Monday, July 23, 2012

Holy Musical B@man!

So since the latest Batman movie was such a colossal disaster, let's shift focus instead onto another new Batman property, one that was actually good. Earlier this year, the theater production company StarKid released their latest project on Youtube, Holy Musical B@man! It's pretty much a love letter to the Caped Crusader in all of his various incarnations over the years, but in musical form. And from start to finish, it really is just an absolutely awesome piece of work.

Right off the bat (ha!), we learn that The Joker has been killed off, but in his place a new villain has entered the fray to threaten Gotham City: Sweet Tooth, a candy-based character that's essentially a combination of The Joker and Jim Carrey's Riddler. It's up to Batman to stop him, but he's grown depressed living a lonely life of crime fighting. That is, until he's introduced to Robin, and together the Dynamic Duo take it to the streets of Gotham.

This musical just has so much fun playing with the franchise, and doesn't shy away at all from opportunities to poke fun at fans. Batman speaks in the Christian Bale "Batman voice" throughout the entire thing, the citizens of Gotham talk shit about Captain Marvel... I mean, Superman, behind his back, and they even have a vote to kill off Robin, referencing the actual poll that lead to the death of Jason Todd in the comics. And there's just so many other references to obscure occurrences and characters in Batman lore. I mean, even freaking Calendar Man makes an appearance! But the show doesn't only cater to die hard fans, there's plenty of references that even those most casually familiar with the Dark Knight will catch.

And, dude, puns. Soooooooo many puns. If you thought all the Mr. Freeze ice puns in Batman & Robin were horribl-awesome, then you're in for a real treat here. Hell, the new character, Sweet Tooth, is pretty much the walking, talking embodiment of puns. Every five seconds that guy is impressively pulling out another candy bar from some hidden pocket and tossing out awesome lines such as "Skittle me this!" This movie is just so joyfully painful in this regard. The puns, they hurt so good!

But, being a musical, the highlight of the show is obviously the songs. And these songs are really something else. They're foul mouthed and catchy as hell, and they'll leave you walking away singing: "Fuck you, I'm gonna kick your ass! Fuck you, I'm taking you down!" That's right, those are actual lyrics in this thing, the chorus to the song "To Be A Man", sung during a showdown between Batman and Superman. (Oh wait, did I neglect to mention that this isn't exactly a kid friendly production? Oops.)

And speaking of Superman, I've never been a fan of that son of a bitch (... sun of a bitch!), and as I mentioned earlier, the show makes reference to the common negative fan reaction towards the character. However, this show does a hell of a job making you start to actually feel sorry for the guy, and by the end of it, don't be surprised if you find yourself thinking of the Man of Steel in a more positive light.

There's just so much fun to be had in this show, and there's definitely something worth enjoying for both Batman fans or even just comic book fans in general. Your favorite heroes are almost certain to make a cameo or be referenced at some point. So yeah, I highly recommend checking it out. And since the show is officially available for free on Youtube, there's really no excuse not to watch it. It's definitely more worth sinking your teeth into than that other Batman property, at least.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dark Knight Rises

I loved the first two films in The Dark Knight trilogy. And that's why it's so disappointing that this final installment doesn't live up to them at all. This is an overly long, bloated disaster of a movie. Seriously, there is no reason for this movie to be almost three hours in length. I was more than ready to leave by the end of it, and unlike similarly lengthed films, such as The Lord of the Rings movies, the quality wasn't there at all to at least make the long ride an enjoyable one. This movie was absolutely draining, and while I've gone back and rewatched the first two movies a countless number of times, I can't ever see myself revisiting the final installment in this series.

The movie takes place eight years after The Dark Knight, in which Batman has gone into retirement. A new villain enters the scene, Tom Hardy's Bane, as he takes his stab at succeeding where the past villains in this series failed in their attempts at bringing Gotham City to ruin. And as Bane's plan comes to fruition, Batman makes his return to Gotham and finds the power within to rise up against this new "necessary evil" running rampant on his city. It's honestly a fairly simple plot, though this movie goes out of its way to try and make things as unnecessarily convoluted and drawn out as it possibly can.

The story also does a hell of a job tying in aspects from the first two movies. However, one thing that really irked me was what they chose to neglect. The Joker is never once referenced in this movie. The Joker, who is supposed to be Batman's greatest adversary, the man who was responsible for Batman's early retirement, is completely ignored. Instead, Ra's al Ghul is given the "greatest adversary" treatment in this series, which really just bugged me. Harvey Dent is referenced. Ra's al Ghul is referenced. Hell, even The Scarecrow makes another appearance in what is likely the highlight of the entire movie. But The Joker? Not even an after thought.

And speaking of such characters, unlike the prior movies, this one has no characters that I found myself caring at all about. Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy did decently enough with what they were given, but they failed to deliver the kind of memorable performances the likes that we got from Aaron Eckhart and Heath Ledger, and the characters of Bane and Selina Kyle themselves were far from interesting. And even the returning characters didn't live up to their prior appearances. Gary Oldman killed it in The Dark Knight, but he seems to just merely exist in this movie. And Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine are little more than cameos this time around, despite having their names all over the promotional material. And Christian Bale, well, he's just Christian Bale. If there is a standout performance, I'd honestly have to say it was Joseph Gordon-Levitt, though even then, as I've said, it doesn't even begin to compare to what this series has been able to deliver in the past.

The action scenes, for the most part, are boring and forgettable experiences. Hell, I don't even remember what happened to Bane in the end. But, I mean, at least we could see the action, unlike in Batman Begins, but that was an issue already addressed and corrected in the last film. However, unlike the last film, none of the action is compelling in the least this time around. It's just very uninspired and tiring, and the movie often feels like it's just going through the motions. (And vaguely related, I love how, despite being up against a literal ticking time bomb, Batman still finds the time to rig up a flaming bat symbol on a building.)

One of the things I was hoping from this movie is that it would do something different, similar to how The Dark Knight felt very much like a different movie from Batman Begins. And yeah, this movie definitely does something different, but that something isn't necessarily any good. The movie seems to suffer from identity crisis, and at many times doesn't even feel like a Batman film at all. It's like Christopher Nolan had all of these ideas for so many different movies in so many genres, and he just sort of mashed them all together and tried to make it work. Except, it doesn't work. All it does is leave a great big mess in its wake.

If someone would have told me at the beginning of the year that, of the big three comic book movies this year (The Avengers, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Dark Knight Rises), not only would The Amazing Spider-Man be the best, but that The Dark Knight Rises would be, by far, the very, very worst, I would have never believed it. But, alas, that's exactly what has happened. This movie was a monumental disappointment, and a very piss poor conclusion to an otherwise outstanding series. And the ending of the movie may quite possibly be the biggest bullshit cop-out nonsense that I've ever seen. I can't see myself sitting through this again, and while I won't say I don't recommend seeing it, I do recommend lowering your expectations tremendously.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Amazing Spider-Man

So on our great nation's birthday, I figured, what would be a more American way to celebrate than by checking out the latest Spider-Man flick? Now, going in I did have some reservations with this movie. There were a lot of things highlighted in the previews that had me concerned with the direction they were taking the franchise in this reboot. However, as it would turn out, every single thing that I thought would bug me didn't end up bothering me one bit. I really enjoyed the hell out of this movie.

The Amazing Spider-Man is essentially a better version of the first movie. Just swap places with a few characters (Green Goblin for The Lizard, Mary Jane for Gwen Stacy, J. Jonah Jameson for Captain Stacy, etc.), and it's basically the same movie. But seeing as I was already a huge fan of the first movie, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Yeah, it means that this film is pretty much just retreading old ground, but that was one of the things I was already expecting going in, and it was all handled so well that, as I said, it didn't bother me at all.

The big difference is in the way the characters are handled. Peter Parker, for instance, actually retains his snarky sense of humor from the comics in this version. Andrew Garfield did an awesome job as Parker, quite possibly even better than Toby Maguire. And Emma Stone gave an equally impressive performance as the slightly geeky love interest, Gwen Stacy. She was such a more likeable character than Mary Jane was ever portrayed as in the original movies. And really, that could be said for just about everyone, save for maybe Sally Field's Aunt May, who didn't quite live up to her predecessor from the original movies.

I also really liked all of the different relationships at play. Obviously the love story between Peter and Gwen is the main driving force behind the movie, which was just a joy to watch unfold. And I also really enjoyed watching the evolution of the smaller relationships, such as that between Peter and his high school bully, Flash Thompson. But other than the main love story, I actually found the most intriguing interactions to come between Peter and Denis Leary's character, Captain Stacy. Seeing their clash of ideals play out on screen was very interesting, and ultimately lead to some of the most satisfying scenes in the whole movie.

My biggest concerns going in were related to the origins of the story, and how Spider-Man got his powers. But seeing it all play out, I actually quite liked the way it was handled, and I found it suiting that they decided to go with The Lizard as the villain for this outing. His story plays out very similarly to how the Green Goblin's did in the first movie, complete with inner struggle and everything. But I found him to be a really nice foil to Spider-Man, and he felt like a genuine threat.

The action scenes in this movie were great. I loved the super fast and in your face (literally at times) use of webbing here, which lead to some especially awesome visuals during Spidey's intense encounters with The Lizard. There was one standout scene in particular where the two battle it out in the background while an unsuspecting Stan Lee proceeds to give us his best cameo in a Marvel movie yet. And, as I mentioned before, we got the snarky Spider-Man in this installment, meaning we got to hear him spout out awesome lines of dialogue all throughout his fights, something that was sorely missing from the originals. Also, Spider-Man throws a freaking shoe at The Lizard. How awesome is that?!

So yeah, I really enjoyed this movie. It's definitely a fitting inclusion to the franchise, and quite possibly the best Spider-Man movie to date. It's not as dark and gritty as the trailers sold it as, but it's also not as campy as the originals. Instead, it finds a believable medium that really works in this film's favor. I had my doubts with the direction of the film going in, but after the fact, I really couldn't have asked for a better reboot, and I definitely look forward to future installments of this series. Basically, my feelings on the movie can be summed up in the title itself, this was simply Amazing.