Friday, July 20, 2012

Movie Review: The Dark Knight Rises

 Bane: "Gotham, take control... take control of your city. Behold, the instrument of your liberation! Identify yourself to the world!"

The Dark Knight Rises, is the third installment of Chris Nolan's Batman trilogy, and the director has promised a fitting conclusion to this well beloved movie series. Ever since the release of Batman Begins in 2005, the audiences have journeyed alongside one fictional character, Bruce Wayne. His titanic battles to wrench a city and its people that he cares so much about, from the dooming grasps of monstrous villains, such as the likes of the shadowy Ra's Al Ghul, and the anarchic Joker.

Batman Begins, received many positive praises. But its squeal The Dark Knight, due to the mesmerizing performance of Heath Ledger as The Joker, a well executed plot, impressive visuals and an all round excellent cast, set a new standard for movies of this genre almost impossible to surpass.

  The announcement and the release of the finale in this trilogy, has generated hypes and very high expectations. Some suspect, if The Dark Knight Rises would be able to match the standard set by its predecessor. After seeing this movie, personally, I think Dark Knight Rises is every bit as good as the Dark Knight. Whatever element that is missing from its predecessor, the Dark Knight Rises makes up with strengths of its own.


  It has been 8 years since the event in The Dark Knight. The city of Gotham is enjoying a prospering peace. A peace secured by a lie, told by James Gordon and Bruce Wayne to hide the truth behind Harvey Dent's death and his actions. Under this lie, Harvey Dent is worshiped as a hero, and his legacy has kept the most dangerous criminals in Gotham to be locked up in the prison. Batman took the blame for Harvey Dent's actions, subsequently disappeared, and became a villain in public eyes of the Gotham city.

Bruce Wayne, after retiring from his former crime fighting career as the Batman, has retreated to a lifestyle of a hermit, a haunting ghost in his mansion. Completely withdrawn from the society and human contact, living under the shadow of grief, despaired over the tragic death of his former love interest, Rachel Dawes.

It is at the height of the peaceful time, a mysterious, masked figure known as "Bane" made an appearance into the theme. Bane is as intelligent as Batman, and physically stronger than Batman in his prime. A symbol of utilitarianism masked with a more dire undercurrent motivation.

Despite his physical deterioration and past injuries, with Gotham city threatened by the dooming villainy again, Bruce Wayne is forced to dome the cape and cowls once more, to overcome the physical obstacles, to triumph over the trauma that haunts his memories, to be the Dark Knight once more, the last bastion rising up against the incoming torrent of chaos, unleashed by the villainous Bane.

What I think about this movie:

The Dark Knight Rises, brings a fitting conclusion to the Dark Knight trilogy. A thought provoking, epic and satisfying end to a fantastic movie series. For the first time in this movie franchise. Batman has met a villain of his equal (and superior), a masked villain called Bane. Tom Hardy's portrayal as Bane is superb, bringing the audience with an overwhelming presence of menace, intelligence and brutality. For an actor performing with a mask covering half of his face. Tom Hardy still managed to successfully presented the essence of Bane to the audience, with the expression of his eyes and body language. As usual, Christian Bale's performance as Bruce Wayne is as good as in the previous Batman films, his portrayal of Bruce Wayne as a man haunted and struggling with his past memories, is exactly what is needed in a film such as The Dark Knight Rises. Anne Hathaway's portrayal as Selina Kyle/Catwoman brings many surprises to the previous speculation that the introduction of Catwoman might ruin the film. In the movie, Catwoman has an interesting relationship with Batman, and she brings many intrigues and twists of plot well knitted into the overall story. The introduction of the character James Blake, is an interesting addition, his character is a mixture between Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent, a character that never looses hope. In general, the cast of The Dark Knight Rises did excellent jobs in bringing their characters to vivid liveness on the silver screen.

The director Chris Nolan also brought a grand visual spectable in The Dark Knight Rises. The action scenes are exciting, energetic and vibrant. The dark undertone of the movie pulsed and matched with the theme of Bruce Wayne story, under a brilliant blend of on-beat and off-beat rhythmic harmony.

The brilliancy of the grim story in this movie, shined through the exploration of some inter-related topics:

1) Barbarism vs. civilization: The story of The Dark Knight Rises reflects the descendancy of a civilized society into barbarism. In this movie, the society was not invaded by "barbarians at the gate". Rather, the society took a plunge into barbarism from the collapse within, the dismantling of a structure setup by human failures.

2) Utilitarianism: To destroy the city of Gotham, Bane did not use his physical might. He employed a tactic more powerful. Through his speech, Bane successfully embedded the idea that human rights can be considered as a guidance to morality. In a society where the chasm between the rich and poor is vast, Bane empowered the people manipulatively, making them believe that it is their right to take control, that their perception of ethics is the only thing that matters. The result is the people are fooled into starting a revolution under a dictator with ulterior motives.

3) The story of this movie attempted to demonstrate; even with the best of intentions. Concealing the truth can led to dire consequences.

The story of The Dark Knight Rises allures to the symbolism from Charles Dicken's novel, A tale of two cities. The drama unfolded in Gotham city is set in the theme of revolution, where Bane acts as the figurehead of a revotionary, an utilitarian and a dictator. The heroes in the movie who opposed Bane; such as Batman, James Gordon, Lucius Fox and John Blake, are characters equivalent to Sydney Carton, protecting that which they love with altruism and courage.

While some people might accuse The Dark Knight Rises being preachy, and packed with hidden agenda. But to me, I think the story illuminates a profound underlying reality: Even with our best intentions, our limited human abilities and sense of justice can sometimes do more harm than good. The civilization that we attempt to uphold with our perceptions of ethics can breed true injustice, and when it reaches a boiling point, and under circumstances. All you need, is a slight push guided by would-be dictator with a personal ambition, then a revolution will make a civilization descend back into barbarism. This is not a fantasy story, but as history tells us it can happen, through the bloody examples of the French revolution, the Russian revolution, and the cultural revolution in China.

Dark, grim and reflective. The Dark Knight Rises ended the mythology of Bruce Wayne story with many touches of realism. A good mythology is the one where the moral of the story makes us think. Through the florid speech of the villain Bane, we are challenged with an honest question of vast relevance, lying at the heart of many social debates in our contemporary culture is this: Should we let human rights be the guidance to our ethics?

Movie rating: 9/10

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Movie review: The Amazing Spiderman (3D)

 Here is a classic story that many people can recognize: Once upon a time, a teenage boy was bitten by a genetically mutated spider, and he acquired the abilities of a spider! The boy domed a spandex suit of red and blue, so he started a life long career of busting criminals and genetically mutated super bad guys. He is.. Spiderman!

  Spiderman has come a long way. He is a comic book superhero created by Stan Lee, first appeared in 1962. If you do the maths, this year, Spiderman will turn 50 years old! The chances are that most people beneath the age of 60 would have heard, read or watched stuff based on Spiderman. 

  I watched Spiderman in 2002, and certainly remember the memorable theme when the tearful Peter Parker (starring Toby Maquire) was told by his dying uncle that, "with great power, comes great responsibility". What a memorable line! Following the success of the first Spiderman mvie in 2002, the movie maker produced two more sequels, both were blockbusters and commercial successes. In 2012, the movie maker has decided to reboot the Spiderman movie franchise. Initially, I wasn't too sure if I even want to watch this new movie. After all, it was only 10 years ago that the first Spiderman was made. Why are they making a reboot already? Is this a sign that Hollywood is desperately struggling for new ideas?

Two weeks after the movie's release, I decided to check this movie out during my time off work. It turned out that the movie is actually pretty good, and I am here to provide a review for those who might be interested.


  Peter Parker's parents were scientists. On a dark night, when Peter was still a child, they sent him to live with his uncle and aunt. Peter's parents subsequently disappeared afterward. As Peter was growing up, the mysterious disappearance of Peter's parents have left plenty of questions to be answered in Peter's mind. 10 years later, as a teenage school boy, Peter was a bit distant from the rest of the kids at school, he is being bullied, but often step up against the bullies for those who are being bullied. He has a love interest, Gwen Stacy. Peter caught the eyes of his love interest, after he tried to protect a kid who was  being publicly humiliated by a school bully.

 One day, Peter was cleaning the basement of his uncle's house. He discovered a briefcase, where he found his father's research notes. These puzzling notes roused Peter's interest to investigate the nature of his father's works. After being informed by his uncle that, his father used to work for Osborne corp. Peter sneaked into the company building, where he met his father's co-worker, Dr. Curt Connors. He slipped into a "secret research lab", and was bitten by a curious, little spider. On the way home, he felt into a trance on the subway train. When he woke up, he found himself with some pretty bizarre abilities.

But that is only the beginning of a series of adventures to follow..

What I think about the movie:

I think the new Spiderman movie is pretty good. While there is nothing really new to this movie that can make a distinction between the 2012 version and the 2002 version, but it is still a fun, entertaining  movie based on a very good story. The main theme in this movie, is still the relationship between "power" and "responsibility". This time, the theme is told in a more subtle way. The audience get to see the journey and the transformation that Peter Parker undertook, to become a superhero known as Spiderman.

There are a few differences between the 2002 movie and the 2012 movie other than different casts, directors, and improved CGI/speical effects. In the new Spiderman movie, the story kind of explained why Peter Parker doesn't have parents, and the disappearance of his parents plays an essential role to the main story of this movie. Other minor differences, such as Peter's love interest at school is Gwen Stacy, and not Mary Jane Watson, which is a more accurate reflection to the original Spiderman comics. Also, the main villain is "The Lizard". The story of this super villain is very well knitted into the main plot, and I think the story writer of the new Spiderman movie really deserves a round of applause.

The biggest difference in the new Spiderman movie, is that this movie is a lot darker than the 2002 version. The protagonist, Peter Parker went through a lot of emotional toils in this "origin story". Also, Spiderman is portrayed more realistically, as Peter Parker is often shown to be wounded and bruised after a night of superhero action. Inevitably, the darker undertone of the new Spiderman movie also means this film is more violent than the 2002 version. In terms of CGI, the special effects are really good, but I did not really feel like I was watching a 3D movie. There are occasional scenes when things "popped out" of the screen, but other than that, I think it wasn't "3D" enough.

There are a few things, a few sentences and dialogues that really grabbed my attention, and I would like throw them at my readers, inviting you to think about them, and cross-examine the worldviews presented in this movie against the Christian worldview, and see if they hold any truth:

- Uncle Ben: "If you can do good things for other people, then you have the moral responsibility to do it".

Question: What does it mean by "good"? It seems the definition of "good" is not very clear here. Also, Uncle Ben seems to be indicating that we should only do "good things" to people who we think that deserve it. Is this what the Bible teaches us? Who is actually good?

- Uncle Ben: "You owe the world your gifts.. come on home Peter, you are my hero".

Question: Are we in debt to the "world" because of our talents, where does this idea of "in debt" coming from? Are we morally obligated to serve others because we "owe" it to the "world"? What does the Bible say on this topic? I would like to invite my readers to think about "who" actually gave us our gifts (did the world give us our gifts?), and what doe Bible say about the reason why should we serve others? I think reading God's words will reveal a very different view, when compared to what Uncle Ben is saying here.

- Peter Paker: "This is my responsibility, I have to fix it".

Question: Can we really solve our problems with our good intentions? Can we find justifications for our actions, with our good intentions?

I leave my readers to discover the answers to the questions I listed above.


The new Spiderman movie doesn't really have a lot of new things, to distinguish it from the 2002 version. Despite this, I still enjoyed the movie immensely. I think the reason is because the story of Spiderman is good, it has always been good. The story of Peter Parker, and his struggles to do the right thing, to be responsible for his powers, at the cost of his own interests, is something we can all identify ourselves with; at work, in our families, in our every day lives.

The Amazing Spiderman is a good movie, if you don't have a chance to see it in the cinema now, it might still be worth your time to hire it from a video store, when it is released for home media. It has a compact, emotional story, good special effects and lots of action scenes at neck-breaking pace. It is also worthwhile to reflect on the worldviews presented in this movie, and compare it against the Christian worldview, and next time, you will have a conversation starter.

Rating: 8/10

Friday, July 6, 2012

Book Review: The Norse Myths by Kevin Crossley-Holland

We are fascinated with tales of the mythical and the strange. From age to age, continent to continent, every culture has its own mythological tales. Some mythologies, are more influential than the others. Do you know, that Norse mythology is present in our everyday life? From the naming of weekdays, to books and movies. Just in case if you don't know already. Tuesday, is derived from Tyr, the god who sacrificed one of his hands to bind the giant wolf Fenrir. Wednesday (Woden's day), is derived from Odin, the Norse god of war, and also known as the "all father". Thursday, is derived from Thor, the Norse god generally associated with thunder, lightning, strength and protection. Friday, is derived from Frigg, the goddess who was Odin's wife.

Culturally, Norse mythology has inspired and shaped the stories of many movies and books. The recent blockbuster, Marvel's Avengers, is inspired and based on characters in Norse mythology. Authors of fantasy fiction, such as J.R.R Tolkien, C.S Lewis, Robert E. Howard, Neil Gaimen, Poul Anderson, J.K Rowling, R.A Salvatore (so on and so forth..) write books contain and inspired by elements of Norse mythology 

Such a profound influence! I wonder if we can go as far as saying that Norse mythology, is the "mother of all" stories. Personally, my interest in Norse mythology originated from reading fantasy fictions by Robert E. Howard and J.R.R Tolkien. Following this, I became fascinated with Beowulf, and it wasn't long before I started reading the Norse epic saga such as the saga of Volsung, and the saga of king Hrolf Kraki. Eventually, I attempted to read the Prose Edda and poetic Edda, the source of all this mythological and fantasy "stuff" that I am passionate about. Similar to Norse epic saga, the poetic Edda and Skaldic poetry were written, as the names suggest, in the format of poems. In the 1200s, a Christian historian and poet called Snorri Sturluson compiled a collection of Norse mythological stories based on the poetic Edda and the Skaldic poetry. It is interesting to note, Snorri Sturluson's Prose Edda added Christian elements to these Norse mythological tales, by describing the origins of the Norse gods as warriors who settled in Northern Europe after the Trojan War. These warriors became highly regarded in that region, because of their superior culture and technology, and in the ages after their death, the remembrance ceremonies and circulating stories on these heroes gradually turn them into gods.

Both poetic Edda and Prose Edda possess enormous cultural, artistic and historical values. Nevertheless, it is a daunting task for modern readers to go through all these literature to appreciate Norse mythology, mostly because of the language it was written in. British author and poet, Kevin Crossley-Holland, put together a collection of 32 Norse mythological tales, retelling these stories in a very attractive prose form. 

The book started with a 25 page introduction, this is a brief summary on the writing and the development of Norse mythology throughout history. The 32 stories in this book, starting from the Norse creation story, ending at the event of Ragnarok, tells the beautiful stories of Norse mythology in chronological order. Although the stories here are not written in the poetic format of the original materials, but Kevin Crossley-Holland's prose is just as vivid and descriptive, and this book is very easy to read. I think this is a great introduction to Norse mythology, for anyone who is interested to know more about Norse mythology.

My thoughts:

One of my many interests, is to compare the gods in other mythologies (Norse, Greek, Sumerian, and Chinese) against the Christian God. When I was reading this book, I couldn't help but to compare the stories of these Norse gods against the story of the Christian god, and Jesus Christ. What I realized was that the gods of Norse mythology (and many gods from other mythology) were essentially entities with superhuman abilities with a certain limit. Character wise, the Norse gods are just equally as noble as they are flawed. For example, I found it very interesting that in one of the stories, Odin, the god of all gods in Norse mythology, sacrificed himself to be hung on the world tree ,Yggdrasil, for 9 days and 9 nights. In exchange to gain wisdom of the nine worlds, so he harness more power. The story of a god/God hung on a tree, reminds me of another story. Jesus was hung on a cross (made of wood) too as a sacrifice. But here is the difference: In Norse mythology, Odin's sacrifice is so that he can gain wisdom of the nine worlds, making himself more powerful. Inherently, Odin's self sacrifice is for his own gain. But when Jesus was hung on the cross and died, it was not in exchange to gain benefits for himself. The reason why Jesus hung on the cross was because he died for the sin of mankind, to offer the gift of salvation to those who believes in him, while showing God's love for us. Needless to say, in this case, the difference between Jesus and Odin is distinctive.

Fatalism, is another theme in Norse mythology. The Norse gods were destined to doom at Ragnarok, with all their powers, they could not prevent themselves from perishing at the hands of their enemies. The Norse gods, are simply flowing in the stream of destiny, in which they cannot control. Despite their "divine" status, they have no power to forge plans in the chasm of space and time. One has to ask this question: Can such gods be real "God"? If one looks carefully, when comparing the Norse gods against the Christian God. The first notable difference is, the God of Christianity is NOT a God who is destined by a fatalistic plan where He has no control. Actually, in contrast to the Norse gods, the Christian God is the ONE who HAS the plan. This is a plan that supposedly transcends space and time, because He is the author of space and time. Secondly, unlike the Norse gods, the Christian God cannot be defeated by his opponents (see the story of Pharaoh vs. God in Exodus). The God of Christianity, is a God who is sovereign over everything, including those attempting to work against Him. While the Norse gods eventually bowed down to the creeping sickle of death, the God of Christianity defeated death! (This was shown in the account of the bodily resurrection of Jesus). 

Some people ask me, why do I put faith in the God of Christianity, and reject the gods of mythology. My answer is this: While I cannot say with 100% certainty, that these "gods" of mythology never existed. But I can be sure about one thing, that is when I compare the gods of mythology against the God of Christianity. Everything tells me that these gods of mythology, cannot be the true God. Because these mythological gods, are superhuman with limitations, and they are just as flawed as they are noble. God of Christianity however, is everything that a true God should be, this is most evident when I examine my own heart with the meaning and the teachings in the Bible. Personally, this is the best evidence/reason I need to persevere as a believer.