Film Review: ‘Venom’

Sony Pictures launch a Marvel universe of their own…

Tom Hardy stars in ‘Venom’ (image credit: Sony Pictures/Marvel Entertainment, used for illustrative purposes only).

Spoiler-free review

Starring:  Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate

Directed by:  Ruben Fleischer / written by:  Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg & Kelly Marcel / 112 minutes

What’s it about?

Infected by an intelligent alien parasite, former journalist Eddie Brock succumbs to the yearnings of the creature to become ‘Venom’ in a symbiosis that will ultimately benefit both…

In review

Released to scathing critical reviews, Sony Pictures’ Venom is actually a fun popcorn flick that’s not nearly as awful as those opinions would have you believe.  It’s not the greatest comic book film adaptation you’ll ever see but much like Warner Bros/DC’s Suicide Squad, Venom manages to hold itself together and navigate its flaws to simply entertain, viewed with the right mind-set.

Seen as the launch pad for Sony’s Spider-Man spin-off cinematic universe (the rights to the iconic web-slinger currently being shared with Marvel Studios), Venom sees star journalist Eddy Brock (Tom Hardy), having lost his job and his fiancée, becoming bonded with an alien ‘symbiote’ allowing him to transform into ‘Venom’ – the popular Marvel Comics anti-hero (originally established as one of Spider-Man’s most lethal foes) created by Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie.  Previously brought to the bring screen in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3, Venom’s Spidey-less origin is likely to be the most controversial element of this new adaptation.

The ever reliable Tom Hardy (who was a powerful and imposing presence in The Dark Knight Rises) is Venom’s biggest asset with a committed and kooky performance that walks (and sometimes hops over) a delicate line between dramatic and darkly comedic.  Like the tone of the film itself, it comes across as a little odd and unsure at first but Hardy somehow makes it work and once Venom comes into play (whether as a voice in Brock’s head or in fully formed symbiosis with his host) the lead star clearly begins to have fun with it all.  In fact, it’s the ‘relationship’ between Brock and Venom that’s the most enjoyable aspect of the film.

Rogue One’s (and another of Britain’s own) Riz Ahmed brings a decent amount of menace to the central villain, Carlton Drake – entrepreneurial head of the Life Foundation, whose latest space mission brings Venom and other fellow symbiotes to Earth and Michelle Williams does well enough in an otherwise thankless role as Brock’s former girlfriend, Anne Weying.  The rest of the supporting cast and ancillary characters (including Jenny Slate as a Life Foundation scientist) are less noteworthy but serve their parts non-the-less.

The CGI is fine for a film of this level of budget (around $100 million) but the script can be a bit drab (and a little problematic as it tries to deliver tonal cohesion) with some generic characterisation and occasionally silly dialogue yet it provides and despite a slow-burn opening act, Venom soon begins to move along at an entertaining pace.  Ruben Fleischer’s direction does the job although the action scenes can be a bit muddled, falling into the trap of nauseously fast camera movements and quick edits.  It makes for a somewhat jumbled climax as Venom faces off against the rival symbiote known as ‘Riot’.

In the end, Venom feels like an old school comic book film that pays homage to those early McFarlane/Michelinie stories and coupled with Tom Hardy’s portrayal there’s enough to have a good time with.  It’s not a perfect start but there may actually be potential for these Sony produced Marvel outings after all.

The bottom line:  Not without its drawbacks, Venom turns out to be a fun and undemanding slice of comic book action that’s worth checking out.

Venom is in cinemas now.


What did you think of ‘Venom’? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Film Review: ‘Interstellar’ (spoiler-free)

Far beyond the stars…

Starring:  Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Michael Cain

Directed by:  Christopher Nolan / Written by: Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan / 169 minutes

What’s it about?

As humanity faces extinction on an Earth ravaged by environmental catastrophe, former NASA pilot Cooper’s discovery of a scientific anomaly leads him on a journey that will take him to the stars…

In review

In 1968, Stanley Kubrick (with Arthur C. Clarke) took audiences on “The Ultimate Trip” with 2001: A Space Odyssey – a cinematic experience widely considered as the apex of cerebral and imaginative science fiction.  It proved triumphantly that science fiction cinema could be realised in a serious, thought provoking and technically proficient manner – a world away from the plethora of cheap (though in many cases, still enjoyable) ‘popcorn’ B-movies of the 1950s.  With Christopher Nolan at the helm, Interstellar follows Kubrick’s lead and melds the expansive imaginings of 2001 with human drama and exploration of modern scientific theory.

Nolan’s first post-Batman work is more Inception than The Dark Knight Rises, offering more of the reality altering and mind-bending imagery achieved in the former than the intense comic book action of the latter – though that’s not to say that Interstellar doesn’t include a fair share of edge-of-the-seat moments, it simply balances them against its other diverse elements.

Interstellar introduces an Earth that has been environmentally decimated, with humanity having turned its back on technological and other pioneering pursuits in favour of sustaining a desperate existence.  McConaughey plays Cooper, a widowed father of two and a former NASA pilot who once pondered about humanity’s place in the universe and forced to give up his dreams to take up a life as a humble farmer – dreams that have sparked the imagination of his daughter, Murph (Mackenzie Foy).  Unexplained events lead Cooper and Murph to a chance meeting with Professor Brand (Michael Caine) and the hard, but necessary decision Cooper decides to take by leaving his family to join an interstellar mission through a recently discovered wormhole to find humanity a new home – before it’s too late.

Whilst Interstellar generally takes the ‘hard SF’ route of 2001, there’s actually a surprising amount of emotional depth to proceedings played primarily via Cooper’s relationship with his daughter and her despair at her father’s decision to leave her (and her bother) behind to embark on a journey from which he may never return.  At turns heart-wrenching and heart-warming it provides the story with a resonance and a humanity that sets Nolan’s film apart from 2001 and ventures closer to the likes of Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Naturally, Interstellar presents us with Nolan’s customary ‘heightened reality’ and the hard SF route is taken via the scientific theories of wormhole and space-time postulated by physicist Kip Thorne and as a result there is some heavy exposition that may leave traditional blockbuster audiences jaded and perhaps threatens to distract the more learned viewer, therefore it is the afore-mentioned emotional core that Nolan employs deftly to seek a balance between the intellectual moments and the human drama.

Nolan has once again assembled a fine cast of actors who successfully infuse their roles with the awe and wonder that the journey of Interstellar demands of them, juxtaposed against that human drama and presenting high stakes and challenges for their characters to dare to overcome.  McConaughey continues his resurgence of recent years, bringing a likeable and relatable quality to Cooper who is both a striving pioneer straight out of The Right Stuff and loving father struggling to reconcile with the anguish of leaving his family behind for the ‘greater good’.  Similarly, Hathaway puts in another strong performance as scientist Amelia Brand, who also has her own personal grief to bear.  Among other casting highlights are the ever reliable (and Nolan regular) Michael Caine who makes good use of his relatively small screen time as Amelia’s father, Professor Brand, some well-placed levity from droid ‘crewmember’ TARS, voiced by comedian Bill Irwin and a surprise cameo from…a well-known actor.

2001 aside, Nolan has cited a variety of influences that are present throughout Interstellar – from the world-building of Star Wars to the worn ‘lived-in’ aesthetics of Ridley Scott’s Alien, enriched by a commitment to practical elements of set design and location shooting (boasting some striking photography by Hoyte Van Hoytema which demands the extra cost of an IMAX ticket).  It’s an ode to the genre and the overall possibilities of good, practical, film making in the digital age.

Hans Zimmer complements the visual and emotional elements with another wonderful, wondrous, score (can he do any wrong after his incredible compositions for Inception, The Dark Knight Rises and the Nolan-produced Man of Steel?), although there are moments where the sound mix seems to be out of balance as Zimmer’s music threatens to muffle some of the dialog – hopefully this will be rectified for the home video release.

Despite grand intellectual themes and incredible imagery, Interstellar provides a decent measure of excitement with a number of set-pieces to rival Inception, with the colossal tidal wives and ice clouds of the worlds the film’s characters voyage to and a particularly tense, edge-of-the-seat orbital docking sequence among the highlights.  True, some may find the near three hour running time challenging (and at times it does verge on that feeling) and those not familiar with Nolan’s previous works or appreciative of the cerebral SF of 2001 might be baffled by the mind-bending final act but for fans of such things, Interstellar is bound to delight and inspire.

The bottom line:  As strong as any of his previous works, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar is visually arresting, imaginatively expansive and emotionally resonant.  Prepare for a thrilling journey that Messrs. Kubrick and Clarke would envy…

Interstellar is in cinemas now.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) embarks on a journey to save the human race in Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar'.

Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) embarks on a journey to save the human race in Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’.

What did you think of Interstellar?  Share your spoiler-free thoughts below!

Five worthy ‘threequels’

The third entry in any film series is by large considered a disappointment and whilst in some cases this is certainly true (“hello” to Superman III and Jurassic Park III), there are some ‘threequels’ that threaten to stand toe to toe with numbers one and two.

With the recent Blu-ray release of Iron Man Three, I thought I’d look at a selection of five other noteworthy threequels that are far from disappointing…

ONE:  ALIEN 3 (1991)

Follows:  Aliens (1986)

Lt. Ellen Ripley crash lands on the Weyland Yutani prison colony “Fury” 161.  Although her companions are killed in the crash, Ripley is not the only survivor…

Aliens would always have been a tough act to follow but Alien 3 was definitely a step in the right direction, not bigger in an attempt to outdo James Cameron’s blockbuster, but much smaller and more claustrophobic and visceral in the same vein as the franchise’s 1979 progenitor (Ridley Scott’s Alien of course).  Directed with a smattering of art house flair by the then 20-something David Fincher, the Alien 3 that audiences eventually saw had risen from the ashes of a troubled production but stands as an underrated piece of cinematic SF horror that’s oozing with atmospheric chills and should really have been a conclusion to the Alien film series.

Charles S. Dutton’s Dillon aside, Sigourney Weaver is supported by a wealth of British acting talent – Brian Glover, Charles Dance, Ralph Brown, Danny Webb and Paul McGann.  Coupled with Fincher’s youthfully artistic direction Alien 3 has its own distinct flavour.

What came next:  Alien Resurrection (1997) – a sequel too far?  Whilst Alien 3 was ‘arty’ in the best possible sense, Resurrection overstepped the mark and resulted in a poorly conceived and over ambitious mess that lead to the guilty pleasures of two Alien vs. Predator films.

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) faces her worst nightmare - again - in 'Alien 3', directed by future Oscar nominee David Fincher.

Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) faces her worst nightmare – again – in ‘Alien 3’, directed by future Oscar nominee David Fincher.


Follows:  Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982)

The crew of the Enterprise are mourning the loss of their shipmate, Captain Spock but when Doctor McCoy begins exhibiting strange behaviour, Admiral Kirk is compelled to defy orders and return to the Genesis Planet…

As established Star Trek fans will know, the most recent J.J. Abrams film is not the first time the franchise ventured “into darkness”.  Both Star Trek II and Star Trek III dealt with some dark yet mature themes including regret and loss, whilst still retaining the core ideals of hope and humanity that Gene Rodenberry had envisioned.  It made sense that the franchise grew with its audience and had relevance in the often dark 1980s.  The Search for Spock – despite relatively little screen-time for Leonard Nimoy’s Spock (he was busy behind the camera this time out) – showed us that Star Trek had matured without forgetting those afore-mentioned ideals that made it so appealing.  A large part of what makes it work so well is that you cared about those original characters and rooted for them as they banded together at the risk of losing everything for the sake of their friend and comrade.

The Search for Spock also features a (just) pre-Back to the Future Christopher Lloyd as the enjoyably maniacal Klingon Commander, Kruge.

What came next:  Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) – “the one with the whales” ranks as one of the most commercially and critically successful of all the Star Trek feature films (and the second to be directed by Leonard Nimoy), it brought levity in spades and upheld the key elements of Gene Rodenberry’s vision whilst paving the way for the franchise’s return to the small screen with the immensely successful Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Kirk (William Shatner) together with his shipmates steal the Enterprise, risking all for the needs of the one...

Kirk (William Shatner) together with his shipmates steal the Enterprise, risking all for the needs of the one…


Follows:  The Dark Knight (2008)

Bruce Wayne must once again don the cape and cowl to prevent the terrorist Bane from fulfilling the League of Shadow’s plan to destroy Gotham City…

Whilst many will argue that The Dark Knight is the best of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises was the perfect conclusion and brought the focus back to Bruce Wayne’s story (despite less actual screen time for the Batman himself), bringing everything neatly full circle.

The film features arguably the strongest cast performances of the trilogy and a villain that literally stood toe to toe with Gotham’s Dark Knight and high stakes throughout to the spectacular and gripping finale.

For more on the Dark Knight Rises, check out the GBUK retrospective here.

What came next:  Man of Steel (2013) – although Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga concluded with The Dark Knight Rises his creative presence is felt in the recent Superman reboot, having served as producer and sharing a ‘story by’ credit with screenwriter David S. Goyer.

Another superbly cast ensemble  for the conclusion to Christopher Nolan's well crafted Batman film trilogy.

Another superbly cast ensemble for the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s well crafted Batman film trilogy.


Follows:  From Russia With Love (1963)

007 must foil gold magnate Auric Goldfinger’s plot to irradiate Fort Knox’s gold reserve…

Goldfinger is generally regarded as the finest of all Bond films (for me it’s in contention with From Russia With Love) and identified as the point where Bond-mania truly exploded.  It established the template from which (for better or worse) all future Bond films would follow:  the pre-credits mission, a grand and operatic theme song, the gadgets, a compelling villain and an action packed climax as 007 leads a final assault to thwart the plans of said villain.

Gert Frobe (despite being dubbed due to his lack of coherent English) brought true presence and gravitas to the role of Goldfinger, a master villain able to match Bond whit for whit.  Sean Connery excels as the iconic super spy, his performance confidently infused with charm and vigour – leaving you in no doubt that (as good as Daniel Craig is) he was and likely always will be the best screen 007.

And of course who can forget that legendary Austin Martin…ejector seat and all.

What came next:  Thunderball (1965) – considered by some to be the downward turn in Sean Connery’s tenure it’s still a top spy adventure bolstered by Academy Award winning effects, another magnificent score from John Barry and yet another sexy Bond girl – this time Claudine Auger’s ‘Domino’.

Expected to die...James Bond (Sean Connery) faces the challenge of one of his greatest foes - Aric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe).

Expected to die…James Bond (Sean Connery) is challenged by one of his greatest foes – Auric Goldfinger (Gert Frobe).


Follows:  Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a surprising entry in the original Planet of the Apes film series not only in that it’s superior to first sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes but also for the fact that it’s a film of two very different halves.  The first ‘half’ is fairly light (even frivolous) as the evolved apes Cornelius (Roddie McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) are welcomed with open arms by the media and general public, being treated like celebrities before the sinister workings behind the scenes of the U.S. government lead to a much darker second half as Cornelius and Zira (the latter having just given birth) must run for their lives as they are hunted down.  At this point it’s a film that can be taken much more seriously and throws an uncomfortable spotlight on the uglier, inhumane aspects of human nature.

What came next:  Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) – arguably the best of the Apes sequels it continues the darker tone of the latter parts of Escape as humanity’s subjugation and mistreatment of apes (a comment on slavery, a subject directly referenced in dialogue by one of the film’s African American characters) leads to a violent revolt by Caesar (another wonderful simian performance from McDowall), the son of Cornelius and Zira.

'Escape from the Planet of the Apes' starts out fun before exploring darker territory as the film progresses to it's tense and shocking climax...

‘Escape from the Planet of the Apes’ starts out fun before exploring darker territory as the film progresses to it’s tense and shocking climax…

Do you have a favourite threequel?  Share your thoughts below!

Also on Geek Blogger UK:

Blu-ray review: ‘Iron Man Three’

Blu-ray review: ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’

GBUK film classics: ‘Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan’

GBUK film classics: ‘From Russia With Love’


‘The Dark Knight Rises’ – a year on

So five years have passed since the release of The Dark Knight (check out the retrospective here) but it’s also a year since Christopher Nolan’s Batman film trilogy came to its epic and hotly anticipated conclusion…


It’s been eight years since the last reported sighting of the Batman and eight years since the events surrounding the death of Harvey Dent, forcing Bruce Wayne into ‘retirement’ and seclusion.  The passing of the Dent Act has meant that the streets of Gotham are safer but in this time of complacency the legacy of Ra’s Al Ghul and The League of Shadows threatens to re-emerge – Gotham’s reckoning is at hand…

Taking time out from Gotham City to write, produce and direct the inventive sci-fi heist thriller Inception, Christopher Nolan would soon calm the anxieties of many a Bat-fan and confirm a third and final instalment of his Dark Knight saga.  Following a tightly secretive production and a series of hype inducing trailers – the end result was presented to audiences in July 2012 as The Dark Knight Rises.

The main principle cast reprised their respective roles, giving arguably their best performances of the trilogy – particularly Christian Bale, fresh from Academy Award success having received a Best Supporting Actor nod for The Fighter.  Michael Caine featured in a slightly smaller, but no less significant role as Alfred and Nolan brought across more of his Inception stars – Tom Hardy as the film’s main villain – Bane, Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Blake) and Marion Cotillard (Miranda) together with Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle) and Full Metal Jacket’s Matthew Modine (Foley).  Liam Neeson appears in a neat cameo during a dream sequence, giving a realistic twist to the immortal (making use of a ‘Lazarus Pit’ to periodically rejuvenate) comic book counterpart of the Ra’s Al Ghul character.  We also saw another appearance by Cillian Murphy as the ever wicked Jonathan Crane.

When announced it was perhaps with both excitement and trepidation that the film’s main villain would be Bane – the hulking (sorry Marvel), muscle-bound, spandex and wrestling mask sporting character from the classic Knightfall comic book saga of the early 90’s.  Bane, despite his appearance is a great character much improved by a reimagining that remains true to the comics (gone was the spandex with the wrestling mask replaced with a more functional version serving to release painkillers) and given validity and stature by Tom Hardy together with some great dialogue.  If Batman Begins gave us the idealist in the form of Ra’s Al Ghul, The Dark Knight the anarchist in the Joker then The Dark Knight Rises presented us with the terrorist – Bane, excommunicated from The League of Shadows but non-the-less seeking to fulfil Ra’s Al Ghul’s plan to eradicate Gotham.

Anne Hathaway proved a treat (more than just mere eye candy) and is easily the best screen interpretation of Selina Kyle to date.  Referred to simply as the ‘Cat Burglar’ as opposed to Catwoman, she was given a more realistic and functional look (which the comics have continually leaned towards), her goggles flipping upwards – and given cleverly placed camera shots – the upward curves of which look suspiciously (and pleasingly) like those iconic cat ears.

Prior to release of The Dark Knight Rises there was much speculation as to the true identity of Marion Cottilard’s character, Miranda Tate and with a well handled twist we discovered that Tate was indeed Talia Al Ghul – daughter of Ra’s and another significant character of Batman mythology (in the comics she mothers Wayne’s son and future Robin, Damian).

This brings us to Joseph Gordon-Levitt, cast as Detective John Blake – a twist on the Robin character (or probably more Nightwing here).  The screenplay (once again by Christopher and Jonathan Nolan from a story by Chris Nolan and David S. Goyer) cleverly set up Blake as the likely successor to the cape and cowl, from his unease at the use of firearms to his eventual frustration – and loss of faith in – ‘the system’.  This set up also provided the trilogy with a satisfying closing scene.

Wayne Manor had finally been rebuilt and in terms of the on-screen hardware, the Bat-pod made a welcome return but the limelight was well and truly stolen by Batman’s new vehicle:  the ‘Bat’ – obviously Nolan’s version of the Batwing.  As with the Tumbler, the Bat was a well-designed military-grade reinvention of Batman’s iconic flying vehicle and allowed for some exhilarating action sequences in The Dark Knight Rises.

The action and excitement is second to none, from the Police pursuit of the Bat-pod, Batman’s initial (almost deadly) bout with Bane, Bruce Wayne’s escape from Bane’s pit prison right through to the edge of the seat climax through the streets of Gotham.  Despite a longer running time, the pacing seems to flow better than The Dark Knight.  True there is the odd plot-hole but the running time would have to have been significantly extended to fill in every detail and we’re not reading a novel after all.

The Dark Knight Rises built to a thrilling final act with Bruce Wayne’s afore-mentioned triumphant escape from Bane’s pit-prison, returning to Gotham to don the Bat-suit one last time as Gotham’s police battles Bane’s mercenaries all leading to Batman once again facing off against Bane, the betrayal of Miranda and the revelation of her true identity and Bruce Wayne’s apparent sacrifice, saving Gotham from the detonation of a nuclear bomb.


The Dark Knight Rises proved divisive amongst some fans (despite positive critical reception and another healthy $1 billion plus at the box office) but for the majority (this writer included) it was a breath-taking and fitting final chapter of Christopher Nolan’s foray into the world of Batman.

The film is of course still fresh in the minds of cinemagoers the world over and I’ve found that it holds up just as well after several Blu-ray viewings since last summer’s theatrical release.

The production was as strong as the previous entries and resisting the lure (and no doubt studio pressures) of 3D, Nolan decided to once again employ the IMAX format (shooting over an hour of footage with the cameras, roughly double that of The Dark Knight) allowing even more grand and epic visuals (kudos once again to cinematographer Wally Pfister).  Hanz Zimmer’s (sans James Newton Howard this time out) score is more than worthy of a mention easily conveying the anticipation, tension and excitement of every scene.

With The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce Wayne’s story came full circle but leaves the Batman legend to endure.  Although I would still rate Batman Begins as arguably the best of the series, The Dark Knight Rises comes awful close.

The closing moments of the film have been (and still are) endlessly discussed and dissected with two outcomes:  Bruce Wayne is dead or…Bruce Wayne is NOT dead.  I’m firmly in the camp of the latter, it seems that Nolan ideally would have liked to kill off Bruce Wayne to end his Batman story but ultimately did not want to alienate die-hard comic fans.  Nor would the studio allow someone to kill off a 70+ year old icon – there can really be no Batman in the long term without Bruce Wayne (notwithstanding Dick Grayson’s tenure in the comics prior to the current ‘New 52’ run).

The evidence is there:  the software patch to the Bat’s autopilot system, the missing pearl necklace from the items in Bruce’s Will and his acquisition of the ’clean slate’ programme – however, it is all presented in a way that if you choose to believe Bruce is dead then, in fairness, each point could be argued.  Regardless, the debate over the finale of The Dark Knight Rises will perhaps never be settled.

When we next see Batman up on the big screen it will be in the recently announced (as yet untitled) Batman/Superman crossover with Man of Steel director Zack Snyder at the helm (and a screenplay from David S. Goyer) with a new actor to don the cape and cowl.  Although we are unlikely to see as sophisticated and artistic a take on the Batman mythos as presented by Christopher Nolan it’s reassuring that the character, so ingrained in popular culture, will continue to endure…we can only hope that there isn’t a return to the dark (and camp) days of Joel Schumacher’s tenure!

Top three moments of The Dark Knight Rises:

  1. Russian scientist Dr. Pavel has been captured along with another hooded man and taken into a plane where he is questioned by American agents.  Bane is revealed as the other man as a cargo plane flies above, heavily armed men dropping down to facilitate Bane’s escape with Pavel and the destruction of the plane…with no other survivors.
  2. After recovering from his back injury and a number of failed attempts to escape from Bane’s prison, Bruce Wayne summons all his will and strength to make one final climb – he ascends as bats swarm out of a crack in the wall, finally reaching the surface…and freedom.
  3. Batman has supposedly died saving Gotham City one last time.  Commissioner Gordon mourns, only to discover a replacement Bat-signal has been installed on the roof of the GCPD building; Blake collects items left to him in Bruce’s Will – giving his legal first name as ‘Robin’; Alfred relaxes at a French bistro where he sees Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle sat not too far away; Blake arrives at the destination Bruce Wayne has sent him to, he discovers a cave, a swarm of bats rushes forward and the ground elevates beneath his feet…the new Dark Knight…Rises!
Another superbly cast ensemble  for the conclusion to Christopher Nolan's well crafted Batman film trilogy.

Another superbly cast ensemble for the conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s well crafted Batman film trilogy.

‘The Dark Knight’ – five years on

Has it really been that long since the release of Christopher Nolan’s mega-hit sequel to Batman Begins?  Who can forget the impact that The Dark Knight had, triumphantly leading the charge of cinematic comic book heroes in both scale and stature?

Of course as with any film, time moves on and the dust settles so let’s take a look back at The Dark Knight and see how it holds up five years after its explosive theatrical release…


Having saved Gotham from Ra’s Al Ghul and The League of Shadows, Bruce Wayne continues his war on crime as the Batman and will soon face a dark threat that will push him to the limit.  An unstoppable force will meet an immovable object…

With the critical and commercial success of Batman Begins a sequel was a given, leaving nightmares of Batman and Robin truly behind.  Director Christopher Nolan developed the story with Batman Begins co-writer David S. Goyer (screenwriting duties being shared by Nolan with his brother, Jonathan).

July 2008 saw the release of The Dark Knight, pitting Bruce Wayne/Batman against (as teased – nay, promised – in the closing moments of Batman Begins) his most iconic nemesis:  the Joker.  Nolan’s mandate of a ‘heightened reality’ provided a fresh and credible interpretation of the character whilst staying true to what was envisaged in the comics.  The Joker of The Dark Knight was everything fans expected:  psychotic, maniacal and homicidal (drawing on the darkest takes on the character in the comics – Alan Moore and Brian Bollands’ The Killing Joke clearly being an influence) right down to the purple suit and sadistic sense of humour.  However, instead of the traditional chemically-induced green hair and white skin (as in the comics and Tim Burton’s Batman), this Joker had long unkempt hair, dyed green, and used make-up – smeared on like war paint, with scars either side of his mouth providing that perpetual menacing grin.

Christian Bale continued to own the role of Bruce Wayne and delivered an even gruffer, still gravelly voiced Dark Knight (how Clint Eastwood might sound before his morning coffee?).  The excellent Aaron Eckhart joined Bale and the returning cast (Michael Caine, Gary Oldman and Morgan Freeman) as Gotham District Attorney Harvey “Two-Face” Dent.

Maggie Gyllenhaal replaced Katie Holmes, picking up the threads of the Rachel Dawes character bringing her own nuances to the role and providing more emotional turmoil for Bruce Wayne as he contemplates a life beyond Batman.

With the destruction of Wayne Manor in Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne relocates his Batman HQ to the underground ‘Bat-bunker’ beneath the docks of Gotham’s harbour.  Sadly it was goodbye to the Tumbler but hello to the ‘Bat-pod’ and a new modular plated Bat-suit was donned, making Batman’s thrashing of Gotham’s low-life that much more efficient.

The Dark Knight also featured another great score from Zimmer/Newton-Howard (the highlight being the Joker’s theme – evoking the menacing, clowning and mischievous nature of the character) building upon the themes of Batman Begins.

It’s also worth mentioning that as with the key relationships established in Batman Begins, The Dark Knight presented the relationship between Batman and the Joker perfectly with Bruce Wayne being pushed to the limit, all treated as just good fun by his nemesis – knowing that he will never break his one rule of never taking a life.

The Dark Knight continued Christopher Nolan’s mission to present a cinematic Batman in a way never thought possible and is an example of how the source material could be interpreted in a serious, relevant, but still entertaining manner, presented in epic proportions.


It’s fair to say that much of the focus at the time of The Dark Knight’s release was around the tragic death of Heath Ledger, stoking the curiosity of cinemagoers.  Ledger’s unnerving performance as the Joker still captivates just as much as it did on first viewing (fully deserving of that posthumous Academy Award).  This really is the main attraction of The Dark Knight and a large part of what makes it a strong and worthy, albeit not superior, sequel.  Many will disagree with me and declare The Dark Knight as the best of the series but it was easily improved upon by The Dark Knight Rises in my books.

The Dark Knight has often been cited as transcending the comic book genre and been compared to classic crime thrillers such as The French Connection and Heat which are fair observations.  At times The Dark Knight does feel more like those films and with Nolan’s push for realism it does tend to stray a little from its comic book roots.  It’s a shame that the CGI/physical set compliment to the Chicago location employed in Batman Begins was not continued in The Dark Knight but despite some loss of the ‘feel’ of Gotham City the visual scale was certainly grander and Wally Pfister’s cinematography remains breath-taking.  The film’s striking visuals were aided by the use of high resolution IMAX cameras (the first feature film to do so) which are now being employed by more and more filmmakers (J.J. Abrams shot portions of Star Trek Into Darkness using IMAX and Michael Bay will utilise the new 3D version for Transformers 4).  The focus of the story is also centred more on the anarchy of the film’s main villain and the spiralling tragedy of Harvey Dent as he undergoes his transformation from hero to villain.

Despite those minor grumbles this is still an excellent film some repeat viewings later, visually undated thanks to technical foresight (the afore-mentioned IMAX technology is a key example) and enriched by the well-crafted screenplay, epic scale production values and strong cast performances.  It is a solid middle chapter with arguably the strongest villain of the trilogy in Ledger’s Joker.

Top three moments of The Dark Knight:

  1. A group of Joker-masked criminals set about a heist of the Gotham National Bank, each determined to keep the proceeds of the endeavour for themselves by eliminating each other one by one until only one remains – the architect of the whole affair who believes that whatever doesn’t kill you will only make you “stranger”!
  2. Harvey Dent declares himself as the Batman and is taken into custody before being transported across Gotham in a GCPD van escort.  The Joker has already planned to capture Dent but didn’t bet on Batman being one step ahead…
  3. The interrogation of the Joker ensues, but Jim Gordon may have made a mistake when he decides to let Batman handle it…

Check out the GBUK classic film review of Batman Begins here

Coming to the blog next week:  a look back at The Dark Knight Rises

The late Heath Ledger brought an incredibly powerful, mischievous and unsettling performance to the role of the Joker - gaining rightful recognition with a posthumous Academy Award.

The late Heath Ledger brought an incredibly powerful, mischievous and unsettling performance to the role of the Joker – gaining rightful recognition with a posthumous Academy Award.