Classic Movies | THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)

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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. A

My response to my own “Absurdly Awesome Finale” series

It’s probably more courageous to critique your own art than someone else’s art, especially when people know that you put years of your life into something to please an audience for no profit only for you to say when it’s finally finished that you’re disappointed by its story. I suppose that makes me my own worst critic since the recently finished “Transformers: The Absurdly Awesome Finale” (2015-2017) series isn’t the first time a series I poured months into disappointed me afterwards.

That previous series, “Transformers: The Next Generation One” (2013-2014), tells the story of how a Decepticon—formerly named Deadlock, now named Drift—joins the Autobots and helps them defeat the Decepticons. Except it was built so much around comedy amid the drama that I somehow missed a couple of obvious opportunities: explain how Drift even found the Autobot base, and have Drift lead the Autobots to the Decepticon base instead of letting the Autobots wait around for the Decepticons to come out of hiding. Heck, it should have been about how Drift decided to join the Autobots in the forefront instead of explaining it in exposition after the fact.

Nonetheless, my biggest issues with “TNG1” are logical, and we can sympathize with its protagonist right off the bat. That’s where I think “The Absurdly Awesome Finale” falls flat.

“The Absurdly Awesome Finale” connects and climaxes several of my previous continuities via alternate universe portals. The series starts off in the Jaggedverse, or my version of Michael Bay’s Transformers (with a couple other universes brought into the mix later). When we first meet the main Autobots—the “good” transformers—who we’ll be journeying with throughout the series, they’re big jerks, jerks to the Decepticons—the bad transformers—and jerks to each other. I meant this as a parody of how Michael Bay depicts his Autobots, and the point of the story is how the Autobots learn to value the lives of their enemies, but we’re hardly given a chance to sympathize with them right off the bat. Heck, the way the Decepticons are shown to recognize the Autobots’ distorted values more than the Autobots do makes it easier to sympathize with the Decepticons.

Sure, these Autobots do encounter a universe where enemies’ lives are valued, but the way I kicked off this series’s characterization casts a shadow over the rest of it. Having the Autobots start out as jerks and end as noblemen works for a morality tale, but for a sci-fi/war epic, one that couldn’t always avoid the darker side of war (i.e. the aftermath of the attack from Part 2), it needed to show a sympathetic side to the Autobots, especially to each other, before it showed their ugly side toward their enemies.

The moment all the Autobots realize the personhood of their enemies comes in Part 4 from a bizarre vision. Unfortunately, from there, I couldn’t deliver what I wanted to deliver. I had a huge final part planned, one that would involve a battle between Autobots and Decepticons from three different dimensions. Before the battle, the Autobot leaders would have tried to negotiate with the Decepticons, but, of course, it doesn’t work, except for when Jagged Optimus forgives his former mentor Sentinel for betraying the Autobots.

I was not ready to film something so chaotic on that big a scale. Over the course of the following year, I kept scaling down the script, figuring out a both satisfying and filmable way to end the story. Just when I was about to give up and announce that the story won’t have an ending, I finally came up with a device to tell that this massive battle and Optimus’s forgiving happened without showing it. What is shown is the fatal climactic battle with the villainous Starscream.

Of course, Starscream’s a stubborn ghost in possession of another, and the only way to take him out is to kill him with a special ghost-killing device (to avoid major problematic spiritual implications, I made it a joke that not even the transformers know why transformer ghosts exist). Sentinel tries to negotiate with Starscream, but I’m not sure the Autobot leaders’ angry attitudes during this battle (my music choice of which had me geeking out as I was editing it) helps the theme of “learning to love your enemies”. I mean, it needed a cool climactic battle, but the good guys could have been a bit more resistant to participate in it. Even so, by itself, Part 5 is my favorite episode out of all of them.

“The Absurdly Awesome Finale” was certainly a learning curve for me, including a learning curve in directing others’ voice performances; I’m proud of it more on a technical level than a thematic level. My audience may love these characters, but I wish I’d written them in a way that I could love. I made this just for my fans; next time I provide for them, I’m going to make sure I’m proud of what I give them before I release it.

Classic Movies | STAR WARS (1977)

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My appreciation for the Star Wars franchise as a whole may be diminishing as I’m growing older and realizing the franchise’s flaws, but there is one entry whose followups’ mistakes haven’t ruined its magic for its forty-year place in pop culture: the one that was once straight up called Star Wars.

Sure, Star Wars is a special effects revolution whose psychological audience reaction was visualized by the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark (probably), but if that’s all it were, it would have gone the way of James Cameron’s Avatar. What Star Wars really is is a thematically universal fairy tale with a relatable protagonist and a clear distinction between good and evil. Sure, Han Solo’s “heroism” isn’t as clear-cut as Luke’s, Leia’s, and Obi-Wan’s, but he’s given a redemptive arc. Why Star Wars still works so well is the sense of wonder it conveys by introducing us to the far, far away galaxy through Luke Skywalker’s eyes, and C-3P0’s and R2-D2’s before his.

It’s not dramatically perfect (it is George Lucas writing and directing, after all). I mean, come on, Luke’s still sulking about somebody close’s death while Princess Leia seems to have completely shaken off her entire home world getting blown up in front of her eyes? Obi-Wan seems more troubled by the destruction, and he doesn’t even watch it happen!

Nonetheless, while The Empire Strikes Back may be widely regarded as the best of the trilogy, and it is great (if there’s one thing I’m still a sucker for, it’s lightsaber fights, and Empire has the best one ever, especially compared to the one we get here), it needs a Return of the Jedi that’s better than what we got. Star Wars is, and always will be, the definitive Star Wars movie, the one that ignited our imaginations and introduced both a new potential for filmmaking and John Williams’s most legendary musical score. A

Classic Movies | WALL·E (2008)

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There may be Pixar movies more iconic than WALL·E, such as Toy Story, and there may be Pixar movies more emotional and thought-provoking than WALL·E, such as Inside Out, but WALL·E is as bold as the boldest of Hollywood’s most ambitious animation studio.

The entire first act in of itself is a bold decision, not only for its deliberate pacing but also for its almost purely visual storytelling. Watching the character of WALL·E is like watching a modern parallel to Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp. The way the filmmakers are able to get us into the head of, and instantly fall in love with, a garbage crusher with binocular eyes and tank treads blows me away. The robot aspect of the story explores the universal desire for love; the human aspect of the story also touches upon this, but it’s more interested in satirizing our over-reliance on technology and what that could turn us into.

WALL·E isn’t only an animated masterpiece; it’s a science-fiction masterpiece, one I appreciate far more than the 2001: A Space Odyssey it blatantly homages at times, and my affinity for both good sci-fi and silent filmmaking—silent filmmaking that, if accomplished correctly, can evoke emotion without making a sound, which WALL·E essentially can—are probably why I favor it above any other Pixar movie. A+

My response to Catholic Skywalker’s response to me

Fellow blogger Catholic Skywalker and I have been following each other for quite some time. As his name would suggest, he loves Star Wars. In fact, he defends Star Wars more than anyone I’ve seen. He could make you look at the Prequels in a new light. He even contributed to Gaming with Faith (my contributions to which I’ve taken down due to my developed apprehensions about video games), and he’s a more qualified critic than I am, having seen over 2,100 movies over his lifetime, and viewing a wider scope of movies in theaters than I do.

Our first big response to each other was a couple years ago where I, through a blog and post that no longer exists, criticized A New Hope for being “bland, silly, rainy day-type entertainment”, and Catholic Skywalker went full-on Aquinas on it. Given how little I was looking at the big picture, I deserved that one.

Now, with “The Generational Choice: A Response to Catholic Wannabe Critic on The Force Awakens, he’s responded to my latest critique of Star Wars, “Where Disney’s Star Wars Went Wrong”. He is much more appreciative of this critique than he was of the previous critique, and so am I. And once again, he’s proven how he’s both a better critic and a better Catholic than I am, particularly because of his understanding of humanity.

The main point of his response is that even though Return of the Jedi may have brought an end to the Sith, it was the next generation’s choice to continue with that peace, and it failed. As he states, “Human beings have the power to reign down utter destruction on ourselves. But even the best of us can only offer hope with no guarantees. All we can ever leave the next generation is a chance. Even Jesus’ saving work is ultimately a free invitation. The choice is still up to us.”

Even with that, while I can excuse the First Order, I still find it a stretch to say that it was humanity’s choice to keep the balance to the Force that Anakin Skywalker was prophesied to bring. If merely defeating the Dark Side balances out the Force, then the Force could theoretically be balanced out multiple times in history; why was it so important that a Chosen One would balance out the Force if balancing the Force can be replicated? Perhaps it’s our choice to follow the path to salvation, but our prophesied redemption through Christ was never undone and repeated.

The whole “Chosen One permanently defeating the Sith” prophesy doesn’t line up with how humanity actually works, but the Dark Side returning doesn’t line up with how the whole previous Saga actually works. Saying that a spiritual evil can be permanently killed is a lie, but having that evil return contradicts what was prophesied. Perhaps the Chosen One angle doesn’t enhance Return of the Jedi‘s climax at all but rather problematizes it.

That’s why the Original Trilogy by itself stands the test of time. Without the Prequels, there’d be no promise that the Dark Side would be permanently defeated, and without the Sequels, there’d be no way for the Saga to contradict itself. Star Wars would not be about the fulfillment of a prophecy but rather about a son who saves his father for its own sake, which is still why Luke did it as he never knew that his father was a fallen messiah.

Then again, they could still pull that “Rey is the real Chosen One” twist I theorized…