The answer to: “What if you combined Batman and Enter the Dragon?”
Richard Dragon (Mark Dacascos) is a super spy who trained previously with Bruce Wayne (David Giuntoli) in his youth under the powerful O-Sensei (James “Lo Pan” Hong). Richard discovers that the leader of the terrorist group Kobra, Jeffrey Burr (Josh Keaton), has acquired a mystical gate which previously belonged to O-Sensei. He recruits Bruce Wayne and their fellow students Lady Shiva (Kelly Hu) and Bronze Tiger (Michael Jai White) to help take down Burr and his chief assassin Schlagenfaust (Robin Atkin Downes) by breaking into his island fortress.
Considering that Bruce Lee actually appeared on the 1960s Batman show, I am blown away that no one has thought to combine a Bruce Lee-style Martial Arts movie with a Batman movie. I mean, a lot of Batman films have martial arts and fight scenes, but the style is completely different. It’s even crazier that it hasn’t happened when you realize that all of the characters featured in this film are recurring characters in the comics and even some other media. The biggest change is that Richard Dragon, who is usually white, is very blatantly redesigned to be Bruce Lee, but other than that most of the characters match their traditional designs. It does help that Bronze Tiger is played by Michael Jai White, whose “Black Dynamite” character is at least partially based on Jim Kelly.
The film actually contains a number of references to the film Enter the Dragon, including having a number of flashbacks to explain everyone’s motivations, making O-Sensei more closely resemble Bruce Lee’s mentor from the film, having Richard Dragon avoid a fight by tricking his opponent similar to how he does in the movie, and even having a pretty strong reference to the Bob Wall fight (down to the bottle). Granted, in order to make some of these moments work, Batman is shown to be a lot more tolerant of his compatriots committing murder than in most incarnations. Ultimately, though, the film’s plot has no real resemblance to anything I’ve seen before, which is for the best. It’s nice to have an original story.
Overall, if you are a fan of Batman, old-school martial arts films, or both, this is actually a pretty solid film for you. Check it out.
I take a look at what might be the best Batman film.
A group of mob bosses, including Chuckie Sol (Dick Miller), are planning to launder a bunch of fake bills through a casino. They’re ambushed by Batman (Kevin Conroy), who takes out most of the thugs as Sol escapes to his car. He’s met in the parking garage by a different figure, the Phantasm (Stacy Keach), who appears to be an embodiment of Death itself. Sol tries to kill the Phantasm, but ends up driving off of the edge of the garage and dying. People at the scene see Batman looking out over the wreck and assume he was responsible. Local politician Arthur Reeves (Hart Bochner) tells the media that Batman is a menace, despite Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) saying that Batman doesn’t kill people. Later, the Phantasm murders another mob boss, Buzz Bronski (John P. Ryan), and Bronski’s goons believe Batman did it.
At the same time, Andrea Beaumont (Dana “I was Lois Lane” Delaney), one of Bruce’s oldest flames, returns. We see in flashbacks that Andrea met Bruce when he was first trying to start his career as a crimefighter. The two grew close, to the point that Bruce even asked her to marry him and thought about abandoning his quest to be a vigilante. However, Andrea left the country with her father, Carl (Keach), and broke up with Bruce via a letter. Believing that he has lost his last chance at a happy life, Bruce finally becomes Batman. While investigating Bronski’s death as Batman, Andrea sees him next to the Wayne grave, leading her to realize that Bruce is Batman. Bruce later discovers a photo linking Andrea’s father to the two dead gangsters and a third mob boss, Sal “The Weezer” Valestra (Abe Vigoda).
Valestra sees the reports of Batman killing the mobsters and goes to seek help from the Joker (Mark Hamill). The Joker tells Valestra that he’s going to help him, but when the Phantasm arrives at Valestra’s house, Joker has killed the aged mob boss and used his body as a bomb after strapping a camera to the corpse. When the building blows up, Batman meets the Phantasm, who escapes and leaves the police to chase Batman. He narrowly evades capture with the help of Andrea, who admits that she left with her father because he stole from the three mobsters. Batman now believes that Carl is the phantasm, but also discovers that there is one more target: the man who later became the Joker was Valestra’s chauffeur. Joker, now aware that the murderer isn’t Batman, goes to confront Reeves, who used to work for Carl Beaumont, and gasses him with Joker toxin after suspecting that Reeves might be the Phantasm. Batman confronts Reeves, who reveals that he leaked Andrea and Carl’s location to the mob after they refused to fund his first campaign.
*** MASSIVE SPOILER. THIS IS ON NETFLIX, YOU MIGHT WANT TO JUST WATCH THE MOVIE, BUT IT’S STILL GREAT EVEN IF YOU KNOW THE TWIST***
The Phantasm tracks Joker to his hideout, where the Joker reveals he’s figured out the identity of the killer: Andrea. She intends to kill all of the mobsters as vengeance for killing her father, something that the Joker apparently did personally when he was still “normal.” Batman, who has also figured out that Andrea is the Phantasm, arrives as the Joker has her on the ropes. After saving her, Batman and the Joker fight to a stalemate, with the Joker revealing that his lair is wired to blow. Andrea grabs the Joker and holds him, telling Bruce goodbye as flames erupt around her. Later, Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) consoles Bruce, saying that he walks the edge of darkness, but hasn’t fallen in, while Andrea fell long ago. Bruce finds Andrea’s locket in the cave. Meanwhile, Andrea, who survived, leaves the country on a boat.
I picked this one as my choice for “A Film Based on a TV Show” for three reasons. First, because this movie got screwed over and it needs to get all the respect and viewership it can get. Second, because Batman: The Animated Series was amazing. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, the minds behind it, revolutionized superhero shows. Last, because most other films based on TV shows suck unless they’re comedies.
If you grew up in the 1990s, you probably remember Batman: The Animated Series. It was one of the darkest cartoons that was on TV at the time, both literally and figuratively. The animation was so dark that they frequently found it cheaper to buy black paper and draw the white parts over it. In terms of content, it frequently dealt with themes of mortality, loss, the nature of evil, and the general unfairness of life, things that children’s TV shows just flat-out didn’t address back then. It also had great action sequences, great writing, and an abundance of imagination in characters and plotlines. It still holds up as being one of the greatest animated series of all time, and I put one of the episodes on my list of the greatest television episodes of all time. This film was their attempt to bring that creativity to the big screen and it should have been the Batman movie of the decade. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite get its due, losing money at the box office.
When the team started making the film, it was supposed to be a direct-to-video release. Soon, Warner Brothers decided to make it a theatrical film. Moreover, they decided that it was going to be released on Christmas Day of that same year, 1993. This meant that they had eight months to make the movie. For perspective, Disney typically gives four years to make an animated film. Moreover, Warner Brothers decided, after dumping a ton of money into making the film to compensate for the short time frame, to save money by cutting the marketing budget for the film. This is generally considered a stupid, stupid move, especially when the movie already had been rushed so much that it hadn’t really had time to generate buzz. Despite the fact that it was a Batman movie based on a massive hit show right after the show’s first season ended, only a year after Batman Returns had been one of the biggest moneymakers of all time, this movie was promoted for less than two months at less than half the rate of other films. Coming from someone who was a Batman-obsessed kid at the time, I DIDN’T EVEN KNOW THIS MOVIE WAS COMING OUT. Hell, Siskel and Ebert missed it. Moreover, they rushed the toys from the film into development so fast that they accidentally released a figuring of the Phantasm in November… marketed with the secret identity on display. Yeah, they destroyed the great mystery of the movie a month before it even came out. Great job, WB.
The key to this movie is that it’s really the one threat that we never see Batman deal with: Happiness. Batman always is depicted as a dark, wounded soul who is trying to seek justice and vengeance upon the world as a way to deal with his pain. But, in this movie, we see him actually question his vow and whether it’s worthwhile because he actually finds himself being happy with Andrea. There’s a climactic scene in which he is at his parents’ grave, telling them that he can’t be Batman if there’s someone to go home to. He offers to help the city financially instead (gee, what an idea), but he can’t risk his life, and doesn’t want to, if he’s not miserable. It’s a great way to show that there are really layers between Bruce Wayne and Batman and that the interplay between them is part of what makes the character so strong.
Possibly the greatest decision in the movie, though, was including the Joker. Mark Hamill’s Joker is usually considered to be the best iteration of the character, and adding him in during the second act, despite him originally seeming to be unconnected to the central conflict, was a master stroke. None of the mobsters or the Phantasm could possibly have justified the magnificent set piece of the “City of the Future” for the final fight sequences, and only the Joker could have provided the comic relief to off-set the violence. Plus, the final shot of the Joker laughing as he awaits his death by explosion is amazing, particularly since it’s accompanied by a powerful choir crescendo.
Overall, this movie is amazing and I really wish it got the respect it’s due at the time, but you can at least relive your childhood with one of the few parts that will hold up well by watching this.
Todd Phillips and Joaquin Phoenix bring us a new and unusual version of the classic Batman villain.
Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) is a clown-for-hire and aspiring stand-up comic with Pseudobulbar Affect, which causes him to laugh at inappropriate times. He takes care of his invalid mother, Penny (Frances Conroy), has a crush on his neighbor Sophie (Zazie Beetz) and fantasizes about appearing on the late night talk show hosted by Murray Franklin (Robert De Niro). However, a series of events, starting with him being brutally assaulted by a group of kids for no reason, lead to Arthur becoming the symbol of anarchy: The Joker.
Okay, here’s the spoiler-free analysis of the movie:
This movie’s going to be divisive as hell. I’m not even talking about the issue of whether or not The Joker, a character famous for not really having a definitive backstory despite being around for 75 years, needed an origin movie. This is like any other figure with this many alternate characterizations: If you don’t like it, no big deal, it’s not canon. Heath Ledger caught crap because his Joker only wore makeup, and he was still amazing. What I mean by divisive is that I walked out of this movie being unable to say definitively if what I just watched was brilliant or not. I’ve come to the conclusion that it was probably a bunch of brilliant parts that were not quite assembled in a brilliant way. If I thought that was a commentary on comic book histories being composed of equal parts of brilliant storytelling (like The Killing Joke or Spider-Man’s “Kraven’s Last Hunt”) and not-so-brilliant storytelling (like All-Star Batman and Robin or Spider-Man’s “One More Day”), then that would itself be brilliant, but… nope, that’s not what they were going for.
One thing is that Joaquin Phoenix really went above and beyond in his performance. He may not be playing the “Joker” as we know the character, or even a character that really rings true to being the Joker, but the role that he is playing is absolutely perfectly realized in his portrayal. A big thing was his commitment to getting a kind of impossibly lanky figure which more resembles the traditional joker physique. He lost over 50 pounds for the role, but he also manages to move and shift in ways that emphasize the unnaturalness of it. However, when he wants to, he can look almost normal, because how he holds himself is so key to the audience’s perception. He also manages to do a perfectly horrifying version of Pseudobulbar Affect (which is a real thing), showing how sad and embarrassed he feels while still laughing externally. He shows us the grand gestures and performances that the character wishes to pull off, but also the awkward reality of him trying to do them and not being able to. I don’t know that the movie used him well, but I know that his performance really carries the weaker portions.
However, the movie’s themes are, at best, a little disconcerting and vaguely defended and undercut. The film wants you to empathize with Arthur and, to ensure that you have a shot at it, gives him an incredibly terrible life that only gets worse throughout the film. Moreover, it makes sure to convey that almost everything that happens to him isn’t really his fault. Most of the film is just randomness, something that actually DOES align with The Killing Joke’s origin for the Joker of just having one really bad day. But, when we finally do see him actually make a decision, it’s one that he actually tries to excuse, while he’s doing it, by saying that it’s not his fault. The problem is that this is the Joker. He’s not a character we should empathize with. He’s a psychopath. Even when people have portrayed his backstory as tragic, it’s always shown that he chose to use his backstory to become evil as opposed to Batman using tragedy to become a force for good. This movie doesn’t have Batman, so we don’t really have a solid figure to remind us that we are NOT supposed to like what Arthur does. So, basically, we’re cheering for a figure who is famous for being a psychotic killer. That’s bad.
From a technical standpoint, the music and camera work in the film are great. They really feed into the madness of the character. The supporting characters are also well-done, particularly Frances Conroy as his mother who is arguably crazier than he is. The settings are perfect for the environment. Gotham is dirty, it’s dying, it’s filled with homeless people, and it’s increasingly segregated by class. It’s basically New York in the 1980s, which… is what Gotham was a stand-in for anyway.
Overall, I keep going back and forth over whether I think this is a good movie. The truth is, it’s a well-done film, but the way it handles its message is haphazard and, given the kind of message it’s sending out, that’s dangerous. This movie could, with just a few tweaks, have been a solid statement about the fact that society suffers at the mercy of the few or that everyone benefits from taking care of the mentally ill. Instead, it basically says that if you kill random people, there’s a large group of people that will worship you. I feel like that’s a really bad message. Well, maybe see it yourself to decide.
ENDING EXPLAINED *SPOILERS*
So, a big part of the film is that Arthur has fantasies about what’s happening around him. This is a throwback to the film The King of Comedy, a movie starring Robert De Niro that revolves around a mentally-ill comedian holding a talk-show hostage. If you’ve seen the movie, you probably know how this fits in with Joker, since that’s kind of what happens briefly at the end. Joker shows us very early on in the film that Arthur fantasizes about being famous, telling off his therapist, killing his boss, or getting the father figure he always wanted, but he clearly knows they’re fantasies. Later, after Arthur’s social services are cut and he can’t get his meds, he ends up confusing the fantasies for reality, including hallucinating being a charming boyfriend to his neighbor Sophie. We’re later shown that, in fact, she doesn’t really know who he is.
Because of this, many parts of the movie could be, and in fact probably are, only in Arthur’s mind. However, unlike The King of Comedy, where the ending is actually in De Niro’s character’s mind, this movie actually shows us that Arthur’s shooting of Murray Franklin and the ensuing riot are definitely real, because we’re given an objective third-person viewpoint showing it. In other words, the part where he is the Joker is him acting in real life the way that he always wanted to act in his fantasies.
He’s able to do this because, as the Joker, he is not Arthur Fleck. In fact, he’s never been Arthur Fleck. He was just an abandoned child that his mother adopted (though she claims that this was a lie put forth by Thomas Wayne) and allowed to be abused by her boyfriends repeatedly throughout his childhood. It’s even possible that his laughter is the result of a Traumatic Brain Injury from this abuse, meaning that the most embarrassing and constantly tormenting thing about his life was her fault. He then kills her and applies a pure-white level of greasepaint to his face, erasing his own identity even further. He says then that his life is not a tragedy, it’s a comedy. That’s because a tragedy, from a traditional Aristotelian standpoint, requires the downfall of a good but flawed person, while a comedy is the rise of a sympathetic, but not necessarily good, person. In other words, while Arthur fell, that lets the Joker rise. So, the Joker doesn’t actually have a backstory, in Arthur’s mind. He’s a blank slate that has been shaped by the society he lives in, which happens to be a mass murderer. That’s why he just keeps killing at the end.
This movie could, and probably should, have been a solid commentary about what kind of society treats its most vulnerable people the way Arthur has been treated. He was abandoned. His mother was allowed to adopt him, despite her being mentally unwell. He was given back to her even though she literally chained him to a radiator and beat him. Then, at last, they cut the funding for his mental healthcare, resulting in him having a complete psychotic break. That’s Arthur’s backstory and it’s a solid way to do a tragedy. The problem is: HE’S THE F*CKING JOKER. You cannot empathize with the clown prince of chaos. He’s a literal force of anarchy and he knows it. When asked why he killed three people, he doesn’t point out it was in self defense, he just says it was funny. It wasn’t because they were rich, or because they were assholes, it’s just because it was funny, because that’s what the Joker would say and that’s who he is now. That’s not something we should empathize with, but it is something that can be emulated, and no one should want that.
This movie should have been a solid cautionary tale about what happens in a society that has a giant class imbalance and treats the poor like crap, but instead it’s a movie about how shooting people will make you famous and happy. After all, everyone knows who the Joker is.
One of the most famous modern stories from Batman is adapted into an animated film and it raises a lot of questions about adapting a 2-volume long story arc into an 80 minute film.
Bruce Wayne/Batman (Jason O’Mara) is at a dinner where he runs into the recently-returned Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Jennifer Morrison) and his childhood friend Thomas Elliot (Maury Sterling), only for it to be interrupted by a report of Bane (Adam Gifford) kidnapping a small child. It’s quickly revealed that someone is manipulating Bane, and a host of other villains from Batman’s Rogues Gallery, in a complicated attack upon not only Batman, but also Bruce Wayne. At the same time, Batman and Catwoman finally decide to get together, but Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle are having a harder time.
If you’ve been liking the recent DC Animated Films up until this point, you’re probably going to like this. I actually think it’s one of the more well-paced adaptations that they’ve put out, mostly because it’s focused solidly upon Batman and his inner struggle to find a balance between his work and his growing love for Catwoman. Even more so than most of the comic books, the film also puts a lot of effort into exploring that she’s having a similar struggle. After all, she is a thief who steals because she loves it, something that doesn’t exactly make you an ideal partner for a crime-fighter. This dynamic has been featured in many of the film and television versions, but I admit that this one was especially well-done. Actually, aside from the Batman: The Animated Series version and some of the comic book runs, this might be the best take on their relationship (assuming the Arkham Games are part of BtAS).
The animation is basically the same as the other current DCAU, but I actually think they did a great job of emphasizing the differences between the scenes where Bruce Wayne is in charge and the scenes where Batman is in charge. When Bruce is considering things as Batman, the tones all darken appropriately without it really impacting the scenes, but it’s not done so blatantly that it gets annoying or feels like the artists are shouting “SYMBOLISM!!!” The voice-acting is on point, since it’s pretty much the same cast as before.
As a movie, I think the story here is pretty entertaining, since it contains a new criminal mastermind who seemingly attacks both Bruce Wayne and Batman at the same time. This thematically intertwines well with the issues that he’s having with being both Batman and Bruce Wayne in his relationship with Selina/Catwoman. Ultimately, he does try to resolve the conflict in his personal life, only for his vigilante life to keep driving a wedge between them. Still, having the central plot and the emotional plot both address the issues that come from breaking down the walls between the secret identity and the superhero one makes the movie feel much more coherent. One scene even shows the extent of the connection between the mask and the man when Batman savagely beats the Joker (Jason Spisak) for murdering Bruce Wayne’s friend to the point that Commissioner Gordon (Bruce Thomas) has to threaten Batman to get him to stop. Also, it’s always good to have a movie where a huge number of Batman’s rogues’ gallery make appearances that don’t feel like they’re just pointless cameos.
However, what I think is simultaneously the best and worst part of the movie can only come after the spoiler-warning, so I’ll just do the wrap-up here:
This was a fun movie for me, even if it wasn’t what I thought it would be at first. It told a solid story which balanced emotional moments with action and mystery. If you’ve never read the Batman: Hush comic, I recommend this movie. If you have, I also recommend it, but for different reasons. Give it a shot if you’re a fan of Batman.
This is really a major spoiler, so I’m giving you yet another chance to avoid this. I’m telling you now that if you think just because you read the comic book that this is based on that you can’t have things spoiled, you are wrong.
This isn’t Batman: Hush. Sure, it has lots of elements of the story that are similar, but the fact is that the identity of Hush is completely different. In the comic, Hush is revealed to be Thomas Elliot, a brilliant surgeon who has been holding a grudge against Bruce Wayne for most of his life because Thomas Wayne, Bruce’s father, saved the life of Elliot’s mother after Elliot tried to kill his parents in an accident. The film seems to follow this for a bit, even including the iconic scene in which the Joker is framed for killing Thomas Elliot, prompting Batman to almost murder the clown prince of crime. However, while the comic shows Elliot to be alive and the actual identity of Hush, the movie directly averts this by having Batman find Elliot’s corpse a second time, decayed and rotting, revealing that no, Elliot is ACTUALLY dead. It turns out that the Riddler, who was Hush’s partner in the original, is actually Hush in this version, explained by him wanting to get revenge on both Batman and Thomas Elliot, because Elliot couldn’t fix his brain tumor. Instead, the Riddler used a Lazarus Pit and, similar to the comic, the madness that followed gave him the ability to deduce Batman’s identity. He then used a new identity to try and destroy Batman and Bruce Wayne. Rather than being threatened into silence, however, this version shows the Riddler being killed by Catwoman and that being what drives them apart rather than her potentially being involved in the plot.
So I have to ask, is it wrong to do a change like this? I actually thought it was brilliant. The plot still works with the Riddler secretly being Hush and it actually made the ending feel more interesting to me, someone who read the source material. Additionally, just setting up the reasons behind Thomas Elliot’s plot would take a lot more screen time, potentially another 20 minutes depending on how it’s conveyed, but the Riddler just hating Batman and all the other villains due to them treating him like a joke is conveyed in about 2 sentences and completely works for the character. It’s a great storytelling change, it makes the movie flow better, and, most importantly, it means that the audience isn’t JUST getting Hush. Think about the film adaptation of The Killing Joke. Aside from the awful opening act, the rest of the movie was a faithful adaptation of The Killing Joke… to the point that almost nothing about it was surprising at all. Most of the film was just the comic panels animated. The only exception that really stands out, and the best part of the movie in my opinion, is the Joker doing a musical number to torment James Gordon, because that’s at least something that is unique to the movie. So, even though this movie might not have exactly faithfully adapted Hush, it gave us something that isn’t just a carbon copy of what we could already have read. Hell, if you liked the movie, you could, and should, read the comic and find out how much more complex and elaborate the plot in the source is.
An adaptation doesn’t have to be just a shot-for-shot rehashing of the source, but it does still need to capture the core of the source. I think this adaptation managed to do that. I know a lot of people who love the character of Hush will probably disagree, but I think this still worked.
The Dark Knight meets the Heroes on the Half-Shell and it’s just a great time all around.
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Leonardo: Eric Bauza, Raphael: Darren Criss, Donatello: Baron Vaughn, Michelangelo: Kyle Mooney) come to Gotham City after they find out that their nemesis the Shredder (Andrew Kishino) and his army of foot ninjas have set up shop in the city. Batman (Troy Baker) discovers that high-tech thefts have been occurring involving ninjas all around the city. Batgirl (Rachel “Yes, that Rachel Bloom” Bloom) witnesses one of these thefts, but believes that the TMNT, who were there to stop it, are the culprits. Batman and the Turtles fight, then they unite to take down the Foot Clan and Batman’s Rogues’ Gallery.
Crossovers aren’t new. They’ve been happening since Apollonius Rhodius decided to get an audience by going “hey, did you guys know there’s a story where Hercules, Orpheus, the Gemini twins, Achilles’ dad, some flying brothers, and a bunch of other heroes all went on a quest together?” The Argonauts were just the Avengers of Ancient Greece. I’d say Justice League, but I’m still smarting from that movie.
Crossovers are common in animation (Scooby-Doo has met just about everyone at some point) and in comic books (Archie has met the Punisher, the Predator, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Harley Quinn, and Vampirella), so this particular one was basically inevitable. Hell, apparently there have now been 3 different comic crossovers between these properties, including the one that forms the basis of this film. So, the team pretty much just had to deliver everything that’s good about Batman with everything that’s good about the Ninja Turtles. Since both of them have had SO MANY adaptations, they could reasonably give the two properties any number of qualities and they would still probably feel true to the source.
Well, good news, the movie definitely gets across versions of both franchises. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that this movie is no more and no less than what it promised in the title.
Here are the good parts:
The fight scenes in the film are pretty creative and they do manage to demonstrate the abilities of all of the parties involved. Special credit goes to the Shredder v. Batman fight, because it’s everything I wanted and more. It’s one of the few moments in the film where I was genuinely surprised at the quality. The fight between Batman and the TMNT is, likewise, awesome.
The voice casting in the movie is amazing. I particularly like that Troy Baker voices both Batman and the Joker, giving the characters an appropriate level of mirroring that isn’t usually present. I also loved Rachel Bloom as Batgirl, though that might be because I just love Rachel Bloom. Each of the turtles has an appropriately distinct voice that lends itself to their personality, just like in most of the adaptations.
The writing is pretty good. Definitely more effort than you’d usually get from a direct-to-video film like this. Is it going to match something like Into the Spider-verse or The Lego Movie? No, but it does a good job not distracting you from the action sequences. Also, they definitely manage to get in almost all the cameos and interactions that you wanted from a movie like this without most of them feeling insanely contrived.
This film is one of the few to actually make use of a PG-13 rating. This movie is violent, far more so than most adaptations of Batman or the TMNT, harkening back to the roots of both series.
The bad stuff:
Look, it’s a superhero crossover and those have certain things that have to happen. The heroes have to fight each other and then team up to fight the actual bad guy. It’s such a cliché that Watchmen mentioned it as something that typically happens in hero interactions back in 1985. The upside is that the film gets most of the adversarial stuff out of the way pretty early, so it’s not that big of a drain. The plot is meandering and kind of unfocused, but not distractingly so.
The art style is obviously subjective, but I didn’t like it. The turtles to me didn’t resemble any of their incarnations very well and Batman’s color scheme was closer to the one from Adam West than Tim Burton, which didn’t feel appropriate for a version with this much violence and death. Most of the villains, aside from Shredder, felt way too subdued until after *SPOILER* they get mutated. *END SPOILER* It just never worked for me.
Overall, though, it was a pretty fun movie that hit most of the notes that I would want for this kind of film. If you like either of these franchises, this is a must-see.
Warner Bros, the owners of DC Comics, decided to make a dark, gritty, and adult version of the popular Teen Titans property. They did two out of three.
Dick Grayson (Brenton Thwaites), former Robin to Batman, is trying to start a new life as a detective in Detroit. He finds that it’s harder to give up being a superhero than he thought, although he finds himself becoming increasingly more violent in how he handles criminals. One day he encounters a young girl named Rachel (Teagan Croft), who is being pursued by a cult who has been worshipping Rachel’s father, a dark presence from another dimension. Rachel has superpowers, but can’t control them, and her emotions can trigger a violent dark side of her personality. Dick works to keep her safe and, along the way, is joined by Kory Anders (Anna Diop), a flame-based alien in disguise, and Gar Logan (Ryan Potter), who can turn into animals… though I think it’s only really a tiger at this point. Together, they work to thwart the cult that’s trying to abduct Rachel and also to keep her safe while uncovering her background.
Well, let’s go over the positives: Most of the ancillary characters in this show are awesome. Hawk and Dove (Alan Ritchson and Minka Kelly) are the focus of at least 2 episodes and their relationship both to each other and to superheroing is complicated and interesting. They basically are using fighting crime as a way to deal with all of their repressed rage issues. Then there’s Donna Troy (Conor Leslie), AKA Wonder Girl, Wonder Woman’s sidekick who has quit heroics to be an investigative journalist doing the jobs that are too dangerous for non-invulnerable people. Both of their plotlines are an interesting commentary about the psyche of the superhero and about the real nature of heroism. There’s Jason Todd (Curran Walters), the second Robin, who gets to see what being Robin has done to Dick, making his choice to be Robin much more informed than Dick’s. Then there’s the backdoor pilot group, the Doom Patrol, a group of heroes who all have powers that make them social outcasts led by a guy who was in a wheelchair (And yes, this predates the X-Men). They’re… not as interesting as the X-Men, but still good to watch.
The costume and set design is great, most of the special effects in the show are really good by television standards, and I did also really enjoy the action sequences, although they are excessively brutal at times. Which brings us to the big negative of the series…
Dark does not mean mature, guys. Adding more violence, sex, and swearing doesn’t actually mean your show is more adult, except in ratings. This was the thing that I most feared about the show from the somewhat infamous “Fuck Batman” trailer: That it was going to learn all the wrong lessons from DC’s attempts to be mature in the past. What made Batman: The Dark Knight Returns mature wasn’t just the swearing or the violence, it was that it took a deeper look into what the psyche of a person who would dress like a bat and beat the hell out of criminals would become when he got older and the world got more violent. This show tries that, but then clearly dumps a bunch of “adult content” into the show just to make it seem darker. Not every “F*ck” is earned automatically, people. You need a reason for the character to choose “f*ck,” if they aren’t the kind of person who just casually drops it, and the reason can’t just be “we haven’t said it in 10 minutes.”
The casting and characterization of the main characters is mixed. I liked that Anna Diop, a black woman, is Starfire, who is typically… orange, and she mostly just shows her alien side when using her powers. She plays a version of Starfire who doesn’t know who she is and is largely confused about where she came from, which is new for an adaptation. That said, she’s also painfully more down and depressing than most versions of Starfire, which… doesn’t really help with the dynamic of the show. Brenton Thwaites is fine as an adult Dick Grayson, but the writing isn’t doing him any favors. We get it, you’re angry and you’re violent and whatever. Stop saying it over and over. Teagan Croft is pretty great as Rachel/Raven, because she’s able to convey that she can’t trust anyone, including herself. She’s afraid of herself and what she’ll do to people just as much as she’s afraid of what they’ll do to her. It works out well. Ryan Potter isn’t the cartoon Beast Boy from the 2000s, but he is close to the main comic version, and I think he does a good job. He’s not all green, but that’d cost a fortune in makeup, so I accept the compromise. Like I said, there’s a mixed bag here.
Another negative thing is that the overall plot has a lot of filler and not all of it builds well towards the characters or the world. However, I did freaking love the “Nuclear Family” enemies, who are basically the 1950s if they had superstrength and were powered by evil.
And, last, although it’s a personal gripe, I’m pissed that they didn’t include traditional Titan Cyborg in this version. At first I thought it was because he’s in the DCEU movies, but no, apparently he’s just going to be in the Doom Patrol spin-off. Well, not the biggest deal, but still irks me.
Overall, I didn’t enjoy this enough for a DC show. It’s too arbitrarily dark without enough actual exploration of the darker themes. It’s like the angsty-teen of DC shows: It says it knows how to be an adult, but it’s really just going to wear black, listen to metal, and then yell “I’M SO F*CKING DEEP!!!!” That said, if they bring this attitude to the dark satire of Garth Ennis’ The Boys that’s supposed to be coming out, that’ll work.
Since this movie just came out, I’m going to do something I usually don’t do, and I’m going to provide a brief spoiler-free review of this movie before the actual review below.
Regular readers of this blog will remember one of my general rules for movies: A movie can do anything, as long as it is consistent in the amount of disbelief it asks the audience to suspend. This movie follows that principle by telling the audience right from the beginning that this movie is going to be insane, and you just need to strap in, hang on, and love it more than your pets or children.
Everything about this movie is borderline insane, from the premise and the plot to the dialogue and the characters. It operates on a logic that is basically akin to a Muppet movie, and that is in no way an insult. It tells you right from the start that this movie is going to be different from any Batman film you’ve ever seen, and it delivers on that promise. The character designs are amazing, as expected from Takashi Okazaki, the creator of Afro Samurai. Each Batman villain and sidekick gets a Japanese re-design, each of which is an homage to an anime trope or Japanese stock character. My favorite small element is that Harley Quinn’s giant hammer now is decorated to be a Den-den Daiko drum (just look at the picture). It’s a detail that I really love. Even better, each character gets an over-the-top intro screen like a video game cut-scene. Batman himself gets, I think, 4, and if you are a Batman fan, you will be cheering loudly at each of them, for they are all magical.
The art style is one of the most interesting things in the movie, because it varies wildly. Sometimes it’s done more in the traditional comic-book style, sometimes in a more manga style, and at one point it flat out becomes a series of Ukiyo-e drawings (including famous ones like the Great Wave Off Kanagawa, seen below). The movie itself is basically a three-penny tour of Japanese art styles and motifs, which is probably exactly what it wanted to be, since this movie is a great opportunity to pull in some of the people who are only comfortable with Western art.
Batman himself is pretty interesting within the movie. I don’t think it’s spoiling much to say that the movie starts with him basically attempting to defy space-time being warped around him through sheer force of will. This both serves to confirm that yes, this is Batman, and yes, his will is indomitable. Then, when brought back to Feudal Japan, he’s immediately confronted with the harsh reality that he can’t really be “Batman” here, hilariously exemplified by him attempting to grapple to a skyscraper only to be confronted with the fact that Sengoku-era Japan didn’t have skyscrapers. The movie is about Batman trying to play by his usual rules in this new world and failing repeatedly, until he learns to play by the new rules.
The fight sequences are great, as are the action sequences, and all of them are really unique, though they’re all tributes to other series and Japanese motifs.
Oh yeah, one other big thing for this movie: It is not slow. At all. If this were collected as an actual comic book, it would be years’ worth of plot progression. If you’re a Batman fan, I’d compare it to the “No Man’s Land” arc, which lasted 80 freaking issues. Despite this, the movie also never feels rushed. It finishes in 80 minutes, and you’re really seeing a ton of stuff. Maybe not all of it is fully clarified, but, again, the movie told you 3 minutes in that you’re watching a movie with Batman fighting samurai after being transported to the past along with Arkham Asylum. Just watch and love it.
Also, it’s great in either English (Tony Hale plays the Joker!) or in Japanese (Koichi Yamadera, who voiced Spike in Cowboy Bebop, plays Batman!), so take your pick. Actually, I recommend watching both, because the English script is not really a translation of the Japanese, so it appears to be two different movies.
That’s all I can say without spoilers, so go see the damned movie (you can buy it on Amazon for $20 bucks right now), then read below.
Gotham By Gaslight is a famous Elseworlds (alternate universe) Batman comic which takes place in a version of Victorian London that just happens to be called Gotham City. In fact, it’s the first “Elseworlds” comic and is still considered one of the best ones. Think about all of the fictional depictions of nights in London at that time, and that’s how this version of Gotham is depicted. Heavy fog. Dark alleys. Dark, ornate clothing. Serial killers, muggers, and some real-life supervillain-esque crimebosses. In other words, it’s the absolute perfect time for a Batman story to take place. It’s such a fitting setting that when someone suggested adapting it into a videogame a few years back, I thought it would be a perfect follow-up Batman game to the Arkham series. But, alas, some things are not to be.
It’s Gotham City. The year is… sometime in the Victorian Era, but we’re still in America, so let’s say it’s between Grover Cleveland’s administrations. You might ask why I didn’t say Benjamin Harrison’s time in office, but I think more of you probably would ask “Who the f*ck is Benjamin Harrison?” It’s that guy. —–>
There’s a serial killer stalking prostitutes in the night around the city. One might say he’s a ripper of women. Perhaps something less than a King Ripper. Yes, it’s Jack the Ripper. Yes, it’s actually Jack the f*cking Ripper, in America, in a setting with Batman. If you’re thinking “okay, that actually sounds kind of awesome,” go read the comic and don’t see this movie, because you will be disappointed. We start the movie off by having Jack kill Poison Ivy, who is apparently a prostitute and an exotic dancer in this universe, and has no other connection to her comic counterpart than a name and red hair.
In this universe, Batman is basically an urban legend at this point, but rumors about him scare everyone, since there aren’t any other vigilantes at this point. At the beginning, Batman stops three orphans from robbing a wealthy couple, and you learn that this is clearly an “adult” cartoon because one of the kids says “shit.” Batman then beats the crap out of the orphans’ boss, and sends them to an orphanage, because Victorian Batman ain’t got time for “wards.” Despite this, it’s obvious that the three orphans are this universe’s version of the first three Robins.
We get a weird expository sequence about the city, just to make sure that the audience sees all of the guns in Chekhov’s collection. There’s a bat-signal projector, and Hugo Strange is there, and there’s a world’s fair. We’re introduced to Sister Leslie, a nun that takes care of orphans around the city as well as young ladies who may or may not be prostitutes (they are), as well as Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Bullock who apparently haven’t been successful in catching Saucy Jack.
Cut to night, and we follow a young woman through alleys as she’s being pursued by both Jack the Ripper and Batman. Batman apparently decides to wait until Jack gets inside of a literal slaughterhouse before taking him down, despite seeing him from the rooftops. The woman reveals herself to be skilled in self-defense, and also to be this world’s Selina Kyle, evident from her use of a whip and from a cat being in the shot with her. While she holds her own at the beginning, she eventually loses. As she’s about to be overpowered and die, Batman finally decides to intervene. Jack escapes after beating both of them.
Selina yells at Batman for interfering, despite the fact that she was clearly dying. We then see Commissioner Gordon dream of the Ripper killing his wife, only to have him wake up and lovingly console his wife in the middle of the night. Batman then appears to talk with Gordon, and ask for his assistance in taking down the Ripper. Gordon agrees to help him.
We’re then shown a cabaret sequence that lasts 60 seconds but feels like it lasts 30 minutes. It’s awkward and pointless and serves only to show what Selina does in her public life. Also, she’s apparently having an affair with Harvey Dent, whose “two-face” persona manifests as him being an adulterer and a drunk with a mean temper.
That night, Sister Leslie is killed by Jack, and Bruce Wayne (if you don’t know this is Batman, I would like to speak with you about your homeland), who is at the scene, gets blamed by a homeless woman. He finds a bloody pin from a gentlemen’s club, telling him that Jack is a rich man. At Leslie’s funeral, Hugo Strange, the local asylum administrator, asks Bruce to send him the Batman. The three orphans try to rob Alfred, who puts them into his employ. Apparently, sending them to the orphanage worked out great, 19th century guy who could have easily given them a home.
Later, Batman sees Jack kill Hugo Strange. Batman gives chase, but after a dramatic fight on a zeppelin, Jack escapes. Batman is pursued by the police, despite it being clear that he and the Ripper are different people, and Bruce hides with Selina Kyle, who he spends the night with. The homeless woman who accused Bruce is found dead, leading to his arrest. The next scene has Harvey Dent prosecuting Bruce at his bail hearing while angry over Bruce sleeping with Selina. Weirdly, one piece of evidence that’s used against Bruce is the pin which Bruce himself had found at the crime scene… which Harvey should never have known about. Oh, and literally no other evidence aside from a dead homeless woman for whose murder Bruce has an alibi.
After Selina says she’s going to tell the Commissioner that Bruce is Batman to clear his name, Bruce escapes from Prison and picks up a steampunk motorcycle, because at least something in this movie should look kinda cool. Batman goes to Gordon’s house looking for Selina, and finds photos of Gordon as a surgeon during the Civil War, as well as a number of tools and organs in jars, indicating that Gordon himself is the Ripper (more on that in a second). Gordon’s wife tries to stop Batman, believing that Gordon is doing “Holy Work,” and showing Batman that Gordon burns her face with acid to “purify” her.
Selina tells Gordon about Bruce’s secret, and Gordon reveals himself as the Ripper, attacking her. He injects her with a “7 per cent” solution, but she manages to escape and create a bat signal from the electric spotlight we were shown at the beginning. Gordon starts to monologue about how he’s killing not just whores, but also the poor, the illiterate, immigrants, anarchists, and pretty much everything else on the “what can I say to make myself seem like an asshole” list. It’s also revealed that Gordon is right handed, but Jack is a southpaw, because the nuns made him use his right hand. Yeah, that’s why he does this, because he was forced to use the wrong hand. I’m not a neurologist, but I’m pretty sure that doesn’t make you a serial killer. Also, he apparently decided that humanity sucked because of the civil war, which, I’ll grant you, isn’t the worst motivation, but he apparently just hates anyone who isn’t a white male (despite that being most of the people fighting in the Civil War).
Batman and Gordon fight atop a Ferris wheel, because Gotham is hosting the 1889 World’s Fair instead of Chicago, I guess. After the wheel catches on fire and Batman wins the fight, Gordon sets himself on fire and dies. Batman saves Selina with the help of Alfred and the orphans, and the World’s Fair burns down, but the movie ends with the orphans asserting that they’ll make something better.
So, this movie doesn’t exactly follow the comic. That wouldn’t be so bad, since adaptations need to be, you know, ADAPTED, except that the omissions and alterations both destroy some of the beauty of the setting and aspects of the Batman mythos itself. The former is more important, honestly, because the latter could have been used well to add levels of surprise to the movie if any of it felt real.
The art style is great, but it’s wrong. This is a movie taking place in what is supposed to basically be Victorian London. Look at the cover for this comic. See how shadowy and dirty everything looks? Yeah, the movie doesn’t look like that. That isn’t to say the layout and character designs are bad, they’re actually pretty good, they’re just wrong for the setting of this film. And the city is too clean. In the day sequences, everything looks like a gleaming city of marble, which is cleaner and nicer than Gotham City looks even in the 1990s depictions, let alone when it’s supposed to be a substitute for Industrial Age London.
Because of the cleanliness of the art style, Batman’s design somehow is both taken from the comic and still sucks. He looks like he’s cosplaying steampunk Batman, rather than, you know, BEING steampunk Batman. The problem is he doesn’t look like he’s wearing time-period appropriate material, it looks like he’s wearing the same stuff he wears in Batman: The Animated Series, but with a different cut. The comic was drawn by Mike Mignola, the guy who did Hellboy, and that really worked better than this.
Having Batman meet up with Jack so many times also really reduces Batman’s credibility, rather than boosting the effectiveness of Jack the Ripper as a villain. Jack is, presumably, a normal human with a knife, and yet Batman basically loses three fights with him before the end of the movie. Nothing Jack does really suggests that he should be skillful enough to do this, since Selina almost defeats him at one point. When it’s revealed to be Gordon, they attribute it to him being a boxer, which… doesn’t really explain how he’s good at wielding a knife in combat, or why he’s able to run long distances easily, or disappear like Batman when no one’s looking. Which brings us to the part of the movie I hated the most.
Gordon is the Ripper. Now, this could have been a great twist, especially for fans of the comic who weren’t expecting it. Instead, my first reaction was “bullshit.” My second reaction was “Bull. Shit.” My third through fifth reactions were similar. It just doesn’t make any sense within what we’re shown in the movie.
First, they deliberately give Gordon 0 traits to indicate that he’s the Ripper. They even show that the Ripper is left-handed, while Gordon is not. This serves less to throw the viewer off of the trail, and more to emphasize what an ass-pull this ending was. We’re shown his wife several times, but she doesn’t display any of her crazy until the end, even though no one is around except the audience. Gordon dreams of the Ripper killing his wife, but seems to wake up genuinely concerned about the dream… which makes no sense with the reveal. And Batman never seems to suspect him, despite him being BATMAN. The world’s greatest detective didn’t do any background research on the highest-ranking local police authority?
Second, it seems almost physically impossible that Gordon did this, given that, immediately after one murder, we’re shown that Gordon has been asleep and dreaming while Batman made the way to his house. At another point, he apparently fights Batman, murders a prostitute, then appears as himself in a matter of minutes.
Third, killing Hugo Strange made no sense. Gordon clearly didn’t think Strange actually knew his identity, didn’t know Batman’s identity, and Strange isn’t any part of the groups Gordon claims to be “punishing” at the end. Strange is a rich white male, the ONLY group Gordon isn’t attacking, so… why? I mean, Gordon’s weird rant where he basically says that he’s killing everyone except for WASPs is already kind of reducing any interesting aspects of the character by replacing a hatred for women with a hatred for “them.” He’s no longer an interesting psychopath, just an agent of blind rage.
Last, this means that Jack the Ripper literally never was in England. He’s only in America in this universe, which kind of defeats the point of having Batman face a historical serial killer, when you remove one of the most famously concrete facts about an unknown figure.
Also, small note, if you’re going to set a Batman story at the 1889 World’s fair, why wouldn’t you change his enemy to H.H. Holmes? You know, the serial killer who BUILT A REAL-LIFE MURDER PALACE? A murder palace with gas chambers, moving hallways, trap doors, fake rooms, etc., all of which seem to be out of a comic book? How is that not your first f*cking thought there? I WILL WRITE IT FOR YOU IN 10 DAYS, DC.
Most of the time-period references also suck, btw. There are 3 references to Sherlock Holmes, including Bruce calling him “one of [his] mentors.” There’s a reference to Houdini, a reference to the Ferris wheel, and a reference to… shit, I think that’s actually it. Also, if Sherlock Holmes is real in this world, he clearly didn’t teach Batman most of the “good” detecting. Or how to fight. Selina is a proto-feminist, which, while nothing she says is inaccurate, comes off awkward since she’s supposed to be playing a con-woman who ingratiates herself with men while investigating. She even is shown dressing like a man to get into a men’s club, but she provokes fights over gender inequality. I’m fine with her being a feminist, but the context in which she does it is counterproductive to her current mission. Which is especially dumb because there are multiple contexts where it would absolutely have made sense.
Apparently, however, I’m alone in thinking this movie was a waste of potential. Critics and audiences seem to be loving this movie. It’s at like 83% on Rotten Tomatoes. But, not this Batman fan. It’s not just because I love the comic, it’s because it just felt wrong the whole time. I didn’t want them to adapt the comic word for word, I just wanted it to feel like it was in the same world. The twist didn’t feel clever, it felt like someone just said “Crap, we’ve only introduced like 7 characters,” and had to pick one. I am glad that it wasn’t the Joker, because that would have been a cheaper cop-out, but it still felt hollow. Even all the violence to justify the “R” rating felt gratuitous, although, admittedly, it made some of the sequences a lot more intense than the average animated movie.
Mediocre plot, good but ill-suited animation style, references seem thrown in awkwardly, and an ending that just made me feel cheated. Please, DC, give this another shot.
Art complaints and plotting issues aside,
This movie managed to not try to inundate the audience by throwing in a thousand Batman references just for the sake of having them there. That’s a huge temptation in doing alternate adaptations of properties, so I’m pretty happy about that decision. Because of this, the story feels mostly self-contained. You could know nothing about Batman, really, and you’d be able to watch this movie.
The voice acting is perfect. Batman is voiced by Bruce Greenwood, who played Batman in Under the Red Hood. Alfred is voiced by Anthony Stewart Head from Buffy and Repo!, which is just f*cking perfect. Jennifer Carpenter from Dexter voices Selina. Scott Peterson (Luke from Gilmore Girls) voices Gordon. These are all really great casting choices, and they come off that way.
At least they were trying to alter the plot of the movie, rather than making it completely uninteresting for people who are fans of the comic. When they adapted The Killing Joke, they managed to both change it too much to the point where it defeated the merit of the movie, then kept other parts too strictly in line with the comic which made those parts less interesting to everyone who had already read the book. Granted, Gotham by Gaslight is a lot less famous than The Killing Joke, so there would have been fewer people upset about sticking with the comic, but still, at least they were trying to be original.
Ultimately, if you’re a Batman fan, you can probably enjoy this, even if you don’t love it.