Category Archives: Showdown

SHOWDOWN: The Dark Knight Rises vs. Skyfall

Inspired by my own feelings on what are arguably the biggest movies of the past year and related debates I have now had with a variety of people, I bring you an admittedly ambitious Big Screen Brain twist on the Showdown category. I considered making this a three-way contest including The Avengers, but decided I was inviting more than enough nerd-rage as is. Besides, I saw The Avengers three times. It wouldn’t be fair to compare with movies I’ve seen only once each. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) PS – I figured out that you can add polls to blog posts, looky!

THE SHOWDOWN: TRILOGY-CONCLUDING BLOCKBUSTERS DESIGNED TO COMPLETELY BLOW YOUR MIND (AND ALSO POSSIBLY WIN SOME OSCARS)

MOVIES: Christopher Nolan‘s THE DARK KNIGHT RISES and Sam MendesSKYFALL

POINTS OF COMPARISON: THE EXHAUSTED AGING PROTAGONIST, THE VILLAIN, EFFECTIVENESS AS A TRILOGY-ENDER

The Exhausted Aging Protagonist:

Both these trilogies are, essentially, new looks at the origins of long-established franchise characters. When they started their respective journeys as Batman and James Bond, both Christian Bale and Daniel Craig had considerably fewer wrinkles and scars than they did by the time part-three rolled around. The trick for these films is a balance between admitting that change and maintaining action-movie awesome.

The Dark Knight Rises: When the film begins, Batman (Christian Bale) is letting Gotham move on without him. He is not only tired and showing age, but broken. The suit back comes back on only in the face of absolute desperation – for himself and for his beloved city – , and the results aren’t pretty. Bruce Wayne in his weakened state is clearly no match for the berserker-force of Bane (Tom Hardy), and even Catwoman manages to run a few circles around him. Talia al Ghul (Marion Cotillard) ran the biggest circle of all, landing him out of commission in a far-away prison for an awfully long portion of the movie. Of course Batman has his victory and saves the day, that’s never a question. But the manner of the victory reveals the true struggle: saving Gotham is only part of the plan, sharing equal footing with saving the soul of Bruce Wayne. The story ends with retirement, halfway across the world with a really hot girlfriend and not a superhero-appropriate care in the world. We are left with only the vaguest hint that there just might be somebody to take up the cape sometime down the line.

Skyfall: The story begins in franchise-typical fashion, with an epic chase sequence that ends with James Bond (Daniel Craig) being shot. And not just grazed. Shot in the chest, over a waterfall, missing-presumed-dead. He embraces his opportunity as a dead man to become a layabout on a Mediterranean beach who gets his kicks by playing what is unquestionably the Worst Drinking Game Ever. Until MI6 gets blown to bits and he returns to protect his country, his boss, and his job. And he does so, injured, tired, and gadgetless. The final showdown is just James Bond, a head start, some guns, and the will to survive. Which he does, of course, in spectacularly primal fashion. There is no hint that this is the end of Bond – as an audience we know that this is Daniel Craig’s goodbye and that the next time we see James Bond his face will be new. But the final note on Bond, both character and franchise, is absolute certainty that he will live on in a new age, that though his methods and thinking are old school, he can adapt and the world will not outpace him. (For more on James Bond in Skyfall, I suggest Paul Constant’s review-sum-character-analysis.)

Winner: I’m giving this one to Skyfall. If you look at the overall goals and mental states of the two characters over the course of these films, the difference is clear. Bruce Wayne intends to die, either a false death in victory or a true death in victory or defeat. James Bond intends to win, death be damned. And he does.

The Villain:

The Dark Knight Rises: The obvious disadvantage to this film is that no matter who the villain was, they were going to be following in the footsteps of Heath Ledger‘s Joker and, well, you know. That said, the combination of Bane and Talia al Ghul is a formidable one. Especially since you don’t even know they’re in cahoots until the eleventh hour. That is, their relationship isn’t revealed until then, but easily half of the film is spent hinting violently. As a result, the “big reveal” isn’t so much that as an “oh god, FINALLY we can move on and get back to the story.” Part of the immense power of the Joker was his total anonymity beyond the twisted persona.Bane has that power for most of The Dark Knight Rises, but once his back story is filled in, the secret to defeating him becomes equally clear, and all that remains is a rather less-than-suspenseful wait. By contrast, Talia al Ghul starts the film as a completely different and apparently innocuous character. Then her insanity grows exponentially over the final hour and transforms her into an unpredictable and dangerously desperate adversary. Both these villains, together and separately, present Batman with opposition powerful enough to put his final victory until at least some temporary doubt. What they do lack, however, is the sort of unnerving personal connection to Bruce Wayne that made the Joker and Raz al Ghul both great foils and formidable opponents.

Skyfall: Let me begin by getting the obvious out of the way: Javier Bardem KILLED IT. As in, if-I-hadn’t-known-it-was-him-I-would-never-have-known-it-was-him levels of killed it. Silva is, for all intents and purposes, the only villain in the film. He is enough of a threat on his own that there is no need for a second, direct combative adversary – the henchmen are just there to add volume. All other antagonists (M-to-be Ralph Fiennes and cabinet member Helen McCrory) are non-villainous, and couldn’t hold a candle to Silva even if they wanted to. Once he is introduced, even extra-sexy French-Asian Bond girl Bérénice Marlohe becomes completely uninteresting. His persona is made of a powerful duality: an unspecified but supposedly complicated backstory and a brutally simple but specific mission. Silva’s power as a villain comes from his similarity to Bond, and even more from the lingering question of whether he or Bond is the dark side. His face says everything. For all that the chic, queeny, bleach-blond exterior fits, there is no question that the sinking, blackened, cyanide face is the true one. Ultimately he loses, because he is the villain, but he does fundamental damage and that is what really counts.

Winner: Silva. No question. If he were pitted up against the Joker I don’t know who would win, but in this case it’s no contest.

Effectiveness as a Trilogy Ender

The Dark Knight Rises: There is no question that this film is the conclusion of an arc. Batman Begins followed very closely the heroes-journey process that led to the realization of Batman. The Dark Knight provided climax that can only be described as truly epic. And now in The Dark Knight Rises themes and storylines are wrapped up more-or-less neatly in a conclusion both loud and quiet. There are hints that the story of Gotham and Batman continues on. But the sense of finality is absolute, and the result is widely satisfying. (It was not my favorite ending, and I could definitely have done without that cafe scene at the end, but then again I only like endings where everybody dies and nobody is happy, so.)

Skyfall: The tricky thing is that this film does not truly belong to a trilogy, but to an extensive franchise. It feels like a trilogy because there are three films, and they fundamentally changed the way that many people look at James Bond. (Well, Casino Royale and Skyfall did. Quantum of Solace mostly just confused everyone.) Daniel Craig is his own Bond, a separate character from all the previous generations, and as a result of Casino Royale‘s mission to revivify the franchise, he has an individualized storyline underlying all the action. Skyfall completes his personal arc, and it completes Judi Dench’s longer arc as M. But, the primary function of the film is not to conclude, but to complete a new beginning. Very literally, Skyfall acknowledges that James Bond as he has been is out-of-date and thus reinvents the franchise. Q and Moneypenny, missing elements from the two previous Daniel Craig Bond films, have been reborn and Skyfall ends not with a sense of finality, but an enthusiasm for continuing on.

Winner: The Dark Knight Rises has this one in the bag. Christopher Nolan has created a third, powerful film that completes his story and his vision, and good as it is, Skyfall just can’t touch that.

Final Tally: Skyfall – 2, The Dark Knight Rises – 1

I knew as soon as I stepped out of the theatre after The Dark Knight Rises that it wasn’t going to be my favorite film of the year, nevermind one of my favorite films ever like The Dark Knight was. Skyfall was a total surprise to me. Of course it was going to be a fantastic action film, of course Daniel Craig was going to go out with a bang. But the artistry of the film-making and the unexpected elegance of the story made it truly excellent. It has its faults, but it might be my favorite film of the year. And yes, that includes two Joss Whedon movies. Whoda thunk.

SHOWDOWN: Franklin & Bash v. Suits

That’s right – I have a new  post category (which I’m hoping I can make into a weekly thing). SHOWDOWN, a platform from which to nitpick at the usually excessive, often disturbing, and usually embarrassing amount of similarity between multiple series and all their various elements. The purpose of SHOWDOWNs is partly to point out the lack of creativity in the world of television, yes, but also to examine possible reasons for why, despite rampant sameness, some shows succeed so much better than others. Also I’m breaking down the SHOWDOWN into several Points of Comparison, awarding points to the victor in each of those, tallying up to find an overall winner, and pretending that this practice isn’t totally ridiculous. Go!

THIS WEEK’S SHOWDOWN: LEGAL BUDDY DRAMADIES ON SUMMER CABLE

SERIES:  FRANKLIN & BASH (TNT) and SUITS (USA)

POINTS OF COMPARISON: LEAD DUO, SUPPORTING CHARACTERS, STORY PROGRESSION, TASTE LEVEL

Leading Duo

The success of any buddy comedy lives or dies with the success of its buddies to garner the affection of an audience. Nobody wants to watch a buddy comedy starring Voldemort and Gollum. (OK, lie. I would totally watch that.) The two characters need unquestionable appeal, individually and especially as a pair.

Franklin & Bash: The leads of this show fit a classic pattern. Of the pair, one is more handsome than goofy and one is more goofy than handsome, one has family issues and one has romantic issues, both are charming, and both are totally loyal to each other. Jared Franklin (Breckin Meyer) and Peter Bash (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) are both absolutely perfect for their roles and for each other. My disappointment with this pairing is that they are sometimes too similar and that the interplay is minimal. At least in the episodes I’ve watched, they seem to work individually for the most part and come together only to recount and occasionally knock out a kneeslapper courtroom scene. In a scenario rather backward from the usual, Franklin and Bash seem different on a superficial level but grow less distinct the deeper you dig. I enjoy the cooperative comic elements, but I could do with a little more conflict. Any argument between the two is distinctly lacking in heat. There’s no question these guys are fantastic and fun to watch, but they don’t hold up well to critical analysis. Once you look past the hilarity of their banter-y, frat boy antics, they’re actually sort of…boring.

Suits: The leads of this series are more Odd Couple than bromance BFFs. The two are clearly polarized in several ways. Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) is older, handsome, suave, well-educated, and prides himself on being the reason lawyer jokes exist. Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) is the problem-child-with-a-heart-of-gold, supergenius, slightly dorky type. They are balanced beautifully and share equally in both the dramatic and the comedic. The rapport between the two is phenomenal, as is the growing development of their relationship, which leads in turn to development of the individual characters. Basically you couldn’t hope for a pair better complemented, performance- or character-wise. That being said, it could fairly be argued that their relationship leans more toward the mentor/pupil side and therefore they don’t exactly qualify as “buddies.”

Winner: I don’t think there’s a winner here. I definitely prefer the pair from Suits, but I can’t argue that they are the better buddy comedy leading pair.

Supporting Characters:

You can learn a lot about a show by how well-conceived, well-developed, and even well-cast the smaller roles are. Series do not survive solely on the power of great leads alone. (Y’know, unless the show is, say, Moonlighting.) Supporting characters also represent the possibility of sideplots, which in turn represent the possibility of long-term appeal.

Franklin & Bash: I have two names for you. Reed Diamond (of Dollhouse, at his snarky antagonist-but-not-a-bad-guy best). Malcolm McDowell (in what is possibly my favorite role of his ever). If these two were the only supporting characters in the series, Franklin & Bash would be the most hilariously enjoyable show ever. But no. Instead, we are also subjected to Dana Davis (one of the worst things to ever happen to Heroes) as an ex-con private investigator who does all of F&B’s legwork, Kumail Nanjiani as a prissy acrophobic computer research genius prone to vomiting, and Garcelle Beauvais as the sexy older woman who is supposed to be so impressive and intelligent but for some reason still sleeps with overgrownfratboy Franklin. Those latter three are all extremely one-dimensional and even more uninteresting. Pindar (Nanjiani) was the primary focus of the resolution of an episode, perhaps the pilot (I’ve forgotten…), and it almost ruined the entire thing. There are two other recurring characters who I suppose might qualify as “supporting,” Bash’s one-that-got-away Janie (Claire Coffee) and nonspecific-lawfirm-employee Debbie (Alexandra Holden), but neither of them have any personality whatsoever, so they are hardly worth mentioning.

Suits: Just one name for this series, but it is way more important than the two from Franklin & Bash. GINA TORRES. I will be honest, her presence is 100% of the reason I actually watched this show. I saw ads and had little-to-no interest (certainly not enough for me to remember it was happening at all). And then somehow I stumbled across the information that Gina Torres was in the show. And here we are. And of course she totally lives up to her own reputation – elegance, strength, and subtle humor are the words for her always. Another familiar face, although perhaps not a familiar name, is Rick Hoffman, who pulls out the stops on obnoxious assholery and plays that guy you want to hate so beautifully that you love him for it. Meghan Markle is Rachel, The Love Interest, who actually has quite a bit of character and background information already. She is both a useful instrument for story progress and just plain likeable. Finally, Donna the Secretary (Sarah Rafferty). Of all the regular characters, Donna has the least screen time and would be the easiest to marginalize and caricature-ize. And maybe she is a caricature, but I Don’t Care. The woman is hilarious. The one time so far I’ve laughed out loud (and started to tear up) for an extended period at this show, it was her.

Winner: Suits. By a landslide, not even just because of how bad Franklin & Bash‘s supporting characters are. As phenomenal as the lead duo is, I am at least equally entertained by and interested in the supporting characters of this series.

Story Progression

The issue with epis0de-based long-form series is keeping them interesting. It is fairly inevitable that individual procedural-type shows are going to be fairly cookie-cutter in terms of format: problem, conflict, solution, resolution. This is why CSI cases get weirder and more impossible every year – to make sure the audience doesn’t get bored. And so, series also have to make sure there is some measure of progress with the overall storyline, whatever that may be, in every (or at least every other) episode.

Franklin & Bash: I’m honestly not sure exactly what the long-term story arc of this show is supposed to be. I believe it has something to do with the fact that Franklin and Bash are trying to fit their unconventional selves into a distinguished law firm. Which is a great premise. But it would go over a lot better if one of the main schticks was not their super eccentric boss. As in, it would go better if there was any sort of conflict there at all. The other primary, extended plotlines are one emotional/personal conflict per lead character. For Jared Franklin, it is some sort of daddy issue that seemed pretty well established and without chance of resolution at the end of the episode where it was introduced, but this will probably go on for as long as it possibly can. For Peter Bash, it is not-exactly-unrequited love: his ex-girlfriend, whom he still loves, is marrying someone else, but he insists (in one of the most embarrassingly corny moments I’ve seen in awhile) there is still a chance. We the audience are not privy to any information on the history of these apparently doomed relationships and are not allowed any time to make a connection with the non-lead characters involved and so, basically, have no reason to care. As far as the episode-to-episode content of Franklin & Bash, it is well-written and well-acted if nothing else. There’s always a Reed Diamond snark scene, always a Malcolm McDowell wackiness moment, and always a phenomenally borderline ridiculous courtroom showdown. And, y’know, there are worse things.

Suits: The major flaw in Suits‘ plot-related long-term storyline is that it is based on a short-term arrangement. Mike is Harvey’s not-really-a-Harvard-grad intern/protege/underling, and the main conflict is keeping every other character from finding out that Mike is not actually allowed to be doing the job he is doing. So while the illusion maintained, the story works out well. Once the inevitable revelation happens, no matter how creative I get, I cannot conceive of a way for the plot to continue without becoming unbearably stupid. That said, the interpersonal plot arcs in the series are incredibly well-done. Obviously, Mike and Harvey’s relationship is the most prominent, and it is very well-crafted. But also compelling are Mike’s attempted romance with Rachel and Louis’ (Hoffman) relationships with everyone. Even the history of the relationship between Harvey Specter and Jessica Pearson (Torres) inspires a good amount of fascination.

Winner: I’m gonna have to give this one to Suits as well. Franklin & Bash might have more long-term potential with such an open-ended storyline, but I care a lot less about the story and so don’t really care about said long-term potential.

FINAL TALLY: Franklin & Bash – 2, Suits – 0

I guess it’s no surprise I’m giving Suits the win in this SHOWDOWN.

The two series are fairly well-matched in terms of comedy, writing, casting, and production value. The major difference for me is connectability. Franklin & Bash puts the majority of its energies into entertainment value. And yeah, the mere concept of a lawyer shotgunning a can of beer as part of his defense case is pretty damn entertaining, especially when that antic leads to a victory. But even beer and boobs and bravado get dull after awhile. Suits has its own faults, overbearing USA-typical product placement among them, but there is a certain amount of soul to it. There is a human quality, personified in the Mike Ross character, that Franklin & Bash has no chance of matching. If you’re just looking for a fun show to bide the time until that fall season premiere you’re waiting for happens, I recommend both series equally. But if you want to add to your permanent repertoire of shows to track, I suggest you check out Suits.