The best movie in the series

This is obviously going to be a pretty subjective article – like all of my articles – but GFOS was never intended to be anything but a subjective, slightly atypical take on fantasy and science fiction. The title obviously refers to my personal favourites in certain big movie series, and I’ll explain why I have a soft spot for those. So I can’t objectively claim they’re the best, but honestly, “best” just sounds so much better than “my favourite”.

I’ll grant that it’s not always possible to pick one best movie. Often I notice that I really like certain scenes or moments rather than an entire movie. This list is about those movies that worked the best as a whole, for me. My favourite moment in a given franchise might even come from an instalment I didn’t pick.

And, of course, I can only pick a favourite when I’ve seen all of them so far. Alright, with that out of the way, here we go, in completely random order:

 

Batman Begins (2005)

Title: BATMAN BEGINS ¥ Pers: BALE, CHRISTIAN ¥ Year: 2005 ¥ Dir: NOLAN, CHRISTOPHER ¥ Ref: BAT067AT ¥ Credit: [ THE KOBAL COLLECTION / WARNER BROS. / JAMES, DAVID ]

Everyone has their own reason why they love Batman. To me, the reason why he is my favourite super hero is because he is a character who descends into darkness, who lives in it, who exudes it, and yet he comes to bring light there. Something about that kind of character really appeals to me. My favourite Batman movie will therefore be the one that expresses that aspect of the persona the most effectively. On the whole, I prefer Tim Burton’s more imaginative gothic interpretation of the Batman universe far above Christopher Nolan’s increasingly bland and realistic Gotham. This trait seems to get worse in Nolan’s films as the trilogy progresses. Luckily, in Batman Begins, one can still feel the mysterious, gloomy atmosphere that Gotham should have. Why Nolan decided to ditch the unique sense of place that comes with the territory in its sequels, I’ll never know. If Nolan’s first foray into the Batman universe had committed this sin as blatantly as The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, it would never have been my favourite. As it stands, it is my favourite Batman movie, and here’s why. I love it because it’s the origin story. As I mentioned before, I like the psychology behind Batman. He’s a noble-hearted hero who is simultaneously more mysterious, dark, threatening and intriguing than any of the villains, which is a rare treat. This movie makes that work brilliantly. It’s the one reason why I would place it above Tim Burton’s 1989 version Batman. Burton’s movie starts OUT as strong as Batman Begins, but then it becomes all about the Joker and that makes it a bit less powerful in my opinion. In Nolan’s sequel, the massively overrated The Dark Knight, the mystique surrounding Batman is completely lost as it becomes a movie about the villains, just like Tim Burton’s Batman Returns. Too bad, because the real strength of the Batman franchise is… Batman. Batman Begins is the only movie that throughout its entirety keeps the caped crusader himself the monster you’re looking forward to catching a glimpse of. It’s like watching Alien while rooting for the alien. I love it.

The Terminator (1984)

theterminatorThe most beloved movie in the Terminator franchise seems to be Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I can see why. It was big, it was exciting, it was unexpected and it moved the story in a new direction. It also did things with special effects that hadn’t been seen before. You won’t hear me bad-mouthing that movie. In fact, I even enjoyed the third one, which had a really gutsy ending that kind of made up for the nonsensical conclusion to Terminator 2. Still, it’s very easy for me to pick a favourite, and it’s the original The Terminator from 1984. That movie was a lot cheaper and smaller in scale, and that’s exactly why I think it worked better. The Terminator had such an impending sense of doom and apocalypse precisely because of the claustrophobic vibe it maintained throughout. The cheap eighties music had a strangely threatening quality to it that a big orchestral score wouldn’t be able to achieve for this particular kind of story. Linda Hamilton’s character worked much better for me when she was an ordinary woman on the run, rather than the guerrilla warrior she turns into in the sequel. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a genuinely menacing presence, a trait that he lost when he said “Hasta La Vista, Baby”. From that point on, the heavy cloud of fear gave way for a series that was becoming more about action and adventure.

 

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

lastcrusadeWho doesn’t love Indiana Jones? According to M. Night Shyamalan, Raiders of the Lost Ark is the most entertaining movie ever made. I guess that also means it’s his favourite Indy movie. For me, that title would have to go to the third one, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. I really like three out of four Indiana Jones movies (Temple of Doom tonally doesn’t fit in the series, in my opinion) but picking the best one is very easy. While Raiders is the one that started it all, I think it suffers a bit from some overly long action sequences and an ending where Indy doesn’t really do anything. The Last Crusade has a great theme that speaks to the imagination: the grail knights. It’s also full of varied locations and it has the best character dynamics in any of the movies, thanks to Sean Connery’s presence as Indy’s father. The music is the most moving of the entire series, and I just think that Crusade finds the perfect mix of adventure, comedy, action and drama. It’s an almost immaculately balanced script, in my opinion.

 

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

aragorn-in-the-return-of-the-kingThis is my favourite movie of all time, period. Granted, on some level it’s very hard to pick a number one out of this trilogy, since the entire series is so dear to me. When push comes to shove, though, my gut immediately says part three. So why is that? Here’s the thing: I can usually explain what I love about a movie in a rational way, but in this case that’s a lot harder. When someone asks me why I love this film so much, I’m inclined to just gasp and say: “haven’t you seen it?”

Alright, here goes: The Return of the King gave me a feeling I didn’t know existed before. It was so grandiose, so epic, so uncompromisingly ambitious and yet so intimately beautiful and so expertly crafted, it’s almost painful how good it is. The music alone reaches every possible emotional level.

The movie’s grand spectacle, its excellent acting, its wonderful attention to detail, all of those things are unprecedented, but they are not the reason why it’s my favourite movie of all time. The real reason is this: this film does what all art should aspire to do. It lifts me up. It inspires me to go on. It teaches me hope, friendship, compassion and faith. It actually does that. Hundreds of movies talk about these things, but this is one of the few that actually have that effect. When I’m faced with a hard challenge, I think of Frodo on Mount Doom. When I have a friend who is in trouble, I think of Sam and I’m inspired to support them. That’s unique.

 

 

Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

revenge-of-the-sithI’ve written a lot about the Star Wars prequels on GFOS and why I feel they are criminally underrated. Let me try to explain very briefly why I feel that Revenge of the Sith is the best movie in the entire Star Wars saga.

When I saw the original trilogy, I loved it, but I always felt it showed just a glimpse of what the Star Wars universe was supposed to be. I sensed that George Lucas wanted to do so much more and that there was still a great promise hidden in this grand universe, lying just beyond the reach of the original trilogy. I think Lucas’ last endeavour in the series, Revenge of the Sith, truly manages to fulfil that promise.

Whereas all the other movies in the Star Wars series are enjoyable space epics, this is the one where it really feels like space opera. Revenge of the Sith is grand, passionate and dark without ever becoming self-important or overbearing. It’s a visual tone poem, copiously rich and thoughtful in texture and colour, perfectly paced, brilliantly edited as well as a masterful conjoining of over 30 years of storytelling. The music score alone rises to lone heights. And then there is the sombre wisdom of the film: “so this is how liberty dies, to thunderous applause”.

 

 

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011)

pirates-of-the-caribbean-on-stranger-tidesYes, I know, the obvious choice would be The Curse of the Black Pearl. And I do love that first movie, but I have to say I have some problems with it as well. The first Pirates movie introduced the immortal captain Jack Sparrow to us, who is obviously the whole reason why this franchise took off. But it also had Will Turner and Elisabeth Swann, two characters who started out great but became annoying before the end of the movie. The second and third films have a whole list of serious storytelling and characterisation problems, but I personally felt that with On Stranger Tides, Disney pulled a soft reboot that actually worked. This is the first movie to put Jack right in the center, where he belongs. It doesn’t rely on a headache-inducing plot full of betrayals and counter-betrayals, but instead it puts us on a straight road to the climactic finale. And that road is one of crazy adventures and ridiculous oneliners. On top of that, Ian McShane’s Blackbeard was the first villain to actually make an impression in this series. And then there were the mermaids, of course. Who couldn’t like those?

Alien (1979)

alienLike The Terminator, the first Alien movie is my favourite precisely because it is smaller in scope and scale than the others. The sense of atmosphere and mystery is quite unique in the genre. Alien also builds towards its climax at a perfect pace. Many modern horror and sci-fi films can still learn a lot from Ridley Scott’s original. I enjoyed James Cameron’s sequel Aliens as well, but it was a completely different genre. That was a great decision, because you simply cannot reproduce the original Alien. Any attempt at that would have been a disaster (*cough*Alien³*cough*), but while Aliens is a brilliant example of a sequel done well, my ultimate preference is still for the original. And I have to agree with the consensus that the third film was an absolute abomination and the less said about the fourth one, the better, if you ask me.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012)

If you follow my blog, you will know that I’m a huge Tolkien fan. There are many among my peers who are less than enthusiastic about Peter Jackson’s Hobbit trilogy for its over-the-top action and out-of-place comedy. While I will agree that the films do increasingly deviate from the tone and style of Tolkien’s writing, I do think that this is an absolutely fantastic trilogy – especially when you look at it purely on its own merits rather than as an adaptation. In my view, good fantasy films are like diamonds: extremely rare and extremely precious (hey, maybe I should write an article about that). If you ask me, all three of the Hobbit instalments are brilliant fantasy films. They all have great characters, great acting, gorgeous locations, impressive music, great storytelling and a rich mixture of humour, adventure and emotion. Still, the first one is the only one that really gets the Tolkien vibe right. The atmosphere of this film is pretty much perfect in my opinion. It’s almost impossible to describe exactly what I mean. Perhaps the best I can do is simply pointing to that one scene where all the dwarves are gathered in Bilbo’s living room, standing around the fire and singing in low voices ‘far over the Misty Mountains cold…’ And then there’s that close-up of the fire and that beautiful shot of the embers and smoke rising up from Bilbo’s little chimney into the starry night. That’s what I mean.

hobbit

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A look back at Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy

If you take a look at some of my earlier articles, you might get the impression that I dislike Christopher Nolan’s films because of my criticisms of The Dark Knight. This is certainly not the case. I do like Christopher Nolan’s work, to some extent. Well, I have an ambiguous attitude towards it.

I love the fact that his films have original and complex storylines, that they have their own style, that they manage to be personal blockbusters and that they convey real, serious themes. They are also all exceptionally well-made when it comes to acting and production value. Call me old-fashioned (please do, because I am) but I also really appreciate how Nolan manages to impress audiences without any recourse to profanity, nudity or violence (really, it’s remarkable how little blood there is to see in his action scenes).

On the other hand, what I dislike about a lot of Nolan’s work is what I perceive to be an inconsistent tone in visuals and dialogue, overly convoluted plotlines, terrible pacing, a self-important attitude and a lack of imagination and atmosphere.

In the end, the positives outweigh the negatives for me because at least Nolan makes an attempt to offer something of value. His movies are clearly about big themes like morality, society and what it means to be human. I may not always agree with what he’s trying to say, but I love that he actually is trying to say something meaningful in his big-budget blockbusters.

The Dark Knight Trilogy

Over the past few days, my wife and I re-watched the entire Dark Knight Trilogy as it has come to be called. It was the first time I watched all three movies back-to-back. Afterwards, I felt compelled to write about my final feelings on this trilogy.

Much like Star Wars, I think Batman means different things to different people. We all have our ideal version of Batman in our minds. To me, the best version that I have seen to date are the first two seasons of the animated series. Those cartoon episodes had everything I loved about Batman: the dark, gothic atmosphere, the unique and original villains, but also the subtler character stuff, the emotional connections and the uplifting ideas that are inherent to the material.

Batman Begins

Title: BATMAN BEGINS ¥ Pers: BALE, CHRISTIAN ¥ Year: 2005 ¥ Dir: NOLAN, CHRISTOPHER ¥ Ref: BAT067AT ¥ Credit: [ THE KOBAL COLLECTION / WARNER BROS. / JAMES, DAVID ]

Released in 2005, Batman Begins actually comes pretty close to the tone of the animated series and it’s my favourite out of all the Batman movies, including Tim Burton’s work (I haven’t seen Batman vs. Superman yet but I don’t expect much of it).

Batman Begins was all about the idea of Batman. It was an origin story, but it also delved into the psychology of Bruce Wayne and the Jungian themes behind the whole Batman persona. Besides that, it was a well-paced, well-told story with a clear identity: while serious and gloomy, it remained firmly in comic book territory. It felt like a modern myth, which is what superhero stories ultimately are.

My only gripe with Batman Begins is that it tried to be realistic. Batman is inherently not a realistic character, and the world he inhabits is not realistic either. It’s ultimately a fantasy setting with larger than life heroes and villains, but Christopher Nolan seemed to want to shy away from that. Fortunately, I think he actually found a decent middle ground. Batman Begins presented Gotham City in grim hues of sepia, complete with mysterious fog and rain, all of which helped to set something of a gothic atmosphere (albeit in a realistic way). In addition, the plotline involved hallucinatory drugs, which gave the filmmakers an excuse to conjure supernatural creatures on the screen without actually being fantasy per se.

Batman Begins had a wonderfully balanced tone: it explored moral philosophy in an accessible way while still allowing for the boyish sense of wonder and adventure that comes with the comic book territory. It was also a very focused film: the story was about Batman, and his entry into Gotham City was both mysterious and impressive, because there had never been anything like him before: a mythical figure suddenly appearing in the midst of the modern world to wreak havoc on the criminal underworld. The film had a normal running time and a suitably over-the-top plot. It was a superb adventure movie and it felt like Batman to me. I really only have good things to say about Batman Begins.

The Dark Knight

darkknightopening

Whatever popular opinion may dictate, I maintain that The Dark Knight was a massive disappointment and an unfortunate deviation from the path set by Batman Begins. In fact, the very first shot of the film was a bit of a let-down: a helicopter view of the skyscrapers of Gotham in bright daylight, looking terribly modern and ordinary. At the snap of a finger, the atmosphere so carefully created in the first instalment was just gone, and it never returned in the entire trilogy. Nolan had clearly decided to move even further in the ‘realistic’ direction, and that meant Gotham had to look just like any other metropolis. Suddenly, Batman didn’t inhabit a slightly different, more gothic version of our world, but he actually lived in ours, and that’s where things started to go wrong. You see, I don’t think you can take characters like Batman, Scarecrow, Two-Face and the Joker and try to put them in an entirely realistic context. There is an inherent silliness to all of these comic book figures, which works perfectly when you see them in their natural environment: that strange fantasy world where villains can come up with the type of insane plans we’ve come to expect from the Joker, and where heroes can suddenly turn up out of nowhere and then disappear again into the shadows. Within the fantasy world of comic books, the adventures of Batman make sense. In the real world, they don’t. So why did Nolan insist on trying to put Batman in the real world?

The first half hour of the film felt like a deliberate attempt to suck out the atmosphere that Batman Begins had built up. Bruce Wayne’s beautiful mansion was exchanged for a cold modern penthouse. The Batcave was ditched in favour of a brightly lit, mostly empty concrete bunker.

The tone of the film became, for lack of a better word, mundane. Whereas Batman Begins had Tom Wilkinson playing a mobster in typical 1930’s Al Capone-style, adding to the naïve charm of the setting, The Dark Knight just uses your average ‘realistic’ criminals. Where Batman Begins focused on the hero’s journey and spent a lot of time on spiritual and psychological themes, The Dark Knight devotes that time to social commentary and talk of trials, guns, money and jurisdiction.

While the plot was praised for its complexity, it’s absolutely full of holes, as I have pointed out in a previous article. Besides all the problems with the Harvey Dent storyline, there is also the ridiculousness of the Joker’s schemes. In a real comic book movie like Captain America: The First Avenger, I would never have been bothered by this, but in Nolan’s ‘realistic’ Gotham, it became very jarring to me how the Joker managed to plant bombs everywhere, hide detonators, leave calling cards and plan twenty steps ahead of everyone else all on his own without any real resources to speak of. He became less of an anarchic psychopath and more of a chaotic evil sorcerer from a D&D adventure. Absolutely nothing was impossible for him, and no matter what happened, it was always part of the Joker’s plan.

joker

And then there is the ending. Oh, boy, that ending… What happened there? I’ve previously stated how Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two-Face made absolutely zero sense, but how the movie played out his part in the story is also kind of pathetic. You don’t set up the rise of an iconic Batman villain who has featured in countless comic books, only to kill him off after less than ten minutes of screen time. I am truly surprised that there were apparently very few die-hard Batman fans who were annoyed at this. More importantly, though, what Batman and commissioner Gordon decided to do at the end of the movie didn’t make sense either. There was really no need for Batman to take the blame for Dent’s actions.

First of all, the movie kept telling us that Dent was Gotham’s white knight and that everyone looked up to him as the pure-hearted hero whereas Batman was distrusted, but it never made us feel that. Given the choice between a competent district attorney and a mysterious dark knight who goes straight to the criminal underworld and personally beats the crap out of it, who do you think the average citizen will prefer? Of course they would love Batman much more: his mystery, his boldness, his willingness to do the things that nobody else would do… This is precisely what people admire, much more than some politician who promises to fix it all by the book. So I never believed that the people of Gotham would have been unable to handle Dent’s fall from grace.

“He was the best of us,” Batman says. Was he? I never saw any evidence of that. To me, Batman was always clearly the best of them. Not only was he obviously the coolest, he was also shown to be the most morally upright throughout the movie. Unlike pre-crispy Harvey, he never let a coin toss decide the fate of a man’s life. I think Batman’s fall from grace was much worse for Gotham’s morale than Dent’s. Think of all the little boys who would imitate Batman on the playground and how truly devastated they must have been when they were told that their hero was actually a murderous psycho. If our friends were dead set on lying anyway, why not blame Harvey’s murders on the Joker? At least that would have been a little bit true.

And finally, what kind of terrible moral message did they end this movie on? “Sometimes people don’t need the truth, sometimes they deserve something better”. Pardon my French, but that really is bullshit.

There are so many problems with this film that I’m still baffled to this day at the exorbitant amounts of praise it received. Sure, Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker was good, but it wasn’t that amazing either. Besides, the acting in Nolan’s films is always good, but that doesn’t mean the storytelling is. There is one scene I really liked, though. The ferry scene. That was a great depiction of a moral dilemma and it was nice to see a ray of light in this very dark movie.

 

The Dark Knight Rises

rises

I’ll keep this last one short, because I have less to say about the third movie. I’ll credit The Dark Knight Rises for one thing: it made a decent effort to take back the awful message at the end of the second film. The lies that Gordon, Batman and Alfred had told all took their toll in this film and that at least showed that lying was never a good idea. The film also restored Batman to his rightful station: he is the hero of Gotham. I’m so happy they cut that whole nonsense of him being the “silent guardian, watchful protector,  dark knight”, pretty much anything that sounds cool but not a hero.

catwomanUnfortunately The Dark Knight Rises had one big problem: it was boring. I’m going to use a word I don’t like to use, but it was bloated. This movie could easily have cut thirty minutes and it would have been much more exciting. It featured far too much of those annoyingly clever little exchanges of dialogue that became popular when Casino Royale was released. The scenes between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle were pure torment as far as I’m concerned. Which is too bad, because I really liked Catwoman in this film. I also liked Bane as a villain. But again, good characters don’t make for a good story. The plotline was once again horribly convoluted and lacking in focus. It also didn’t bother to explain anything, like where Batman got that flying monstrosity from when he returned to Gotham at the end. Things just happened, and they happened so fast you just shrugged and assumed you missed the explanation.

The atmosphere from the original movie was still completely gone, even more so than in The Dark Knight because this movie took place in bright daylight most of the time. It was tonally even more uneven, switching around between socio-political ruminations and campy superhero fights, with a bit of folklore and mythology thrown in for good measure. It didn’t have a clear identity and instead felt like it was written by three completely different people with very different interests and tastes. Some may like the contrast in that, but I found it jarring.

But at least The Dark Knight Rises offered a good finale, one that reminded us: “hey, this is a comic book movie”. It was big and heroic and over the top, and it was kind of cool. As a whole, though, this film was far too self-important and far too long and it ultimately just made me think: what if they had just stopped after Batman Begins? Wouldn’t that have been enough? Well, for me… Yes, it would have.