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My 12 for ’12: The Dark Knight Rises & Blockbusters with Brains…

I’m counting down my top twelve films of the year between now and January, starting at #12 and heading to #1. I expect the list to be a little bit predictable, a little bit surprising, a little bit of everything. All films released in the UK and Ireland in 2012 qualify. Sound off below, and let me know if I’m on the money, or if I’m completely off the radar. And let me know your own picks or recommendations.

This is #1

There’s a popular idea that just because a movie makes a lot of money, or just because it attracts a large audience, or just because it features fantastical elements, that it is somehow unworthy of discussion and debate. The Dark Knight Rises has been a divisive film, sparking a lot of debate about its relative merits and those of Christopher Nolan, the director and co-writer. Following on from the massive success of The Dark Knight, Nolan opted for an unconventional approach for his sequel. Structurally and tonally, The Dark Knight Rises represented a significant departure from The Dark Knight. While the The Dark Knight had been an urban crime thriller exploring the wake of 9/11, The Dark Knight Rises was an epic social drama pondering how divided American society had become.

It isn’t quite as fantastic as The Dark Knight, but it was strong, bold, vibrant and challenging film making – proof that budget does not belie brains.

darkknightrises57

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Infinite Crisis (Review/Retrospective)

This month I’m taking a look at DC’s massive “Infinite Crisis” Event. Although it was all published in one massive omnibus, I’ll be breaking down the lead-in to the series to tackle each thread individually, culminating in a review of the event itself. Check back for more.

Infinite Crisis is a fantastic concept with a somewhat muddled execution. The idea of reflecting on the way the DC Universe has evolved since Crisis on Infinite Earths is a fascinating hook for an event miniseries, and writer Geoff Johns does an effective job of exploring how times have changed. However, the original Crisis on Infinite Earths had a tendency to seem too vast and too all-encompassing for its own good, randomly jumping between a cast of hundreds lost in a maelstrom. Given that Marv Wolfman had twelve issues to tell that story, and still occasionally ended up a little confused, it seems a little unfair for Geoff Johns to attempt a similar effort in only seven issues.

There are times when Infinite Crisis feels less like one cohesive story and more like a series of vignettes based around a theme. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot of interesting stuff going on here – or that Johns doesn’t have something compelling to say about modern superhero comics – it just means that Infinite Crisis is a bit of a mess. A bold and ambitious mess, but a mess nevertheless.

A smashing success?

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Non-Review Review: The Dark Knight Returns, Part I

Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns might just be the most influential Batman comic ever written. It offers a glimpse an alternate future where Batman has retired as Gotham’s protector, and where a new wave of violence brings him back out of that retirement. It is also, and perhaps more notably, a study of the character’s psychology. It’s notable for suggesting that Bruce Wayne’s obsessions might be ultimately self-destructive and that there’s a primal conflict between the “Batman” part of his persona and Bruce Wayne. Like Watchmen, it’s generally recognised as one of the comics that represented a maturity in the medium.

Warner Brothers have produced an animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic, and I can’t help but admire it a great deal. While Alan Moore’s Watchmen was a novel that never really lent itself to film, Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns always had a cinematic quality that I think director Jay Oliva captures remarkably well.

A dark and stormy knight…

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Justice League Unlimited – Epilogue (Review)

At the time Epilogue was written, the creators didn’t know that Justice League Unlimited would get another season. The show ultimately got another year on television, but Dwayne McDuffie and Bruce Timm constructed Epilogue so that it would serve as something of a coda to the entire animated DC universe, stemming as far back as On Leather Wings. It actually works almost perfectly, bringing everything a full circle. Justice League and Justice League Unlimited consciously pushed Batman to the periphery, which made a bit of sense. After all, the character had anchored two shows already. However, Epilogue moves Batman back to the centre, re-establishing Bruce as the core of the animated DC universe and giving him a (mostly) happy ending a few years before The Dark Knight Rises would do the same thing.

One final spotlight on Batman…

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Batman Beyond – Rebirth (Parts I & II) (Review)

This September marks the twentieth anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series, and the birth of the shared DC animated universe that would eventually expand to present one of the most comprehensive and thorough explorations of a comic book mythology in any medium. To celebrate, we’re going back into the past and looking at some classic episodes.

Batman is one of the very few of DC’s major superheroes who faces his own mortality. Superman knows that he inspires the Legion of Superheroes, and his alien physiology could allow him to live forever. Wonder Woman is an immortal. Green Lantern comes from an entire deep space police force. Even Hawkman and Hawkgirl live through a perpetual cycle of reincarnation. Bruce Wayne is just a man, and – as such – he will eventually die. Due to this simple fact, a lot of people have wondered what might happen if Bruce Wayne were confronted with his own mortality.

Batman Beyond explores that potential future.

A flying start?

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Batman: The Animated Series – Dreams in Darkness (Review)

This September marks the twentieth anniversary of Batman: The Animated Series, and the birth of the shared DC animated universe that would eventually expand to present one of the most comprehensive and thorough explorations of a comic book mythology in any medium. To celebrate, we’re going back into the past and looking at some classic episodes.

One of the fascinating things about Batman: The Animated Series, apart from the shrewd writing, the careful character development and the skilled animation, was just how well it worked within the grand tapestry of the Batman mythos. The writers would frequently take ideas and concepts scattered across the breadth of the character’s rich publication history, tweak and update them for the small screen, and then go on to rework the concepts for the next generation of writers and creators working on the character.

Dreams in Darkness feels like the perfect example of this chain approach to reworking concepts and characters. It’s very clearly inspired by Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle’s Shadow of the Bat story The Last Arkham, but it went on to be a major and obvious influence on Batman Begins. It’s an interesting perpetual character cycle, where the character is constantly renewed and reinvigorated by successive adaptations.

We all go a little mad some times…

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The Longest Wait: The Difference Between European and American Release Dates…

I have to confess, part of me is a little disappointed that we are slowly phasing out of blockbuster season and into the traditional Oscar season. Not because I prefer the films in one to the other, of course, but because it means that apparently my entire continent is going to drop off the radar for a few months. As the major studios in the United States scramble to get their best Oscar shots released in Los Angeles (and, often, the rest of the country) by the end of the year, it seems that they forget about the rest of the world. While the release of the summer blockbusters have gotten just a bit more synchronised, there’s still a sense that the release of the prestige pieces over here remains an afterthought.

Let’s deal with this fur once and fur all…

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