Category Archives: movies

“Justice League” Just a Disappointment

Where is the DCEU going? Is it the gritty, god-obsessed mythology of Zach Snyder? Is it a copy of the MCU? Is it something else? No one seems to know. “Justice League” is the latest example of how no one at Warner Bros. seems to know what they’re doing with the DC Universe. In the race to make a counter to Disney and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Justice League has been given the short stick.

When a new threat to the world emerges after the death of Superman (Henry Cavill), Batman (Bruce Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) must recruit a team of other superheroes such as Aquaman (Jason Momoa), the Flash (Ezra Miller) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). Together, they need to defeat the villainous Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) before he destroys the world.

That is pretty much the whole plot right there. Sounds pretty boring, doesn’t it? Whereas “Man of Steel” (2013) and “Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice” (2016) were failed films with high concepts, “Justice League” is a failed film with no concept. It is the laziest excuse for a superhero ensemble. No deeper morals, no themes about gods and superpowers, no character arcs beyond the most absolute basic. It is a totally paint-by-numbers movie devoid of any creative spark. There is nothing memorable about it.

It really is hard to criticize specific scenes or characters because the film is so hollow. You just don’t care about the story. It’s a series of action sequences followed by mandatory “character” moments. Flash is the funny one. Aquaman is dashingly reckless. Batman is brooding. Cyborg is angry.  The villain wants to destroy the world for… reasons. He’s a baddie. The team must learn to work together as a team. Fill in the blank.

This is not the film the Justice League deserves. The audience should be on the edge of their seats as the different members of the League are assembled by Batman and Wonder Woman, broken souls who have never been heroes before. Guided by the memory of Superman, the team must put aside their egos and pasts to band together as a team (in a way that’s different than the MCU). Superman’s absence has allowed a new supervillain to emerge out of the shadows, a multi-faceted villain who has a personal beef with Batman/Wonder Woman/Aquaman/etc.

People often complain that the DCEU movies are too dark and that they’re being rushed too fast, but that’s ignoring the big problems at their heart. Being dark is not an inherent problem. Indeed, it’s a good way to distinguish themselves from the MCU. The DCEU can be dark and moody, but we have to care. Superman and Batman should be shining beacons of light in a hostile world, people we connect with and aspire to become. That has never happened in any of these films, both Affleck and Cavill flat and uninteresting cardboard cutouts. And you don’t need to follow the MCU and build up all the characters in individual films before putting them together in a team movie. It’s a disservice to the audience to think they need to be led by the hand and explained every little thing. You can introduce a bunch of characters in one film and give them fully fleshed out arcs that don’t cheat them. It’s hard, but it’s doable.

But you have to do it well. That’s what the DCEU has never done (“Wonder Woman” (2017) excluded). Tell a story with engaging characters that the audience can empathize with. The idea of the DCEU (other than to make money) was to be the “mature” superhero franchise, with high ideas of mythology, religion, idolism and violence. It has never struggled for ideas and reach, it has struggled in execution.

“Justice League” is the first film that never even tries. At least the previous films tried. But the MCU has apparently taken permanent residence in Warner Bros. psyche. They need to be different and the same, light and dark, popular and edgy. And with the trailers for “Shazam” and “Aquaman” lacking the same sort of coherent guidance needed to create a DC world, it looks like more of the same is in store. The best move would be to start over from scratch, wipe the slate clean and let the series evolve naturally, with committed filmmakers taking their time and putting together a refined product.

But that can’t happen today, when movies are planned years in advance, an assembly-line production that stifles creativity. It’s a shame.

 

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“Crazy Rich Asians” is crazy good

What ever happened to rom-coms? Much maligned, seldom appreciated, the rom-com was a staple of modern cinemas from the 1980s through the early 2000s. Sure, they’re cheesy, overly optimistic, formula-reliant. But they’re pleasant to watch. Not everything needs to be the-movie-to-end-all-movies. Movies can be light, entertaining and still matter.

Around the early 2000s, the rom-com disappeared. Movie schedules became inundated with tentpole blockbusters or Oscar bait films. Really, it seemed that after “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”, the rom-com went extinct.

So it’s nice to not only see a rom-com, but a good rom-com and one that is doing well at the box office. It seems it was missed.

“Crazy Rich Asians” is based on the book of the same name by Kevin Kwan. New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is in love with the dashing Nick Young (Henry Golding). He invites her as his date to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Little does Rachel know that Nick comes from an incredibly wealthy family, with sister, Astrid (Gemma Chan), brother Eddie (Ronny Chieng), cousin Alistair Cheng (Remy Hii) and demanding mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). Each of them has their own issues tied to the upkeep of family and the power that money entails. Astrid’s husband, Michael (Pierre Png), feels inferior to his wife’s wealth. Alistair is making movies with a slutty actress. And Nick’s mother hates Rachel, believing her unworthy for her son. Rachel confides in her friend, Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina) as Colin (Chris Pang) and Araminta’s (Sonoya Mizuno) wedding approaches.

The three main points of conflict are right in the film’s title: crazy (love), rich (wealth) and Asian (culture). Rachel may have love for Nick, but she is doubted for being a gold digger and not Asian enough. The film then is a test for her to prove her worth against the family and economic situations working against her. It’s a traditional but classic story structure.

The film is a modern Cinderella of sorts and a celebration of Singapore culture with plenty of ethnic music, food, architecture and people. It’s also beautifully shot, setting it apart from the usual rom-com, with wide shots of the city, extravagant buildings and the elaborate wedding itself.

Now, the film is not especially new. Many characters are classic tropes (the crazy best friend, the pushy mom, the wise grandmother, the perfect male love interest, the backstabbing old flame). The plot is a classic fish-out-of-water narrative. And the relationship between Rachel and Eleanor as protagonist and antagonist could have been highlighted more. Perhaps Eleanor tests Rachel, pushing her to her limits, such as during the dumpling scene. Perhaps Rachel has to make the family recipe dumplings over and over again. Her hands feel like giving up, but she perseveres to prove herself. Scenes like this would have really put the battle over culture and love into perspective.

But the story is told well, which is the most important aspect of any film. And it fills you with a warm and funny feeling at the end. That’s a strange sensation for modern films.

“Miss Sloane” not as smart as it thinks it is

Written by Jonathan Perera and directed by John Madden, “Miss Sloane” is the story of Madeline Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain), a political power broker who takes on the gun lobby and tries to press a gun-restrictions bill through Congress. As her enemies mount, including Senator Ronald Sperling (John Lithgow), her old boss George Dupont (Sam Waterston) and personal nemesis Pat Connors (Michael Stuhlbarg), Sloane is pushed her to ethical and legal limits.

The film does a good job of upping the stakes. At first, it’s just another case for Sloane and her colleagues. Then she takes the opposite position. Then friendships are splitered. Then things become personal. The deeper stakes raise the tension.

Chastain does a good job as Sloane in a role that could have been beefed up more. We know very little about her background and her internal motivations other than to win. What is her relationship with her parents? What led her down this path? Is she compromising her morals? Such details would help us identify with her.

The film is not as smart as it thinks it is. The audience can see the twist ending coming, and the quick dialogue is trying too hard to be Aaron Sorkin and not succeeding. It seems to be trying so hard to be a hot political drama with an urgent message about current times, but its story is just not interesting enough to warrant that consideration.

“Passengers” lost in space

“Passengers” should have been a slam dunk. John Spaihts, the writer of “Dr. Strange” (2016). Morten Tyldum, the director of “The Imitation Game” (2014). Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, two of the biggest, if not the biggest, stars in the world. But “Passengers” is a flop on pretty much every level.

The film follows Jim Preston (Pratt), a passenger on a spaceship accidentally woken up from cryosleep 90 years too early. Unable to go back to sleep, Preston grows lonely on the giant ship all by himself, his only confidant a bartender robot named Arthur (Michael Sheen). He is doomed to die before reaching the new world. In a fit of despair, he wakes up another passenger, Aurora Lane (Lawrence), and lies to her, telling her that an accident has woken both of them up. Stranded together, they fall in love, but will Jim’s deception cost them everything?

Jim’s decision to wake up Aurora immediately sets the audience against him. How could someone do that to another person without their permission? For our protagonist, we lose empathy. Such a loss is irredeemable.

Perhaps if they knew each other beforehand, it would alleviate some of the problem. But the best move would have been if Jim’s decision were just taken out of the film. Two random people awaken on a spaceship and face a lifetime together with no hope of reaching their destination. Now what? Such a premise has such promise and could have delved into deep themes of life’s purpose, isolation and romance.

Or, what if the entire ship had woken up? You would have different responses to the situation spread over a socioeconomic situation. How do people cope as a society trapped on a spaceship? Some may decide to kill themselves, others learn how adapt to this new life. You would have real social dynamics.

Instead, we get a horrible man taking away the life of a random woman. And (spoiler alert) she somehow takes him back at the film’s conclusion, an idiotic, anti-feminist finale. She should have kicked his lonely ass into Venus the moment she found out what he did.

The film is trying to be a “Titanic” romance in space. Instead, it’s just an unfeeling iceberg. The protagonist is unsympathetic, Lawrence and Pratt are miscast and have no chemistry together and the space set ending is unoriginal and contrived.

Danger. Danger Will Robinson.

Oops, Will Robinson is dead on arrival.

“Allied” a clumsy spy caper

Spy thrillers are fun. Mystery, intrigue, romance, danger. They’re tailor-made for cinema. The problem is that the genre has become so prevalent and popular that coming up with something new is difficult. “Allied” suffers from the malaise of good intentions and lackluster themes. It’s a whole film of been there, done that, with multiple homages to previous works competing against each other.

Directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Steven Knight, “Allied” is the story of Canadian spy Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) who rendezvous with French resistance fighter Marianne Beauséjour (Marion Cotillard) in Morocco during World War II. Together, they work to assassinate the Nazi ambassador, Hobar (August Diehl). Posing as a married couple Marianne advances romantically to Max, who replies that spies who sleep together fail. Marianne counters that it’s not the sex that makes spies fail, but falling in love. At the conclusion of their mission, they get married and try to live a normal life, but under the pretenses of deception, can they ever truly trust each other?

Mixing the grandeur of films like “Casablanca” with the sexiness of James Bond and the intrigue of a John le Carré novel, the film doesn’t feel unified. It’s too much going on at once. Brad Pitt is an odd choice for the role of Max. Perhaps a younger spy, just learning the ropes, would have served the story better with an experienced femme fatale as his partner.

The film does have some exciting action sequences, but they are few and far between, the majority of screen time devoted to a love story that we’ve seen before. There’s nothing that really makes the film stand out and the result is a pretty forgettable affair despite some good work from Ms. Cotillard.

“Suburbicon” has elements of quality, but lacks coherence

George Clooney, as a director, has a spotty record. “Good Night, and Good Luck” is a great film. “The Monuments Men” is not. Now with “Suburbicon”, Clooney finds himself with a mixed bag of some interesting elements, some dull ones and a general lack of cohesion.

“Suburbicon” tells the story of a 1950s community in upheaval. When a black family movies into the neighborhood, the dark underbelly of the town begins to reveal itself. Gardner (Matt Damon) is a father who lives next to the new family with his wife, Rose (Julianne Moore), son Nicky (Noah Jupe) and sister-in-law, Margaret (also Julianne Moore). When a home invasion turns the family’s world upside down, Nicky discovers the secrets that his family have been hiding and that all is not well in the happy-go-lucky neighborhood.

Written by the Coen brothers and Clooney’s usual partner, Grant Heslov, the film has some promising setups and payoffs and some memorable plot twists that keep things interesting. Some sequences at the end of the film are exciting, and the acting and directing are fairly well-balanced.

Where the film struggles is its characters, tone and its theming. The characters are more stereotypes, one-dimensional goodies or baddies who don’t have a lot of remorse or second thoughts. For the Coens, one need only look at Anton Chigurh or the pair of kidnappers in Fargo to find examples of nefarious characters who are still interesting. The film is part murder mystery, part dark comedy and part social critique and these tones bump heads against each other. Some clearer direction would have gone a long way. And the theming is nothing original. There’ve been plenty of films about the “evils” of suburbia and their underlying racism. David Lynch has made an entire career out of it. If the film had something new to say about the matter, it would feel weightier, but as a whole, it just feels like it’s retreading old ground.

Nevertheless, “Suburbicon” is a somewhat enjoyable film that utilizes filmmaking (acting, cinematography, camera movement) to tell a familiar if flawed story.

“The Dark Knight” Analysis

Story Analysis Description

*Analysis based off work of Robert McKee, Joseph Campbell and Syd Field

*Special thanks to Movieclips for their clips below

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CHARACTERS

Protagonist: Bruce
Desire Conscious: Stop crime in Gotham
Unconscious:
Conflict Levels Inner: Fear of failure and letting parents down
Personal: Joker, Rachel, Harvey
Extra-Personal: Gotham city, heroism
Character Characterization: Gotham’s savior
True Character: Insecure and flawed
Turn: Gotham’s dark knight
Antagonist: Joker
Desire Conscious: Throw Gotham into chaos
Unconscious:
Conflict Levels Inner:
Personal: Mob bosses, Batman
Extra-Personal: Gotham city, order
Character Characterization: Crazed killer
True Character: Anarchist mastermind
Turn:
Harvey
Desire Conscious: Stop crime in Gotham
Unconscious: Find fairness and balance
Conflict Levels Inner: Ego, anger
Personal: Joker, mob bosses, Batman
Extra-Personal: Chaos, Gotham city
Character Characterization: Gotham’s white knight
True Character: Filled with vengeance
Turn: Psychopath
Gordon
Desire Conscious: Stop crime in Gotham
Unconscious:
Conflict Levels Inner: Fears of losing family
Personal: Joker, Family, Harvey
Extra-Personal: Gotham, chaos
Character Characterization: Good cop working to save the city
True Character:
Turn:
Rachel
Desire Conscious: Choose a lover
Unconscious:
Conflict Levels Inner: Heart and mind
Personal: Harvey, Bruce
Extra-Personal: Gotham and crime
Character Characterization: Assistant DA trying to figure out life
True Character:
Turn:
Lucius
Desire Conscious: Help Bruce
Unconscious:
Conflict Levels Inner: Moral qualms
Personal: Bruce, Reese
Extra-Personal: Crime, Gotham
Character Characterization: CEO tech guru
True Character:
Turn:
Gotham City
Desire Conscious: Regain spirit
Unconscious: Find morality
Conflict Levels Inner: Morality
Personal: Mobsters, cops, Batman, Joker
Extra-Personal: Chaos
Character Characterization: Eager for hope
True Character: Terrified and chaotic
Turn: Willing to believe in good
Alfred
Desire Conscious: Help Bruce
Unconscious:
Conflict Levels Inner: Fears of letting Bruce down
Personal: Bruce
Extra-Personal: Gotham, Chaos
Character Characterization: Old, kind mentor
True Character:
Turn: Willing to hide truth to save Bruce
Principle of Antagonism Positive Justice – Batman defeats Joker Pessimistic Half-justice – Harvey pretends to be the Batman
Negative Injustice – Joker causes chaos Negation of Negation Injustice in guise of justice – Batman takes the fall for Harvey’s crimes
Controlling Idea:
Justice prevails because our inner morals are strong.

PLOT

Inciting Incident Gordon teams up with Harvey Dent and unites him into the cohort with the Batman
Act One Climax Lao gives the police the mobsters he can, cleaning the streets of crime
GAP Joker causes chaos and deepens the stakes for Gotham
Progressive Complications Joker continues to escalate the war against Batman, testing the fortitude of Dent, Gordon and Bruce
Midpoint Joker is apprehended
Act Two Climax Harvey becomes Two-Face
Act Three Climax Batman takes down Two-Face
Resolution Batman takes the fall for Harvey’s crimes

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HERO’S JOURNEY

ORDINARY WORLD Batman hunts down the criminals of Gotham
CALL TO ADVENTURE Batman teams with Gordon and Harvey and agrees to bring in Lao
MEETING THE MENTOR Bruce talks with Alfred and Lucius
CROSSING FIRST THRESHOLD Batman abducts Lao
TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES Bruce teams with Gordon, Lucius and Harvey while Joker emerges
REFUSAL OF THE CALL Bruce volunteers to turn himself in to stop the Joker
APPROACH TO INMOST CAVE Batman confronts the Joker in the cell after his capture
ORDEAL Bruce loses Rachel as the Joker escapes
REWARD Bruce learns about what he must do to stop the Joker
ROAD BACK Bruce confronts his old friends, Gordon and Harvey
RESURECTION After being shot by Harvey, Batman rises to save Gordon’s family
RETURN WITH ELIXIR Bruce realizes what the Batman is and must be

ARCHETYPES

HERO Bruce
SHADOW Joker
MENTOR Alfred
ALLY Gordon
HERALD Joker
THRESHOLD GUARDIAN Lao
TRICKSTER Joker
SHAPESHIFTER Harvey

THEMES

HEROISM AND IDOLISM What is the concept of a hero? The idea of a hero may be more important than the hero him/herself.
JUSTICE AND CHAOS Batman, Gordon and Harvey each seek a form of justice for their own particular reason: Bruce, to avenge his parents, Gordon, to protect his family and Harvey, to fulfill his ego. This quest for justice comes with a price for each of them. The Joker is an agent of chaos. His form of anarchy seeks to devolve humanity into a lesser creature while the trio seeks to elevate mankind through a moral code.

STORYLINES

Batman, Gordon and Harvey Saving Gotham
Rachel Chooses Harvey or Bruce
Joker Takes Over the Mob
Bruce and Alfred
Harvey Becomes Two-Face
Gotham’s Soul
Gordon Protects His Family
Lucius Directs Bruce’s Morals

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SCENE BREAKDOWN

Scene #1 Bank Heist
Protagonist Joker
Desire Steal Money
Antagonist Mob men
TP Joker has the bus take out the last henchman
Value Power
Role Introduction of the antagonist. Joker Inciting Incident occurs offscreen: it is a mystery why he causes chaos, but something in his past has set him on this course
Analysis The introduction of the Joker sets up his mysteriousness and ability to incite chaos. We don’t know who he is or what he necessarily wants. His plan to rob the bank is indicative of the maniacal scheming he will use to torment Gotham throughout the course of the story. We realize that this is a formidable antagonist.
Scene #2 Batman Tracks Down Crane
Protagonist Batman
Desire Stop crime
Antagonist Crane and his hooligans
TP Batman crashes onto the car top
Value Justice
Role Introduction of protagonist, Gotham Inciting Incident: Batman arrives to save the city, but Gotham is unsure of him
Analysis We are introduced to the Batman: dark, intimidating and turning the tide against crime. And we are introduced to Gotham City, which itself serves as a character in the narrative, a being who seeks hope against the scourge of crime, but is highly malleable.
Scene #3 Batman and Gordon Talk
Protagonist Batman
Desire Convene a strategy
Antagonist Indecision
TP They decide to focus on crime and not the Joker.
Value Justice
Role Show alliance between Gordon and Batman. Gordon’s Inciting Incident occurs offscreen and sets him on his course: Protect his family and by extension, Gotham.
Analysis We are introduced to the relationship between Gordon and Batman. They are allies, trusting and dedicated. They also get their first glimpse of the Joker, whom they brush off.
Scene #4 Bruce and Alfred
Protagonist Bruce
Desire Come up with plan to save Gotham with Alfred
Antagonist Mob presence
TP
Value Justice
Role Alfred Inciting Incident occurs offscreen: Alfred pledges to take care of Bruce after his parents are murdered
Analysis We see how Alfred cares for Bruce as he tends to his wounds and how they work together towards a common goal. Alfred worries about Bruce the man, rather than Batman the superhero. The separation between the two is something only Alfred understands and Bruce’s fragility will be tested.
Scene #5 Harvey In Court
Protagonist Harvey
Desire Take down Maroni
Antagonist Maroni
TP Harvey survives assassination attempt
Value Justice
Role Introduce Harvey- strong, committed to justice, going after crime, pompous. Rachel Inciting Incident Offscreen: Harvey proposes to her, setting up her choice between Bruce or Harvey.
Analysis We are introduced to Harvey and Rachel. Harvey is cocksure and dedicated, perhaps too much. We identify this as a character flaw even though we’re attracted to it.
Scene #6 Gordon and Harvey Meet
Protagonist Harvey
Desire Establish trust
Antagonist Distrust
TP Gordon gives Harvey names of the banks
Value Trust
Role Saving Gotham Inciting Incident: Crime in Gotham is terrible and Batman/Harvey/Gordon need to stop it. Harvey Inciting Incident: Harvey decides to take on the mob through their money.
Analysis Harvey and Gordon are wary of each other, not sure if they can trust one another. Harvey’s history at internal affairs shows that he is not the shiny posterboy he portrays himself as. A small bit of trust between them opens the door, but their unease will define their relationship.
Scene #7 Bruce and Lucius
Protagonist Bruce
Desire Get a new suit
Antagonist
TP
Value Friendship
Role Lucius Inciting Incident takes place offscreen: Spurred by respect for Bruce’s father, Lucius commits himself to helping Bruce.
Analysis We are introduced to the relationship between Bruce and Lucius, one of the few other ally relationships Bruce has. Lucius serves more as a moral compass than compassionate mentor, helping Bruce realize the consequences of his reach.
Scene #8 Dinner Out
Protagonist Bruce
Desire Feel out Harvey
Antagonist Harvey
TP Bruce decides to throw Harvey a fundraiser.
Value Trust
Role Saving Gotham Plot: Recruiting an ally in Harvey
Analysis We are introduced to the love triangle between Bruce, Rachel and Harvey as well as the Batman and Harvey’s roles as dual knights for Gotham. Even though Harvey doesn’t realize it, Bruce is recruiting him to join his alliance with Gordon to save the city.
Scene #9 Mob Meeting
Protagonist Joker
Desire Make a deal with the mob
Antagonist Mob bosses
TP Gamble puts a bounty on the Joker’s head
Value Power
Role Joker starts his plan to take Gotham
Analysis We again see the Joker manipulating the system to his advantage. The mob bosses, desperate to stop the Batman as well as Gordon and Harvey, acquiese to his lunacy, not understanding the depths of their own actions.
Scene #10 Batman, Gordon and Harvey
Protagonist Harvey/Bruce/Gordon
Desire Figure out plan to take out mob
Antagonist Mob
TP Batman agrees to bring back Lao
Value Justice
Role The trio attempts to gain the upper hand.
Analysis The trio moves to figure out their next move after their plan to steal the mob’s money goes awry. Trust needs to be built up between them in order for them to take down the mob.
Scene #11 Bruce Plans
Protagonist Bruce
Desire Get ready for Lao take down
Antagonist Logistics
TP Batman boards plane to Hong Kong
Value Justice
Role Saving Gotham: Planning for Lao’s capture
Analysis With the backing of Gordon and Harvey, Bruce plans to bring in Lao using Lucius and Alfred’s help.
Scene #12 Joker Kills Gamble
Protagonist Joker
Desire Eliminate Gamble threat
Antagonist Gamble
TP Joker Kills Gamble
Value Power
Role Joker consolidating power and backstory
Analysis We again see how the Joker manages to acquire power and use his wits and insanity to his advantage.
Scene #13 Lucius Sets Up Bruce
Protagonist Lucius
Desire Set Up Lao
Antagonist Lao
TP Lucius leaves the compound having set up Bruce’s trap.
Value Justice
Role Set Up Bruce’s takedown
Analysis Lucius, in his devotion to Bruce, helps set the Batman up for his mission.
Scene #14 Lao Captured
Protagonist Batman
Desire Capture Lao
Antagonist Lao and Security
TP Batman absconds with Lao
Value Justice
Role Batman enacts plan to take down the mob
Analysis We see the Batman using his upmost skill to bring in Lao and take out those around him.
Scene #15 Lao Cuts a Deal
Protagonist Harvey
Desire Bring down the mob
Antagonist Lao and Mob
TP Lao agrees to give up clients
Value Justice
Role Saving Gotham and Gotham’s Soul Act One Climax: The city believes in Harvey and Batman.
Analysis The fruits of the trio’s efforst comes to a head as Lao gives up the mob and brings Gotham closer to peace.
Scene #16 Harvey Meets with the Mayor
Protagonist Harvey
Desire Put into plan effort to clean streets
Antagonist Gotham
TP Dead Batman shows up
Value Justice
Role Harvey Act One Climax: Harvey becomes the face of hope in Gotham.
Analysis The importance of Harvey to the cause is emphasized. He’s the hero Gotham needs for the mob to be put away for good.
Scene #17 Joker Demands Batman Identity
Protagonist Joker
Desire Set demands
Antagonist The Trio
TP Joker states demand
Value Chaos
Role Joker Act One Climax: Joker puts plan for Gotham into motion
Analysis The Joker makes his first move against the trio, targeting Batman’s identity as a crux to break their spirit. His terror stands in sharp contrast to the good that the trio is trying to accomplish.
Scene #18 Joker Strikes
Protagonist Joker
Desire Cause havok
Antagonist Trio
TP Batman refuses to reveal his identity
Value Chaos
Role Joker putting his first dent into society. Rachel Act One Climax: It’s revealed that Harvey has proposed to her, and Bruce still cares for her.
Analysis The Joker and Batman confront each other for the first time and are able to size each other up. The Joker’s plan to destroy the spirit of Gotham has begun as the deaths of officials pile up and public confidence falls. Harvey also pressures Rachel to decide on his marriage proposal, setting up Rachel’s internal conundrum: Harvey or Bruce?
Scene #19 Harvey Stands Firm
Protagonist Harvey
Desire Keep prosecution going
Antagonist The Joker’s actions
TP Harvey shows up at the precinct, unafraid
Value Justice
Role Show Harvey’s commitment to the plan
Analysis Given the chance to flee, Harvey instead doubles down on the plan to take down the mob. This shows his dedication but also his foolhardiness. His hubris will end up as his undoing.
Scene #20 Bruce Examines the Joker
Protagonist Bruce
Desire Unravel the mystery of the Joker
Antagonist Joker
TP Bruce realizes that the Joker can’t be reasoned with
Value Justice
Role Show depths of Bruce’s enemy
Analysis Hero and villain examine each other and see themselves in full light. For Bruce, this is a nemesis he has never encountered before; devoid of humanity and thriving on chaos. This deepens the stakes for him.
Scene #21 A Murder Scene
Protagonist Batman
Desire Find the Joker
Antagonist Gotham
TP They discover the Joker’s next target is the mayor.
Value Justice
Role Batman on the hunt
Analysis We see the first glimpses of Gotham cracking under the pressure of the Joker’s antics. Gordon and Bruce are snapping as the Joker kills and threatens.
Scene #22 Bruce’s Experiment
Protagonist Bruce
Desire Find the Joker
Antagonist Joker
TP Bruce finds the thumbprint
Value Justice
Role Bruce on the trail of the Joker
Analysis Bruce uses his resources to find out the Joker’s hideout, getting a bit of his mojo back and thinking he has the Joker once again on the ropes.
Scene #23 Lucius and Reese
Protagonist Lucius
Desire Protect Bruce’s identity
Antagonist Reese
TP Lucius calls Reese’s bluff
Value Morality
Role Introduce subplot
Analysis Lucius, in his desire to protect Bruce, manipulates an employee to keep Batman’s identity a secret. His devotion to Bruce is an example of his strong character, a factor which will influence their relationship at the film’s end.
Scene #24 Assassination Attempt
Protagonist Joker
Desire Kill the mayor
Antagonist Triumvirate
TP Gordon saves the Mayor
Value Chaos
Role Joker instills chaos into the peace
Analysis The Joker again causes chaos and panic as he nearly kill the mayor and shoots Gordon. The pressure gets to Bruce and Harvey as they each choose drastic actions to find the Joker.
Scene #25 Gordon’s Dead
Protagonist Batman
Desire Mourn and show respect
Antagonist
TP
Value Justice
Role The strain on Bruce grows immense. Gordon Act One Climax: Gordon appears dead, driving them to despair.
Analysis Bruce’s strain is immense. He believes he has lost his friend as a result of their plan and orphaned his family. The stakes grow deeper.
Scene #26 Batman Questions Maroni
Protagonist Batman
Desire Find the Joker
Antagonist Maroni, Joker
TP Batman realizes Joker will keep killing
Value Justice
Role Batman comes to the realization he must turn himself in to save Gotham
Analysis Bruce’s anger drives him towards harsher and harsher actions. He brakes a man’s ankle, beats up an entire nightclub and pushes against the mob with all of his force. His strict moral code is beginning to bend as the pressures build.
Scene #27 Harvey Questions Lackey
Protagonist Harvey
Desire Find the Joker
Antagonist Lackey, Joker
TP Batman tells him he’ll turn himself in
Value Justice
Role Bruce makes his decision and Harvey starts to give in to the dark side
Analysis Harvey’s boundaries, just like Bruce’s, are being tested, and he is pushing himself closer and closer to being a villain. As Bruce decides to take responsibilities for his viligante actions, Harvey is stuck struggling against his anger, a sign of what will transform in him throughout the story.
Scene #28 Rachel and Bruce
Protagonist Bruce
Desire Connect with Rachel
Antagonist Feelings for Harvey
TP Rachel commits to Bruce
Value Love
Role Deeper love triangle
Analysis Rachel’s internal conflict comes to a head as she must choose between Bruce and Harvey.
Scene #29 Alfred Talks with Bruce
Protagonist Bruce
Desire Reason through choice
Antagonist Pressures to turn himself in
TP Bruce admits he can’t handle the deaths
Value Justice
Role Bruce facing the music
Analysis Bruce talks with his mentor, Alfred, to gain perspective on his choice to turn himself in. Alfred pressuring him to continue as Batman suggests that Bruce is failing at distinguishing between Batman and himself, Bruce’s inadequacies reflecting upon his alter ego. This results in Bruce turning away from his adventure, rejecting his call to adventure.
Scene #30 Harvey Turns Himself In
Protagonist Harvey
Desire Protect Gotham
Antagonist Chaos, Gotham
TP Harvey voluntarily admits to being Batman
Value Justice
Role Harvey Midpoint: Harvey takes the fall for Batman.
Analysis Harvey understands the importance of Batman for Gotham’s soul and voluntarily turns himself in instead of Bruce. His sacrifice again shows his recklessness, but also the importance of Batman as a symbol, in a way, overriding his own importance as a symbol.
Scene #31 Rachel Makes Her Choice
Protagonist Rachel
Desire Choose man
Antagonist Fears of future
TP Rachel leaves letter with Alfred
Value Love
Role Rachel makes choice
Analysis Rachel chooses between Harvey and Bruce, but keeps her choice to herself. Harvey’s sacrifice and Bruce’s acceptance of Harvey’s sacrifice lead her choice.
Scene #32 Harvey Transported
Protagonist Joker
Desire Kill Harvey
Antagonist Batman and police
TP Gordon emerges alive and arrests Joker
Value Justice
Role Saving Gotham Midpoint: Peace is saved for Gotham again.
Analysis Through sheer will and luck, the trio is able to trick the Joker and arrest him. For the moment, it seems as though Gotham is saved.
Scene #33 Gordon Returns Home
Protagonist Gordon
Desire Reunite with family
Antagonist Fears
TP Wife accepts him
Value Love
Role Gordon Act Two Climax: Gordon returns home to save his family
Analysis Gordon’s devotion to his family is representative of Gotham. Their ability to hope mirrors Gotham’s.
Scene #34 Interrogation
Protagonist Batman and Gordon
Desire Find Harvey
Antagonist Joker
TP Joker admits his plan and tells them where they are
Value Justice and love
Role Sets deeper emotional stakes for characters
Analysis Batman and Joker are face-to-face, their conversation mirroring the main themes of the story: the role of heroism, belief in people’s inner goodness and moral codes. This scene unifies everything that came before it and sets the stage for everything that will come after. Batman realizes what Joker is and Joker sets the stakes for the rest of the story, a battle that will ultimately resolve the soul of Gotham.
Scene #35 The Explosions
Protagonist Batman
Desire Save Rachel and Harvey
Antagonist Joker’s plan
TP Rachel is killed and Harvey scarred
Value Love and justice
Role Harvey Act Two Climax: Harvey loses everything.
Analysis The Joker exacts a terrible price as Rachel dies and Harvey is scarred. This turn of events will test both Harvey and Bruce, revealing their inner core identities and changing them in profound ways.
Scene #36 Joker Breaks Out
Protagonist Joker
Desire Escape
Antagonist Cops
TP Joker detonates bomb and escapes
Value Chaos
Role Joker Act Two Climax: Joker unleashed in the city again
Analysis The Joker’s maniacal deliberations have paid off as his plan to destroy Gotham’s peace seems to be working. Chaos reigns as the trio and their city lose hope.
Scene #37 Bruce and Harvey Mourn
Protagonist Bruce, Harvey and Alfred
Desire Reconcile loss
Antagonist Emotional loss
TP Alfred doesn’t let Bruce know about letter
Value Love
Role Turning point for characters to change. Rachel Act Two Climax: Rachel chose Harvey, but her death destroys him.
Analysis Both of Gotham’s knights, Harvey and Batman, have radically different reactions to the death of the woman they loved. Bruce is remorseful, needing Alfred’s encouragement to feel justification. Harvey is angry and vengeful. These reactions will define them for the rest of the story as both characters are changed and will transform, Bruce turning back into the guise of Batman for escape, Harvey changing into the villainous Two-Face. Alfred’s love of Bruce is tested as he worries the truth will destroy him.
Scene #38 Gordon and Harvey
Protagonist Gordon
Desire Find out who he can trust
Antagonist Harvey’s depression
TP Harvey condemns himself
Value Trust
Role The old Harvey is gone
Analysis Harvey’s depression and anger becomes evident to Gordon as he realizes that Harvey has lost the inner fight against the Joker. The scene reflects Gordon and Harvey first meeting, but with a drastic switch in tone, from Harvey full of hope to full of despair, Gordon a lens through which the audience can witness the change.
Scene #39 Joker Burns the Cash
Protagonist Joker
Desire Take over the city
Antagonist Mob bosses
TP Joker takes the mob might for himself
Value Power
Role Joker takes control of the mob and has the city in his grasp
Analysis The Joker officially takes control of the mob and sets fire to their wealth. For him, money isn’t important, but his end goal is: chaos. This further illustrates the Joker’s character as beyond reason, more a force of nature than a person. He is a storm about to sweep over Gotham.
Scene #40 Hospital Fight
Protagonist Bruce
Desire Save Mr. Reese
Antagonist Gotham City
TP Bruce throws his car into the lane and saves Mr. Reese
Value Peace
Role Batman and Gordon fighting back against Joker’s take over
Analysis Bruce must now make his choice after he loses Rachel: to continue the fight against the Joker or retreat into depression. He chooses to continue to fight, even saving a man who would have revealed his identity. Gotham now is at the mercy of the Joker, lurching into chaos. Without Harvey to guide the city, madness reigns as citizens try to kill Reese to save themselves. Bruce and Gordon struggle against a raging tide of madness and only their conviction can save the peace they made.
Scene #41 Joker Converts Harvey
Protagonist Joker
Desire Turn Harvey insane
Antagonist Harvey
TP Harvey becomes Two-Face
Value Justice
Role Harvey Act Three Climax: Harvey loses his internal fight and becomes Two-Face.
Analysis Much as Bruce must choose his path after Rachel’s death, Harvey must as well. He is transformed by the Joker’s madness into a new being, Two-Face, a merging of philosophies, from Batman’s, Joker’s and his own, dependent entirely on chance. The duality of the storyline overwhelms poor Harvey. Good and evil, fate and chance, white knight and dark knight, and the choice Bruce made that resulted in Rachel’s death all reflect this newfound madness in Harvey’s soul. Not only have his fears and anger been revealed throughout the course of the narrative, these forces have changed him and now Gordon and Batman must confront what the Joker has created.
Scene #42 Joker Claims the City is His
Protagonist Joker
Desire Take over the city
Antagonist Gotham
TP Gotham falls into chaos
Value Chaos
Role Joker moves to take the city
Analysis With Harvey gone and the city shaken to its core, Gotham is now in the grip of the Joker. His methodology has transformed the city just as it had transformed Harvey. Now it must choose in the final act whether it will believe in the good that the trio had previously sought or the chaos that the Joker instills.
Scene #43 Lucius takes the Mapping Technology
Protagonist Batman
Desire Stop the Joker
Antagonist Lucius and morality
TP Lucius agrees to take the technology
Value Justice
Role Lucius Act One Climax: Lucius directs Bruce to the right moral path. Saving Gotham Act Two: Bruce realizes he can’t break his moral code to stop the Joker and goes to stop him.
Analysis As Lucius has served as Bruce’s moral compass and ally throughout the story, the pressures of saving Gotham have pushed Bruce towards new and dangerous technology. The new mapping system that tracks everyone in Gotham is an affront that Lucius can’t fathom. Lucius helps Bruce realize that evil can seep into him as well and turn him into someone like the Joker if his power becomes too omnipresent. For Bruce, he must realize his limits, much as Alfred warned him about in the film’s opening, and his moral code. It is the only thing keeping him from turning just as Harvey has done.
Scene #44 Harvey Kills Maroni
Protagonist Harvey
Desire Kill Maroni and find the others who betrayed him
Antagonist Maroni
TP Harvey learns that Ramirez betrayed him
Value Justice
Role Harvey has turned to the bad side
Analysis Harvey’s turn into Two-Face is complete as he murders those he considers responsible for Rachel’s murder.
Scene #45 The Boats Choose
Protagonist Gotham
Desire Save itself
Antagonist Joker
TP The boats choose not to detonate
Value Chaos
Role Gotham Act Two Climax: Gotham chooses the good path
Analysis The battle for Gotham’s soul comes to a head as the Joker presents two boats with a choice: explode the other or both die. After much soul-searching, neither boat chooses to sacrifice the other to save themselves, believing in the trio’s ideology rather than the chaos of the Joker. This mirrors Bruce and Harvey’s choice after the death of Rachel with Bruce succeeding and Harvey falling to darkness. This concludes Gotham’s storyline.
Scene #46 Batman Defeats the Joker
Protagonist Bruce
Desire Stop the Joker
Antagonist Joker
TP Batman Defeats the Joker
Value Justice
Role Joker Act Three Climax: Batman affirms his commitment without breaking his code
Analysis Bruce is given the opportunity to break his code and kill the Joker in an act of revenge. He chooses instead to save him. Bruce’s ethics are unbreakable, despite the Joker’s best intentions. Bruce’s arc ends as Gotham agrees with him and rejects the Joker, for the time being.
Scene #47 Harvey, Gordon and Batman are Shattered
Protagonist Harvey
Desire Achieve revenge
Antagonist Gordon and Batman
TP Batman stops Harvey
Value Justice
Role Harvey Act Four Climax: Harvey is killed. Gordon Act Three Climax: Batman saves Gordon’s family from Harvey.
Analysis The toll of the Joker on the trio is evident. Harvey has gone insane and threatened Gordon’s family. Gordon is wracked with fear over his family’s safety. Bruce is still reeling from the loss of Rachel and the physical toll of his fight with the Joker. Compared to the Inciting Incident, the course of the story has strained all of them. The transformation of Harvey is heart-breaking, the hope of Gotham extinguished in front of Gordon and Bruce’s eyes. In order to save Gordon’s family, Bruce must break his oath and has to kill Harvey. The weight of that choice will be more evident in the next film, but the act itself, as defined over the course of the story, is gut-wrenching for Bruce. The final act of the Joker, will it result in Gotham’s breaking?
Scene #48 Batman Rides Off
Protagonist Batman
Desire Save Gotham
Antagonist Harvey’s actions
TP Batman chooses to take the fall
Value Chaos
Role Batman realizes his role. Alfred Act One Climax: Alfred protects the truth from Bruce.
Analysis The final definition of heroism is defined as Batman takes the fall for Harvey’s crimes. With Gotham’s belief in good in the balance, Harvey remains the city’s white knight, a symbol of hope that will endure long past his death. Batman, however, will take the burden as its villain for the time being, understanding that he can now take the abuse. This stands in contrast to his earlier willingness to turn himself in to stop the Joker. Over the course of the story, he has realized his strength and that Batman truly has no limits. With that, “The Dark Knight” ends.

OVERALL

“The Dark Knight” is an enthralling story of symbolism, heroism and justice. Framed as a sort of quasi-Michael Mann/Godfather movie of crime and corruption, the film smartly utilizes the city of Gotham as a living character in the story and the fight of good and evil is a battle over its soul. Will the city fall into law and order paradigmed by the trio of Harvey Dent, Commissioner Gordon and Batman or the corruption and chaos harnessed by the Joker? This elevates the film beyond a simple bad guy versus good guy storyline where the villain will blow up the city because of reasons. The Joker is a force of nature whose motivations and history are a mystery, creating a terrifying portrait of a psycho whose ability to cause chaos is impressive throughout the story. His wickedness is a stark challenge to the trio of heroes, each of whom reacts differently to the trials put on them by the Joker. The trio in many ways is similar to the triumvirate of Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus of ancient Rome. Caesar is even referenced in the film by Harvey Dent as one of the ways heroes die and villains survive in the public mind. And just like the breaking of the triumvirate in ancient times, the pressures of the Joker destroy the trio of Gotham. One bends but doesn’t break (the Batman), one hides to protect his family (Gordon) and one transforms into a villain under the pressure. Harvey and Batman are in many ways two sides of the same coin (a reference to Two-Face); one is Gotham’s white knight and the other its Dark Knight. But what Gotham sees is not truth, only symbolism. Harvey, in death, is a stronger symbol for Gotham’s hope than the truth even though he ended up a villain. Batman is seen as a villain because he survives, but he is actually the hero of the story. It is an interesting story arc that transcends the genre.

The film is also an interesting portrait of the post-9/11 mentality. As society deals with the madness of terrorist attacks that venture beyond morality and reason, our response to these perpetrators reveals a core aspect of us: committed to justice or a need to turn to a totalitarian society. This is typified by Bruce and Lucius’ relationship. Lucius serves as Bruce’s Jimminy Cricket in a way, reminding him of the value of a strict moral code to survive such chaos.

Where the script falls short somewhat is the Rachel and Gordon storylines. Rachel is not given a fair enough due as a character and her choice of Bruce or Harvey is superficial compared to the weight of the rest of the story. In addition, Gordon’s role with his family could have been expanded upon with some scenes of his life at home, his relationship with his wife and more information about why he fights. Perhaps his son defends Batman at school and his wife is worried about safety in the city but Gordon promises her that things are going to get better, just wait and see.

Otherwise, the script is a deep, thrilling tale of heroism imbued with modernist and classical themes. The characters are interesting and the arcs make the film a classic of not just superhero film, but modern filmmaking.

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