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|By AARON SKETCHLEY (aaronsketch@HOTdelete_thisMAIL.com)||Ver 1.6 2021.08.17|
Having been made between the first and second seasons of the 60's Batman TV series, this film not only uses all of the same actors (save one), it recaptures the zany, campy energy of that series. The movie has a similar modest budget, and feels more like an extended episode than a feature film. One of the film's strengths is that everything was done on camera while it was being filmed. Even though we get some kooky things like Batman punching an obviously rubber shark that's gnawing on his leg while he's dangling from a helicopter, we also get wonderful shots such as Batman and Robin sliding down a pole on a pier, climbing into the Batboat, accelerating away into the ocean, and the helicopter that's been shooting it turning and racing along to keep pace. Wow.
The film has a wonderful first half that skips along at a brisk pace. The last half of the film, however, tends to overstay its welcome, and could've been tighter—the 60's Batman series definitely worked best in the shorter 30 minute episode format. Also, due to its target audience, the film frustratingly never lets Bruce Wayne do anything more than waltz with Kitka (the Catwoman in disguise), and that's despite snuggling in the back seat of a carriage and being invited up to her apartment so she can "get into something more comfortable"! Nevertheless, the highlight of the film is the intense, manic energy exhibited by Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, and Lee Meriwether, who respectively play The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler, and The Catwoman. Their energy not only effectively counterbalances with the composed demeanour of the movie's heroes, coupled with the cockeyed camera angles, it also captures the youthful energy of the 60's.
The 1989 Batman film is an origin story of sorts—while it sidesteps the transformation from traumatized boy to masked vigilante, it delivers us a fully formed hero just starting out on his journey. The first two-thirds of the film are quite interesting and fun, as it gives us a new and different take on the Batman mythos and the people behind it. However, despite dir. Tim Burton's usual strength of delivering us well developed characters, the Bruce Wayne/Batman character is oddly underdeveloped. Nevertheless, it adds an air of mystery to the film, with Bruce Wayne being presented rather enigmatically.
The highlight of the film is Jack Nicholson's Joker. He fully commits to the role, and gives a dazzling, over the top performance. That he is just as artistic as he is a homicidal maniac is a refreshing twist on the character. In some ways, his grim-dark "art" is the most Tim Burton-esque parts of the film. However, the drawback of the film is the era that it was made in. Kim Basinger is a wonderful actress, but her character Vicki Vale is written as the standard damsel in distress who can only scream before being rescued. Which is a disappointment, as Vale is presented as someone willing to take extreme risks in war-zones to get the pictures that tell the real story. One would think that Vale would be more adept at doing something to get herself out of the sticky situations she finds herself in the film. The other odd choice in the movie is the music by Prince. It's hard to say if they add or detract to the film, but coupled with everything else—such as the dark, overwhelming depiction of Gotham City—it definitely gives the movie a very unique flavour.
Batman Returns is much more thought provoking than its predecessor. Of all the villains, Max Shreck is the most undeniably blackhearted. Chillingly, he is also the one most likely to exist in reality. Catwoman and Penguin both have their dark streaks, but are presented much more sympathetically, as victims of tragedy and with some semblance of honour and loyalty to their respective groups. Sadly, Bruce Wayne/Batman is underused, and doesn't get much development, if any at all.
The highlight of the film is Tim Burton's vision. Unlike the preceding Batman, this film feels like a Burton film. The nightmarish abandoned zoo and "Hallowe'en at Christmas time" are especially Burton-esque. On the other hand, Penguin's army of missile equipped (and mind controlled?) penguins proves to be a bit too unbelievable, and ends up turning a serious story on its head in the final act. It's a shame, as the well-told story is an excellent satire on evil moguls manipulating the system to elect politicians helpful to their exploitative schemes. In some ways, Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman—who steals every scene she appears in—comes out as the true hero of the film, in a Dirty Harry kind of way.
Schumacher's Batman Forever is an abrupt change from Burton's films. While it is infinitely more colourful and a lot less grim-dark, it has also lost a lot of the subtext present in the earlier films. In short: what you see is what you get, and the film doesn't seem to be alluding to anything, or be about anything more than what's on screen at any given time. The film also tries to revive the campiness of the 60's Batman TV series and movie, but it doesn't work with the much more serious presentation, and especially all the guns used by Two-face and his minions. In some ways Jim Carrey manages to pull it off, however there are many scenes where he goes too far.
Perhaps the most off-putting aspect of the film is the inexplicable tilted camera angles. They seem to be used for stylistic effect or to cram more visuals onto the screen, but they come across as distracting, and make one wonder if this entire Batman universe has gone bonkers. The dialogue from Chase to Bruce/Batman is also unrealistically direct—perhaps this is the kind of material where the bad connotations of "comic book movie" come from? Nevertheless, the highlight of the film is the focus on Bruce's faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth. Michael Gough had far less material to work with in the first two films, but made an impression nonetheless. So, it's a joy to see more of the character, and a bit of a closer look at his relationship with Bruce through the newly orphaned Dick Grayson storyline. All in all, it isn't the worst entry in the franchise, but it's disappointing as it dropped the subtext and the overall story arc that the Burton films were heading in.
Blade is a thought provoking film. It puts a fresh spin on vampires, reimagines what they are and what weaknesses they have, and comes up with a slew of new ways to defeat them. It's also a superhero movie without being a "superhero movie". Perhaps that's because the Blade character is presented as an antihero, who 'saves' people by killing vampires, and steals to cover the costs of his operation—as most of his weapons are made of silver, one thinks he spends as much time stealing as he does hunting vampires!
The highlight of the film is its visual style. While the choice to use sped-up film speeds in certain sequences is a bit head-scratching, it adds to the overall feeling of not being in the world that we know. Nevertheless, there are a lot of elements that showed up in the following year's The Matrix, making one wonders how much this movie influenced the stylistic choices of The Wachowski's film.
The main drawbacks of Blade are the dated CG animation, and that the intensity of the minimalistic storyline never lets off the gas. Perhaps if there was more to the plot or if there were more tension-breaking scenes interwoven into the story—à la the tour de force of Aliens or Three Kings—the film wouldn't wear out its welcome by the final act. Nevertheless, the film stylistically paints an interesting tapestry and renews or reimagines vampires and vampire hunter tropes. While it's a bit excessively bloody at times, the film is well worth it for a glimpse at something that came oh-so-close to greatness.
The film has a lot of fun characterizations, and is quickly paced. Although it introduces some dark places and topics, it sadly doesn't really delve into their depths like a great movie does—preferring to keep the truly nasty stuff at arms length and off screen, and not really searching for any real solutions.
That said, I did like the non-traditional take on a superhero by having Iron Man a) not living in a big, skyscraper filled city, and b) rescuing truly helpless people in a war torn central Asian country from the real bad guys of our age: terrorist thugs.
Sadly, despite that sequence being followed by an extremely well-choreographed sequence of Iron Man vs. fighter jets, I didn't like how the movie portrayed the global situation in that war-torn country as "America: the world's police". What about the United Nations peace keepers? Let alone the Americans making a token nod to the local authorities that they are taking military action in their sovereign territory?
Nevertheless, the highlight of this movie has to be the A-list actors. They bring a lot to their respective portrayals of the characters, elevating this movie above the standard comic-book movie. However, ultimately, that is all that this movie amounts to—it doesn't engage the viewer much beyond the visceral spectacle of it all.
Captain Amazing decides to get the supervillian Casanova Frankenstein—his greatest opponent—released from the insane asylum, to recapture interest in his exploits, and to keep his corporate sponsors from abandoning him. However, his plan backfires, and Captain Amazing is easily outwitted and captured by Casanova, who is preparing to release a lethal weapon on Champion City. The would-be superheroes stumble upon Casanova's allies, Tony P and the Disco Boys, and learn of Captain Amazing's capture. Realizing that they are seriously outclassed after being beaten to a pulp by the Disco Boys, they set out to find new allies and build a superhero team strong enough to take on Casanova and his cohorts.
This is a charming, witty film about the other guys, the superhero underdogs with questionable superpowers, who rise to the occasion. Due to that, it is an enjoyable ride that pokes fun at the occasional preposterousness of the superhero genre. They all have their flaws and warts (some literally as well as figuratively) and are prone to bickering with each other, but all have their hearts in the right place. This film is less about what it takes to be a superhero, and more about persevering against all odds for something that you believe in. There are times were you question the sanity of the protagonists—and by extension the mindset of any superhero—but that only highlights how much they have grown and improved by the time they get their act together in the climactic showdown in Casanova's mansion.
The highlight of the film is Geoffry Rush as Casanova (how did they hire him for the movie!?!) He brings the film a much needed gravitas, and plays the supervillain almost straight—despite the character being described as insane by the film! Also, like all great comedy films, the director stood back and let the actors improvise on set. Due to that, the film is up there with such greats as Ghostbusters where the grand scale and special effects don't overwhelm the characters, and the comedy feels fresh. Alas, unlike Ghosbusters, the pacing of this film is a bit off at times. A shame, as despite its comedic elements, the film treats its characters and the superhero genre as respectfully as the following year's X-men.
Sam Raimi's Spider-man is, at its heart, a tragedy. This film doesn't gloss over Peter Parker's pains; they are after all, what defines Spider-man. I was pleasantly surprised by the subtle implication that the title character's loss of his parents and adoption by his aunt and uncle at a young age, plays into his willingness to risk life and limb to help strangers. It's a testament to how well the character was developed in the comics.
I really liked the depiction of the transformation of Peter Parker from nerd to hero. It is especially satisfying to see him pummel the school bully. The film also depicts Peter's and Mary Jane's struggles to find their way in the world after graduating—a smart choice that elevates this film into something greater than a summer blockbuster. And despite some unrealistic CG, it is great fun seeing Spider-Man come to grips with his new powers; a journey that is ongoing at the conclusion of the film. And what an ending. Not a cliffhanger, but close enough.