As you can tell from this site’s background, Peter Jackson’s (as opposed to J.R.R. Tolkien’s original) Lord of the Rings has a special place in my heart. Having grown up with it, it’s one of the main reasons I love movies. Alas, as I’m growing older, I’m finding the grand spectacle of these movies that I relished as a kid almost off-puttingly self-indulgent when it’s not cathartic. That’s why The Fellowship of the Ring, the most joyous and wondrous of the trilogy, is my favorite of the trilogy while The Return of the King conflicts me the most.
Of the whole trilogy, Return of the King got the most recognition at the Academy Awards, tying with Ben-Hur and Titanic as the biggest Oscar winner in history. Return of the King aims to step up the excitement after the somewhat meandering, but still good, Two Towers, but it does so to a fault. As the trilogy is essentially one long movie, Return of the King‘s essentially the action-packed third act of a normal movie stretched out to an exhausting three hours. As the first two hours are filled with gargantuan, genre-defining battle sequences, the smaller, though still huge, climactic skirmish feels like a breath of fresh air.
That’s only one reason why the last hour is nothing short of satisfying. It feels like what Fellowship of the Ring should lead to. The scale may be smaller than what precedes it, but the stakes are higher than ever. It features some of the most powerful character moments of the trilogy, as well as the strongest use of the Christian symbolism inherent to J.R.R. Tolkien’s original text. The icing on the cake, for me personally, is the infamous twenty-minute epilogue that features at least five false endings and acts as the ultimate “How much did you really care about these characters?” test.
What that epilogue does is not only give me a noise-free chance to say goodbye to Middle-Earth but also brings me back to the joyous world established in Fellowship; there’s no other movie world I’d want to visit more, with the flutes of Howard Shore’s musical score touching my inner child more than any other movie theme. Even with my misgivings abouts its excesses, Return of the King carries such a legendary stigma in my mind that I can’t deem it anything less than one of the absolute greatest films ever made.
When Batman Begins was first released, a pre-teen me biased by Tim Burton’s retrospectively “Dang, those were messed up!” Batman movies found it so goofy due to Christian Bale’s portrayal of Batman that it didn’t take until The Dark Knight‘s release for me to appreciate Batman Begins, with the irony being that Batman Begins has become one of my favorite comic book movies since, favored above The Dark Knight. Even Christian Bale’s performance has grown on me.
That’s not to discredit The Dark Knight‘s cinematic achievement. There’s a reason why many call it the greatest superhero movie ever made, holding it at #4 on IMDb’s top 250 movies list. Whereas Batman Begins is a masterful comic book movie with crime movie elements, The Dark Knight is a masterful crime movie with comic book movie elements, with the Batman mythos used here being grounded just enough for such grimness and grit to work. It offers perhaps the most serious examination of good and evil the genre has yet offered; even when Batman compromises his morality in order to stop a seemingly unstoppable evil, we’re meant to question his choices.
The evil in question is, in the role that got Heath Ledger a posthumous Oscar win, Batman’s definitive nemesis: the Joker, a terrorist with a soul so deeply corrupt that he’s setting out to prove that everyone, deep down, is as corrupt as him. He’s irrational on the surface, yet he’s always planning ahead in steps that pay off in perhaps disbelief-stretching ways, and he knows what seeds of despair to plant in the hearts of Gotham’s protectors. And yet, while Batman makes an ultimate choice that may or may not be ethical, which is the aspect of this film that really conflicts me, the film reminds us that even if our heroes fail us, we still have the potential to combat evil in our own ways.
In the near decade it’s been since the same summer Iron Man set the template for how superhero movies are made today, The Dark Knight‘s ambition perhaps has become even more poignant, an ambition that the pretentious Dark Knight Rises tries so hard to match that it ultimately collapses under its own weight. While I think the title for the greatest superhero movie ever made should go to a film that offers a more aspirational vision of heroism, The Dark Knight is still legendary in its own right.
Chris Evans and scene-stealing Mckenna Grace share fantastic guardian/adopted daughter chemistry in this thoughtful, witty, and sentimental, albeit almost but not quite family friendly, exploration of child geniuses and how to cultivate them.
The performances by veterans Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart and newcomer Dafne Keen are outstanding, but the story’s powerful message of fatherly love and examination of the consequences of violence are drowned out by the film’s revelling in its own graphic savagery against the one-dimensionally evil bad guys.
Christopher Nolan’s latest reduces characterization to immersively emphasize the experience of the soldiers’ relentless fight for survival, which caps off with a powerful celebration of the united courage of military and ordinary citizens whose rooting in true events, however exaggerated on film, rounds out its impact.
It was inevitable which species would win given this trilogy’s status as a prequel; it’s the film’s argument that this planet would be better off ruled by animals that sours this ambitious trilogy capper that manages to be both the bleakest and silliest entry.
Despite being more of a Marvel movie than a bonafide Spider-Man movie, its refreshing and hilarious high school setting, lovably dorky lead performance, and fantastic third-act twist make for an absolute summer treat.
It’s jaw-droppingly ridiculous and horrifically overstuffed, but its surprisingly tolerable characterizations make it the most consistently entertaining of these disastrous Transformers movies so far, if in a “so bad that it’s entertaining” way.
For once, it’s a standalone superhero movie that’s not hampered by franchise-building, and it offers a heart and example of heroism the ever-popular genre needs more of; while the action scenes are mostly messes of in-your-face slow-motion, the powerful “No Man’s Land” sequence is an instant classic.