Saturday, March 1, 2014

"Batman: Arkham Asylum" (Sefton Hill, Paul Boulden and Jamie Walker, 2009)


Directed by Sefton Hill, Paul Boulden and Jamie Walker
Written by Paul Dini
Narrative Designed by Paul Crocker
Based on the DC Comics Characters Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Developed by Rocksteady Studios Ltd
Published by Eidos Interactive and Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment
Produced by Nathan Burlow and Matt O’Driscoll

Associate Produced by Joe Best, Scott Burfitt, Gerald Smith and Nathan Whitman
Art Direction by David Hego
Stunt Performance by David Newton
Batman Combat Performance by Marcus Shakesheff
Lead Animation by Zafer Coban
Character Design by Andrew Coombes
Original Video Game Score Composed by Nick Arundel and Ron Fish

Kevin Conroy ... Bruce Wayne/Batman (Voice)
Mark Hamill … The Joker (Voice)
Arleen Sorkin … Harleen Quinzel/Harley Quinn (Voice)
Kimberly D. Brooks … Barbara Gordon/Oracle (Voice)
Cree Summer … Dr. Penelope Young (Voice)
Tom Kane … Commissioner James Gordon (Voice)
Wally Wingert … Edward Nygma/The Riddler (Voice)
Dino Andrade … Dr. Jonathan Crane/The Scarecrow (Voice)
Steven Blum … Waylon Jones/Killer Croc (Voice)
Tasia Valenza … Pamela Lillian Isley/Poison Ivy (Voice)
Fred Tatasciore … Bane (Voice)
Danny Jacobs … Victor Zsasz (Voice)
Tom Kane … Warden Quincy Sharp (Voice)
Duane R. Shepard Sr. … Arkham Security Head Aaron Cash (Voice)
Danny Jacobs … Arkham Security Guard Frank Boles (Voice)
Adrienne Barbeau … Dr. Gretchen Whistler (Voice)
Kimberly D. Brooks … Dr. Sara Cassidy (Voice)
Wally Wingert … Dr. Adrian Chen (Voice)
Keith Ferguson … Dr. Stephen Kellerman (Voice)
Tom Kane … Arkham Security Guard Louie Green (Voice)
Chris Gardner … Arkham Security Guard Henry Smith (Voice)
Steven Blum … Arkham Security Guard Ian Kennedy (Voice)
Roger Rose … Arkham Security Guard William North (Voice)
Chris Cox … Arkham Security Guard Eddie Burlow (Voice)
Chris Gardner … Arkham Security Guard Zach Franklin (Voice)
Steven Blum … Arkham Security Guard Jordan Fraser (Voice)
Wally Wingert … Arkham Orderly Bob Johnson (Voice)
Danny Jacobs … Arkham Orderly Robert Stirling (Voice)
Tom Kane … Amadeus Arkham (Voice)
Kevin Conroy … Dr. Thomas Wayne (Voice)
Tasia Valenza … Martha Wayne (Voice)
Kimberly D. Brooks … Young Bruce Wayne (Voice)
James Horan … Jack Ryder (Voice)
Keith Ferguson … TV Voice (Voice)
Adrienne Barbeau … Arkham Asylum PA (Voice)

Upon apprehending the Joker once more, Batman returns the Clown Prince of Crime to the notorious Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane. But what begins as a procedural drop off turns into a night of madness when the Joker escapes custody and takes control of the Asylum as a means of unleashing his latest plan to destroy all of Gotham.


Video games of pre-existing properties are among the most notorious for their simultaneous shortcomings of quality in the gameplay and lack of faith to the source material. From film franchises (“Star Wars,” “Indiana Jones,” “Terminator,” “The Matrix”) to cartoons (“Looney Tunes,” “Disney,” “Hanna Barbara”) to comic books (“Superman,” “Spider-Man,” “X-Men” and, yes, even our dear Dark Knight), the attempts to translate to the realm of video games have been incredibly numerous and yet, admittedly, it’s astounding how many of them are created and released to much disdain. You certainly never see them topping the game sales or critics’ charts.


But all of that changed in 2009. And like catching lightning in a bottle, “Batman: Arkham Asylum” set off a firestorm of acclaim completely unprecedented for any other video game of its kind.

“Tell me something. You’ve never let me catch you this easily. What’re you really after?”


Following his defeat at Gotham City Hall, the nefarious Joker (Mark Hamill) is captured by Batman (Kevin Conroy) and brought back to Arkham, much to both the relief of Commissioner Gordon (Tom Kane) and frustrations of newly appointed warden Quincy Sharp (Tom Kane yet again; as with most video game projects, a number of the voice actors pull double, triple and sometimes even quadruple duty!).

During a passage of handling while in transit, Batman watches helplessly as the Joker breaks free and murders his escorts, retreating into the bowels of the Asylum with the caped crusader in hot pursuit. But the night is just beginning as a number of Arkham’s most notorious inmates – including the Scarecrow, Killer Croc, Victor Zsasz, Poison Ivy and the Riddler – all use the Joker’s siege for their own respective opportunities to defeat Batman as he fights his way through Arkham Island to stop Joker’s schemes and take back the Asylum.


“Welcome to the madhouse, Batman!”

With a wide array of inventive gameplay tactics, a fully immersive and richly detailed playable map and a gripping story, “Arkham Asylum” sets out to create an engaging and interactive rendering, giving fans an authentic experience of what it’s like to not just be Batman but behave and think like Batman and it succeeds handsomely.

To date, “Arkham Asylum” still holds the Guinness World Record as the most critically praised super hero game of all time and for good reason.

It strikes a terrific balance of two worlds, creating a piece with feet firmly placed in both comic book lore and video game lineage. That’s the biggest problem with most other games like this. Either the developers create something that focuses so much on the property that playing it is a chore or they attempt to give gamers a well-crafted set of game mechanics without bothering to stay true to the source material. Truth be told, most game adaptations are just a combination of both. However Rocksteady broke the mold by doing something inventively obvious. Something that, frankly, the film adaptations of these super hero characters should consider.

They brought in a writer who knew what he was doing.


“He’s out of control. He’s trying to prove something. I’m not sure if I can stop him this time.”

Paul Dini stands as one of the premiere Batman writers of the last 20 years. His credits include everything from a list of beloved episodes of “Batman: The Animated Series” and its subsidiary extensions like the “Superman,” “Batman Beyond” and “Justice League” continuations to the reinvention of Mr. Freeze and the creation of Harley Quinn to a number of Batman comic book works including “Batman: War on Crime” with Alex Ross as well as “Batman: Heart of Hush,” “Batman: Detective,” “Batman: Streets of Gotham” and contributions to several issues of “Batman,” “Detective Comics” and so forth.

Dini has passion and pedigree when it comes to this cast of characters and Rocksteady had the foresight to not only recognize that but embrace it by tapping and working with Paul to pen the overall narrative and script the game. From there, like dominos, things fell into place with the return of fan favorites Kevin Conroy as Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn.

Like stars aligning, “Arkham Asylum” just felt like something bigger and grander and it paid off in spades.

“There’s no escape, Joker.”

“Silly Bat, I don’t want to escape. I’m having way too much fun!”


As documented in my friend Captain Logan’s review of the game, Alfred Hitchcock claimed that drama was life with the boring portions removed…and it could be argued that with video games, those portions are reinstalled.

Throughout the game, as you work your way across Arkham Island continuing the story by beating up Joker’s henchmen, solving puzzles, finding your way through certain environments, obtaining Riddler trophies and overcoming obstacles and villains standing in your way, the narrative becomes incredibly involved. You don’t just achieve a goal and get transplanted to the next site of conflict. No, you’re Batman and you’re treated as such. As the night wears on with the threat of fatigue, exhaustion and madness, you’re free to roam the island while having to take responsibility for transporting yourself to your next objective, be it by grappling hook, gliding with your cape or, most often, making a run for it like the Olympian athlete that Bruce Wayne is.

As a Batman fan, I really appreciate the injection of that effort and commitment that comes with the territory. By the time you’ve successfully conquered the next objective, you genuinely feel like you’ve earned it because, like Batman himself, you made the commitment and had the drive to stop a bomb from detonating or save Jim Gordon’s life or retrieve information from the Batcave that you needed to continue.


This approach of making an invested effort also gives “Arkham Asylum” an added layer with the subsequent need to texturize and develop every reachable nook and cranny of the Island and its structures. Arkham is composed of five main environments: the Intensive Treatment building, the Medical Facility, the old Arkham Mansion, the massive Penitentiary and the lush Botanical Gardens. The island is further realized with a maze of subterranean caverns, chambers, sewers and catacombs beneath the Asylum…as well as an aforementioned Batcave hidden as a precautionary measure.

“It’s best to plan ahead for situations like this.”

Above all, “Arkham Asylum” is an experience filled to the brim with atmosphere. By confining Batman and the story to the Island, it creates a sense of isolation and claustrophobia, even in the segments that take place outside. In that regard, it reminds me somewhat of one of my favorite films, “Escape from New York.” That idea of creating a self-contained dilemma that Batman has to solely infiltrate and take control of. It’s a wonderful angle that truly portrays Batman as the one man weapon he’s trained and refined himself to become. The game’s inevitable sequel would take this same approach, heightened even more so and it’s an awesome reminder that at the end of the day, Batman can get the job done and, in his own words, “work better alone.”

As a setting, Arkham itself is an ideal choice for a video game. It limits the game area and allows the designers and animators the ability to focus on creating the best environment they can instead of spreading themselves thin in an attempt to create a full blown Gotham (at least for the moment).

Narratively it’s also a tremendous fit as Dini crafts a story that deals with a number of iconic concepts in the Batman universe. Specifically the idea of whether or not Wayne is as insane as the evildoers he puts away and if the collective madness of both Joker and Batman in their struggle is the true source of Gotham’s own descent into lunacy, with Batman’s presence being arguably responsible for the villains and their heinous actions against the city.


These questions are posed and Batman is challenged throughout the game but it’s easily most directly depicted through the three interactions with the Scarecrow as you find yourself influenced by Crane’s infamous Fear Toxin.

At first you’re confronted with the reanimated corpses of Dr. Thomas and Martha Wayne. Later, you relive that tragic night in a beautiful rendition as a hallway in the Arkham Mansion gradually transforms into the alleyway where Bruce’s parents were gunned down and you walk for a few moments in the shoes of a just-orphaned child Bruce Wayne.

The final Fear gas hallucination is the most startling and poetic.


To start, the game performs a self-aware glitch effect and appears as though it’s been forced to restart all the way back at the opening cinematic.

You as Batman, while affected by the Fear Toxin, endure a gamer’s worst nightmare.



The cinematic, however, has been altered and the roles have reversed as the Joker is now the one bringing Batman back to Arkham. You walk the entrance corridor of Intensive Treatment once again, only this time it’s as the Joker and you’re escorting a raving lunatic Batman, who’s now strapped down and helpless in his pleas that he’s not crazy.

This all culminates in the final Fear Toxin level as Batman rises from the dead and wanders through a hallucinogenic Arkham populated with various, insane Batmen either cowering in corners, swinging fists at imaginary foes or feasting on rats.

The story of “Arkham Asylum” is built on the age old foundation of the Joker attempting to prove to Batman how mad the world really is, creating a scenario in which the only way for Batman to conquer him is by abandoning his sanity and diving head first into madness.


“Change. Get crazy. It’s the only way to beat me!”

In classic fashion, the status quo of the proceedings are altered and Batman is presented with an opportunity for change. But the point of being Batman is to endure through the insanity he faces nightly. Thusly the choice that Bruce must (and does) make is the one in which he refuses to change. By refusing to give in and cross that line, it makes his triumph all the more impressive. Where a lesser man might easily crack just for the sake of a hollow victory over the Joker that would cost more than its worth, Batman is a character of superhuman will and discipline. He doesn’t accept the Joker’s offer to change, knowing that doing so would spell certain doom for Gotham and the citizens he’s sworn to protect.

This character portrait is wonderfully conceived and handled throughout the game, courtesy of Joker’s constant presence over the Asylum’s PA system and the subtle toll your time within the walls of this madhouse can take on you as you utilize your combat and detective skills to overcome challenges both external and internal.


The mechanics of the game make for an interactive and well-rounded experience. “Arkham Asylum” is thankfully anything but a simple beat-em-up, button masher as the story gives you multiple opportunities to examine different angles of the Batman character. This is probably more clearly represented by the invention of “Detective Mode” and the plot points that require the following of a given DNA trail.


Whether it’s the pheromones of Poison Ivy that you keep on record or traces of alcohol-laced breath or a given character’s fingerprints, the ability to do some genuine sleuthing is just awesome. That was a revolutionary breakthrough in approaching Batman as a video game character and it works so incredibly well.


“Detective Mode” is an invaluable asset to Batman’s mission. Played as a portrayal of what Batman sees through the state-of-the-art lenses embedded in his cowl, “Detective Mode” re-creates the environment in a simulated blue landscape (following certain trails calibrate the vision in assorted alternate colors like green and purple), highlighting non-lethal targets in blue and armed targets in red that, given the proximity, can be seen through walls and air vents. This allows you to track movements and plan out tactics for combat and stealth approaches alike. Whether it’s a matter of incapacitating armed henchmen first or making sure you’re undetected in an area, it’s a necessary tool that once again gives you the ability to think and strategize as Batman himself would in the field. Admittedly, “Detective Mode” can be interpreted as a potential crutch that gamers could easily rely on too heavily but as long as you incorporate it into the gameplay as needed, it’s a good bit of fun.


Given his ties to the comic book world, Dini also uses a number of great storytelling devices and nods. The most present is the idea of Batman’s access to data and assistance from his comm-link connection to Oracle, who periodically guides you on given objectives by pulling up Asylum schematics or offering information she’s dug up on Joker that fills Batman in on the plot as it unfolds.

The story of “Arkham Asylum” is a well told drama, moving from events to events with gradual escalation. The overall plot itself is somewhat small in comparison to other Batman stories but when you look at it as a comment on Batman video games, it was clearly the best game based on the character by a mile.


Ultimately it concerns Batman fighting to stop the Joker from developing and using a mutagenic compound called Titan, an advanced form of Bane’s Venom formula that he’s manipulated an Arkham doctor named Penelope Young to concoct for him. With Titan, he plans to create an army of steroidal-enhanced monsters that he’ll unleash upon Gotham City. Thank God the game isn’t really about that story so much as it’s about you working to prevent that plan from occurring. As a result, what could’ve been a rather hokey idea is turned into a simple backdrop for an involving character study that takes place before that scheme could be hatched. It’s not the genuine plot of the game itself but rather just another one of the Joker’s deadly antics that you have to hinder.

“It’s just a twisted diversion. The real action’s on Arkham.”

The narrative does introduce a number of secondary characters though, some of which are quite worthwhile in varying degrees. There’s Arkham Security head Aaron Cash and Quincy Sharp, who’ve probably become as synonymous with Batman’s supporting cast as characters like Chief O’Hara or Leslie Thompkins in previous iterations.

“You need to stop this now. Before it goes too far.”

“Stop? But everyone’s dying to see what I do next.”

What is there to say about the cast? It's Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, the Batman and Joker I grew up with. Perfection. I love that the "Arkham" game series has given a new generation of fans entre into these two and their performances as these classic characters, as new fans are now taking the initiative to go back and discover their previous performances in the animated series and film projects.


Arkham’s set pieces, with its labyrinths of holding cells, elevator shafts, catwalks and corridors is rendered in a wonderfully moody array of texture and lighting. I was genuinely creeped out by the Penitentiary segment of the game once the Joker unleashes the more stark-raving mad lunatics in head gear and strait jackets.

The sense of atmosphere and darkened locales as you stalk through the air vents of Arkham Mansion or the greenery of the Botanical Gardens is absolutely palpable. It’s very reminiscent of Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s seminal graphic novel “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth,” albeit through a more Dini/”Animated Series” filter.

I’m especially a fan of certain sets and sequences. The spaces inside Intensive Treatment, particularly the giant Intensive Treatment Lobby, and the open space of the Medical Facility are wonderfully composed and very vertical with a number of platforms and catwalks at varying heights. Its great fun to strategize on getting the drop on Joker’s Blackgate thugs and it gives Arkham a great sense of scale.


There’s also the intimidating story point of having to enter the ominous sewer dwellings of Killer Croc and I gotta tell ya, the first time I played that level was in the dead of night and the echo of Croc’s hisses were downright scary! The confrontation with Croc is also a great example of using the idea that Batman can’t (and shouldn’t) engage in a battle with all of his foes the exact same way. Croc’s lair is constructed with a series of floating planks that you have to crouch and walk on with subtlety and finesse so that you Croc can’t determine your location. You can’t just confront him as a combatant, he’s too deadly. So the game once again creates a scenario that makes you work harder, think things out more so that you have no choice but to behave as Batman would.


The game’s score, composed by Ron Fish and Nick Arundel, is as brooding and bombastic as our hero. I’m a real fan of the claustrophobic track that plays repeatedly whenever you enter the Intensive Treatment Lobby and all of the driving material used during the fights and physical encounters very menacing and pulsating.

There’s also the charming muzak that plays in the glass domed Greenhouse of the Botanical Gardens, which felt very reminiscent of the “Pretty Poison” episode of “Batman: The Animated Series,” so that’s a great treat.


I really love the track from the 2nd Scarecrow encounter, with the tinkering notes of sadness and heartache as Batman transforms into young Bruce Wayne kneeling over his parent’s bodies. There’s also great string work in quieter moments like when Batman’s in the Batcave or right after an objective has been accomplished. Other moments, like this great one when Batman has to glide through a cliff side after Poison Ivy’s Titan-enhanced plants destroy the Batcave, has a tremendous use of chorus and it’s very effective.


“Can you hear me Batman? I know you can.”

In addition to the main story arc, the game is given a great side-objective as Edward Nygma, the Riddler, hacks your communications and informs you of the daunting task of acquiring and solving a total of 240 Riddler trophies and puzzles scattered throughout Arkham Island.


From a collection of patient-interview tapes documenting conversations with Pamela Isley, Jonathan Crane, the Joker and Nygma himself to various items and puzzles that when scanned reward you with dossiers on Batman characters like Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, Penguin, Catwoman, Black Mask, Ra’s Al Ghul, Killer Moth, Clayface and others to a series of stone carvings supposedly left throughout the Island by fabled and demented founder Amadeus Arkham, the Riddler’s challenges provide a fulfilling side-story that tests Batman’s thoroughness and patience (as well as yours as a player).


“Showtime, Batman!”

Remember that whole tangent about how the Titan-monsters destroying Gotham would’ve been hokey?

Well for all its greatness leading up to it, “Arkham Asylum” does kind of end on a “meh” note as Batman is faced with…you guessed it…a Titan-enhanced Joker. The boss fight itself doesn’t quite match the elaborate impressiveness of the encounters with Scarecrow, Croc or even Ivy, which is a shame since it’s the final battle and all. Once the novelty of seeing the Titan Joker wears off, it’s a rather lukewarm ending compared to everything that came before, save for this one great moment in the following cinematic where Batman puts explosive gel on his knuckles to take Joker down once and for all.


“I’ll never let you win. Never.”

Ultimately, “Batman: Arkham Asylum” is a classic tribute to the world of Batman while also forging a bold new dynamic for the process of adapting film, TV and comic book properties for the video game medium. It’s arguable that even with its sequels, it has yet to be surpassed and it’ll be interesting to see if Rocksteady or any other developers and publishers use it as a template for adaptations in the future. I’m sure they will and, probably, already have.

The fact that it can stand toe to toe in engaging gameplay with similar console games like the “Call of Duty” or “Assassin’s Creed” series while also boasting a compelling drama and portrait of Batman and his cast of friends and foes that rivals anything found in the comic books or motion pictures speaks volumes.

“Arkham Asylum” is a terrific gameplay experience and if you’re a fan of the character it’s one of the few outlets to date that gets you the closest to wearing the cape and cowl yourself.


It's over, Joker.”

Over? Why my dear, delusional Dark hasn't even begun.”


Chas Blankenship's "Bat-Mania" is proud to present "Batman: Arkham Asylum" - The Video Game edited feature length presentation of the entire game story through cinematics and gameplay.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

"The Dark Knight Rises" (Christopher Nolan, 2012)

(NOTE: This Review/Reflection contains SPOILERS.)

Directed by Christopher Nolan
Story by David S. Goyer and Christopher Nolan
Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Based on the DC Comics Characters Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger

Executive Produced by Benjamin Melniker, Michael E. Uslan, Thomas Tull and Kevin De La Noy
Produced by Emma Thomas, Charles Roven, Jordan Goldberg, Dileep Singh Rathore and Christopher Nolan
Cinematography by Wally Pfister
Production Design by Nathan Crowley and Kevin Kavanaugh
Costume Design by Lindy Hemming
Editing by Lee Smith

Original Motion Picture Score Composed by Hans Zimmer

Christian Bale ... Bruce Wayne/Batman
Tom Hardy ... Bane
Anne Hathaway ... Selina Kyle/Catwoman
Gary Oldman ... Commissioner James Gordon
Joseph Gordon-Levitt ... Officer John Blake
Marion Cotillard ... Miranda Tate/Talia Al Ghul
Morgan Freeman ... Lucius Fox
Michael Caine ... Alfred Pennyworth
Matthew Modine ... Deputy Commissioner Peter Foley
Ben Mendelsohn ... John Daggett
Alon Moni Aboutboul ... Dr. Leonid Pavel
Nestor Carbonell ... Mayor Anthony Garcia
Burn Gorman ... Stryver
Josh Stewart ... Barsad
Tim Conti ... Friendly Prisoner
Uri Gavriel ... Blind Prisoner
Daniel Sunjata ... Captain Jones
Brett Cullen ... Congressman Byron Gilly
Juno Temple ... Jen
Rob Brown ... Officer Allen
Will Estes ... Officer Simon Jansen
John Nolan ... Douglas Fredericks
Cillian Murphy ... Dr. Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow 
Liam Neeson ... Ra’s Al Ghul
Chris Ellis ... Father Reilly
Tyler Dean Flores ... Mark
Josh Pence ... Young Ra’s Al Ghul
India Wadsworth ... Warlord’s Daughter
Tomas Arana ... Wayne Lawyer
Jillian Armenante ... Wayne Lawyer Clerk
Charles Jackson Coyne ... National Anthem Singer
Patrick Leahy ... Wayne Board Member #2
Wade Williams ... Blackgate Warden
William Devane ... US President
Courtney Munch ... Gotham Stock Exchange Female Security Guard
Joey King ... Older Prison Child
Rory Nolan ... Little Boy at Bridge

Eight years after the fall of Harvey Dent, a mercenary called Bane leads a newly formed League of Shadows to destroy Gotham City in the name of Ra’s Al Ghul with the indirect assistance of a jewel thief named Selina Kyle. Taking up the mantle once more, a previously exiled Bruce Wayne returns to defend the city as Batman.


“You see only one end to your journey.”

How many times have third iterations of a film franchise truly succeeded?

All too often, it’s the same story. The costs escalate with ballooning budgets while studio executives grow nervous that the box office pull won’t generate the same returns and the result is a stumble in quality and narrative. The tone shifts away from its predecessors, gimmicks are enacted in a vain attempt to keep the property fresh and ultimately, it creates a polarizing experience that does its work sending a crack through audiences and splitting us into a divide between those who can either tolerate those imperfections or not.

To this day, no threequel has truly ever defied the odds.

And while it personally isn’t an exception, 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises” achieves something else entirely; something that brings it closer than any other film of its kind before.


“Calm down, Doctor. Now’s not the time for fear. That comes later.”


It’s been eight years since the events of “The Dark Knight” and Gotham City is enjoying its longest running peace in history. Organized crime is nothing more than a memory and the streets have never been safer. This is a result of the effects of the Dent Act, a piece of legislation erected in honor of Gotham’s “White Knight” that they’d lost to the insanity of the Batman (Christian Bale), who hasn’t been seen since.

But a vicious evil has begun to rise through the depths of Batman and Jim Gordon’s (Gary Oldman) deception, led by a notoriously brutalist mercenary named Bane (Tom Hardy) who seeks to have vengeance on both Wayne and Gotham in order to fulfill the dream of Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Shadows.

Following a theft of his mother’s pearls by hired cat burglar Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), Bruce decides to return to the streets as Batman and inadvertently stumbles upon Bane’s plot, triggering a chain of events that push him to a physical and spiritual breaking point. As Bane seizes control over Gotham City, Bruce learns the value of his own mortality again and leads a conflict to not only reclaim the city but leave it as the very paradise the Wayne family had always fought for.


“The Batman has to come back.”

“The Dark Knight Rises” benefits from a number of aspects that, for me, does make it one of the strongest third sequels I’ve ever seen. For any faults there are, I did enjoy it and that needs to be made clear at the top.

The greatest success of the film is that if you’re a Batman fan and, frankly, have a soul that’s been influenced by the character to any degree, then it stands arguably as the single most emotional “Batman” movie produced to date.

I didn’t just bring in Nolan’s Batman or the history of his franchise alone with me but rather my entire lifetime of commitment and passion for the Batman character. And in doing so, plot points like Batman’s possible self-sacrifice relate and hit my heart that much more. In that way, it’s very much an anti-thesis of the end of “The Dark Knight.” Where one film ended with something I’d never seen before in a “Batman” movie, the other ended with something I’d never felt before in a “Batman” movie. “The Dark Knight” ended with Batman taking the blame for crime and murder as a means of maintaining a fragile hope and I’d never even considered that as a potential element of the character. “The Dark Knight Rises” strikes a deep nerve in the idea of Batman being shunned and betrayed and ridiculed and STILL making the choice to remain noble and true to his crusade once he makes the call to take up arms again, facing his own mortality in a way no previous film had examined before.


One of the best aspects of the “Dark Knight” trilogy as a whole cohesive piece is that each film seeks to observe and reflect Batman and his universe through the lens of entirely different genres and types of films to the point that while visually and texturally they all have a similar identity, they structurally feel very different from one another.

“Batman Begins” is very much a classically conceived action /adventure film and character study in the tradition of “Superman: The Movie” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and that word, “tradition,” really rings true. Though it stakes a new claim in the franchise, there’s still a lot of familiarity between it and the previous “Batman” films. It’s perhaps the most like a comic book movie.

“The Dark Knight” is an emotional epic and a huge sprawling crime drama, standing shoulder to shoulder with films like “The Godfather,” “Taxi Driver” and “Heat.” The character relationships and dynamics are complex and frenzied and at the same time calculated and measured and it elevates Batman’s world to an unprecedented level.


Following his two previous efforts, I felt that Christopher Nolan took a very (if I can word this appropriately) “physical” approach to Batman with “The Dark Knight Rises.” What I mean is that the film, even more so than “Batman Begins” or “The Dark Knight” feels physically intimidating and larger in its scale. It’s a disaster picture and a war epic more than anything else, inspired by titles such as “The Towering Inferno” and “Lawrence of Arabia.”

Isn’t it amazing how Batman, as a character, can warrant such a wide variety of realizations that can still be applied to the framework of the character’s universe?



Christian Bale returns to the role for his final performance as Bruce Wayne and it's remarkable to see him, especially in film's opening. A hollow shell of what he once was, Bale carries the burden of Batman and Gordon's secret very genuinely. While the idea of abandoning his crusade for eight years seems wholly out of character (if anything, Rachel's death should've fueled his war on crime that much more), Christian works well within the circumstances and the pain combined with his burgeoning desire to return is handled quite well. Once in costume, Batman is as vibrant as ever and though his voice might take a more forgiving ear yet again to get past, I appreciate how Bale handles himself as the character.
For “Rises,” this idea of scale and physicality all starts with our most physically imposing villain in the trilogy.




Tom Hardy’s presence as Bane isn’t a mere matter of physical dominance but more of an internal sense of ominous dread. Previous incarnations of the character in animation and obviously “Batman & Robin” rely on the superficiality of the concept, creating more or less just a drug-fueled monster. But for all his physicality, Hardy creates a character that feels more calm, more predatory. How would a jungle cat behave? He wouldn’t roar and chase after his prey so clumsily and obviously. He would take his time, patiently stalking and approaching with clear intentions that wouldn’t be clouded by poor judgment.

Bane feels the same way. From his more gentle voice to his walk and stature, his strength doesn’t reside on his sleeve out in the open. It’s there, buried and maintained. Bane doesn’t charge into a situation and scream to make his presence known. Hardy’s characterization understands his own power and never betrays that, trusting in it to overcome his enemies.

“Peace has cost you your strength. Victory has defeated you.”



As a polar opposite of Bane, the inclusion of Catwoman into the trilogy is as refreshing as any choice for sheer fact that we were finally seeing Bale’s dark knight be confronted with a female villainess. Well, villainess/anti-hero really. Even more than Michelle Pfeiffer’s characterization, perhaps way more, this interpretation of Selina Kyle very clearly rides the line between good and evil and certainly approaches given scenarios with one or the other in mind. You could believe that if she was in the company of antagonists, she would play off that in order to keep herself safe and vice versa once the heroes started gaining the upper hand. Though she ultimately comes to the aid of Batman, that ambiguity is handled very expertly.

Anne Hathaway has a very wry charm as Selina and, very much like Bane, her asset of exuding eroticism and sensuality isn’t played up in an artificial sense but is still absolutely present. It isn’t a childish sexuality but a more mature, more alluring romanticism and Hathaway captures that element of Selina quite well.

“Keep pressure on that, sweetheart.”

The cast is once again given a level of pedigree with the returning citizens of Nolan’s Gotham.


Michael Caine gives perhaps the most nuanced and emotional of his performances as Alfred. I love how he plays against Bruce with this more reality based angle of outright refusing to see Bruce throw his life down into this pit of loss and tragedy all over again.

“I won’t bury you. I’ve buried enough members of the Wayne family.”

It’s admittedly somewhat out of character, not just from the Alfred I’ve always known but even from the Alfred that had been created in “Begins” with his dutiful statement of “Never” giving up on Bruce. But it’s an approach that makes these characters feel more flesh and blood and if that’s the drastic measure Alfred needed to take then so be it. Caine's emotional weight, both in leaving Bruce and his moment at the Wayne graves at the end, is the definition of powerful and it's just excellent.


Gary Oldman once again reigns and provides a commanding and layered performance as my favorite character in the trilogy beyond Batman himself. I love the idea of making Gordon just as youthful and energetic as he was in the previous films. They don’t fall back on the passage of time to make him more elderly and soft. In a way, it’s a statement on and testament to both his character and his relationship with Batman and the idea that if Batman has chosen to give up on Gotham City for the greater good then Gordon must have the strength and will to continue the crusade for the both of them.

“And yet here you are, like we’re still at war.”



The cast is given fresh faces with both Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Gotham police officer John Blake and Marion Cotillard as Miranda Tate, whom is later revealed to actually be Talia, the daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul from the comic books.

At first I wasn’t the biggest fan of Blake as a character and felt that an unnecessary amount of time was spent with him, time that could’ve gone towards developing Batman or Catwoman or Bane that much more. But I can at least respect his presence and its representation of the overall theme that anyone can be a hero and crusader for what’s right so long as they’re not afraid to stand up for their convictions and beliefs. In retrospect I’m somewhat charmed by his impulsive nature and eagerness to act on instinct, whether it was his finding of Gordon after Jim’s  escape from the sewers or his steadfast devotion to the Batman symbol even in the face of opposition.


And how great is it to finally have Talia as a character in the films, however brief? Marion perfectly captures the exotic attraction of the character and, while it’s actually very obvious who she is even leading up to her reveal by the end of the film, I still loved her interplay with Bruce and their relationship under the disguise of Miranda Tate. It’s a minor thing but for Bruce to actually have sex in a film for the first time since “Mask of the Phantasm” was interesting. I know that’s not too big a deal but I found that smile-worthy.

Though it’s not as star-crossed a romance as Rachel, I loved the aspect that Talia brings of everyone surrounding Bruce noticing that chemistry and just wanting him to have that connection with someone, preferably a woman. It’s another element of humanization and after 70 years of history, that’s something you really need.


The rest of the cast plays their parts to form, including Morgan Freeman as the ever helpful Lucius Fox, Stanley Kubrick alumni Matthew Modine as Gotham officer Peter Foley (it’s Dan Foley in the comics but hey, we got a “Foley” just the same. Too bad we couldn’t get Bullock) and Ben Mendelsohn as white collar criminal John Daggett (again, like Foley, it’s a “Daggett.” Not quite Roland Daggett from the animated series, but the thought is there).


And how could anyone not help but cheer at the reappearance of both Liam Neeson as Ra’s Al Ghul and the ever loyal Cillian Murphy, taking up the judge’s gavel as Jonathan Crane?

“The choice is yours. Exile or death?!”


The action and pacing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” from my perspective, is as grandiose and bold an effort in filmmaking as one could find these days. It echoes similarly epic productions like “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Spartacus,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai” and “Gone with the Wind.” There’s tangibility to the scale of the film that flies right in the face of contemporary visual effects extravaganzas like the “Transformers” films or even the Marvel Studios releases.



We open with a mammoth prologue sequence as Bane escapes his CIA captors in a stunning aerial extraction. Shot over the vibrant greenery of Scotland, the scene is an exquisite example of combining practical and visual effects to birth a sequence that has an honest sense of weight. The prologue, along with a number of subsequent set pieces, is elevated by being shot in IMAX and as with “The Dark Knight,” seeing those gigantic images of Batman battling Bane and the Bat flying through the streets of Gotham will stay with me forever.

“Rises” takes several elements from iconic stories throughout the lore of the comics and Batman’s first full-fledged appearance in the film following an attack by Bane on the Gotham Stock Exchange is a terrific example.



“You are in for a show tonight, son.”

Batman returning to the main stage after years of being in hiding and subsequently being chased by the Gotham Police echoes similar plot points and scenes from Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Year One.” That moment of Batman being surrounded by what I can only assume is the entire police force is a fantastic image and a great beat on the theme that even with all that muscle and all those guns, the GCPD still can’t hope to bring in the caped crusader and the fanboy in me just smiles at the thought.



One of the strongest scenes in the film, by far, is the first battle between Batman and Bane. The technique of pulling the music out of the scene is the definition of creatively inspired, allowing the sound design to play a vital role in creating a wave of suspense and tension over the conflict. Even from the onset of Selina’s betrayal and Batman’s brashness getting the better of him, you immediately sense and fear for the fight to come.


Fans have complained that Batman would never be defeated so easily, which I never understood given that this is clearly a Batman distanced from his physical prime. To have Wayne go from a nearly decade-long exile to confronting the most physically challenging member of the rogue’s gallery makes his defeat more than plausible, but imminent. While it’s somewhat disheartening to think that Batman ever went soft, it makes perfect sense once those circumstances are set in motion.


“You fight like a young man, with nothing held back. Admirable, but mistaken.”

And what can you say about the pinnacle moment of comic book iconography where Bane takes Batman over his head and performs the unthinkable, breaking his back just as the character had done in the “Knightfall” saga. My jaw was on the floor the first time, spectacularly stunned.


“Ah yes, I was wondering what would break first. Your spirit or your body.”



There’s also Bane’s siege and occupation of Gotham. From his blowing the bridges and cutting the city off from the mainland to Blake’s constant marking of a crude Bat emblem in chalk, those elements are taken right from the pages of the landmark “No Man’s Land” storyline in the comics of the 90s and if you’re a fan of that story, it’s incredibly worthwhile to see a “Batman” film go down that path in certain cases.


The art direction, cinematography and production design are simultaneously inspired and inventive yet maintain a strong commitment to the visual through-line set up from the previous installments. Wally Pfister creates a light scape for Gotham City that feels more lush and warm in scenes such as the Harvey Dent day celebration at Wayne Manor and Miranda Tate’s masquerade ball, which marvelously parallels the hedonism and complacency that the city has fallen prey to. Specifically in the masquerade scene, I love the art direction that feeds into this hedonistic footnote of party staffers raining rose pedals on the proceedings.


“There’s a storm coming, Mr. Wayne.”

This peace is shattered with harsh, merciless sequences of light including Batman’s first confrontation with Bane in the sewers and the dwindling flickers of hope in the prison pit.

It was also interesting to see Batman in daylight. Typically fans find that sacrilegious but it's a great comment on how being a hero means stepping forth into the light. For Batman to become a true champion for the people, the symbol can't be withheld in the shadows by Bruce alone and bringing his heroics into the day with a rising sun (get it?) is fitting in this instance.


The production design heightens the scale of Nolan’s Gotham and Crowley creates a number of environments that are not only monstrously ambitious but decorated with wonderful old world touches.


Following the plans for reconstruction at the end of “Begins,” we’re finally given a new Batcave. We can charmingly refer to this rendition as the Batcave cubed. Pulling elements from the Bat-Bunker in “The Dark Knight,” Batman’s crime fighting sanctuary is given a minimalist, utilitarian approach centered on giant stone cubes that lift out of the natural springs via hydraulics. This technique continues in a trickle-down effect as both the Bat Computer and Batsuit vault similarly rise from the cubes, feeding into this broad and overall theme of “Rising” through the film, hence the title of course.


Standing in stark contrast to the organic stone and cavernous space of the cave, there’s the inner sanctum of Bane dwelling within the bowels of the Gotham City sewers. It’s an oppressive industrial space, webbed with catwalks of rusted metal. Ironically, both spaces are given a sense of kinetics and life through the simultaneous use of water and I just love how the water interacts with Batman’s costume during his fight with Bane, making the suit a reflective surface. It’s kind of a stretch, but one could say that this approach is a visual representation of Batman no longer being what he was but only a simple reflection.


Acting as two more cornerstones to create a subterranean four-point between the Batcave and the Gotham sewer, we’re also given the underground containment station for Bruce Wayne’s abandoned Nuclear Reactor as well as the infamous pit-based prison that saw the birth of Bane’s legend.


The Nuclear Reactor is a great bit of science fiction flavor, echoing previous high concept story points in the trilogy like the microwave emitter or the sonar machine. It’s a tremendously vast industrial space but a different kind of industry from the sewers and it’s a great bit of fun seeing Fox bring Miranda down into it.


The pit is a colossal backdrop that effectively, and clearly, parallels Bruce’s fall from grace and promise as well as his grueling reconstruction, lifting himself up from the depths of his own self-pity to once again rightfully claim his place as Gotham’s hero. It’s a charming metaphor for the fabled Lazarus Pits utilized by Ra’s Al Ghul in the comics with the idea of resurrection and something coming out of the pit even stronger than what it was when it went in. The base of the pit circled with prison cells and geometric staircases creates a visual metaphor for oppression, almost like an ancient tomb fit for Bruce Wayne’s burial. He however defies those odds and the moment of symbolism as bats erupt from the pit wall as he makes the jump is fantastic.



“What does that mean?”



The film’s costume design is a wonderful tribute to previous Batman incarnations while also making its own statements, specifically on both Catwoman and Bane since, this time around and for the very first time in franchise history, Batman himself isn’t really given much of a design overhaul which is natural. If he gave up the mantle after “The Dark Knight,” there’d be no point in modifying or updating the Batsuit and so they don’t, which is refreshing.


Catwoman is given a beautiful rendering that is influenced mostly by the 1966 “Batman” television series and I welcomed that with open arms while a lot of fans seemed, for whatever reason, to hate the idea, questioning why she wasn’t being given a more contemporary approach like the Jim Lee design from the comics. To take a costume in the tradition of Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Lee Meriwether and pull it through a high-tech funnel is a terrific method of honoring what came before while moving forward. It’s a simple thing but I love that we can see Selina’s hair and the idea of these high-end googles that conveniently flip up into accidental cat-ears with the classic domino mask gives the character a sense of elegance, romanticizing the idea of the cat burglar to great effect. The rest of Hathaway’s wardrobe feels very old Hollywood glamour along the lines of Elizabeth Taylor or Vivian Leigh and that’s a great fit for Selina.


Bane and his revolutionary roots are dramatized through a costume that chooses to base itself on plausibility rather than the iconography of the comics. Do I miss the Mexican wrestler mask? Going a step further, do I miss the inclusion of Venom? I’m not so precious and, for the circumstances of the film and the portrait Nolan and Hardy are creating, I think Bane is given a fresh appearance that still mirrors familiar ground. He’s given a mask that still manages to have an ominous effect as it does on the page and I love the additions made by Lindy Hemming, especially his French revolutionary-inspired coat with its silhouette-creating high collar and certain pieces like his forearm brace and vest with its straps and buckles. It’s a set of costumes that don’t wear Hardy, don’t overshadow his physique and they give the character an almost Napoleonic presence.




The entire final sequence of the film is just staggering as hundreds of Gotham police officers and mercenaries charge each other in the streets outside city hall. It’s surreal to consider that kind of scale following previous installments like “Batman Returns” that feel microscopic by comparison. The image of Batman stalking through smoke and he and Bane incapacitating obstructions while en route to one other is graphic and amazing.

“So you came back to die with your city.”


The scene literally takes off with the Bat, a new aerial vehicle in Batman’s employ. As with the different genres incorporated from film to film, I love that Nolan decides to examine various aspects of Batman’s arsenal. “Batman Begins” focused on the Tumbler and Batman’s ability to get through Gotham on four wheels, “The Dark Knight” transitioned to the Bat-Pod, taking the wheels down to two and making Batman’s transportation more efficient, more modest. “The Dark Knight Rises” observes Batman as a crime fighter in flight, just as he’s been in the comics and it’s a dynamic choice that once again pays dividends to the theme of rising; rising to the occasion, rising up from despair, rising like a Phoenix and taking wing.




The film is given its emotional strength through the driving rhythms of Hans Zimmer’s score. He creates a poetic theme for Catwoman that I absolutely fell in love with as it slinks around with its gracefully tinkering piano work and the now famous Bane chant is arguably as iconic and recognizable as the two-note motif Hans had composed for the Joker.

The Batman material is given a new elevation and Zimmer’s work with tracks such as “Risen from Darkness” and “Imagine the Fire” is breathtaking, approaching the foundations constructed for “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight” and building upon them with heightened bombasity and the inclusion of chorus. The “Rises” score gets the blood pumping big time.


“Tell me where the trigger is. Then…you have my permission to die.”

How many times have third iterations of a film franchise truly succeeded?

The film has a number of plot holes to be sure and there are certain elements that feel as though the film is purposefully and inappropriately self-aware, trying to raise the stakes and have lightning strike as with “The Dark Knight” instead of focusing on being its own entity without unnecessary regard for what came before.

You’ve probably heard them all.


How’d Bruce make it back to Gotham? How’d his back heal up from nothing more than being strung up by a rope? Robin? I was fine with that one to be honest. And man, who were they fooling with that whole “Miranda Tate” disguise?

But while the film might not be a full-fledged success in exactly the same way as its predecessor, I still find it a success for one reason above all others.



“The Dark Knight Rises” is the one Batman film that has ever made me cry.

I’ve felt that way about my own life from time to time, the way Batman does.

There have been points where I’ve felt disenfranchised, lonely, abandoned and left behind as an afterthought while all I’ve ever done is my own thing, living my life the way I’ve always lived it.

In my observation, there are these bizarre and dramatic swings I go through where family and friends seem more interested and invested and supportive of my goals and ambitions in one instance and then in another, I feel alone but all for naught because I stay committed to my path in life.


That’s a big part in why I relate to Batman so much and you see it not just in “Rises” but in other works such as “The Dark Knight Returns” book.

All Batman is (I’m) doing is being true to his motivations and his goals while the media and those surrounding him (my family and friends) speculate or ignore or loathe or support, whatever…but that’s not the point. The point is that he and I continue and endure regardless of what everyone else is saying or thinking about us.


“You don’t owe these people anymore. You’ve given them everything.”

“Not everything. Not yet.”

To reach that zenith by film’s end of seeing my hero, my idol, still enduring as I feel I do and coming to terms with the possible outcome of his inevitable death…without recognition, without reward but because he needed to save everyone…made me shed tears of pure adoration and solidified my connection with Batman even more than what it had already been. My mom will testify to this; I blubbered throughout the entire ending.


“A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders…to let him know the world hadn’t ended.”

From there the emotion just ascends with poignant scenes such as Gordon figuring out Batman’s true identity to Alfred weeping at the graves of Thomas and Martha Wayne, declaring his failure of their son and Lucius Fox driven to figure out what he could’ve done to change things. It’s humanizing and really goes to great lengths to portray these characters not as characters but as people. Because to me and to fans around the world for 75 years strong, they ARE people, as real and meaningful as anyone in our lives. Bruce, Jim, Alfred, Lucius; they reside in our hearts just as the eulogy at the end declares.

And in the end, we’re given a glimpse of Batman that touched my heart.


Bruce Wayne survived. Alive and happy, we’re given a moment however brief to realize that our hero has been given a chance to lead a life free from tragedy and bloodshed because he rose to show the people of Gotham and the world that they can take responsibility and power for themselves.

Batman can be anyone.

That’s the strength of his symbol. The mark of his legend.

That’s how you make yourself more than just a man.


“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done. It is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

“The Dark Knight Rises” is as fitting a conclusion to the Batman legend as any.

A poignant, operatic, sweeping conclusion to a vibrant interpretation, Christopher Nolan and his casts and crews should be, and most certainly are, very proud of the work they’ve done. These films are a testament to both Batman’s longevity and his intimacy; how the character can be so larger than life and yet so personal and identifiable and their influence on both Batman and filmmaking at large will certainly be felt for years to come.

“No one’s ever going to know who saved an entire city.”

“They know. It was the Batman.”