Review: Man of Steel (2013)

Zack Snyder’s mega-hyped Superman reboot arrives burdened with great expectations. Not only must it win over audiences disappointed by 2006’s Superman Returns; not only does it have to measure up to its billion dollar stablemate, the Dark Knight (as interpreted by Christopher Nolan, here wearing his producer’s hat); but it has also been tasked with establishing a cinematic universe comparable to its Marvel competition, allowing other characters and franchises to launch from its muscular shoulders and finally giving DC a chance to catch up. Not surprisingly, Man of Steel doesn’t quite succeed in delivering the knockout punch that Warner Bros might have wished for, but there’s still plenty to enjoy here, and, crucially, further sequels are an attractive prospect.

Full review: Man of Steel | Cinema Review | Film @ The Digital Fix


Who’s afraid of the big black bat?

Here’s an article I wrote for TAKE ONE about how Batman has been re-interpreted down the years, and asks if it’s time to move on from Christopher Nolan’s take on the character:

If Christopher Nolan’s phenomenally successful adaptations of DC’s enduring caped crusader have taught us anything, it’s that some characters belong in the shadows. Cinema audiences just can’t seem to get enough of Batman, the darkest of superheroes. In the two film franchises he has starred in so far – Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ trilogy, which concludes this month, and the original series begun by Tim Burton back in 1989 – he’s been at his most popular, and best, when literally and figuratively shrouded in darkness. Indeed, so successful was he that for years it seemed as though the only comic-book adaptations that could generate success at the box office were those whose central characters were either as morally conflicted or as psychologically scarred as Bruce Wayne. Yet the difference between these two approaches is vast: night and day, you might say. There are different flavours of dark, and, as successful as the current Batman series has been, a change of direction might now be in order.

Full article: Who’s afraid of the big black bat? | TAKE ONE

Review: The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The Dark Knight Rises posterChristopher Nolan winds up his Dark Knight trilogy with this highly entertaining action epic, told with energy and spectacle. Though it may fall some way short of its predecessors (Batman Begins and The Dark Knight), it is nevertheless a satisfying ending to Nolan’s reinvention of the Batman franchise, rescuing it from the scrapheap after 1997’s Batman & Robin and rebuilding it in to what will surely be remembered as a high-water mark for the superhero genre.

The ambition and intelligence with which the director (along with his screenwriter brother Jonathan and David S. Goyer) infuses the caped crusader is a truly remarkable achievement. Raising a number of political and ethical issues within what is ostensibly a comic-book movie (including references to failed states and the Occupy Wall Street movement) and fashioning them in to a cohesive and genuinely exciting whole is little short of a miracle. The high calibre cast add yet further depth: regulars Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman are all reliable as ever, while among the newcomers Anne Hathaway makes for a suitably slinky Catwoman (never called by that name) and Tom Hardy is formidable as Bane; though unsurprisingly no-one is able to match the late Heath Ledger’s electric turn as the Joker.

Despite all this however, TDKR is for me the least personal of Nolan’s film to date, and the least effective. There is a niggling sense throughout that the director just wasn’t as engaged here as he was with the previous entries. Perhaps he had said all he wanted to say about Batman with the first two films, but felt compelled to repay the trust shown in him by the studio.

It’s the small things that give it away. The flow of the film is choppier here than before: what you might expect to be crucial turning points in the storyline are given short shrift, while the uncharacteristically contrived plot drags a little in the middle, and stretches credibility a little too far at times – something that’s not been a problem in the past. The sound mix is also problematic; dialogue (usually Bane’s, but sometimes Bruce Wayne’s too) is often inaudible or drowned out by Hans Zimmer’s score.

I wasn’t entirely convinced by the characterisation of Bruce Wayne here either – his becoming a recluse for so many years doesn’t seem consistent with the man he became over the course of the earlier films.

Yet Nolan is clearly a consummate professional and doesn’t do films by halves. The opening hijack sequence is more than worthy of a Bond film (something that Nolan would surely excel at), while the breathless final act brings the film together in a much smoother and genuinely exciting way, with the closing scenes especially crowd-pleasing.

In a way, you might call this Christopher Nolan’s own The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: a more expansive (and more expensive) treatment of themes explored in the preceding entries. Though the analogy doesn’t withstand scrutiny because if Batman were the Good and Bane the Bad, then Catwoman would have to be Ugly – something that is self-evidently not the case.

So where next? A reboot is probably in order now – seeing a Batman film that isn’t embarrassed to call Catwoman by her name would be refreshing – but to be honest, I would love to see where a direct sequel takes the series. Plenty of tantalising possibilities…

[xrr rating=4/5]