Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Jersey Shore is the Worst Television Programme Ever Made

Just a filler today, furious fans. I wrote this on Facebook last week and it kind of got stuck in my head as something that should be maintained and preserved, here.

This sums up my feelings on this Televisual Travesty better than any of my words can. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Bane of the Bat: My thoughts on the antagonist of The Dark Knight Rises

When Tom Hardy was cryptically announced merely as 'a villain' for Christopher Nolan's final installment in his trilogy of re-imagined Batman films, fans were unusually pleased. His casting in this new Bat-film ensured elegant grace, sharp British wit as well as the possibility of some good old fashioned cinematic testosterone. Internet speculation suggested that Hardy might be playing Hugo Strange or even the Riddler (which was admittedly, a long-shot for a burly English actor). Quite recently however, it has been confirmed that Tom Hardy will be playing Bane, a behemoth obsessed with domination, who uses cunning and skill to break his opponent down before finally crushing them with brute strength. Essentially, an evil version of Batman. The "what if Batman was an evil masterplanner" bit has certainly been played before, by other characters (Owlman, Prometheus and most recently Hush), but Bane has remained the most frighteningly credible exploration of this concept. 

Bane's origins in the 1990s came about when DC Comics were attempting to stage an event for Batman that would hopefully match the mammoth, comic-selling powerhouse that was The Death of Superman. However, rather than killing off their two best-known characters, they opted instead to have Batman humiliated and defeated rather than simply having him die a traditional hero's death. The opening chapter of the staggering epic that is Knightfall sees a mass breakout at Arkham Asylum, where every single villain Batman has ever captured from the very beginning of his career is suddenly released. Over a number of months, Batman exhausts himself trying to hunt down and recapture each and every one of the insane inmates and return them to Arkham, testing his personal ethics and morality regarding the killing of criminals in the process. Finally, when he is completely spent, the villain behind the breakout reveals himself as Bane. Bane discovers Batman's true identity, destroys the Batcave and breaks the Dark Knight's back, dumping his barely-alive body on the streets of Gotham for all its citizens to see.

That story continued on for more than two years (in which time a controversial new Batman took over) to the point where it had well and truly trailed off after such impressive beginnings. But that opening still stands up as a remarkably credible take on just how someone could actually defeat Batman by wearing down his defences until he simply couldn't retaliate. After all, one of the themes so constantly returned to not only in the comics but in these films is that Batman is just a man. No matter how great this legend is that Bruce Wayne has created and no matter how athletically advanced he may be, he is just a man who can be defeated by a force greater than his own.

In the context of the next Batman film, one could speculate that the direction Nolan is taking the Bane character could be quite similar. Over the course of two films (which are only set within a few weeks of one another) all of the villains of Arkham Asylum have been released (not very many of whom seem to have been recaptured) an entire island section of Gotham has been driven insane by fear-inducing poison and the efforts of a madman have seen to it that Gotham's one last visible hope for lasting change has been lost. On the bright side, Gotham's organised crime has been more or else eradicated. Unfortunately, Gotham is now without a district attorney and is rife with freakish looney tunes. 

Ra's Al Ghul sought to destroy Gotham City. The Joker sought to corrupt it. Batman has exhausted himself both physically and mentally trying to defeat both of these antagonists, only managing to parlay their efforts, at the cost of his image as a hero and the life of his first love, Rachel Dawes. The time is now ripe for a despotic pariah to come and rule what little is left of this once great city, destroying Batman in the process. Will the Dark Knight survive with only one film remaining? For the very first time, I'm not so sure. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

“Somebody Save Me” A Smallville Retrospective

In June 1938, the world was introduced to Superman. Powerful and patriotic, he was the ultimate hero; so much so that he created a new concept for popular culture: the super-hero. Superman found success in comic books, on the radio, television and even the silver screen. However, most of these incarnations focused squarely on The Man of Steel in his square-jawed prime. Some sixty-odd years into his life, someone had the idea that it might be interesting to delve deeper into the origin story of the character, highlighting his days as a boy growing up with a farm, dealing with the problems of homework, girls and red kryptonite. This is the story of Smallville.

It's almost staggering to think that the show has soldiered on for ten years of fluctuating quality. Certainly when it began, it was powerful, epic television with excellent characterisation. Clark Kent was truly three-dimensional with problems and character flaws to go with his heat vision. Lex Luthor was elevated from a cackling cartoon to a tragic anti-hero with father issues. And Jonathan Kent was surely the coolest Dad in the history of television.

It's fair to say that the series lost its way quite a bit around the fourth season. At that point, viewers were growing tired of the “teen drama” approach the show had modelled itself on (with good reason) and demanded more action and more relevance to the mythos of Superman. Suddenly, all kinds of characters began showing up with the introduction of Lois Lane into the show spear-heading this unneccessary revamp. It began to become apparent that the series no longer had any intention of chronicling the transformation of farmboy to Superman, but that it would instead continue on with protagonist frozen in mid-development dealing with whatever obstacles the writers could think of in order to stall his destiny, while finding ways to shoe-horn notable elements of the comics into the show. By the end of the eighth season, Lois Lane and the Green Arrow (think Robin Hood mixed with Batman with Tony Stark's personality) were main characters and major appearances had been made by Jor-El (Superman's biological father), Supergirl, Perry White, General Zod (whose youthful clone would go on to become the antagonist of the ninth season), Doomsday and even Superman's pal Jimmy Olsen. Probably the greatest, most unneccessary folly the series ever made was when Jimmy was killed off in the close of the eighth season with the subsequent revelation that it wasn't even Jimmy at all, but his older brother “Henry-James”! That's almost as cringeworthy as the infamous “It was all a dream” shower scene from Dallas.

All was not lost, however. In the opening of the ninth season the producers took the series in yet another direction. Recognising that the end was nigh, realising that the damage was done and that the show was never again going to be the traditional origin story it set out to be, they instead decided to open up the floodgates. This saw a complete abandoning of the visual subtlety the show had always favoured (the tagline had originally been “No Flights, No Tights”) and embracing the wild and wonderful world of the DC Universe. This farewell to arms saw appearances from characters who had never before seen the light of day outside of the comics. The likes of Doctor Fate, Hawkman, Stargirl and even the Wonder Twins (no need to bother asking who they are) were given affectionate, silly-but-fun treatment. Clark was now a costumed superhero on the show anyway, although instead of the traditional red-and-blue tights, he wore a more subdued and stealthy black trenchcoat. Initially, people saw this as being a sad attempt at trying to ride The Dark Knight's shadowy success and aesthetically that could well be the inspiration behind the wardrobe makeover. The writing however saved the concept, showing Clark as an active superhero afraid to step into the light for fear of persecution. His development over the final two seasons has seen him shun this approach in favour of being a charismatic leader of all the other superheroes that are popping up all over the world. 

Lois Lane has also redeemed herself and the show has given the character a new purpose. Whereas usually, her sole motivation is in trying to figure out Superman's true identity and then living happily ever after with him; the focus here is how Lois is an anchor for Clark. She loves him dearly and will do anything she can to help him be the best person he can be. The ultimate girlfriend!

The success of this new approach allowed the show a swansong tenth season which has promised to conclude with Clark Kent becoming Superman. The emphasis of the series is now centred around forgetting about the mistakes of the past and not obsessing over the dangers of the future. Clark Kent is now coming to realise that if he is to become the greatest hero the world has ever known, he must free himself of self-doubts and focus on the present, creating his own destiny rather than following one that has been written out for him. What kind of college student can't relate to that?