The Dark Knight Rises

A Fitting Finale

The world is not known for equality… there are the haves and the have-nots; there are the rich in pent-houses and there are the homeless; there are the Michelin starred meals and there are deaths due to hunger. We live in this world everyday and it is more apparent in a country like India. There is latent anger in a large number of people towards this inequality and financial disparity. We have heard and read about the Occupy Wall Street protest movement in New York, where the activists are protesting against greed, corruption and economic inequality. Closer home, Anna Hazare stages regular protests against corruption which brought the Government almost to its knees. What if this anger takes a violent form; moves from protests to terrorism? A storm comes and attempts to change the world order, creating complete chaos… The question actually may not be ‘what if’ but ‘when’. Christopher Nolan’s third and final installment in the Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises takes us in the middle of one such attack that threatens to destroy the financial system and the world as we know it. Similar thoughts were brought up in the first film, Batman Begins (2005) as we understood the motives of the League of Shadows and its leader, Ra’s al Ghul. Unlike the earlier films where the city of Gotham is under threat and faces a few attack; in this film Nolan lets Batman’s city burn and destruct by the hands of a terrorist, Bane who aims to restore the balance in the world by destroying it, and particularly the Gotham city. The film’s tone and the conflict is captured in this one scene where Selina Kyle or Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) tells the billionaire, Bruce Wayne or Batman (Christian Bale), “There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne… when it hits, you’re all going to wonder how you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us”.

Bruce Wayne faces the biggest challenges in this film, both at the physical as well as emotional level. The film is set, eight years after the events in The Dark Knight, where Harvey Dent is hailed as a hero who gave his life for the city of Gotham and Batman labeled as his murderer and a hero gone rogue. Bruce lives the life of a recluse until the clouds of war start looming again and his friend, Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) faces the masked terrorist, Bane (Tom Hardy). He realises that his city needs Batman again and his company, Wayne Enterprises needs a strong person to lead it and save its potentially dangerous defense assets. Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), an environmentalist and a business woman shows hope for both Wayne Enterprises and the troubled soul of Bruce. Apart from the Batman film regulars like scientist and President of Wayne Enterprises, Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) and Bruce’s butler and father figure, Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine); we are introduced to a young police officer, John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who senses the danger his city is in, much before everyone else.

John Blake and Miranda Tate: http://www.thedarkknightrises.com

Amongst the cast, everyone is pitch perfect and Christian Bale once again shows his versatility as an actor; he is the strong, the invincible Batman and also the broken Wayne. Michael Caine brings emotions to the forefront while Gordon-Levitt adds freshness to the series. Marion Cotillard is enigmatic and beautiful as ever; a little bit more of her would not have hurt. Tom Hardy as Bane looks and behaves like a monster; he is not like the maniacal Joker and comparisons with Heath Ledger (who played Joker in The Dark Knight, 2008) are unfair. It’s a pity we get to see Hardy’s face only once in the film. The bright spark in the film however is CatwomanAnne Hathaway has done a fantastic job with the character; she is witty, unpredictable and kicks a**.

Christopher and Jonathan Nolan’s script links back to many elements from the earlier films and closes many loops. The film does slow down in the middle but does not get boring. There are many predictable moments but an equal number of small and big surprises. Batman’s new air-borne vehicle, the Bat is beyond cool and so is his Batcycle. Spectacular special effects and scenes of destruction make your jaw drop and there are many moments that make you nervous. Hans Zimmer’s music is good and the Bane chant pumps up the tension. At about 164-minutes, it is a long film but I am not complaining.

For all its symbolism and grave themes, The Dark Knight Rises entertains and is a fitting finale to the best Batman story ever told on screen.

PS: Read my post on how Nolan made me a Batman fan here.

PPS: Do look out for the ‘Man of Steel’ (new Superman film) trailer with The Dark Knight Rises

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The Amazing Spiderman

New Spidey works…

Pic source: Wikipedia

The masked vigilante is back… with similar story elements and emotions that we have seen earlier. However, director Marc Webb’s reboot of the successful Spiderman franchise does not fail to impress. Written by James Vanderbilt, Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves, The Amazing Spiderman re-tells the story of a teenager becoming a superhero in an engaging manner. Apart from the director, credit goes to the film’s lead actor, Andrew Garfield for making us forget the old Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire) and becoming a good Spidey. Garfield is extremely good with emotions (as we have seen in his earlier film, Never Let Me Go) and he makes it is easier for the audience to empathise with Peter Parker. Whether it is the nervousness in front of the girl he likes or the frustration related to his long-lost parents or the guilt related to a dear one’s death; the actor makes it all convincing. Looking at his earlier work, I was not sure if he’d be good with action but he does well; and the dash of humour is refreshing as he teases and plays with his enemies.

Along with the same basic story about Peter Parker’s journey from a reclusive student to a responsible hero; The Amazing Spiderman gets its villain also in the same fashion as earlier films. A science experiment to help humanity goes wrong and we get a new villain called The Lizard, played by Rhys Ifans. The Lizard does what the usual villains in Spidey films do but he is not that menacing as the Green Goblin was in the old Spiderman. The action sequences are also less in the film and you are left asking for more. Some of the sequences are very well shot and you are given Spidey’s perspective as he jumps from heights. While the film is shot in 3D, it doesn’t add to the film, apart from the scenes where depth is required, which are good.

Another big change in the film is Peter Parker’s love interest; instead of Mary Jane, we get to meet Gwen Stacy, played by Emma Stone. Like Garfied, Stone also does full justice to her role and makes you forget Kirsten Dunst who played Mary Jane in earlier films. Gwen is intelligent, strong headed and fearless; casting Stone was perhaps the best decision for the makers.

Indian actor, Irrfan Khan’s much talked about role in the film as Dr. Ratha is nothing more than a cameo. While Dr. Ratha’s character is important to the story, there is surprisingly less attention paid to him. One does not know what happens to him after a point in the film but I don’t think anyone cares except for the Indian audience.

Overall, The Amazing Spiderman is an enjoyable film but is surely not the best superhero film we have seen this summer. Definitely watch it for a good time at the movies, but do not expect a lot; I guess that is left to the sequel. In true Marvel style, a teaser to the next film is left in the middle of the end-credits; so do not leave the theatre immediately after the film ends.

Viewing recommendations:

Spidey fans in the UK can enjoy the film at Odeon which has more IMAX screens in the country than any other cinema chain. For more information on ticket and viewing options check the The Amazing Spiderman 3D at Odeon web page. In India, choose a good theatre for 3D; PVR in my experience is better and have got lighter 3D glasses and if you have an IMAX screen in your city, go for it.

The Avengers

Superheroes unite to do what they do best…

Save Manhattan… sorry Earth!

Pic: Marvel; Source: Wikipedia

The world is under threat (again!) and a bunch of superheroes get together to save it. Like all superhero movies, this is the plot of Marvel’s much awaited summer blockbuster, The Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame). You know what happens in the end as well! So, why watch The Avengers? Here are my top reasons:

A Great Ensemble: It’s good to see so many superheroes in one frame… so many superpowers and so many egos! What happens when a god, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and a megalomaniac superhero, Iron Man start fighting? Or when the Hulk gets pissed off with Black Widow! There are too many interesting characters and they all add to the action sequences with their different powers.

The Show Stealers: Tony Stark / Iron Man, played by Robert Downey Jr. and Dr. Bruce Banner / Hulk, played by Mark Ruffalo rule the film. Stark as usual (like in Iron Man and Iron Man 2), has some very smart lines and he gets to do some pretty cool action stuff in the film. Ruffalo on the other hand is playing Hulk for the first time but makes you forget other actors who played the character in earlier films (Eric Bana, Edward Norton). He carries the load of Dr. Banner’s pained existence well and brings out the Hulk’s madness in a fantastic manner. Going by the cheers and the applause amongst the audience, especially kids, Hulk emerges as the show stealer in the film.

Scarlett, Cobie or Gwyneth: Yes, the ladies… though the superheroes leave limited space for them in the film, they are all fabulous. Scarlett Johansson as Agent Natasha Romanov / Black Widow is brilliant in her fight and interrogation sequences. She does not have any superpowers but is someone with whom nobody would like to mess with. Cobie Smulders (Robin of How I Met Your Mother) has a small role as an agent (Maria Hill) with S.H.I.E.L.D – an espionage & law enforcement organization, led by Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) that brings together the Avengers. She has a limited role but fans of Robin will be happy to see her away from Ted and Barney for a change. Gwyneth Paltrow makes a cameo appearance as Pepper Potts, Tony Stark’s girlfriend… she’s hardly there but I am biased when it comes to Ms. Paltrow!

A fantabulous second half: The action sequences are fabulously shot and there is not a dull moment when the Avengers face Loki’s (Thor’s adopted brother and arch rival; played by Tom Hiddleston) army from another world. The island of Manhattan is under attack (of course, where else will the aliens decide to appear) and our superheroes put up a great fight. Captain America (Chris Evans) leads the team and the evacuation plan; Iron Man ensures the fight doesn’t go beyond a certain radius; hammer-wielding god, Thor brings down the lightening while Black Widow kicks some alien ass; Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) shoots his arrows like an assassin on fast-forward mode while Hulk does what he does the best – SMASH! The grand finale of the film is complete paisa-vasool.

Despite all these great things, The Avengers falls short of being a perfect superhero entertainer. The film drags in the first half and I almost fell asleep with too much talk on-screen and hardly any action. The first part focuses more on the Avengers coming together but lacks the excitement we saw in a similar situation in last year’s X-Men First Class. Jeremy Renner, who is such a fine actor (The Hurt Locker, The Town) is wasted here, just like in Mission Impossible 4. Then there is Hollywood’s silly interpretation of India! In one sequence a little girl runs through a crowded market place to find Dr. Bruce Banner. She speaks in heavily accented Hindi and talks about her dying father. Calcutta is presented as a mega-slum, afflicted by all sorts of deadly diseases; and of course the shooting happened in a studio set in New Mexico! Is that revenge for Karan Johar creating Georgia floods in Filmcity for My Name is Khan?

Anyway, do not miss The Avengers on the big screen…

PS: The new promos of The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spiderman are not linked to the prints in India. These will be shown when The Avengers releases in the US on May 4.

 

Ra.One

Pic: Ra.One; Source: Wikipedia

Open letter to Shah Rukh Khan…

Dear Shah Rukh Khan,

Firstly congratulations for the spectacular opening of Ra.One and hope you manage to recover all the money you spent on the film. Not because it is a good film, but because you dared to dream and put your might behind a risky venture. You said it right, if you don’t make mega budget blockbusters in Bollywood, then who will?

Coming to the film, it is a major disappointment but don’t worry the masses in India are used to watching not-so-great or even silly films as long as they have their favourite stars; take the example of the recent Salman starrers, Ready & Bodyguard, and Rajnikanth’s Robot. Also, your film is a lot better than Shirish ‘Fizzle’ Kunder and Farah Khan’s masterpiece, Tees Maar Khan and Bollywood’s last sci-fi outing, Love Story 2050 (how I shudder at the thought of that film!)

You must praise your marketing team that kept the buzz alive around the film for over seven months. They did their job a little too well, as by the end of it, the whole country said, “Please stop, we’ll watch Ra.One”. They deserve a bonus. Others who deserve praise are your special effects team for creating some good sequences; I particularly like the scene where Ra.One regenerates with little Lego like digital cubes (too big to be called pixels). The few action scenes in the film are also nice and I hope the folks at Volkswagen are happy the way their cars were smashed. Kareena Kapoor did her best to look good and sizzle the screen in the Chammak Challo song; I believe that was the brief to her! Her make-up artist went beyond the brief to make her look smashing with blow-dried hair after she is rescued from a train wreck. Your villain, Arjun Rampal deserves a big fat bonus too as he proved to be the best thing about the film. Pity he didn’t get too much screen time.

Now coming to those whose payment you should put on hold. The director, Anubhav Sinha; firstly why did you hire him to lead a 150-crore project? His last film was called Cash, which didn’t earn any cash at the box-office! If it was because he wrote the story, that’s not an acceptable excuse as the story was nothing great with a concept borrowed from Hollywood (yes, we all watched Tron Legacy if not the original Tron). He did even worse with the screenplay where he had three accomplices (Kanika Dhillon, Mushtaq Sheikh & David Benullo); patchy writing peppered with crude jokes and lines that fell flat! You hired an Academy Award winner, Martin Walsh (Chicago) who edited all the wrong things (read action) from the film; part of the blame on the Indian editor, Sanjay Sharma; the film dragged and could’ve been good 20-minutes shorter. If you are thinking of a sequel, please do not work with any of them.

Regarding music, please give a show-cause notice to Vishal-Shekhar as well for doing a half baked job. One hit song does not create a great album but they just managed to save themselves with Chammak Challo, which became a bigger hit because of Akon and Kareena. Raftaarein and Dildara were also good songs but not smash-hits that are expected for a film like this. And what was that Criminal song? Choreographer Ganesh Hegde made it look like a B-grade party number focusing on everyone’s bum! Also, I hope you didn’t pay for any of the special appearances as all of them were disappointing. Priyanka Chopra, Sanjay Dutt and Rajnikanth, all were wasted in their cameos. If you did pay, please deduct from Mr. Sinha’s pay package.

Your charm worked in the film and made it watchable but your decision to wear that horrible wig in the first half is beyond me. I understand that you tried to please everyone with this film but that’s not possible. But keep trying different things, some will work and some won’t but that’s how generations will remember you, apart from the guy who brought romance back to Hindi cinema.

Sincerely,

A fan

My rating for the film: ** ½ Two and a half on five