Superman vs. Batman Anyone?

superman-vs-batmanWord around the comic book community of late is that the sequel to The Man of Steel will involve a bit of a crossover. Apparently, an aged Batman will be making an appearance in this movie, and the story may very well focus on a rivalry between the two. The news came earlier this month at Comic Con when director Zack Snyder announced that he had something of this nature in mind, taking many by surprise.

One such person was Frank Miller, the man who brought us The Dark Knight Returns, the classic graphic novel where Batman and Superman have a climactic showdown. with uber-freaking awesome results! For fans who were thinking this means that Snyder is looking to create a live-action version of TDKR, this is certainly good news indeed.

Sure, the animated version was certainly good, and the graphic novel itself is a wonderful standalone piece that really needs no adaptation. But I’m thinking few fans of either franchise would pass up an opportunity to see the big showdown between the two superheroes in Crime Alley on the big screen!

tdkr_batman_superman1And as if wanting to throw some gasoline on those flames ahead of time, Snyder even had actor Harry Lennix, who played General Swanwick in The Man of Steel, read a passage from TDKR. The line comes from the very climax of the fight scene between the two, where a victorious Batman is standing over a weakened Superman and is ready to deliver the coup de grace:

I want you to remember, Clark, in all the years to come… In your most private moments, I want you to remember my hand at your throat. I want you to remember the one man who beat you.

After the reading, Superman’s big S appeared on the screen behind the interview panel while the Batman symbol quietly superimposed itself. Fans were naturally excited and expressed themselves accordingly!

superman-vs-batman1Well, according to the latest industry gossip, a live-action version of TDKR is not quite had Snyder and the studio had in mind. David S Goyer, who co-wrote The Dark Knight trilogy with Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan, recently revealed the Superman and Batman film may use a ‘versus’ in the title. But he was explicit about the fact that the film will not be adapted from Miller’s work.

At the same time, however, sources close to Miller confirmed that Snyder asked for a sit down to discuss what this crossover movie would involve. The source made a statement of this impending meeting, claiming that:

Frank had no idea the announcement in San Diego was going to happen so it did come as a surprise. He’s going to be meeting up with Zach in the next few days to go over the plans for the Superman film so things should be clearer after that.

batman_baleSet to be released in 2015, the Superman vs. Batman movie is likely to be a loose adaptation, from the sounds of things. And the very latest in industry gossip says that Christian Bale may be coming back to reprise the role of Batman, to the tune of $60 million! No indication has been given if he has chomped at the bit yet, but Bale did indicate that he might not be finished with the role.

As Bale said in a recent interview, when referring to the price tag, “Let’s not get greedy”. But at the same time, he didn’t rule out the possibility, claiming that “it all comes down to Chris [Nolan].”

Personally, I think this “loose adaptation” talk should be ditched in favor of a full-on TDKR adaptation. There’s plenty of potential to update the story, which was written in the late 80’s and featured a very Reagan-era Cold War-esque story, but with a few tweeks, it could easily be adapted to fit in the current era.

the-dark-knight-returnsAnd it might even tie the two franchises together nicely, with a supposedly dead Batman coming out of retirement, and a Superman who has been enlisted to serve the government finding themselves at odds. And since the storyline involves the Joker, it could be a fitting tribute to Heath to have him brought back for one final dance with the Batman.

It’s a tall order, I know, and like I said, it was already done. But if you’re gonna go big, Snyder, go REALLY BIG. Or just go the hell the home! You’re making some tall promises, and fans are expecting better from you after that bit of a letdown known as The Man of Steel. You got Batman and Superman in your hands now. Don’t screw it up!

Sources: indepedent.co.uk, badassdigest.com

New Movie Trailer – 300: Rise of an Empire

300-rise-of-an-empire-thumbIt seems that Zack Snider and Frank Miller are back for another round of comic book adaptations! After bringing us 300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch, and Man of Steel, Snider has signed on for a sequel named 300: Rise of an Empire. This time around, the movie will adapting material from Frank Miller’s own comic sequel to 300, which was entitled “Xerxes”.

As you can see from the trailer, Lena Headey is back to reprise her role as Queen Gorgo of Sparta, while Roderigo Santoro is back as well, reprising the role of the ridiculously tall and pierced man-god Xerxes. David Wehnam is reprising the role of the narrating Dilios. Meanwhile, the beautiful Eva Green plays Artemisia, Xerxes’ ally and naval commander, and Sullivan Stapleton plays General Themosticles – commander of the Greek navy.

300-Rise-of-an-Empire1As you can also see, the movie picks up where events in the first movie left off, after the Battle of Thermopylae where King Leonidas and his 300 were eventually wiped out. In adapting real history to an over-the-top format yet again, Snider and Miller give us a souped-up version of the Battle of Salamis, the war at sea that followed shortly thereafter.

This confrontation between the Greek and Persian navies occurred off the tip of the Greek mainland, just 20 km away from Athens which had been abandoned to the Persians. It was a desperate fight, but in the end, the Greeks proved victorious, using the home field advantage to trap and defeat the larger Persian forces.

300-Rise-of-An-Empire3In many ways, this battle would prove to be the beginning of the end for the Persian army, since defeat at sea now meant they could no longer launch offensives into the Peloponnese (home of Sparta and where the Greek Allies were now based) by both land and sea. Marching across the thin and fortified isthmus of Corinth would prove slow and difficult, and Thermopylae had demonstrated that frontal assaults against fortified phalanxes were not effective.

In addition, Xerxes now feared the Greeks could mount a naval offensive on the Hellespont (the land bridge between modern day Turkey and Greece) and cut off his forces from their overland supply routes. On top of that, he was dealing with rebellions within the conquered territories and had to tend to those as well.

300: BATTLE OF ARTEMESIUMAs a result, the war would consist of sieges against rebelling states until the decisive land battle of Plataea, north of Athens, (shown at the end of 300) and the naval battle at Mycale off the coast of Turkey would take place a year later and drive the Persians out of Greece and the Aegean for good.

Honestly, not sure if I’ll catch this one. Sure, the last one was cinematic action porn, and fun if you ignored the historical inaccuracies and alleged attempts to draw a connection between the past and the “war on terror”. But I think its fair to say this is Snider and Miller’s attempt to cash in again and really doesn’t have much magic to it. And without Gerard Butler screaming martial slogans, it just seems flat.

“THIS IS SPARTAAAA!” No, this is a sequel. And oftentimes, they suck! But then again, I do love the history and there have been cases where the sequel was even better than the original… we shall see! And of course, we can all enjoy the trailers in the meantime!

The Dark Knight Returns: The Animated Movie

the-dark-knight-returnsRecently, I finished watching the animated movie of the classic comic, known as The Dark Knight Returns. Adapted from Frank Miller’s four-part graphic novel, this movie came in two parts that were released separately over the past year. And now that I have both parts under my belt, I feel that a review is necessary. Not only was this an overdue feature, in my opinion, it was also one of the biggest installments in the Batman franchise and the greatest accomplishments of Miller’s checkered career.

Originally published in 1986, TDKR tells the story of Batman many years after the official story arc where he and others like him have gone into retirement. Borrowing from such franchises as The Watchmen, it experiments with some limited alternate-history, showing how the 80’s would have been different had superheroes been around and worked for the government. In and around all that, Miller also takes the time to make some social and political commentary, examining Batman’s quest to save Gotham from multiple angles and presenting it as a controversial issue within the story.

With only some minor liberties and changes, the animated movie presents the story as it happened in the graphic novel and was true to the spirit of Miller’s creation. Intended as a sequel to the 2011 animated film Batman: Year One, the film was directed by Jay Oliva, who worked as a storyboard artist on Man of Steel, Batman: Year One and Batman: Under the Red Hood and stars Peter Weller (Robocop) as the voice of the Dark Knight, Michael Emerson (Lost, Saw) as the Joker, Ariel Winter (Modern Family, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Speed Racer) as Robin and David Selby (Dark Shadows, Unknown, The Social Network) as Commissioner Gordon.

Plot Synopsis:
TDKR_part1The story opens on Gotham City, with Bruce Wayne now 55 years old and in retirement. Nearly all superheroes, with the exception of Superman who works for the government, have gone underground since the government made their activities illegal and the population turned against them. Unlike most, Batman went willingly due to the death of Jason Todd, the second Robin, which left him scarred and dejected.

Naturally, Gotham City has descended into a state of chaos and near-anarchy and a new gang of thugs called the Mutants has taken control of the streets. At about this time, Harvey Dent is released from Arkham Asylum after undergoing reconstructive surgery which has restored his face. His therapist, Dr. Bartholomew Wolper, insists that Dent is a healed man and wants to return to normal life and repent for his past crimes. Like many Gothamites, Wolper is not a fan of the Batman, blaming his obsession with order for Dent’s psychosis.

TDKR_batmanSimilarly, the mutant boss begins to release statements saying his gang is going to take control of the city and kill Gordon. After meeting with him for drinks and visiting Crime Alley where his parents were murdered, Bruce Wayne realizes he can no longer stand idly by and decides to don his cape and cowl again. His first stop is to a robbery in progress where he takes out several armed hooligans and is met with nostalgic praise by one police officer, and fear and trepidation from a rookie.

Batman’s return is met with mixed reviews, with some condemning his actions and others hailing the return of the crime fighter who teaches common people to be brave and rise up. His sudden appearance is also noticed by the Mutant boss, who begins to add Batman to his list of people to kill. But more importantly, a masked man holds the city ransom and threatens to blow up the cities “Twin Towers” if he doesn’t get a ransom. Batman is convinced its Harvey and intervenes.

tdkr_dentAfter taking down his thugs, Batman realizes that the bombs Harvey set were meant to go off no matter what. When he confronts Harvey himself and disarms him, he realizes the entire thing was an elaborate suicide attempt to demonstrate how he has not healed. Rather than being cosmetic or physical, his psychosis is deeply rooted in his psyche and can’t be expunged. He surrenders to Batman and is returned to Arkham.

The city breathes a sigh of relief and once again begins endlessly debating the Batman’s actions. One person who takes particular notice is a young woman named Carrie Kelley, whom Batman rescues earlier on in the story from a mutant attack. After witnessing him save the city, she buys a knock-off Robin costume and decides to pursue him, hoping to become his new sidekick.

tdkr_mutantBatman’s next confrontation takes him to the city dump where the Mutants are assembling and getting ready to assault the city. In his souped-up version of the Batmobile, which is now an armored tank, he disperses the thugs quickly using rubber bullets and rockets. But the Mutant leader comes before him and challenges him to a one-on-one fight. Batman cannot refuse, and the two get into it.

The fight goes poorly as Batman realizes the Mutant boss is in his prime, clinically insane and virtually immune to pain. Despite his best efforts at beating his down, Batman suffers some severe injuries as the mutant bites into his shoulder, breaks his arm, and slams him to the ground. He is narrowly saved when Robin intervenes and distracts the boss and Batman is able to pacify him. Together, they retreat back to the Batcave while Gotham PD arrives and places the Mutants into custody.

tdkr_tankWhile recovering from his wounds, Batman has a talk with Kelley about being his sidekick. He agrees to take her on provisionally, provided she doesn’t disobey his orders or put herself in needless danger. The mayor meanwhile attempts to step in and come to an agreement with the Mutant boss, but is murdered when he steps into the room alone with him. Batman decides that the only way to crush the mutants is to defeat their boss publicly and permanently.

After arranging for his escape, the Mutant boss is lured to another dump where the Mutants have all assembled. Engaging him in knee-high mud which slow him down, the Batman has the advantage and manages to pacify the boss further with nerve pinches and strategic blows. He finishes him off by getting him down and breaking his arm and leg, then punching him until he’s unconscious. To all the Mutants watching, it is clear who is top dog in Gotham now!

Thus ends part I of the story.

tdkr_part2In part II, things once again open with people debating the actions of the Batman, especially since his defeat of the Mutants has led to the creation of a new gang known as the “Sons of Batman” who assault and kill criminals. Commissioner Gordon retires and is replaced by a Ellen Yindel who issues a warrant for the arrest of Batman. And in Arkham Asylum, another person takes notice of Batman’s latest actions with interest… the Joker!

Meanwhile, Superman is called to the White House to discuss putting and end to Batman’s actions. Superman indicates that it won’t be easy and he doubts Wayne will listen to reason, but agrees. He arranges to meet with Wayne and tells him that his coming out of retirement is a violation of their agreement and that if he persists, Superman will have to bring him in. Wayne responds only by saying “may the best man win”.

tdkr_jokerSuperman is then forced to head to Corto Maltese, a small island that is being contested by the Soviets and the US. After open fighting begins, Superman intervenes and begins destroying the Russian forces. The American forces are declared victorious, but a full-scale nuclear standoff results and a terrible sense of fear sets in.

After convincing Wolper that he has recovered, the Joker decides to come out of retirement himself by going on a late night talk show. Whereas Wolper is presenting him as a recovered man who regrets his actions, the Joker arranges to kill everyone in the studio using his Smile-ex gas, which his assistant disperses using a pair of robot children. Batman arrives on scene but is forced to fight it out with the police, and everyone in the studio dies.

tdkr_showdownThe Joker finds Selina Kyle (aka. Catwoman), who now runs an escort service, and drugs her to make her do his bidding and orders her to send one of her girls to give the same mind-control drug to a local Senator. This man then jumps from his hotel window after saying a full scale first-strike is the only recourse they have with the Russians, which intensifies the panic and keeps the police busy. After learning of this, Batman and Robin head to Kyles place where they find her bound and beaten in a Wonder Woman costume. Barely conscious, she tells them, “he’s worse than ever”, and they realize he has headed to the county fair.

They arrive to find the Joker’s already killed many people and Batman begins pursuing him while Robin tries to stop his associate and his lethal robots. Batman finally corners Joker in the Tunnel of Love where he breaks his neck, but not before the Joker has critically wounded him with a knife. The Joker then taunts the Batman by saying he will be charged with a murder he couldn’t bring himself commit, then twists his own neck to complete the break and kill himself.

Batman narrowly escapes police but knows they will stop at nothing to end him now. Retreating once again to recover, things once again escalate as the Russians respond to Superman’s intervention in Corto Maltese with a tactical nuclear strike. Superman manages to divert the missile from landing in Corto Maltese, but diverts it to the upper atmosphere where its detonation causes a massive EMP to short out all electricity in Gotham.

tdkr_batman_horseSuperman himself is nearly killed by the blast and the resulting cloud cover, and must drain energy from nearby plants and trees in order to recover. Batman also awakens from his bed to find the city rioting and looting in the midst of the blackout, and rides in with Robin on some horses to begin recruiting people to help. He finds willing assistants with the Sons of Batman, former Mutants, and common citizens alike. Commissioner Gordon also manages to enlist the help of people to stop a fire and manages to find his wife after thinking he lost her in the blaze.

With the city once again saved and Superman recovered, the stage is now set for the final confrontation. Passing overhead of Wayne Manor, Superman etches the word WHERE? on the lawn, to which Batman responds “Crime Alley”. After doing an inventory of some specialized weapons, which includes a powered exoskeleton, he is met by Oliver Queen (aka. Green Arrow), who he agrees to let help him. Having lost his arm to Superman in their last confrontation, he is bitter and eager to help the Dark Knight bring him down.

tdkr_batman_superman

The Gotham Police and National Guard cordon off the area as Superman and Batman both arrive. The Batman gets out of the Batmobile and tells Robin to keep it running and follow the orders he left her with. Robin asks if there is a plan here, but is left with the impression that Batman will not be returning from this fight. He confronts Clarke in the street and they begin to fight it out. Outmatched, Batman employs several special weapons to slow him down, including a sonic blaster, a massive electrical shock, acid, and finally, a kryptonite arrow fired by Oliver.

The arrowhead explodes after Clarke catches it, filling his lungs with the dust. Batman delivers several more punches and is all set to deliver the coup de grace, but takes the time to let him know that he just wanted to defeat him, not kill him. In the end, he wanted Clarke to know what it was like to feel mortal, and to know who defeated him.

Meanwhile, Alfred torches Wayne Manner and collapses outside, suffering a stroke and dying in front of the home of the family he spent his life in service to. The police and army arrive and find Superman wounded but alive and Batman on the ground. Superman refuses to let them touch him and carries his body away.

Shortly thereafter a funeral service is held which is attended by Kyle, Gordon, Superman and a young veiled woman. Kyle blames Superman for his death and Gordon is heartbroken. However, as Clarke turns to leave, he hears a quiet pulse coming through the ground. He turns and looks to the young woman and sees she’s carrying a shovel under her robe. He realizes the truth and winks at her.

tdkr_exoCut to the final scene, where Robin, Oliver and a group of people arrive at a cave and begin setting up equipment. Bruce arrives and tells them they are setting up here, that this will be their new “Batcave” and he will teach them everything he knows. Henceforth, they will work from the shadows, protecting Gotham and not drawing attention to themselves. The movie ends with Batman saying he spent the last few years searching for a good death, but feels he can now make a good life.

“Well… good enough!” he finishes by saying. Roll credits!

Summary:
Personally, I thought this movie was done right. The casting, and character-acting were all spot on, and I especially enjoyed the animation. Not only was the quality quite good, but it managed to capture a great deal of the aesthetics and even iconic images from the original comic itself. Not easy to do when your adapting graphic novel material, especially when its Miller’s work!

tdkr_batmobileWhat’s more, I thoroughly enjoyed how they captured the tone and feel of Miller’s original comic. Not only did it possess the dark,  gritty and just-realistic-enough tone of things, they also managed to smooth down some of its more rough edges. For one, many people who enjoyed the original comic did have some complaints about all the social commentary and the way the talking heads and mass media asides kept coming up. While I agree that Frank leaned on these a little too heavily, I think they struck a fine balance in this movie. Basically, they managed to present the issue without getting too saturated by it.

The same is true of the whole controversy surrounding Batman’s actions and the big question it raised. In Miller’s comic, you kind of got the feeling you were being beaten over the head with the moral, but these guys did it right by not overdoing it. It’s like, we get it, vigilantes must consider the consequences of their actions, whether or not their fighting crime is a form of “social fascism” and leads to more kinds of “legitimized violence”. Put it in the background and let the show go on…

tdkr_battleAnd yes, they did change a few things. For one, Batman’s confrontations with the Joker and Superman happened a little differently in the books. In all four cases – Dent, the Mutant leader, Joker, Superman – they kind of sexed up the actions scenes, adding more punches, kicks and acrobatics. No complaint there, they were awesome! Especially the fight with the mutant boss, which I felt really captured the essence of Batman schooling his younger, crazier enemy in the ways of pain!

Dark_Knight_ReturnsBut they when it came to the latter two, they changed things a bit in a way I didn’t like so much. For example, in the comic, the Joker’s taunted Batman for not being able to kill him, whereas here he simply laughs for having made him “lost control”. In truth, Batman still couldn’t kill the Joker, despite how many more people he’d killed and the fact that he now blamed himself for not doing it sooner. It was a brilliant theme, loaded with subtext and something they touch on numerous times throughout the series. Here though, it was kind of minimized.

tdkr_fightThen there was how Batman told Superman he didn’t intend to kill him but just wanted to let him know he could beat him. In truth, Batman was not so merciful to him in the comic. After disabling him with kryptonite, he made sure Clarke understood why he was beating the tar out of him. First, he felt Superman had sold them out by agreeing to serve the government, that he resented him for being a boy scout who blindly did as he was told, and that he could never understand what life was really like. Only after all that did he tell him he wanted him to remember who had beaten him and how he could have killed him.

And that was the real point here. In the end, the fight was a contest of who’s way was better, Batman’s dark and realistic appraisal of things, or Superman’s naive and idealistic way. That’s part of what made it so brilliant. It was a commentary on two parallel stories that were years in the making, and the ironies and consequences that grew out of them.

Superman, for all his power and idealism, is basically an expression of the American Way, with all the naivete and denial that goes with it. Batman, on the other hand, is like a reality check, a cynical and dark admission of what really is. The significance of how they collided in the end and one could have killed the other, but stopped short of doing it, was magnificent!

Batman_gothamUltimately, The Dark Knight Returns was a great series and its little wonder then why Christopher Nolan drew inspiration from it to fashion his relaunch of the Batman franchise. In the first and second movie we get into the issue of “escalation” in the creation of the Joker and the responsibility of the hero, both of which bear a striking resemblance to what happened in this comic.

Then there was the issue of Batman coming out of retirement to face a younger, meaner, stronger opponent in Bain, which seems ripped from his confrontation with the Mutant boss in this one. Add to that Batman’s apparent death at the end of the last movie and all roads seem to lead back to this comic at some point. Hell, even the name of final movie in the franchise is practically the same as the comic: The Dark Knight Rises (TDKR) – The Dark Knight Returns (TDKR).

And with the final release from the Nolan series, I’m guessing the time seemed ripe to show the adaptation of the classic comic and show people just where so many of the original ideas came from. You’re welcome Nolan, and I strongly recommend anyone who has not read the comic and/or seen this movie yet to get out there and do both. You might say it’s required reading and viewing for any fan of the Batman franchise!

The Dark Knight Rises!

Well, I’m back. Some three weeks after it made its big debut, my wife and I finally got around to seeing The Dark Knight Returns. And how to describe the experience? I feel I must come at this chronologically because otherwise, I might blow this review. So please bear with me and be warned that some spoilers follow…

The First Few Scenes:
As the movie began, we got some low-key expository scenes where they recapped all that happened with the last movie. Harvey Dent is dead, his memory is being honored years later, and the big lie that saved Gothamites from the Joker’s madness has been carefully maintained. And despite Commissioner Gordon’s success at nearly eradicating organized crime in Gotham – under the Dent Act – the mayor is quietly entertaining plans to get rid of him.

Meanwhile, we learn that Bruce Wayne has effectively drooped out of the public eye and become a bit of a recluse, a la Howard Hughes. However, this changes when a cat burglar is nearly caught stealing his mother’s pearl necklace while trying to obtain his prints. In addition, her kidnapping of a Senator leads to a manhunt which takes police into the sewers and face to face with a mercenary terrorist by the name of Bane.

This man recently kidnapped a nuclear physicist overseas and made his way to Gotham, apparently at the behest of someone who’s paid for his services. After a brief but nearly fatal encounter between him and Jim Gordon, Wayne is approached by one of his detectives, a young man named John Blake, tells him Batman needs to come back. He resists these demands, but finds he cannot when the nefarious Bane unleashes his plan and the true scope and nature of it become clear.

Suffice it to say, all these things occur within the first 30 minutes and I felt that every scene suffered from the same basic problem. They felt rushed, expository, and kind of like they were just getting the obligatory stuff out of the way. However, as soon as those passed and the plot began to truly unfold, things improved immeasurably. In a way, the action of the movie told its own story and had a degree of depth that these earlier scenes lacked, and they carried on through to the end of movie.

Plot Development:
As I mentioned last time, this movie was connected to the first in terms of plot. I shan’t go into too much detail since many people still need to see it. But suffice it to say, Bane’s motivations go well beyond being a mere mercenary. While his skills in that regard are legendary, his purpose in returning to Gotham go to the very heart of the first movie’s plot, resurrecting the League of Shadows and the aims of Ra’s al Ghul.

But of course there are twists and subplots along the way. For instance, the man who brought Bane to Gotham turns out to be one of Wayne Enterprises own, a man who thinks a little controlled chaos will destabilize the company and ensure his nefarious rise to power. Against that, there is a project to fund the development of clean energy which Wayne invested half his fortune in but then abandoned, mainly because some scientist found a way to weaponize it. Recall the bit about how Bane kidnapped a nuclear scientist? Uh-oh!

On top of all that, the movie makes some pretty strong points about revolutionary justice and the fact that people can so easily be misguided by self-styled “liberators” into becoming their own worst enemies. At many points throughout the movie, allegorical similarities are made to revolutions in France, Russia, and elsewhere where the mob is incited by the bad guys and themselves become a force of malevolence and revolutionary justice that transforms their world into a place of terror and oppression.

And here, quite brilliantly, connections are made to the second movie and the many lies that were told in order to protect the people of Gotham from the terrible truth. Here too we see another fitting theme, which was the flip-side to what was argued in movie two, about how sometimes the truth isn’t enough. Even if a lie may be more convenient, sooner or later, it comes back to haunt you, and those who lied to protect you end up having to answer for a lot. And the worst thing of that is, those who may have been trying to protect you lose your trust at a crucial moment.

The Third Act:
Unlike the The Dark Knight, this movie didn’t suffer from third act problems. This was something I was on the lookout for after last time and I really wanted to see them succeed, which they did in spades! Yes, things were a little slow to get started, but by the time the climax was happening, things blended together quite seamlessly. Like TDK, there were three strands happening at once, but this time around, they worked with each other, not against. It pains me that I can’t give any details to say why they worked so well together. But trust me, this time around, the climax was done right!

And yes, this is definitely the biggest of the three movies in terms of plot and consequences. In movie one, the League of Shadows hoped to tear Gotham apart by driving it mad. In movie two, the Joker hopes to turn it against itself by inducing mass anarchy. But in this one, Bane and his followers want to do annihilate it, body and soul. For them, there are no compromises, no quarter asked and none given.

It pains me even more that I can’t mention the twists that come at the very end. There are two, to be sure, and I really would like to know what others thought of them. once again, can’t mention them by name. But for those who haven’t seen the movie yet, I will say there are some treats which you have to wait til the end to see. For those who have seen it, then you already know what I’m talking about! What did you think of them and do you think they were alluding to another possible sequel?

Inspirations:

“When Gotham is in ashes, then you have my permission to die.”

Overall, this movie boasts a plot that was clearly inspired (at least in part) by The Dark Knight Returns. A number of fans anticipated this and it was good to see that they went with it after all. Not only were the same themes there – Batman coming out of retirement, forced to deal with age and deteriorating health, and going up against a foe in his prime – there was even some subtle shout outs to the comic itself.

The one which really stands out is the scene where two police officers are chasing after some perps, and Batman zooms in on his bike. The older cop says to the rookie, “You’re in for a show!” and spends the next few minutes trying to tell him just stay out of his way. Right out of the comic! And of course, the fact that Batman actually loses in his first confrontation with Bane and has to recoup and recover, forcing himself to overcome his own demons and complacency to defeat him, that too was something from the The Dark Knight Returns.

But as I said last time, the character of Bane originally comes from the animated series. Though he was little more than a massive, steroid-juiced freak in that version, here they gave him a much more nuanced and believable persona. While he is a gigantic, muscle bound villain, Bane’s real power comes from the sort of imposing, badass, evil nature that Tom Hardy is famous for.

As Alfred was sure to point out, Bane is a man who was forged in the worst conditions imaginable. Being born into misery and darkness, he has no fear of it, and is prepared to deal it in spades to anyone who gets in his way or incurs his displeasure. Whenever that occurs, everything you need to see comes through in the eyes and the baleful glares he gives, which is what makes the fact that they kept his face hidden all the more poignant.

In this respect, he and Batman are highly similar. Having both grown up with their fair share of pain and anguish, they both enlisted with the League of Shadows hoping to find their way. But whereas Bruce eventually betrayed the League for reasons of conscience, Bane was excommunicated for having none whatsoever. Much like Batman and the Joker, we see a sort of “two sides of the same coin” thing happening.

The Villians:
And while I would never want to get into direct comparisons, Tom Hardy’s portrayal of Bane was fantastic and truly badass! Granted, he didn’t have the same low voice that he did in the commercials, more of a Connery-esque accent minus the slurred S’s. But this only added to his imposing nature. He speaks like a oddly upbeat British person, but his imposing size, scary eyes, and sheer badassery round that out quite nicely. When he speaks, you know to be afraid, even if he’s not using an evil voice.

Overall, I’d say he was no better than Heath, but certainly comparable. Whereas the Joker was a sheer force of crazy malevolence, Bane is an unstoppable juggernaut, forged from suffering to become an instrument of terror. How do you compare two titanic forces like that? It’s like comparing apples to oranges. So no real conclusions there, just equally awesome portrayals!

And of course Catwoman was very well played by Anne Hathaway. True to form, she begins as a villain who is working with the forces of evil, but with her own agenda in mind. In time, she comes to see the bad guys for what they are and realizes that she is better served fighting alongside Batman rather than against him. And she did it all believably, faithfully, and managed to pull off some fight choreography that was pretty impressive. In fact, hers was even more impressive than Bales, though he did have to convey an aging Batman and couldn’t exactly steal the show!

Summary:
Alas, the big question… was this movie better than The Dark Knight? Hard to say. On the one hand, it managed to avoid the same problems the last movie had, which was the feeling that things had climaxed before the ending, leading to pacing problems towards the end where there seemed to be a mad rush to wrap things up and the audience was left breathless and kind of confused.

At the same time, they had an awkward opening which the second movie didn’t have. There, Nolan and the writers did a good job weaving action and exposition together to let us know what had happened since the last movie. This time around, they seemed to be rushing through all the introductions in order to get to the action. It’s hard to say which is more important, introduction or conclusion, since both are crucial to how the overall plot is going to be perceived. And ultimately, both movies manage to succeed in spite of these problems.

Second, the villains were well paired. Bane and the Joker were both masterfully portrayed and captured my imagination and literally got me on the edge of my seat. They were the kind of bad guys you didn’t exactly root for, but which made you think being bad could be cool! As for the lesser villains, Dark Knight and Rises differed considerably. Harvey Dent, being a third act introductee, was pretty rushed and never really got to be more than a crazed shadow of his hero self. Catwoman, on the other hand, got a pretty good development through it all, going from being a cynical, “look out for number one” kind of girl to actually caring what happens to Gotham.

So really… I can’t say at this point. Given time, I might be able to say one was better than the other conclusively, but right now, it feels like a neck in neck race. So I think I’ll just call it as dead even. Movies two and three were equally good, and whatever your individual preference, you’re cant go wrong!

Cool Cars

Just yesterday I was busy hearing about the new Zombie Car, an invention which is going to be unveiled at the next Comic Con. A collaboration between The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman and Hyundai, the car will essentially incorporate all the zombie-fighting features that a post-apocalyptic vehicle needs.

As it happens, one of my followers mentioned how this vehicle reminded her of the Batmobile and other cool cars. Between that and the allusions to Mad Max that the Zombie Car inevitably inspires, I got to thinking that this site is in need of a list of Cool Cars! And here it is, all the cool vehicles that have appeared in pop culture over the years, more often than not, as part of a science fiction franchise.

M577 APC:
Not so much a car as a tank, but she drives on four wheels and is VERY cool. So I don’t see why the M577 from the Aliens franchise shouldn’t be included on this list. Much like all APC’s, the purpose of this low-sitting but heavy hitting vehicle was to act as a battle taxi, deploying a squad of Marines to the field and then pulling them out in a hurry if things got harry. Designed to fit aboard a Cheyenne Dropship, it was part of the Colonial Marines quick deployment strategy.

As Hudson so righteously bragged in the movie, the M577 is decked out with some pretty impressive weaponry. For instance, the foldable turret mounted on the top carries a twin 20mW Boyars PARS-150 phased plasma cannon which is capable of making 1000 discharges. At the front end of the vehicle, a dual set of RE700 20mm Gatling cannons is built on a small swivel turret. In addition, it also carries plenty of small arms and munitions for its Marine compliments, consisting of pulse rifles, smart guns, flame units, grenades, rockets and even canisters of nerve gas.

Batmobile:
Now here’s a popular vehicle, so popular that’s gone through several variations over the years. From the campy 60’s version of the original Adam West series to the sculpted Burton remake to the Tumbler of the Nolan series, the Batmobile is a nostalgic icon which is constantly being reinvented. But all versions have two things in common. One, they’re crime-fighting specials, which means they have all kinds of gadgets and features. Two, they’re none to shabby to look at and probably a hell of a lot of fun to drive!

In the earliest Batman comics, the Batmobile was simply a sedan that served as Batman’s car. As time went on, it began to reflect Batman’s motif, including wing-shaped tailfins, dark colors, and even armor. Additional customizations, like crime-fighting gadgets also found their way into the design, and soon, a classic was born!

By the time of the original series, the Batmobile was based around the chassis of a Lincoln Futura and featured fully-functioning gadgets. These included a gas turbine, a Cable Cutter Blade, the Bat Ray Projector, a Batscope, Bat Eye Switch, Antenna Activator, Police Band Cut-In Switch, Automatic Tire Inflation Device, the Remote Batcomputer, the Batphone, Emergency Bat Turn Lever, Anti-Fire Activator, Bat Smoke, Bat Photoscope, and two rear-mounted ten-foot Deist parachutes.

Updated for the relaunch, Burton’s Batmobile built around the original concept but recieved a does of his characteristic grit and Gothic nature. As such, the new Batmobile’s aesthetics and gadgets were updated for the modern era and included a sleeker design, a more comprehensive turbine system, a sliding canopy, and of course retractable body armor! It also retained the idea of a 180 degree “Bat turn”, which this time around was made possible from lateral harpoons, and two .30 cal machineguns.

As the second movie demonstrated, the vehicle was also capable of shedding much of its body and collapsing into a narrow version of itself in case it needed to fit through tight spots. By the third movie, the design concept had changed considerably to feature bright sections beneath its segmented chassis. Over the top and impractical, this design was in keeping with Schumacher’s vision of a Batman where everything glittered and was campy, like the original series.

And last, the Nolan version. Here, the Batmobile was apparently inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, where it was depicted as a tank rather than a car, and the Spinners of the Blade Runner movie. In the first film, it is indicated that the design came from a military vehicle known as “The Tumbler”, which Bruce Wayne then modified for his personal use.

It’s features included a propane fueled jet engine, front-firing rockets, autocannons, caltrops, rear airbrakes, and a stealth mode. In the Dark Knight, it was also shown that in emergency situations, the front wheels can deploy to form the Batpod. Rumors also abound that the new version featured in The Dark Knight Rises will be capable of flight as well. Oooooh, five more days!

Delorean:
This time-traveling vehicle has placed this short-lived 80’s experiment permanently on people’s radar. Were it not for Back to the Future and it’s unapologetically 80’s feel, the Delorean would probably have faded into obscurity a long time ago. Much like the Futura, it was a short-lived concept that caught on because of its appearance on screen.

But of course, were it not for its unusual design features, such as the gull-wing doors, stainless steel paneling and fiberglass underbody, it would never have made its cinematic appearances in the first place. The set designers were looking for something futuristic-looking to fashion a time-machine out of, and this is what they found!

It’s futuristic features are quite straightforward: A flux capacitor which allows for time travel, a plutonium engine that fuels it, a series of internal controls to set and monitor the time computations, and some rear facing exhaust fans to give it that ultra-futuristic look! Only three remain in existence once filming of the three movies was finished. Two are the property of Universal Studios and are display items, the third is owned by a private collector who assembled and restored the original model.

Ecto-1:
I shall not be making a “Who you gonna call?” reference here! Too obvious! Instead, let me just say that this car ought to be instantly familiar to anyone who grew up in the 80’s. If not, I’d be forced to wonder if you spent the entire decade in a cave or a cell somewhere, in which case, my sincere condolences!

Moving on, the Ecto-1 was the primary means of transport for the Ghostbusters. The car was built around the chassis of a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor, which had been converted to act as an ambulance car. This is apparent from the realoader trunk and the car’s siren, which was retained by the Ghostbusters so they could make sure people stayed out of their way, and also to announce their arrival!

Additional features including a a special pull-out rack in the rear containing the staff’s proton packs, which facilitates a quick retrieval without the complication of having to reach into the vehicle’s rear. There are also various gadgets mounted on the top, whose function is never revealed in the movies. However, in the course of the cartoon adaptation, it is said that the vehicle carries a “proton cannon” on its roof, and has a vertical jump system built into the bottom. These allow the Ghostbusters to take on ghost with some heavy artillery, as well as clearing fences and other obstacles that lie between them and their deployment.

KITT:
Also known as Knight Industries Two Thousand, this talking car was featured in the popular 80’s show Knight Rider. In addition to being the “vehicle” (ha!) that launched Hasselhoff’s career, this car is one of the earliest instances where an AI was merged with a high-performance car.

Built around the chassis of a 1982 Pontiac Trans Am, the car was souped up with a number of features to give it that AI look and feel. These included the red-laser scanner bar at the front – which like the Cylons’, allowed KITT to “see” – a turbo boost that allowed him to make big jumps, an “alpha circuit” which allows KITT to drive himself, a Tri-Helical Plasteel 1000 MBS (molecular bonded shell) plating, a flame thrower, tear gas launcher, and even a laser.

Inspiring several TV movies and a 2008 relaunch, the vehicle has gone through several redesigns and upgrades. In the updated series, the Trans Am chassis was traded in for a Mustang GT500KR and the molecular armor was traded in for nanotech polymer skin which is not only impregnable, but also capable of regeneration. Much of the other features, including the AI, scanners and defensive systems remained very much the same. However, the show only lasted single season, a possible indication that not all things 80’s are an instant success anymore.

Pursuit Special:
With all this talk about Mad Max, it was only a matter of time before this one crept into the list! Making multiple appearances in the franchise, the first car to hold this name was a modified Holden Monaro that was stolen and used by the “Night Rider” (not to be confused with Haffelhoff’s character). However, the more famous model was a modified 1973 Ford Falcon XB GT.

It was this car that Mad Max was offered as an incentive to stay with the force as their top pursuit man. Thought he initially refused it, he later used this same vehicle as his personal revenge weapon when evil men murdered his wife and child and had to be dealt with!

In terms of features, the main modifications on this car were the front nosecone, the eight individual exhaust side pipes, and a supercharger protruding through the bonnet. All of these alluded to the fact that the Pursuit Special was the fastest car in the force, capable of chasing down any road warriors that happened to be barreling down the highway.

In the sequel, the car was modified even further thanks to the success of the first film and a correspondingly larger budget. The new features included large petrol tanks fitted in the back to show that just how important a steady supply of petrol was to this car, not to mention within the context of the post-apocalyptic setting of Mad Max. The front end was also modified by removing the bottom section, which was in keeping with the design concept of making the car look more used and stressed.

Spinner:
So… it’s the 21st century, and yet there aren’t any flying cars. Screw hybrids and electrics, I was promised FLYING CARS! Well, according to the movie Blade Runner, we still have seven years before they are supposed to be a regular feature, at least as far as police cars go. And that’s the concept of a Spinner, in a nutshell –  a flying car used by the police of the future noire city of LA.

In addition to being able to drive as a ground car, the Spinner is also capable of vertical takeoff and landings and hovering at relatively high altitudes. Conceived by Syd Mead, the same man who designed concepts for Tron and Aliens, the vehicle was originally described as an “aerodyne” – a vehicle which directs air downward to create lift, though press kits for the film stated that the spinner was propelled by three engines: “conventional internal combustion, jet, and anti-gravity”.

I hope for their sake, they exaggerate! It’s going to be hard to come up with anti-gravity engines in just seven years time! In any case, the concept designs were built by Gene Winfield, the man who brought concepts to life for Batman, The Last Starfighter and Robocop as well as this. No indication was given as to what they used for a chassis, so I can only assume they built it up from spare parts and a classic was born!

So… seven years before these cars are supposed to be available, right? Ford, Toyota, GM, Hyundai, Subaru; all of you guys, get on it! Don’t make me come down there!

XXX GTO:
Last, but not least, we have the super-charge spy car on steroids from the movie XXX. As anyone who has seen this movie knows, Mr Vin Diesel, once undercover amongst a bunch of Russian mafia scumbags, decided he needed to have a classic muscle car. This he found in a 1967 Pontiac GTO hardtop. When circumstances demanded he start kicking some ass, he demanded that his spy buddies take all their precious gear and put it into the car.

Yes, that’s exactly how it happened. A table of guns, harpoons launchers, and assorted high tech gear lay in front of them. Behind the wheel, Diesel said “I want all of that… in here!” Within a few days, he got his wish. Featuring a folding seat which turns over to reveal a weapons rack, missiles mounted behind the lights, a flame thrower, and built-in machineguns.

And of course, all of this equipment had corresponding controls in the interior. These were to be found in a confusing array of millions of buttons and switches, along with an on-board GPS system built into the dashboard. Unfortunate that the car made only a brief appearance as part of the final chase scene.

Well that’s I got for this first installment in the series. I imagine people might have suggestions so please send them my way. Between ships, robots, guns, and now cars, I think we can just pay homage to just about every cool thing that’s ever come out of the realm of sci-fi and pop culture!

A Tribute to the Joker

the_joker-wallpaper-1366x768Soon enough, the third and final installment in Chris Nolan’s Batman franchise will be premiering. I can’t tell you how much I want to see it. Ever since The Dark Knight ended and it was clear the Joker would not be appearing in movie 3, I’ve been itching to see what they would do with it.

And from what I’ve seen, they are taking the proper route. Combining elements from the comic book The Dark Knight Returns with a real life or death, all or nothing feel, this movie might even top the last one in some respects. Don’t want to jinx it, just saying it’s sure to be good.

But I think I speak for more than just myself when I say that it’s a shame the Joker won’t be making it back for one last dance. We all know why he won’t, of course. For one, it would have been in bad taste to try and replace Ledger after his untimely death. What’s more, after the masterful performance he gave, no actor could be expected to fill the role. I mean, c’mon, you don’t ask to go on after the Beatles, it’s just plain silly!

So in honor of Ledger, and every other actor that has ever tried to bring life to this character, I’d like to do a post detailing this villain that has remained so popular over the years.

The Joker:
To put it simply, this character, this villain, is a work of genius. Designed to be one of the many villains the “caped crusader” did battle with, it wasn’t long before this smiling psychopath became Batman’s arch-nemesis and the chief pain in his ass. The reasons for this seems pretty clear, but just for fun I’ll get into them anyway. Basically, he was the perfect villain because people loved to hate him and found him so dark and yet so fun.

Persona:
For starters, his whole work up was immensely inspired. By adopting the whole insane clown thing, he combined the macabre with the innocent, which pretty much made him the stuff of nightmares. He killed, he maimed, and he tortured people sadistically, but he always did it with a smile on his face and a quick joke. He could be insane, yes, but he could also be brilliant and cunning. His method was madness, but it was concealed behind a sort of playful, laughable exterior.

This was in stark contrast to Batman’s tough and cold character and the permanent scowl he had etched on his face. As such, he was the perfect foil for Batman’s particular brand of heroism and social control. Whereas the dark knight was obsessed with order and stability, the Joker was malevolence and disorder personified. In a way, he played Lucifer to Batman’s God, messing with his designs and subverting his sense of right and wrong. And, like Lucifer, he knew how to turn the tables and get people to do his bidding. And whereas Batman never smiled, much like God, the Joker could be counted on to see the fun side of things, even in pain, suffering and death.

Origins:
Due to the many adaptations and interpretations of this character over the years – be they in print, television or cinema –  there are more than a few different origin stories. And they don’t always agree. However, certain common elements can be seen across all the different iterations. The earliest mention of his past indicated that he was a criminal named the Red Hood before he donned the clown makeup. This changed when he fell into a vat of chemicals while trying to escape from the Batman, an experience which left his skin permanently discolored.

This was expanded further in Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, where he was shown to be a chemical engineer who quits his job at a chemical plant to become a standup comedian. After failing in this endeavor, he agrees to help two criminals break into the plant. Shortly before the robbery can take place though, he learns that his wife and son have died in a freak accident. He tries to back out of the crime but is strong armed by the other two thugs. And of course, the crime goes south and he is left disfigured. Between this and the loss of his family, he is driven insane and becomes the Joker.

Later versions once again resurrected the concept of the Joker being a career criminal before he became a sociopathic villain. In these versions, the name Jack was used, and it was said that he had some contact with the Batman before taking on his new persona. In fact, in Batman Confidential it was suggested that it was his obsessions with the Batman that eventually led to the accident which forever changed him.

All of these elements informed Tim Burton’s adaptation of the story in the 1989 movie. Here, the Joker was portrayed as a petty thug named Jack Napier who worked for Rupert Thorn, the Gotham city crime lord. Then, after tangling with the Batman at a chemical plant, he suffered a disfiguring injury before falling into a chemical vat, which left his skin dyed and his face permanently scarred. The Joker therefore blamed Batman for his transformation, but would later come to learn that he had been the one who shot his parents when he was just a child.

Personally, I found this version to be genius in that it managed to capture the true insanity of the Joker. Faced with an image of himself that was twisted into a hideous smile, Napier could do nothing but laugh at the sick joke that had befallen him. From thence forth, he was determined to make others see the humor in it as well, right before he killed them! And by making him responsible for killing Bruce Wayne’s parents, the two were ultimately responsible for the others’ creation. Clearly, Burton interpreted the whole “flip sides of the same coin” thing quite literally!

However, Christopher Nolan took a different approach with his adaptation of the criminal mastermind. In the 2008 film The Dark Knight, we are given a version of things where we know nothing about the Jokers origins. On several occasions, he offers up explanations as to how he got his scars; but of course, the story keeps changing. No one can be sure which version is the truth and which is false. In one, he’s the victim of an abusive father who slashed his face. In another, he had a wife who gambled and had her face cut up by the Mob. His own scars were self inflicted out of grief so that he could resemble hers.

This is apparently in keeping with the fact that no definitive explanation has ever been given as to how the Joker really became what he was. Over the years, many different explanations have been given and it’s unclear which are true. In the end, this was resolved by saying that the Joker frequently lies, or can’t keep all the facts straight in his head. As he says in The Killing Joke: “Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another… if I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!”

Weapons of Choice:
smilexThough the Joker appears to be adept at firearms and somewhat versed in hand to hand combat, his preferred method of killing has to do with various “comedic” weapons. These include razor sharp playing cards, acid-spewing flowers, cyanide pies and lethal electric joy buzzers. Clearly, the man understands irony and is willing to go the extra mile for consistency.

In addition, he has a signature poison known as “Joker Venom”, a deadly poison that leaves his victims with a ghoulish rictus grin as they die while laughing uncontrollably. This venom comes in many forms, from gas to darts to liquid, and has been his primary calling card since his character’s inception.

All of this was featured in Tim Burton’s Batman, where it was revealed that the Joker was well versed in chemistry and was using this knowledge to create his Smile-X poison. By smuggling various chemical precursors into common consumer products, he was able to disseminate his poisons into Gotham city without anyone knowing. Once these different products were used in combination, people began to die, all of them with a massive grin on their faces!

In Nolan’s version, the Joker retained his preference for simple weapons, but dropped the whimsy, poison and chemistry. As Ledger’s Joker said to a detective while in custody: “Do you want to know why I use a knife? Guns are too quick. You can’t savor all the… little emotions. In… you see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are.” Later, while free and in the company of the Russian mob, he added: “I’m a man of simple tastes. I enjoy dynamite, and gunpowder, and… gasoline!”

Between these two takes, the Joker retains one basic characteristic… Fear! Whereas a criminal with a gun is scary, a mad man with sharp objects, burning acid and explosive devices is downright terrifying!

Criminal Acts:
The Joker’s resume reads like that of a man who desperately wants to be the biggest maniac in town. Over the many years of his character’s existence, he has committed countless crimes, some whimsical and some downright brutal. All of these have been done for reasons which, in the words of the Batman: “make sense to him alone.”

In the Killing Joke, the Joker paralyzes Batgirl (aka. Barbara Gordon) by shooting her in the back. He also kidnaps Gordon and taunts him with photographs of his crime, hoping to drive him mad and thus prove his point that any man can go insane under the right circumstances. In “A Death in the Family”, the Joker also killed Jason Todd, the second Robin. This, he did with a bomb, but only after beating him senseless with a crowbar.

During one of his many stays in Arkham Asylum, the Joker also managed to convert Harleen Quinzel, a psychiatrist who was sent in to examine him, into his willing helper. Convinced that the Joker might be faking insanity to avoid the death penalty, she sets out to unlock his past. In time, he earns her sympathy and convinces her to help him escape. Eventually, she is caught and her obsession with him leads her to seek him out and become Harley Quinn, his criminal sidekick.

He also went as far as to murder Sarah Essen Gordon, Commissioner Gordon’s second wife, after kidnapping her. Once Gordon took him into custody, he once again taunted him in the hopes of driving him mad and getting him to forsake his moral code. However, Gordon sticks to his code and only kneecaps him. True to form, the Joker quickly laments that he might not walk again, but then finishes with a maniacal laugh!

Of course, the list goes on. Given his many years of sadistic stunts, it would impossible to include them all in one post. Suffice it to say, he has been a constant source of (ahem) “entertainment” to Batman, Commissioner Gordon, and the Gotham Police Department.

Death:
Though the Joker experienced near shaves with death on many occasions, he finally met his end in Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. It was here that, after a prolonged absence, the Batman came out of retirement to fight crime one last time. This soon inspired the Joker to awaken from his drug-induced slumber inside Arkham and begin creating havoc again.

It began with Joker once again pretending he was rehabilitated in order to gain parole from Arkham, and was followed by him releasing his toxic venom into a crowded talk show studio before making his escape. After many deaths and a chase that took them across the city and into an amusement park, the Batman finally cornered the Joker inside a tunnel and engaged him in mortal combat.

The Joker managed to stab him several times, but Batman eventually got the upper hand and snapped the Joker’s neck. However, this didn’t prove fatal, and a laughing Joker once again mocked Batman for not being able to go through with it. The Joker then took a deep breath and snapped his own neck the rest of the way. Thus, the Joker died as he lived… laughing, mocking and batshit crazy!

Final Thoughts:
What more is there to say? The Joker is just one of those characters who’s stuck with us over the years, and for good reason. Not only did he have all the right characteristics to make a fitting villain, he was also the perfect arch-nemesis for the Batman. Overall, I have to assume that he wasn’t the kind of character who was tailor made for the role, but an inspired invention that grew into the role over time and became a permanent feature before long.

To paraphrase cartoonist Berkeley Breathed, good characters aren’t just created, they wander in off the street looking for a meal and a bath and end up staying. In the Jokers case, I’m glad he stuck around. Much like the Batman, he’s probably the most realistic, dark and gritty personality to ever come out of the comic book world!

The rest, as they say, is insane cackling laughter… HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

RIP Heath

V for Vendetta

Chances are, we all know people who are avid readers and swear up and down that a movie is never as good as an original novel. Man, those people can be annoying! However, as time goes on I find myself identifying with those people more and more. The difference between them and myself is, they read the books first and then see the movies. I, on the other hand, see the movie, listen to people complain about how “it wasn’t the same”, read the novel, and then join the chorus! Maybe this is a sign that I should read more, maybe its just dumb luck. But somehow, I find that with a lot of adaptations, I’m getting it all backwards.

The experiences tend to be pretty far between, but on the whole, I notice they are becoming more and more frequent. First, there was The Lord of the Rings, where I saw the first movie and then read the trilogy. By the time the trilogy was wrapping up, I was nitpicking all the omissions and changes with all the other Rings geeks! Then there was Fight Club, a movie I thoroughly enjoyed but then read the book and suddenly found reason to criticize. Then came Blade Runner, one of those rare instances where I liked the movie better. More recently, its been Game of Thrones – we’ll see how that turns out! – and, for the purposes of this review, V for Vendetta.

Yes, here too I saw the movie before I ever knew the source of inspiration. Then, having finally read it, I found myself having second thoughts about the movie. In truth, that’s not really fair, but it is kind of unavoidable. Regardless of what order you do it in, you can’t help but be very much aware of the fact that between the original story and the screen adaptation, things change. It might not always seem faithful, but a movie is not diminished simply because it’s different from the source material, nor can you fault director’s for taking creative liberties. And with adaptations that come years or even decades after the book was first released, you have to figure that changes will be made because they have to be. Things have happened between now and then, things which may make certain parts of the story impossible or at the very least unlikely. So with that in mind, let’s get down to V for Vendetta – the movie, the graphic novel, and everything in between!

(Background—>):
Since I knew in advance that V (the movie, not the sci-fi series) was based on an original graphic novel, I thought it only fair that I read it before giving the movie a review. After reading it, I was reminded of why I enjoyed Watchmen as thoroughly as I did. In both cases, Alan Moore was the creative mind, combining an obvious passion for politics, history and narrative depth with the usual subject matter of comic books (i.e. superheros). It was these same elements that Frank Miller would later emulate in order to create one of the best entries in the Batman franchise – The Dark Knight Returns. This is surprising, seeing as how V was apparently a side project of Moore’s, something he and illustrator David Lloyd did for fun more than anything else. The fact that it went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed series’ in history, eventually spawning a movie adaptation, was just a sign of its quality.

But of course, the graphic novel was released between 1982 and 89, covering events which took place towards the end of the 90’s. In it, a post-apocalyptic Britain has been spared the ravages of the nuclear holocaust, but then finds itself struggling to survive in a devastated world. It is then quickly taken over by a fascist government that uses the chaos of the outside world and the mentality of “Lifeboat Britain” to take power and justify its extreme policies. After many years of supposed peace and stability, a masked anarchist emerges who begins to slowly take apart the state, exposing its lies, secrets, and the crime that made him what he is.

Not only was this a chilling basis for a story, it also had an undeniably British flavor to it. The setting, the characters, and the mentality of it all just screamed Britain! In the movie, we get much the same feeling, but the elements are different. Rather than involving nuclear war, the plot revolves around the threat of terrorism and repression done in the name of security (something audiences in 2006 would find much more relatable). That, and a slew of other changes, made the movie more current, but also had the effect of watering it down somewhat.

(Content—>):
The movie opens almost exactly as the graphic novel does, except that for the sake of American audiences, the story of Guy Fawkes is first explained. Natalie Portman tells of the Gunpowder Treason, the man behind the plot, and the difference between ideas and the people who fight for them. However, the movie then moves to a near-future London at night, where both Evey (Natalie Portman) and V (Hugo Weaving) are getting ready to go out. In the background, the “Voice of London” – the regimes chief spewer propaganda – is delivering his latest spiel.

Evey then goes out for the night, on her way to meat her suitor and superior over at BTN (British Television Network) where she works. However, on her way she is intercepted by Fingermen (government spooks) who attempt to rape her. She is narrowly saved by a masked stranger who is in the habit of spouting poetry before wielding his knives and cutting his enemies to ribbons. He says his name is V, a name which he then cuts into one of the government’s posters. Thus begins Evey’s adventure with him, and the premise of the story.

He then takes Evey to the roof of a nearby building where a performance is about to begin. This “show” involves the destruction of the Old Bailey, the symbol of Britain’s justice system in London, done to the tune of 1812 Overture. During the display, he mentioned the 5th of November to her, and how that act, over 400 years old at this point, has been largely forgotten. As has the lesson. Through all this, we are made immediately aware that V is a revolutionary anarchist who has a score to settle with Britain’s fascist government. His theme: Guy Fawkes, and the Gunpowder Treason!

I should note that within these first few scenes, there are some notable differences between the book and movie. For one, Evey did not work in television, she worked in a munitions plant. And she was not out for a date, she was out trying to sell herself. Yes, this 16-year old (they never specified her age in the movie) had fallen on hard times since her job didn’t pay enough, was looking to make a little extra money and thought dabbling in prostitution might make up the difference. What’s more, in the movie V whooped the Fingermen’s asses but left them otherwise unharmed. In the book, he killed several, and used gas and an exploding hand, not knives!

What’s more, V did not blow up the Old Bailey in the opening scene, but Parliament itself! Much like the Old Bailey, this was an old government building that was no longer in use. Given the fact that the fascist party that had taken control had no need of parliamentary procedure, the building was essentially empty. But of course, it was the symbolic value that mattered. It was shortly thereafter in the book that V blew up the Bailey, but only after delivering an impassioned speech to the figure of Madam Justice on the subject of betrayal.

In any case, we then get a quick gander at the authorities who run Britain and their leader – the Lord High Chancellor Adam Sutler (John Hurt). Much like in the book he is a totalitarian and runs Britain through several branches known as the Eyes, Ears, Nose, Mouth and Finger – video, audio surveillance, regular police, propaganda, and secret police (echoes of 1984 with its four ministries!). But whereas in the movie they are known as the Norsefire party (a clear reference to their Nordic beliefs and action platform), the Party was never really named in the book. Regardless, they are of course determined to find the masked vigilante, and put out a spin story about a controlled demolition to cover up the terrorist incident. Since this is a criminal investigation, it falls to inspector Finch (Stephen Rea) to find him.

However, their attempts at spin control prove futile when on the 5th of Nov, V marches into the BTN network headquarters with a bomb and forces them to broadcast a manifesto of sorts. In it, he declares that the people of Britain have been robbed of their freedom by the Lord Chancellor and his goons, and were of course complicit in the process. And that, in one year’s time, he will resurrect the Gunpowder Treason by blowing up Parliament, and invites the people of Britain to come and watch. In the course of his escape, Evey comes to his rescue and is knocked unconscious. Unsure of what to do, he brings her back to his lair and they become acquainted.

In the course of this, Evey begins to tell V her story, how her parents were political dissidents who were taken away when she was young. However, her sympathies are soon spent when she realizes that he is killing people and she hatches a plan to escape. She puts this into action when V asks for her help in killing Archbishop Lilliman (Eddie Marsan), a Party member who was the Chaplain at Larkhill – now the Archbishop of Canterbury – and who just happens to be a pedophile. She knows that running away is dangerous since the police now believe she is his accomplice, but can’t stomach what he’s doing. This is also different from the book, but more on that later.

Shortly thereafter, V enters into phase two of his plan, which Evey becomes involved in. This includes him isolating members of the Party that run Britain, key personnel in the regime, who he then murders. The first is the Lewis Prothero (Roger Allam), otherwise known as the “Voice of London” (Voice of Fate in the book). But whereas in the book, V goes through the process of kidnapping him and bringing him to Larkhill – where he destroys his prized dolls (which he collects), in the movie, V enters his apartment and kills him with a poisoned needle. I notice a subtle reference to the doll collection though; in his bathroom, Prothero had a small collection up on his wall.

In the course of investigating, Detective Finch (Stephen Rea) – head of the Nose – discovers that Prothero was once the Commandant of the camp. His other victims all have similar ties to the place, one of whom was a doctor named Delia Surridge (Sinéad Cusack), the one who conducted the camps’ experiments and was responsible for creating V. When she is dead, V leaves her journal, in which she kept detailed notes about her time in the camp, for Inspect Finch to find. It is from this journal and their own snooping that the Nose men begin to see what’s going on. Like V, they’ve stopped believing in coincidences and suspect that everything in this case is connected. And since things have escalated, the investigation has been taken over by Creedy (Tim Pigott-Smith), head of the Finger, which is a blessing since it leaves Finch free to look into this conspiracy.

Things become increasingly desperate as things get closer to the 5th of Nov. The government, as predicted, begins to become more repressive, leading to increased resentment and backlash from the people. Into all this, V continues to point Finch and his investigators in the direction of the overarching conspiracy. This includes the creation of a biological weapon which the people of Norsefire unleashed on England in order to secure power and then pinned on some hapless Muslims as a terrorist incident. They realize that Arkhill was ground zero, and that V was a test subject who became changed as a result of the testing, then blew the place up and escaped! Whats more, they know that this can only end in bloodshed, and with the fall of the Party… unless they can find another way.

At this point, something crucial takes place. Evey, having run away from V, goes to stay with her friend Dietrich (Stephen Rea), who just happens to be the one she had a date with at the beginning. He is her superior over at BTN and takes her in, revealing that he too has secrets, being a liberal intellectual and gay to boot! He promises to jeep her safe. However, after an episode of his show that makes fun of Chancellor airs, the is taken in the night by Creedy and his men. Evey is forced to watch as he’s beaten and has a bag put over his head, thus reliving what happened to her parents. She tries to escape but is captured outside the house.

Afterward, she believes she is in a government camp, where she is tortured, interrogated, and locked in a tiny cell for weeks on end. During that time, she finds a note stashed in a rat hole written on toilette paper. The note is apparently written by a woman named Valerie (Natasha Wightman), a former actress who was an inmate on a count of her being a lesbian. Her story empowers Evey, and when asked to give up V, she refuses, choosing death instead. Her guards offer her one last chance, but when she again refuses, the guard says only “Then you have no fear any more. You’re completely free.”

Mystified by this statement, Evey leaves her cell and finds that she is still in V’s lair. It seems her conducted her torture and detainment as an elaborate ruse to help her come to terms with what happened to her parents, and to find the strength to fight the fascists and win. She is initially quite furious, but in time sees to see what he did as a good thing. It is at this time that he reveals that the woman Valerie was real, that she and V were both at Larkhill together, and he is doing what he’s doing to avenge her and everyone else they murdered. In fact, it was her love of roses that motivated V to use them as his calling card. Eve leaves, but she and V promise to see each other one last time before the 5th.

At this point, V makes a deal with Creedy to betray and kill the Chancellor. In exchange for overthrowing the man,
V will surrender willingly. Creedy agrees, mainly because he knows he’s not likely to be able to stop V otherwise, and that Sutler will have his head in that event. Meanwhile, Evey meets V one last time and he shows her the train that he’s loaded up with explosives and placed on a track that leads underneath Parliament, true to the original Gunpowder Treason! He leaves the controls to her, saying he must go do his final errand, and that she is to decide whether or not to blow up Parliament. She naturally tries to stop him, but he insists that he must go and leaves her.

Nearby, Creedy and his men show up, bringing the Chancellor with them as agreed. Creedy then shoots Sutler and demands V come with them, but V refuses. A gunfight ensues, but V is relatively unharmed and kills all Creedy’s men. He saves Creedy for last and then strangles him, but not before delivering one of the best lines of the movie. “Behind this mask lies more than flesh. Behind this mask lies an idea, and ideas are BULLETPROOF!” He then unstraps the metal vest that absorbed most of the bullets, but is still mortally wounded and lurches his way back to the subway. Once he gets there, he dies in Evey’s arms, and is followed shortly thereafter by Finch.

Not surprisingly, Finch does not stop her. He knows this must happen and lets her set the train off. Up above, the masses are converging on Parliament in anticipation for its destruction, each of them wearing a Guy Fawkes mask! Without orders and no word from the Chancellor or Creedy, the soldiers decide to do the right thing and stand down. The crowd is then in the perfect position to see the fireworks. And they do! The crowd whip off their masks, revealing everyone who’s been in the movie, even those who have died. This coincides with Evey explaining that V was every one of them, not just some masked vigilante inspired by Guy Fawkes.

(Synopsis—>):
Okay, now would be a good point to mention all the differences I had to skip over because believe me, there are a lot!
As I mentioned, the character of Evey was different in the book, being far more vulnerable and naive than she was in the movie. It was in this way that her transformation, which happened because of her contact with V, became all the more apparent. Making her character a stronger, more nubile and independent person who saves V at one point was clearly designed to appeal to post-modern audiences.

In keeping with this, she did not leave V during the commission of his murder of the Archbishop. In truth, he kicked her out shortly after this, thus forcing her to shack up with Deitrich, who was then murdered not by Fingermen, but by thugs. The reason for this was because in the book, Deitrich was involved in criminal activity and had nothing to do with broadcasting, nor was he gay. He and Evey had a sexual relationship for a time, and it was clear that Evey’s unresolved father issues had a part to play in that!

Moreover, the “Leader” (not Chancellor) did not work from some bunker and communicate with his lieutenants on some massive monitor. In fact, he worked from a central location called “The Head” where he was connected to all the other branches (Eyes, Ears, Nose, Finger, Mouth) through a computer named Fate. Strangely enough, he became increasingly obsessed and even enamored with this computer over the course of the story, leading to an eventual breakdown that led to the plot to overthrow him by Inspector Creedy. Speaking of which, the plot to overthrow was not spearheaded by V but occurred as a result of inter-Party politics, a lot of which was the result of Creedy’s wife who was scheming to make sure her lover the new Leader. V, of course, took advantage of all this and played the people against each other so that by the time the train was dispatched, they had all killed each other.

However, in another twist, this plot came to halt when the Leader was shot point blank by the wife of Creedy’s successor (Inspector Almond) during a parade. Her involvement was a side-story that was completely missing from the movie. As indeed was the confrontation that took place between Finch and V in the subway. Yes, in another change-about, that action scene at the end did not take place between V, Creedy and his Fingermen but between Finch and V alone. But similarly, it was this confrontation that caused V to be mortally wounded, right before he meets Evey for the last time and leaves it to her to dispatch the train.

But, as mentioned earlier, V didn’t blow up Parliament at the end, he’d already done that at the beginning. His target
was the Head, and Evey did not just send the train but adopted V’s persona and addressed the crowds of London before it went off. This, combined with a scene were Evey removes his mask and sees herself, her father, and many other faces (anyone but V’s true face) was meant to illustrate what V said: behind the mask is an idea. Behind the mask was anarchy and freedom, and it lives in the heart of all people. The Wachowski brothers illustrated this as well, but chose to have an entire crowd dressed up as V with Natalie Portman doing a voice over about how “he was all of us”.

But the biggest difference of all had to do with how England came to be a fascist state. In the book, WWIII takes place in the mid to late 80’s, England was spared a direct nuclear attack, but society goes to hell all the same. Then, in the early 90’s, the fascists took charge of the country, taking advantage of all the disorder and chaos. Once in power, they proceeded to round up all the political dissidents, minorities, gays, and placed them in concentration camps. And of course, they established a police state where everyone’s movements, words and actions were monitored.

And their slogan was “Strength Through Unity, Unity through Purity”, not Strength Through Unity, Unity through Faith“. Faith, after all, implies the presence of religion – i.e a state where religion and politics are not separate. Purity, on the other hand, implies a state that seeks singularity, which in the case of Fascism involves the active liquidation of minorities and other “undesirables”. This is in keeping with the fundamental character of the Party in the book, a ruthless, fascist organization that has no qualms about committing genocide. By contrast, the Norsefire party was somewhat more subdued, concerning itself with direct control and avoiding racial purity. Ironic, considering the fact that in the movie, they committed mass murder in order to obtain power!

Which brings me back to the different back story that was used in the novel, which I found far more realistic than the movie’s. With the movie, the Wachowskis needed to update things since the end of the Cold War pretty much meant that WWIII was no longer a likely event. And after Sept.11th and the advent of the “War on Terror”, what better angle was there than a government that turned totalitarian because of terrorism and the manipulation of people’s fear? True, it WAS more current, but it also a lot less realistic. The 9/11 Truth Movement’s opinions aside, are we really to believe that any government would be willing to commit mass murder just to get in power? And its openly alluded that the world outside was going to hell all same, even if it wasn’t specified from what (the US’s war is mentioned, but they do not go into detail). This alone would have been enough to create a the “Lifeboat Britain” mentality, why did they need to kill 80,000 people as well?

But aside from all this, the movie was quite faithful to the source material. And most of what was changed arose out of the need to shorten and condense the original ten volumes into a two hour movie. And dammit if they didn’t do a good job of it! Above all, the back story of V was treated faithfully. V being the Roman numeral for five, signifying the 5th of November, and also referring to the five V’s that make up “Vi Veri Veniversum Vivus Vici”, which is Latin for “By the power of truth I, while living, have conquered the universe”. This quote, which is attributed to Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, has immense symbolic value since V himself is the product of a Faustian deal, though it was the state who forced him into it. The deal he makes with Evey is similar, that in exchange for his help, he forces her to undergo a painful transformation.

And of course the movie has undeniable signs of quality that is typical of the Wachowskis at their peak. The colors are vivid (in the Matrix everything was green and black, here it’s red and black), the direction and cinematography are very good, and the writing was both cool and faithful. In many places, the Wachowskis took liberties but still managed to capture the essence of the story and the characters. And I musn’t forget to mention how much the movie benefitted from an all-star cast! Hugo Weaving was especially good at capturing the magnetic personality of V, John Hurt is sublime as the ruthless High Chancellor, Stephen Rea was spot on as the straight and fearful detective, and Tim Pigott-Smith was very convincing as the evil “Creepy Creedy”. And Natalie Portman, wow! Those scenes where she is being tortured and humiliated in prison were made real by her powerful performances.

In the end, I think I’d file this movie under the same category as the Dune Miniseries. In short, it was different from the source material, but was faithful nonetheless. I highly recommend both the graphic novel and the movie, the one is inspired and interesting, while the latter is highly entertaining!

V for Vendetta:
Entertainment Value: 8/10
Plot: 8/10
Direction: 9/10
Total: 8.5/10