Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy
Directed by: Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”)
Written by: Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”) and Jonathan Nolan (“The Dark Knight”)
In full scope, “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third and final installment of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, feels epic. From its majestic production value to its incredible IMAX-worthy set pieces, Gotham City has never looked so grandiose. Look beyond the technical and artistic achievements of this inevitable summer blockbuster and there are flaws. Despite the narrative’s overall maturation over the last seven years, Nolan has lost sight of just how 2005′s “Batman Begins” and 2008′s “The Dark Knight” successfully redefined the comic-book movie through intelligent design. Here, the bloated 165-minute superhero marathon is frustrating, especially with a script embracing a diluted story about the current financial crisis instead of actually entertaining moviegoers.
Picking up eight years after the last film ended, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has gone into exile after the death of Harvey Dent. Wayne’s retirement, however, is only temporary and Batman reemerges when a hulky mercenary known as Bane (Tom Hardy) marches into Gotham with plans to sever the city’s economic lifeline, thus causing civil unrest. As Bane, Hardy joins the cast with big clown shoes to fill after Heath Ledger won an Oscar posthumously for his role as the rageful Joker. Sadly, Bane is better suited for a pro-wrestling ring than as a substantial villain with real purpose. New to the franchise are Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman, although the name never comes up), a saucy jewel thief who fights alongside the caped crusader, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays rookie cop John Blake, the most interesting character of the DC Comics lot.
Where the Batman franchise goes post-Nolan remains to be seen, but whoever takes the reigns has a tough act to follow — even if this final chapter doesn’t necessarily reach its full potential.
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Michael Caine, Vanessa Hudgens
Directed by: Brad Peyton (“Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore”)
Written by: Brian Gunn (“Bring It On Again”) and Mark Gunn (“Bring It On Again”)
Dear Dwayne Johnson,
While I was never a fan of wrestling, I’ve always been a fan of yours. Even if I didn’t smell what the Rock was cooking or respect the People’s Elbow, I recognized your talent was too big for the squared circle, and I looked forward to your inevitable transition into movies. You were the perfect post-modern action hero: beefy and intimidating, yet funny and self-aware. Your easy charm would have been a welcome presence as action movies evolved away from the bombastic cheese of the ’80s. You started off with smart choices, like when Arnold Schwarzenegger unofficially passed the torch to you in “The Rundown,” or when you stole the show in the otherwise-terrible “Be Cool,” especially when you performed the monologue from “Bring It On.” You even took crazy chances, working with a madman posing as a director to play a dual role is the psychotic fever dream “Southland Tales.”
Look, I’m well aware this isn’t your first family movie, but this seems to be a new low. I’m no Hollywood insider, but my guess is that any project that features as much pre-production drama as “Journey 2″ had is fairly creatively compromised. In case you weren’t aware, Brendan Fraser passed on this sequel out of loyalty to the original film’s director (Eric Brevig, who wasn’t finished with post-production on “Yogi Bear” in time to start shooting). Didn’t more red flags raise when the studio replaced Brevig with “Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore” director Brad Peyton just to meet the their desired release date? I mean, look at that murderer’s row of crappy movies and add that to the fact that Brendan Fraser, who obviously never says no to anything, said no to this.
And you said yes.
But hey, no one’s ever backed up a dump truck full of money in front of my house asking me to take over something Brendan Fraser decided not to do, so I really have no point of reference. Heck, maybe you read the script and saw you’d be filming in Hawaii for a few months and you read the part about punching that giant lizard square in the face and thought, “Eh, why not?” Sure, you probably rolled your eyes at the expository dialogue your character would have to spout, like the nonsense about recognizing soil liquefaction thanks your time in the Navy and such, but you probably just cracked a smile and shook your head, because it’s just a stupid family movie, right?
Maybe you wanted to work with Michael Caine, who hasn’t slummed it this bad since “Jaws: The Revenge.” He’s got two Oscars, after all. By taking the part you get to spend a big chunk of the movie trading jokes and insults with him. That’s cool. And Luis Guzmán seems like a great guy to work with. He’s super funny. His Polynesian(?!) helicopter pilot Gabato provides some much-needed laughs that aren’t about how ridiculous some plot points are, like how our adventurers are somehow able to pilot giant bumblebees like they were Sopwith Camels (it’s a fighter plane, Dwayne). For all I know you’ve been wanting to work with Vanessa Hudgens. Who wouldn’t? She’s a gorgeous actress. Or, I don’t know, maybe you’re a “Sex and the City” fan and wanted to work with Kristen Davis. Maybe you just loved the first movie so much you wanted to work with that kid…you know…the one that was in the first movie, for some reason runs from the cops on a motorcycle at the beginning of this movie…hold on–
Josh Hutcherson. His name is Josh Hutcherson.
Why, Dwayne? Why would you sign on to a ham-fisted, Jules Verne-defiling sequel filled with lousy special effects and idiotic leaps of logic? You’re the hero we need, Dwayne. Please, for Pete’s sake, never sign on to another movie where you punch a reptile in the face, the upcoming “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” notwithstanding.
P.S. At least you can take comfort in knowing you had nothing to do with the blasphemous computer-animated 3D Daffy Duck short, “Daffy’s Rhapsody,” that preceded “Journey 2.” Yeah, it featured the voice of the late Mel Blanc and Elmer Fudd firing an honest-to-goodness shotgun, but rendering Looney Tunes characters in three dimensions should be grounds for deportation.
Starring: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine
Directed by: John Lasseter (“Toy Story”) and Brad Lewis (debut)
Written by: Ben Queen (“Proximity”)
After 16 years of smooth sailing down a highway of animation bliss, the check engine light is officially blinking at Disney Pixar with their newest feature film “Cars 2.”
It may have taken them a while to pull it off, but the studio, who has built a reputation on groundbreaking computer graphics and pitch-perfect storylines and characters, has finally done something that seemed extremely unlikely given their extraordinary 16-year track record – they’ve delivered a real clunker.
A shiny clunker, yes, but junk nonetheless. While it is rare to see Pixar struggle, it’s not much of a surprise they’ve hit a rough patch with this particular franchise. Despite what box office and merchandising receipts say (little boys love their Hot Wheels), the original “Cars” in 2006 was not exactly a winner either. Any film that assembles a cast of characters based on lazy stereotypes can’t really be recognized for its originality. But at least the first one had that new car smell. Despite the sequel’s impressive design (those hubcaps sure do gleam), there are some ugly things going on under the hood that easily makes “Cars 2″ the weakest entry into the Pixar catalog.
The problems start and end with an uninspired, witless, and convoluted script, which places racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and country bumpkin tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) into a story centered on international espionage and a case of mistaken identity. The James Bond-esque scenarios never push the creativity to the high standards Pixar has placed on itself since releasing “Toy Story” in 1995.
Alas, not all is wasted on a trip to the theater if pleading kids have made a “Cars 2″ screening nonnegotiable. The short animated film “Hawaiian Vacation” featuring the “Toy Story” characters, which precedes the actual movie, is a gem. Just remember to sneak out once you hear those engines start to rev.
Starring: James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Michael Caine
Directed by: Kelly Asbury (“Shrek 2″)
Written by: Kelly Asbury (debut), Mark Burton (“Aliens in the Attic”), Kevin Cecil (debut), Emily Cook (debut), Kathy Greenberg (debut), Andy Riley (debut)
William Shakespeare is probably not turning in his grave since his classic stories have been adapted for the big screen in some form or fashion since the beginning of cinema, but with “Gnomeo & Juliet” he has to at least be wondering, “Why?”
The easy answer to that would be because “Gnomeo” rhymes with “Romeo,” the one of the star-crossed lovers in Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” but you can also argue that the cuteness factor of the gnomes themselves was a major selling pitch. More than likely, these fat figurines will easily lure kids and their parents to the theater for a little 3-D hokum. If this finds box-office success, watch out for “The Urchin of Venice.”
Basically following along the same narrative structure as the original play, but replacing all the characters with garden gnomes and other lawn ornaments, “Gnomeo” finds itself at an impasse when it refuses to inject anything fresh and exciting into the picture. Instead, the animated film takes the easy way out and makes absurd references to other films just for the sake of referencing something. Sure, these gimmicks can work well when told in context with the story (see “Shrek”), but “Gnomeo” screenwriters go too far when they find ways to force in jokes into the script featuring quotes and images from “Brokeback Mountain,” “American Beauty,” and a host of other unrelated allusions.
Where “Gnomeo” earns a few chuckles is through its use of satire to pick a little fun at Shakespeare himself. Then there’s the actual animation, which is above average when it captures the porcelain features of the garden gnomes and the clanky sounds they would make if they walked or touched each other (like tea cups toasting). Add to that, some fine voice work from an excellent British cast (Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Michael Caine, Maggie Smith, Jason Statham) and “Gnomeo” isn’t impossible to watch for a short time.
Still, you can almost imagine the ridiculously large group of novice feature film screenwriters attached to this project sitting in a room together tossing ideas and dialogue back and forth and settling on the most obvious gags. Not nearly as funny as it should have been, “Gnomeo” is the first animated film of 2011 and will easily be lost in the shuffle with the other mediocre family films to hit theaters this year. Here to hoping it doesn’t get worse than this.
Starring: Christian Bale, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart
Directed by: Christopher Nolan (“Batman Begins”)
Written by: Christopher Nolan (“Memento”), Jonathan Nolan (“The Prestige”)
Is it possible for a film so saturated in hype to be blinding even to the most objective of viewers? With “The Dark Knight” sure to break a few box office records this weekend, it’s no surprise that a visionary director like Christopher Nolan can create such an immensely dim and entertaining crime drama masked as a superhero movie. It’s easily the best comic-book movie of the summer, but to call it more than that is the overstatement of the year.
The accolades, of course, start with the late Heath Ledger’s fiendish and amazing performance at Batman’s nemesis the Joker. Ledger is right on cue as the soulless clown who robs banks alongside his gang of criminals. It’s a completely different portrayal than that of Jack Nicholson from the 1989 version. It’s not better or worse, but it is distinctive and memorable.
Christian Bale returns to form as the most ruthless Batman of any that came before him. Torn between his responsibility as a vigilante crime fighter in Gotham City and settling down with Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who is now more interested the newly elected district attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart, who is later burned to become Two-Face) than billionaire businessman Bruce Wayne.
As in “Batman Begins,” Nolan has recreated the denseness of a city on the brink of chaos in “The Dark Knight” and it permeates through the entire film. It’s a real-world story with comic-book tendencies and Nolan is the one that is able to mold the two genres together to produce a sort of hybrid crime thriller.
There are moments in “The Dark Knight” where the screenplay has some opportunities to really sideswipe the audience, but chooses some easy way outs of a few intense situations. Where the film could have ended up becoming macabre and transformed the Joker into an incarnate of evil, it bows out and leaves him on a level of likability.
Overall, “The Dark Knight” wowed, but didn’t have a lasting effect despite it’s full-package delivery. That’s usually what happens with summer blockbusters, even when there as impressive as this.