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Thursday, 28 July 2016

Review: Batman: The Killing Joke (2016)

Warning: Spoilers
The Killing Joke
One of the most controversial Batman stories was adapted into an animated film which saw a limited worldwide release on Monday. I am a huge Batman fan and despite the controversial nature of the comic The Killing Joke is one of my favorite Batman stories. Hence, I was fairly excited to see this film. Like always this review contains spoilers so please skip to the conclusion where I give my final verdict if you don't want any spoilers. Before I start though most of my opinions concerning The Killing Joke can be found in my Comics Explained which I did for this story if you are interested in reading it.

Plot
Unexpectedly this film does not only use the story of the comic. Instead it starts off with another story depicting Batgirl, (Tara Strong), and Batman, (Kevin Conroy), trying to take down a narcissistic mobster, (Maury Sterling), who has a perverse fascination about Batgirl. Following this is the actual The Killing Joke story, (please see here). Overall the plot of the film is very good. The second half is a direct adaptation of the story so it builds on what originally worked while the first half I feel could have worked as a standalone story. The pacing of both halves is done very well so this allowed the plot to not feel rushed, as well as both halves not feeling rushed as well. The Joker's song when showing Gordon images of a tortured Barbara was done very well also and it epitomizes the Joker; singing happily and cheerfully about the darkest of things imaginable. Although, I felt that the second half was stronger than the first, but that does not mean that the first half was bad.  

The first half I originally thought was just filler to pad out the film, unlike The Dark Knight Returns or The Long Halloween The Killing Joke is a somewhat shorter story, until the second half started. It served as a good way to build up to the overall theme of the story: can we bring ourselves back from the darkness. It delves much with Batgirl finding the strength not to permanently harm, or even kill, a sadistic sociopath who has been fantasizing about her and wants to make her his own. It very much helps set up the second half effectively which deals with not giving in to our own anger. I particularly liked the mobster who Batgirl wants to take down, Paris, and I could easily imagine him being one of the Bat family mobster villains like Black Mask. However, there were some things that I was not happy with. Largely the Bat sex. I shall talk more about this because to me and many others it seemed to ruin the first half.

For those who weren't aware Batman and Batgirl have sex and throughout the story it plays with sexual tension which Batgirl feels for Batman. I hated this aspect of the story. I have a feeling that Brian Azzarello thought that exploring a relationship between Batman and Batgirl this would create a bigger impact for the second half. As a comic book fan and a huge Batman and Batgirl fan I felt this was a complete misrepresentation of the characters, and from what people are saying on the internet I am not alone. I always felt Batman was like a father figure for Batgirl rather than a romantic interest and this could easily have been shown by the film. To me it would have been much better if Batman's protectiveness over Batgirl and her rebelling against him was meant to represent a father wanting to protect his daughter and a daughter wanting to show her father that she can do these things. Batman mentioning not giving in to the darkness could have worked into this as well. A scene in the second half has the Batcomputer which shows an image of a dying Robin. In the story Death in the Family the Joker beats to death Jason Todd who was the second Robin which Batman sees as his greatest failure. I felt maybe they could have used this and have Batman's protectiveness being about the fear of losing a daughter just as he lost a son. Thanks to this Bat sex issue it really messed up the first half of the story.

Voice Acting
Mark Hamill aka the Joker
One of the best things about the movie is the voice acting. The actors who voiced their characters in the DC Animated Universe reprise their roles in this movie. Kevin Conroy is by far my favorite Batman and he brings back that good performance in this movie. Tara Strong is back as Batgirl and she is really good as well. I find Strong's work to always be good and this is no exception. John DiMaggio, (Jake the Dog from Adventure Time and Bender from Futurama), is in this and I did not know until the credits, and he does a good job here also. However, all this is overshadowed by one actor: Mark Hamill. Hamill reprises his role as the Joker and he steals the show. He is once again fantastic and literally everything about him is done well. In this role he captures everything that makes the Joker: happy about doing the most evil things possible, suddenly going into a psychotic rage, then laughing immediately after the rage, singing gleefully about dying children and going insane, and all with a perverse charm. I had goose bumps when he gave the famous 'One Bad Day' monologue. He steals the show without a doubt. The joke he says at the end actually got laughs from some people at the end despite the dire atmosphere which shows his good performance. In his final performance as the Joker he definitely solidifies himself as the best Joker.

Animation
Both good, like this, and poor at times
The animation is a mixed bag. At times, such as the shot above, it is very well done very good animation. There's two times where it really stands out: one when the Batmobile pulls an armored car from a truck and another when the Joker's admiring his amusement park. During the final fight between the Joker and Batman it is really well done and the quick paced editing really adds to the effect. I particularly like how they've made it resemble the DC Animated Universe animation style which is a nice throwback. However, at times the animation is poor and the editing choppy. There's only one point when it stands out, when Batman is entering Arkham Asylum, but periodically throughout the film the animation quality drops as well as the frames per second. It is noticeable and it is really offputting, especially when it is really good at other times of the movie. As the budget of the film is only around US $ 3.5 million I have a feeling they purposefully gave the more important scenes the better animation which is a shame. It really wrecks the rest of the movie that some scenes has far better editing and animation. Although for just three and a half million it does have good animation and it is far better than Norm of the North with a budget around six times that of The Killing Joke. Although, I was a bit disappointed that they left out the two beams of light and one turning off that was at the end of the comic, (which started the theory that Batman killed the Joker), but that might just be me as it is my favorite panel in the comic.

Music
The music is phenomenal. Most Batman movies have good music and this one is no exception. As said earlier the Joker's song is really good and the use of a Broadway type song is very imaginative and fits very well with the Joker's personality. During the last fight as well it is very tense which adds to an already tense scene making a thrilling experience. From a technical standpoint this is the best part of the film. Nothing more to be said of it. 

Documentaries
The movie had two short documentaries with it: one before about Mark Hamill as the Joker and one after about the music. Both were good although I preferred the first one. It starts with Hamill in 1976 being cast as Luke Skywalker, then up to the 1990s when he became the Joker, then in 2008/9 when he reprised his role in Batman: Arkham Asylum and then 2016 with this movie. It was a good homage to the best Joker in my opinion.

References
Like all comic book movies it contains some references to the wider DC universe although with this one it is mostly limited to the Batman comics. John DiMaggio appeared who played the Joker, very well as well, in Batman: Under the Red Hood. Two Face also has a brief cameo when Batman arrives at the asylum where his scarred side is clawing at the front of his cell. Finally, on the Batcomputer there are several references to famous Joker stories including Death in the Family as a beaten Robin can be seen as well as referencing the Joker's very first appearance in one part of the screen.

Conclusion
With good animation at times, good voice acting, phenomenal work from Hamill and good music but thanks to bad editing at times, some poor animation, a weaker first half and that unforgivable Bat sex scene I shall give Batman: The Killing Joke a 7.1/10. Not as good as Under the Red Hood or The Dark Knight Returns and I doubt Alan Moore would be happy with it, but it is a good film regardless which I feel any DC fan will enjoy. Thanks for reading and please feel free to give me your own opinions on the movie.

Last week this blog reached 10,000 views and by the time of the writing of this post it has almost reached 11,000. For that reason next post shall be a very personal 10,000 view post and a thank you to you all for helping me reach this number.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Comics Explained: The Killing Joke

The Killing Joke cover
As of writing an animated adaptation of The Killing  Joke will be given a limited release in cinemas worldwide. For those who do not know The Killing Joke was written as an Elseworlds story; Elseworlds are DC Comics stories set in parallel universes to the mainstream DC universe. Created by Alan Moore, (of Watchmen and V for Vendetta fame), Brian Bolland and John Higgins this story has managed to become part of the mainstream DC Universe, however, it also remains as the most controversial and dark Batman story. For the intense violence and sadism done by the Joker in this story, as well as the trauma of his origin, this story gained fame for being the definitive Joker story. The creators have even stated that they went too far with what they did in the story. Most of the criticism is directed to the treatment of Barbara Gordon, which is extremely well justified, and Alan Moore has criticized it at least three times. For this reason before we begin I will give a warning that The Killing Joke contains many moments which people may find upsetting. At the most traumatic parts I shall not go into detail or show images from the comic but, it is still very graphic. All images shown are owned by their respective companies and authors with no copyright infringement intended.

Opening
'Two Guys in a Lunatic Asylum'
The story opens with Batman visiting the Joker in Arkham Asylum. Batman has been thinking about his relationship with the Joker; how two men who know nothing about one another could hate each other so much. Batman also has been thinking about the end of their relationship. Either the Joker will kill Batman or Batman will kill the Joker. Batman wants to help the Joker so this will never come to pass. However, Batman then realizes that the man in the shadows he had been talking to was not the Joker but instead a stooge put there by the Joker as a distraction while he escaped. While this is happening the Joker is buying a carnival, and killing the seller, to enact his plan. Batman returns to the Bat Cave pondering that his and the Joker's relationship is in an endless cycle. The Joker escapes then kills and mains before being taken down by Batman. Later the Joker escapes and the cycle continues. Batman wonders how many have been killed or could have been saved if this cycle was broken. Meanwhile, we see the possible origin of the Joker.

Making a Murderer
A failed comedian
Years ago a stand-up comedian is struggling to find money for his pregnant wife. His comedy career is failing as he fails to remember the punchlines, he misses his cues and the audience remains silent as he tells his jokes. To consul the broken comedian his wife says it doesn't matter as long as he makes her laugh. Desperate for money he plans a heist of the chemical plant he used to work at but during the preparation stage his wife is tragically killed in a household accident. Despite this the criminals force him to continue with the heist that night. The comedian is forced to dress up as the infamous Red Hood he would act as a distraction for the police. During the heist the police gun down the criminals but then a creature of the night arrives. Batman early on in his career arrives at the plant but the Red Hood fears him. He panics and jumps into a chemical waste pound lock. Later on he surfaces but sees that his face has become bleached, hair turned green and body has become disfigured. He starts laughing manically. One bad day was all it took to turn make him insane. 
One Bad Day
Years later he decides to show Batman this.

Another Bad Day
The Joker decides to test his theory on someone who should be able to keep his cool no matter what: Commissioner Jim Gordon. Gordon was visiting his daughter, Barbara, (who was the then Batgirl but Jim was not aware of this), at her apartment. The doorbell rings and when she answers it she sees the Joker standing there with two armed goons.
The moment that changed DC history
The Joker then shot Barbara Gordon in her sternum. Horrified at seeing his daughter shot Jim Gordon panics before being knocked out by the Joker's goons. Barbara later wakes in hospital with Batman standing worried over her. They both realize that Jim is missing and the Joker had left Barbara lying in her own blood which points to the idea that the Joker has plans for Jim. Batman sets off then to find the Joker.

Meanwhile, Jim Gordon wakes up naked in a demonic amusement park. Before him sitting on a throne on top of a mound of dolls, and surrounded by burning dolls, is the Joker. When Jim questions the Joker about what is happening he merely replies 'You're going mad'.
The Joker's Throne
The Joker has Gordon dragged to a room where he is shown pictures of his daughter stripped naked on the floor being abused and bleeding out on the floor, (thankfully these images in the comic are almost fully obscured). While this is happening he is being tortured and jeered at by the Joker and his cronies. Batman soon arrives and frees Gordon. At this moment Batman finds out that the Joker's plan to make Jim Gordon go insane. Gordon pleads with Batman to bring the Joker down as he normally does. Batman immediately tracks down the Joker who then has a brief moment of sanity, (the Joker briefly looks distraught that he shot Barbara Gordon and tortured her father), and then tries to shoot Batman only to realize it was a fake gun. He has realized that he has failed to turn Batman insane as well. The Joker then begins to tell Batman a joke: 

See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum… and one night, one night they decide they don’t like living in an asylum any more. They decide they’re going to escape! So, like, they get up onto the roof, and there, just across this narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in the moon light… stretching away to freedom. Now, the first guy, he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend didn’t dare make the leap. Y’see… Y’see, he’s afraid of falling. So then, the first guy has an idea… He says, “Hey! I have my flashlight with me! I’ll shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk along the beam and join me!” B-but the second guy just shakes his head. He suh-says… He says, “Wh-what do you think I am? Crazy? You’d turn it off when I was half way across!
Surprisingly Batman laughs at the joke. He starts to keel over laughing and places his hands on Joker's shoulders. The last panel just shows one beam of light and the laughter stops.
'Two Guys in a Lunatic Asylum'
Legacy
The Killing Joke has a controversial legacy. Feminist comic book fans and writers have criticized the extreme violence that was done to Barbara Gordon and the fact that I could not show you or go into detail about the violence shows how justified this criticism is. The fact that even Alan Moore has said that he is not happy about what he did just shows how disturbing this comic is. The first time that I read The Killing Joke I found it that discomforting that I had to stop reading and to date it is the only comic that has managed to achieve this. Not even the Crossed comics caused this level of discomfort. Despite the controversy The Killing Joke was well received and was made part of the mainstream DC universe. Barbara Gordon remained paralyzed thanks to the events of the story but, remained a hero in the form of Oracle. With the New 52 reboot of the DC universe in 2011 Barbara Gordon managed to get become Batgirl once more. However, the events of The Killing Joke remained with her as Barbara occasionally suffers from PTSD during gun fights and the cover for Batgirl #41 which was inspired by the story had to be redone due to the horrific imagery on it.

The Killing Joke has greatly inspired Batman related media outside of comic books. The Joker's Hawaiian tourist outfit, which he wears while shooting Barbara, are available costumes in the video games Lego Batman and Injustice: Gods Among Us. The Birds of Prey TV series starts with the Joker paralyzing Barbara and The Batman animated TV series has two references to this story. Detective Ethan Bennett is broken, (and turned into Clayface), by the Joker in the same way the Gordon is as well as the Joker giving the same monologue about having 'one bad day'. Later on in the series there is an episode set in the future where Barbara has become Oracle. Also, every one of the Batman: Arkham games mentions in someway this story, (mostly as in all bar one Barbara appears as Oracle). In Asylum the Joker sits on a throne of mannequins, uses an alias Jack White, (used in this story when buying the amusement park) and he also starts telling the lunatic joke before saying 'you've heard it before'. In City Joker tells the story to Hugo Strange and in Origins you get to see his origin as he gives the 'one bad day' monologue. Finally, in Knight there are several: the Joker repeatedly mentions the story, Batman hallucinates and sees a, thankfully, less disturbing version of Joker paralyzing Barbara and in the DLC where you play as Batgirl the Joker shoots at Barbara, misses and then says that 'the next one won't'. Incidentally Knight also references another controversial Batman story; Death in the Family where the Joker killed Jason Todd who was the second Robin. Both Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan were inspired by The Killing Joke when creating their respective version of the Joker and, Nolan even gave Heath Ledger a copy of the story to read. The Joker's creation scene was also shown in the animated film Batman: Under the Red Hood, (incidentally the film shows Jason Todd's death). My favorite person to play the Joker, the incredible Mark Hamill, only agreed to play the Joker one last time if this story would be adapted, (he is in fact playing the Joker in the new film).

Finally, with the controversy is it worth reading? I would argue yes. In my opinion this comic is not about the Joker trying to break Gordon but rather the extreme lengths the Joker will go to show that he and Batman are the same. The Joker wants so desperately for Batman to kill him as it would show both of them that they are the same. Like the Joker one bad day made Batman go insane; seeing his parents shot in front of him propelled him to becoming the Batman. While Bruce Wayne's bad day led his mania to become a force for good the bad day for a nameless comedian propelled him into a life destined to end all that was good. The Joker, meanwhile, is infuriated that Batman has not acknowledged how similar they are and is willing to destroy Barbara and Jim Gordon to make Batman see this. Like Death of the Family years later this story effectively shows the unhinged obsession the Joker has with Batman. One last note there is a theory about the last scene's imagery, (shown earlier). Grant Morrison, (author of Batman Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth where he took imagery too far with every page having some hidden artistic meaning on it), has theorized that Alan Moore and the other creators had Batman prove Joker's idea that they were so close to being one another true. The last two shots show the laughter ending and a light going out. Morrison believes that this references the joke the Joker told and that Batman snapped the Joker's neck.

Thank you for reading. The other sources that I have used, (I took some information from the links of the picture captions), are as follows:
-Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore
-DC Comics Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle by Alan Coswill, Alex Irvine, Matthew K.Manning, Michael McAvennie, and Daniel Wallace
-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a36V6oni9Mw

Saturday, 16 July 2016

World History: Rome: Kingdom to Republic to Empire

When we think about ancient European civilizations the one which instantly springs to mind is that of Rome. Without Rome Europe would have gone down a very different path that it did do as well as North Africa and the Near East. The legacy of Rome can be found in all traces of western society: the works of Shakespeare, the American senate and Christianity to name just a few things. As Alexander the Great, (see here), was forging an empire in the east Rome was spreading across the Italian peninsular. As Alexander's empire splintered following his death Rome continued on until 476 CE in the west and 1453 CE in the east. How did such a remarkable city achieve all this over two thousand years ago? First we must look at the mythical, and the actual, founding of Rome.

Foundation
Romulus and Remus and the wolf
There are many variations of the main story of how Rome was founded. One variation has the king of Alba Longa, Numiter, being overthrown by his brother Amulius. Amulius had Numiter's male heirs executed and his daughter, Rhea Silvia, forced into becoming a Vestal Virgin. However, Rhea had become pregnant by the god Mars with twin boys. Amulius had Rhea's twins thrown into the River Tiber. The twins were discovered by a she-wolf who suckled the twins until they were discovered by the shepherd Faustulus and his wife Acca Larentia. The two raised the twins until they discovered their true heritage and aided their grandfather in ousting Amulius. However, the brothers did not want to wait until Amulius died to become kings so they went out to form their own city. A quarrel erupted between the brothers about who would found the city: Remus saw six vultures first while Romulus saw twelve vultures. Remus said his claim was stronger as he saw an augury first whereas Romulus claimed that as he saw more vultures it was his right. A fight ensued and Romulus committed fratricide. Romulus then finished the new city and invited people from all around to inhabit it ranging from runaway slaves to political refugees. However, only men inhabited the city. To rectify this in what has been called the 'Rape of the Sabines' men of Rome kidnapped, married and raped the women of the neighboring Sabines. As the men of Sabine went to destroy Rome in retaliation it would have ended in bloodshed had not the Sabine women called for peace. Peace was declared and Rome entered a golden age. Of course this story is a myth but it was very important in Roman legacy. They were ashamed of their mythical origin; they were ashamed that a hero like Romulus could commit fratricide and then order the kidnapping and rape of the women of Sabine. Stories were then created saying that Romulus's friend killed Remus and, the poet Virgil, (from The Divine Comedy), claimed that Remus was never killed. Instead he claimed that the brothers ruled side by side.

Another tale says that Rome was founded by refugees fleeing from the destruction of Troy. However, the actual founding of Rome has some connections to Greece. The city that is now Rome was founded by a group of people called the Etruscans, hailing from Etruria in modern day Tuscany, Lazio and Umbria. The Etruscans had trading ties with the Greeks and Greek society heavily influenced that of Rome, notice how similar the Roman pantheon is to that of the Greeks. For centuries the Etruscans would form the elite of Roman society, even after Rome became a republic, and this can be seen in the way that early Roman burial urns were the shape of houses exactly like Etruscan burial urns. Around 511 BCE though the kings were ousted. The son of King Tiberius Superbus raped a noblewoman called Lucretia. In response the Roman Senate revolted and ousted the kings. The Roman Republic was born.

Republic and Society
19th Century fresco of a Senate debate
The Roman Republic was organised around the Senate. You might recognize the acronym SPQR when looking at Roman motives and coins; this stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus (The Roman Senate and People). For years the Republic was ruled by two Consuls who ruled for a year and were chosen from among the members of the Senate who had previously been other elected officials. The phrase Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? can be linked to this as each Consul was supposed to check the power of the other as both could veto the other's decisions. The fact that Consuls had to serve for one year was also a way to check their power. Who made up the Senate though? The idea that the Senate's authority rested with the people, (as many parliaments do in present day governments), is not entirely accurate. To see who could sit in the Senate we have to look at Roman society. Society was initially split into patricians, (aristocracy), and plebians or 'plebs', (everyone else). As the Consuls chose the Senators this meant most Senators came from patricians. However, by 287 BCE the plebians had gotten legal equality with the patricians as the growth of Roman rule over new lands extended and merchants benefiting from the growth of Roman power started to become richer than patricians. This is a recurring theme in history which we shall look in more detail at when we reach the French and Industrial Revolutions. After 287 BCE membership of the Senate was mainly based on two factors: if you were rich, (similar to the Greek city state democracies), and if you were a citizen. Citizens had to be freeman or natives of Rome and the outlying areas. That is until 89 BCE. By 91 BCE Rome ruled all of Italy and Italians were angered that they were not citizens despite being similar to their Roman overlords. Thus started the Social War as they were angered that fellow Italians lacked equality. After two years they were defeated but given equality. Thus was the power of the idea of citizenship.

The Senate and Republic were not entirely safe though. Decades before the rise of Julius Caesar the Senate had been toppled by generals. If the Republic was in danger a magistrate could be declared dictator. Unlike the dictators like Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin that we are used to a Roman dictator was a temporary position. They could do whatever they want until the threat to the Republic passed. The general Sulla was just one who managed to repeatedly become dictator and it was not uncommon for Consuls to maneuver themselves into serving multiple terms. Rome also faced threat from outside. In 390 BCE, for example, the Gauls managed to sack Rome and managed to burn most of it to the ground. Also, Rome had to face the might of another Mediterranean powerhouse: Carthage.

The Punic Wars
Hannibal crossing the Alps
Carthage was an empire which stretched across most of the Mediterranean ruling from Morocco to Libya. Southern Spain, Sardinia, Corsica, Malta and Sicily were all part of the Carthaginian Empire. All of it was ruled from a city state around modern day Tunis. Like Rome one of the mythical origins of the city was that it was founded by Trojan refugees and like Rome it was a power; Carthage a naval one while Rome was a land one. As Rome started expanding out of Italy it naturally came into conflict with Carthage and in 264 BCE the first Punic War started. Despite being a land power Rome had been studying Carthaginian boats and, had expropriated the boats for themselves. Through this Rome succeeding in taking Sardinia, Corsica and Sicily. In 218 BCE a Carthaginian general called Hannibal decided to expand on his conquest of the Iberian city of Saguntum by going to war against Rome in its heartland. It was during this war that Hannibal led war elephants over the Alps and into the Italian peninsula after passing through Roman Gaul as well as inflicting massive damage onto the Roman forces at Lake Trasimene (in 217 BCE) and Cannae, (in 216 BCE). However, Hannibal had made a huge error in not bringing siege equipment with him so he could not take Rome. Stranded in Italy for several years his forces were bled dry by the Romans until he fled back to North Africa. At the Battle of Zama in 202 BCE Hannibal was defeated and Rome took almost all of Carthage's lands. The final Punic War started in 149 BCE. By this time Carthage was merely a city but there was a great urge to permanently destroy Rome's old enemy. Cato always said at the end of a speech 'Carthage must be destroyed'. In 146 BCE they succeeded in doing this where Rome destroyed Carthage so thoroughly that it got wiped from the map. All that remains of Carthage is an archaeological site. 

The Punic Wars shows a very interesting fact: Rome became an empire while it was a republic. By conquering lands clearly outside of Italy and conquering people so very different to the Italian people Rome truly became an empire in everything but name. People were put in place to rule over old Carthaginian lands, soldiers were given land in conquered regions and the locals were not given citizenship. This would be evident in every empire in history ranging from the Achaemenid Empire to the British Empire around two millennia later.

Expansion and its consequences
Caesar landing in Britain
Rome capitalized on the disunity of Macedonia and Greece. The last king Pergamon capitulated in 133 BCE. Sparta's isolation, the weakened Macedonian state and various wars between the Greek leagues allowed Rome to take conquer individual states or turn one state against another to do it for them. Not to mention the superiority of the Roman army compared to the moribund Greek phalanxes. The Roman Centurions were more disciplined than that of the Greek phalanxes and were better equipped which gave them massive victories. In the west Roman victories were far more devastating: Rome's conquest of Gaul led to genocide. Unlike the Greeks who were organised in city states and small kingdoms Gaul was a collection of tribal chiefdoms centered around fortified cities called oppida as well as  hillforts. Manching and Mont Beuvray are good examples of oppida. Prior to the Gallic Wars (58-50 BCE) Rome only controlled parts of southern Gaul, southern France, and they called it the Province, (where modern day Provence gets its name from). One general managed to conquer much of Gaul. A general called Gaius Julius Caesar. Caesar would travel from oppida to oppida and conquer any which did not submit to Roman rule. Rome claimed rule over all of Gaul, (an area comprising France, the Low Countries and the western Rhine), despite not actually ruling the land. Hence, any tribe which did not immediately submit would be basically massacre. During the Battle of Bibract in 58 BCE around 238,000 were killed by the Romans. Various other battles numbered this body count, not to mention the massacre of civilians in tribes which did not capitulate immediately. Through conquest and massacre Caesar managed to conquer Gaul and in 55 BCE he landed in Britain, (the Romans did not conquer Britain though).

These conquests had a great effect on Rome. For one, the new conquests in the Balkans, Gaul and from the Punic Wars caused the debate about what it meant to be a citizen. The newly conquered people were seen as vastly different to the peoples of the Italian peninsula but, the Italian peoples had no greater rights than that of the conquered peoples. Thus started the Social Wars. The conquest of Greece brought Greek literature, philosophy and art to Rome which completely altered Roman culture. The Romans managed to adapt Greek culture and make it distinctly Roman. Slavery also grew rapidly with conquest, especially from Gaul. Conquered peoples, including the remaining population of Carthage, were enslaved by the Romans which offered cheap labor for rich agriculturalists. This meant that rural peasants had to flock to the cities which created an urban populace. Rome's expansion also led to the development of capitalism as merchants could come into contact with new areas. The Silk Road boomed when Rome expanded and even the Celtic peoples traded with Rome as a burial at Hochdorf, Germany contained a Greek style cauldron. It also led to the rise of generals capable of toppling the Republic. Due to the size of the empire, (definitely an empire with the addition of Gaul and Greece), soldiers were often drafted from outside Roman lands. Instead of being loyal to Rome they were loyal to their general. To keep soldiers happy when they retired Rome gave them farming land as well but to they needed to conquer land to give soldiers land to farm, which made the Republic need the generals more, but to conquer land they had to more soldiers, which meant the generals were more powerful, but with more soldiers they needed more land etc. etc. This growth of military power led to Gaius Julius Caesar changing the fate of Rome.

Caesar and his legacy
Caesar
Before we look at how Caesar came to power we need to know some background. Caesar had been a family member of an opponent of the general Sulla who started massacring his enemies, (and their families), when he was dictator. This made Caesar distrust the Senate. Caesar was also descended from a patrician family so could claim ancestry to the old aristocracy, (who were supposedly descended from gods). While warring in Gaul he made himself a popular figure. His accounts, written in third person, propelled himself into public limelight and him living among his troops made him a popular figure. Around 59 BCE Caesar joined forces with two other major generals, Crassus and Pompey the Great, to form the Triumvirate which would back each other politically in the Senate, (in 60 BCE Caesar became Consul), which worked very well. After becoming governor of Transalpine Gaul his famous conquests took place where he became a major public figure. However, Crassus was killed in 53 BCE while battling the Parthians of Iran which caused a rift in the Triumvirate. Pompey in 50 BCE got the Senate to call Caesar back to Rome for extending his power as governor. In 49 BCE Caesar crossed the Rubicon river which separated Italy from Rome, but he came with an army saying 'let the die be cast'. If he came back alone he would likely have been arrested. Thus a civil war started and Caesar narrowly managed to win several battles until Pompey fled to Egypt, itself going through a civil war between Ptolemy and his wife/sister Cleopatra battling for power, in 48 BCE. Ptolemy had Pompey beheaded thinking it would get Caesar to be on his side. Instead it infuriated Caesar that such a noble enemy in his eyes could be killed in such a way. He allied with Egypt's genius queen Cleopatra who fathered a son together, Caesarion, with Caesar, (although she arrived in a bag and not a carpet to meet Caesar). Doing this helped strengthened Roman influence in Egypt, especially following Ptolemy's death.

Caesar had taken over all of Rome's land, although forces loyal to Pompey would remain active for years, and he started to make a series of reforms after becoming consul and dictator. Caesar started a series of reforms including getting land pensions for soldiers, reorganized the debts for debtors and made the calendar far more accurate. Previously days in the calendar could be added, or taken away, by the consul but this became politicized as consuls could then use this to extend their own term, the term of allies or shorten the term of enemies. Caesar removed this. However, he also started making himself look like a god. Despite styling himself as a god the Senate still supported him because he became consul several other times. However, when Marc Anthony tried to style him king at a festival the Senate feared his power too much. At the Ides of March in 44 BCE Caesar was stabbed to death by members of the Senate; although he never said 'Et tu Brutus' which was made up by Shakespeare. They did this as they thought they could save the Republic; this failed spectacularly.

The Senate received little support for killing Caesar as his reforms were well liked. A second Triumvirate was formed between Marcus Lepidus, Marc Anthony and Caesar's adopted son Octavian. Unlike the last one it never had success as Octavian and Marc Anthony started battling over who should replace Caesar. The nineteen year old Octavian saw unexpected success. Being Caesar's adopted son he got much support from the military while Marc Anthony had to seek help from Cleopatra. At the Battle of Actium the Egyptian and Anthony's navies were destroyed. Octavian invaded Egypt causing Cleopatra and Anthony to commit suicide and, Egypt was then conquered by Rome in 31 BCE. In 27 BCE Octavian changed his name to Caesar Augustus. The Senate had killed Caesar to preserve the Roman Republic but had instead truly forged the Roman Empire.

Conclusion
Rome's rise to power has captured the imagination of the world. Everything about Rome's history remained important to the Romans. Caesar was murdered after it was rumored he would become king; being deified was seen as being more acceptable than being crowned. Also, as soon as the Roman Republic expanded outside Italy it sowed the seeds of its own destruction. One last thing to think about is Caesar's long lasting legacy. He relied on populism and militarism to rise to power and sustain that power. It is not surprising that he is seen as the first fascist dictator. Next time we'll look at how this empire fell.

Thanks for reading and the sources I have used are as follows:
-The Penguin History of the World by John Roberts
- Reassessing the Oppida: The Role of Power and Religion by Manuel Fernandez-Gotz. Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 2014, Vol 33 (4), pp. 379-394
-Exploring Prehistoric Europe by Chris Scarre
-The Times Complete History of the World by Richard Overy
-https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPf27gAup9U
- Julius Caesar, BBC Radio Four In Our Time podcast
-Romulus and Remus, BBC Radio Four In Our Time podcast

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Review: Independence Day: Resurgence (2016)

Warning: Spoilers!
http://gb.imdb.com/title/tt1628841/
I had been waiting years for this to be released. When I started liking the sci-fi genre I watched Independence Day and loved it. It had some of the best special effects of the 1990s, it was fun, it was cheesy and, I loved it for that reason. When I was fourteen I found out they were planning to make a sequel and after almost six years waiting the film has arrived. Is it any good though? This review does contain spoilers so please skip to the conclusion if you have yet to see the film. 

Plot 
Twenty years after the initial invasion humanity has managed to rebuild itself and incorporate the alien technology with Earth's technology. David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum) is the Director of the Earth Space Defense (ESD) preparing for if the aliens ever return as former President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) continues to have hallucinations from the psychic attack of the alien from the first film. After the ESD shoots down a ship which arrives over the moon a second invasion begins causing widespread devastation. Again humanity has one day to save itself from extinction. I did not expect a plot as detailed and emotive as something like Star Wars and, the plot is nothing too special. It is similar to the first film and this was a, somewhat, good idea. Roland Emmerich knew this was a mindless action/sci-fi movie and a detailed plot would have acted against the film's charm. I even overlooked some of the most outlandish things in the movie, like how humanity put their differences aside after the first invasion, how the aliens somehow drop Beijing and several other Asian cities on London and, how guerrillas in central Africa managed to wipe out a land invasion. However, it lacks something of the original film. Despite the 1990s, f*** yea' 'Murica, cheese of the first film it was very well paced. Hence, it had a sense of urgency. When the aliens were about to blow up Area 51 you felt that this is it. If they don't do something now humanity is extinct. With this film the pacing was quite off so this made it all seem very much less urgent. 

Acting and Characters
http://www.starburstmagazine.com/movie-news/11322-independence-day-2-confirms-jessie-usher-liam-hemsworth-a-jeff-goldblum
Both the acting and characters were a mixed bag. It was nice seeing some of the original cast reprise their roles. However, I was disappointed that Mae Whitman was replaced by Maika Monroe. Both are good actors but I felt that Whitman was better for this role and, I have heard rumors that the recast was due to Whitman not being 'conventionally pretty' according to the producers. If this is true I will be furious. Whitman has been in more roles which would suit this film and, (getting into a small rant), casting should not be down to what the media thinks is pretty. It reinforces the most stupid of stereotypes, pushes back more progressive casting and, it hinders the film as you get poor casting. I digress though. Jeff Goldblum and Brent Spiner, (reprising his role as Dr. Okun), are easily the best two actors, and characters, in the film. They have the best lines, are the best written and have the most fun in the roles. Goldblum has many opportunities to go 'uhm' and 'ahh' between every other word and it is done to a good effect. By playing with Goldblum's tropes they really role with an eccentric performance. However, I felt that his character could have had more screentime as he seemed almost shafted in favor of a meandering plot. Spiner is really good as well expanding on his role from the first film. His charisma and energy brings more life into the film. His rapport with John Storey playing Dr. Isaacs is also very fun to watch. 

The rest of the acting was not bad but they weren't standout either. Although I did complain about Monroe being cast over Whitman she wasn't that bad in the film. She could have had a really good performance but, like with the other cast members, the script let her down. Everyone seemed to struggle to give a good performance with a mediocre script. Liam Hemsworth and Jessie Usher seemed to be the replacements for Will Smith, (especially Usher who plays Smith's character's son). Hemsworth appeared desperate to appear charismatic and Usher seemed to give up. The first film was saved by the charisma of Goldblum and Will Smith; without Smith the film seemed lacking a certain charm. Bill Pullman at times wavered between good, passable and bad. His last lines were delivered in such a bizarre way that I found it hard to believe that this was the same person who gave one of the greatest speeches in cinematic history! The only other standout characters were Deobia Operai's central African warlord and Nicolas Wright's bumbling UN official. They only stood out because I thought Operai's character had potential but was wasted and I wanted Wright's character to just leave. He was the bumbling comic relief but as there were several other comic relief characters he was just redundant and, he lacked the charm of the others. Wright was one of the writers so I have a feeling that he just wanted to be in the film.

Now we get to why I believe the acting is either passable or lacking: too many characters. There were just too many characters which meant that the script had accommodate establishing so many characters. The first film introduced four groups of characters: the Presidential family/workers, Will Smith's family, Goldblum and his dad and, Randy Quaid's family. In this one we had: the President and her staff, the ESD pilots, the UN group, the army staff, Jeff Goldblum's dad, some refugee kids who team up with Jeff Goldblum's dad, the Area 51 scientists and, this tugboat in the Atlantic. Some characters were given too much screentime and others given too little. The refugee kids seemed to be shoehorned in just to give Jeff Goldblum's dad, (Judd Hirsch), a purpose in the film and, even then, it wasn't to progress the plot but instead offer comic relief. I did not learn most of the names of the characters. They tried to fit too much in too little time.

Effects
https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/apr/22/independence-day-resurgence-trailer-london-under-attack
Roland Emmerich always does at least one thing well and that is destruction scenes. The scenes where they destroy London and Singapore were truly spectacular. I particularly like how creative they were with the destruction scenes. I was initially worried that they'll just rehash the destruction scene from the first film. During the London destruction scene several characters are flying through the city having about three other cities dropped on it and it is very thrilling. The effects threw everything at you at once which made it very overwhelming. This allowed you to feel part of the action. However, this works against the film in other scenes; especially the dog fight scenes between the ESD and the aliens. Some times it works throwing everything at the viewer at once but other times it doesn't. When it wasn't meant to be overwhelming it was. Also it had too much CGI. The original film mixed CGI, practical effects, pyrotechnics and miniatures. It was so good that it won awards for the effects. Here there were only one or two practical effects and literally everything else were made by CGI. Considering how every action and sci-fi utilizes the same effects what would have otherwise been standout effects did not seem memorable. However, this did not mean that the CGI was bad. The designs were very good and they've definitely put effort into creating such a unique universe. I particularly liked the ESD ships and that of the alien Hive Queen (although it did awfully resemble that of the xenomorph queen from the Alien franchise). As said earlier the scenes where they destroy the cities are really good.

The last scene
This scene made me so mad. Nevermind how they dropped several cities nowhere near each other on London, nevermind how Jeff Goldblum's dad became a comic relief babysitter, nevermind Bill Pullman's very strange last performance. What made me mad was Dr. Okun saying that this orb which arrived to save humanity from the evil aliens wanted humanity to lead their resistance. The film then ends. Batman v. Superman made me mad with how it tried to desperately shoehorn in a sequel but compared to this it was subtle. I sat in the cinema at that point thinking 'what the hell?'. It ruined the film for me. I knew beforehand that they were going to do a sequel but this really was something else. 

Conclusion
After I gave Avengers: Age of Ultron and Jurassic World too high reviews I normally give myself a week to review the film. In those two cases I was so excited to see my favorite Marvel villain and a film I was very nostalgic for so I got caught up in my emotions. As of writing it has not been a week. The reason for this is because everytime I think of the last scene when planning the review the final score drops. If I had waited a week I would likely give it a score much lower than it deserves. As a result for some good acting from Goldblum, a fantastic destruction scene and very good designs of the aliens/ships/ESD ships but, mediocre acting from everyone else and too little time devoted to certain aspects of the plot I give Independence Day: Resurgence a 5.8/10. Overall a mediocre film with some redeemable moments.