Thursday, September 25, 2014

[GOTHAM] Pilot Episode Review

I know I said that there is a fourth part for my review of Gotham: The Legend Reborn which was the making-of documentary of the show but the last installment only had two minutes and thirty-five seconds of material which was just a summary of the previous three videos so there was nothing else to say. Enough about that because we just had the season premiere of said show last Monday September 22! Since I do not live in the United States, I have to wait the next day before I get access to it and then another day before I can post an official review. So you'll see me talking about it around every Wednesday of the week from now on; the latest would be posted on a Friday in case real life (hey, I do have one of those, okay?) get in the way. For now, I posted this on a Thursday but I promise to be quicker about it next time. My reviews will discuss, as much as possible, every scene featured. I'm sure the format will change as the show progresses (I may only have to discuss the key points of an episode as oppose to rehashing the entire thing). But to commemorate Gotham's pilot episode, let me take this time to break down all of its parts.

But first, my overall impression: I LIKED IT IMMENSELY. It was fun to see characters I recognize instantly make their appearances. The dialogue is crisp, albeit stiff in some places. And the casting choices fit the roles unexpectedly better than I initially thought (which I will expound on later). Sure, there were a few scenes that I felt were put there to pander to the majority of Batman fans but I would also like to think they would serve a bigger purpose in the plot as the show develops. Heller stressed that this show isn't about Batman nor should it be, but I understand the need to connect it with the Batman mythos every now and then though I do worry that the show may not stand on its own for viewers who aren't exactly well-versed in Batman factoids. Still, Batman has had many adaptations in the past, and his rogues' gallery has been portrayed in television before (the Adam West show and the animated series are the prominent examples) so I'd like to think that even the casual viewer would at least be familiar with the likes of Catwoman, Penguin, Poison Ivy, the Riddler (who were also featured in the Burton and Schumacher films in the nineties).

However, I think it will take Gotham a while to find a core audience but I know it will get there because Heller is an impressive showrunner (based on his work on Rome and The Mentalist). I also think that the show would fare better if it won't attempt to try too hard to win over the comic book crowd. Why do I sound so optimistic about this? Well, let's say I have an experience about this with another fandom. Sherlock Holmes is as much of a childhood hero as Batman was while I was growing up, and I was a hardcore fan of the Granada series starring Jeremy Brett. And then Steven Moffat came along with Sherlock and I fell in love with it too. But we then get an American adaptation Elementary from the CBS network and I was wary of that for a while until it finally won me over. What I'm trying to say is that it's going to be a typically a difficult transition at first; a lot of Batman fans may not root for this show initially but I would encourage them to keep watching because, I find, that most of the things we don't expect from too much ultimately grow amazing before our very eyes as long as we're patient enough to see it through. That's what I intend to do with Gotham. Besides, I was honestly hooked already and that had more to do with the way most of the actors presented their characters within the forty-five minute format of a standard episode.

"However dark and scary the world may be, I promise you there will be light."




We already get four scenes in before the title sequence of the show even started. These were the crucial ones that quickly wasted no time in initiating the viewers into the premise. First, we get a young girl whom we all know based from the promos as Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), an amateur petty thief who roams the city at night to steal. While hiding in an alleyway, she coincidentally witnesses Thomas and Martha Wayne as they were gunned down by a masked mugger who simply walks out on their son Bruce instead of killing him alongside his parents. Canonically, Selina was never there but I'm curious to see how this would affect the dynamics between her and Bruce (David Mazouz) especially since they might have future interactions in the show. As for this scene itself which we have seen play out before in Nolan's Batman Begins, it was just as brutal and I believe both child actors displayed enough gravitas to handle such a traumatic event. I especially liked that shot of Bruce staring into the barrel of the gun which only lasted for a few seconds but did feel as if time itself just froze. That was pretty intense. We cut right to the Gotham Police Precinct where a mentally unstable suspect held one of the officers in hostage, demanding for his pills. In walks Ben McKenzie as James Gordon, doing his best to contain the situation. He accomplishes that but his senior partner Harvey Bullock (Donal Logue) was not impressed and proceeded to scold him like a disappointed big brother. He criticized Gordon for--being too much of an upstanding guy, I guess, instead of straight-up shooting the suspect because that's how they do it in Gotham apparently.

Gordon looks very out-of-place in his environment and this continues on as he sees things unfolding before his eyes but ends up not knowing the best way to understand them and react to them accordingly. I don't think he's necessarily wet in the ears, but Bullock kept hammering him down about the way the world works in Gotham in almost every interaction they have. One can see that Bullock is the kind of law enforcer who has learned to expect little from the city he serves so his lectures about the ways of the city might come from a place of adapted cynicism but he does have a genuine concern for his new partner as we later find out by the end of the episode. I like the chemistry between these actors; the formulaic contrast to their characterizations is important. That's how this relationship will function and hopefully evolve during conflicts and compromises along the way.

One of my favorite parts, of course, since the trailer was released, was the conversation between Gordon and the young Bruce Wayne. This scene alternated with the one about Bullock and the responding officer at the Waynes' crime scene. It's notable that Bullock didn't want to take the case as soon as he learned who the victims were. Hmmm...what are we hiding, Harvey? Let's leave it at that and jump back to Gordon and Bruce. I loved this scene because I'm a sucker for interactions between favorites especially one that is the show's original take. Canonically, Gordon wasn't even a part of the investigation concerning the murder of the Waynes, but I'm liking this angle a lot because Gordon is an idealist caught up in a less than ideal city and he badly needs something other than himself and his fiancée (Barbara Kean who will appear later) to get up to every morning. That could be no other than Bruce (and I predict that this child will always be someone Gordon will take into account as he makes critical decisions during dangerous situations). While sitting in the corner of an alleyway, Gordon reveals his own tale of woe to the kid which was enough to earn Bruce's trust so he opened up about his parents. I thought this was a rather well-acted dialogue and both actors were able to deliver the solemnity and awkwardness of the conversation. Gordon took the time to make a connection with Bruce which for me shows that he is a genuinely decent man and that he didn't just take this job because he thinks it's where most of the action is but it's also because it's a position where he could do some good in the society. Another marvelous scene was followed by this and that comes when Alfred appears. Can I just say that the actor (Sean Pertwee) they casted was a rather bold move? He wasn't the frail old butler with his signature sardonic quips that we know in most adaptations. This Alfred looks like he will kick your ass if you hurt Master Bruce--and I LOVE IT! His exchange with Gordon was one of my favorites too where Gordon vows valiantly to find the Waynes' killer and Alfred looked at him as though he's from another dimension of reality (because clearly Gordon has no idea how the majority of crimes aren't solved here in Gotham). The stern and brassy way that this actor portrayed Alfred with was refreshing, and I look forward as to how he and the young Bruce Wayne will carry on together in the wake of the Waynes' death.

"This is not a city or a job for nice guys"


Right after the titular sequence, we get back to Gordon and Bullock at a breakfast diner, having a banter for a few minutes until two people from the Major Crimes Unit appeared. They were named Montoya (who was from the comics) and Allen (I don't know him, is he an original character or did I just forget about him?). There is obviously some tension between them and Bullock, especially when they offer to take away the Wayne murder case. Bullock picked up on their eagerness and didn't hand over what they want just to spite them (apparently, he considered their kind rude and elitist). Gordon has yet to familiarize himself with office politics so he kept his mouth shut. Can I just say that McKenzie making glum faces in every scene remind me of his days in that teen show The O.C? It was slightly distracting, only because I knew him so well in that role and have to remind myself to forget about that and focus on him as Jim Gordon. The next few scenes still dwelled on these partners (Bullock complains to their captain about having a green boy as a partner; that really weird montage interrogation scene between them and some muggers/suspects which was shot rather amateur-ishly) until we get to that appearance (or glorified cameo, if you want) of one Edward Nygma, a forensic analyst of some kind who was too giddy for comfort with his 'riddles' as Bullock pointed out. I didn't mind seeing him but the nudge-nudge-wink-wink aspect of the dialogue was heavy-handed. The introduction was too blatant for my taste, but I did like the actor's take on it which was meant to be cartoonish; and Gordon not missing a beat when he easily answered Nygma's riddle. The camera does a close-up shot of Nygma's face twice which might mean something. I suppose Nygma never had a police officer engage with him like that, let alone answer his riddles voluntarily. I sense that Nygma might get curious of Gordon because it certainly looks like he became suddenly aware of his presence the moment he answered the riddle. Hmm, this could be promising if they followed up on this some time in the next episodes.

After hearing the latest forensic results, Gordon put on his thinking cap for a working theory he was more than happy to share with Bullock. He believed that it was not just a simple mugging incident; this is a professional hit and someone wanted the Waynes dead. My ears perked up immediately at that. I was beginning to have those suspicions myself. Bullock didn't completely dismiss the theory but he wasn't that hot about it either. I just love Donal Logue's body language every time he's with Gordon. I know he's hiding something but he's clearly experienced enough to conceal the fact that he's hiding something...does that make sense? Anyway, they were off to their next place of inquiry which was Fish Mooney's place.


Nothing to see here: A Lesson in Turning-The-Other-Cheek


Delightfully enough, Jada Pinkett-Smith and Robin Lord Taylor's first appearances as their characters Fish Mooney and Oswald Cobblepot were instantly engrossing. There is a complexity to the way their characters bounce off each other, an electricity that threatens to give you a shock any moment if you're not careful. When we meet Fish for the first time, she was beating up one of her lackeys with a bat while Oswald holds an umbrella for her because it's drizzling outside while they do this. Fish is in her element, casually brutal yet very much in control of the scene which can't help but remind me of Heller's memorable anti-heroine Atia of the Julii from Rome. It was enough to make me shiver until the camera lingers in Oswald's face, and I could see that his expression is that of elation like a spectator in an arena. He's obviously aroused by the violence his lady boss inflicts and the sexual enegry coming from both their characters as a unit is unmistakable. I was very intrigued of their dynamics already. But we had to pull back a little because Bullock and Gordon just arrived and requested to see Fish. She graciously welcomes Bullock into her sordid club (bit kissy much those two, though) and complisults Gordon by remarking, "Aren't you a cool glass of milk?".

Meanwhile, this scene alternates back to Oswald and some of Fish's crooks. One of them offers Oswald the bat and, like a killer puppy, he obliges and starts to beat up the lackey. He was enjoying it way too much that the crooks started teasing him about it, the most nudge-nudge-wink-wink of it was when they called him "penguin". Oswald doesn't like that. He's like the group's little brother who just wants to hang out with the big boys, but is constantly the butt of every joke. There's something pitiful about that. Back at the club, Gordon overhears the commotion outside and volunteers to check it out. As soon as he meets Oswald and the crooks, none of them reacted to the fact that he's a cop who just caught them beating up somebody. The bemused indifference they all shared was grating to Gordon but it's also easy to see that this is just the way the world of Gotham goes and you either join or stay out. Gordon decided to play it smart and left them alone, but he's not scared easily either. While Bullock bids farewell to Fish, Gordon could literally choke the life out of Fish with his parting death glares. McKenzie's always been good with intense staring and the actor deliberately plays that up--but Pinkett-Smith's Fish Mooney doesn't back down from it either.

I loved the entire scene sequence. Pinkett-Smith and Taylor already leaves the viewers a lasting impression, and it's such a treat to watch Gordon as he continues to figure his way out of the oddness and unwelcoming aspects of Gotham City while Bullock navigates his way with much experience, employing professional detachment all throughout.


Cased Closed....or is it?



Speaking of Gordon, and since it is his story we are following, we finally see him relax a bit in the presence of his fiancée Barbara Kean who seems to play the role of the caring woman just right. She seems to possess tons of compassion for the kind of work that is required in Gordon's job and offers him counsel. I like her for now, especially since her scenes with Gordon actually have a subplot forming which will be explored later on. The next day, Bullock and Gordon follow a fresh new lead which got them to a man named Mario Pepper. This was Fish Mooney's intel as served by Bullock (who we saw drinking his way through the wee hours while investigating, and I found that quite hilarious and endearing. This is one cop who has seen far too many grimness that perhaps incorporating habitual drinking into his work routine takes the edge off). Anyway, as they knock on the door of the Pepper residence, another cameo of a future Bat-villain happens; this time it's a young Poison Ivy (Pamela Isley in the comics but she is now named Ivy Pepper). How do we know this? Aside from the name, we also see her lurking around, playing with plants in the background. Yeah, that happened. So Bullock and Gordon started questioning Mario Pepper and his (obviously battered) wife (who didn't even bother covering her black eye with a concealer or anything) automatically confirms his alibi. But then Mario Pepper himself screws it up and runs off and we get the obligatory perp chase. It was a great action sequence. Gordon busted some chops and Bullock took the kill-shot. Good times. And apparently, it was a case-closed matter the moment they found Martha Wayne's pearl necklace buried far too conveniently inside a bag of drugs. Yeah. Totally inconspicuous. Case closed indeed...

...or is it? *insert ominous music here*

Gordon and Bullock drop by to the Waynes' funeral to inform their orphaned son Bruce the good news. Gordon has truly learned to care about this child and wanted to give him the closure he deserves. Mazouz as the young Bruce Wayne has a great presence to him even if this was just the second scene we see him in the episode. Also, Pertwee as Alfred just standing there behind Bruce in his dapper suit, looking more like his ex-military bodyguard than the family butler, is a nice touch.


More Than What It Seems: A Lesson in Pulling-the-Strings behind the scenes


I realized that I jumped ahead with the Waynes' funeral scene, but I feel like grouping that alongside the Pepper failed arrest action sequence due to causal purposes. The next scenes we get among Cobblepot and the Major Crimes Unit as well as that two-fold scenes with Barbara Kean are the moments in the show that establish the chess pieces to be moved across the board later on. Let's start with Oswald Cobblepot. I remember talking to one of my guy friends about Robin Lord Taylor and this role he plays in the show, and that we both believe that he may be the interesting one yet and I still maintain that, especially after I have seen him in action. I wasn't that shocked that he would play both sides and snitch to the law enforcement. This Cobblepot character has ambitions and he has his eyes set on becoming a ruler of the crime underworld which was basically a Penguin trait from the comics. But he's young and that does prove to be a disadvantage for him in the game. Nevertheless, Taylor portrayed Oswald Cobbeplot in this show with such honest-to-goodness level of cunning and a touch of unexpected vulnerability here and there that I believe makes him powerfully engaging to the viewers. He makes me uncomfortable but I want to see more of him. He does feel like a kooky bird waiting to spread his wings and leave his mother's nest for good--and perhaps too eagerly.

As for Barbara Kean, she had a timely visit from Montoya of the Major Crimes Unity whom she seemed to be good friends with. Knowing who Montoya is in the comics, the moment she says the line, "Does he (James Gordon) know you like I know you?", I had an eyebrow raised because the implication was not lost to me. I have to go online to see what the other reviews said and my suspicion was confirmed. It looks to me like Montoya and Kean had a romantic past (Montoya is a lesbian character after all). In their scene, Montoya warns Barbara about Gordon, planting the distrust between the two which I will be interested to see take root and grow as the show progresses. Montoya thinks Gordon is a crooked cop, working with the mob. Not exactly an unfair assessment because Gordon has yet to discern the crowds he gets caught up with. Right after that revelation, we get a confrontation between Barbara and James where she told him that MCU believes that Mario Pepper was framed by Fish Mooney and the GCPD had conspired with her. Gordon then confronts Montoya about it, and felt naturally compelled to investigate and double-check himself if there was some truth to this accusation. It was notable that Gordon looks like he wasn't aware of Montoya and Kean's romantic past--yet. It should get interesting to see the dynamics among these three unfold in light of the events in Gotham where nothing is what it seems, and dangerously so.

Gordon, of course, has to start with his own partner Bullock and they take turns trying to convince each other; Gordon wants to re-open the case while Bullock begs him to forget about it and turn the other cheek. Well, you can't tell a retired soldier of pristine honor to do that, can you, Bullock, and not expect Gordon to keep going, right?


"You got a little danger in your eye. I wonder what you plan to do with that.."


It's such a thrill for me that within the forty-five minutes of this pilot episode, we already have the suspense carefully built and sustained especially for the next climactic scenes ahead. Gordon confronted Fish Mooney about Mario Pepper and she had him captured. Bad move, Jimmy. And then Barbara goes to the precinct and meets Bullock, stating that she was worried of Gordon because he hasn't come home yet. Bullock, clearly inconvenienced, knew exactly where to go to find his missing partner. Mooney's crooks have hung him upside down inside a butcher shop next to the dead cattle and was ready to get creative with how they will dispose of him. Bullock asks to speak to Fish over the phone and he warns her that she has a rat in her presence and Fish instantly concluded that it's Oswald Cobblepot. Fish had the crooks take care of Bullock as well while she confronted Oswald. These scenes were absolutely great to watch. I just love it when characters are caught up in entangled conflicts like this and each actor's performance was top-notch for these respective scenes.

I personally enjoyed the one with Fish and Oswald the most. When Fish said that Oswald was like a son to her and that he broke her heart, (so she proceeded to break his leg with one of the chair pieces she had smashed against him right after Oswald tries to stab her--yup, a love-hate relationship doesn't even begin to cover these two), I admit that I was pretty giddy about it because these two are becoming the characters I would love to watch some more in the upcoming episodes. The dynamics, chemistry and general fucked-upness of their characters together are massively entertaining!

"You can't have organized crime without law and order."


Going back to Gordon and Bullock who were just hanging there, not really ready to get butchered, a timely interruption happens which was good for them. Said timely interruption is the appearance of the mob boss Carmine Falcone (John Doman) who was also Fish Mooney's superior. He wasn't pleased about the glossy violence that was about to take place, seeing it as rash and wasteful. With direct orders from the major boss, the crooks let Bullock and Gordon live and Gordon gets to have 'the talk' with Falcone which was a great scene for me because I miss having the mob presence taking a center stage in Batman adaptations on screen, and I'm pleased that Heller has expressed his interest to explore that in his show. Doman looks like the right fit for the role and he had that pragmatic, sensible businessman vibe going on which was non-threatening on the surface, possibly concealing the real shark beneath such still waters. The quotation I used above is easily my most favorite line in the episode. It had an atmospheric implication; an overall ironic meaning that simply stresses the reality of the situations in Gotham City. It speaks of the corrupt state of police force as they work side-by-side with the crime classes to make the city function. It's possible that you can't have one without the other especially in Gotham, and I think that's Falcone's message here.
 

"Don't ever come back to Gotham."



The last two scene sequences of the episode has gotten me very excited for what's to come next. First, we have Bullock capturing Oswald Cobblepot and pushing Gordon to dispose of him to prove that he has an allegiance to uphold which apparently means he needs to do crooked things from now on if he hopes to protect the people he loves. At this point, the idea that Bullock is one of the cops that Falcone has in his pocket has been spelled out. This was an intense scene because I almost believed that Gordon is going to end Oswald Cobblepot and I don't know why because it's obvious that Cobblepot will live. What was surprising is that Gordon let him live (which is so gonna bite him in the ass later, I bet). We all know that showing mercy or having some sort of code of honor will get characters like Gordon into a helluva lot of trouble when the grays around them are overwhelmingly real--but we root for them to succeed anyway. Personally, I love the idea that he spared Cobblepot which means that, at some point, Cobblepot may think he owes Gordon something and may want to repay him, so their future interactions would be amusing to see unfold.

We get the final appearance of the young Bruce Wayne in the second to the last scene of the episode. The boy is obviously coping from the loss of his parents pretty badly since we see him standing on the top of the mansion (in a way that reminded us that this is the boy will become Batman so it's only right for him to conquer his fear of heights), and he only came down when Alfred scolded him. Gordon paid him a visit to give him an important disclosure about the corruption in the police force, and that Mario Pepper wasn't the one who killed his parents. He then asked Bruce's permission to investigate further because it was the right thing to do and he just couldn't forgive himself if he did nothing. He also promised Bruce that he will do whatever it takes to take down the corrupt cops within his precinct. I was...nervous the entire time this conversation was happening. It's risky for Gordon to come out in the open like this but I guess he wanted Bruce to know that he can trust him as an ally.

Like I said, it was fairly established from their very first meeting that Gordon has formed a connection to this child, and someone of his personality and integrity do tend to place themselves in situations that would entail sacrifice for the sake of honor and saving innocent lives. In this case, Bruce Wayne is the representation of Gordon's ultimate goal. Also, he acknowledges the importance of the Waynes in the Gotham community and he could feel in his gut that their murder is the right place to start if he hopes to put a stop to the corruption and madness in the police force. As Gordon leaves the Wayne Estate, we get another shot of Selina Kyle crouching at the gates which was parallel to her first appearance in the beginning. She was also there at the funeral earlier. I think she's becoming attached to the young Bruce herself, seeing as she witnessed the crime of his parents' death and must be moved by the tragic senselessness of it. Perhaps...and this is my theory, she might even know who the killer is (or at least be indirectly connected to him and the one who hired to do the job somehow).

Mazouz as Bruce is properly broody and he fills the role with the kind of maturity only a child who had survived a traumatic event can display. He embodied the character in a subtle sense and I look forward to how he goes on from there. I am liking him a lot as young Bruce but I want Gotham to be foremost a James Gordon story since Heller did promise that. Sure, this is a network show and the crime procedural formula is still present but making it a serialized drama would be a challenge for both the showrunner, production crew and actors themselves so I do hope they test and go out of the confines of that genre (just as much as CBS' Person of Interest did). I'm already very invested and hopefully the next episode will have more focus than the pilot did. I could do away with the glorified cameos for the time being. I want the show to take their time first in telling the story earnestly because quality can always guarantee longevity. They have a rich tapestry to take their material from, and I certainly hope that they remember to pay the utmost respect toward the characters and the city that I have grown up with and loved.

FINAL VERDICT: 4 stars


With plenty of subplots and storylines to pursue, GOTHAM shows promise and lots of potentials for interesting narrative and compelling character interplay among its chief heroes and villains.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

[GOTHAM] The Legend Reborn part 3


The main reasons why I've been writing reviews for each segment of Gotham: The Legend Reborn are (1) Posterity's sake in such a way where I want to chronicle my thoughts pre-show so I can go back to them and see if some of my assessments and assumptions have been answered by the series based solely on the documentary footage that the showrunners and production crew have shown in these videos; (2) This would serve as practice for my upcoming episode reviews once September 22 comes along because this is truly the first time I'll be writing them EVER; not to mention I also have NBC's Constantine to review for my Hellblazer blog. So I want to ensure that I can meet my self-imposed deadlines regardless of whatever pressure I may have in real life. I need to harness a new level of dedication and diligence if I am to review two comic book-based shows AND comic books themselves alongside them. The previous blog entries are there to help me cope with this kind of writing atmosphere which I should maintain in the next months or so until the first season ends. I'm actively excited and scared of the process! A part of me will enjoy the journey but there is also a part of me that dreads having to push through writing my thoughts and insights for each episode as timely as possible. But then again, I had that same feeling when I was doing the first wave of my Batman comics diet and I got through that impressively with a total of ninety-six individual issues reviewed! I guess the trick is to treat it as a job and not procrastinate writing even if that tends to happen here and there. True focus is the key!

The third installment of The Legend Reborn is entitled Beneath the shadows which tackles the production sets and visual effects of the show. This footage only ran for five minutes and twenty seconds, the shortest of the flicks, but it gave us a more in-depth look concerning the people who worked behind the scenes and their contributions. As someone with a Broadcast Journalism major in Mass Communications, I have personally been a part of productions not just for news sets but for movie sets though they were small-scale compared to a network television production. However, I always enjoy finding out how a production team sets the mood and atmosphere of the show and the visual textures they'll apply to truly capture that 'vibrancy of the city' they wish for the viewers to get transported to. One of the striking references to me while watching this was the fact that they mentioned the science-fiction movie Blade Runner as one of the inspirations which made me helplessly giddy because I love the cinematography and landscapes of that world and if Gotham intends to go for the same tonality in their shots and locations, then count me in a hundred-percent! I am a bona-fide Batman fan and Gotham is my city of nightmares, so you can only imagine my glee when they characterized the city as something that is both of our world yet beyond our world. They want to establish Gotham City as a timeless world yet still in line with the present day which is only expected. As I've discussed in my part 3 review yesterday, Gotham is a modern-type Rome and has allusions to the 1970's crime wave of New York City.


 
 


Speaking of New York, it's only understandable that they'd pick it as the primary location because based from my understanding of that city from countless television shows, movies and books, it's a place where it's always alive especially at night. Things happen in the shadows and everyone looks as if they are always in constant motion regardless of the destination they want to reach. A location can also do wonders with the actors who are in the story because they get a better sense of the roles they are playing if the setting they are surrounded and encapsulated in is a vivid and as atmospheric as it's supposed to be. Another thing they talked about for this segment is the Gotham Police Department precinct which did look extraordinary. I immediately noticed those tall windows that seemed to occupy the space, giving it an easily house-of-mirrors vibe. I also noticed the long-winding dark arches in those windows which is, in a word, gothic like something from a very exceptionally done Tim Burton film. On a related note, WHAT ABOUT 'EM GODDAMN GARGOYLES, EH? The visual effects team showcased their outputs in regards to the overall wide-screen shots of the city. They reproduced gargoyles and other foreboding statues which are then scattered across the skyline every time the camera does a moving panel shot. That was another thing that got me so giddy because I can just picture Batman himself standing near or on top of a gargoyle which, if you know your comics, essentially act as the symbolic guardians of Gotham whose presence also give you the creeps, making the city look like something from medieval times where appearances are deceiving in the most unsettling sense. These gargoyles are hands-down the very first thing I will keep an eye for once the pilot comes out tomorrow.

 
 


Stay tuned for the last part of my review of Gotham: The Legend Reborn. And yes, it would be on a Monday since I don't live in the United States and I have to wait at least a day before I can watch the actual episode and then review it. I intend to post episode reviews during the middle of the week (most probably on a Wednesday).

Saturday, September 20, 2014

[GOTHAM] The Legend Reborn part 2



Here we are again for the second part of my review of Gotham: The Legend Reborn. It's hard to believe that we only have three days before Fox launches the show and I look forward to it very much, most especially since I'll start reading the second wave of my Batman comics diet by next month which means that this blog will be extremely loaded with reviews on both Gotham episodes and individual comic book issues until December, I believe. There is always going to be a reason to geek out about my Dark Knight anyway, and having to watch and review a show alongside my comics reading will keep me preoccupied indeed and that means I'll be at my happiest state of mind until 2014 ends. What more could this dork ask? So let's get right to it. The second part is entitled A City on the Edge which is something I enjoyed viewing especially when something occurred to me about this show's structure which I'll discuss below. Like the previous one, the video footage is six minutes and forty-five seconds long.
"The Waynes are very important to Gotham City so their deaths created a power vacuum filled with various people with less than philanthropic notions on how to run Gotham.
"The only man who can break down that downward spiral is the last good man in Gotham, James Gordon."


Before I do discuss the show's structure, let's first talk about the young Bruce Wayne's role in all of this. I think it's important to correct the expectations of anyone who would be interested to watch this show especially if they hope to see Batman appear. You'll be sorely disappointed because that's not what Gotham is about. This is about the city's political, criminal and economic struggles against its mob families, own corrupt police force, and the exceptional individuals who want to exploit the city and turn it into their own dynasty. With a city teeming with such dark forces like that, it's no wonder that a vigilante like Batman has to happen sooner or later--and it's not a surprise as well that he's from a family of wealth and prestige himself, whose parents have high hopes of establishing Gotham as a place of integrity and progress. After their untimely demise, their son was the only one left to shoulder that responsibility and, as we know, he found another way to fulfill that duty and strengthen their legacy. Batman stands up for something ideal that's unkillable and to better understand and appreciate how significant he is as a hero of his own right, it's best to contextualize him in the world he struggles to save, a city that badly needs a symbol of justice and hope. The show promises to tackle that and that alone should be enough to watch Gotham. It certainly is for me.

That said, it wouldn't have to be strictly abstract in execution. Like all great stories, there are central characters we need to establish an emotional connection with because it's with these characters that our investment on the show itself will flourish from. As I've mentioned in the first part of my review yesterday, Gotham will have James Gordon as the detective assigned to the case of the Waynes' murder which would allow him to interact with a young Bruce Wayne and consequentially form a bond with. Their relationship may turn out to be the emotional high-point of the series if handled carefully and I certainly hope that it will be central to the other conflicts that Gordon will face as he follows the scarlet thread. It wouldn't be difficult to imagine that Gordon might consider Bruce Wayne a representation of all his dreams and hopes about a better Gotham, which means that he will be more involved in the boy's life--even if it's both to their detriment. If the show would last for another five years or so, and the child actor who plays Bruce Wayne will grow up, then it will be very interesting to see how Gordon handles the boy becoming a young man who is determined to fight crime himself; conflicts will arise between them and Gordon who by then is the Commissioner will also learn the truth about Batman's identity sooner or later, and that revelation will be poignant because Bruce was also the same boy he treated as his own son and whom he hoped will not stray to a dangerous path. He might even consider it a personal failure to see Bruce become a vigilante--this Dark Knight--but then he would embrace it eventually, recognizing the noble and admirable things that Batman stands for especially since Gotham needs heroes in any shape or form possible. Mostly, he would accept it because he loves Bruce because he's family and he has to trust that he is doing the right thing. But yes, I'm getting ahead of myself again but that just goes to show the potentials this kind of set-up will bring about. This is why I want Gotham to work and fare well so we'll get an opportunity to see a well-written and well-acted television series about superheroes (I'm a fan of CW's Arrow and the most compelling moments of that show have always been character-driven) so it's very important to make sure that the foundation of the relationships among central characters are strong.

We also get to see a few clips about Alfred in this footage which is yet another promising aspect of the show. Alfred raised Bruce and was always there no matter what, and I would very much want to see that relationship evolve in this show because no one understands Bruce Wayne better than his most loyal butler and surrogate parent. From what I can tell from the clips, Alfred looks like a tough man and he seems to distrust if not dislike James Gordon. It'll be great to see some conflict between them and a difference in opinion as to how to handle and take care of Bruce. After all, these two men are Batman's most trusted allies in the comics so I have high hopes that Gotham can give me a very nuanced approach to their relationships.

"When we begin this series, Gotham City is struggling. It's in the midst of a crime wave. It's battling corruption." 
"Gotham is on a knife-edge."





Now let's discuss the show's structure that I mentioned when I began this review. As all of you may know by now, showrunner Bruno Heller was best known for his work on the HBO series Rome which is just stunning (but only managed to get two seasons due to budget restrictions). The reason I bring this up again is because it's hard for me not to see the parallels between that show and this new one by Heller. It's really no surprise that I'm connecting the dots between them, seeing as both are titular shows about cities, and the parallels arguably do exist between Heller's version of Rome and now Gotham. The intense political climate in the show Rome during its first season was about Julius Caesar and his ascension as the first emperor of Rome, much to the repugnance and disapproval of the Senate and his best friend and fellow politician Pompeii. There are also side-stories in this backdrop that are happening such as the story of the two retired soldiers from one of Caesar's legions as they navigate their personal lives and sometimes find themselves caught up with the politics of their superiors. There is also Caesar's nephew Octavius (future Emperor Augustus) who is figuring out his place in Roman society and how that role will cost him things he'd never imagine is possible; and then there is his mother Atia of the Julii who schemes and deceives her way to maintain a greater social standing as only a noble woman of birth can do to secure power during those times. We also have several plotlines that build up to the eventual betrayal and conspiracy murder of Caesar in the hands of the Senate and Brutus, one of his loyal friends who turned cloak and (literally) stabbed him in the back.

It's easy to put Gotham in the same league, given that Rome might be Heller's finest work to date, and I honestly wouldn't mind because it could work given that the source material that does have the same type of elements. Besides, I noticed that Gotham characters have counterparts in Rome to a lesser extent. Bruce Wayne could be Octavius, a perceptive young boy in the brink of accepting the greatness thrusted upon him. Fish Mooney could be the new Atia, a cunning woman who has unquenchable ambitions and will do anything to stay on top. Gordon and Bollock could fit the mold of the two soliders who witness the awful things happening in their city and are compelled to do something about it. And Oswald Cobblepot might be the Brutus to Fish Mooney's Caesar--and later become a Mark Anthony of his own making. There is also repeated mentions of the mob wars between the Falcone and Maroni families, and the disruptive relationship between the Major Crimes Unit and homicide division of the Gotham Police Department which could substitute for the roles of class struggle and political strife that was present in Roman constituents on the other show. Like I said, I can't ignore these comparisons. Now if Heller and his writers will respect the comic book source material and elevate it into a level it that deserves, then Gotham might even surpass what Heller had previously accomplished in Rome. I certainly hope so because what an achievement that will be!

Another show that reminded me of Gotham's set-up is Person of Interest but only in the aspect of police corruption and the terrifying consequences of a world spiraling down into chaos. Said show is created by no other than Christopher Nolan's brother and more or less focuses on the aftermath effects of a post 9/11 world. The tonality of POI seems to match Gotham since both shows deal with the realities of a deteriorating society and the men and women caught in the tidal waves, ones who can make a difference and change the course of things or destroy them forever.

"There is a split in the underworld between the Maroni and Falconi families. A character like Penguin, for instance, is able to come in and play both sides against each other." 
"When Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered, he sees that as an opportunity to make his move to finally become someone of power and status. He's learned to play good people off of bad people, off of good people. It's fascinating."




Of all the things I look forward to the most, Taylor's portrayal of Oswald Cobblepot (before he becomes Penguin) on screen is the one that makes me giddy. I believe the third and fourth videos might expand on his character some more so I'll save more of my general assessment of him until then. But he seems to be the most intriguing of the casting choices because I get the sense that this actor has a vulnerability to him that could mesh well with the show's interpretation of Oswald Cobblepot before he became Penguin. I'm curious of his range because I haven't seen him act before (while McKenzie and Pinkett Smith as well Logue are actors whose skills I have gotten to see firsthand before).

Stay tuned for my reviews of the last two videos! Monday is almost upon us!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

[GOTHAM] The Legend Reborn part 1


We only have a few days to go before Fox's brand new series GOTHAM debuts on September 22 next Monday. In the last two months since I ended the first wave of my Batman comics diet, I've been reading Hellblazer comics in the meantime, but I always keep myself updated with whatever latest news and video footage that the show's Youtube account releases. Soon enough, we got an exclusive behind-the-scenes peak through a series of videos entitled The Legend Reborn (which was otherwise released as a singular episode in TV a few weeks after its initial release online). As we wait patiently for the premiere, I would like to take this opportunity to break down each aspect of said exclusive footage because there are some good stuff in it that the writers, director and actors have discussed during their interview clips and I would like to address some of the key issues which I think are the top things I personally look forward to for this series. First up, we have Mythic Beginnings which ran for about 6 minutes and 40 seconds. Here are some of the important highlights:



"What the show looks at is why a town like that needs a vigilante to help them; what made the town so crazy, what made the town so out of control that villains began to wear costumes."
~Danny Cannon, Director/Executive Producer

As a Batman fan, I got instantly excited as soon as I found out that this show got the green light and was officially happening. I always look forward to any kind of adaptations about my childhood hero whether in movies or animation, and to have a serialized television show that wishes to tackle the moody atmosphere, crime and politics within the city of Gotham itself seems promising enough, especially when the showrunner is Bruno Heller whose work on Rome and The Mentalist has impressed me a lot. I've heard some comics fans express their dismay over the fact that the show won't be zeroing on Batman but rather focus on the other characters in his universe such as James Gordon (the Commissioner), Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin), Selina Kyle (Catwoman), and Harvey Bullock. These naysayers do not concern me because if they want Batman, there's always the comics anyway and the upcoming Nolan-Synder movie with Ben Affleck as the new Batman. Look, Batman simply belongs better in the big screen nowadays, if not in the pages of DC's New 52 material. Let him have that stage. I love Batman as much as any avid fan, but I also enjoy him in the context of the secondary characters he interacts with, the rogues' gallery he battles with, and the city he protects. Those three things are essential in adding more depth and dimension to Batman as a hero. Besides, just as Cannon said above, the show mainly wants to serve as a canvass where bolder strokes could be applied and paint pictures as to why a city like Gotham was able to produce these timeless characters we now know and love; how such a city turned corrupt and twisted; and how these factors became the catalysts for certain individuals to undergo radical transformations.

I don't know about you, but as long as a writer is capable enough and has a great understanding and sensibility of the complex history of the source material he is handling, then an idea such as this won't be wasteful. Heck, for quite a long time, Frank Miller's Year One is the ultimate Batman origin story and we don't think any other writer could come up with his own take but then Scott Snyder published Zero Year and, personally, I believe it surpasses some elements from Miller's work as well as it elevates that particular origin story to a whole new level. With that said, this is why I hope for the best with Fox's Gotham. We need other talented people to flex their creative muscles and work to adapt something so meaningful in scope and well-loved by a great majority of geeks such as the Batman's mythos which include some of the best fictional characters ever written, living in arguably one of the most enduring, intriguing and grittiest fictional worlds ever: GOTHAM CITY.





"You seem like a nice guy but this isn't a city or a job for nice guys." ~Harvey Bullock to James Gordon

The casting for this show looks promising enough with Ben McKenzie who will play James Gordon in his early years. According to Heller himself, Gordon's characterization is that of a war hero who just returned to the city he grew up in to serve as one of its law enforcers, only to find that the city has changed drastically from what he remembers. This premise is also very much reminiscent of Heller's HBO series Rome where a soldier from Caesar's legion came back home and has to adjust quickly with the new evils that beset the city he has to live in. For these men, everything feels familiar and yet relatively foreign as well. Home has become a threat to their well-being in ways they never imagined is possible. I think this is a nice set-up especially with Gordon who had always been one of the noblest and kindest of men whose light is something Gotham City tried to extinguish time and time again. But he didn't get to be the way he is now without his steel being tested first. It would be an enjoyable experience for me to watch Gordon in his formative years as a cop, and what certain things will make or break him. I wanted to see how Heller handles writing his character development as we progress in the show, and how McKenzie would play him to the best of his abilities.

As the central character, McKenzie's Gordon will have to interact with an array of other characters, I believe, and first on that list is Harvey Bullock played by Donal Logue whom I think, based from the footage and interviews, is a corrupt cop who has learned to expect little from the city he supposedly serves, and will be vital in Gordon's life as his partner in the force. His dynamics with Gordon will be something I want to be invested in, seeing as I'm a fan of the formulaic buddy-cops scenarios and with Heller working from the background, I sure hope he will elevate that trope in a level that will become recognizably its own original brand. Bullock's character had only been very present in Batman: The Animated Series and DC's Detective Comics run, and this is truly going to be the first time we see him take on a bigger role in a live-action adaptation. Given that his characterization is the symbolic opposite of Gordon's, I believe he's going to clash and butt heads with our lead character a lot, and it would be great to see if both men will ever share the same goals and make compromises along the way to get to their destinations; even if they might ultimately want different results.



"He'll make mistakes, trust the wrong people, follow his heart at times which will lead him to dangerous situations." ~Ben McKenzie on James Gordon

Another exciting thing I look forward to for this show (my god, there are so many, really) is the alternate interpretation of the Waynes' murder where James Gordon is the detective who was assigned to solve the case which therefore puts him in a direct position to interact with a young, traumatized Bruce Wayne. In the trailers, I've been very curious of the scenes I've seen them together in. One of those scenes was their conversation regarding Bruce's insistence that he's learning to conquer fear to which Gordon enigmatically replies: "Fear doesn't need conquering. Fear tells you where the edge is." And then we see a brief clip of young Bruce on top of his mansion, as if he's about to leap and Gordon is (or Alfred?) looking at him from below, perhaps about to stop him from taking the plunge. McKenzie's quote pertaining to his character making mistakes and trusting the wrong people are inevitable ingredients for compelling character conflict and growth but I'd like to think that the Wayne case will be a particularly dangerous place that will get him into a crapload of trouble. He would follow his heart, perhaps even get emotionally attached with the young Bruce which will give him blind spots while solving the case, and enable his secret enemies from the woodwork to come out to take him down. That's how I envision it and I'm interested to see what Heller plans to do with this alternate storyline. The possibilities are ripe for the taking.

The Waynes were regarded as the pillars of the community; their contributions to Gotham are magnanimous, and Heller mentioned in a voice-over that it was their deaths which would further hasten the downwards spiral of Gotham. Crime will be terribly rampant. This will include the mob wars. Gotham will have its own game of thrones among its thugs. After all, this fictional city was based on New York during the massive crime wave in the seventies, and such a fertile environment of violence will breed very twisted, savage individuals indeed. I think Bruce Wayne will still take a part in the show because he is the victimized boy who will later on become a symbol of justice in the city, and if Gotham manages to get more than three seasons (realistically speaking), we might start treading the Batman territory. But let's not get ahead of ourselves! In the meantime, the show also offers us a young Selina Kyle as she starts her life of crime as a petty thief. There is a scene in the trailer where Selina herself witnessed the Waynes getting shot. I wonder how that will play out. The child actors who will fill these roles seem enthusiastic enough and I'm looking forward to what they will offer in our screens. Bruce and Selina's relationship is very multi-layered and a fan-favorite by many (including me), and it'd be just fantastic to see their younger counterparts interact and clash in this show. On the flipside of that coin, Gordon will also understandably get tangled up with the baddies, particularly with a certain rogues' gallery villain and a new character that Heller created for the show.




Fish Mooney: You have a little danger in your eye, I wonder what you plan to do with that.
James Gordon: You'll have to wait and see
Mooney: I hate surprises.


The wonderful casting of Robin Lord Taylor as Oswald Cobblepot (the future Penguin) is also another highlight for me, especially when we see him here as a young, ambitious right-hand man to Jada Pinkett Smith's Fish Mooney, a power-hungry crime boss who has big dreams to take over the entire Gotham City. Taylor's Oswald Cobblepot looks painfully awkward in his own shoes. He seems lost, at times meek and naive, and very subservient to Smith's Mooney. I've heard both actors talk about the curious dynamics between these two where Mooney serves as both a mentor and master to Cobblepot. She would teach him plenty of things about the crime business and he, in turn, will rise from the ranks by making sure he remains her most loyal pet. Mooney's character is an original creation of Heller, and he guarantees that she will be every bit as malicious, beguiling and sexy. Having a female villain will be amazing for this show, especially since Heller does know how to write his villainesses with a touch of evil that's well-balanced with their surprisingly vulnerable humanity; making them more of anti-heroines as opposed to flat-out villains. A great example would be Atia of the Juli from his series Rome and she remains as one of my favorite fictional anti-heroines to date. I certainly hope that Jada Pinkett Smith will deliver something just as grand, seeing as she's very eager to showcase the character, and her clips in the trailers do make her seem entertaining to watch, looking quite smug and gleeful as she entices the men around her. Who knows, if her character becomes a break-out, we might get our next Harley Quinn who was also an original creation of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm from BTAS, and who had been adapted and included in the original DC comics since.

But I certainly believe Taylor's Cobblepot might be the show-stealer. He may look like an absolute push-over and a nerd, but I could sense that he has some appetite for greatness underneath all that gawkiness. Besides, he is going to become Penguin and the Penguin I know is ruthless and cunning, one who always has tricks upon his sleeve and never hesitates to take the upper hand when presented. Mooney might play a huge role in whittling down the unimpressive, bumbling boy to hone him into that shrewd man who will become one of the formidable Batman villains in the future. And by the time Oswald learns to separate himself from Mooney's overbearing shadow, he might repay her by tossing her aside and taking over her throne. That seems to make sense in my head, and perfectly aligns with his characterization in the canon, so with that in mind I'm actually really excited how Mooney-Cobblepot interactions would proceed in the show.

So that's it for the first part of The Legend Reborn. There are other several things to discuss next time. Stay tuned.