Monday, July 23, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises Review

The Dark Knight Rises is one of the most depressing and haunting films I've ever seen. It shows us a city on the verge of total destruction without any hope. As the minutes tick toward the finale we, the audience, can only assume the worst is yet to come. The film is coated with layer upon layer of despair that weighs down everyone, pulling them into a black abyss. It's also a fitting end to Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. Despite the plot’s almost unpalatable darkness Nolan creates a film that is intensely gripping and tragically moving.

The film takes place 8 years following the death of Harvey Dent at the end of The Dark Knight. The Batman is no more and Bruce Wayne has become a Howard Hughes-like recluse. Gotham’s crime is at an all-time low and the city appears to be on the mend. Then terrorist leader Bane shows up and soon the Batman forced out of retirement. Nolan’s previous Batman films have been dark and brooding, but TDKR is excessively so. Bane’s physical and psychological battle against Batman is painful to watch and his terrorist attacks are equally unnerving. TDKR is nearly relentless in its assault on the audience making the final showdown between Bane and Batman surprisingly anticlimactic. Thankfully Nolan makes up for this with his devotion to the previous films.

While most film series simply place the existing characters in new narratives, Nolan uses TDKR to bring the story full circle. There are numerous references and flashbacks to the previous films and a continuing expansion of the trilogy’s socio-political themes. The end result is a trilogy that feels more like one cohesive film rather than three separate ones.

Although TDKR is a great film and a strong conclusion to Nolan’s trilogy it is not perfect, nor is it as strong as The Dark Knight. The main issue is the overabundance of new characters that bog the first half of the film down; the pacing of the film is tight, but the plot is a little too complex. There are also a few shortcuts in the script that prove to be a little too convenient (how did Bruce Wayne get back to Gotham city?). Nolan also tries to throw us a red herring that long-time comic fans probably won’t fall for.

Critiques aside TDKR is an excellent film. It perfectly concludes Nolan’s Batman trilogy even if it does not live up to the superb The Dark Knight. As difficult as it might be for young viewers and the squeamish, fans of the previous films will no doubt enjoy it. Even if it is an exercise in brooding pain and suffering. 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars      

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Prometheus Review

Ridley Scott’s Prometheus is one of the finest sci-fi/horror films I have every seen. It hooked me from the opening moments and didn’t let go until the end credits rolled. This is because Prometheus has just about everything going for it. The visuals are spectacular (no surprise coming from Scott), the acting is superb, and the writing… well things get a little shaky there, but overall the film is excellent.
Prometheus is the long awaited Alien prequel that answers some of that film’s biggest questions while raising some frustrating new ones. The story follows a group of scientists on a deep space expedition to find the origin of mankind. Their journey leads them to LV-223, a seemingly lifeless alien planet that holds some deadly revelations for the crew. What happens next isn’t much of a surprise, but Prometheus is able to keep things interesting thanks to the combination of gorgeous visuals and terrific acting.
For Prometheus Ridley Scott returns to the “cyberpunk” style he created on film with Alien and Blade Runner, creating a universe that is both sleek and dark. The interior scenes of the spaceship are bright and claustrophobic, while the alien world offers enormous vistas with underlying ominous tones. The world of Prometheus is both beautiful and haunting, brought to life by the incredible acting of Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, and Michael Fassbender.
Rapace plays Elizabeth Shaw, a scientist who argues for creationism and parallels Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley character from the Alien films. Unlike Ripley, however, Shaw is openly vulnerable giving her added emotional depth. Shaw’s arc from weak to badass helps propel the narrative and makes her a compelling hero. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Charlize Theron as Meredith Vickers, a Weyland Corp. employee who isolates herself from the others and is all too willing to light someone up with a flamethrower should the need arise (which it does). Theron does an excellent job of making the unapproachable Vickers cold enough without being off putting.
Then there is Michael Fassbender as the ship’s android David. Fassbender, at the very least, deserves to be nominated for an Academy Award for his acting in this film. Despite his character having no emotions or soul the fact that Fassbender is able to create a character with such complexity and depth is amazing. David is cold and ruthless with an ironically genteel fa├žade masking his ulterior motives. He commands every scene he is in and quickly becomes the most interesting character aboard the ship. While some of the characters and dialogue are of questionable quality, David constantly provides memorable scenes and chilling exchanges with his crewmates the entire course of the film.
Unfortunately Prometheus is not a perfect film and falls just short due to the film’s script. With the exceptions of Shaw, Vickers, and David most of the characters are one-dimensional and the dialogue is often only so-so in terms of quality. The script also leaves several questions frustratingly unanswered (no surprise considering it was co-written by Lost alum Damon Lindelof). The whole point of the film is that not every question can be answered, but some of these questions relate to the canon of the Alien franchise making things a bit murky for fans of the original film and the ending is dangerously close to being a cliffhanger.
All-in-all Prometheus is a great film with superb acting and great cinematography that make up for the script's shortcomings. Fans of the Alien films will get a lot of mileage out of the film and its many references to the series, while newcomers will still be able to enjoy the great standalone plot. With Prometheus, Ridley Scott proves that he is a master at the sci-fi/horror genre, understanding it better than most and creating some of the most memorable and squirm-inducing scenes ever put on the screen. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars