Friday, 27 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises – A John Blake Story (SPOILERS)

My favourite Batman story arc from the comics is Frank Miller's seminal origin story, ‘Batman: Year One’. Along with Miller's other Batman books in the late 80s and Alan Moore's ‘Watchmen’, Year One changed superhero comics for ever. Year One was tonally darker than pretty much anything that had come before; focusing on gritty realism rather than shark repellent batspray and ‘biff’s and ‘pow’s. Without Year One, there is no Batman Begins, and, in turn, no The Dark Knight Rises.

The thing is . . . Year One isn't really a Batman story at all. Even though it chronicles Bruce Wayne donning the cape and cowl, at its heart it is a story of a good cop in a bad city; a certain Jim Gordon. In Year One, a great partnership is born; one between Batman and Jim Gordon.

This features quite prominently in Nolan's trilogy, especially in Batman Begins. But, while it covers the main beats of their relationship, I never felt it was explored enough. However, in The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan kind of made up for any Jim Gordon shaped holes left in the previous films with someone new entirely; rookie cop, John Blake (played superbly by Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

In The Dark Knight Rises, John Blake gets a story arc prominent enough to serve as the Batman-working-together-with-a-good-cop element for the entire trilogy. They have a similar background (both orphans etc.), they both want to do the best for their city, they both think that the GCPD aren't doing their job well enough, and, in their own ways, they take matters into their own hands. Jim Gordon sees this as well and recruits Blake to join his underground squad trying to save the city.

The trailers never really mentioned Blake and neither did any of the other promotional material, but we get a real focus on the character; the similarities between him and Bruce/Batman, the mutual understanding (the ‘orphan smile’ in particular) and the fact that he basically becomes Batman's man on the ground (even more so than Gordon). Batman obviously sees something in Blake, as confirmed by the glorious final scene in the movie. This was hinted at when Batman suggested that Blake wear a mask to protect those he loves, and, as early as last year, rumours were flying around suggesting that Blake was going to become Robin or Nightwing or any other side-kick.

One of the many predictions I made about the story was that Blake was going to become Nightwing, as Nolan had previously said he would never feature Robin in one of his films. And Nolan was telling the truth; he never used Robin. But he did use John Blake, a man willing to fight for his city without the protection of a mask.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Dark Knight Rises – Hidden Preconceptions

So there we have it; The Dark Knight Rises.

The epic conclusion to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. The finale of the story he wanted to tell.

And “what did you think?”, I hear him ask.

Well . . . .

“You liked it though . . . didn't you?”

Yeah, but . . . . .

That was my initial reaction to the film. And now I'm going to try and elaborate.

To do that I need to go way back to autumn 2008 . . . .

The Dark Knight has just been released to critical acclaim and commercial dominance; everybody's raving about it and, most importantly, it's raking in the cash. So, unsurprisingly, Warner Brothers want more: Nolan's not so sure, but he's willing to be persuaded.

That job goes to David S. Goyer, his co-writer for both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The two men are sitting in an L.A. diner, discussing the future of the franchise. Out of the blue one of them has a brainwave. They have an ending for the third instalment, and the entire trilogy; one image that will conclude everything that has come before.

Not a beginning, not a middle, not a villain, not a title, not even one word of dialogue. An image.

Now, I've read this story many times, most recently in an issue of Empire magazine. So I've had more than enough time to mull things over, to create my own ending to someone else's franchise. That story, along with internet rumours and Nolan saying that the end is the most important part, had left me with only one possible outcome; Batman dies.

I was sure of it. It seemed to fit with the Nolan universe, a world of pain and suffering . . . but also light. I decided that in a monumental act of heroism, Batman would sacrifice himself for the greater good, for the people of Gotham.

So, Mr Nolan, how come you didn't listen to me? How come you didn't read my mind and end the film exactly how I'd envisioned?

Wait, what was that?

You didn't know that I thought Batman should die?

You went and made a Batman movie without consulting me?

How very dare you!

I’d tried to go in with no preconceptions; hell, I thought I was going in with an open-mind. I was wrong.

However long ago it was that I had decided on the death of the Caped Crusader, those thoughts and ideas had had plenty of time to imbed themselves onto my psyche. At first subconsciously and then, as time went on, very much consciously, I knew that was what I wanted to happen. That would be the finale; a glorious fanfare of thanks and appreciation to a legend. The people of Gotham would accept that Batman was right all along, that they should have never doubted him, that he was trying to help.

Instead, we got something else. It doesn't matter how close it was to my ending, it wasn't, and will never be, what I had hoped for.

But who is to blame for that?

Me, that's who. Me . . . and the internet.

Now, I love the internet as much as the next person, but it has changed the world as we know it, and not necessarily for the better. It gave me the kindling to create the finale I wanted. All it needed was a spark; a spark that I gleefully supplied.

The fire was lit.
The fire rose.
And then the fire died, leaving behind a pile of ashes for me to craft whatever I saw fit.

So . . . . .

Dear Internet,

When rumour is ashes, you have my permission to die.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Attack the Block – Un Film de Cornballs

‘Attack the Block’, the debut film from comedian-turned-filmmaker, Joe Cornish, is a refreshing 21st century sci-fi. In a world of Transformers and Battleship, where over-long, ball-swinging smash ‘em ups have become the sci-fi norm; Attack the Block offers something new, and harks back to a time when sci-fi was darker and more grown-up, but less serious and more fun at the same time.

The film tells of a group of youths who run into a spot of bother when a poorly planned mugging is interrupted by an unexpected arrival. The problem escalates, and the group soon find themselves fighting for their lives on a night none of them will forget.

For a first-timer, Cornish handles the direction very well; with some interesting shot choices and well-constructed action sequences. Also, even if the symbolism is not particularly subtle, it is well thought through and is at least trying to do something interesting (the tower-block as a spaceship being the highlight).

Unfortunately, the film does suffer on an emotional level due to the fact that it's hard to like some of the main characters. Obviously, some come out better than others, but that opening sequence lingers in the mind and, as a result, I never felt as attached to the characters as, I think, the director wanted me to be. 

Adding to the sense of alienation (accidental pun), is the dialogue. The British, street slang used by the main characters may be difficult to understand (especially for any overseas viewers), and I often found it grating and forced. I know that Cornish was going for a realistic feel, and at times it works as intended, but too often if strays into the realm of forced realism, which is off-putting. It also makes it harder to come up with killer dialogue if 90% of your characters are speaking like that; “Right now, I feel like goin’ home, lockin’ my door and playin’ Fifa” is not exactly world class dialogue and neither is it in the slightest bit witty. For a British bloke in his 40s, Cornish does a decent job of replicating the ‘street’ lingo, but some of the youth culture references stick out like a sore thumb, rather than feeling natural.

Underneath its alien-smashing facade, Attack the Block is a not-so-subtle social commentary; with the primary point being that society unfairly stereotypes youths (like those seen in the film) as thugs and bullies. I am fine with Cornish taking the opportunity to say these things, but it's often forced down your throat and, in the end, I don't think it's entirely successful.

However, Cornish does pull off some truly memorable moments; the silhouette of Moses in the doorway is straight out of a grindhouse martial arts movie, and the following chase sequence is genuinely thrilling.

So, while Attack the Block is far from perfect, it's a blast to watch and I hope that Joe Cornish is given a second chance to show what he can really do. It's just a shame the film is nowhere near scary or funny enough.