Tag: Batman (page 1 of 2)

Batman v Superman v The Audience

Courtesy DC Comics

I’ll say this right up front: Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice could be good.

I know there are people on both sides of the fence, be they touting Nolan’s films and Man of Steel as superior superhero stories to anything Marvel makes, or shaking their metaphorical heads in dismay at the overly verbose and shockingly dour tone DC has taken with its heroes of late. Unlike these extremists, though, I can see both sides of the argument, despite the fact I lean more one way than the other, personally.

The thing to keep in mind, at all times when discussing matters like this, is that people have individual and subjective opinions. A person has every right to think another person is mistaken in their outlook on a matter, or to stick to their position in spite of arguments or even evidence to the contrary. The key, as in most things, is simply to not be a dick about it. There’s no need to take another person’s opinion on comic book characters, or most things for that matter, as a personal attack, and it’s certainly never cool to respond in kind and add fuel to an already ill-advised fire. You would think that, in defending a world populated by larger-than-life characters espousing truth and justice, those invested in that world would adhere to the same moral standard, rather than seeking personal gratification in the way a villain would.

Anyway, this movie could be good. I can see it working. Deconstructing superheroes is a fascinating take on their vibrant and grandiose world, breaking icons down into people and sorting through their thoughts and feelings. Zack Snyder is perfectly comfortable directing this sort of thing and getting the right performances out of his actors – I mean, he gave us Watchmen, arguably his best film. There’s potential here, and I can see it clearly.

However, I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve been here before.

I mentioned Watchmen, which is perhaps the best example of taking superheroes, with all of their propensity for being viewed as gods among mortals, and breaking them down into flawed, petty, and even cruel human beings. Thanks to Alan Moore’s writing, an excellent adaptation, and Snyder’s direction, this was conveyed more through visual storytelling and the actions of the characters, instead of verbose monologues and pretentious philosophizing. In that way, DC’s recent film adaptations have been unable to measure up.

The Nolan and post-Nolan films have a nasty habit of telling instead of showing. Getting into deep philosophical and psychological waters is fine, even admirable in realms of fluff entertainment like superhero comics, but stuffing those themes and thoughts into the mouths of your characters as a standard procedure is detrimental to the pace, tone, and overall effectiveness of the story. The trend of these films of late makes me a bit nervous.

As do the obvious nods to Frank Miller. As time has passed, Frank’s work has seemed more and more heavy-handed and pretentious. Sure, Sin City is a fun romp when you’re in your late teens or early twenties and the blatant blood and boobs of Miller’s noir fantasyland definitely plays to that demographic, but having characters narrate every single thought that enters their heads can get truly grating the more it happens. As much as 300 was a captivating visual showcase for what it was, I don’t think most people would praise it for its engaging characters. There’s also the unsettling fact that 300 seems to really like the dictatorial, nearly fascist Spartans a bit too much. Anyway, my point is that Frank Miller can be a bit full of himself and weighs his work down with pomposity and dreary, dismal visuals, and it looks like Batman v Superman is taking more than a few notes from his works involving these characters.

Now, I know that there are some audience members who just adore The Dark Knight Returns. Cool. Like what you like. Personally, I don’t think everybody in DC’s audience is going to be willing to jump on that bandwagon. Man of Steel strongly divided audiences, and I feel like Batman v Superman might widen that chasm, rather than repairing it. DC needs not only a smash hit at the box office, but also a fanbase as unified and confident as Marvel’s. It’s the only way they’re going to truly pull off their plans for the Justice League in any way that really competes with the Avengers.

I’d like to see them do it. I just don’t know if they can.

Pilot Review: Gotham

It’s officially Autumn. New television shows are starting to come out of the woodwork. After the season premieres of The Blacklist (which was excellent) and Sleepy Hollow (as delightfully and shamelessly fun and adventurous as always), I watched the pilot of the new series Gotham. With the sort of premise that guarantees a built-in fan base, a top shelf cast, and the promotional power of the FOX network, I was curious to see what the show might bring to the table every Monday night.

Courtesy FOX

Most stories involving Batman gloss over the years that follow the murder of his parents. Gotham opens with that event, and what follows immediately after. The focal point of the story is James Gordon, who is a recently-promoted homicide detective of the Gotham City Police Department. He and his salty, potentially dirty partner Harvey Bullock get saddled with the Wayne murders, and tasked with solving the case as quickly as possible to allay the fears of the populace. In their investigation, the detectives inadvertently become involved in the underworld rivalry of crime bosses Carmine Falcone and Fish Mooney, and come across more than a few characters with names quite familiar to Batman fans watching the show.

While I have only seen a few episodes of Smallville, I got a very definite and similar vibe from Gotham. As much as stories that blossom from the fertile fields of comic books tend to be grandiose in scale and scope, this show is more intimate, more human, and more gritty than a lot of that fare. We’re dealing with the origins of a great deal of characters beyond Batman, which is definitely not a bad thing – it’s been said that Batman is the least interesting character in the Batman mythos. But as I said, the overarching plotlines write themselves, as they have already been written, and the end of the series is likely to be Bruce donning the cape and cowl, so the devil is clearly going to be found in the details.

Courtesy FOX

If nothing else, Gotham has an excellent cast. Donal Logue is doing fantastic work as Harvey Bullock. In the animated series, Bullock was mostly a fat slob bent on arresting Batman and being a pain in Gordon’s ass, but here, he’s a nuanced character who is not necessarily completely corrupt but nonetheless operates in a gray area between the law and the underworld. The nascent versions of the Caped Crusader’s villains are appropriately cast, from the sadistic and ambitious Oswald Cobblepot (Robin Lord Taylor) to the quiet and meticulous Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith). The incomparable Sean Pertwee plays Alfred Pennyworth opposite a young actor named David Mazouz who is already showing the sort of deep disturbance that would cause a grown man to dress up like a bat and fight crime. So far, the linchpin of the whole enterprise, Ben McKenzie’s James Gordon, seems a bit non-descript, but there are hints to more going on beneath his surface, so in spite of his dry delivery, I’d say I’m on board.

Gotham looks to be off to a decent start. The background of the city feels authentic, and rather than drawing direct parallels to the animated series, the Burton/Schumaker years, or Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, television’s Gotham City feels very much like its own urban beast. The characters have bite to them, and the performances come from authentic places. It’s entirely possible that this will fall off as the series goes on, and not every episode will be up to snuff, but this is a good start. I would recommend checking it out, even if you’re not that fond of the Caped Crusader.

Flash Fiction: King’s Landing’s Hero

Courtesy HBO

I rolled for the Terribleminds ABC meets XYZ challenge, and got “Game of Thrones” meets “Batman”. I’m not sure I stopped there.

Night falls on King’s Landing. I find another dog with its guts spilling into the street. This dog was a person, once. Someone’s son. Maybe someone’s husband. Once a human being, now a chilling corpse. Like this city. It once held wonder and potential. Now it is only death and misery.

So be it, I say. If this is how the city wants to rot under the Lannisters and their little product of juvenile lust, so be it. But innocents suffer too much. They watched loved ones rot and wither under the gilded heel of the lions. They cry out for justice, without saying a word, for fear of the blade of Ilyn Payne.

I’ve decided to answer them.

The rooftops of the city are where I roam. There was a time when the Lannister soldiers on constant patrol were a source of fear for everyone there who was not in Tywin’s keeping. For me, it had become a challenge to avoid detection every night when I slipped out through the hidden corridors built by the Targaryens. The libraries and hidden alcoves throughout the keep had given me the knowledge I used; late nights with needle and thread helped me craft the cloak and cowl that hid my identity.

It’s after two bells past the sunset that I find tonight’s prey. As much as the Kingsguard are supposedly on duty every hour of every day, they’re also supposedly celibate. Yet there was Ser Meryn Trant, making his way towards the house owned and nomially run by Petyr Baelish, the man they called Littlefinger. Trant knew better than to walk the streets in his pure white cloak and golden armor, but his swagger was unmistakable. Arrogance and smug superiority propelled his every step.

I cannot tell you how badly I want to kill him.

I wait until he was inside. I move and jump from one rooftop to the next, my steps sure and silent. The claws on my knees and palms carry me down the wall outside the house, and I peer into one room after the next. I finally find him, with two of Littlefinger’s girls. He sits near the bed, sharpening a dagger as he watches them undress each other. I can’t discern what he could be planning, but I decide immediately he won’t finish whatever depraved thought that fills his head.

As soon as he stands, licking his lips like a wild animal catching the scent of fresh meat, I kick open the window and enter the room. Trant turns towards me with a snarl. Before he can say anything, I am on him, one hand clamping his jaw shut, the other delivering a quick blow to his throat. The Kingsguard staggers back, still clutching his dagger. He’s moving towards his sword, even as he struggles to breathe. He is, however, off-balance, and I sweep his feet out from under him. As soon as he’s on the floor, my feet are on his chest and his own dagger rests at his throat, clutched in my gloved hand.

“Whoever you are,” he manages to snarl, “you’re dead.”

“When morning comes,” I whisper, “you’ll wish you were.”

He laughs at me before I bludgeon him with the dagger’s hilt. Something tells me that will be his last laugh for a while.

When they find him, hours later, he was strung up over a street in Flea Bottom. Stripped and left to cook in the morning sun, his fingers were all broken, along with his wrists and elbows and knees. He had been cut many times, the most vicious cut being the one that left him without his manhood. He is, however, alive. Death, after all, is a mercy, to hear the Lannisters tell it. I’m merely playing by their rules.

From the Hand of the King to the lowest urchin in Flea Bottom, everybody wants to know who had done this. Of course, when they find the message on Trant’s body, they come asking me.

But I am a mere, lowly prisoner here. I have been since Ser Ilyn Payne took my father’s head. I’ve spent so much time learning to avert my gaze and agree that my family are a pack of traitors that nobody’s noticed the time I’ve spent preparing for that night, and all the nights to come. I keep my eyes downcast. I pretend to fear the queen. I mask my disgust for Joffrey. I can still convince them that a prisoner is all I am, and that I am no threat to their plans, their gold, their precious throne. But I’m not without that streak of rebellion. I carefully hide any evidence I leave, seek out stray red hairs, keep my face concealed; yet part of me enjoys the game, the chase, almost daring them to confront me, so I can tell them what I really link of their house and what they’ve done to me and mine.

That is why, into Meryn Trant’s chest, I carved the words “BAD WOLF”.

Movie Review: Justice League: Doom

Even when I was younger, I knew there was something that set Batman: The Animated Series apart from other cartoons. At the time I chalked it up to visual style – the black cels really sold the noir asthetic of Gotham. However, looking back, the writing is incredibly solid and often goes to dark places for what is obstensibly a children’s program. I haven’t watched a great deal of the Justice League or Justice League Unlimited series, but after watching Justice League: Doom instead of shelling out for Injustice: Gods Among Us, I may have to correct that oversight.

Courtesy Warner Bros

Batman is, as a rule, paranoid. He’s a very rich man with a very odd nightlife and some very interesting friends, ranging from nigh-invincible aliens to smart-alec test pilots with magic jewelry. He knows for a fact that they’re good people, these friends of his, but he also knows that good people can be mislead, controlled, manipulated, or even turn bad. So he has plans for dealing with each and every one of these friends. Now what, do you suppose, happens when these plans get stolen, cranked up, and unleashed on Batman and his friends in the Justice League? This is the brainchild of immortal douchebag Vandal Savage and his newly forged Legion of Doom.

What Justice League: Doom does right is taking the focus away from major super-powered threats or earth-shattering kabooms. The scope of this film is a lot smaller, its tone more intimate, than most stories that deal with super-heroes, especially teams. With animated features, where special effects are less limited by things like budget, the temptation can exist for a creative team or vision to override more character-focused story points. Thankfully, Doom does not fall into that trap. For most of its running time, we see how Batman’s contingency plans wreck havoc in the lives of his teammates. And since the plans are meant to deal these super-powered individuals on both a physical and a psychological level, the plans can be rather insidious, and make for good watching.

Courtesy Warner Bros
The art style is crisp but may seem too childish or anime for some.

The nature of the conflict is matched by good pacing and excellent voice work all around. Both Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly reprise their long standing roles as Batman and Superman, respectively. I happen to like Hal Jordan as Green Lantern, and Nathan Fillion supplying the voice was a great bonus. With this core of talent, the characters really come to life. This helps drive home some of the moments that could define, or destroy, these heroes. There’s also the fact that many of those moments go to very dark territory. We have bombs bolted to people’s bodies, live burials, major psychological trauma, and even people getting shot point-blank in the chest. It’s clear from the outset that this story isn’t messing around.

Unfortunately, Justice League: Doom is not perfect. The nature of the Legion of Doom’s formation means that each member other than Savage has a personal beef with an individual hero on the Justice League, and pairings pretty much remain fixed throughout the final battle. For example, Mirror Master might have given Superman a run for his money, and how would Metallo fare against Green Lantern? Another problem is in said final battle; since the plans are resolved as a prelude to said battle, most of the interesting character points have already happened or are largely inconsequential. It feels a great deal like the final minutes of Justice League: Doom simply run out of steam, which is a shame considering it’s good opening and fantastic second act.

Courtesy Warner Bros
I really like Mirror Master’s design. The see-through look nails the character.

Stuff I Liked: The implementation of the plans to take out the Justice League. I liked seeing these versions of Bane, Star Sapphire, Metallo, and particularly Mirror Master. Batman revealing he’s always got kryptonite available made me grin like an idiot.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: Vandal Savage is perhaps my least favorite kind of villain: he’s evil for evil’s sake. His plan is megalomaniacal in the extreme and he has only the most paper-thin of excuses for carrying it out. I’m still not a huge fan of Superman; it seems difficult for a given writer to decide just how much power kryptonite has over him or how long it takes for the glowing rocks to weaken him.
Stuff I Loved: The voice acting is very good. There’s a moment about halfway through involving Cheetah and Vandal Savage that really impressed me with its audacity. I’m not too ashamed to say I enjoyed Superman getting shot. Hal Jordan remains my favorite Green Lantern, and having him voiced by Nathan Fillion was a great moment of fanboy enjoyment for me.

Bottom Line: For all of the imperfections I saw emerging, Justice League: Doom still tells a decent story and inhabits some of the more fantastical characters of the DC universe with some humanity and vulnerability. As good as it could have been with some elements mixed a bit more and a couple more chances taken, what it does is done well.

Shadow of the Bat

Courtesy Warner Bros

The Dark Knight trilogy is over. Nolan’s Batverse is closed, and its story concluded. In the end, what was it all about? What, in the end, was the ultimate point of stripping out the more superfluous and ridiculous elements of Batman, from blatantly supernatural enemies like Clayface to the presence of easy-to-access Bat Anti-Whatever’s-Trying-To-Eat-Bruce-Wayne’s-Face Spray?

Going by The Dark Knight Rises alone, you might be tempted to conclude “Not very much.”

But unlike some movie series who tack a couple movies on after their first one was a success (*cough*THE MATRIX*cough*), I think Nolan had a plan from the beginning with these films. I believe there is a theme that permeates all three stories, in addition to their individual themes of fear, chaos, and pain (in chronological order). By removing the more comic book oriented portions of this comic book story, Christopher Nolan focused more on the characters of this world, and the city they inhabit, showing us what it takes to be these extraordinary people and what sacrifices they must make to preserve their ideals, their homes, and their loved ones.

Ultimately, the Dark Knight trilogy is about perseverance. It’s about never giving up.

Hell, there’s an exchange that happens multiple times in Batman Begins that underscores this very sentiment:

Bruce: Still haven’t given up on me?
Alfred: Never.

The events of Batman Begins shifts Bruce’s focus from personal vengeance to protecting the city his beloved parents built and tried to defend in their own way. But this is only a course correction; he doesn’t really give up or change his mind. He still has the determination to do what he must to become what his city needs, instead of using that determination to fulfill the desires of his own rage. We’re shown this aspect of Bruce rather than being told about it, and it’s why so much time is spent on his training and travels in comparison to his gadgets and gizmos. It’s why Batman Begins works as well as it does.

The Dark Knight raises the stakes by adding another figure who is just as determined, every measure as fanatical, and more than willing to cross lines that keep Batman from becoming a dark reflection of the crimes he fights. What Heath Ledger did with the Joker was put Batman up against a funhouse mirror, a distortion of his will and never-say-die attitude. Throughout the running time of The Dark Knight, Batman and the Joker play a psychological game of Chicken, each daring the other to divert from their course to cause them to fail. The Joker wants to see Batman destroy himself; Batman wants to see the Joker sabotage his own plans. This makes it not only a tense, involving story from start to finish, but the best movie in the trilogy by far.

What, then, do we do with The Dark Knight Rises, if the stakes were already raised so high?

Here’s where Christopher Nolan posits a keen question, one that might have been missed, if we take this overarching theme to its logical conclusion.

“What happens when Batman does give up?”

When The Dark Knight Rises begins, Batman’s been retired for years. Gotham City is being controlled by the draconian measures of the Dent Act, and it seems like Bruce’s type of justice is no longer necessary. He’s let himself decay, felt his resolve erode, and he’s even begun to lose faith in the people he so vehemently defended against the menaces of Scarecrow, Ra’s al Ghul, Joker, and Two-Face. He lets his guard down. He thinks peace can last.

And that’s when Bane slips into the City to tear it down from within.

Bane is the indicator that Bruce giving up was a mistake. He throws Bruce’s lack of vigilance in his face. If he had stayed out there, if he had been prepared, Bane might never have gotten into Gotham in the first place. Instead, Bane sets his plans in motion with only minimal resistance, obliterating every obstacle in his path and nearly killing Commissioner Gordon. And when Batman does confront him, Bane breaks him. Bruce’s body matches his spirit, and he is left a wreck festering in the bottom of a pit wondering why he’s still alive.

This is why the second half of Dark Knight Rises is not, as some might posit, a re-tread of the first. When Bruce dons his cowl for the first time in the film, it’s reluctantly. He steps out of retirement because nobody else can do it, and he doesn’t even want to himself. Even Alfred knows Bruce’s heart has gone out of the fight. When he’s broken and left to rot, he must reach inside of himself and find that ember of rage that sparked the fire inside of him, that part of himself that he tried to bury when he gave up being Batman. He has to find his determination again, and when he does, he rises. It’s the whole point of the film, and of the entire trilogy.

Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves back up.

Nolan’s always been a cerebral filmmaker, espousing the notion of mind over matter. I believe that his Batman films are no different. Behind the trappings of comic book heroism and colorful villainy, Nolan is telling a story of the power of the determination, of never giving up, never saying die. He shows us where that power comes from, how it behaves when taken to its extremes, and what happens when we lose sight of it. It makes the story complete, coherent, and meaningful. The Dark Knight Rises has its share of problems, but in the end, it stands well on its own, and as part of Nolan’s trilogy on the Batman, rounds out the tale of one man’s determination to make a difference.

While Joss Whedon may have the chops to pull off this kind of storytelling without taking three movies to do it, I think it’s safe to say that most if not all other superhero films coming up in the next few years will be standing in the shadow of the bat.

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