Tag Archive: action movies


REVIEW: JURASSIC WORLD

JURASSIC WORLD (2015)
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, & Nick Robinson
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Written by Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, & Colin Trevorrow
Produced by Frank Marshall & Patrick Crowley
Executive Produced by Steven Spielberg
Cinematography by John Schwartzman
Score by Michael Giacchino
Edited by Kevin Stitt

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Not pictured: Axl Rose shredding a mean guitar solo in front of an explosion

(WARNING: There are a few SPOILERS laced throughout this review. Watch your step!)

   Everybody loves Jurassic Park. Seriously, in all my years on this planet I haven’t met anyone who’s been like, “fuck that movie.” It’s pretty much universally regarded as a milestone in cinematic history, a game-changer which revolutionized special effects in popular filmmaking, revitalized dinosaurs in the mass public awareness, and also managed to spin a pretty damn exciting yarn all at once. 22 years after its release, I think it’s safe to say it’s now a classic in every sense of the word. Hell, it was once the highest-grossing film of all time until Titanic came out in 1997 and knocked it off its diamond-encrusted pedestal. Sure, it has its flaws, but they’re mostly small technical things, and don’t weigh the entire film down as a whole. It’s a genuinely iconic, groundbreaking adventure film, intelligently crafted by one of the all-time great filmmakers (Steven Spielberg) and told with a genuine love & appreciation for the dinosaurs it depicts. It’s just a neat movie!

   As far as the sequels that followed…well, not so much. The Lost World: Jurassic Park was Spielberg’s attempt to pack more energy and more dinos into the mix, but it wound up being lackluster in the story/character department and treated the dinosaurs like common monsters. Despite all this, it was still pretty cool if you’re a 9 year-old, which I was when it was first released in 1997. Jurassic Park III, on the other hand, was a pretty forced effort on all fronts, with an oversimplified rescue plot which definitely paled in comparison to its predecessors, despite having some fairly decent sequences. That one came out in 2001, and all has been slow on the dinos-in-cinema front since then. Well, hold on to your butts, fellow meatbags, because the meat-eating meatasauruses are back for a FOURTH time with the newly-released Jurassic World!

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He’d probably score a lot of sick props rolling up to a club like that if his wingmen didn’t always brutally murder everyone on sight.

   So how does it fare against the stiff competition of its own predecessors? Well…not so well, I’m unhappy to report. Jurassic World, while trying its damndest to be on par with the first film and weave its own web of dino-riffic action, corporate intrigue, and cautionary man vs. nature sentiment, unfortunately falls flat on its face in its contrived construction & mixed-bag execution. It’s pretty disappointing, to say the least. The film was in development hell for more than a decade, and now that it’s finally here it seems like very little attention was paid to the story and character development aspect which made the first film so enjoyable to watch. It’s really a damn shame, because considering the amount of hype this movie has received over the past year, it’s kind of mind-boggling to me that they just decided to take the straight up B-movie route with it. But, I’m getting ahead of myself a bit on that front. First let’s get into the “meat” of this beast. (Oh god I’m so sorry about that.)

   Jurassic World, the reboot/sequel (or “requel”) of the Jurassic Park franchise, takes place some 20-odd years after the events of the original. By now, billionaire entrepreneur/dino-cloning enthusiast/depraved vorarephile John Hammond has passed on, leaving behind his multi-billion dollar genetics corporation InGen and no doubt millions of dollars in lawsuit fees. (Seriously, how the fuck is InGen still in existence after 3 movies worth of death & destruction?) In his stead, somebody got the ingenious idea to try out that whole “Jurassic Park” idea again, this time calling it “Jurassic World” and making sure nobody hires a fat, greedy, disgruntled guy named Dennis to run literally everything. And what do you know, it worked! Jurassic World turns into a flourishing, exciting, and highly profitable tourist destination, with people traveling from all over the globe to bear witness to the awesome power of dinosaurs reborn unto the world.

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She ate Shamu’s heart out.

   Well, at least for a little while. Taking a very cynical stance on the average human attention span, the movie states that people are no longer wowed by the prospect of seeing live dinosaurs like they once were, relating their jaw-dropping attractions to nothing more than “big elephants” in the eyes of the consumer. In an attempt to bring in more attendees/moola, the corporate bigwigs make the brilliant decision to genetically manufacture a big, scary & hopelessly intelligent hybrid dinosaur-monster. The creature is given the oh-so appropriate name of Indominus Rex, and is poised to frighten & bewilder the cash right out of the visitors’ pockets. Unfortunately, these corporate bigwigs don’t know they’re in a sci-fi/action B-movie, so the obvious & inevitable backfiring of such a boneheaded move are not immediately clear to them.

   With the dinos in play, it’s time to (unfortunately) bring in the human characters! Jurassic World’s park operations manager, Claire Dearing (played by Bryce Dallas Howard) is an uptight, organized, and overtly business-minded lady who’s always focused on work. So focused, in fact, she doesn’t bother to spend time with her visiting nephews Zach and Gray (played by Nick Robinson & Ty Simpkins, respectively) who are attending the park for the weekend and serving the role of mandatory children in a Jurassic Park movie. Meanwhile, the cool, laid-back but focused & stern ex-Navy man Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt) is engaged in a relationship of “mutual respect” with a group of Velociraptors, training them to obey commands and interact with human beings without ripping them to shreds and feasting on their vital organs. If that sounds silly to you, don’t worry – that just means you’re still a sane & rational human being. Throw all of this into the mix with a ready-to-escape Indominus Rex and you’ve got the makings of a perfect B-movie!

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Owen takes a moment to imagine just how freakin’ sweet his new tooth necklace is going to be.

   So of course, everything goes wrong. The Indominus escapes, begins wreaking havoc all over the island, and it’s up to Owen & Claire to bring down the horrible beast before it starts ripping innocent park-goers limb from limb. And that’s it, pretty much. Seriously, the story is so straight-forward and simple that it’s almost a perfect example of Screenwriting 101 – a clear, concise monster movie plot which hits all the basic plot elements you need to create a solid, 2-hour creature feature. Vincent D’Onofrio also turns up as the InGen Head of Security, who is primarily interested in utilizing the trained Velociraptors as weapons for the military to use against its enemies. Big surprise there! Seriously, it’s a plot so contrived on clichés and familiarity that predicting what’s going to happen is not only inevitable, it’s almost invited.

   When I first saw the trailer for Jurassic World, I got a bad feeling in my pits – a movie about a super-intelligent, genetic hybrid dino-monster which breaks loose and starts wreaking havoc? Well that’s just about as horribly low-grade B-movie as you can get, man, no joke! “Are they really going to turn Jurassic Park into low-grade action schlock?” I thought to myself. And the filmmakers’ answer was, “YES, you silly bastard, of course we are!” And then I saw a clip of a “romantic” dialogue sequence between Chris Pratt & Bryce Dallas Howard a couple months ago, and I was almost dumbfounded at how laughably bad the dialogue and characterization was. Seriously, she pulls up to his little bungalow, and he’s outside working on his motorcycle. She tries to recruit him to check out the Indominus’s containment area, and he starts schmaltzing on about how uptight and rigid she was when they went out on a date, and she fires back about how he “showed up in board shorts” or some shit. Seriously, it’s like a scene out of a below-average romantic comedy! It was with these expectations in mind that I sat down in the theater to watch Jurassic World with, and lo & behold, those expectations were perfectly met. So in that regard, Jurassic World lived up to what I thought it was going to be…the problem is, those expectations are NOT the kind you want to have when going to see a big, fancy reboot of a beloved franchise with massive hype and anticipation.

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A frame from the scariest scene in the film.

   Things continue along on a predictable path – they try to isolate the Indominus in the closed-off section of the park, it keeps killing its way to the main area where all the tourists are, the kids sneak into a restricted area for mandatory endangerment reasons, the trained raptors are set loose in an attempt to bring down the Indominus, which fails, and so it goes. If I seem a little flippant about the story of this film, it’s because it seems like the last thing on the filmmakers’ minds was telling an original, creative story that tries to equal the gravity of the original. I get that this is basically a dinosaur movie for little kids, but the Jurassic Park franchise is 20+ years old – if you’re going to reboot something with this much cinematic creditability, you should definitely try to bridge the gap between the old and the new by offering something with a little more substance than the typical monster B-movie.

   The thing about the original Jurassic Park is that it was certainly NOT a B-movie. Sure, it had elements of your average monster movie, what with the giant creatures chasing and eating human characters and all, but Jurassic Park had so much more going on with it intellectually. Steven Spielberg went out of his way to portray the dinosaurs with respect, with specific attention to detail about how these creatures are animals, not big, dumb, lumbering beasts. They weren’t stalking and chasing you because they were evil, they were doing so because that’s just how they are. And what’s more, Jurassic Park actually had meaningful things to say about mankind playing God, and the drastic repercussions of meddling in places you shouldn’t be meddling in. The dialogue-heavy lunch sequence, in which all the main characters discuss the philosophical ramifications of what John Hammond is doing, is so well-written and thought-provoking that I can’t even believe it comes from the same franchise as Jurassic World. With the JP movies, we’ve seen a gradual dumbing-down of the material from movie to movie, going from a mature-yet-accessible discussion about scientific progress and its dangers in the first film, to generic running & screaming action schlock in the fourth one. Jurassic World tries to address these man vs. nature themes, but it’s handled so clumsily and on a pedestrian level that it pales poorly in comparison to the first film, which did it so much better.

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Raptor dance instruction: not as easy as it looks.

   Not only that, but the writing in the film is so stilted and on-the-nose that it’s staggering. Every time a character opened up their mouth to spout some obvious, overwritten dialogue I just wished I could watch the movie on mute and look at the amazing visuals being displayed. When D’Onofrio’s character was trying to convince Chris Pratt’s to weaponize the Velociraptors (a phrase I can’t believe I just typed), he goes on about how he once saved a 2 month-old wolf from dying and formed a bond with it. He talks about how his wife once tried to stab him with a steak knife, and how the wolf took a chunk out of her arm because of their bond. When he said that I was just like…What?! Where did that tidbit come from? How is that relevant? He just drops it like it’s no big deal, and Owen doesn’t even give it a second thought. D’Onofrio goes on and on about how war is a natural part of life, and how it’s part of nature’s pecking order, and yada yada yada so on and so forth. It’s a speech we’ve all heard a thousand times in a thousand different movies. Owen at least has the sense to ask “Do you even hear yourself when you talk,” which is a pretty smart question to ask, but I would have much rather heard him ask, “wait, WHY DID YOUR WIFE TRY TO STAB YOU WITH A STEAK KNIFE?!?!”

   There are other questionable choices made with the writing as well. Once again, the kids in the movie serve no purpose in the story other than to be Kids in Jeopardy, and get saved by Owen time & time again. The older sibling, Zach, is your average angst-ridden and apathetic teen, who’s constantly ogling anything female in front of him (except the dinosaurs, naturally) and the younger sibling has this weird obsession with numbers, for…some…reason. I guess they were trying to give them “quirks”, but literally nothing is done with these traits at any point in the movie. It doesn’t help the plot that Zach is a pervy ogler, and Gray’s number-obsession doesn’t assist them in some abstract, specific way. They’re just…there, and you’d better get used to it. At least in the original Jurassic Park, the kids actually served a functional purpose in the script, and their quirky traits were utilized appropriately. Lex, being a computer nerd (or “hacker”, as she preferred), was able to get all of Jurassic Park’s systems back online at a crucial point towards the end of the film. And Tim, while he was less useful than his sister, supplied dinosaur knowledge here and there and provided some occasional comic relief. You can argue about how unrealistic it is that Lex was able to get an entire theme park’s complex electrical systems back online with a few simple mouse clicks, but my point is, the kids in that movie actually served a PURPOSE – unlike World’s boring, angst-ridden youths.

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Wow, those kids sure are BALLS-y! Haha, right?? Eh? Eh? Yeah….I’ll stop now.

   There’s a cringe-inducing scene that really should have been cut in which Zach and Gray, while riding a tram in the park, begin discussing their parents’ presumed “divorce”, with Gray tearily worrying that their parents are going to split and the two brothers are going to be separated. Zach then blows off his little brother’s concerns by basically saying it’s no big deal and that “all of [his] friends’ parents are divorced so it doesn’t really matter.” The thing is, this conversation happens FOR NO REASON and serves 0 purpose in the overall movie. When we saw Zach & Gray’s parents earlier at the start of the film, they seemed perfectly fine! They lovingly wished their kids farewell at the airport, and even shared a few wisecracks with each other. Definitely nothing to make the audience think their marriage was on the rocks. Then, at the end of the film, their parents inexplicably show up AT Jurassic World to retrieve them (even though I’m pretty sure nobody would be ferrying people to the island after such a horrific, death-and-injury-inducing disaster), further solidifying the strength of their marriage and love of their children. The conversation comes completely out of nowhere and serves no overall purpose in the film, other than to shoehorn in some feels for the audience in a really cheap and obvious way.

   In fact, there are several moments in this film’s script in which plot elements are introduced and then never addressed again at any point. The biggest and most glaring one comes after the Indominus has escaped and the security team is dispatched to go find it and bring it down. They’re bumbling around in the woods, cautiously looking around, when they find that the monster tore out its own tracking device. Right after this happens, the foliage begins moving strangely and it’s revealed that it’s actually the Indominus, perfectly cloaked and ready to fuck shit up. As the poor infantry man puts it right before he becomes lunch, “IT CAN CAMOUFLAGE!!!” Ok, great! That’s a really cool trait for a dangerous monster to have, I can’t wait to see how it plays out in the rest of the film! But oh, wait…….they never use the camouflage again. For anything. Ever. It just happens in this one scene and is never featured again. Tell me, what the fuck was the point of introducing something SO COOL and then NEVER using again in the rest of the film?! A killer, intelligent dinosaur that can cloak and set up traps for dumb humans to stumble into? That’s like the perfect scary movie monster right there! But no, they’re just gonna use it for this one scene and that’s it. What’s the point of turning your movie into a schlocky B-movie monster flick if you’re not even going to fully deliver on those promises? Talk about a failure of imagination.

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Spoiler alert: he doesn’t move.

   There were seriously parts of this movie where I felt like I was watching one of those cheesy SyFy Network original movies. The big, climactic dinosaur fight at the end between Indominus and Tyrannosaurus was visually impressive, but ended in such a ridiculous fashion that I couldn’t help but think about Deep Blue Sea, or Sharknado, or any other random B-movie. It was pure exploitation, and nothing more. And hell, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it’s so far removed from what the original Jurassic Park was that I couldn’t help but feel let down by it. The movie went out of its way to show that the Indominus was evil – the fact it was killing for sport, the way it gets other dinos to turn on the humans – it got to a point where it stopped being a film about real creatures and it became just another monster movie, which is not what the Jurassic Park movies were originally about. I couldn’t help but think what Michael Crichton, author of the original Jurassic Park novel would have thought of this shit. Would he have approved? It’s hard to say, but even if he was still alive, Hollywood would have churned out this flick regardless of what he thought, so it might not even matter at the end of the day.

   I will say this – Jurassic World was VERY much fun to look at. The special effects are dazzling, and the CGI and practical effects are blended so seamlessly you can’t really tell which is which. I gotta hand it to ‘em, they REALLY sold the awesomeness of the park at the beginning of the movie. The realistic attraction design, the displays and interactive activities they had – it was all very effective and enticing. I found myself wishing I could actually go to that theme park, and check out all the attractions there. You can definitely tell they put A LOT of effort into making Jurassic World a visual extravaganza – and shit, who can blame them? It’s a movie about dinosaurs breaking loose and attacking people, you better damn well make sure it looks good! There are some neat dinosaur setpieces, the most notable of which is the sequence in which the Indominus smashes open the Aviary and frees all the flying dinosaurs, who proceed to attack and maul the panicking herds of consumers who only minutes ago were having the time of their lives. I love it! It’s just shame these visuals weren’t featured in a more intelligently written, thought-provoking story, or else the film would have been above and beyond the call.

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Real cool genetically modified mutant dinosaur hybrids don’t look at explosions.

   Despite my problems with the writing and the dialogue in the film, the movie was pretty well cast and acted for the most part. It’s a testament to Vincent D’Onofrio’s acting ability that his character didn’t come off as a generic evil caricature when he was delivering his clichéd, militaristic “make everything into a weapon” lines. He actually added a bit of warmth to his character, and even though he was your basic war-mongering antagonist, he never came off as unrealistic or over-the-top – unlike a similar character played by Hugh Jackman in this year’s Chappie, a movie so terrible I’m kind of bummed I didn’t write a review of it back when I saw it. I might get around to it eventually. Anyway, Chris Pratt fared extremely well as our hero Owen. I’ll say right now that I really enjoy Chris Pratt – he’s charismatic and likeable, and a natural fit for a leading man in big summer popcorn flicks like this. He killed in Guardians of the Galaxy, and despite his underwritten character whom we learn very little about in this film, he knocks it out of the park. If he’s careful with his role choices and doesn’t typecast himself as an “action movie hero guy”, he could have a very promising and rewarding career ahead of him. Faring not so well was Bryce Dallas Howard, whose perfomance came off as kind of forced in the movie. She seems a bit too nice to play an uptight killjoy, and she didn’t really bring anything special to her oh-so engaging character. A much colder, rigid actress would have been better for the role.

   By the way, heads up screenwriters – it’s 2015. Rigid, uptight spoilsport women are kind of a passe stereotype in movies now. After seeing the powerhouse writing and characterization of the women in Mad Max: Fury Road (another film this year which I should have reviewed), the portrayal of Claire’s character in this movie is downright archaic. Hell, the original Jurassic Park came out 22 years ago and it had a stronger, more realistic female lead than this turd. Remember Laura Dern as Ellie Sattler? Remember “Dinosaurs eat man, woman inherits the earth?” Yeah, compare THAT shit to this stereotype-laden farce. Can we stop portraying women as stuck-up bitches in movies now? And also stop having them fall in love with the loose, laid-back-yet-stern male stereotype? “Oh, it’s soo romantic because they’re soo different from each other!” Blecch. You couldn’t get more basic, stereotypical or clichéd than the “romance” between the two leads in this movie. There’s a very awkward moment in the movie where Claire saves Owen from an attacking pterosaur, and he just promptly grabs her and kisses her – even though there’s been very little setup for their romance before this. Like, yeah, they went on a date once, and there’s some definite sexual tension between them, but are they really at that point where he can just randomly grab her and start making out with her? I mean shit, maybe, this is a B-movie after all.

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Indominus gets into a heated yawning competition with some flying dinos; most just end up flying into its mouth.

   And in the end, that was my main problem with Jurassic World – it’s a dumbed-down, oversimplified shade of what the original film set out to be. There wasn’t any subtlety, or nuance with this film, just a bunch of blunt action setpieces for what the producers consider to be the dimwitted masses. And look, I know I’ve been really hard on Jurassic World up to this point, but I should clearly state that I was genuinely entertained while watching this movie. Yeah, I knew it was stupid while I was watching it, but it does a pretty good job of pulling you into its world and popping your eyes with some sweet dinosaur action. And on that level, it’s a success – Jurassic World is a really good action movie, and if that’s all you’re looking for, then more power to you, enjoy the film with all your heart. For me, being a lifelong fan of Jurassic Park since I was a little kid, and having seen the original so many times and falling in love with its craft and charm, this movie was a very strong let down for me. It was dumbed down to the point where it was insulting, explaining everything for the audience and not letting us come to any conclusions of our own. I know JP’s sequels got progressively stupider, but the whole point of these reboots is to recapture the magic of what made the first one so great, right? Well…apparently not, I guess.

   Overall, Jurassic World is a harmless film, but it really could have been so much more. It failed to connect with me on a deeper emotional level, and for that I have to fault it, even though I was genuinely entertained by its effects and spectacle. It was predictable and clichéd with blunt, on-the-nose writing and one-dimensional characterization. I really have no desire to watch it again, at least not for a long while. It was well-made enough, but what I was really craving was a genuine story, which makes me feel sort of silly now that I know it was not trying to deliver that in the slightest. Really, this franchise is all about spectacle now, and I’ll just have to accept that from here on out. At least if more sequels come, I’ll have my expectations tempered to match their standards, and it won’t be such a disappointing experience for me. But man, the potential here was certainly wasted. Oh well. I’d like to say I can hold on to a little sliver of hope, and comfort myself with that familiar Ian Malcom adage: “Life will find a way”. Unfortunately, in Jurassic World’s case, it’s not life which finds a way…it’s dollar signs.

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REVIEW: THE DARK KNIGHT RISES

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (2012)
Starring Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Ann Hathaway, Marion Cotillard, Michael Cain, Gary Oldman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, & Morgan Freeman
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Written by Johnathan Nolan & Christopher Nolan
Produced by Emma Thomas, Christopher Nolan & Charles Roven
Cinematography by Wally Pfister
Music by Hans Zimmer
Edited by Lee Smith

Batman ponders if his latest act of destructive vandalism really justifies itself at the end of the day.

(This is a SPOILER ALERT. It’s alerting you to SPOILERS, so be cautious as you read into this review if you don’t want anything….spoiled. If you ain’t afraid of no spoilers, READ ON and ENJOY!)

   Movie trilogies can be tricky. It’s often quite a feat to maintain the same level of quality and presentation throughout three separate films which, when combined, create a singular ongoing story. Ever since the original Star Wars trilogy left a mark on the popular consciousness all those years ago, movie trilogies have been popping up left and right – we got the Back to the Future trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Godfather trilogy, The Matrix, Pirates of the Caribbean, Evil Dead, Jurassic Park, Men in Black, and Spider-Man trilogies…hell, even the Toy Story movies became quite an epic trilogy. And, because of the difficulty in maintaining a giant story throughout three films, these movie trilogies have often been executed with varying levels of success. It’s just really challenging to keep a strict eye on the overall story being told when it’s stretched out over three full-length movies! It takes a very focused filmmaker or group of filmmakers with a solid vision to keep a level-headed hold on things, without letting too many excess details getting in the way of the overall goal. This is especially hard when you get to the final installment of a franchise because wrapping everything up with a nice little bow is often a daunting task…especially when all of the details won’t fit perfectly inside the box. The Spider-Man trilogy had this problem, The Matrix trilogy definitely had this problem, and The Godfather Part III is almost begrudgingly accepted as part of that epic film franchise. Even the great Return of the Jedi is generally viewed as the weakest chapter in the original Star Wars trilogy. It’s just hard to do a final, conclusive third installment that provides the appropriate sense of closure so desperately needed. Now, what I would REALLY like to say is that the third installment of Christopher Nolan’s epic Dark Knight trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, gets all of these factors right and is a successful conclusion to what has been one of the best film franchises in recent memory…but unfortunately, my friends, I just don’t find that to be entirely the case.

   Let me just say this: I REALLY wanted to like this movie a lot more than I did. I absolutely love Nolan’s previous forays into the Batman universe, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. I find them to be intelligently made, greatly entertaining and thematically sound exercises in film escapism, and they paint a truly defining portrait of the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman. There are definitely flaws in both of those movies, but on the whole, they’re genuinely great works of cinematic art. They brought the superhero movie out of childish abandon and re-established Batman for a new generation, grounding his character in reality and achieving a new level of emotional complexity that no superhero movie had ever accomplished before. Christopher Nolan is a very competent director, even if his projects can – at times – be overly complicated or ridden with trivial details. I’ve been a fan of his stuff ever since I saw Memento, which is still one of my favorite films of all time. And after Inception, a movie I absolutely loved, I was under the impression that Nolan could do no real wrong. Well….I may have spoken a bit too soon. The Dark Knight Rises isn’t a terrible film, but unfortunately, it isn’t a very monumental or effective one either. It’s kind of just….okay. It certainly isn’t a strong note to end this previously triumphant Batman trilogy on, and in all honesty, its grandiose epicness is actually kind of a detracting factor in its overall scheme. There’s just too many new characters flying around, too many subplots and storylines intersecting and evolving, and too many loose ends desperately in need of being tied up that it actually begins to work against the fluidity of the movie. Plus, there are some genuinely boneheaded decisions being made here and there, and they feel blatantly out of place in this otherwise well-written film series. The movie just feels like it’s trying oh-so hard to fit in all this excess story into a neat little package and to get quickly to the next scene, so much so that none of the individual scenes have any time to breathe – we’re just constantly being thrust into the next event without any time to consider what has just happened.

“You know, with that mask and those little ears, you look just a little bit like a Catwom…..oh shit, I’m sorry, I forgot we aren’t saying that.”

   So where to begin? Well, I suppose we should begin at the beginning – The Dark Knight Rises picks up 8 years after the events of The Dark Knight have transpired. Gotham City is experiencing an unprecedented era of peace and tranquility, thanks in part to a bill called the Dent Act which was passed shortly after Harvey Dent’s death in the last film. The city also dignifies Dent with a Harvey Dent Day, which takes place on the anniversary of his death – clearly, the city is still gaga over Harvey Dent, and is completely unaware of the fact that he became a depraved, cold-blooded murderer named Two-Face who tried to kill Commissioner Gordon’s entire family shortly before his demise. Blame for Dent’s death is still placed on the Batman, who hasn’t been seen since the first “Harvey Dent Day” 8 years ago. Coincidentally, Bruce Wayne hasn’t left his mansion in that time either. Right off the bat, this peaceful era in Gotham’s history makes for a pretty boring first act of the film – nothing is really happening. At the beginning of The Dark Knight, we’re instantly drawn into a tense, visually stimulating action sequence that establishes the tone and intensity of the movie in a way that never lets up throughout its entire running time. At the beginning of Rises, we just get….a bunch of people indulging in upper-class pleasantries and talking about how peaceful everything is. Yeah, lots of excitement there.

   Now, to be fair, the movie does begin with a pretty cool looking action sequence aboard an airplane which introduces us to Bane, portrayed with calm and collected brutality by Tom Hardy. But, as visually interesting as this sequence is, it doesn’t really give us a ton of information, or any bearing on who (or what) Bane is or what he’s doing on this plane. I mean, he’s there to kidnap this scientist guy or something, but I don’t know why this whole plane exercise was even necessary. It’s said at the beginning of the scene that Bane and two other companions were apprehended while trying to capture the scientist (named Dr. Pavel), but it was Bane’s plan to be captured. …Why? Because he wanted to show everyone how cool he is? Why couldn’t he just capture Dr. Pavel before, without even dealing with being picked up by the CIA and going through this whole convoluted air-hijacking plot? Bane does say he wanted to find out what Pavel told them, but it’s perfectly clear these guys don’t know jack shit about Bane or his plan, and Pavel quickly shouts he told them nothing, therefore rendering the point of this plan irrelevant. I guess he knows now! Couldn’t he have just intimidated that information out of Pavel after capturing him? I dunno, it just felt flimsy to me. Everything happens extremely quickly, and it’s shot with this sort of rushed feeling that we don’t really have a good established feel for what’s happening. There’s even this weird part where they take blood from Dr. Pavel and put it into the body of some corpse in a bodybag, as the plane they’re in is being destroyed and tethered by another plane. I guess the point of this was to make it look like Pavel died in the plane crash, but honestly, I didn’t even pick up on that while I was watching the movie. It isn’t explained in any way, and honestly, it just left me feeling confused. I guess it’s a smart move, but wouldn’t the CIA have been able to tell it wasn’t Pavel by his face? Or maybe the body would get so horribly mangled in the destruction of the plane after they drop it that it would be indeterminable anyway? And furthermore, why should Bane and company care if they know Pavel is dead or not? Bane kidnapped him, and it’s doubtful the CIA would be able to locate him from that point on. I just didn’t really see the point of the whole blood transfusion thing – or the plane hijacking, for that matter – and it already left me with an uncomfortable, disoriented feeling just 5 minutes into the movie.

Staring into Bane’s eyes, Batman recalls his earlier dance with Selina Kyle and realizes this probably isn’t the time or place to be thinking about such things.

   Anyway, back to the slow, boring first act. Right away it’s established that not much is going on – the characters even talk about it with semi-awkward expository dialogue. Bruce Wayne is hosting a Harvey Dent Day party at his mansion, but isn’t showing his face at it. Commissioner Gordon begins to give a speech, where he intends to tell everyone the truth about Harvey Dent, but decides not to for some reason, and awkwardly tells everyone that they’re “not ready for the truth yet.” Um…that’s kind of a weird thing to tell a large group of people gathered to celebrate someone’s life and death, especially since it implies they’re being lied to about something regarding that very person. But, of course, nobody finds this strange at all and goes about their regular business. It might just be me, but if somebody pulls out a pre-written speech and then hastily puts it away while telling us we’re not ready to hear the truth about it, I might just get a little suspicious. But anyway, soon it’s shown that one of the servers working Wayne’s party is not who she appears to be as she sneaks into Bruce Wayne’s private quarters and begins snooping around. Wayne confronts her, and it’s revealed he’s suffered some type of injury that limits him to the use of a cane. It becomes apparent that this mysterious woman is Selina Kyle, aka “The Cat”, a burglar who’s been quite popular in the news lately. She’s there to steal Bruce Wayne’s mother’s pearl necklace, as well as his fingerprints for an unknown client. After some witty back-and-forth, Selina kicks Wayne’s cane out from under him and he collapses, allowing her to escape. At the same time, she “kidnaps” a somewhat willing United States congressman, leading to a city-wide manhut. One thing I definitely like about the movie is Ann Hathaway’s portrayal as Catwoman – although she’s not referred to as Catwoman at any point in the film, which is pretty interesting. At first I was a little iffy about Nolan’s decision to cast her in the role, which I was pretty much used to seeing fulfilled by blonde bombshell actresses (or, in worst-case scenarios, Halle Berry. But we won’t talk about that). But I promptly put my foot in my mouth once I saw the sexy sassiness Hathaway brings to the role. She nails it perfectly, giving Seling Kyle a mixture of devil-may-care sassiness as well as a brutal killer instinct. She’s probably the strongest new character in a film that has a vast overabundance of new characters.

   So Bruce Wayne is crippled and out of the superhero game, even though we’re never told how or why he injured his leg in the first place. I guess in the long run it doesn’t really matter, but honestly, I would have really liked to know how a dude like Bruce Wayne, with all his physical gusto, got reduced to the status of cane-wielding recluse. This lack of information sets up an unfortunate precedent for the movie: it doesn’t really establish things very well. The absence of a proper grounding plagues the entirety of the film throughout its nearly three-hour running time, and eventually it’s nearly impossible to ignore the numbing sensation going on in your seat. Now honestly, I have a feeling if I go incredibly in-depth on this one I’ll be sitting here typing for years and never get this review finished, so I’m going to go a bit easier from here on out, simply for time and sanity’s sake. But almost everything in this movie just feels a little…off to me. There are so many little factors, so many little details that just feel unnatural or ill-advised that it starts to bring the movie down for me. Things like overly expository dialogue, and strange editing in regards to time and where characters are. At one point, we’re jumping back and forth between two events that seem to be happening at the same time, but when Batman finishes saving people in scene A, he immediately appears in scene B to save the guy in danger there too! Does Batman have a transportation device I’m not aware of? Is scene B happening at a later time? What the hell is going on? You see, there’s just a bunch of weird and confusing stuff like that happening that really shouldn’t be in a high-profile film of this magnitude.

Speaking of weird and confusing, at one point the film suddenly becomes one of those schlocky woman-in-prison movies from the ’70s for about 20 minutes. WHY, NOLAN, WHY?!

   Let me just state this again: this is not, by any means, an atrocious film. There’s definitely exciting action sequences, some great character development for the characters that actually matter (and, unfortunately, some develophment for ones that really don’t), great performances from most of the people involved, and competent direction from Nolan himself. I liked that the story, while jumping all over the place and never really focusing solely on one detail, compellingly displays an entire society falling apart at the seams. It represents a low point for many of our established characters, and raises the stakes to a near apocalyptic level fitting for an epic conclusion such as this. At the very least, it gave a substantial role for Bruce Wayne to play. After the Joker sort of stole the show from Batman in The Dark Knight, it can truly be said that Rises is actually a movie about Bruce Wayne/Batman, and his relationship with the world. We see him go through a lot of shit in this movie, and watch a pretty harrowing character arc unfold. Ironically, the highest point in the movie is also the lowest point in the movie, when Wayne is imprisoned by Bane in a deep, cavernous prison which is readily escapable if you are physically adept enough to scale a gigantic wall and climb to freedom. After a very tense and admittedly one-sided fight with Bane, Batman suffers a back-breaking loss and is tossed helplessly into this horrible prison. Bane punishes Bruce Wayne by making him see the downfall of Gotham society through a TV set that is somehow installed in an ancient prison made entirely of stone. I guess Bane had a really long extension cord? I know this is getting into nitpicking territory, but seriously, how the fuck did Bane install a TV set in that prison for Bruce Wayne to watch? Little details like this just made Rises feel illogical and empty-headed, when it’s trying oh-so hard to tell a deep, detailed story. Oh, and then Bruce Wayne receives a hallucinatory vision of Ra’s Al Ghul, portrayed once again by Liam Neeson in a nice cameo. In this hallucination – taking place entirely in Wayne’s mind – he receives some actual information that motivates Wayne to get his ass in gear and get the fuck out of that prison cell. Now, this sort of strikes me as odd, because…how can somebody receive useful information, information that is both beneficial to the character and to the audience from a damn hallucination? Isn’t that, like…a contradiction? Now, I understand that maybe Wayne had the mental fortitude to figure out the information relayed to him through Ra’s al-Ghost by himself, and the whole scene might be some sort of visual metaphor of Wayne’s brain piecing it all together. But, even if that’s true, it still shows that Bruce Wayne got his mojo back (so to speak) from a goddamn mirage, something which can usually be defined as an “unreliable source” to say the least. I just think it sort of reveals clumsy writing when the scribes feel it necessary to have a drastic character turn that sets everything up for the remainder of the movie hinged on a prison-psychosis hallucination.

   Seriously, there’s suspect stuff like this happening all over the place in the movie. I’m almost perplexed by the fact that a movie this huge, this grandiose and epic, so obviously crafted with attention to eye-popping cinematic detail by competent filmmakers could have so many logical fallacies and head-scratching “What?” moments. But I guess when you’re telling a needlessly intricate, multi-faceted story with an overload of disposable and necessary characters doing all kinds of crazy shit, it’s easy to overlook the little details. And the things that bother me about this movie really are little things in the overall view – but there’s enough of them to drag the movie down from being truly entertaining to me. Towards the end of the movie, there’s a scene where a big, nuclear bomb that could decimate the entire city and has been established as drastically unstable is being frantically driven throug the streets in a big truck, with Batman in hot pursuit in his cool flying contraption. At one point, Batman starts shooting missles at this truck in an effort to stop it. The entire time, I was just thinking to myself – “WHY ARE YOU SHOOTING MISSLES AT A TRUCK CARRYING AN UNSTABLE NUCLEAR BOMB?!?!” I couldn’t help but think that if Batman happened to hit the right point in that truck and hit the bomb, he would be directly responsible for the destruction of the entire city he’s trying to protect. It just felt so…DUMB! And then the truck stops extremely abruptly by falling from one level of road to the one below, which kills the driver (whom I won’t reveal) but somehow doesn’t kill Commisser Gordon, who was standing unrestrained in the back of the truck with the nuclear bomb in question. I think he definitely would have been tossed around in a grisly, neck-breaking fashion when the truck violently crashed to the city street below. And THEN, when Batman makes the decision to tow the bomb out to the ocean where it can safely detonate, he drags it on the ground a bit, and knocks it into a building or two by mistake. Why is that shit in the movie?! I mean, this is a highly unstable and ready-to-blow nuclear weapon – shouldn’t we be treating it with the utmost care and caution? I seriously want to tear my hair out thinking about it – the whole sequence was just so unbearably dumb that I was taken right out of the movie and questioning the logic of everyone who created that scene. But, in a way, that just applies to the whole movie – there’s a variety of “what the fuck were they thinking” moments that truly effect this otherwise grandly entertaining movie as a whole. And I’m sorry, I REALLY can’t look past them!

One can always count on Batman to be there when the desperate need arises to charge an iPhone.

   At the end of the day, The Dark Knight Rises is a big, loud, clunky, sporadically entertaining action film that focuses a bit too much on spectacle rather than telling a cohesive story. It’s as if Christopher Nolan, in his effort to construct an epic, emotionally satisfying, catyclysmic finale to his highly popular Batman films, let the truly important filmmaking details slip away from him in the process. What we really need is a solid, strongly grounded story – I don’t want to say “easier to follow”, because that implies that the film is overly complex or beyond understanding – but certainly something less muddled, and a bit more streamlined. This is a Batman film for chrissakes, not The Odyssey. To illustrate my point, let’s just take a quick look at Nolan’s last film, Inception. While Inception is usually perceived as a sort of convoluted and complex film, it’s actually not that hard to follow the story if you just pay attention to what is happening. Sure, there’s all kinds of dream-hopping and fast-paced action happening, but for the most part the story keeps things pretty straightforward. Everything is laid out for the audience, and we’re given enough information to keep up with the crazy, mindblowing adventures that the cast embark on. What’s more, Inception follows a streamlined and legible plot, one that sticks with the protagonist and follows his story through to its conclusion. The same can’t be said for The Dark Knight Rises, with its criss-crossing plots and subplots, its barrage of characters to keep track of, its jarring time jumps and murky editing. The reason why Batman Begins and especially The Dark Knight work so well is because those movies tell grounded, logically sound stories that take us from one place to the next, while allowing scenes to breathe and find identities of their own. The idea of confusion or disorienting experiences even plays into Inception‘s conceit, because the characters are actually doing things that would generate such confusion – they’re infiltrating different levels of consciousness, impersonating other dream characters, going into other people’s minds, and so on. The intricacy employed by Inception actually works to its benefit, because it inherently imbues the film with a sort of otherworldly, dreamlike feel that compliments the subject matter appropriately. The Dark Knight Rises is essentially a movie about the good guy trying to stop the bad guy – it simply doesn’t need the same level of confounding plot twists and turns. (For the record, I know there’s deeper things going on in Rises than just Batman punching Bane in the face; the themes are mature, developed and relevant to the story. What I’m saying is, this is a goddamn Batman movie. It doesn’t need to be ridiculously complex.)

   Now truthfully, I’m not against shaking things up a bit and doing an epic tale that covers all kinds of ground, jumping from one character to the next – but that’s a bit harder to do competently without letting a bunch of extraneous details fall to the wayside. There’s all kinds of shit in this movie I haven’t even mentioned yet – Joseph Gordon-Levitt gives a pretty decent performance as Blake, a Batman-friendly cop who somehow manages to figure out who Batman really is. Well…I guess if you really think about it it’s not that hard to decipher. But in a universe where no one has ever really been able to piece together who Batman really is, it’s just kind of odd to have this one character just figure it out all on his own…pretty much through guesswork. At least the little shit who figured out Batman’s real identity in The Dark Knight actually had some solid evidence to back his claim, and he actually worked for Wayne Enterprises! I haven’t mentioned the role played by Matthew Modine as stand-in Commissioner when Gordon is injured – they seriously could have cut that entire character from the movie and not missed a damn thing, his character was that pointless. I haven’t mentioned the curious decision made to make Alfred (always well-realized by the great Michael Caine) something of a over-emotional, crying baby in this movie. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the act of crying itself or anything like that, but seriously, did they really need to have Alfred bursting into tears in nearly every friggin’ scene he’s in? I think he’s in like…5 or 6 scenes in the movie, and he bursts into tears in three of them! We get it, he’s emotionally affected by what’s happening, it’s no doubt some heavy shit – but he doesn’t need to turn on the waterworks every time something emotional is happening! It’s just ridiculous! But anyway, I digress.

Joe Gord-Lev and Gary Oldman try to contain their excitement at being shoehorned into this review somewhere.

   While The Dark Knight Rises certainly wasn’t a bad movie – I was genuinely entertained and impressed by its scale and production value – it just felt like a lackluster, soulless and dimly thought-out one. Chalk it up to the trilogy-ending stigma, I guess. Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy is certainly one of the most cinematically satisfying film series to exist in modern times. I’m definitely glad to have been around to see them unfold and effect the populace the way they have – they’re just really fun, well-made movies than people can relate to. And I will always appreciate his brilliant decision to ground the movies in reality and make them a bit more believable in terms of character – that is what the superhero genre desperately needed. But, sadly, I cannot in all fairness deem The Dark Knight Rises a wholly effective entry into the series, and it certainly ain’t no masterpiece, like some publications have been frantically exclaiming. It’s a truly confounding film, one that tries so hard (and often succeeds) to entertain you on a visually spectacular level, but fails to find a solid base on which to tell a truly compelling story. I was disappointed with The Dark Knight Rises, but in all honesty, it could have been a lot worse. It’s just a shame it couldn’t fully live up to its predecessors.

But seriously, it’s still WAY, WAAAAY better than Batman & Robin. Fuck that movie.

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about.

REVIEW: THE AVENGERS

THE AVENGERS (2012)
Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner & Samuel L. Jackson
Written & Directed by Joss Whedon
Produced by Kevin Feige
Cinematography by Seamus McGarvey
Music by Alan Silvestri
Edited by Jeffrey Ford & Lisa Lassek

No one takes city-wide demolition and chaos quite as seriously as The Avengers.

   You know, it’s funny – I didn’t really have a huge desire to see this movie. I’m not really a big comics guy – I certainly admire them, but I’ve definitely never gone out and collected superhero comic books the way so many out there do. My only real association with the world of comics is through the movies based on them – in case you haven’t noticed, I’m definitely more of a movie guy. And, given the slew of mediocre to terrible superhero comics-to-film adaptations out there (amidst the genuinely awesome ones, of course), I wasn’t getting my hopes up too much for this release. Honestly, a mega-million dollar movie with gigantic stars playing strong people in fancy suits doesn’t really throw my Indulgence Necessity Meter (INM) for a loop. I can appreciate the fact that these are all super-legendary characters with huge, devoted followings, and the fact it’s pretty cool that a movie like this has never really been done before – an epic unification of several large media franchises into one grand story. This is definitely what could be labelled as an “event film”. And yet, for that very reason, I felt this strange obligation to see it. I’ve definitely grown distrustful of the recent fascination with loud, high-budget, computer-enhanced, scenery-destruction-obsessed movies centering on spectacle rather than story – having my brain barraged with images of cartoon robots blowing shit up for no reason ain’t exactly my  idea of a fun time at the movies. But, the good news is, there’s still a possibility to have a wild spectacle-heavy action flick that actually manages to tell a decent story. I guess it was with that hope in mind that I actually decided to check this particular cash-in flick out. It’s shamelessly over-the-top, extravagant entertainment, but the best thing about The Avengers is…it knows that.

   Now, with that all out of the way, I can tell you that The Avengers is a really fun movie. I can definitely say I was entertained while I was watching it, and there enough new ideas and interesting turns in there to keep a seasoned film buff (read: cynical snob) like myself satisfied. I especially enjoyed seeing the personalities of these superpowerful titans bouncing off each other – even more than the incredible action sequences where they were physically doing the exact same thing. The movie really focuses on the forming of this group of extraordinary individuals into a cohesive team – which is cool when you start seeing Iron Man and Thor fucking throw down in the middle of the forest. I gotta say, it’s the most appealing thing about the movie, and exactly why it’s already going to gross near-Avatar­ levels – it’s just fun to see all of these movies meld into one. Although I am highly critical of the slew of superhero movies being shoved down our throats lately, I do have to admit their tactic was pretty genius – and it’s obviously working. I mean, it’s good for them – they get money. Meanwhile, we have to put up with mediocre films. I guess it’s a fair enough tradeoff, because eventually we get The Avengers – the big one that a bunch of those superhero movies were leading up to. They’ve taken the comic book mentality and thrust it onto the big screen – for better or for worse.

The Avengers are not amused by the smartass onlooking citizen yelling “Free Bird!”

   So The Avengers is fun. But is it really necessary? The answer is no, of course not. I’m not trying to say it’s not worth your time, or that it’s a terrible film – I’ve definitely seen plenty big-budget, star-studded action flicks WAY worse than this one. It’s just…..don’t let it get to your head. This is pure film fluff at its highest form – a purely mind-numbing exercise in awe-inducing spectacle with just enough plot and character development to be acceptable. And it is! This is a very quality made film. But once you get down to it, it’s just another superhero movie…or rather, several of them. It is interesting to see all of these stories intersect with one another, and there are plenty of individual character moments where – if you were to take the particular scene out of the movie and watch it separately – it would definitely seem like it was a solo movie for that character. That’s probably the movie’s greatest feat: effectively welding all of these crazy-ass epic stories together. I think the credit clearly goes to uber-writer/first time film director Joss Whedon here. I’m pretty sure Whedon’s entire life has been leading to his involvement with this film, meaning that he actually had a DEEP interest in doing a big-screen version of this comic book right. The dude’s actually written comics before, and he’s written movies (including the last one I reviewed) – he knows how both work and how to integrate them effectively, so it works! By this end, the movie was in VERY good hands. And it shows.

   So what the hell is this movie about anyway? Why, it’s about superheroes trying to save the fuckin’ world, ya dope!!! What else would it be about? I mean, you could also say it’s about how teamwork and putting aside differences – no matter how super you are – is the most effective way to get the job at hand done, but no, it’s about SAVIN’ THE WORLD!!! Therefore, the plot is quite simple: Loki, the evil and “adopted” brother of Thor (his words, not mine) portal-warps onto our planet and starts killing everyone he sees (except for the important characters) because he wants to rule the puny humans. He got here by using the Tesseract, an energy cube of unlimited and unknown power that us humans found at the bottom of the ocean. After some good guys get mind-bent over to Loki’s side, including the absolutely savage archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Nick Fury (the right-at-home Samuel L. Jackson) takes one in the bulletproof vest, said victim of pesky bullet-tickling waits for the bad guys to leave without killing him and orders the re-engagement of The Avengers Initiative – a super elite team of Earth’s mightiest heroes to take the son of a bitch down before he subjugates all of mankind. From that point on the entire movie is pretty much just down to meeting the Avengers, and seeing them overcome personal differences to have a drawn-out yet highly kickass battle at the end of the movie.

Serious stares are only that much more serious when there’s an eyepatch involved.

   Normally, I would say that such a lack of plot would be a detriment to a film this huge, but in a strange way, the miniscule narrative is actually part of the fun of the movie. Since everything is laid out for us to understand, we can pretty much just focus on the characters, which is a GOOD thing. If there’s one thing Joss Whedon can do, it’s write snappy, witty dialogue that fits characters appropriately, and it’s really fun to watch. Another big thing working for the movie are the performances: there are a lot of kickass actors in this film, and while their talents might be better off being in some Oscar-baiting type of material, they work wonders here. I may be biased, since I think she’s one of the most beautiful women on the entire planet, but Scarlett Johansson really knocks it out of the park as Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow. I also think she’s a really gifted actress, so that helps as well. I will admit, I’ve always thought of Scarlett as having a bit more class than this kind of movie…seeing her in this makes me think of the scene in Lost In Translation where her character sees a dumb blonde actress doing press for a stupid action flick she did. But I can definitely say that Scarlett brings a lot of class to the role, and she totally looks badass beating the shit out of countless thugs, so maybe it’s not that big of a deal.  Anyway, her character was introduced to the movie-going populace in Iron Man 2, and quite frankly, apart from her scene where she kicks a bunch of dudes’ asses in a hallway, she was pretty much wasted in that movie. (I actually think that entire movie was a waste, but that’s another review.) It’s really refreshing to see her strut her stuff more here, and her character manages to fit in quite well amongst the hodgepodge of superhuman testosterone.

Even with 6 other dudes, having a chick like that on the team pretty much evens out the hormonal scorecard.

   Also bringing something surprising to the table was Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner, aka The Hulk. Now, The Hulk hasn’t really had the greatest luck when it comes to super big-budget film adaptations. Hulk, the Ang Lee-directed first outing from 2003, was a boring, self-indulgent mess. The Incredible Hulk, the 2008 reboot starring Edward Norton, was….pretty cool, I guess, but nothing great. This time around, The Hulk is one of the most enjoyable things about the movie, and I really think it’s because of Mark Ruffalo. At first I wasn’t really sure how he would measure up compared to the other actors (especially Robert Downey Jr., who still is my favorite out of all these people) but Ruffalo definitely holds his own and kind of makes me wish they had gone with him from the get-go. He brings a charming awkwardness to Bruce Banner, making him a strange, nerdy type of fellow who just happens to be harboring one of the most unpredictable and destructive forces in the galaxy inside his person. Next to Downey Jr., who was pretty much born to play the role of Tony Stark, I’d say he gives one of the film’s strongest performances.

   I really don’t have a lot else to say about The Avengers…it’s really quite a simple film, at least in terms of what it’s there to do. It’s certainly a fun, exciting, very well-executed piece of commercial filmmaking, and it actually has a brain thanks to a competent writer/director. The action sequences are exhilarating, although a little lacking in suspense (c’mon, you already know they’re going to win. It’s, uh….it’s obvious), and it has great dialogue and performances from everyone involved. But I will say again…this is purely a piece of commercial filmmaking. I’m hesitant to even really call it “art”…this movie was definitely made because the people making it want to make a yacht-full of money. And they are succeeding. The movie’s already broken the world record for the highest grossing opening weekend of all time, and it’s only going to keep getting bigger from there – I wouldn’t be surprised if it dethroned Avatar as the highest grossing film of all time.  But what I’m trying to say is, there are definitely more artfully executed, genuinely thoughtful movies out there that are probably more deserving of the the jillions of dollars and heaps of accolades this movie will accrue. The Avengers is a pop culture-infused juggernaut, the result of a carefully laid-out plan to infiltrate the wallets of as many average citizens as possible. I’m probably sounding more grumpy and lame than I mean to, but in all honesty, I just don’t think this movie is that big of a deal. It accomplishes telling a coherent story with a multitude of epic characters, and for that it’s impressive. I definitely recommend it to anyone looking to have a fun time watching a movie, because at the end of the day, that’s what movies are for! But like I said…just don’t let it get to your head.

Review: BATMAN FOREVER

BATMAN FOREVER (1995)
Starring Val Kilmer, Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones, Nicole Kidman, & Chris O’Donnell
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Written by Lee Batchler, Janet Scott-Batchler & Akiva Goldsman
Produced by Tim Burton, Peter MacGregor-Scott, Benjamin Melniker & Michael Uslan
Cinematography by Stephen Goldblatt
Music by Elliot Goldenthal
Edited by Dennis Virkler & Mark Stevens

I'm only slightly ashamed to admit I had this hanging on my bedroom wall as a child....well okay, maybe I'm fully ashamed.

   Everybody knows that Batman is cool. He’s got the cape, he’s got the car, he’s got the cave and the gadgets, and he goes out at night and beats the shit out of imaginative villains and average street thugs…all while maintaining his alter-ego status as a playboy billionaire bachelor. Simply put, Bruce Wayne/Batman is one of the most iconic creations to ever spring from American culture. Plus he’s AWESOME. And, given the box office earnings of the films based on the character, the public generally agrees with this sentiment. But, for a very short time in recent cinematic history, the Batman movie franchise was not only dead in the water…it was butchered, torn to shreds and strewn about for the game of the fishes swimming there. What started as a captivating, brooding, triumphant saga with the Tim Burton-directed Batman in 1989 ended as a stupid, embarassing, cartoony mess just 3 films and less than a decade later with 1997’s repugnant dungheap Batman & Robin, directed by Joel Schumacher. The Batman cinematic dream all but faded into shameful memory until a talented and promising filmmaker known as Christopher Nolan resurrected the Dark Knight from the throes of mediocrity with 2005’s excellent Batman Begins, and America could once again celebrate one of its most beloved characters in the manner he so rightly deserved. But, the old Batman film series is still there, lurking about in the shadows – not unlike the character for which they are named. And while the two Tim Burton-directed films – Batman and 1992’s Batman Returns still hold up fairly well, the two Joel Schumacher-helmed films – 1995’s Batman Forever and the previously mentioned abomination – live on in a somewhat woeful infamy. And while I could no doubt write an entire book on the subject of why Batman & Robin is a turgid, offensive, and unwatchable mess, I’m instead going to focus on the first Schumacher production – the one that still manages to maintain a shred of dignity and respect for the character of Batman. I’m going to talk about Batman Forever.

   Batman Forever (or Batman For More Than A Day, as my father calls it) exists as an interesting middle point in the first Batman film franchise – not really as serious or involved as the first two movies, but not nearly as mind-numbing and vomit-inducing as the one that followed it. Instead, it’s somewhere in between – it still holds on to that mystique and intrigue that the first two films established, while also starting to stray into campy, silly territory.  This is clearly why Michael Keaton, who played Bruce Wayne/Batman in the previous films, opted out of this one – he didn’t like the direction the series was taking. Really, if we should blame anyone for the death of Batman, we should blame Warner Bros. – they’re the ones who decided to make the Batman films “more mainstream” (even though the first two films grossed a combined total of $678,171,278. Clearly pretentious, underground, indie type of stuff). Burton was relegated to “producer” status, to…I dunno, make him feel important, I guess.  Directing duties were passed unto Joel Schumacher, who at the time was a relatively successful filmmaker who had directed films like St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), The Lost Boys (1987) and Falling Down (1993; actually a really great movie). A decent fit at the time I suppose, but the Warner’s guys had no way of knowing how this director would completely fuck up the series in just a few short years. Anway, Michael Keaton was replaced by Val Kilmer, a script was written and shot, and eventually Batman Forever made its way to theaters, where it went on to gross a respectable $336,529,844, despite receiving a tepid reaction from critics. I remember seeing the film as a child very well – it was in Los Angeles with my family, actually, and as a child I was completely enthralled by the spectacle taking place before my eyes. It wasn’t until later, after I grew up and became a cynical film snob that I realized how mediocre the movie really is – but wait, all is not lost!

After all, it's got stuff like fancy headwear! What's not to love?

   I actually think that Batman Forever, despite its MANY flaws, is pretty decent. It’s genuinely entertaining throughout, time is actually spent on developing characters (well…some characters) and the film touches on many important issues that define the character of Bruce Wayne and his relationship with himself as the caped crusader known as Batman. The movie’s plot is a bit…..thin, to put it mildly, but there’s enough there to keep one interested in what happens. There’s still a devotion to characterization and tone, and general filmmaking style. This, of course, is entirely unlike the film that follows Forever, which was just a giant toy ad featuring horrible puns about ice delivered by a grossly miscast Arnold Schwarzenegger….but I’m getting off topic here. The point is, this is actually still a MOVIE – it delivers a cinematic experience in a manner befitting the most fun and entertaining summer blockbusters. The writers saw fit to give Batman and new addition Robin (played by Chris O’Donnell…remember him?) character arcs that make sense and add to the dramatic elements of the story.

   That being said, the flaws in Batman Forever are almost too numerous to elaborate on in full detail. Just for fun, let me dissect the very first scene in the film – Batman’s harrowing rescue of a poor security guard from the evil clutches of Harvey Dent/Two-Face. So the setup is Two-Face (played with over-the-top zeal by Tommy Lee Jones, more on him later) is robbing a bank and holding said security guard hostage. The scene successfully establishes Two-Face as a maniacal asshole and we get a sense of his lunacy as he flips a coin to decide the security guard’s fate. Once it’s decided that the guard will live, he is bound, gagged, and thrown into the bank vault as bait for Batman. After Batman kicks a bunch of dudes’ asses he makes his way into the vault and un-gags the guard, who screams “IT’S A TRAP!” before the vault door shuts. So far, so good – but this is where things start to take a turn for the ridiculous, and somewhat confusing. The entire vault is chained to a helicopter hovering outside and then pulled out of the building, allowing it to hang freely above the streets of Gotham. I’m not sure why the entire vault is able to be moved with such ease….maybe it helps when they’re cleaning it or some bullshit. Kind of makes stealing it a lot easier, especially when you have a helicopter that can simply pull it out of the building. Then, the personal lockboxes in the vault open up and start spewing some kind of red liquid, which is identified when the terrified guard screams out “OH NO! IT’S BOOOOILING ACIIIIID!” Two-Face then does the audience the favor of elaborating on the fact it’s the very same acid that disfigured him and made him into a raving lunatic.

Severely acid-charred madman, or new Clearasil spokesman? You decide.

   Okay, let’s just talk about the logic of this event for a moment, shall we? First off, Two-Face had to have previously planned to lock Batman in this vault, and then somehow rig the lockboxes to shoot “boiling acid”. But we saw Two-Face flipping a coin earlier to decide the fate of the security guard, meaning that the coin could have very well landed on the other side, and Two-Face then would have been bound to killing the guard. This was an option! So if Two-Face already had this plan to trap Batman in the vault with the boiling acid, why would he flip a coin to decide if he should let the guard live to use as bait? Did he have someone else in mind to use as bait if it was indeed determined that he would kill the guard? Like, was there an actor just standing off to the side waiting to be bait or something? I’m pretty sure Two-Face can’t predict which side his coin will land on when he flips it – that would negate the whole point of flipping a coin.  So if the coin landed on “kill guard”, he would have shot the guard in the face and he wouldn’t have had any bait to lure Batman into his elaborate trap! Why even flip the coin at all? Why not just throw the guard in there like he ended up doing anyway without the hassle of potentially having to kill the very thing that would lure Batman into his trap? And then there’s the very fact that the boiling acid starts spewing from the lockboxes – how would somebody rig up this incredibly dangerous and elaborate contraption? Did Two-Face bring tubes, wiring and vats of liquid acid along on this bank heist? Did he get his dumb thug guys to wire it up? If there is indeed something hooked up to the vault that is feeding the boiling acid into it, why can’t we see it hooked up to the outside? Um….what the hell is going on?

   You see, this is what’s known as “sloppy writing” – the writers wanted to establish Two-Face’s coin-flipping schtick and also put Batman in a deadly situation that sort of ties in to Two-Face’s own acid disaster, so they just threw them into the movie without even thinking about the contradictory logic of the scenario. And I know this doesn’t really matter in the long run, because it’s just a stupid Batman movie, but these are pretty common sense things, wouldn’t you agree? I mean, Two-Face is supposed to be a criminal mastermind – he wouldn’t be making potentially plan-threatening mistakes like this.

   And it only gets better from here, my friends. So once the acid starts pooling up and rising at the bottom of the vault, Batman and the guard hang on for dear life near the vault door. The guard’s glasses fall into the acid and disintegrate, establishing the fact that yes, this acid will kill them if they fall into it. Batman then reaches down and pulls out the guard’s hearing aid and uses it to listen to the vault door as he tries to figure out the combination, while the guard unconvincingly screams “HEY – THAT’S MY HEARING AID!” . Now, usually hearing aids are reserved for people who are, you know – OLD. People who can’t hear well anymore. The actor playing the security guard looks like he’s in his late 30s, maybe early 40s – AT BEST! What the hell is he doing with a fuckin’ hearing aid?! I understand that the filmmakers needed to give Batman a clever way to get out of this situation somehow, but c’mon!!! If you indeed wanted to make the whole hearing aid bit plausible, wouldn’t you at least hire an actor who looks like he actually NEEDS a hearing aid? It’s probably one the most inexplicable and convenient turns of events I’ve ever seen in any movie in my life, and it’s not even effective because the security guard in question isn’t even pushing 45! And then, to make matters even worse, later after Batman opens the vault, rigs it to swing back into the building perfectly, and saves the guard, the police come in and Commissioner Gordon says to the guard “You’re gonna be all right, young man, just stay calm.” I guess hearing aids are all the rage for the semi-middle aged in Gotham City. Or maybe the filmmakers think the audience is retarded. Either way, the hearing aid thing is incredibly stupid.

But not nearly as stupid as this. Thank God for Arkham City, that's all I'm sayin'.

   Let’s move on from the incredibly sloppy writing already present in the very first action scene of the film and focus on some good things – the first of which being Jim Carrey as the film’s main antagonist, The Riddler. Now personally, I find Jim Carrey to be absolutely hilarious. He’s always been one of my favorite actors, and he was undoubtedly the reigning king of comedy during the 1990’s. Nearly all of his movies released during this period are classics in my mind, and most were highly successful with audiences. When I heard he was going to play a villain in the new Batman film as a little kid, I couldn’t WAIT to see it! And Carrey doesn’t disappoint – he knocks the role of Edward Nygma/The Riddler out of the park. Carrey’s brand of inspired lunacy somehow works well in this film, and doesn’t distract from the brooding seriousness that Bruce Wayne is imbued with. He goes for broke in the role and it makes for a truly memorable performance. Plus, whoever’s idea it was to give him an orange flat-top….pure gold. It’s fun to watch Edward Nygma go from a borderline psychotic scientist who’s obsessed with Bruce Wayne to a fully psychotic mastermind villain after devising a way to suck the brainwaves out of the citizens of Gotham (yes, that’s really the plot, get used to it).  There’s a scene halfway through the movie where Nygma, having both stolen and legitimately earning millions of dollars, throws a grand gala for all the elite of Gotham to attend, including his idol/enemy Bruce Wayne. Nygma does everything he can to rub his success in Wayne’s face, while Bruce maintains an utmost cool. At one point he puts on glasses, which forces Nygma to instantly don glasses of his own as well. A few lines of dialogue pass and Wayne takes the glasses off again, which Nygma hastily does in turn. It’s a little moment, but it reinforces notions of the Edward Nygma character in a purely visual way, without bringing too much attention to itself. Jim Carrey imbues the role with a perfect dose of zaniness and as a result The Riddler definitely comes off as one of the stronger villains in the first Batman film series.

   Another thing I like about the movie is the romance subplot between Bruce Wayne and Nicole Kidman’s character Chase Meridian. Val Kilmer and Nicole Kidman have pretty believable chemistry with each other, and their scenes together are written very well and have a certain flirty sexiness to them. This is testament to the acting abilities of Kilmer and Kidman, who do very well in their respective roles. I do think it’s kind of ridiculous that in her second scene in the film she instantly jumps Batman’s bones on the rooftop of the police station – the only reason she does so is to get the whole romance plot going. I guess it’s kind of believable that she would instantly have the hots for Batman – I mean, he‘s friggin’ Batman, after all. And the movie even does try to justify this a little bit…but I still feel that the whole thing is a little forced just for plot convenience. Anyway, it’s no huge deal – she digs Batman and Bruce Wayne digs her. The main reason this is in the film is so Bruce Wayne can question his role as savior of Gotham City…he seriously considers giving up the superhero life and settling down with Chase. This is supposed to add dramatic tension to the story, but we all know that it isn’t going to happen (the movie’s called Batman Forever, for Chrissakes), so it ends up feeling a little tedious…but I give them credit for trying to shake things up a bit. Overall, I like the Chase Meridian character. I feel like she challenges Bruce Wayne in a mental capacity, and it’s fun to see him sort of meet his match outside of his darker second life.

Seriously, if this don't make you want to rip the rubber nipples from your real ones, I don't know what will.

   Anyway, back to stuff that doesn’t really work. As time has gone by, I realized I don’t really like Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face. I feel like he makes the character a goofy Jack-Nicholson-as-The-Joker impression, totally hamming it up in a way that belittles the intent of the original character. Harvey Dent/Two-Face always struck me as more of a tragic character, with a certain intensity that made him a formidable foe for Batman. Tommy Lee Jones plays him as a gimmicky, clown-like trickster who’s obsessed with the number 2 (robbing the 2nd Gotham Bank on the 2nd anniversary of his accident, rigging a bomb with 200 sticks of TNT). [Whoops, turns out he actually does this in the comics after all…but I doubt he did it as childishly there as he does in the movie. Anyway, my bad. – Trent] There’s even a scene in the movie that could be considered downright blasphemous to fans of the comic books: So Two-Face and The Riddler break into Bruce Wayne’s house and chase after him and Chase Meridian. Two-Face sits and watches his thugs chase them around while continuously flipping his coin to get the outcome that he desires. One thing you need to know about Two-Face is that he does NOT question the outcome of his coin tosses. He rests everything upon fate and chance, which is what the coin symbolizes – it’s pretty much the defining trait of the character, apart from his half-burnt face. This scene shows a complete disregard for Two-Face’s character and I’m almost completely dumbstruck at the fact it’s in the movie. This isn’t Tommy Lee’s fault, but it is a blight on the character he plays and just makes him look even worse. Two-Face is totally cheapened in this film and it’s one of the weakest things about the entire production.

   This film was made in a time when superhero movies were still considered to be hokey, mindless entertainment instead of serious, character-based stories chock-full of true dramatic potential. Comparing the first 4 Batman films (especially the last two) to Christopher Nolan’s new take on the character not only makes them look like a joke, it’s just simply unfair. Nolan bases his films on a respect for the character and the world of Batman and grounds them in reality, while the first 4 movies treat him as some sort of spectacular, otherworldy mythical figure. This is most apparent in the Schumacher-directed movies, especially in regards to the much-maligned and infamous rubber nipples (Batman & Robin always takes the heat for this one, but they are in this film, too), which were said to be inspired by statues of Roman gods. Batman is at his best when he’s a relatable human being, even if he is an absurdly wealthy one. This is why the Nolan directed Batman films are so effective – they make you really relate to the character of Bruce Wayne, and they focus more on the human side of him, as well as providing the awesome ass-kicking Batman action. There’s a warmness to Bruce Wayne, a kind of charismatic likeability – you feel like you could hang out with this guy, even though he might be a little intense.

   The first 4 Batman films are all more focused on the Batman side of Bruce Wayne, rather than the character as a whole. The films are all built around the scenes in which Bruce Wayne is in the Batman suit, kicking ass – the rest of the movie kind of exists just to get to these scenes. Michael Keaton had a bit of that charm about him, but I’ve never really thought of him as a great fit for Bruce Wayne – he just seems a bit underwhelming to me, and even scrawny. Val Kilmer, I think, actually fares best out of all of the 90’s Batmans, but he plays Wayne with a bit of a coldness, and a hint of unrelatability. He kind of seems like a boring nerd at times, one with a slight holier-than-thou attitude. Kilmer doesn’t really put a lot of emotion into his line reads – in the scene where Bruce and his butler Alfred (the completely natural Michael Gough, seemingly born for the role) figure out who The Riddler is by deciphering the 4 very simple riddles he delivered, the “eureka!” moment when Bruce Wayne states “Edward Nygma” is so plainly expressed by Kilmer that I almost feel like Bruce Wayne can never feel true elation. I know Batman is supposed to be all stern, but at least a little hint of an exclamation point at the end of “Edward Nygma!” would have been appreciated! I mean it’s a big moment for them!

….And don’t even get me fucking started on George Clooney. Again, that will all be in the Batman & Robin review book.

Anyway, I know I’m kind of straying from the review and unfairly comparing Batman Forever to Nolan’s films, and I apologize for that, but I feel like it’s kind of hard not to. I just feel the character of Bruce Wayne/Batman is more substantially realized in the new movies, while the older ones are kind of one-dimensional – even though they try not to be. It’s all in the tone of the flicks, and how they’re executed. There’s not really a focus on getting to know Bruce Wayne as a person, it’s more about the fact he flies around and kicks ass as Batman – and also about the over-the-top, comically maniacal villains. However, despite having said all that, I DO give Batman Forever credit for trying the hardest out of all 4 of the original Batman flicks to delve deeper into Bruce Wayne’s psyche. Chase Meridian is a psychologist, and during the scenes in her office many thematic elements are touched upon which reflect later in the film – namely subjects like duality (blantantly through the character of Two-Face and subtly through Bruce Wayne and his double life as Batman) and obsession (Robin’s vendetta on Two-Face for murdering his entire family, Edward Nygma’s obsession with Bruce Wayne). There’s a great scene in the movie in which Bruce sees a framed painting hanging on Meridian’s wall that is obviously in the shape of a bat. Bruce asks her if she’s got a “thing for bats” and she replies that the painting is in fact a Rorscach test, and meaning is inferred by the one viewing it. She then tells him the question which should be asked is if he’s got a thing for bats. This is a totally awesome way to establish Bruce’s mind state to the audience, and also brings up the question of what that Rorscach would look life if viewed by someone else. We, the audience, view it clearly as a bat, but only because we’re seeing the test through Wayne’s perspective. It could very well look like anything else to Chase Meridian, and anyone else for that matter. It definitely brings up a few questions that challenge the viewer’s perception, and I love it.

The Riddler and Two-Face are VERY disappointed with today's Garfield strip.

   This is why I consider Batman Forever to truly be the deepest out of all the 90’s Batman films (I should say all the live-action 90’s Batman films, because the animated Mask of the Phantasm is easily the best and most psychologically complex 90’s Batman film) because the writers actually delve into the meat of what makes Batman Batman, and Bruce Wayne’s inner conflict with his own vigilantism and lone wolf lifestyle. Bruce is presented with not one but TWO people interested in intwining their lives with his by way of Chase and Robin – the former as a love interest and the latter as a crime-fighting partner. This is definitely new territory for the withdrawn Bruce Wayne (well, at least in these movies) and it messes with his mind a little. He even considers quitting the Bat-game for this chick, which sort of feels a little abrupt considering he hasn’t really known her that long – but it’s something I could realisitically see happening to a guy who runs around in black tights with rubber nipples. Also, he is completely against letting Robin be his partner for no real legitimate reason, implying he might be acting a bit more selfish and defensive than he truly lets on. This is all great character building stuff, and it’s done very effectively and subtly.

   For me, it’s these things that save Batman Forever from being a schlocky, over-the-top, thinly-plotted action flick. While the film certainly bears all of those unfortunate qualites, it also manages to provide real emotional depth to the things that are transpiring onscreen – and for that reason it receives a saving grace in my mind. It’s really interesting that all of these deeper psychological themes exist in the movie, because there’s also all kinds of slapsticky, off-the-wall stupidity and immaturity (probably brought on by Carrey’s presence in the film, admittedly) that sort of bring the film down from being a truly satisfying Batman narrative.

Presenting the latest and greatest of Batsuit features....the mouth illuminator. Handy when delivering hackneyed attempts at cutesy humor.

   Before I close up I just want to mention a few more things that stick out to me, mostly just little things I couldn’t really fit it anywhere else. There’s a scene in which they awkwardly try to reference the 60’s Batman TV show by giving Robin the line “Holy rusted metal, Batman!” once they get to The Riddler’s island. Batman says “Huh?” and Robin says “The ground, it’s all metal, it’s full of holes, you know? Hole-y!” to which Batman replies “Oh.” I’m almost positive that this was a cute attempt at self-referential “humor”, but my oh my does it come off as forced and awkward. I love the scene in which The Riddler says to a kidnapped Chase about his glowing jacket, “Like the jacket? It keeps me safe while I’m jogging at night!” which I hope was improvised by Jim Carrey. Also, the film actually has a pretty killer soundtrack. This, of course, is the film which brought about Seal’s simply awesome song “Kiss From A Rose”, and also has a great track by The Flaming Lips called “Bad Days” which is very effectively used to establish Edward Nygma’s shitty apartment when he gets back from murdering his boss. 90’s music….gotta love it! And speaking of the 90’s, the entire movie is just such a testament to the time in which it was made….the tone, the set design, the general execution of the film – it all just screams 90’s to me. Anyone who wants a good nostalgia trip would be very well served by watching Batman Forever – it’s a relic of 90’s filmmaking style. I also like the scene in which Robin steals the Batmobile and goes for a cruise around Gotham (even though I have no idea how he could have possibly done that, and the movie doesn’t even try to explain how), eventually finding a gang of brightly painted neon skull dudes or something who are trying to…I guess rape a poor, twenty-something 90’s chick. Robin saves the girl and gets to have a glorious kiss with her, complete with sweeping and heroic music, and I think this scene is really fun and works well, while establishing that Robin could in fact legitimately pass as Batman’s partner….plus the fight is underscored by an awesome Offspring song, which can’t hurt a 90’s movie at all.

   So, to bring this very lengthy review to a surely much-anticipated conclusion, Batman Forever is, despite being heavily flawed in its complete execution, still worth checking out and enjoying if you’re in the mood for a fun, dumb superhero/action flick. It’s got juuuust enough smarts to not make your brain completely corrode inside your skull, and it’s got some pretty well-designed action set pieces that please the eye. It’s a silly film, and completely dated when compared to the new Christopher Nolan Batman films, but it’s still worth watching if only for a trip down 90’s nostalgia lane. Good performances, dumb writing, and great action. Gee, with a combination like that, what could possibly go wrong?


SO MUCH. SOOO MUCH COULD GO WRONG. OH GOD PLEASE END THE PAIN PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE NO MORE!