Jason Bourne

Jason Bourne is a 2016 American spy thriller film directed by Paul Greengrass. It is the fifth film in the Bourne franchise. The film was written by Greengrass and Christopher Rouse. The film stars Matt Damon, Julia Stiles, Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander, Vincent Cassel, Riz Ahmed, and Scott Shepard. Jason Bourne takes place several years after the events of The Bourne Ultimatum. Bourne resurfaces for reasons unknown, and the CIA creates a new program, Ironhand, in order to hunt him down.

The Bourne film franchise will always have a special place in my heart, as The Bourne Identity was the one of the first non-kids films I watched as a child at 10 or 11 years old. Identity was a fun, dumb action romp directed by Doug Liman, who directed the very good popcorn flick Live, Die, Repeat in 2014.The ending of the 2002 film didn’t leave a whole lot of room open for a sequel, but then The Bourne Supremacy happened. Identity was a simplistic story about a guy who’s being chased by assassins. The entire plot was basically an excuse for the coolest American fight scene ever.

Identity was fun, but then Paul Greengrass came along.Paul Greengrass directed both Supremacy and Ultimatum. With his help, the series, I feel, became much more slick, smart, and intelligent, while still being awesome. They all had elements of smart political intrigue, moral quandaries, and mystery that elevated the series beyond “popcorn flicks.” There was an edge and a sense of relevance to them. Combine that with Matt Damon using a book to beat the living crap out of someone….

And you have something awesome. The Bourne Ultimatum was a particular triumph and will always be the best in the franchise. It is the peak of this franchise and is one of my favorite movies of all-time. Sadly, after the epic success of ltimatum, Universal decided to push it even further, and put a sequel into production. Matt Damon refused to return, because he correctly felt that there’s not anywhere interesting to take the series, which reached a logical conclusion. That didn’t stop a spin-off from happening.

Somebody came up with the idea to, instead of making a fourth film about Jason Bourne, make a film about a new character in the same universe that must deal with the ramifications of Bourne’s previous actions. That is actually a very interesting and great idea, and I was excited for it when I heard about it. There’s a limitless number of possibilities there. Unfortunately, for me, it could not have gone worse. 2012’s The Bourne Legacy starred the excellent Jeremy Renner as Aaron Cross, an operative for another black ops program called Outcome. The ending of Ultimatum leads the CIA to frantically roll up all clandestine operations to protect them from public exposure. Instead of bringing these operatives in from the cold, they, for reasons I don’t understand, systematically assassinate all Outcome operatives. Outcome operatives are given enhanced abilities through a series of pills that enhance them physically and mentally. Aaron Cross, escaping an assassination attempt, kidnaps the doctor in charge of dispensing the pills. It is discovered that Cross was given a serum earlier that permanently enhanced his strength, which eliminates the need for one set of pills. He was not given an intelligence serum. It’s never explained why. We come to the discovery that Cross was mentally handicapped and needs to get the serum or else he’ll become stupid and hopeless. No political intrigue, nothing interesting, the only thing relating to Bourne’s actions is that now the CIA wants to kill him, which doesn’t make sense. If you have enhanced super agents, can’t you bring them in and redo everything when the controversy blows over?

So yeah, I didn’t like Legacy. The actors were great and I did enjoy the action, but the plot was a boring waste of potential with no twists or intrigue or anything interesting to say. That’s not to say they can’t try again, though. However, I was immediately overcome with joy upon hearing the news that Damon and Greengrass are back. I guessed that meant that someone came up with a great script that got Damon back into the franchise.

Sadly, no.Let me start out by saying that I did ultimately enjoy Jason Bourne. The plot involves Jason Bourne being sucked back into the world after a decade off the grid by Julia Stiles’ Nicky Parsons. The only thing that propels the plot is Nicky showing up and telling Bourne about his father. It feels like an extremely forced way to make the movie’s plot happen, and Bourne had access to all Treadstone files from Ultimatum, wouldn’t he know about his father’s involvement? I am talking about his father because a TV spot for the film actually included and spoiled this information, so it’s fair game. It doesn’t really effect much anyway. It turns out a good script is not why Damon came back. It isn’t a bad script, just an overly familiar one that retreads on old ground and not doing much new or original. They reused a lot of plot points from the original trilogy and even some of the same shots. There’s a shot of Jason staring pensively out a train window, a shot of him walking around worried in a train station, etc. You’ll notice if you see it. Jason even goes back to Berlin, and they use the same establishing shots of the Berlin TV Tower they used in 2004. The majority of this movie just does the same thing the previous entries did, but worse, in some cases. The Las Vegas car chase and the climactic sewer fight were messy, full of too many unnecessary jump cuts, unoriginal, cliché, and paled in comparison to the rest of the franchise.

Matt Damon didn’t seem like his heart was in it to me, and neither did Julia Stiles. The two franchise veterans seem to sleepwalk through their performances with a lack of passion that they previously had. Franchise newcomers Tommy Lee Jones, Vincent Cassell, and Alicia Vikander do okay jobs. Their characters, however, are extremely one-dimensional and disappointingly underwritten. They aren’t very interesting.

That sounds bad, but Jason Bourne is still miles ahead of Legacy, and I did walk away liking it. It wasn’t bad, it just doesn’t get anywhere even close to Ultimatum, and is sadly forgettable.  It is simply an unnecessary, forced entry in a franchise I struggle to admit we probably should’ve closed the book on back in 2007. For a film I was admittedly anticipating very much, I wish I had more to say about it, good or bad. But it can really just be summed up as “decent, but disappointing,” which is disappointing in and of itself. It is making some money, though. If Universal insists on continuing this franchise, I’ll still go see them in hopes that they get awesome again, but I hope they at least try to make it interesting.

Batman: The Killing Joke

 

Batman: The Killing Joke is a 2016 animated psychological thriller superhero film directed by Bruce Timm and Sam Liu and written by Brian Azzarello. It is based upon the legendary 1988 one-shot comic book of the same name by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland. It features the voice talents of Batman veterans Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, and Ray Wise. Famous and veteran voice actors such as John DiMaggioRobin Atkin DownesNolan North, and Fred Tatasciore are also featured in the film, as well as the voices of Bruce Timm and Maury Sterling. It is the 26th film to be released under the DC Universe Animated Original Movies banner. It is the first film in the series to have a hard R rating. The Killing Joke had a special two-night only theatrical release on July 25th and 26th (tonight) via Fathom Events (in Fathom’s widest released event thus far) and is scheduled to be released on Blu-Ray and DVD August 2nd. It is currently available to own via Video On Demand, as well.

Alan Moore is known as “the Orson Welles of comics.” That description is rather apt. It seems that everything Moore touches turns to gold. For reference, he is the creator of such series as V for VendettaWatchmenThe League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and From Hell. All mentioned have been adapted to film at various points, to mixed results. The adaptation of Watchmen, though certainly divisive and polarizing, is thought to be generally good, great to certain people, and considering it was once believed to be “unfilmable,” I would say those involved did a pretty good job with the most famous, legendary, well-liked comic ever made, as well as the strangest thing I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I have yet to watch From Hell, but a mystery horror film about Jack the Ripper starring Johnny Depp sounds intriguing at the very least. The 2003 adaptation of Extraordinary Gentlemen enraged Moore and caused him to swear off all further involvement with Hollywood. The 2003 film was an incredibly generic mess which jettisoned the best parts of the series and kept the worst, removing all of the more graphic scenes or mature themes, all of which were inherently essential to the series, for a PG-13 rating. Both Moore, director Stephen Norrington, and star Sean Connery distanced themselves from the film upon its release. 20th Century Fox had plans for a franchise, but the critical and box office bomb was met with no enthusiasm for a sequel, although it was reported in May 2015 that a reboot is planned. Following the release of the film, Moore is quoted as saying: “As long as I could distance myself by not seeing them, enough to keep them separate, take the option money, I could be assured no one would confuse the two. This was probably nave on my part.” This reaction is very extreme, even though I agree the film was bad. He even expressed distaste for V for Vendetta, in my opinion and the opinion of most, a very good film. It took creative liberties with the original source material, but creative licence is necessary to create an adaptation. The verb “adapt” is literally defined as “to make suitable to requirements or conditions; to adjust or modify fittingly.” That means that certain aspects, in the transition from graphic novel to film, will have to inherently change. Moore apparently doesn’t understand that, lamenting: “…after the films came out, I began to feel increasingly uneasy, I have a dwindling respect for cinema as it is currently expressed.” Co-creator David Lloyd enjoyed the film and explained that Moore would only be happy with a complete book-to-screen adaptation, which is nigh impossible and, in my opinion, somewhat pointless. Moore is also known to be a massive jerk in person, and his attitude certainly reflects those claims, I feel. Despite Moore’s general snobbiness and obsessive tendencies regarding film, his contributions to the world of comic books are entirely undeniable. Like A Death in the Family, Moore’s The Killing Joke impacted the Batman mythos and the larger DC universe, but it did so in ways that Jason Todd’s death never could.

The Killing Joke takes place shortly before the events of A Death in the Family. It’s a relatively simple premise that involves the Joker kidnapping Jim Gordon and imprisoning him in a derelict funhouse, attempting to drive the commissioner completely insane. The Killing Joke attempts to give the most famous and enigmatic antagonist of all time some backstory for the first time. Here, the Joker was a struggling stand-up comedian who was also working at a chemical plant in order to make ends meet. He also had a pregnant wife. A group of thugs offer the comedian a substantial amount of money to break into the factory where he works, acting as the inside man. He agrees, and he is given the infamous Red Hood costume to wear.

His wife unfortunately dies by electrocution due to a malfunctioning blender, killing the man’s wife and child. He attempts to back out with the thugs, who threaten to kill him. Acting under duress, during the break-in at the infamous Ace Chemicals, he encounters Batman, then early in his career. The terrified man falls over into a vat of acid. He survives and climbs out completely insane, leading to possibly the most iconic splash page in the history of Batman comics.

Thus is where the central conflict of the story begins. In a very good and well-known monologue, the Joker explains, in poetic yet insane fashion, that he wants to prove that people can turn into him after “one bad day.”

In order to drive Jim Gordon insane, in an action that ripped the status quo of DC Comics to shreds, The Joker shoots and paralyzes Barbara Gordon, Jim’s daughter and, unbeknownst to either Jim or the Joker, Batgirl.

The Joker proceeds to take photographs of Barbara in various states of undress and forces Gordon to view them in order to break his sanity. This whole portion was extremely controversial, and still is today. While most controversies surrounding entertainment are stupid and blown out of proportion in my opinion, I can see why this made many people uncomfortable. I was slightly disturbed while reading this. However, that is the entire point. This is not a fun comic at all. The cool thing about Barbara’s shooting, though, is her transition into Oracle. Oracle serves as Batman’s logistical and support coordinator, operating out of the Gotham Clocktower. Barbara’s wit, determination, as well as her photographic memory and intellect rivalling that of Batman himself, make her freaking awesome. The fact that she’s in a wheelchair rarely ever bothers her (as it doesn’t really bother me), and DC Comics have managed to make her into one of the two iconic wheelchair-bound characters in comics, with the only other one I can think of being Marvel’s Professor X.

The Killing Joke is also famous for delving into the psychology behind the relationship between Batman and the Joker. Neither of them have resorted to killing each other… because they need each other. This is a concept that is explored heavily in other media following this story’s publication, most notably in 2008’s The Dark Knight.

The relationship is sometimes equated to a twisted romance. The relationship, in my opinion, I’m sure to some people’s surprise, is most effectively explored in the Batman: Arkham series of video games. This series is very well-known for having some of the best storytelling in a medium that, to outsiders who don’t play video games, “doesn’t have (good) stories.” In 2011’s Batman: Arkham City, it is revealed that the Joker is dying and schemes for a way to, at first take Batman down with him, and later cure himself. The game ends with the Joker’s death.

The Killing Joke is why Batman stories today explore psychology the way they do. There is an epic exchange between Batman and the Joker in which Batman attempts to reason with his twisted enemy who is intertwined in Batman’s soul.

In the end, Batman foils the Joker’s plan and corners him. Gordon, who maintained his sanity, orders Batman to bring the Joker in by the book. The Clown tells a joke heard previously in the issue.

See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum… And one night, one night they decide they don’t like living in an asylum any more. They decide they’re going to escape! So, like, they get up onto the roof, and there, just across this narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in the moon light… stretching away to freedom. Now, the first guy, he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend did not dare make the leap. Y’see… Y’see, he’s afraid of falling. So then, the first guy has an idea… He says ‘Hey! I have my flashlight with me! I’ll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the beam and join me!’ B-but the second guy just shakes his head. He suh-says… He says ‘Wh-what do you think I am? Crazy? You’d turn it off when I was half way across!

The joke is funny enough to make Batman crack a smile. They begin to laugh, and continue to laugh as the police approach. Off panel, Batman proceeds to grab Joker, the laughter abruptly stops, gurgling sounds are made, and the story ends, leaving the Joker’s fate up to interpretation.

This comic was very dark and extremely controversial, with good reason, for once. I’m personally on the side who loves everything about the story. Yes, it’s dark and edgy, and using rape as a narrative tool in a work of fiction will always be an understandably difficult subject to approach, but it works.Everything about The Killing Joke comic works, and I went in hoping that this R-rated adaptation works just as well, if not better. I believe that it could be.

It was pretty great. It did not transcend time and space, but it just might be the best Batman movie behind The Dark Knight for me. There were a lot more nerds out than I originally expected for a one night special engagement, but if you think about it, nerds are normally the ones to go to a limited engagement so I don’t know what I expected. It was a pretty good theater experience, too. Before the film started, the audience was treated to an interview with Mark Hamill discussing his transition from Luke Skywalker to the Joker, a role which has now spanned nearly 25 years. It was very interesting and neat, actually.

One thing I’m very, very happy about: Mark Hamill has been the definitive voice of the Joker for years upon years in countless video games and animation works. In 2011, after Arkham City was released, he announced on Twitter that he was done with the character. He is a dirty liar, returning for the 2015 sequel Arkham Knight and this film. He admits he cannot stay away from the character no matter how hard he tries. It seems from his enthusiasm he might enjoy Joker more than Luke Skywalker, to be honest. Regardless, he still isn’t done and he might be voicing the Joker until he dies, which is what a lot of fans would like.

The movie itself was quite good, as everyone was expecting. It wasn’t legendary like the comic, but it was very entertaining and worth the somewhat expensive price of admission. Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy are the big standouts here, as to be expected. I cannot stop hyping up the epic decades long partnership. Everything there is just perfect. Tara Strong does a great job as Barbara, as well. The animation is near indescribable it’s so good, and the score was also very very good. There was a making of featurette concerning the score after the movie, but we unfortunately didn’t have time to stick around for that.

The Killing Joke is a 48 page one issue comic. Normally, when adapting something to film, you run into the problem of having to compress the original story. Here, they added things to expand the story. The biggest and most notable change was the first half-hour of the film; Timm and company added a very Batgirl-centric prologue to the events of the film that I thought was very well-executed. Even so, the film has sparked major (needless) controversy for mishandling the character of Batgirl. I don’t feel like they did and I don’t understand why people are angry. As the rest of the film closely follows the events of the comic, which I have already summarized, I won’t spoil the new stuff for you. Anyway, as we were leaving, I heard a young woman (who probably came with her nerdy husband) complain that it was kind of short. It was, but they had already added a lot of new stuff, and would rather it be short as it was than have a bunch of useless filler crap.

All in all, I felt The Killing Joke was an admirable, entertaining, and worthwhile adaptation of the best Batman story of all time, with pitch perfect voice acting from fan favorites, interesting original twists on Batman mythos, as well as some pretty awesome animation, it is certainly one of the best entries to the DC Animated Universe, as well as a great Batman movie in general.

Stranger Things

Stramger Things is a period piece science-fiction horror thriller television series created by The Duffer Brothers. The eight-episode first season premiered on Netflix in July 2016 to near-universal acclaim. The series stars Winnona Ryder, David Harbor, and Matthew Modine. Set in late 1983, Stranger Things revolves around the mysterious sudden disappearance of young tween Will Byers and the sudden appearence of a young girl with a mysterious past and strange powers.

Stranger Things seems to be somewhat of a spiritual successor to JJ Abrams’ 2011 film Super 8, which tells the story of three tween friends who stumble upon the supernatural in 1979 Ohio. Super 8 has developed a cult following for creating a viable and interesting science-fiction story enhanced with period-accurate nostalgia. Stranger Things does exactly that. It is an engrossing story with a very catchy synth soundtrack.

The story is actually a very interesting fusion of genres. While primarily a science-fiction story, the mystery of Will Byers is approached by several different characters or groups of characters in several different ways. Will’s friends and Eleven are in E.T. and The Breakfast Club, as the social pressures of being a nerdy outcast play a large role in the story, Will’s mom attempts to communicate with him through a variety of strange ways such as blinking lights, giving off a Poltergiest vibe, Will’s brother Johnathon and his romantic interest discover a monster connected to Will’s disappearence and end up having to battle it, similar to A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Chief John Hopper becomes embroiled in a government conspiracy involving MK Ultra. It is a mismash of popular 80’s film genres and is extremely well-done and provides interest and insight into various characters. While pulling from various popular films of the time, Stranger Things also flips various tropes of the genres on their head.

As you can see, Stranger Things makes quite the point of being nostalgic. I was not a child of the 80’s, but my uncle did seem to appreciate the attention to detail in a show billed as “a love letter to the eighties.” This aspect is very interesting and impressive. I continue to mention the addictive synth score, because it’s awesome.

The cinematography of the show is brilliantly done by one Tim Ives. Ives effectively uses lightinng in addition to the pulse-pounding and earworm-inducing synth heavy soundtrack to create a level of atmospheric tension that makes the show supremely addicting. Ives is able to use long shots and pan shots in certain scenes to amp up the creep factor and uses jump cuts and rapid editing to hype the action and keep the pacing. I binged watched this show in one day with my uncle and my friend Adam. As much as I like TV and movies, this was the first time I watched a show in one day. It is a great show that is very much worthy of a weekend binge-watch.

Batman vs. Superman: Ultimate Edition

Batman v Superman: Ultimate Edition is the extended cut of the divisive love it or hate it blockbuster Barman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I was disappointed by the film for a multitude of reasons, and my opinion of the film is largely negative, mainly due to the confusing, downright poorly written script and a horrendously poor performance by Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. However, despite what other critics have said, the film was not unwatchable and there are many entertaining moments.The problen is that these genuinely entertaining moments are bogged down by genuinely stupid or confusing ones.  When news of this 3-hour cut of the film came, I was curious to see if the thirty or so minutes of extra content would fix, or at the very least, improve on the multitude of outright failures to be found in this film. When I first saw this film, I didn’t want to spoil it too badly for those who may have wished to see it. Seeing as I’m doing a comparison of a director’s cut and a theatrical cut, as well as seeing that the film came out in March, there will be no restraint on spoilers.

The Ultimate Cut does not magically fix every problem with the movie. In fact, all the problems are still there. The additional scenes and extended sequences act as a bandage. To summarize, The Ultimate Cut does turn the rather crappy Batman v. Superman into a more coherent and enjoyable film, while still very flawed and still rather crappy. With the Ultimate Cut, there is much more character development in a movie that desperately needs some. Let me explain what good things are in this movie, what its many problems are, and how the Ultimate Edition fixes some of those problems.

We are once again shown the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, which doesn’t really need to be in there. Afterwards, we are shown the destruction of Metropolis from Wayne’s perspective. I thought this scene was very effective, and clearly shows the viewer why Bruce Wayne wants to eliminate Superman.

Everything involving Batman in this film, both the theatrical and extended cut, is pitch perfect.The problem is everything else. The fact of the matter is, Henry Cavill can’t act, or at the very least he doesn’t play Superman right. Superman is thought to be a boring character, and in some respects, he is. He has unlimited power, and it is very difficult to make someone with unlimited power and nigh invincibility interesting. His creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, got so caught up in giving Superman a bunch of cool powers, they forgot to give him any weaknesses so as to add conflict. So they wrote themselves into a corner and had to create Kryptonite, which is the bane of my existence. There’s a problem with someone’s sole weakness being an object. The problem is, whenever someone wants to weaken Superman, all you have to do, all you CAN do, is whip out Kryptonite. That is why Superman’s boring. He isn’t a drab piece of wood with a complete and utter lack of any sort of emotion, but I think someone must have told Henry Cavill Superman was “boring” and completely misinterpreted what they said.Everyone in this film, and I do mean everyone, does a better job emoting in this film than Cavill does.

Ben Affleck is a great lead, Henry Cavill is not. How the film’s true antagonist,Lex Luthor as played by Jessie Eisenberg, hold up? I’m not going to drag it out or sugarcoat it, Lex Luthor is the single worst part of this movie second worst part of this movie, plain and simple. Eisenberg is an excellent actor. His performance in The Social Network is worthy of praise, and I was very hopeful upon his casting. Lex Luthor is a genius, a billionaire, and a complete and utter megalomaniac with an obsession of Superman and the power the Man of Steel possesses. The chrome domed doom bringer that is Alexander Luthor, Junior is not someone you want to reckon with. He’s cold, calculating, methodical, and gives little regard for human life. That’s where the similarities between him and The Joker end. The fact that Luthor is not a deranged lunatic and rather a logical and calculating individual, actually makes him, in some ways, much more dangerous. Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor poses no threat and makes a laughingstock out of possibly the most dangerous human being in the DC Comics pantheon. Eisenberg’s Luthor is eccentric, skinny, completely unassuming, non-threatening, and downright annoying. He’s creepy and weird, but not in a good way. Instead of chilling scenes…

like this, where Lex Luthor coldly demands your attention and tells you how the world is going to be a better place without Superman and how you’re going to help him whether you like it or not. We get Willy Wonka sticking Jolly Ranchers in your mouth.

Every scene with Lex Luthor plays out exactly like this. Creepy and unsettling, but not intimidating at all. One reviewer described it as “It’s like they were going to have Lex Luthor and The Joker, but they couldn’t get the Joker, so they just made Lex another Joker.” That is about right, except MetroSex Lex here is an insult to The Clown Prince of Crime.

Lex wants to kill Superman because he’s a god. and he is angry at God because of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his alcoholic and abusive father. In order to kill Superman, he frames him for a war crime in Africa and blows up Capitol Hill, a suicide bombing which was carried out by a disgruntled former Wayne Industries employee who was mad at both Bruce Wayne and Superman, having been crippled in Superman’s battle against General Zod, even though Bruce Wayne not only had nothing to do with these attacks, he even saved Wally during the attacks. The paraplegic Wally hides a bomb in his fancy wheelchair and blows up a Superman-focused Senate hearing.

No, I would rather not explain the jar of Lex Luthor’s piss, but it has something to do with Kentucky. It’s always Kentucky. And yes, Lex Luthor’s plan is as needlessly convoluted as I previously described, but it gets more complicated. To force Superman into confrontation, he also kidnaps Martha Kent and Lois Laine. In case things didn’t work out as planned and Batman doesn’t kill Superman, he reanimated the body of General Zod into the supervillian Doomsday. And, yes, Luthor’s motives are as stupid and ill-defined as “I hate God.” I think that’s the movie’s attempt to be edgy and provocative but I’m not sure.

But then, towards the end of the film, we are treated to a rather nonsensical rant that apparently teases Darkseid. To be honest with you, when I saw this movie in theaters, Luthor’s rant was so jumbled and manic that I could not for the life of me decipher what it was supposed to mean.

You wanna know why Batman and Superman stop fighting and Batman goes to save Martha Kent? I’ll just roll the clip…

Yup. Superman isn’t killed by Batman because their mothers’ names are Martha. But wait… there’s more…

Yup, that’s right. Superman dies… he is literally dead. But wait… there’s more…

Somewhere at Warner Brothers, somehow, someone made the decision to kill the all-powerful, all-good, mostly unkillable Superman, only to have him resurrected in time for the next movie in the DCEU. You wanna hammer home that metaphor even more? I don’t think we get it. Jesus Christ… And see, told you that whole thing with Luthor made zero sense.

The thing about Dawn of Justice, and another thing that made it a kind of bad movie… it’s the start of a franchise, and that is the only thing the movie cares about. In addition to Superman’s death being the downright flimsiest excuse in the world to start the Justice League, there’s also a hard drive. You see, in his research of Superman, Lex Luthor also compiled data on other metahumans. I can think of no good reason for doing this except shoving WB’s next few tentpole releases right down your throat. The only reason Wonder Woman is even featured in this film is to tell Bruce about the drive.

And the scene in which Batman views the drive doesn’t even try to hide the fact that it’s a WB press kit. For Pete’s Sake, the Wonder Woman film was already in production at this point and there’s an ACTUAL set photo on the drive. The movie’s plot is literally put on hold for this, and it doesn’t matter.

The movie is literally called Dawn of Justice and the Marvel Cinematic Universe has already been established, everyone with half a brain cell knows you’re building a franchise. World building is fine, but Marvel Studios does it better. They leave that stuff for the epilogues. It’s a habit to stay after the credits for every Marvel release, but you don’t have to. In fact, most people are left having to Google the characters involved in the post-creds, anyway, but the thing is, we want to see what’s next, but not until the story you’ve promised us has already been done. That’s the beauty of just having subtle references to Doctor Strange in The Winter Soldier, or Wakanda showing up conspicuously on a map in the background in Iron Man 2.

A 45 second bit after the credits of Iron Man doesn’t make it a Nick Fury movie, and Sitwell’s frantic name-drop of Strange does nothing  Dawn of Justice literally pauses the movie and put the plot on hold for something most already knew and the rest of them could easily Google. It is obvious and transparent that Dawn of Justice exists exclusively for franchise maintainance. While Marvel treats franchise maintenance like the dessert course of a five-course meal, DC’s doing franchise maintainance like parents force feed their children broccoli. It’s annoying, stupid, and, after some consideration, the worst part of the movie.

That’s pretty much the bad stuff about this movie. Trust me, there’s some good stuff, too. I mentioned earlier that everything involving Bruce Wayne/Batman and Alfred is pitch perfect. Ben Affleck is the single best live-action Batman thus far. Let’s expound on that. Ben Affleck is partially based upon the older version featured in The Dark Knight Returns. In that storyline, the 55-year-old Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement to fight crime. He is weaker since his retirement, but what he lacks in strength he makes up for in escalating brutality.

This Batman is the single most brutal and angry Batman in any medium. This Batman is a murderer, and that is something that is new and edgy. The thing about Batman is… he’s nuts. Bruce Wayne left Gotham as a teenager ans sought out the world’s top scientists, computer experts, chemists, martial artists, weapons designers, escape artists, etc. He did this with one singular goal in mind: create fear in the hearts of criminals. Instead of using his knowledge and skills to become the world’s top neurosurgeon and follow in his father’s footsteps, Bruce Wayne runs around dressed like a bat pummeling criminals every night. He’s got a profound case of PTSD and a warped sense of what justice is. Batman doesn’t want to protect this city. He thought he did for years because of the upright and stalwart morals his parents gave him. His real motive is “You killed my parents and you all must pay!” In his younger days, Bruce Wayne didn’t drink in order to keep his mind sharp and had little interest in sex. In this movie. Bruce is popping pills with alcohol while in bed with a supermodel.

Bruce has reached the stage where he doesn’t care anymore. He’s full of anger and rage, not morality and kindness. He kills without remorse and brands people. He’s older than his father ever was, and nothing’s changed, and that enrages him to the deepest level. I don’t know if that was originally a part of the script, or genius on behalf of Ben Affleck, but it is psychologically accurate Batman, and I didn’t know I needed that in my life, but I do.

Jeremy Irons is has the potential to surpass Michael Caine as the most important and influential Alfred, and I hope he does, because he’s a wonderful actor and every scene that features him in this film is downright perfect. He understands, and even plays into, Batman’s psychology. Nothing is good about this Batman. He’s terrifying, and that’s actually kind of awesome.

This is why you don’t need Lex, you don’t need Martha, you don’t need Lois Laine, Wonder Woman or Doomsday. Really 75% of this movie you don’t need. Batman already had his mind set on going blow to blow with Superman. He is absolutely terrified of the Big Blue Boy Scout.

You don’t need to make it anymore complicated than this: keep the opening scene of the movie how it is, cut out Lex, have Batman assemble kryptonite weaponry, have Superman try to prevent that, have little skirmishes, then a big climactic battle. The problem is the franchise management. WB came in and messed with Chris Terrio’s script, filled it to the brim with all the bad stuff I mentioned earlier, thinking references are what make a good superhero movie, and then this mess happened. This is my theory, because there’s a lot of really great stuff in here, and the actual Batman v. Superman fight is pretty entertaining. Once it gets to Doomsday, not so much, but I blame WB for that.

This is a very visual and stylistic movie, and that is Zack Snyder’s strong suit. I am not a big fan of the guy and his style over substance approach, but the guy knows how to make a comic book movie. He knows how splash pages work.

I blame Warner Brothers and Warner Brothers alone for the bad stuff in this movie. The Ultimate Cut does what it can to add some padding between the crap and the good. Fundamentally, it changes absolutely nothing, but it does add interesting stuff like this…

And it does make the whole stupid “Superman committed a war crime in Africa” thing make a lot more sense.

The problem is that all the bad stuff is so intrinsically tied to the movie that there’s no way to fix it. The Ultimate Edition attempts to offset the balance of the crap with some more good stuff, but it is still a bad movie. I don’t blame Zach Snyder, Chris Terrio, David S. Goyer, I certainly don’t blame Ben Affleck, and I don’t even blame Henry Cavill or Jessie Eisenberg. I blame Warner Brothers and their need to catch up to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. They’re doing it all wrong, and I hope they redeem themselves with Suicide Squad and/or Justice League. At the very least, I hope the DC Extended Universe survives long enough for Ben Affleck to make his own Batman movie, and I think he hopes so, too.

Argo

Argo is a 2012 historical spy thriller film directed by and starring Ben Affleck. With a script by Chris Terrio, Argo marks the first time Affleck has directed a film that he didn’t also write. Argo also stars Bryan Cranston, Alan Arkin, and John Goodman. Argo is based upon the true story of the “Canadian Caper” during the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979-1981. In particulat, Terrio’s script is based upon two works, The Master of Disguise by Antonio Mendez, and an article published in 2007 in Wited called The Great Escape.

The film opens right off the bat with a very interesting and well-made opening sequence that sets the backdrop for the events. This does a very good job of establishing the antagonists, (although I don’t know if they can really be called that, there’s no one set villian in the film) instead of doing what I feel a lot of films do, which is to simply tell the audience “these people are bad” and let the audience run with it without further explanation.

Six people working at the American embassy were able to sneak out right before the protestors flooded the embassy and took sixty people hostage. They were able to escape to the residence of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor, and would remain there for quite some time.

Affleck plays real life CIA exfiltration specialist Antonio Mendez. When the hostage crisis began, the White House blamed the CIA for not giving earlier warning of the possible revolution that did in fact spur from violent protests. Mendez and his assets are frozen in place and he is more or less put on furlough. 10 weeks after the hostage crisis began, both the U.S. and Canadian governments get antsy over what the CIA informally deemed “The Houseguests,” and demand that the six are exfiltrated from Iran. After shooting down some horrible suggestions from the U.S. State Department about how to effectively exfiltrate the group, Mendez gets a crazy idea while watching Battle for the Planet of the Apes; he concocts a cover story about how The Houseguests are a Canadian film crew in Iran to film Argo, a low budget sci-fi flick.

In order to make the plan airtight, Mendez works with Hollywood producer Lester Siegel, a composite character created for the film played by Alan Arkin, and real-lide legendary makeup artist John Chambers, played by John Goodman. Chambers recieved worldwide recognition as the man behind the then-revolutionary make-up effects for the 1968 film The Planet of the ApesChambers recieved an honorary Oscar for his work, as Make-Up or prosthetics were not considered a category at the time. He is also the person who gave Spock and the rest of the Vulcans their iconic pointy ears and also worked on the pilot episode for the original 1966 Mission: Impossible television series, which made complicated latex masks and disguises par for the course for the franchise even today. Before Argo, Chambers previously performed contract work for the CIA developing disguise kits for overseas agency personel. Chambers eventually recieved the Intelligence Medal of Merit for his role in the Canadian Caper, but due to the classified nature of the operation, he did not recieve recognition until several years after the fact.

Argo is a very good film. The entire film feels like a throwback to a classic episode of Mission: Impossible, in which a complex and intracate plan would be developed using a varied group of independent contractors in order to achieve a rather complex goal. Newcomer Chris Terrio’s script is quite excellent. It is very intense, yet also extremely methodical. It is very serious, yet also very humorous, extremely so in fact, mostly due to the comedic talents of both John Goodman and Alan Arkin.

As you can see, the humor in the film provided by these comedic actors is injected into the film in such a way that it doesn’t detract or comprimise the gravity of the scary, dangerous, and tenuous situation that is the crux of the entire film. It is very organic and not at all out of place.

Terrio’s script is very well-balenced and the pacing never feels off. Just like the plan, the film moves like clockwork. Well, I mean, the plan mostly moved like clockwork.

Argo is a tense thriller with genuine comedic moments that do not derail, but rather enhance, the film. Ben Affleck is a very good actor who pairs up well against the extremely talented Bryan Cranston, who plays Antonio’s CIA supervisor, as well as meshing with comedic talent such as Alan Arkin and John Goodman. The film is a very well-written and very good opening for newcomer Chris Terrio, historical innaccuracies being disregarded. The film also has a great era-appropriate soundtrack that includes such bands as Dire Straits, The Rolling Stones, Booker T and the MG’sand Van Halen, and makes me even more proud of the knowledge I gained from that History of Rock n’ Roll class in high school. In addition to the catchy rock classics, Argo features a very effective instrumental soundtrack engineered by Alexandre Desplat.

I’ve said this many times before and will probably continue to say it: Ben Affleck is a masterful director who knows exactly what he’s doing. I have been reviewing his directorial filmography because it is highly likely that he will be directing a standalone Batman film at some point for the DC Extended Universe. Based on the fact that his prior directorial efforts have been indesputable slam dunks, and his upcoming fourth film Live By Night (which he will also be writing the screenplay for), based on Gone, Baby, Gone progenitor Dennis Lehane‘s 2012 historical crime fiction novel of the same name, is shaping up to be another potentially great film for Affleck, I cannot what to see what his plans are for the Batman character.

The Town

The Town is a 2010 crime drama film directed by Ben Affleck and written by Affleck, Peter Craig, and Gone, Baby, Gone alum Aaron Stockard. The film stars Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jon Hamm, Jeremy Renner, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaithe, Titus Welliver, and Chris Cooper. The film’s script is based upon the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan. Affleck, Renner, Slaine, and Owen Burke play a group of career criminals in the Boston neighborhood of Charlestown. During a robbery, Jem (Renner), decides to abduct a bank manager, Claire Keesey (Hall), and briefly take her hostage after she pulls the silent alarm.

Following their escape, the boys meet back up. They don’t really want to hurt anybody and are very uncomfortable with Jem’s methods and maverick personality. Jem, however, discovers that Claire lives near the boys and they all begrudgingly decide something needs to be done about her. Jem offers to “get her scared” but Doug (Affleck) decides to do something about it himself. He insinuates himself into Claire’s life and begins a romance with her, unbeknownst to the rest of the group. Meanwhile, FBI agent Adam Frawley (Hamm) and Charlestown PD liason Dino Clampa (Welliver) attempt to track down Doug and his crew.

The Town is a great sophomore effort by Affleck as a director, and is in some ways a spiritual successor to one of my favorite films, Heat. It explores several of the same themes brought up in Heat, most notably the empathetic criminal angle. Affleck grew up in a wealthy, well-off family, but he clearly has an understanding of the logic behind the criminal element in Boston. There is a sociological concept called Merton’s Strain Theory.250px-Mertons_social_strain_theory

Merton’s Strain Theory is set up like a Punnett Square. Cultural Goals would be making a lot of money. Institutionalized Means would be ways of achieving cultural goals, like going to school, getting a degree, and getting a good job that will get you that money. I fall into the conformity category because that is what I am attempting to do with my life. Criminals, like the ones portrayed in The Town and Heat want money and want to achieve the goals culture has set out for them, but reject institutionalized means, so they “innovate” by finding another way to make money; by being criminals. Doug and his crew aren’t bad people (except for maybe Jem), they are just guys that are good at robbing banks. It’s actually a hard thing to do, make criminals empathetic. The Town takes a few cues from the film that may or may not have inspired it and does so flawlessly.

Though Jon Hamm’s Adam Frawley isn’t as empathetic as Al Pacino’s Lieutenant Vincent Hanna in Heat, he doesn’t need to be. This isn’t a story about Adam Frawley vs. Doug MacRay, this is primarily a story about Doug MacRay vs. himself, Adam Frawley’s just a physical antagonist and catalyst for the more intense events in the film.

Doug MacRay’s father is hardened criminal named Stephen MacRay. Stephen MacRay is a legend in the crime world; he took life in prison over ratting on his crew. Doug’s friends seem to hero worship Stephen. Doug’s mother left when he was six, and his father was a hardened criminal.

While he is building his relationship with Claire, he explains that he had a chance to play professional hockey, but gave that up to pursue a life of crime.(He doesn’t tell her that part, though.) He chose this path probably to impress his father and impress his friends. This ideal is an empathetic one that we all struggle with. The only difference is that Doug’s a criminal. Affleck’s script, like his previous one, is near impeccable, and his directing and acting abilities are downright phenomenal.

The action in this film is intense, nail-biting, and extremely well shot. It had me on the edge of my seat the entire time. Another highlight is the normally well-spoken and well-mannered Pete Postlethwaithe. The experienced actor is perhaps best-known for his role as Kobayashi in my favorite film of all time. Here, he plays a tough, foul-mouthed Irish crime lord named The Florist. It is one of the most interesting roles he’s ever played, and was his final role due to his death in January 2011.

Much like a real-life crew of bank robbers, The Town is a well-oiled machine that presents nary a mistake to be made. It is an incredible effort by an incredible director, writer, and actor. and if you are a fan of any of the actors in the film, if you enjoyed Gone, Baby, Gone, or you just want a good crime film, then this should definitely be on your radar.

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Batman: Under the Red Hood is a 2010 direct-to-video animated superhero thriller film directed by Brandon Vetti and written by Judd Winnick. It is an amalgamation of two interrelated Batman storylines: 1988’s A Death in the Family and 2005’s Under the Red Hood. The film stars Bruce Greenwood, Jensen Ackles, John DiMaggio, and Neil Patrick Harris.

Batman: Under the Red Hood is a part of the continuing DC Universe Animated Original Movies, the premise of which is to create animated superhero films based off adaptations of well-liked or famous DC superhero storylines and release them on home video. This idea likely originated with the theatrically released 1993 animated neo-noir mystery superhero film Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm. Directed by legendary Batman auter Bruce Timm, the PG-13 Phantasm recieved critical acclaim from both critics and audiences for its wonderful animation style as well as the combination of elements from Timm’s magnum opus, the legendary cult classic children’s cartoon Batman: The Animated Series, and much darker, more mature themes.

Phantasm proved that animation wasn’t meant exclusively for children, and was actually a viable option for general storytelling as well. I would not be suprised if Mask of the Phantasm had something to do with the early popularization of Japanese anime in the Western world. The film has been called by many one of the best Batman stories ever told and is widely considered an amazing film in it’s own right, let alone the superhero genre.

Since its official inception in 2007, there have been 26 feature films and 5 short films released under the DC Original Animated Movie banner, with future releases planned at least up until the year 2020. With the exception of two, all films have recieved a PG-13 rating and are known for including violence and strong language. They vary in quality, with some being mediocre and some being outright great films. Being a huge superhero nerd, I have seen most of these films, and Under the Red Hood is the second best one behind The Dark Knight Returns.

In the late 1980’s, DC Comics decided the Batman Family needed some fresh new faces, and forced the creative team at the time to oust Dick Grayson as Robin and make a new character to be the new Robin. Dick Grayson always had a problem living in the shadow of Batman, and Bruce Wayne’s former ward, after a dispute, retires the mantle of Robin, leaves Wayne Manor, and begins operating independently as the superhero Nightwing. Though still an independent operator, Dick often helps his mentor and father figure, and will do any favor that may be asked of him, and to this day remains an extremely prominent figure in the ongoing Batman lore.

In order to fill the hole filled by Dick’s absence as Robin, Jason Todd was introduced. Todd was a homeless teenage street urchin taken in by Bruce Wayne after he was caught attempting to boost the Batmobile. Jason Todd was the opposite of Dick Grayson. Jason was extremely arrogant, rude, overconfident, and a sarcastic loudmouth. With A Death in the Family, the penultimate issue of the storyline was a cliffhanger wherein the fate of Todd hung in the balence.A telephone contest was held and readers were able to choose wether Jason would live or die. With the following issue, Todd was killed, and the final panels, nowadays somewhat famous in comic book lore, showed Batman clutching the boy’s charred, lifeless body.

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1988 was a time period in which comic books were beginning to move away from the original tones established in the 1930’s and 40’s. Comic books started out for children, it was an era commonly called the Golden Age (1938-50). The time period in which this story was published was known as the Modern Age (1985-present), wherein comic books started to become graphically violent and started to deal with mature themes such as rape, torture, and sexual assault, jettisoning the campier elements that began in the Golden Age and were streamlined in the Silver Age (1956-1970). Following the Silver Age was the Bronze Age (1970-1985). The Bronze Age was a transitional period for comic books, in which the cheesier and campier elements of comics still remained, but thematically the stories began to get darker and more mature. Mavel Comics’ legendary 1973 storyline The Night Gwen Stacy Died, which ended in the tragic deaths of Spider-Man‘s longtime girlfriend Gwen Stacy and his nemisis Green Goblin by Spidey’s own hands, is considered a defining moment in comic book history. (It was previously thought unthinkable to kill off a main character, and up until that point, Gwen Stacy and characters like her were considered entirely untouchable.) The death of Gwen Stacy is the event that marked the end of the Silver Age and the beginning of the Bronze Age. Likewise, although the Modern Age of Comics is considered to have begun in 1985 with Dave Gibbons’ 1986 Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, the death of Jason Todd is an event that signaled that this new age was definitely here to stay, and not simply confined to one or two unique, one-off stories.

The effects of the death of Jason Todd can even be felt in the new DC Extended Universe.

Years later in 2005, Jason Todd was resurrected by immortal terrorist Ra’s Al Ghul. Ra’s has always had respect for Batman, considering him an equal. Ra’s is the leader of a mysterious group known as the League of Assassins. He has lived for over 600 years due to the Lazurus Pit, which rejuvinates youth and can save the dead or dying, but drives those who use it mad. Ra’s, who wishes to live in a world of perfect evironmental balence by way of wiping out most of humanity, has come into contact with Batman several times and is one of his most venerated and respected foes. Ra’s has intellect and fighting capabilities exceeding that of Batman, and despite them being enemies, the two have developed a fondness and mutual respect for each other over their many years of conflict.Ra’s hired the Joker to throw Batman and Robin off his scent; the death of Jason was an unintended consequence that greieved Ra’s. Ra’s stopped battling with Batman out of respect for his loss, and attempted to ressurect Jason. He is reborn, yet insane, and reappears as the crime boss the Red Hood.

Jason’s plan is a complex scheme to force crime boss Black Mask to break the Joker out of prison to kill him.

This leads to an emotional climax between father and son about how Batman refuses to kill the Joker after everything he’s done.

Batman: Under the Red Hood is a brilliant story which examines Batman’s greatest failute. Jason, though different than Dick in every way, was brimming with potential. With his death, Batman failed. Batman lost a soldier, a colleague, and a friend, and it haunts him to this very day. Winnick, who also wrote the original 2005 storyline, does an excellent job of showing exactly how much Jason Todd’s death affected him. He refuses to draw anyone else into his life, for fear that what happened to Jason will happen to someone else. Even the former Robin, Dick Grayson, is essentially sidelined by Batman for pretty much his entire time on screen.

This film is animated excellently. The movements are fluid and the emotions of the characters shine through. The fight scenes are very well drawn and intense.

The real highlight here is Jensen Ackles’ voice acting. Ackles, star of the CW series Supernatural, is an excellent voice actor, and the emotion he puts into the character of Red Hood says that he was quite invested in the role. Though the action of this film is very good, the highlight for me came near the end of the film where Batman and Jason, in the midst of a brutal fight, verbally argue over the morals of killing Joker as vengence for the death of Jason. It is a truly emotionally charged moment and, for me, the best scene in the film. Bruce Greenwood does an admirable job portraying Batman, and Jason Issacs as Ra’s Al Ghul was awesome, and I find Wade Williams’ as Black Mask hilarious, for some reason. John DiMaggio is a disappointment as the Joker. The veteran voice actor unwisely attempts to immitate the character as portrayed by Mark Hamill and just doesn’t do it right. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill will forever be the definitive Batman/Joker pairing, and attempting to emulate either will just end in complete failure.

Batman: Under the Red Hood is a faithful and well-crafted adaptation of two stories that changed the landscape of Batman mythos as they were known, backed by almost flawless voice acting and a perfect animation style. Going back and watching this has me even more excited for the one-night theatrical release of the upcoming R-rated, Bruce Timm-directed adaptation of The Killing Joke on the 25th!