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The Dark Knight Rises

Info:

Genre: Superhero

Director/s: Christopher Nolan

Running Time: 165 mins

Budget: $250 million

Released: 27 July 2012 (South Africa)

Plot:

Eight years on, a new terrorist leader, Bane, overwhelms Gotham’s finest, and the Dark Knight resurfaces to protect a city that has branded him an enemy – imdb

Review:

Before I begin, please be warned that this review does contain spoilers, usually I avoid commenting on aspects that would give away certain things about a film, however with The Dark Knight Rises it would be too difficult not to as the film is difficult to quantify given that it is just shy of three hours and that there is a myriad of things happening throughout its duration.

Anne Hathaway as Catwoman.

The Dark Knight Rises is the long-awaited (and much-anticipated) conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s reboot of the Batman franchise.  Set eight years after The Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne has since given up the cape and cowl and has been reduced to a recluse after Rachel Dawes’ (Maggie Gyllenhaal) death, refusing to see anyone, Bruce spends his days hidden away in his manor and as a result of this, Wayne Enterprises dwindles along with his fortune and reputation.  Bruce Wayne giving up on being Batman was the first thing that surprised me, as I assumed that The Dark Knight Rises would revolve around a more worldly, and finely tuned Batman whom had been fighting the good fight for the last eight years after defeating the Joker (Heath Ledger) but this is not so.  In fact, Batman has devolved somewhat in the sense that he’s been out of the game for such a long time that when trouble once again rears its head, one cannot help but get the feeling that he is hopelessly outclassed and you’d be forgiven for thinking so as Wayne hobbles along on his walking stick (due to the injury he sustained after the fall with Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight), further compounding his problems.  It would seem that The Dark Knight Rises is more about Bruce Wayne than Batman, as Bruce struggles to come to terms with the fact that he can no longer be Batman.  Bane’s arrival compels Wayne to become the Batman once more, and with Rachel gone, Wayne has nothing to lose except for his life, a fact which Alfred (Michael Caine) reminds him of when he tells him that the world needs Bruce Wayne not Batman and that Bane is not to be underestimated.

One of the most explosive duals ever put to screen.

Enter Bane – played by the brilliant Tom Hardy, Bane is the first notable character seen in The Dark Knight Rises as he makes his brilliant escape from CIA operatives in an opening scene involving men in tactical gear, extracting him from a plane mid-flight.  As many will agree, a good villain can either make or break a story, or steal it all together, much like the late Heath Ledger’s sterling performance as the Joker in the previous outing.  Needless to say, there will be an immediate comparison between the Joker and Bane, as viewers will attempt to determine which villain is the best and I believe this will be a difficult decision because both villains are equally great, but for different reasons.  Ledger’s Joker – a self-proclaimed ‘agent of chaos’ was creepy and menacing, from his voice to his mannerisms, including small details like constantly having to lick his lips due to the scars on either side of his mouth which created a perpetual grimace.  The Joker was all about creating madness and destruction, and proving that he could bring anyone down to his level.  Bane however is different, the first thing you’ll notice is the voice.  Bane wears a special headgear that garbles his speech,  and in order to make the character more menacing, Tom Hardy created a voice that would contradict his body, and it worked beautifully.  Obviously, Nolan had to change the Bane character in order to suit his stark version of the Batman universe and so instead of having Bane’s mask/suit inject him with the drug known as Venom (as seen in the comics), the mask in the film acts as an anesthetizing dispersal device that keeps Bane’s pain (after receiving grievous injuries to his face) below the threshold of being excruciating.  What makes Hardy’s Bane even more dangerous is that he used to be part of the League of Shadows before he was ex-communicated from the order. So not only is Bane masterfully trained and physically superior to Batman, he also proves to be a masterful tactician who manages to create more damage and anarchy than the Joker ever did, through a carefully laid out series of plans, raising the bar to a nuclear level.  As I stated previously, this film isn’t so much about Batman as opposed to Bruce Wayne, and in comparison, Batman has minimal screen time compared to Bane and Wayne.  There are two relatively short battles between Batman and Bane in The Dark Knight Rises, namely the first encounter between the two which is absolutely brutal as a frustrated Batman is pushed to the limit and beaten to an inch of his life complete with the infamous knee-to-spine scene and a final battle that has the hero and villain going at it in broad daylight, amongst hundreds of other people in one of the most electric and furious fights put to screen.

Batman returns with a few new toys.

Cue the love interests, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway) and Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard).  Anne Hathaway portrays Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises, but is never referred to by that moniker as the newspapers call her the ‘cat burglar’.  Nolan’s version of Catwoman is far more reserved than Michelle Pfeiffer’s portrayal of the character in 1992’s Batman Returns or Halle Berry’s appalling performance in 2004’s train-wreck Catwoman, forsaking the cat-suit in favour of a polyurethan-coated spandex one and a sort of visor that resembles cat ears.  Marion Cotillard portrays Miranda Tate, an executive board member of Wayne Enterprises who attempts to get Bruce Wayne to rejoin society and continue his father’s work.  Cotillard also represents one of the films twists with her dual identity.  Initially the viewer is thought to believe that Bane is the son of Ra’s Al Ghul, however this is a misdirection as Tate turns out to be Talia Al Ghul and Bane her protector, though I’m sure that anyone who follows the comics will know that Ra’s had a daughter and not a son.

Though Batman doesn’t have access to the Tumbler (pictured), Bane manages to secure an entire host of them from Wayne Enterprises ‘off-the-books’ R&D department.

Another new character to the series is John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a young police officer who uses sharp powers of perception and deduction to determine the identity of Batman.  Soon enough Blake is promoted to detective by Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), and together with his aversion to the Harvey Dent coverup as well as his growing distaste for firearms, it would seem that Blake would be the ideal candidate for Batman’s successor.  As the film reveals John Blake’s legal name – Robin John Blake, his candidacy as the Bat’s heir is solidified.

So is The Dark Knight Rises better than The Dark Knight? It’s a question and topic of debate that will carry on between movie goers for ages to come (I myself was asked this same question today) but it is a very difficult question to answer because both films are very different from one another.  The Dark Knight is a magnificent film, but for Christopher Nolan to succeed with a third and final installment it had to either match or surpass its predecessors.  Needless to say, whether you watched the write-ups or trailers of The Dark Knight Rises before actually watching the film itself, it would be impossible not to have high expectations as The Dark Knight set the benchmark for excellence, combine that with a plethora of media hype and hyperbole for this latest entry, and you’re going to have some pretty insane expectations of The Dark Knight RisesThe Dark Knight improved upon Batman Begins with the evolution of Batman himself with an improved suit, Batmobile (Batpod anyone?) and skill-set which he put to great use in order to defeat the Joker.  Since Bruce Wayne has been out of the scene for eight years in The Dark Knight Rises, his suit remains unchanged since the second installment and he is without the Tumbler (Batmobile) since its destruction from taking an RPG hit from the Joker.  As for Bane, he proves to be just as menacing as Ledger’s Joker, and far more sinister, given his imposing physique and his ominous body-language, not to mention the fact that he is also a far more capable fighter than the Joker, which is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt as he violently thrashes Batman.  Bane is not only physically challenging, as his mental faculties and abilities as a tactician rival that of Bruce Wayne himself and being as intelligent as he is, Bane also has some of the greatest lines in the entire trilogy.

Bane makes his escape from CIA custody.

Notable Bane quotes:

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

Calm down, Doctor! Now’s not the time for fear. That comes later.

When Gotham is ashes, you have my permission to die.

Theatricality and deception, powerful agents for the uninitiated. But we are initiated, aren’t we Bruce?

Ah you think darkness is your ally? You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it, molded by it. I didn’t see the light until I was already a man, by then it was nothing to me but blinding!

You fight like a younger man, with nothing held back. Admirable… but mistaken.

John Blake aka Robin.

Needless to say, The Dark Knight Rises isn’t perfect.  For one thing, I found it strange that a man (Bruce Wayne) who had been reduced to a recluse for eight years over his beloved’s death would so easily bed Miranda, whom he’s never taken interest in or doesn’t even share chemistry with, so Miranda/Bruce hookup – pretty stupid.  But perhaps the one thing that really cheapens the film is Nolan’s cop-out ending where Batman flies (in the Bat – essentially the bat-jet) over the ocean away from Gotham as he carries a neutron bomb which detonates, seemingly killing Batman.  Batman’s death would have made a poignant ending and would have remained in character with Nolan’s style but this was not so as Bruce Wayne programmed an autopilot into the plane (another one of the twists) some six months earlier, which he used to escape the blast.  What makes the ending worse is that the audience is made to feel the sadness and anguish of his death with the funeral and perhaps worst of all, the scene where Alfred breaks down with grief, only to have that all snatched away by an implausibly ‘happy’ ending.

Batman’s new vehicle – The Bat.

Conclusion

The Dark Knight Rises sets a new precedent for superhero films, in that it is a deep, thought-provoking and action-packed film that will demand your utmost attention from start to finish.  The Dark Knight Rises is a relentless film in that it requires you to constantly pay attention for the film is extremely long and has a lot to tell.  In my opinion, The Dark Knight Rises must be seen at least twice in order to fully appreciate all its many intricacies as the way you’ll watch it the second time will change because you’ll know who’s who with the result that you’ll focus on those characters more like Miranda for example, in order to see the signs and events that led up to her betrayal.  While many may agree that Heath Ledger’s Joker was a superior villain, Hardy’s portrayal of Bane is not to be overlooked as his representation of the infamous villain is perhaps one of the most impressive performances ever.  Overall, The Dark Knight Rises is a brilliant film (though not without flaws) and a worthy conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s superhero trilogy.  Highly recommended.

Grade: A+

Rapid-Fire Reviews | Dark Shadows

Info:

Genre: Horror-comedy, fantasy

Director/s: Tim Burton

Running Time: 113 mins

Budget: $150 million

Released: 11 May 2012

Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows is an adaptation of the gothic-horror soap opera (1966 – 1971) of the same name.  Burton’s rendition is in fact the second adaptation of the classic series as there was a remake series back in 1991 – Dark Shadows a.k.a The New Dark Shadows and Dark Shadows: The Revival Series, which ran for 12 episodes.  I’m a huge Tim Burton fan, so needless to say I was immediately interested in Dark Shadows the moment I heard about it.  As expected, Burton collaborates with the usual players – Johnny Depp, who plays the protagonist Barnabas Collins – an imprisoned vampire from the 1700’s who is awakened 200 years later in 1972 America to return to the dysfunctional Collin’s family in an effort to revitalize the once prominent Collin’s Fishery.  Helena Bonham Carter – plays Julia Hoffman, a psychiatrist to the ten-year old Collin’s boy David, and Danny Elfman returns once more with a wonderfully gothic film score that compliments the subject matter wonderfully.  I found the premise of the film to be quite fun and interesting, and enjoyed the usual amount of weirdness that comes with a Burton film.  It’s also worth noting that Dark Shadows is a visually stunning film, with plenty of marvelous set pieces (such as the Collins Manor) and equally stunning are the characters and the acting, specifically Depp, who belts out clever quips and all manner of wordplay made funnier due to the character’s culture shock.  What has confused me though, is the negative criticism that Dark Shadows has received, stating that the film was inconsistent or that it lacked focus, I find this to be untrue, as it uses the perfect Burton formula of spookiness and humour in what proves to be a highly entertaining film.  However, perhaps it’s Burton’s formula that people tire of as opposed to the subject matter itself, but as always, it’s a given that his films won’t appeal to everyone given the creepy/comedy mash-up inherent with Burton’s style.

Conclusion

Tim Burton succeeds once more with Dark Shadows as the film is highly entertaining and filled with enough oddness to keep Burton fans happy.  Though this re-imaging of a classic series doesn’t offer too many twists and turns or much in the way of mystery, the linear approach of the film is overlooked by the visuals and the brilliant performances of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and all those involved.  As in most cases with Burton films, this is one for the fans.

Grade: B+

The Avengers

Info:

Genre: Super-hero

Director/s: Joss Whedon

Running Time: 143 minutes

Budget: $220 million

Released: 11 April 2012

Plot:

Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of super humans to form The Avengers to help save the Earth from Loki and his army – imdb

Review:

This review is long overdue, and actually had half of it completed since May…anyway, so where to start with a film of this magnitude?  The Avengers didn’t just materialize out of thin air, it’s been in the making for sometime now and ever since the stinger in 2008’s Iron Man, where the shadowy agent known as Nick Fury proposed the ‘Avengers Initiative’ to Tony Stark, fans have been clamoring for an Avengers film.  Since Iron Man, Marvel Studios released a number of films, each of which had a post-credit scene that would reveal a little more of what was to come.  These films include – The Incredible Hulk (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Thor (2011) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011).  Even though these films were not direct sequels to one another (excluding the Iron Man films respectively), Marvel Studios has managed to create an unprecedented level of continuity between separate franchises to create a cohesive universe that unified with the arrival of The Avengers, and even better still, The Avengers has its very own post-credit scene, hinting towards the next villain, who will undoubtedly be the focus of The Avengers 2.  Marvel Studios have stated that Iron Man 3, Thor 2 and Captain America 2 will essentially be ‘Phase 2’ of The Avengers Initiative.  So is The Avengers as good as the hype would have you believe, and how well will it be received in the post-Dark Knight era, where dark and gritty is the order of the day?

Captain America’s new, updated suit.

Simply put, The Avengers is the definitive superhero film, and many believe that it may have already stolen some of The Dark Knight Rises thunder (which is impressive considering that it is yet to be released).  Whether or not that’s actually true remains to be seen, one thing is for certain though, and that is that The Avengers has proven that large, splashy superhero flicks definitely have a place in a market that idolizes the antics of a brooding billionaire and the stark realism of his world.  What’s more, there’s no guarantee that The Dark Knight Rises will be as great as everyone seems to think, let’s face it, the film will have to be pretty damn amazing to top The Dark Knight, as well as the sterling performance by the late Heath Ledger and his insidiously brilliant and nuanced portrayal of Batman nemesis The Joker, but I suppose only time will tell.

The Avengers could have gone one of two ways, either it could have been a contrived, silly crap-shoot of a film, or it could be the awesome-tastic  thrill ride that every comic-book fan has been clamoring for – thankfully, it’s the latter as The Avengers is a well-written and action-packed film, filled with tonnes of inside jokes for the fans as well as just being downright and somewhat unexpectedly (though certainly welcomed) funny.  The Avengers has Joss Whedon to thank for that – the screenwriter/director/comic-book writer/actor, founder of Mutant Enemy Productions and is perhaps best known for creating  the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003) and the cult classic Firefly (2002).  Whedon was certainly the right choice for an undertaking as grand as The Avengers as the film broke box-office records earning in excess of $200 million over a weekend (claiming the highest grossing weekend total in history), shattering the previous record held by Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 ($169.2 million) and has already received the go-ahead for a sequel.

Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow.

…the Avengers has proven that large, splashy superhero flicks definitely have a place in a market that idolizes the antics of a brooding billionaire…

So is it really as good as all the ‘professional’ film critics are saying and if so why? Short answer – yes.  The Avengers has certain key attributes that make it such an entertaining and successful film, and I feel this can be best explained in a laundry list fashion;

1) High budget – getting the most obvious thing out-of-the-way first, a film as big and visually reliant as The Avengers could only ever be achieved with hundreds of millions of dollars, $220 million in fact, and this was achieved in part by product placement as several companies (about 18 brand names have been confirmed thus far), were offered mention in exchange for cash, needless to say these companies made a tonne of money themselves.  This tactic is an attempt to reduce the costs of making a film of this caliber and it has seemingly worked.

Robert Downey Jr. reprising his role as Iron Man.

2) Continuity – no doubt played a huge role in the film’s success, no thanks to Marvel Studios as they got audiences familiar with the characters back in 2008 when Robert Downey Jr. took the helm as Tony Stark.  With each new Marvel Studios film (where the film licenses belonged to them, this excludes Punisher: Warzone, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, X-Men: First Class and Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance), like Captain America, The Incredible Hulk and Thor – Marvel Studios where able to create a cohesive world where the characters existed in the same universe, and the same actors would be used to portray them so that by the time The Avengers arrived, it would already have a huge fan-base as movie patrons would undoubtedly pay to see their favourite heroes kick ass.  On a side note, the reason why I think that The Hulk has failed to be as popular as the other Marvel films is partly due to the constant change of actor (Eric Bana, Edward Norton and most recently Mark Ruffalo) but mainly because I believe that The Hulk works best in a supporting role, and this was proved beyond a shadow of a doubt as The Hulk was the ace up the sleeve for the other teammates, who relied on him to show up and do some serious damage to the heavy hitters, The Hulk wasn’t introduced immediately, and by the time he did show up, audiences were already worked up in anticipation for some ‘Hulk Smash’ action.

3) Pacing – a film with so many characters cannot be achieved in the typical ninety-minute time frame that seems to be stock-standard these days, and thankfully The Avengers is over two hours, as it takes its time to get into the story and systematically introduce the villains and each of the heroes.  Originally, Robert Downey Jr. wanted the filmmakers to make Tony Stark/Iron Man the lead protagonist but when that didn’t work out, they approached the film in such a way that each of the main characters would have sufficient screen time in which to tell their story.  Needless to say,  not all the characters get along, and in a way The Avengers themselves behave like a dysfunctional family – bickering, arguing and even fighting amongst themselves (in a spectacular fashion I might add), but when the time comes to pull their shit together and act like a team, they deliver in spades, making for one hell of an entertaining superhero film.

Avengers assemble.

Conclusion

Marvel Studios have done it again, and this time they’ve really outdone themselves with The Avengers, as it proves to be a well-written, brilliantly paced, action-packed film – with enough humour to keep casual audiences happy, and enough references and inside jokes to sate the die-hard fans.  While The Watchmen remains to be my favourite film of this type, The Avengers is without a doubt the definitive superhero team film.  Seriously…who wouldn’t want to see The Hulk take on Thor? Highly recommended.

Grade: A

Rapid-fire Reviews | Lockout

Info:

Genre: Science-fiction, action

Director/s: James Mather, Stephen St. Leger

Running Time: 95 mins

Budget: $20 million (US)

Released: 13 April 2012

Lockout is a French science-fiction film set in the year 2079, about a man who’s been wrongly convicted of a crime he did not commit and is offered freedom if he is able to rescue the U.S. president’s daughter from an outer space prison which has been taken over by the inmates.  Well the premise is certainly interesting enough, that is of course until you realize that Lockout is Escape from New York (1981).  So instead of Snake Plissken we have Snow (Guy Pearce), a CIA agent tasked with infiltrating the super max prison known as MS One.  In Escape from New York, the film is set in the (then) future of 1997, and Plissken needs to infiltrate Manhattan Island (which has been converted into a super max prison) in order to rescue the U.S. president, so yeah…Lockout pretty much identical, but that’s not to say that Lockout is bad, quite the opposite as it is an entertaining (though predictable) film, filled with the usual sci-fi fare – space ships, space battles, and bad ass soldier-types, but the real entertainment value comes from Guy Pearce’s performance as his one-liners, quips and general devil-may-care attitude is genuinely funny.  I say funny, because Lockout never tries to take itself too seriously, even though the film is moderately violent.  One thing about Lockout that impressed me was what the filmmakers were able to do with the considerably meager budget of twenty million, and while the film only really jumps between three or four locations for the most part (earth, space, orbital police station and MS One), everything manages to look pretty good, CGI space battles and all.

Conclusion

Lockout doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, as I previously said, it is essentially Escape from New York…but in space.  And while it is a predictably derivative film, it somehow manages to be entertaining and in my opinion, Guy Pearce’s performance prevents Lockout from falling flat on its face.

Grade: C

Rapid-Fire Reviews | The Secret World of Arrietty

Info:

Genre: Animation, fantasy

Director/s: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Running Time: 94 mins

Budget: $23 million (US)

Released: 17 July 2010

Thought I’d try something new by introducing ‘Rapid-Fire Reviews’, these articles will not be replacing my standard film reviews, instead their purpose is to inform readers of films that caught my attention, but don’t necessarily require 1500 – 2000 words of explanation.  I watch a lot of films and don’t always have enough time to write about them, thus Rapid-Fire Reviews will serve as an informative, fast-delivery platform that will inform readers in a speedily fashion whether or not I thought a film was particularly good, mediocre or just plain crapola.  Anyway, so I don’t really watch that much anime anymore, but Studio Ghibli always has my attention due to the sheer quality and entertainment value of most of their films.  And I say ‘most’ because not all of the studio’s films have Hayao Miyazaki behind the wheel – Miyazaki, one of the industry’s greatest directors a man whom the West have referred to as the Eastern Walt Disney.  Moving on, The Secret World of Arrietty is an adaptation of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers (1952), focusing on a young borrower (a 4-inch tall human) named Arrietty who together with her father, embarks on her very first borrowing.  Unfortunately for Arrietty, she is discovered by a young sickly human named  Shō (Shawn for the US dub) who attempts to befriend her.  However Arrietty’s father has made it clear that once a Borrower has been discovered they must move.  Needless to say Arrietty and Shō form a friendship much to her parents disapproval and the film is somewhat predictable as a result, but it makes up for it in production value as the film is beautifully animated in the traditional Ghibli style.  The animation alone makes the film well worth your time, however if you’re expecting something as imaginative as Howl’s Moving Castle or Spirited Away then you will be sorely disappointed.

Conclusion

Not the best that Ghibli has to offer as the story is predictable and rather unimaginative (compared to their usual work) but the animation alone makes The Secret World of Arrietty worth ninety minutes of your time.

Grade: B

Max Payne 3

Info:

Developer/s: Rockstar Studios

Publisher/s: Rockstar Games

Platform/s: Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

Genre: Third-person shooter

Release Date: 2012-06-01

Review:

The Max Payne series has earned itself something of a cult following, with the release of the first game in 2001, Max Payne offered something different for gamers – a third-person action game, with a film-noir presentation that made use of comic-book panels in order to tell the story instead of CG cut-scenes, to top it all off, the game had impressive visuals (immediately identifiable by the protagonist’s constant grimace) and added a bullet-time play mechanic that meant gamers were able to slow down time at will allowing one to set up all manner of elaborate and impressive gun battles in a style lifted straight from The Matrix.  In 2003, Max Payne 2 – The Fall of Max Payne was released and it managed to outshine the original in every-way with improved visuals, tighter controls and a more polished storyline that added a new level of complexity to the Max Payne character.

The in-game graphics are insane, here Max dangles outside a helicopter engaged in a rooftop shootout with some thugs.

Nine years after the last game, Max Payne returns in full force with the aptly named Max Payne 3 and true to form the game is an engrossingly dark and blood-soaked expansion of the Max Payne mythos.  When I saw the first screens of this game about a year ago, I was somewhat concerned by a bearded, bald and Hawaiian shirt clad Max Payne (at the tail end of the game), thinking that Rockstar may have departed a little too much from the original series in order to relaunch the franchise in 2012.  Thankfully I was wrong as while Max Payne 3 does take a different direction, it only serves to strengthen the legacy of an already impressive series.

Sam Lake – responsible for The Fall of Max Payne’s plot as well as being the face model for the original Max Payne game (looks a bit like a Tim Burton character doesn’t he…?).

So as I stated before, Max Payne 3 is something of a departure from the first two games.  Gone is the New York City setting as Max has quit his job at the NYPD instead choosing to spend his time in bars, addicted to alcohol and painkillers.  Max has evolved (or perhaps devolved?) somewhat in this third installment – he’s older, warier and more cynical than ever which is nicely portrayed throughout the game by use of stylized cutscenes (more on them later) and various quips by Max himself (voiced by James McCaffrey, who you may remember from the cult classic television series Viper).  After a fallout in a New Jersey bar with a local mob boss’s son, Max befriends Raul Passos who interjects in the confrontation and eventually convinces Max to leave the bottle behind (somewhat) and pursue a career in private security.  So this time around, Max finds himself in São Paulo, Brazil working as private security for the exceedingly rich Branco family consisting of three brothers – Rodrigo, Victor and Marcelo and sure enough, all hell breaks loose as Rodrigo and his wife Fabiana are kidnapped by a gang known as the Comando Sombra.  Needless to say, as Max it’s up to you to rescue the couple and thereby kill off half of Brazil in the process as you duck, dive, shoot and maim your way through scores of bad guys over a course of fourteen chapters.

Throughout the story, Max will have flashbacks of New York, requiring players to fight through his memories.

Memorable quotes >>

“I knew this was a bad idea, but, in the absence of any good ideas, I continued forward.”

“I’d been sitting at the bar for three hours, or five years depending on the way you looked at things.”

“When you’re stuck in a foreign country and don’t know the words for “reverse charges” and you’re in some lonely skin joint in the middle of some poor slum and just had every last cent robbed from you and you call yourself a bodyguard then you know you’re a loser.”

“The guy was smoother than an oil slick on an iceberg, and about as toxic.”

The game is filled with elaborate set-pieces and action sequences such as this boat chase scene, hitting slo-mo (L-Shift) distorts the colour and adds scan-lines for effect.

While the storyline in Max Payne 3 isn’t the most original in the world – kidnapping, backstabbing and the like, it does however manage to be a little convoluted at the same time, as more and more characters, villains and para-military groups get thrown into the mix, it can be hard to follow exactly what’s what.  Thankfully though, this is only a minor setback as is traditional with the series, your goal is to basically kill anything that moves and the plot is unfurled in such a cinematic fashion that things are always kept interesting meaning that one doesn’t really have to concern them self with every little detail of the plot.  It’s also worth noting that the game consists of a lot of foreign dialogue (Portuguese if I’m not mistaken) that isn’t translated into English, but I believe that the lack of a translation serves to engross the player into the game even further, giving one the feeling of actually being in a foreign country, not knowing what the hell is going on.

At certain sections, the game will automatically enter slow motion mode, giving you a finite amount of time in which to kill all the enemies before they kill you. Very cool.

There are a number of reasons why this game won’t appeal to everyone, for one – Max Payne 3 is uncompromisingly violent so if you’re squeamish or deterred by the sight of blood and gore then you’d do well to skip this one.  There is a wide array of weapons to choose from in which to dispatch your foes with, and it’s done so in such a wonderfully cinematic style (thanks to bullet-time) that you will find yourself taking a moment before rushing enemies in order to plot out exactly how to take them out in the coolest way possible.  Another nice touch is that players will always know when they’ve cleared out a certain area of bad guys because the last man standing will always be killed in slow motion as the camera follows the bullet into the face, chest or other extremity of your hapless victim.  Secondly, Max Payne 3 has a strong narrative interwoven between the game-play in the form of stylized cut-scenes that make use of various cinematic techniques such as scan-lines and shifting, especially during his painkiller trips emphasized by various phrases and words on the screen during Max’s narrative, these cut-scenes serve to replace the comic-book panels of the first two games and are also unskippable, as they cleverly veil the loading screens, that’s right instead of having to sit watching a series of static images or loading bar, the in-game movies are actually the loading screens themselves, rather ingenious.  As the cut-scenes are so frequent, players may feel that they’re too long or intrusive (a common complaint of Metal Gear Solid 4 for example) especially since the narrative dictates the pacing of the game, but it’s a small trade-off for what is undoubtedly the most action-packed and cinematic shooter to come out in years (and besides, I’ve always been a fan of in-game cut-scenes or FMV so it suits me just fine).

Widower Max Payne deals with his grief by means of alcohol and painkillers, portrayed throughout the game’s cut-scenes.

Okay, so let’s talk about the visuals, the graphics in Max Payne 3 are absolutely stunning.  Every little attention to detail has been addressed here, everything from the texture quality, shaders and the people themselves look absolutely brilliant.  There’s no point in trying to convince you as the screenshots speak for themselves, and it’s definitely worth noting that the screen caps I took do not represent the highest quality settings available as my PC was simply incapable of running this game at maximum.  While the console versions have been lauded for their outstanding visuals, they pale in comparison to the PC version which is said to look four times greater than its console counterparts as it features DirectX 11 graphics and has high-end graphics features such as Hull/Tessellation/Domain Shaders (which adds curvature to the character/vehicle models), Gather4 (for optimized shadow sampling / FXAA), Geometry shader / Stream Output to name a but a few.  The PC version also requires 35GB of hard drive space for the install (an install that took close to two hours on my PC!) and has superior audio over the console version due to uncompressed audio (which does sound pretty amazing).  Of course, one doesn’t need to have a high-spec machine in order to enjoy Max Payne 3, as the game is quite scalable for low-end machines and has been tested on a wide range of PC’s.  A list of system specifications can be found here.  Apart from some minor instances of glitching, where for some reason Max refused to walk after picking up a new weapon, the game is bug free as far as I can tell, I didn’t see any clipping or sprites doing weird shit like being stuck through doors *cough* Dead Island *cough* or the like and overall, Max Payne 3 is an extremely polished masterpiece of graphical glory.

A nice feature is the video memory allocator which shows you how much memory each feature uses when you click on it, the game will only allow you to select features that your card supports (normal) but will restrict selecting certain features if your card has insufficient memory (not-so normal) thus ensuring that the game always runs comfortably on your system.

From top-to-bottom – Max Payne (2001), Max Payne 2 – The Fall of Max Payne (2003) & Max Payne 3 (2012).

To put it into perspective, Max Payne 3 ran incredibly well on my system which is considered to be rather low-spec by today’s standards, with the following specifications:

  • OS – Windows 7 (64-bit) Enterprise Edition
  • CPU – Intel Core2 Duo E8200 @ 2.66GHz/2.67GHz
  • RAM: 4GB
  • GPU: Sapphire Radeon™ HD 4870 512MB RAM

So we know Max Payne 3 looks great and has an amazingly cinematic presentation but all of that would be for naught if the game-play sucked, thankfully however it doesn’t.  Just as Max Payne 2 improved upon its predecessor, this third installment has improved the familiar and fun play-mechanics even further.  Using an over-the-shoulder camera angle similar to the first two games and this time incorporating an easy-to-use cover system (just press Q near a wall or such) similar to that of the Uncharted series, Max Payne 3 retains the run-and-gun game-play that made the series so popular to begin with, throw bullet-time into the mix (hitting L-Shift will activate bullet-time, represented by a small bar at the bottom right-hand corner, for a limited amount of time) and you have one hell of an enjoyable game-play experience.  The controls are tight and responsive. and it’s kind of difficult to imagine how one could play this with a controller as the keyboard and precision of a mouse definitely make life easier.  Though it can be challenging at times to know whether or not you’ve successfully killed an enemy with slo-mo on, things are simplified for the player in that the circle-cross hair will change to an ‘x’ when an enemy has been killed (people like Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw would do well to take this into consideration before bad-mouthing the game then again one can’t really blame him as that’s what he gets paid to do), I also find that emptying entire clips into a bad guy’s face helps.  Needless to say, balance is important in a game and I think this is where Max Payne 3 becomes a little indecisive, you are almost always engaged in some sort of fire fight or other and at times, it’s fairly easy, at other times not so much as you will find yourself repeatedly swamped by scores of enemies who will shoot at you with all manner of fire arms, combined with minimal cover and you will find yourself having to redo certain sections over-and-over.  In some parts I actually died so many times that eventually the only reason I was able to pass the section was due to knowing exactly where and when each bad guy would appear, thank fuck the action is scripted *phew*.  Health packs (represented as bottles of painkillers) are few and far between in Max Payne 3, further adding to the challenge.  Weapon switching is as easy as pressing a button, and you’re able to use pistols/handguns/machine-pistols, in a single or dual array (I’m quite partial to dual-Uzis), shotguns, grenade-launchers/rocket-propelled grenades, sub-machine guns, machine guns, sniper rifles and a multitude of assault rifles, so there certainly isn’t a shortage of firepower in this game.

The urban slum-lands of São Paulo add a nice contrast to the luxurious villas, hotels and yachts that Max finds himself in when in service of the Branco family. The attention to detail is also staggering.

Conclusion

To round off an already impressive package, Max Payne 3 proves to be rather lengthy, despite what some critics have said, easily offering 15 – 20 hours game-play and the experience is further enhanced by a wonderfully cinematic soundtrack by noise-rockers HEALTH (check out the song Tears and Combat Drugs), offering up an experimental, indie-electronic mash-up that adds a new-age ambiance to the game.  All-in-all, Max Payne 3 is one of the most frenetic and impressive games that I’ve played in ages, an action-packed, blood-soaked thrill ride with amazing visuals, game-play and a narrative that could put Hollywood films to shame.  Though frustratingly difficult at times, Max Payne 3 is well worth your time and money if slo-mo battles, elaborate action sequences and cinematic story-telling tickle your fancy.  Highly recommended.

Grade: S