, an agent of chaos. He exists to destroy the fabric of society. He is a cipher—his history is unknown and his motives are unclear.  This is not an easy role to play. It could be the perfect opportunity make it hammy or give a portrayal that was out of place with the film as a whole. Ledger gave a scary, realistic performance that was totally believable. All the posthumous accolades that Ledger received, including becoming the first star from a comic book movie to win an Oscar, are all well deserved.

However, all the accolades that Ledger receives takes away from a great film and the solid performances of the other new additions to the cast—Aaron Eckhart as the tragic figure of Harvey Dent/Two-Face, and Maggie Gyllenhaal replacing Katie Holmes as Rachel Dawes (a vast improvement, I must say).

The Dark Knight set yet another impossible task for the next sequel to try and top it. That task begins in a few weeks when The Dark Knight Rises is released.

This film promises to be the last in the series, introducing Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and Bane (Tom Hardy) into the mix. It looks like Ra’s Al Ghul will be returning as well, either in a flashback or, well, if you knew the comics, you’ll know of another way he could come back. The plot is timely too, supposedly tying into the disenfranchised poor versus the entitled rich that was the basis for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Where the franchise goes from here is anyone’s guess. While Nolan is staying on to produce the next phase of the Batman film life cycle, it looks like whatever comes next will be a fresh start.

Next time, we look at a time when everything Marvel touched cinematically did not turn to gold. In fact, movies were made that we never seen at all.

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A Second Opinion: THE AVENGERS

Posted on 04 May 2012 by William Gatevackes

Calling The Avengers the best comic book film of all time or the perfect comic book film is a bit unfair, especially with The Dark Knight on the table. But it is a great film that captures the spirit of the Marvel film franchise perfectly. Every thing that makes the Marvel films so great is exemplified here.

Rich gave a rundown of the plot in his review, and adding any more here would send us into spoiler territory. So I’ll just get into my review.

One of the reasons why Marvel comic book adaptations are so successful and most DC Comics adaptations are not is because the Marvel franchise is a sterling example of serving the comic book fan while presenting a quality film for the uninitiated.

The fan service begins immediately with the setting for the first scene, which is a research facility many comic book fans will be familiar. But it builds from there. This is not a spoiler, because the scene is references in the ads for the film, but there is the trademark hero-fighting-hero scene in the film. As any Marvel Zombie would tell you, more often than not, when two Marvel heroes met for the first time, a misunderstanding would cause them to beat the snot out of each other before realizing they are on the same side.

There is also another hero versus hero battle that is a classic chestnut from the comics. Many of the characters have connections with each other that mirror their connections in the books. And unlike other franchises that like to split up the team so they fight each bad guy individually (*koff koff* X-Men*koff koff*), in this one, the team actually acts as the team in the climax, all working together to bring the bad guys down.

But Joss Whedon never loses sight that if the film is going to be successful, it has to be accessible for the non-comic book fans.  In other words, it needs interesting characters and it needs to tell an interesting story.

I have to echo Rich’s kudos to Whedon for skill on getting the most out of an ensemble cast. Each character has a chance to shine and each has an arc through out the film. Granted, the time to shine for characters like Thor and Captain America, whose individual films are fresh in the memory, and Hawkeye, due to plot requirements, might seem less than the time Banner/Hulk or Black Widow get, no one appears to be a third wheel.

Sidebar on the Black Widow. Relegated to a supporting character in Iron Man 2, she is the breakout character here. People seem to forget how good an actress Scarlett Johansson can be, but she gives her all in the role.   I want a Black Widow film, directed by Whedon, now.

Johansson isn’t the only stellar performance in the film. All the actors do a great job in their performances, especially Mark Ruffalo. It’s not easy stepping in a role that has been made famous by three other actors in the last forty years, including an actor he controversally replaced, but Whedon’s decision to go with Ruffalo over Edward Norton makes sense. Ruffalo adds layers to Bruce Banner, nuances that can only be truly appreciated upon repeat viewings after you are informed of a third-act plot point about the character.

The only weak point of the cast, as Rich mentioned, is Cobie Smulders, who, quite frankly, appears to be a bit out of her depth. Her performance doesn’t take away from the film–her Maria Hill exists only to be an exposition engine, the character who asks questions necessary for another character  say something that advances the plot. In this function, her hesitant line readings can be written off as “characterization.” But until this realization takes hold, she seems to be just a bit off in her role.

It’s hard for me to say whether or not you need to see all the other Marvel films to truly enjoy this one because, well, I have seen all the other Marvel films. But it does appear that Whedon made the effort to provide enough about the characters so newcomers will not be totally lost. And the writer has peppered the script with plenty of his trademark zingers, all of which should generate a chuckle or a guffaw.

The Avengers is a great film, another in a long line from Marvel. I am curious to see where Marvel goes from here and if the quality stays the same. But you should go see this film. And if you do, stick around until the very end of the credits, because there are two bonus scenes.

 

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Feige: Ruffalo Whedon’s Choice, Button Scene Hints, And Other Tidbits From The CBR Interview

Posted on 17 April 2012 by William Gatevackes

You have to love Kevin Feige. He has provided enough talking points in a recent article on Comic Book Resources to fill fifteen blog posts. I’ll try my best to squeeze them all into this one.

The comments come from a one-on-one interview with CBR News’ Josie Campbell as part of the promotional blitz leading up to May 4th’s The Avengers release. That film was a main talking point, but Feige also touched on Marvel Studios’ past and future.

Let’s start with the now-expected post-credits button scene. Feige explained what that scene will contain:

There’s a reveal at the end — the notion that Loki has made an arrangement with somebody, that somebody has provided these extremely deadly and creepy and cool aliens to fight alongside him and then to reveal who that somebody was, that’s all Joss and that was sort of the big payoff

So, who could the the big baddie of the button scene be? This modus operandi sort of fits Thanos, the cosmic Marvel Comics bad guy that has been long rumored to be included in the film. However, the fact that Joss Whedon appears to be the one who came up with the bad guy could lend credence to the rumor that the villain would be Ord from Whedon’s run on the Astonishing X-Men comic book. Personally, I think it will be the former rather than the latter, if only because Thanos would have more of a wow factor for the comic book fans in the audience.

Feige also touches on the casting of Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner. If you recall, the recasting of the character caused a bit of controversy back in July of 2010 as Edward Norton was removed from the role, which cause a flurry of statements from Marvel, Norton’s agent, and Norton himself over the brouhaha, before it was announced that Ruffalo signed on. Well, if Norton’s fans were looking for a black hat in all of this, Feige gave them one–Joss Whedon.

There had been discussion as to where to take that character and where to take the part and Joss had some ideas; he came to us and said, ‘I’d like to think about another actor,’ and we said, ‘Well, much of what we like about ‘The Avengers’ is we’re taking all the actors we had before and putting them together again, so we said it depends on who you’re thinking of — if you’re thinking of A, B or C maybe not, if you’re thinking of Mark Ruffalo we’d be open to a conversation. And he goes, ‘Holy shit!’ and takes a list out of his pocket, and at the top of his list was Mark Ruffalo! We had said that because Mark had come very, very close to playing Banner in ‘The Incredible Hulk,’ which Joss had no idea, we never talked about it before. It was one of those moments when you’re so deeply on the same page without even realizing it.”

It’s pretty clear from this quote that jettisoning Norton was Whedon’s idea. Feige doesn’t give a reason, but presents Marvel Studios as being okay with the decision as long as Whedon didn’t go too far off the reservation. It also goes to show how popular Mark Ruffalo is within this realm of Hollywood.

Feige also gave us a little insight into the creative process of how the studios worked with Whedon to keep The Avengers in line with the rest of the Marvel films:

We told him what characters we wanted, we told him how we wanted S.H.I.E.L.D. to be sort of the umbrella organization that tied it all together, we wanted the Helicarrier and we wanted Loki to be the bad guy and sort of that final, final battle in New York. All of the specifics, all of the dialogue, all of the humor and the emotional states of the characters and the interconnected way the characters relate to each other is from the books, from the other movies and from Joss.

For something completely unrelated yet something that caught my eye was Feige’s comment on the differences between the Marvel film adaptations and the DC film adaptations:

I haven’t seen ‘Dark Knight Rises.’ [Christopher] Nolan’s tone is very specific and is pretty awesome and we’re very different. I think that while we have, particularly in ‘Avengers,’ very serious moments and [it] is as dark and serious as the moments in any of our films, there’s a sense of humor that goes along with it that Joss is an expert at and that we believe very strongly that Jon Favreau really helped define in the ‘Iron Man’ films, that allows, we believe, the audience to get in even deeper into the story. There’s a lot of crazy stuff going on in our movies and we want people to believe in them and we want people to relate to them. When they’re laughing, when they’re cheering, you can suddenly hit them with something else — you open up through humor and that tone, that fine line between the epic, the bombastic, the moving and the humor is to me that favorite part of stringing all these movies together.

I find this to be either a savvy piece of marketing or a subtle dig at the DC film slate (or possibly both). This comes on the news reports that the new Superman film, Man of Steel, will be “edgier,” confirming that Warner Brothers’ film group President Jeff Robinov wasn’t joking when he said again and again that DC films would be better if they were as dark and gritty as The Dark Knight.  I always thought that Robinov’s belief that every DC character would benefit from a darker tone was asinine at worst and ill conceived at best, but with this statement, Feige is saying two things. One, we have no problem getting people to see lighter superhero fare and, two, if you want an alternative to the darker, less kid-friendly DC films, bring them over here! Either way, it’s a genius statement.

Feige also hinted at the future of the Marvel film universe, stating that Iron Man 3 will “redefine” the franchise:

‘Iron Man 3′ being the next one up is a very different film than the others. I am a big fan of continuing to redefine what a Marvel movie is, what a comic book movie is; I think we did that with ‘Iron Man,’ we did that with ‘Thor,’ we did that with ‘Cap’ and Joss [Whedon] has helped us doing it now on ‘Avengers.’ Shane Black is helping us do it on ‘Iron Man 3.’

I get the feeling that many people consider Iron Man 2 to be a disappointment.  I don’t, so I really don’t think that it needs redefining. However, I do appreciate the fact that they are tweaking the concept in franchise instead of doing a reboot, which seems so common these days.

And, when asked which of the four most talked about forthcoming Marvel franchises–Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Runaways, and Inhumans–would be the next to come down the pipeline, Feige offered this cryptic statement.

Two of those four are much closer than people realize, and we’ll be talking about them in the coming months!

Go ahead. Place you bets as to what two he’s talking about. I’ll dare ya. You can pick just about any two from the list and have justification in guessing those particular films. tell you what, here’s my choices–Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy. My reasoning: if they will be talking about them in the coming months, they will probably have something to do with The Avengers. Ant-Man is an Avenger in the comic books, and of the four it seems like the one furthest along in the production cycle. And if you are going to introduce a cosmic, intergalactic villain in the final frames of your big summer blockbuster, wouldn’t you want audiences to see them again in the near future? And what better concept to showcase a threat to the Galaxy than in a film centered on the Guardians of the Galaxy?

There’s a lot of other good stuff in the interview. I recommend everyone to check it out.

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AVENGERS Tracking For $150 Million Opening To Rival DARK KNIGHT

Posted on 16 April 2012 by William Gatevackes

As anybody with a passing interest in films could tell you, box office grosses are king when it comes to films. They become more important every year, getting to the point that studios count their money before the first reel is unspooled. Hits are deemed hits and flops called flops based solely on prerelease tracking. And what this prerelease tracking is telling us about The Avengers is that it should have the biggest opening of the year, and the biggest opening for a comic book film since 2008.

The Hollywood Reporter states that the Joss Whedon directed film is in line for a opening weekend in excess of $150 million, and that it is tracking better than The Hunger Games did this year (the film opened at $152.5 million),  and as good if not better than 2008′s The Dark Knight, which opened at a then-record $158.4 million weekend.

There are a number of questions to ask. One, is there any possibility of the film overtake Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2‘s  record $170 million opening weekend. Two, if it does break the record, how long will the film hold it? I’d say, not much farther than July 20, 2012, as that’s when the final installment of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy (and eagerly awaited sequel to The Dark Knight), The Dark Knight Rises, opens. Third, will it have the same kind of legs The Dark Knight had, as that film earned enough in its theatrical run ($533,345, 358) to garner a spot at #3 on the all-time grosses chart. I guess we’ll see.

 

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Review: Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance

Posted on 17 February 2012 by William Gatevackes

I am convinced that there could eventually be a great movie made out of the Ghost Rider character. I’d settle for even a good one. But for that to happen Nicolas Cage will have to let the project fall through his hammy hands.

I’ve had a while to think this this film, more than it really deserves, and I have decided that the film is better than the first film. But that isn’t much of a complement, because I could make a better Ghost Rider film than the first one using action figures and empty cereal boxes. But this new film isn’t any good.

And, yes, I said this new film and not this sequel, because this a soft reboot of the franchise. This film makes it clear that Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage)willingly signed the contract with the Devil (now named Roarke and played by Ciarán Hinds instead of being tricked into signing by Peter Fonda’s Mephistopheles) and Blaze wants the curse removed, a change from the last film’s ending, where Blaze rejected Mephistopheles’ offer of removing the curse in order to use the power for good.

The story, in a nutshell, is that the devil is after a young boy by the name of Danny in order to put his essence into. No, not in that way you pervs. Danny is his son. Satan/Roarke is going to leave his old, beat up body and possess his son’s youthful one, therefore combining the two main versions of how the Antichrist will be created. Johnny Blaze is offered a deal. If he tracks down the kid, keeps him safe and stops the Satanic takeover from happening, then the Ghost Rider curse will be removed.

The plot, well, the plot exists to serve the plot’s purpose. What do I mean? Okay, early in the film, Ghost Rider interrupts Roarke’s mercenaries just as they were about to kidnap Danny. Ghost Rider is taken out of commission by two shotgun blasts and a grenade explosions. Later, when Ghost Rider tracks the mercenaries down a quarry to get the kid back, he shrugs off two direct hits from missiles that the bad guys describe as “bunker busters.”  In other words, weapons that are about 500 times as powerful as a shotgun blast or a grenade. No explanation given why Ghost Rider got so resilient all of a sudden. Other than at that point of the film, Ghost Rider needed to free the kid from his captors.

There are tons of this kind of stuff in the film. The plot also introduces elements that work for the narrative but make little sense when you think of them. This wouldn’t be a problem if the film moved fast enough so you didn’t have time to think about these plot points. But the film drags at points.  I mean, let’s start with the main plot point. It is stressed in the film numerous times about how Ghost Rider is a “spirit of vengeance” and cannot be controlled. He’s a weapon against sin and if you have done anything at all you need to repent for (the film offers illegal downloads as a low-end sin option), then Ghost Rider will attack you. Is this the ideal being you want to send to protect the son of Satan and his mother, a woman who made the beast with two backs with the Great Beast? The movie should have been over as soon as Ghost Rider found them. Two repentance stares and he’d be on his merry way.

The film doesn’t really build its characters or the relations between them either. We get shortcuts instead of character building scenes. “Here, here are two characters with daddy issues, you provide the rest.” “Here’s a scene with a child in danger while his mother watches, you fill in the blanks.” That might have worked if you even remotely cared for the characters or knew anything about them. This film doesn’t give you that much to work with.

And, not to belabor the script problems, but there is serious issues with tone. Most of the film is dead serious, end-of-the-world stuff, but every so often, a scene of out and out camp pops up and smacks you in the face.  There is room for humor in the concept, but not in the way presented here.

Worst of all, the story is credited to David S. Goyer and he is one of three men who wrote the screenplay. Yes, this was done by the one of the people responsible for Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and the Blade franchise. What happened?

The direction by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor shows signs of inspiration. There are a couple of nice touches provided by the directors but often it is overshadowed by their Matrix-lite visual style.

But their approach to directing their actors was probably spraying condiments all over each of their sets and telling their cast to have at it. Because the entire cast in the business of chewing scenery, and cousin, business is boomin’.

Over-the-top acting is the rule of the day. Some of the cast do well hamming it up. Hinds adds a kind of Shakespearean pompousness to his role as Roarke. And Idris Elba (apparently in a race with Chris Evans and Ryan Reynolds for the most comic book films on his resume) seems like he is having fun chewing scenery as the drunken, French, machine gun-wielding priest Moreau. But then you get actors like Johnny Whitaker, who plays the head mercenary Carrigan. Whitaker has an uncanny resemblance to a young Kurt Russell, and his performance here calls to mind Russell’s performance in Overboard, only without Russell’s subtlety and tact. He’s aiming to be the wise-ass, quotable bad guy. He only comes off as smarmy and over-baked.

As I was watching these actors overact, I thought that this was deliberate. I thought this was designed to make Nicolas Cage, never the most restrained of actors, seem normal. That was until I saw the scene where Cage as Johnny Blaze goes to interrogate that gangster to find out Carrigan’s location. I think we can now take down that bee scene from The Wicker Man off of You Tube, because we have a new example of the worst acting Nic Cage has ever done. Cage is so over the top in the scene that it defies belief. It is truly horrible acting. It makes his awful performance in the rest of film seem Oscar worthy. And his performance throughout the rest of the film is completely rotten.  

I can go on and on telling you how bad this film is. But I’m not going to. It is a boring, poorly acted, poorly written piece of tripe. This is not a film for seeing. It is a film for laying down and avoiding.

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Michael Uslan Talks Superhero Movies to the Wharton School: “Hollywood Doesn’t Get It.”

Posted on 06 July 2011 by William Gatevackes

Michael Uslan has been a producer for almost thirty years, and nearly all of his projects have been comic book related. He has been producer or executive producer on comic book properties such as Swamp Thing and its sequel, Return of the Swamp Thing, the Fish Police television series, Constantine, The Spirit, and, most notably, just about everything Batman related from Tim Burton’s 1989 offering on.

Uslan is making the rounds promoting his forthcoming autobiography, The Boy Who Loved Batman, set to arrive in bookstores from Chronicle Books on August 10, 2011. One of the interviews he gave recently was with Knowledge@Wharton through The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The interview was wide-ranging, dealing with Uslan’s childhood to his work for comic creator rights to his comic writing experiences. But what he has to say about the way Hollywood views the comic book film is what caught my eye and deserves a little bit of analysis.

The tone of the interview is set with a question about Uslan acquiring the rights to Batman in the 1970s:

Knowledge@Wharton: In 1979, you acquired an option on the movie rights to Batman. You’ve never disclosed the price you paid.

Uslan: It’s irrelevant. In 1979 dollars, it was huge.

Actually, it was relevant because, as the interviewer reminds Uslan, his autobiography goes into how he had to sell his comic book collection to afford law school.

Later the interviewer asks about the first Batman franchise:

Knowledge@Wharton: Some of the middle Batman films were less successful, both critically and commercially. Was there a point when you became aware that the series was getting off track?

Uslan: Let’s talk generally in the movie industry rather than specifically. Generally, years ago you were dealing with simply movie studios. Today, the bulk of those studios are worldwide conglomerates that have their hands in many different businesses. Sometimes, unfortunately, people lose track of what is important. As a result, at some points in time, the tail begins to wag the dog. [These conglomerates] become way too focused on merchandizing, toys and Happy Meals, and begin to impose directives that movies should have three heroes, three villains, and each one should have two vehicles and two costume changes. Then the danger you run into — which I have seen over and over again — [is that the movies become] products that closely resemble a two-hour infomercial for toys, rather than a great piece of film that’s character-driven and plot-intensive. That’s sad.

There is another trap in the movie and TV industry, whereby people who do not understand the comics and who don’t have the same respect for the integrity of the character or its creators, are willing to ignore 20, 40, 60 years of history and mythology of a character, and make changes for nothing more than the sake of change or, on some occasions, for [the sake of] someone putting their own ego stamp on it so they can claim it as theirs. I have found that never works.

If, however, a company such as the current management at Warner Brothers, for one example, finds a great filmmaker with a passion for a character and a vision for a character, and gives that filmmaker everything he or she needs to execute that vision, that’s when you get great pieces of cinema like Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises. For example, when audiences walk out of The Dark Knight, they no longer are limited to merely saying, “That was a great comic book film.” They can now say, “That was a great film.”

It’s interesting the way Uslan answers the question by appearing to side step the question. But savvy Bat-fans know that it was when Joel Schumacher took over the Bat-franchise with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin that the quality went down hill. Those films also corresponded with the addition of Robin and Batgirl to help Batman out, the group facing no less than four villains in each of the films (if you count Debi Mazar’s Spice and Drew Barrymore’s Sugar, henchwomen to Tommy Lee Jones’ Two-Face as full-fledged villains), and two blatantly obvious “Let’s-provide-the-film’s-tie-in-action-figures-with-another-Batman-and-Robin-to-buy” “Arctic costumes in Batman and Robin. It’s not hard to connect the dots to see that it appears that Uslan is laying the failure of the first franchise at the hands of the Warner Brothers marketing department.

However, it is a bit ironic to read Uslan’s statements in that second paragraph, considering that Uslan produced The Spirit, a film where Frank Miller seemed all too willing to ignore 60 years of history and mythology of Will Eisner’s character, and make changes for what appears to be nothing more than the sake of change or for the sake of Miller putting his own ego stamp on it so they can claim it as his. Same can be said for another film Uslan executive produced, Catwoman, and that films director, Pitof. And these are two of the worst comic book films ever made for that very reason.

Uslan then spoke on the mindset of Hollywood executives concerning comic book films:

Knowledge@Wharton: What’s your view on how Hollywood interprets comic book superheroes?

Uslan: I’m chagrined that in a lot of places, they still don’t get it. They’re still making changes just for the sake of change in comic book superheroes that are being brought to TV and movies.

I sat through a meeting in Hollywood where a production executive, who was approximately 26 or 27 years old, said to me and a very famous director, “The lesson of The Dark Knight is that all comic book movies must be contemporary, dark, gritty and violent.” I looked at the director and he looked at me, and we said, “Excuse me, what?” “Yeah, period pieces don’t sell,” [the executive replied.] I said, “Is that something that you have facts and figures to back up? Or is that just something you heard in the hallways that you’re regurgitating?” He said, “Well, everyone knows it.” I said, “Like Titanic?” And he said, “Well, that’s different. That’s history.” I said, “Like Indiana Jones?” He replied, “Well, that’s different.”

I said, “No, the lesson of The Dark Knight is if you respect the integrity of the character and have a filmmaker who’s passionate about it, with a vision for it, who can execute it, then that’s what you do. Otherwise, you guys will be on a kick to do The Dark Ant-Man, The Dark Flash and Casper The Unfriendly Ghost. And all you will do is continue to violate the characters.”

I have no idea who this unnamed production executive is, but odds are that he works or worked at Warner Brothers, because that essentially echoes the sentiment/philosophy that Warner Brothers Pictures Group President Jeff Robinov put forth in a August 22, 2008 interview with the Wall Street Journal  and that we mocked here not long after. The WSJ interview took place after the very dark and very gritty The Dark Knight made oodles of cash for the studio.

On something quasi-unrelated, Uslan did have interesting things to say about the 3-D movie craze and if The Dark Knight Rises will play into it:

Knowledge@Wharton: Will The Dark Knight Rises be in 3-D or is Nolan doing it in 2-D?

Uslan: He and [cinematographer] Wally Pfister have said they would not shoot in 3-D. I totally believe he’s right. He’s going for something that feels very real…. I think 3-D doesn’t behoove that effort.

Knowledge@Wharton: Some industry observers have wondered whether 3-D is overhyped.

Uslan: One of the great experiences I had as a member of an audience was going on opening night to see the restored print of Lawrenceof Arabia at the Cinerama Dome [movie theater in Hollywood]. I couldn’t add to that. It’s a learning curve. And it’s not just about the technology developing; it’s about the techniques developing.

My biggest objection at the moment is to what Hollywood is always really, really good at — which is killing the golden goose by taking movies not shot in 3-D and playing with them in post production [to generate a 3-D image] to try to salvage bad pictures, or to come up with a flimsy excuse to charge $12, $15, or $18. When you inundate the public with a lot of bad movies in 3-D, just as fast as you turned them onto it, you will turn them off of it.

Personally, I can’t argue with that.

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