With the U.S. release this weekend of "Skyfall", the 23rd James Bond film and one of the best in the series thus far, I decided it was about time I deliver my rankings of all the films in the series. This proved an extremely tricky task to complete as more than half the films on this list I would thoroughly recommend and I adore practically all of them for different reasons.
In fact to finally settle on something I was satisfied with, I had to break the Bond films down into seven different tiers, and I will state upfront that within each tier the ordering will vary wildly depending upon my mood and sentiment. The ordering of the tiers themselves I'm quite comfortable with, especially as I consider the top four tiers have minor differences between them quality wise. Things then go off a cliff somewhat as from #13 or lower (Tiers 5-7) you start hitting the kinds of films only the hardcore fans can appreciate. Still, I enjoy those a lot more than they probably deserve, albeit with one or two notable exceptions.
I'll go into further explanation after the infographic. Here's the rankings:
As I said in my "Skyfall" review, I've found the divide amongst Bond fans over the good and bad entries in this series has often been a disagreement of tonal absolutism. Some vehemently insist a gritty, grounded, bleak spy thriller interpretation of Bond is the only way that works. Others like the hyper-real, big spectacle, fun first approach and can't tolerate a dark and grim Bond. Most understand that the best Bond films usually find that perfect balance between said approaches, and by and large they enjoy almost all of them.
The franchise's longevity has always been due to its ability to adapt and change course whenever it drifts off too far in one direction, and I've appreciated the various places it has taken me. Being born in 1978 and growing up with Bond first on video, then in the cinema starting with "Licence to Kill," nostalgia does color my opinion somewhat. While for most film geeks it's "Star Wars" or Marvel films that are their so-called 'holy grail', for me Bond is my true passion and I would take his Walther PPK over a lightsaber any day. So be aware that objectivity is something that's near impossible for me to display when it comes to this series. Shall we begin:
Tier 1: Goldfinger, From Russia with Love
Pretty much faultless cinematic masterpieces, both represent the two kinds of James Bond films at their best. On the one hand there's the more dramatic and grounded spy thriller antics of 'Russia', on the other the formulaic thrills and smart fun of "Goldfinger". The villains, the stories, the performances, both of these films are so note-for-note perfect that frankly there's nothing to criticise and everything to praise.
Tier 2: The Spy Who Loved Me, Skyfall, You Only Live Twice, Casino Royale
Not entirely faultless, nevertheless these Bond films get so much right that frankly they may as set the standard. All four strike that balance of the serious and the silly just right - ultimately yielding excellent pieces of entertainment.
Both 'Spy' and 'Twice' are big formula Bond movies that, even with their world ending plots and master villains, manage to stay just the right side of the equation. They're also amongst the relentlessly entertaining entries in the series - pure escapist fun with flavour, ambition and scale. The "serious Bond only" fans generally don't click with these, which is a shame as an appreciation of both these films I find to be a good indicator as to whether I share similar cinematic tastes with someone.
In contrast 'Royale' and 'Skyfall' are much easier films to love because they're more recent and still very much in the public consciousness. They're also just great movies which both reboot the franchise in their own ways and steer it back on course after the previous outing almost brought the series to its knees. Both feature great performances and interesting character exploration, a grounded though never relentlessly serious or dour tone, beautiful visuals in exotic locales, fun action and a true hearkening back to Ian Fleming's literary creation. 'Skyfall' has the edge in dramatic setup, character and true Bond flavour even if the plot is a bit rickety. 'Royale' is tighter, more emotionally accessible and more casually re-watchable.
Tier 3: Goldeneye, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Dr. No, For Your Eyes Only
Almost all of the compliments for the two Daniel Craig films in Tier 2 apply to "Goldeneye" as well. Brosnan's first and only truly great outing remains an excellent franchise rebooter and one of the most fun entries of the series. The action is excellent, the dialogue cracking, a great villain and villainess, a good performance from Brosnan, and a lot of style. For years it was in my second tier, but recently the cracks have started to show as the blundering bombast of the 90's blockbuster mentality has taken off the polish a little bit. It's still one of the most re-watchable films in the series for me, and my personal connection to and nostalgia for it glosses over some of its more visible flaws (like Alan Cumming's annoying character).
Perhaps the single hardest film to rank of all the Bond films, "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" represents the series at its most dramatic and most loyal to Fleming. Many of the elements are amongst the absolute best in the series such as Diana Rigg's Bond girl, a clever storyline, the stellar locations, the focus on character, some strong action and the game-changing drama. It is, however, letdown by some odd editing and directorial choices, a bloated runtime, and a distracting overuse of rear projection ("Dr. No" has the same issue). The crucial failing however is George Lazenby who delivers a performance I find so teeth-gratingly bad it frequently pulls me out of the narrative and pulls the rest of the film a good few places lower on this list than it deserves to be.
"Dr. No" and "For Your Eyes Only" remain two of the stronger straightforward dramatic Bonds. Both contain a good deal of Fleming in their stories, but also make some crucial changes albeit not always for the better. Both are focused on practical and believable goals, both feature two of the coldest killings in the series (the geologist, The Dove), and both have a workman like efficiency to them. 'No' edges out with some of its more memorable scenes and better villain. It is a deserved classic, even if it is only mid-range Connery. 'Eyes' has advantages in the case of more impressive action, a better storyline, and Moore's best performance in the series. Yet, there a few flies in the ointment be it the dated synth soundtrack to the woeful Bibi subplot.
Tier 4: Thunderball, The Living Daylights
The last two truly good Bond films include the most overrated of the Connery Bonds and one of the most underrated of all the series. While for the most part "Thunderball" is still a lot of fun, especially in its first hour, the producers also give us the first sign of an issue that would plague the franchise in the future - over indulgence. At 130 minutes, a good half hour of the film is spent on underwater battles that start out enjoyable, but quickly become repetitive and too drawn out. The plot similarly starts strong and then loses all steam by the second hour. Luciana Paluzzi's ruthless Fiona and Molly Peters' frustrated masseuse prove far more memorable than the villain and the main Bond girl. Connery looks bored and spends much of the film in outfits even gay pride parade performers would find too overtly crotch-centric. Still, the scale is impressive, and there's some interesting hints of the darker side of Bond himself at times be it the sexist gags or the moments where he's an absolute prick.
On the flip side is Timothy Dalton's first outing in the role and, like Pierce Brosnan after him, it remains his best. Following on from the lethargic silliness of "A View to a Kill," 'Daylights' proved a minor-reboot with a robust and real world Bond that took itself seriously. Dalton delivered a solid performance his first time out in a complex adventure of spy hunting, defection, counter-defection, opium smuggling and arms dealing. While Dalton's Bond lacked any real sexuality, this first outing at least plays it serious whilst still holding on to its Bond identity from the exotic locales to a wicked sense of fun - two things distinctly lacking in Dalton's next outing. That said there are definite issues here that keep it from the upper tiers including a lackluster supporting cast and an awkwardly paced second half.
Tier 5: Octopussy, Diamonds are Forever, Moonraker, Licence to Kill
The most contentious tier of all of them - the cult films. Any one of these films can be, and frequently are, labelled amongst the worst or THE worst of the whole series. One can understand the reasoning as all represent the Bond films at their most extreme.
The first three are arguably the most outright campy entries in the series and contain many of its silliest moments. The latter is the darkest, most violent and most "American" of all the Bond films. There is, however, a fearlessness to all of them. Each has at least one or two redeeming features strong enough to make them more memorable and engaging than some of the other run-of-the-mill bad entries below.
Along with 'Daylights', "Octopussy" is an underrated Bond mostly because it is so uneven and something of a tonal nightmare. The sillier elements are cringe-worthy such as the Tarzan cry, the fourth-wall breakage, the clown and gorilla costumes, Steven Berkoff's outlandish performance. Yet, if you can look past the goofy bits, there's also a fairly complex plot tying in jewellery smuggling with nuclear disarmament. There's also a strong setup, excellent opening, several truly great action and suspense sequences, enjoyably droll performances from both Moore and Louis Jordan, exotic (if stiff) Bond girls, beautiful locales and good humor.
"Diamonds are Forever" and "Moonraker" have no such unevenness. Both are essentially outright farce and are thoroughly enjoyable on that level as neither can be remotely taken seriously. 'Diamonds' features a kind of mean-spiritedness and cynicism that's so unique to that particular entry. Never have the quips come with more bite, the sexism more outright brazen, the dialogue laced with more venom. Yet even with Connery phoning it in, there's all sorts of high camp appeal from some truly memorable one-liners to distinct characters be it Charles Grey's flamboyant Blofeld, the sinister Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd, and the sheer fun of Bambi and Thumper beating up Bond.
"Moonraker" is nowhere near as grim in its outlook. It has the dumbest and most utterly ridiculous plot of all the Bond films, it's unabashedly goofy and all too often sloppy in execution. Yet, maybe because it is so bad, it's also highly entertaining and so has more re-watch value than the entries further down the list. It boasts some decent action scenes (I always enjoy the final 'stop the globes' sequence), a better than average Bond girl in Lois Chiles, a distinct villain, and John Barry's most underrated Bond film score. Outlandish and stupid maybe, but it isn't dull.
Though I hated "License to Kill" as a kid, as an adult I have come to appreciate it a little better, especially in the wake of the unofficial remake that was "Quantum of Solace". Both feature Bond going rogue to get revenge, both are overtly influenced by the action films of the time, and both are unrelentingly dark and dour with Bond turned into a generic Rambo-esque action hero. 'License' at least boasts a stronger story, a far better villain in Robert Davi's Sanchez, and more impressive action. Still, it has more than its share of issues from the whole "Miami Vice"-ness of it all, to the lacklustre Bond girls, and a considerable lack of any sensuality or humor even as it over indulges on bloodletting and violence.
Tier 6: Tomorrow Never Dies, The World is Not Enough
The two mid-Brosnan entries have great elements that never quite come together, resulting in decent films full of wasted potential. Both have great standalone opening sequences, while the central story and villains are interesting in concept. Both, however, are let down by decidedly ordinary execution.
"Tomorrow Never Dies" comes out on top with a great turn by Michelle Yeoh, some good action beats, and a couple of strong moments from Bond's BMW car park sequence to Brosnan's cold slaying of Dr. Kaufman. The film's appeal is considerably deflated by Jonathan Pryce's god awful media baron villain, Teri Hatcher's dull ex-flame, a tedious last act which mostly consists of gunfight after gunfight, some woeful dialogue, and a terrible theme song.
Michael Apted was obviously trying a more grounded approach with "The World is Not Enough" but it didn't work. Getting M more personally involved in the story was a good move, and the oil control subplot is actually one of the more underrated of the series. However, both villains (Elektra, Renard) are let down by bad performances, Denise Richards' Bond girl is pretty much the worst of the series, and even the action feels very generic. I like the song though.
Tier 7: Live and Let Die, The Man with the Golden Gun,
Quantum of Solace, A View to a Kill, Die Another Day
Now we come to the bottom of the barrel. "Live and Let Die" is a product of its era and the blaxploitation angle you will either go with or not. I used to be able to as a kid, as an adult though I can only cringe. The film does contain a solid first 007 performance by Roger Moore, a decent Bond girl in Jane Seymour, a fun boat chase sequence, some colorful henchmen, and an iconic theme song.
'Live' has more going for it than "The Man with the Golden Gun" where the only redeeming feature is Christopher Lee's Scaramanga. The concept of this particular villain and Lee's performance are both superb, and the drawn-out duel between him and 007 is an excellent final act sequence. The trouble is everything else about the film is so dire, I really can't be the only one out there who wants to shoot Britt Ekland every time she appears on screen can I?
Try as a might I can't see "Quantum of Solace" as anything but an utter, abject failure. The opera sequence, the scenes with Mathis and the final scene with Vesper's ex are all great stuff, but they are only 10-15 minutes of the film and might have worked better had they been slotted onto the ending of 'Royale'. Weighing them right down is 20-25 minutes of incomprehensible action sequences, and a 50-minute poor man's Steven Seagal movie about beady-eyed criminal industrialists with a hard-on for South American aquifers. Kurylenko, Almaric, Arterton are all letdowns, while Craig is still strong in the role even if the character reverts back to being a generically violent and guilt-ridden action hero. I understand the reasoning why the character was portrayed this way, but that doesn't mean I agree with it. If anything 'Solace' should've been a thematically much darker affair with him learning to become a smarter, more precise, efficient and lethal precision instrument rather than the 'blunt' one he started off as in 'Royale'.
While 'Quantum' demonstrates how bad a serious Bond film can go, both "A View to a Kill" and "Die Another Day" are the worst examples of Bond in the other direction. With 'View' it's overall tedium including a full hour spent exploring equine doping, a late 50's Moore finally indulging Bond's gay sexual side as he gets into bed with the muscular Grace Jones, a far too drawn out run time, and even an ex-Nazi genetic experimentation subplot. 'Die' on the other hand is just utter ridiculousness. A solid opening sequence and a fun sword fight scene devolves into ice palaces, Halle Berry double entendres, piss poor mugging villains, awful direction and dialogue, an utterly atrocious story, and the twin travesties of both an invisible car and a CG tsunami wind surfing scene.
As much a refresh of the franchise as "Casino Royale" was, Daniel Craig's third time out as James Bond is his best so far. Akin to the denser and more drama-driven Bond entries like "From Russia with Love" and "On Her Majesty's Secret Service", what "Skyfall" lacks in breezy watch-ability it more than makes up for in every other aspect and steers the franchise back on course towards a bright future both comfortably familiar and excitingly revitalised.
I've found the divide amongst Bond fans over the good and bad entries in this series has often been a disagreement of tonal absolutism. It's something we saw earlier this year with arguments over the differing approaches of "The Avengers" & "The Dark Knight Rises". Some vehemently insist a gritty, grounded, bleak spy thriller interpretation of Bond is the only way that works. Others like the hyper-real, big spectacle, fun first approach and can't tolerate a dark and grim Bond.
Most understand that the best Bond films usually find that perfect balance between said approaches, and by and large they enjoy all but the most extreme entries in either direction. The franchise's longevity has always been due to its ability to adapt and change course whenever it drifts off too far in one direction. Films like "For Your Eyes Only" and "Casino Royale" are welcome injections of serious reality into the series after an entry so ridiculous and camp it was essentially pure farce.
"Goldeneye" and now "Skyfall" reflect the other side of that equation, reincorporating and updating the Bond signature attributes and sense of fun after the previous entry turned the character into a poor man's Rambo - a bland, mindless, violent thug mowing down anything that moves in repetitive and tedious fashion. The new film demonstrates one can still keep the grounded reality of the Daniel Craig-era, but also embrace everything that makes Bond who he is rather than running away from it like the two previous films have.
What makes "Skyfall" work though is that it gets so much more than just the tone right. The story is character-driven and often surprising, the pace is speedy but never out of control, the humor is well-timed and playful, the action is driven by the plot rather than the other way around, the visuals are absolutely stunning and handsomely framed, the score is both gorgeously retro and inventively new, the sets are incredible and practical, the editing is smart and controlled, the direction is tight and efficient, and the performances are excellent across the board.
Having ditched the obvious "Bourne" influence of the last film, director Sam Mendes and crew borrow to some extent from "The Dark Knight". Here they've cribbed the best elements of Chris Nolan's filmmaking style whilst cannily avoiding his key weaknesses such as some awkwardly framed action scenes, and his unrelentingly sterile and self-serious approach which lacks warmth and sensuality. The result is that line of Bond tonal balance is waltzed across with the skill of a professional tightrope walker, aptly demonstrating you can have a blockbuster of thematic depth and emotional significance that is still loads of fun.
Another obvious influence is the BBC's "Spooks", specifically almost all the London-set scenes showing how the intelligence service operates within the British Government. The various bits with Ralph Fiennes' minister, Helen McCrory's official and even Ben Whishaw's new take on Q bare a lot of similarities to moments in the latter seasons of the now finished spy thriller series. It's a welcome addition though, the bureaucracy and accountability of everyday Governmental oversight adds a sense of realism to a film which spends much of its early scenes making full use of postcard exotic locales like Istanbul, Shanghai and Macau.
The script, worked on by several people but mostly driven along by John Logan, smartly combines some familiar Bond movie structural beats and franchise in-jokes with some fascinating theme explorations and a more personal than usual story which takes precedence over the action. Rather than continuing directly on from "Quantum of Solace," the film jumps a few years down the line and takes actor Daniel Craig's age very much into account. Injured in a botched operation and having dropped off the map to spend months swilling booze and pumping tropical bimbos, Bond returns to the UK when MI6 comes under attack.
As a result Bond spends much of the film off his game - his body is failing him, his aim is off, his temper shorter and his instincts blunted. Bond has rarely ever been portrayed this physically human on film before, but it adds a welcome bit of suspense such as an elevator scene where you catch yourself briefly fearing for his life. Bond's confidence has been rocked, but the film does the smart move of never dwelling on it too long or ever letting things get dour. Bond's a professional and like any true professional he can acknowledge his problems whilst doing his best not to let it interfere with his job.
"Skyfall" also sees the return of elements to the character that have been missing for a while - the spy who actually investigates and follows leads rather than breaks bones left and right, the man ready to slip into a well-cut tuxedo or inside a well-built woman at a moment's notice. Even the casual misogyny is back (albeit toned down) such as his playful banter about Eve's competence, to a tense scene involving a shot glass of scotch which ends with Craig delivering one of the outright coldest line deliveries of the series.
Craig is up to the task and does his best work yet as the character. His body is as fit and hot as it ever was, but his face is a tad more lined and his stubble going quite grey. This more visible aging makes his various dramatic scenes that extra bit more potent, yet he's still fit enough to be convincing in all his action sequences. Even though this entry boasts a substantial ensemble cast with some colorful supporting turns, Craig still delivers and doesn't disappear or play second fiddle to anyone else in the film.
The one who comes closest to topping him is Judi Dench. The film itself is all about M, her relationship with Bond and the consequences of her past choices coming back to destroy her. Dench gets a lot more screen time and far more depth to her character here than ever before. The film doesn't hold back on her character flaws, most notably the manipulation and psychological dependency she creates on those who serve under her, particularly young male loners. This only adds weight to the way the film shines a light on Bond himself to an extent rarely trodden by this franchise before.
I won't spoil the nature of Javier Bardem's villain, but the actor delivers exceptional work. The role could have been ridiculously flamboyant and over the top in the wrong hands, but Bardem knows how to temper himself - letting out just enough crazy to make Silva colourful and fascinating, but also keeping him a credible threat. The character is an intriguing counter point to Bond, and importantly he and Craig have an excellent chemistry on screen together which makes for some highly charged scenes including a memorable sexuality-laced bit of interrogation.
Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw have great fun with their scenes as M's ministerial superior Gareth Mallory, and the new look Q respectively. Both are central to the larger themes of the movie, and while "Goldeneye" also dealt with the idea of old spies fitting into a new world order, this goes much further. "Skyfall" explores not just Bond himself, but the intelligence services as a whole and how useful these old warhorses are in an era when the threat of nation states and military conflict has been eclipsed by the danger of tech-savvy anarchists and terrorism by contract. Yet the film also hammers home the message that even in this digital age, the oldest and simplest methods are still often the most effective and efficient.
While M is the real Bond girl of the film, this one includes two others - Naomie Harris' MI6 agent Eve and Bérénice Marlohe's Severine. Both leave impressions, Harris spends her time engaging in delightfully playful banter with Craig and is a warm and welcome presence. Marlohe is a surprise, a hostess and Silva underling with an exotic look whose outward confidence barely masks a haunted and tortured victim underneath.
The cinematography is stunning. The Shanghai sequence alone with its fusion of glass, neon, shadows and reflections is worthy of an Oscar. The real shock though is that D.P. Roger Deakins shot the entire movie on digital - there isn't a single instant here that you can't tell the difference between this and high quality film. This is a film alive and rich with colour, deep blacks and amazing clarity as to be near IMAX quality. Deakins also knows how to frame his scenes with wide shots, long takes and action that never ever gets too confined or confusing. It really is stunning to look at and worth seeing via the best presentation possible (I saw a 4K projection screening, I'd advise you to do the same if one is in your area).
He's helped by excellent production design and art direction which makes fine use of some beautiful locales including a floating Chinese casino complete with a pit of Komodo dragons, an abandoned and dilapidated island city, underground Churchill-era war bunker facilities turned offices, and a rundown manor house on an icy moor. Thomas Newman makes a very impressive debut with his score that heavily interweaves classic Bond riffs with some atmospheric "Drive"-esque instrumentals (the 'Jellyfish' number on the soundtrack is genius). Adele's old school ballad is one of the best Bond songs in a long time, and the opening credits match it with stunning imagery of tombstones, skulls, blood, and moving Rorschach style animations of daggers and women.
There is action, but it is less than you might expect. The opening is the only true out-and-out set piece, a sequence that smartly builds and builds in scope and excitement as Bond and Eve pursue a thief on foot, then on motorbike across Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, then on top of a train. A sequence in Shanghai involving Bond's pursuit of an assassin is remarkably filmed and tense, while some exciting action takes place on the streets and in the subways of London. The last act includes an extended siege situation and plenty of explosions and gunfights, but these are the most generic scenes of the film and drag on a bit too long.
Though excellent, "Skyfall" certainly isn't faultless. Like Nolan's Batman films, the villain here has been planning an elaborate scheme that relies on a few too many conveniences and too much coincidence. Some of the characters, including Q & Bond, will make an oddly dumb decision at one point or another - yet are otherwise perfectly competent for the rest of the film. Silva's motive is personal and understandable, but I wonder if the way he goes about his scheme holds up under any serious scrutiny.
There's a couple of fan service moments that are fun, but take it just that tad too far over the line. These include a scene reminiscent of "Live and Let Die," a joke involving a gearstick, and the film's sole clunky CG shot involving a disfigurement (a great idea ruined by bad graphics). Continuity freaks will be a little confused about how Bond has gone from being a spry young recruit just a few years ago to being the butt of old and washed up jokes already.
After such a bracing first two acts, the final section of the film shifts to Scotland and slows down. A warm and game Albert Finney shows up to share in some fun character moments, but it's here where the film feels like it could have used a little tightening. It isn't really a specific scene that needs cutting, rather some judicious minor trimming overall. At the same time, this segment ends too abruptly and the self-contained epilogue, though astutely setting up the franchise's future, is such a sudden change of tone it is a bit jarring.
These are all minor complaints, the kind of thing that one more polish on an already solid script could have fixed. The film is so slickly made, smart, inventive and laced with charm that it's very easy to become swept up in the narrative and thus ignore or forgive its few quibbles. While "Casino Royale" showed us how James Bond became 007, "Skyfall" shows us how James Bond became the spy we love. Both contemporary and classically old school, the extra time taken and carefully assembled team of talent hired to deliver this latest outing has paid off far more than we could have expected. Though certainly not the best Bond film to date as some have been quick to proclaim, it's definitely one of the better entries in the series and unquestionably one of the best films of the year.
First Pixar, then Marvel, now the maw of the Mouse House has swallowed Lucasfilm. This single-minded consumption was done for one reason alone, and it isn't to deliver unto the world the remake of "Radioland Murders" that we've all been desperately crying out for.
"Star Wars". For the tidy sum of $4 billion, Disney bought some highly capable arms with ILM & Skywalker Sound, a tight bottom with the "Indiana Jones" franchise, a familiar face with Lucasfilm branding, a cute beauty spot named "Willow," and even some dirt under the fingernails shaped like "Howard the Duck". Doesn't matter though, like a horny teenage boy all they care about are the tits and these ones sound like James Earl Jones.
It has been less than 24 hours since the announcement hit, and even now many unanswered questions are swirling as to how this will all fall out. One thing is for certain though, Disney's aggressive plans to reform and refine its brand just got a massive boost. If you'll recall, the studio has struggled to launch live-action franchises of its own in recent years, resulting in both under performers ("Tron: Legacy") and outright disasters ("John Carter").
Now though their slate in coming years will include 1-2 Marvel films per year, 2-3 animated films per year, a "Star Wars" film every other year, profitable existing franchises like "Pirates of the Caribbean", and the odd film based on a property they own (including the upcoming "Maleficent" and "Saving Mr. Banks"). Their mandate to shrink their film slate until its dominated by profitable, fully owned, brand-driven tentpoles looks almost complete.
At the time of the Marvel deal, many scoffed at Disney for paying an exorbitant amount of money. These days though, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who doesn't think of that as one of the company's most shrewd business moves. With this comparable deal, it comes as no shock that the acquisition of Lucasfilm has been met with far more enthusiasm from the business world. For the studio there's also side benefits being able to shift much of their expensive visual effects and post-production work in-house and save themselves a bunch of money in the process.
Yet it all comes back to "Star Wars" and its future. In the hands of Lucas, a big-budget sequel trilogy directed only by him is the best we could've expected. In the hands of Disney however, a trilogy is just the start of where this property could go. The most obvious scenario is akin to Marvel with several simultaneous franchises - both big screen and small - exploring different parts and times within the "Star Wars" universe.
While a highly popular brand with kids, at least one generation's idolatry of this series has been reduced by the prequels. What's most exciting about all this is that not only does this deal open up Lucas' sand box for other filmmakers to play in, but Lucas himself is essentially out of the mix. He may still around in an advisory capacity, but the decisions ultimately rest in Kathleen Kennedy's highly capable hands now. Going forward, Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn and Disney CEO Bob Iger will have much more say on the final outcome of what will happen to this franchise than Lucas will.
This means that some of the best writers and directors out there in the world of cinema can have a go and bloggers have already drawn up dream lists that include names like Chris Nolan, Peter Jackson, Matthew Vaughn, Rian Johnson, Duncan Jones, Edgar Wright, and of course Steven Spielberg. It's all wishful thinking right now.
Others are speculating about what stories we'll see, but again this is purely speculative. Sorry to those clamouring to see the Yuuzhan Vong War adapted, but film versions of the expanded universe books or games are extremely unlikely anytime in the near future. This sequel trilogy is where all the focus will be initially and Lucas himself has already developed his own extensive story line.
That in itself brings up questions - how far after "Return of the Jedi" will this be set? Will Luke, Han, Leia and the like be back and if so will the roles be recast or will this feature the original actors and fresh faces playing their offspring? Or will it be set centuries down the line and thus give those involved a clean slate?
More immediate questions linger over issues regarding this deal. Despite George Lucas' 100% ownership of Lucasfilm, there are rights issues with the existing works that could create problems for the studio. From Fox owning the original 1977 "Star Wars" in perpetuity and the other five films until 2020, to Paramount who have partial rights to the "Indiana Jones" franchise including any potential fifth one.
The latter is probably why Disney execs specifically pointed out there's no plans for a fifth "Indiana Jones" film at this time. The solution to both problems will likely be similar to what Disney did for "The Avengers" and "Iron Man 3" - pay the rival studio a hefty fee to pick up those lingering rights. One shouldn't expect a fifth "Indiana Jones" announcement (or a Blu-ray re-release of the original 'Wars' trilogy) until this happens.
Fox is still planning on distributing the 3D re-releases of Episodes II & III next year. In spite of its hold on the original films, the characters and settings within "Star Wars" canon are owned by Disney now so there's no creative restrictions on where they can take the franchise. I guess the real question is, where do you want it to go? Wherever it is, it has to be better than this:
[Image courtesy of Kulfoto]
Air New Zealand are famous for their amusing in-flight safety videos and, with "The Hobbit" set to premiere shortly, the company has produced a special Middle-Earth themed four-minute version.
The clip includes quick cameos from director Peter Jackson, Fili the Dwarf actor Dean O'Gorman, and J.R.R. Tolkien's grandson Royd. There's also a CG Gollum prowling the aisles, and plenty of fancy dress.
The world premiere of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is scheduled to take place on the 28th of November in Wellington.
Since it began, the "Paranormal Activity" franchise has followed a fairly predictable path - the first was one of those low-budget, better than average student film throwaways that for some reason became wedged in the cultural zeitgeist. It was a simple premise, fairly smart with its scares, and it offered a welcome antidote to the increasingly tired "Saw" franchise.
Whereas that series had grown to mistake needless convolution for intelligent writing and graphic sadism for effective scares, the refreshing emphasis on minimalist atmosphere and suspense in PA1 were a welcome change. The second film however made the mistake of many a horror series before it - introducing a convoluted back story about haunted relatives, demons seeking first born sons, and throwing in a bunch of new characters who frankly weren't much chop.
The third film proved a pleasant surprise as "Catfish" helmers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman came onboard and shook things up in all the right ways. This included a well-realised 80's prequel setting, a better cast, moments of humor, clever new camera tricks (such as the oscillating fan scene), and an outright crazy last fifteen minutes. Perhaps the most common debate that will be had by fans coming out of this fourth chapter though is which is worse - this or the second one.
The most obvious way in which PA4 is a disappointment is that it feels like a hold over entry, a breather between more interesting chapters in a larger story. With the entire Katie and her family backstory played out, this film had nowhere to go but serve as a sequel to the first two films. With the only returning characters available being the possessed Katie and a baby, the filmmakers decided to move the action forward a few years and basically deliver the story of a new family growing increasingly haunted shortly after the arrival of new neighbours across the street (Katie and kid).
This was the perfect time to deliver a minor reboot to the franchise, shake-up some of the predictable patterns while answering some lingering questions from the last film like what was with all those old women in desperate need of a good moisturiser? Sadly Joost and Schulman fail to exploit the opportunity, falling back on overly familiar gimmicks and fairly conventional scares that reek of a lack of imagination.
The filming techniques may have shifted to webcams rather than handhelds or security cams, but it's still the same old tricks. There's a fairly decent twist at one point, the odd good jump, and a similar 'what the hell' style ending to that of the third one (albeit more expected now). However we're again left with more questions than answers.
The big new gimmick this time out, and something far more frightening than any deliberate scare in the series thus far, is the Microsoft product placement. The Xbox Kinect uses hundreds of laser tracking sensors that, when viewed through an infrared camera, turn a living room into a giant starfield. It's an arresting sight to see and yields one of the films few imaginative moments involving a moving human shape within the field. Unfortunately it's overused and has long worn out its novelty value by the end.
Looking and acting like a more believably human version of Dakota Fanning, Kathryn Newton is a fun teen female lead who refreshingly acts like a teenager rather than a hyper self-aware thirty-something. She, and her occasionally amusing horny geek boyfriend (Matt Shively) dominate proceedings and their company is the only thing that keeps us engaged through the slower than usual buildup in this outing. There are parent characters but they're so ancillary they may as well not exist, and the two young kids spend most of their time talking nonsense to thin air.
I admit I'm not a good person to review a film like this. Due to its found footage approach and contemporary setting, the scares in these films depend far more on one's belief in the paranormal than a classic ghost story. As an atheist who doesn't believe in ghosts, the scares have no effect on me aside from the occasional mild jump of surprise more than terror.
Also, though I'd seen the first film years ago, I re-watched it and the next two for the first time only the other week. Thus the films kind of blend together for me and I can't see a drastic difference in quality between each entry. All four films have played out like mildly enjoyable diversions I only need to see once. The only one I would honestly watch again would be the third one, and even it I'm in no hurry to see.
Thus why this one is being targeted for such heavy criticism whereas the others scored far gentler dismissals I can't quite figure. There's a distinct sense people who were actually caught up in and scared by the previous films are finally seeing these for the pleasantly silly pantomimes they really are and are overreacting in anger. Shame really, I certainly found it more agreeable than the second one.
Filmmaker Luc Besson has made a living over the past decade turning himself into the white and French answer to Tyler Perry. But whereas Perry built his films on exaggerated melodrama and hillbilly drag queen antics, Besson is all about producing economical European-set Hollywood-esque action films. Made for a quite reasonable $15-40 million, each usually involves at least one car chase, several fist fights, and a dozen stunts that defy all the basic tenets of classical mechanics. They also often boast a recognisable name in the lead, a pouty European model as a love interest, a fairly basic premise and some cut-rate computer graphics.
Many of them are terrible, such as this year's "Lockout" or last year's "Colombiana", but every now and then this shake-and-bake formula will cook up a surprisingly entertaining piece of fluff such as the first "The Transporter" or the idiotic silliness of "From Paris with Love". One such success was 2008's "Taken", the story of a retired CIA agent whose daughter is kidnapped by sex traffickers in Paris. He sets out to get her back, killing everyone remotely connected along the way.
Playing like a less verbose and adrenalised pseudo-remake of David Mamet's under-rated Val Kilmer thriller "Spartan", what sold it was star Liam Neeson's committed performance and a slick directing job by Pierre Morel. Defying all expectation, the $25 million film became a runaway hit and earned nine times its budget worldwide - thus green lighting this unplanned sequel. Unfortunately, much like "Transporter 2", this follow-up is utter nonsense that suffers from textbook sequel-itis - everything is bigger, louder, dumber and duller.
Shifting the action to Istanbul and putting the focus more on the family dynamic this time out, the story sees the relatives of the men Neeson killed in the first film executing their revenge against him by trying to take him, his wife and his daughter out for a fun day of torture and murder. Cue a rehash of the first film with Neeson turning the tables on his kidnappers and ultimately whooping ass, this time with the help of his daughter (Maggie Grace).
The first film had a streamlined approach and plot with the focus entirely on Neeson. We the audience were in his shoes as he moved up the chain of nameless thugs to find his daughter before she disappears into the sex trafficking system - a fate so vile even death would be a kinder outcome. There was a neck cracking, spleen smashing visceral energy to it that's just absent here. Made with a PG-13 rating in mind rather than conceived as an R-rated effort that was later trimmed to appease the MPAA like the first film was, the action is safe enough this time out to take your toddler along.
Neeson once again proves the reliable core, but the steel-eyed determination isn't there this time. Not helping is the shift of focus which now alternates between the various members of the Mills family and Rade Šerbedžija's flat villain. Neeson also spends a good portion of the film chained up in a basement, leaving things up to Maggie Grace to save the day - why Besson has such a raging erection for her I can't fathom as I've yet to see the "Lost" actress give a performance I like. She's not helped by a script which turns her character into a stunt driver, even though she's failed two driving tests.
The normally decent Famke Janssen phones it in as well, spending most of her time tut-tutting Neeson's character over his attitude to his daughter's boyfriend or crying at the first sign of trouble. There's a few other actors but they leave less impression than the random carpet merchants wandering around in the background. Director Olivier Megaton's use of Istanbul mostly consists of anonymous gritty alleyways intermixed with a couple of wide shots of the Hagia Sophia and the Bosphorus waterways in the distance to showcase us being somewhere exotic.
At a fairly lean 91 minutes one can't really call "Taken 2" bloated, yet so much of it seems like useless fat that could've been replaced with a decent plot and maybe some actual thrills. Even big fans of the first one will be surprised by the lethargy and lack of imagination on offer, for mindless nonsense it's incredibly flat and tedious. The replacing of Morel as director with the decidedly less talented Megaton is partly to blame, but more is Besson's need to create this follow-up without any real justification other than the first one making money. Born from the most cynical reasons and made at nearly double the cost, is it any wonder it turned out less than half as engaging as its progenitor?
Not as good as the first or 'Extinction' but better than 'Apocalypse' and 'Afterlife', the fifth entry in the "Resident Evil" franchise begins with its best foot forward. Picking up directly from the end of last entry, the action starts with a fleet of Umbrella gunships descending on the survivors of the last film.
What makes these opening credits so effective is that it pulls off the simple trick of playing out this explosive attack sequence in both slow-motion and reverse. Combined with a military action thriller style opening theme from tomandandy, this visual effects ballet is actually one of the best things this franchise has done. Pity then the entire film can't be played out this way, as what comes next proves easily as convoluted and messy as all the previous entries - even with a lengthy and exposition heavy recap of the first four films at the start.
The earlier films can be differentiated by their distinctive looks, the first with its underground labs, Extinction with its desert setting, and Afterlife's combo of bright white Apple store and grungy Los Angeles. 'Retribution' defines itself by avoiding that kind of categorisation - changing up its environments every few minutes. As a result, the first half-hour seems so utterly random as to be nonsensical.
One minute Alice is a suburban housewife with a loving family, then she's in a white torture chamber wearing napkins, then she's in downtown Tokyo. The infected show up but so do past characters. Is it a holodeck? Almost. It turns out we're in an ex-naval base which has been converted into advanced bioweapons testing facility. The conceit allows Anderson to create several quite different environments for our heroes to make it through on their way to the surface and escape - from those two aforementioned locales to Moscow's Red Square, New York, the icy outside and the bowels of the ex-Soviet facility itself.
Unfortunately that approach also adds to the disjointedness of this entry as a whole, more than ever it feels like a video game with a bunch of preset action set pieces strung together and a storyline roughly built around them. That doesn't necessarily stop a film from being entertaining, rather that particular problem is due to the repetitiveness of the action. There's only so many ways one can spin generic gunfights and Milla Jovovich flip kicking CG enhanced extras in make-up. Every now and then a cool idea will emerge, a Rolls Royce monster chase in a subway or a tsunami engulfing the Kremlin for example, but they are only brief sparks amongst a sea of ashen cliche.
Like a more economically prudent Michael Bay, Anderson is all about overkill. It can't just be any testing base, it has to be buried under the icy waters of Kamchatka. There can't just be zombies in the New York simulation, there has to be Skyrim-esque giants with combination hammers and axes. The Moscow simulation? The zombies are Nazi stormtroopers who can fire gattling guns. It's not enough to escape through the naval base, there has to be an "Aliens"-inspired cocooning and child in peril situation. Why? The same reason this universe has an abundance of ammunition and bulletproof fetish gear - in the eyes of teenage boys it looks cool.
There's a couple of throwbacks to the first film, from the return of the Red Queen as the villain to appearances by the likes of Michelle Rodriguez and Colin Salmon. Yet they're there purely for the sake of fan service - no real driving reason other than to pad out the runtime which already feels overly long at just 84 minutes. Jovovich remains as committed as ever to her action heroine status, while Rodriguez is solid, but everyone else is awkward - especially Sienna Guillroy's mind-controlled and violet catsuited Jill Valentine.
There's little point in dissecting the film too thoroughly as, much like the "Saw" franchise, fans love these films in spite of the painful acting and woeful scripting which mistakes over plotting for cleverness. Like that series as well, this one feels well and truly past its prime. Anderson has visual chops which allow for an impressive look, but style isn't his problem - its substance…of any kind.
This time last year came John Singleton's "Abduction". It was a film that attempted two things, the first being to establish a cost-efficient and heavily Bourne-inspired spy thriller franchise. The second was to be a star vehicle for its young leading man Taylor Lautner who, surrounded by a solid supporting cast, would have a chance to prove his action hero chops outside the big-budget franchise on which he made his name.
I draw that comparison because a year later we're getting the exact same movie. The premise is even less compelling, but to compensate they've aged up the hero and transferred the locale from generic suburban Pittsburgh to various picturesque places around Madrid and along the Iberian coast. Does it make it any better? Well it does in the same way that normal brown excrement, as opposed to black or yellow, at least gives you a visual indicator that your liver and digestive system isn't going to suffer from imminent collapse.
The problem with both movies isn't even the lack of originality, this genre has been mined to death so it's near impossible to offer anything new anyway. Rather it's the lack of effort, an almost palpable sense that no-one is even trying here and certainly no-one is breaking a sweat. The script comes from two writers - one making his debut, the other whose most significant credit is the Steve Austin-led nonsense "The Condemned" which at least had one thing this film doesn't - a sense of fun.
Leading man Henry Cavill is a perfect specimen of manhood, a beautiful face where every feature is chiseled to perfection and yet still very masculine. His pre-"Immortals" 'normal' body is naturally handsome, neither the starved look of a waxed twink or the grotesque puffery of a juicing gym-rat. While he's demonstrated solid enough acting chops on "The Tudors", his big screen outings haven't been so flattering and 'Cold' is his most unfortunate turn yet.
A big part of that problem is his character Will is made to be so thoroughly unlikable. The perfect stereotype of the worst kind of ugly Western tourist, he's arrogant, loud, self-centered, narcissistic, rude and completely devoid of any discernible intelligence, nous or real world experience. He's the kind of guy who walks into a police station, where a lot of people don't speak English, and shouts demands like "don't treat me like an idiot". He certainly sounds like one.
His entire job for 95% of the film is merely to run, scream at people and/or look pensive while all the supporting characters calmly explain every plot point with great detail. Arguably the single worst moment Cavill delivers is his forced 'panic' over finding his family missing. The painful awkwardness of the scene is compensated by some gratuitous glistening chest hair framing.
Despite his prominence, Bruce Willis' role is essentially an extended cameo with him playing the disapproving father figure - it's a walk in the park (and undoubtedly a good paycheck) for the actor who is mainly there to serve as a bankable star name to sell the film. Sigourney Weaver has fun playing a rogue CIA agent whom she doesn't even bother portraying as anything other than a manipulative bitch.
Solid talent who have delivered great performances in the past are all stuck with unimpressive bit parts. These include Caroline Goodall who remains particularly ravaging, Rafi Gavron who made a strong debut in both "Breaking and Entering" and "Rome", and Joseph Mawle who stole the show in the gay cult film "Clapham Junction". All are wasted here, a real shame.
The story makes little sense not because of any complexity but rather due to its gaps of logic. There's a lot of convenient coincidences going on here, mostly involving characters unexpectedly showing up at just the right time. Dialogue isn't just a mix of bad cliches, there's something a little off about the tone as well. Other elements are just so random as to be silly, such as the potential Spanish love interest's connection with the family.
If there's one saving grace here it is at least they haven't made Will into either a sleeper spy or a guy who conveniently knows a ton of martial arts. Director Mabrouk El Mechri also presents his central set piece well, a Bourne Ultimatum-esque action riff involving rooftop leaps and a motorbike chase. I single it out because it's the only one in the film that's cleanly shot and comprehensible even though it ends with a rather dubious multi-storey fall onto cobblestones without injury.
A day-for-night car chase scene in the first act is so heavily computer generated and poorly edited it may as well have been leftover gameplay scenes from one of the lesser "Need for Speed" video games. The night time car chase through Madrid in the final act at least feels practical if not particularly thrilling.
Films like this are green lit for one purpose - to effectively serve as a tax break for the production company or the film's financier. As long as it keeps to a modest budget, even the most awful film will earn a return and the backers can use the money they save from the Government to buy Ayn Rand memorabilia on eBay. The only thing that separates a movie like this from the worst direct-to-DVD titles is the production values and talent involved. It's an embarrassment for everyone involved but, thankfully, no-one but the most forgiving of viewers will end up seeing it.
Combining moments of brutal and nasty violence with well-paced character-driven drama, John Hillcoat's latest effort tries to balance art house respectability with the visceral thrills of genre exploitation fare. Though it finds a comfortable middle ground early on, "Lawless" lacks just enough focus and direction to make it work as well as it should have.
Actors being under-utilised and subplots that don't really go anywhere are the kind of flaws that only detract rather than cripple, which means it still remains a quite enjoyable and skilfully crafted piece of prestige pulp entertainment. Featuring a couple of solid performances and a convincing period atmosphere, Hillcoat embraces the mobster film cliches and turns them into benefits rather than limitations.
He's aided by Nick Cave's script which balances the tonal shifts with a quiet confidence. Benoit Delhomme's cinematography, the sound design, a strong score and gritty production values recreate the period whilst adding an energy and immediacy to it that other films set in said period seem to miss.
Set in Prohibition-era Virginia, the story follows a trio of hillbilly bootlegger brothers as they struggle to both stay in business and stay alive as law enforcement steps up its efforts to shut down their trade. When it keeps to that basic premise, the film clicks as Hillcoat plays up the myths surrounding the brothers along with showcasing to us the extreme lengths they and their enemies will go to. He's a filmmaker who loves to give us characters who claim they abhor violence and yet underneath seem to have little issue indulging in bloodletting to unnecessary lengths.
The film's most memorable creation along these lines is Guy Pearce's oily special deputy Charlie Rakes. An over-groomed dandy with an utterly sadistic cruel streak, it's a role designed to be a touch larger than life but not so much as to be cartoonish. Pearce finds that level perfectly, nailing it with a coldly mesmerising turn just this side of camp. It's a distinct improvement on flamboyant villain roles by him in the likes of "Prometheus" or "The Count of Monte Cristo".
The rest of the cast aren't far behind, even though some of the supporting roles get shortchanged. Arguably the best work after Pearce is yet another excellent turn by Dane DeHaan as the crippled hooch creation whiz Cricket, the young actor disappearing into the role and earning our affection. Tom Hardy's laconic and dominant brother is a deceptively unassuming performance, and the actor nails his few key character moments - sliding between darkly comic and chillingly serious, all delivered in an understated style.
Shia LaBeouf is a real surprise as the younger brother, properly flexing his acting muscles in what feels like the first time in many years. It's also a role - earnest, ambitious, a little bit arrogant and cowardly - that he seems perfect for. Despite being little more than cameos, both Gary Oldman as gangster Floyd Banner and Noah Taylor as his enforcer are fun turns.
On the flip side, Jason Clarke is decidedly underserved as a character while the rest of the male supporting cast leave little impression. Mia Wasikowska's preacher's daughter and her innocent flirting with LaBeouf's character is a sweet little subplot, but it's dwelled on for only a few scant minutes which makes it feel very perfunctory. Jessica Chastain's stripper turned legit gets a little bit more to do, but not much. In fact she seems to be there mainly to serve as Hardy's love interest, bare her breasts and participate in a very brief and oddly handled rape subplot.
In terms of deeper meaning the film isn't quite sure what it's trying to say. The story itself kind of meanders in a distracted way before quickly realising it has to come to an end and rushes to the finish. Clocking in at a little under two hours, one wonders how much was trimmed either in the writing stage or in the editing room. Certainly you get the feeling that the overly judicious and sometimes awkward editing was a bit severe and the film would've worked much better had it had a good half-hour extra to breathe.
The most ambitious and seemingly consistent of Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy ultimately proves its least engaging. What started with a grounded but still comic-inspired origin tale and continued with a masterfully brazen crime saga ends with a convoluted yet often intriguing societal revolution epic.
While debates will rage over the various issues that plague this final chapter, there's no question that it mostly works quite well. Nolan avoids the fate of so many superhero franchises before him (ie. Spider-Man, X-Men, Superman, the 90's Batman films) who follow-up a solid debut and a stellar second entry with a fizzer of third outing. By making this a closing chapter, there's less of a feeling of sequel-itis - compounded by Nolan taking some big chances with the story's direction. Even when elements don't work, and quite a few don't here, you can't help but admire the attempts made.
Starting off with an eight year gap between this and the previous film, the continuity delay allows both a resetting of the board's pieces and an exploration (albeit cursory) of the consequences of the events in the earlier films. Wayne, now a limping recluse, is drawn back into action because some intruder with a gymnastics degree kicked his cane. Cue not one but two long stretches throughout the movie where Bruce has to "get back in the game" after self-imposed retirement the first time, and a brutal beatdown the second. The latter proves the more personal, the more convincingly motivated, and ultimately the more rewarding of the two (thus making much of the first feel redundant).
With a scope and ambition so huge, especially in the second half which bares a similarity to the "No Man's Land" storyline of the comics (not to mention the French revolution parallels), the logic flaws are more noticeable than ever. Much like "Sherlock" and "Doctor Who" show runner Steven Moffat, the writing of both Nolan brothers blisters along at a cracking pace and with a desperate desire to please you with all its cleverness. Yet it's also un-involving as everything is surface. A slick, stylish and broadly appealing surface, but that's all - there's little to no emotional involvement or more profound truths on offer.
Certain flaws of this trilogy have remained the same throughout its run be it clunky exposition, dubious character motivations, occasionally risible dialogue and/or uneven action sequences. Many love to wax on about the third act problems of "Batman Begins", easily the most comic-esque of the Nolan's films, because it's where said flaws are the most visible in the series. Yet 'Begins' also remains the most human of the trilogy, certainly the one with the most satisfying emotional throughline.
As one grows older, especially those of us driven by our own inner demons, one realises that the ultimate goal of life isn't love, wealth or even happiness - it's peace of mind. Nolan's entire filmography deals with this quest - his stories focusing on a man or men desperate to achieve true solace but unable to due to their enslavement to their obsessions (which provide a fleeting contentment of their own).
As 'Rises' is a trilogy capper, there are numerous links back to 'Begins' throughout which are often inventive. In fact the strongest elements of the film essentially serve as a coda to 'Begins' and deliver a fitting conclusion to Wayne's story. It could only have gone in two directions and Nolan enjoys dancing us between both possibilities right up until the end - ultimately delivering a satisfying and definitive finale.
Full kudos must go to both Christian Bale and Michael Caine for their work. Bale starts the film in the darkest place the character has been yet and must take him through quite an arc, much of it retreading areas he's already covered. People will nitpick about the time windows (namely the eight year gap and the three month injury recovery periods), but Bale remains the committed steadfast center of this series and sells it - while also getting to enjoy some progression in his character which he didn't really get in the previous outing.
Michael Caine's pseudo-father figure also gets a chance to be more than just a sage advice giver. In one of the film's strongest scenes, Alfred confronts Bruce on his obsession and where it will take him, in the process making a desperate ultimatum fully aware that he'll likely lose his surrogate son in the process. Caine has only a few scenes this time, but he makes the most out of them and gives this otherwise often quite cold film its few real signs of life.
Faring less well this time are returning champs Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman. Both lend stellar support as always, but with so many characters to service they both haven't much to do this time and what scenes they do have only service the plot in fairly anonymous ways. It's a similar problem for several of the newcomers including Marion Cotillard and Matthew Modine. Even with certain character revelations amongst the old and new guard to give them a bit more depth, none of them really get a chance to shine aside from Joseph Gordon-Levitt whose subplot gets both adequate time and a proper arc with some rewarding key scenes.
It's a committed performance from Tom Hardy, but partly due to it being hidden behind a mask and partly due to the character being frustratingly underdone - it doesn't stand out as one of his strongest. Hardy certainly conveys Bane's raw brutality and fighting skill, but the patient and intelligent mastermind side of the character is rarely displayed isn't helped by the choice of what sounds like (at least to me) a geriatric English accent - it may be done for contrast, that still doesn't make it work any better. The few glimpses we see of a true adversary to Batman aren't convincing and ultimately he proves to be little more than a skilled thug.
Anne Hathaway is a standout thanks to a decision to try something quite different with the character of Selena Kyle than previous screen interpretations. This Catwoman (though that moniker is never stated by name) is an opportunistic vixen, a thief who thinks on her feet and can quickly adapt. Her loyalty is only to herself and her own survival, but beneath a flirty and amoral exterior hardened by life lies someone who'll ultimately do right. She dances around the story's periphery, flitting in and out which is why she remains one of the few that manages to stand on her own as a character.
Adding another level of interest is that she's also portrayed as someone who is not as good as she thinks she is, though a subplot involving her care of a street kid (Juno Temple) is a waste. Hathaway is quite convincing showcasing her darker side, though her cute girl next door looks mean she lacks the raw sexuality of Michelle Pfeiffer's now iconic turn in "Batman Returns". While Pfeiffer's delicious dark interpretation portrayed Selena as essentially "damaged goods", Hathaway's take is more layered and certainly the closest interpretation yet to the character in the comics.
From the ticking clock countdown to the opening aerial stunt, Nolan's fetish for the James Bond film franchise is more visible than ever here in his style and sensibility (indeed a key element of the narrative seems a direct lift from "The World is Not Enough"). His skill at filming action hasn't always been his great strength, be it the all too-close fight scenes in 'Begins', or the messy choreography of the chase and finale sequences in "The Dark Knight". Here however he's able to bring a clearness to the various bursts of adrenaline which results in some strong highlights be it Bane's reign of destruction, his mano-e-mano sewer fight with Batman, and the nail-biting finale chase.
There's even a few moments of playfulness and comic relief, but the pervasive tonal seriousness and meticulous attention to detail tends to suck the energy out of the attempted spontaneity. Tech credits from Wally Pfister's cinematography to Hans Zimmer's excellent score are, as usual, amongst the best of the year in the industry. It's a film that cost a small fortune, but it shows be it in the extensive use of practical where possible to the pervasive use of IMAX throughout.
Lacking both the sheer fun and watchability of "Batman Begins" or the tightness and energy of "The Dark Knight", Nolan nevertheless manages to decently cap off his trilogy thanks to his usual raft of top notch talent around him along with some adventurous risk taking with the story. Pacing is strong throughout, but at 164 minutes the film is in need of trimming.
There's too many red herrings or unnecessary plot points, political swipes lack any bite, and too many side characters take much needed time away from the key players. It's constantly self-important, sporadically fascinating and generally entertaining. I quite enjoyed it but, for the first time in this series, I've little desire to rush out and see it again even if it is a smarter and more well composed effort than pretty much any other tentpole fare this Summer. Not great, but good enough to ensure the trilogy's place as one of the strongest film series of modern times.