The Dark Knight: Setting The Standard For Superhero Films

The-Dark-Knight-Standing-Before-a-Burning-Gotham
This year will mark the 10th anniversary of The Dark Knight hitting theaters and setting a new standard. It became the highest grossing superhero movie of all time and while this record has since been surpassed, the film is still widely regarded as arguably the best comic book film ever made. The Dark Knight was highly anticipated before it came out, as director Christopher Nolan’s well received Batman Begins showed a new interpretation of Batman on the big screen. It was an origin film that had a Batman universe in a very realistic setting as if taking place in the real world. This first movie ended with a tantalizing hint of the Caped Crusader’s arch nemesis the Joker. Seeing the clown prince of crime in this realistic setting was something fans were very eager to see. When actor Heath Ledger was cast in the role, there was some blowback, but stories of his intense preparation for the role, and his unfortunate death before the premiere of the film changed this perception and led many fans to look forward to what his take on the character would be like. The results of his performance and of the film itself blew audiences away.
The movie portrays a tense showdown between Batman and the Joker, who sets in motion a plan to take over Gotham City by uniting all of the criminal gangs in Gotham under his leadership. Heath Ledger’s Joker was both psychotic and brilliant, with a scarred smile carved into his face and war paint-like makeup that gave him a nightmarish look. How he manipulates both the Gotham City public, police and criminals while setting up the downfall of Batman and his alter ego Bruce Wayne was something to behold. Christian Bale played both Batman and Wayne very well and showed true conflict while he attempted to protect the love of his life Rachel Dawes (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and try to take down the crazed anarchist who seemingly wants to destroy everything he holds dear. This conflict included supporting a potential rival for Rachel’s affections, in Gotham District Attorney Harvey Dent played by Aaron Eckhart. Dent’s crusade against crime was something Batman supported but this also put the DA in the crosshairs of the Joker, who is eventually able to push Dent over the edge and force him to become his evil and twisted alter ego Two-Face.
Nolan’s ability to balance out the idea of a comic book hero like Batman with a gritty crime drama is something that makes The Dark Knight a great experience. The movie begins with an intense and foreboding atmosphere as a bank is robbed by a gang of crooks and one of them ruthlessly guns down his compatriots. It is revealed to be the Joker, and this intensity stays with you for the rest of the film as the Joker starts his rampage against the underworld and broadcasts executions on TV and has judges blown up in their own cars. Batman comes to see what he is dealing with and realizes he will have to go to great lengths to stop this madness. This would come to include having to spy on all of Gotham and violating everyone’s privacy; losing Rachel in tragic circumstances due to a fiendish bait and switch by the Joker; and eventually taking the fall for the death of Harvey Dent and going on the run as a hunted fugitive.
batman and joker the dark knight
Even a decade later, The Dark Knight is seen as the standard by which superhero films are held to. Whenever there is a great genre film, it is said to be the “Dark knight” of its kind. While the follow-up film The Dark Knight Rises didn’t quite live up to its predecessor, the trilogy as a whole is still seen as one of the best to have come out in recent times. The film increased Batman’s already very high popularity and reestablished the character in cinematic terms after the less-than-enthusiastic reception to Batman & Robin from 1997. It took eight years for DC and Warner Bros. to bring Batman back to the big screen with Batman Begins in 2005, and the huge success of The Dark Knight put Batman back on top and brought success unseen since the first Batman film in 1989 that was also a huge hit for its time.
the dark knight classic
It seems very appropriate that Batman would work well in this realistic setting since his character is somewhat more grounded than other superheroes. He has no super powers and neither do most of his villains. His main concern is stopping violence in Gotham City and bringing down crime bosses. This fits in well with a less fantastical type of superhero film. That’s not to say that other kinds of comic book films with Batman don’t work, since there have been other movies with him that are more like traditional superhero movies and are really good. It’s just that The Dark knight is an excellent blend of both worlds. Because of this, the film will be remembered well beyond these first ten years.
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Spider-Man Co-Creator Steve Ditko (1927- 2018)

A short time ago, a comic book giant passed away. Not one of the MCU characters that got Thanos’s Death Snapture; this giant was a comic book artist. Not just any comic book artist. He was Steve Ditko.

Known to many as Spider-Man’s co-creator, Steve Ditko was also part of the first decade of the creation of Marvel Comics. His main character contributions and sequential issue work are Spider-Man and Dr. Strange, but during Marvel’s initial years, he also drew plenty of issues featuring Hulk, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Iron Man, along with issues of The Avengers, and all sorts of double feature issues.

Comic book creations and pop culture relevance is by now well ingrained in the minds of moviegoers and audiences worldwide. people now understand that many superheroes began as characters seen in published comic books. Newsprint paper, four-color separation and halftone color patterns were props behind the stage. Distributors and retail stores were their curtains and the hands and eyes of those who bought these issues were the audiences. Comic book fame spun off into animated and live-action TV shows, video games, movies and merchandise. The most profitable characters were the superheroes.

Among this web of inter-related media was the thread of the creator. Someone had to come up with the story Someone had to come up with the character design – the color and shape of the costume and character faces. Someone had to come up with their signature moves.

There has been much discussion in the past as to what degree of involvement Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had in creating Spider-Man. How much of Spidey was adapted from Jack Kirby’s initial design? How much of Spidey was in Lee’s brief written synopsis? What was Ditko’s actual contribution in regard to the amount of content – character designs, costumes designs, characterizations, signature moves, etc. ? It’s a discussion that may never be resolved.

For a character who is arguably the world’s favorite Marvel Comic character, his origin is still unclear even though he was introduced in Amazing Fantasy #15. Back in 1961, Marvel Comics Publishing Group was such a loose and flowing House of Ideas, that any iteration which lead to the creation of the Spider-Man look we all know and was only loosely documented. Some of it was Kirby. Most of it was Ditko and approved by Lee. But there’s no doubt, the look that Ditko presented is a handmade costume, big eyes, a webbing motif on the red portions of the costume, and mechanical web shooters. Ditko had a penchant for quirky action poses and Spider-Man’s signature poses no doubt came from Ditko. None of Kirby’s characters moved like that. All of Ditko’s characters moved kind of quirky and not quite natural. His landscapes ranged from urbanely gritty to fantastical. The distinctive realms he drew for the Dr. Strange stories have been compared to Salvador Dali paintings. The characters’ look for both hero and villain were all Ditko. Even the “surfer dude hand sign” which is used by both Spidey and Dr. Strange is a signature Ditko design.

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Ant-Man And The Wasp Is A Lighthearted MCU Entry With Big Laughs, Adventure And Sight Gags

Ant-Man and the Wasp is the sequel to the better-than-it-should-have-been Ant-Man and the first Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) film after Avengers: Infinity War. Following the somber feeling from that epic MCU film, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a welcome lighthearted film.

Paul Rudd reprises his likeable role of Scott Lang/Ant-Man, a former thief and fledgling superhero who dons a special suit that lets him control his size. Due to his actions in Captain America: Civil War, Scott Lang is under house arrest, which explains why he didn’t appear in Avengers: Infinity War.

He is contacted by his former lover, Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lily), and her father, Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), for help in rescuing Pym’s wife, Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer). As seen in the first Ant-Man during a flashback and this sequel, Janet used a similar suit like Scott’s to shrink down to subatomic levels and was lost. In Ant-Man, Scott shrunk down to this level but was able to return to our realm and it turns out he has a some kind of link with Janet.

What’s impeding his efforts to help out the Pyms are his complications from his house arrest, dealing with criminals who want to steal the shrinking tech and a mysterious figure called the Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). The last character was affected from exposure to the quantum realm and now phases in and out of reality like her namesake. So, now the Ghost wants to steal the tech herself to cure her affliction, and is the primary antagonist.

Honestly, the villains are the main problem with this film. They come off as more like annoyances or obstacles than genuine threats. The film tries to make the Ghost somewhat sympathetic, but it’s hard to feel anything for her. As for the thugs (led by Walton Goggins), they are just one-note villains who do not seem very imposing. This is quite disheartening considering that the MCU films have lately featured interesting foes. It seemed like Marvel Studios was taking to heart the criticisms about the MCU villains being weak, but now this film is a setback in that regard.

It’s a shame because the sequel did not need these villains. At its heart, Ant-Man and the Wasp is a fast-paced rescue film with lots of laughs. Much of that humor comes from Paul Rudd’s comedic timing and the scene-stealing Michael Peña, who returns to his role of Luis, Scott’s friend and ex-con. Peña is a breath of fresh air and livens up most of the scenes he appears in. Many scenes with him and Rudd are hysterical and frankly, an entire film could be made with just the two characters interacting with each other.

The other actors also do well with their roles like Paul Rudd, who is a natural choice for playing the slightly silly everyman type. Lily’s Hope Van Dyne more than proves that she is a powerhouse of a hero and we’re left wondering why did it take so long for her to appear as the Wasp in the MCU. A lot of gravitas is added by Douglas, and in smaller roles Pfeiffer and Lawrence Fishburne as Pym’s former colleague.

There are many enjoyable features in this sequel. It moves briskly, exudes adventure, wild sight gags, and as noted before, is quite funny. It’s just too bad that the filmmakers felt the need to shoehorn in the weak villains. They took time away from the narrative flow and the rescue efforts. Also, we don’t see as much of the quantum realm as we would have liked. This mysterious and fascinating reality was teased in Ant-Man and it deserved to be explored more given that it may factor in the next Avengers film.

Perhaps if a third Ant-Man film is produced more time could be spent in the realm. One thing that is worth pointing out is that the stature of Ant-Man has certainly increased since his first outing. He has now become an established hero in his own right within the MCU.

Other than that Ant-Man and the Wasp is a refreshing and goofy pallet-cleanser for the MCU. Some may consider this film to be an inconsequential filler, but it’s a big-hearted change of pace for fans looking for some escape this summer.

Lewis T. Grove

Man of Steel & The Five-Year Anniversary Of The DCEU

Man of Steel
This month marks the five-year anniversary of the beginning of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU( and the film that started it all, Man of Steel. This film brought the most iconic superhero, Superman, into the modern age with incredible visuals and a very interesting take on his origins. The film starts as expected on the doomed planet of Krypton and shows Superman’s father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) and the beginning of the feud between the House of El and General Zod (Michael Shannon). The planet shown is very unique and has a wonderful sci-fi aesthetic that is a radical departure from the cold, crystalline Krypton shown in older Superman films.
After Jor-El’s infant son, Kal-El, is sent to Earth, the story shifts suddenly to present day where Kal-El, now called Clark Kent (Henry Cavill), is now a grown man unsure of who he is and where he came from. His life as a child on Earth is told in flashbacks and shows how difficult it was for a boy with superhuman powers to try to lead a normal life. Lessons from his adopted father Jonathan (Kevin Costner) include trying not to draw attention to himself until he was ready, even if it meant not saving those who were in danger. This harsh lesson would haunt Clark later in the film when tragedy strikes the Kent family.
Man of Steel presents a startling depiction of the title hero as it focuses on Superman’s uncertainty about himself when he learns of his alien origin and during his battles with Zod after he arrives on Earth. This is sharp contrast to previous depictions of Supes, where he is more accepting and confident of who he was. However, in the end, Superman is able to defeat Zod and start his journey as Earth’s greatest hero. The battles between Superman and Zod and his henchmen are thrilling to watch and culminate in Superman having to kill Zod in order to save civilians from being killed. This was a divisive thing as many fans balked at seeing the Man of Steel killing someone. The large-scale collateral damage across the city Metropolis caused by the epic battle was also controversial among fans. This different take on things carries on throughout the rest of the DCEU, where Batman is shown as a bitter and cynical crime fighter of 20 years, at the end of his rope, and Wonder Woman is in hiding after dealing with a century of war and heartbreak in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Superman kills Zod
 The new depiction of these characters has been controversial and the mixed reception to some of the DCEU films has led some people to want Warner Brothers to reboot the whole thing but this would be unwise. To date there are already five DCEU films released with three more filmed and in post production (Aquaman, Shazam and Wonder Woman 2). You don’t cancel a franchise eight films into it. What WB seems to be doing now is focusing on standalone films as opposed to team up epics like Justice League. This in part due to the disappointing  box office for Justice League. Going back to basics gives DC an opportunity to recapture what Man of Steel did so well, which was to have a streamlined film with great action and a focus solely on the heroic character without having to establish a number of other characters that WB was quickly trying to introduce. Now that those introductions are out of the way, they can now take their time to fully explore these heroes. Hopefully this will begin with Aquaman, which is coming out this December. Hopes are high with a well-regarded director in James Wan and rumors of epic underwater visuals and battles that this film will kickstart the next phase of DCEU films. Although I do hope that we will eventually see another Justice League film; the post-credit scene of of the film suggests the formation of the supervillain group, the Legion of Doom. It would be great to see them battling DC’s heroes in a big mash up.
 Another positive of this shared universe is that we are finally seeing films that have DC characters which were previously ignored in films. Earlier decades were dominated by Batman and that’s about it. This can hurt a brand if it’s focused too much on one character only. In fact that is what happened with the DC films which for the most part were devoted to Batman for a couple of decades.  Broadening the scope of DC films has led to the breakthrough of Wonder Woman, probably the most popular film of the DCEU, so far. All of this will let other characters have their day in the cinematic sun like the aforementioned Aquaman, as well as other fan favorites like Nightwing, Batgirl and the Flash. 
 But the one that started it all is also the one that started DC Comics way back in 1938. Appropriately, Superman is the beginning of the DC’s shared cinematic universe and his film Man of Steel is I think, the blueprint that should be followed by the next group of DCEU films. And hopefully we will see another Man of Steel movie, as well.  It’s maddening that Warner Bros. keeps announcing new films featuring lesser-known characters while there has been no indication that Man of Steel will have a proper sequel. There are persistent rumors that Supes will be appearing not only in Shazam, but also show up in other DCEU films and be the link the link between the different movies. If this is the case, then the future of the DCEU should end up brighter after its somewhat shaky start.
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Avengers: Infinity War—Aftermath & What’s Next For the MCU, Part II

Avengers: Infinity War has taken the world by storm and has become the biggest comic book superhero film of all time.  The nineteenth film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is generating continued talk and speculation about where the MCU will go next. Let’s continue the discussion, at least until other summer ’18 flicks like Deadpool 2 and Solo: A Star Wars Story soak up the attention. As before, major spoilers will be thrown around, so for anyone who has not seen Avengers: Infinity War yet, here is your last chance to avoid being spoiled.

 

 

 

SPOILERS

 

 

 

How the Hulk Got His Groove Back, Etc.

Before the original Avengers make the ultimate sacrifice in Avengers 4, a few of them have arcs that need to be concluded. In Avengers: Infinity War, the Hulk was soundly beaten by Thanos early on. The beatdown was so bad that he refused to appear when Bruce Banner tried transforming into him. The Hulk never reappeared, leaving his story line unfinished. Clearly, this will be addressed in the next film where he will finally emerge in an epic rage as Black Widow is threatened or even killed. That by the way will be the extent of her development until her rumored solo film. Anyway, just like Thor had his crowd-cheering moment in Avengers: infinity War when he showed up in Wakanda with his new hammer to kick some ass, so too, will the Hulk put a serious pounding on Thanos and his minions. It’s something to look forward to!

Bring me thanos!

Bring me Thanos!

Meanwhile, Captain America’s story was underdeveloped in the third film. He never reconciled with Iron Man or regained his true shield. He did have a showdown with Thanos that surprised the Mad Titan as Cap held off due to his undying willpower. Captain America has had an underlying tragic aura as he is a man who cannot quite fit in. While the natural progression will be to have the old soldier lay down his life, hopefully he will be allowed to have another ending. Just a side note, it would be totally awesome if there is a scene where he not only wields his true shield but Thor’s hammer because, damn it, he is worthy!

Another Avenger that will get his day in the sun is Hawkeye who was noticeably absent in Avengers: Infinity War. Behind-the-scenes photos do confirm that not only will he be in the fourth Avengers film but might take on his Ronin identity. Possibly this will be because his family were victims of Thanos’ dusting.

Being that the next film will likely concentrate on the Hulk and Captain America (and Iron Man), do not expect Thor to get much attention. He spent most of his time in Avengers: Infinity War getting his mojo back by constructing Stormbreaker and took his shot with Thanos. Close, but no cigar. Don’t worry, the God of Thunder will have his applause-generating moments, but the most that may happen is that he will be involved in finding what’s left of his people. This would be a great way to send him off without killing him and brings up good ideas for future Thor adventures.

guardians with power stone

The Guardians stand with an Infinity Stone.

Will they all be killed off aping that scene from Guardians of the Galaxy where Peter Quill and company held the Power Stone? Instead all six original Avengers wield an Infinity Stone to defeat Thanos, but the effort takes their lives. Let’s hope it does not come to that.

Here Comes The New Guard

With the original Avengers probably fighting their last battle next year, who will take their place? Black Panther and Spider-Man are contenders but T’Challa may be too busy running Wakanda to be a full-time Avenger. He is popular, though, and he could fill the moneybags role possibly vacated by Iron Man.  Spider-Man is still too young and would be better suited to his urban solo adventures. Ant-Man and the Wasp could pick up the mantle and their story could continue in new Avengers films. Captain Marvel will provide the muscle and a cosmic connection, since supposedly the next slate of MCU films will be more cosmic.  Other candidates include Doctor Strange, the Winter Soldier and maybe even the heroes featured on the MCU TV shows. Maybe a couple of the Guardians of the Galaxy could even join the Avengers.

Let's talk about this plan of yours. I think it's good, except it sucks

Let’s talk about this plan of yours. I think it’s good, except it sucks.

One thing is certain is that when he is resurrected Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, has much explaining to do! His plan for defeating Thanos was better than Iron Man’s, which did suck, and it almost worked. If only he hadn’t let his emotions get the better of him! The leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy has taken on a lot of Internet flack for supposedly ruining the heroes’ best chance to remove the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos in Avengers: infinity War. Frankly, some people are just too harsh on poor Quill. He just learned his love Gamora had been killed by Thanos, how else would he act? If anything, his actions where he revived Thanos from his induced trance by attacking him is quite true to his nature. Peter Quill is quite impulsive and emotional; he reacted the same way when he learned his father, Ego, killed his mother. We cheered him on then. Besides, this could have been part of the scenario that Dr. Strange foresaw as the only one where they defeat Thanos. Otherwise, he could have easily stopped Quill when he started attacking Thanos. The next film may allow the Guardians as much screen time as with Avengers: Infinity War, if so then expect Quill to feel guilty about his actions and find a way to make up for it. If they have ample screen time, the Guardians may be the cosmic key to defeating Thanos.

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