If I’ve learned anything during my adventures in DC and Warner Bros.’ bizarre catalogue of straight-to-DVD animations, it’s that you can never trust the title. You hardly need to be the World’s Greatest Detective to figure out which of these things are most likely to shift an acceptable number of units. Batman or Superman in the title? Classic story being adapted? Then you’re probably onto a winner.
But a film like Batman: Assault on Arkham, which is based on an original story focusing on the Suicide Squad and set in the continuity of the Batman: Arkham video game series, needs to finesse things a little more. So Batman is there in the title, and he’s technically there in the film (voiced by Kevin Conroy, no less), but this is by no means a film about Batman. It’s a deliriously scuzzy crime thriller that revels in its explicit amorality, giving DC’s oft-neglected second-string villains their own time in the Bat-signal.
Continue reading Review – Batman: Assault on Arkham
For all his high-tech gadgetry and countless millions, Batman (Jason O’Mara) forgot the one thing that was sure to guarantee him a comfortable, stress-free life: Condoms.
Yes, after a late-night tryst – which, it’s implied, involved Batman being date-raped – with Talia al Ghul (Morena Baccarin), the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul (Giancarlo Esposito), the Caped Crusader went and made a sprog. Raised by Talia and Ra’s to be the eventual head of the League of Assassins, Damian Wayne (Stuart Allan) is an arrogant, worryingly competent little twerp who finds himself dumped unceremoniously in Batman’s lap after another of Ra’s students, Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke (Thomas Gibson), assaults the League’s headquarters.
Continue reading Review – Son of Batman
You’d never tell judging from the scores I’ve awarded the various entries into the Bruce Timm-shepherded DC Animated Originals catalogue, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: They’re starting to get a bit tedious.
This might be because I’ve watched a significant number of them back-to-back, only taking a brief hiatus to completely upend my life and relocate somewhere else – an endeavour I briefly detailed here – which clearly isn’t the intended way to consume films which are released 6-8 months apart. I once decided I was going to read Chuck Palahniuk’s entire bibliography, and after the second book, Survivor, an extraordinarily cynical meditation on isolated religious cults and fervent media frenzy, I felt so aggressively fed-up with contemporary society that I was tempted to disappear into the wilderness myself.
Continue reading Review – Justice League: War
As I’ve noted before in this very series, the idea of alternate timelines and universes and all their attendant paradoxes is largely what has prohibited me from becoming what one might describe as a “fan” of comic books, which some would consider a rather egregious oversight given my line of work. When I reviewed Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, another direct-to-DVD feature courtesy of Warner Bros. and DC, which also concerned a superhero team who ventured into a mirrored dimension to battle their doppelgangers, I expressed concerns about the futility of the endeavour, which I still hold. That movie surprised me, though, and it must be said that this one, which is based on the 2011 comic book crossover event “Flashpoint”, by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert, surprised me just as much, if not more so.
A couple of reasons. The first, rather obvious one is that a standalone feature-film is a very different proposition from a concerted effort to mangle and merge a dozen characters’ established continuities. In comic books, these events are permanent – until, that is, the next one happens, or the whole line is arbitrarily rebooted, though even then the ostensibly clean slate still contains the sticky residue of versions past. It’s a nightmare. Something like Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox has the distinct advantage of having no obligation to a broader continuity. You can enjoy its hypothetical rearranging of DC’s stalwarts secure in the knowledge that by the time the credits roll, none of it will have mattered.
The second reason is that, unwieldy title notwithstanding, it isn’t a movie about the Justice League.
Continue reading Review – Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
An adaptation of Superman: Brainiac, a better-titled miniseries by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank that reimagined Brainiac, one of Superman’s most iconic villains, as a cybernetic alien who boasts the knowledge of 10,000 worlds – accumulated, it’s worth noting, by pilfering those worlds’ most developed cities, miniaturizing them, and cataloguing them aboard his giant, tentacled skull-ship in little glass jars.
That sounds like hard work.
It does. I was compelled to ponder the logistics of this endeavour, but I gave up once I was reminded that a building full of investigative journalists still haven’t managed to determine that Clark Kent is Superman, despite him working in that very building and making no effort to disguise himself. In fact, I should really applaud Superman: Unbound, which is the sixteenth movie in DC’s animated line, for introducing a boorish Daily Planet employee who makes a point of noticing and commenting on Clark’s secretive behaviour. Admittedly he thinks that Clark sneaking around and being in good shape means that he’s a homosexual, but that’s still the closest anyone has come to putting two and two together.
Continue reading Review – Superman: Unbound
If you need me to tell you, there’s a strong chance you and I won’t get on. Still, allow me to direct you to my review of the first half of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, which contains all the blathering about artwork, animation and voice acting that you could ever hope to read. All that stuff’s more or less the same in this half, so I won’t bother reiterating the points. Much more to discuss, this time, including old Miller’s unsurprisingly simplistic view of America’s Cold War foreign policy.
All in good time, folks. Until then, the story so far: Batman’s using his state pension to fund a return to vigilantism, despite the national government having implemented a ban on such activity. In Part 1, he wrested control of Gotham City back from a gang of studded, visor-clad street-punks known as “the Mutants”, mostly by tricking their leader into a muddy puddle and punching him repeatedly. Here, in Part 2, Miller’s story is irradiated by the fallout from Batman’s resurgence, and starts to sprout new, unexpected appendages. A previously-institutionalized Joker (Michael Emerson), Gotham’s Clown Prince of Crime, has joined the media circus, using the pretence of a talk show to butcher the host and the entire studio audience; the Sons of Batman, a well-meaning unofficial fan club, have taken up arms to help clear Gotham of its criminal dregs; and in the Oval Office, a satirised Ronald Reagan despatches his pet steroidal Superman (Mark Valley) to bring Batman to justice.
Continue reading Review – Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2
Another delve into the addled imagination of Frank Miller, whose definitive Batman origin story, Year One, I recently declared one of the worst adaptations to yet be churned out by DC’s generally-excellent collaboration with Warner Bros.
Well… I guess we’re off to an awkward start.
Fear not, though, because Miller didn’t just reimagine Batman’s beginning, but also his end; The Dark Knight Returns is another iconic, seminal work in Batman’s long and storied history, and the first part of it, directed by Jay Oliva and adapted for the screen by Bob Goodman, is easily the best Batman story since Under the Red Hood, and stands alongside that movie, Wonder Woman and Superman vs. The Elite as some of the best superheroic shenanigans yet committed to film.
Hold on… part 1?
Yes, indeed. It seems that the original story’s vaunted place in the comic-book pantheon didn’t lend itself well to an abridgement. For the first time, instead of trying to compress a multi-issue arc into a single, short movie, DC and Warner have taken the scalpel to the source material and delivered two feature-length halves of Miller’s four-part classic.
Continue reading Review – Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1