Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders
Screenplay by Michael Jelenic and James Tucker
Directed by Rick Morales
I was super excited to hear about Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders when it was announced that Adam West and Burt Ward would be reprising their roles from the 1960s series, even more so with Julie Newmar also around as Catwoman. As you have probably guessed from the large amount of campy super hero flicks TarsTarkas.NET has covered over the years, the television series that inspired many of them is a big deal, so any thing that means more of the cool magic that it was is great. It turned out better than I imagined, it’s one of the best animated films DC has put out, and they have put out a few good ones! (and a few….not so good ones!)
The film is jam packed with the flavor of the original series – wild alliteration, pop-up word balloons during action scenes, random labels on object, Robin declaring “Holy ______” every few seconds, all sorts of random bat gadgets, Batman and Robin figuring out the most obscure Riddler clues in the universe, and the ever-present incompetent police force. There are cameos from almost the entire era, really the only thing missing was Batgirl.
Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson’s quiet evening at home is interrupted with the big four villains – Joker, Catwoman, Riddler, and Penguin – hijack a television show just so they can leave a Riddler clue behind. From that, Batman and robin deduce that the criminals are out to steal a duplicating ray, while Catwoman schemes to turn Batman just slightly evil so they can be united in love. But her plan fails and after one thing leads to another suddenly everyone is fighting in outer space to stop the villain’s schemes of duplicating more Earths so each one can control a Gotham City.
Batman: Assault on Arkham
Written by Heath Corson
Directed by Jay Oliva and Ethan Spaulding
DC Animated has hit some sort of weird divergence where the films are either really good or really bad. Batman: Assault on Arkham fits in the really good category, even though it reduces Amanda Waller’s character to too simplistic of a bully villain. That’s a shame, as Waller is one of the greatest comic book characters, a high-ranking official who runs her own show outside of the normal good and evil duology, and is capable of standing up to the greatest heroes and villains.
Assault on Arkham becomes unlike a lot of the animated super hero fare because it features a team of scummy villains, who have no qualms about killing people and spend half the film trying to betray Waller and each other.
the Suicide Squad is a group of criminals with heavy sentences who are sent on dangerous missions in return for time being shaved off their terms. As the teams are largely made up of sociopaths, they don’t get along and have trouble working in teams. The fighting and backstabbing just adds to the fun of watching the villains work as they push towards their goal. Waller uses the team to take down threats that can’t be dealt with by normal means and need to be off the books, often ignoring what may be bigger problems to achieve her own goals.
This is as much a Batman film as a Suicide Squad film, so Batman runs around looking for a dirty bomb the Joker has to try to stop it from exploding. That means he crosses paths with the Squad more than once, especially since Harely Quinn is part of the team, despite her insistence that she and the Joker aren’t together any more. As the Squad has to break into Arkham to retrieve a flash disk and the Joker is interred in Arkham, he does end up becoming part of the story, especially when things begin to go haywire.
The Suicide Squad consists of Deadshot (who is concerned only with getting out so he can spend time with his young daughter), throwing expert Captain Boomerang, Harley Quinn, ninja Black Spider, ice queen Killer Frost, Killer Croc ripoff King Shark, and guy not to get too attached to KGBeast. Deadshot serves as the alternate main character, who keeps the team focused on the mission despite their various distractions like ex-boyfriends and marksmen rivalries. The Deadshot presented here is just professional enough to make a compelling main character. Captain Boomerang serves as his less moral counter and constant thorn in his side as Boomerang’s competitive and antisocial streak causes him to see Deadshot as an enemy.
Categories: Bad, Movie Reviews Tags: animated, Batman, Batmania, C.C.H. Pounder, Chris Cox, Ethan Spaulding, Giancarlo Esposito, Greg Ellis, Heath Corson, Hynden Walch, Jay Oliva, Jennifer Hale, John DiMaggio, Kevin Conroy, Martin Jarvis, Matthew Gray Gubler, Neal McDonough, Nolan North, super heroes, Troy Baker
Superman vs. The Elite
Written by Joe Kelly
Based on “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?” from Action Comics #775 by Joe Kelly, Doug Mahnke, and Lee Bermejo
Directed by Michael Chang
Superman has been a cultural icon for 80 years, he’s survived several waves of popularity of comic books, multiple reboots and revisions to his story and character, and still remains popular world wide despite the world being far different than the one he was introduced to. In fact, one of the major things people write about Superman is how he seems to be a character from another time. Back when things seemed simple and a super powered guy could just punch his way to the right answer. Now things are complicated, because we think about the consequences of actions and about the causes of problems, so just punching things is usually out. This is helped in part by characterizations of Superman by people who don’t really know what to do with him, turning him into a boy scout tool of the government or a deadbeat dad. One of the plot points of Superman Returns was Lois Lane winning a Pulitzer for an article basically saying the world didn’t need a Superman.
Where some media interpretations of Superman has failed, he has gained a pretty solid characterization in the numerous animated projects from DC comics, across tv and dtv films. The Superman presented is a man who does his best to balance power and responsibility while stopping threats of immense power (and they usually have to be, because Superman is just invincible otherwise!)
So it’s natural that the animated DC movies would cover What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way? from Action Comics #775. Written by Joe Kelly (with pencils by Doug Mahnke and Lee Bermejo), it’s a story about how the world seems to have changed, how heroes that are willing to kill (a line Superman doesn’t cross) have gained traction, and just how much Superman holds back in the hope of inspiring people to be better. Superman takes his responsibility as a role model seriously, and holds himself to the highest moral standard. Some of the themes are also present in the awesome Kingdom Come story (another tale I hope gets the animated treatment!)
The Elite is a team consisting of four members. Manchester Black is the leader, he has a Union Jack tattooed over his chest (I thought it was just a shirt until it was specifically pointed out!) The Hat is an Asian mystic who can do magic tricks and summon supernatural creatures thanks to his magic hat. He’s also constantly drunker as the movie goes on. Menagerie has some sort of alien biosuit that allows her to turn into creatures. Coldcast is a large man wearing chains that has electromagnetic powers. Aside from Manchester’s long tragic flashback, the other three Elite don’t get much in the way of characterization and pretty much follow Black’s lead.
“You can’t control a living thing without destroying what’s alive about it” — Zor-El
That quote is key for Superman Unbound, as Superman deals with a new threat to Earth, a threat from Krypton’s past that threatens the galaxy at large in addition to his adoptive home. Brainiac travels the universe capturing cities in bottles and then destroying their planet of origin, in an attempt to absorb all the knowledge in the universe. In order to prevent new knowledge from existing, Brainiac keeps the cities in the same state they were when they were captured. No one ages, everything stays the same, they are trapped in purgatory. As you can imagine, Superman is not okay with this fate befalling Earth, nor is he fine with leaving the lost Kryptonian capital of Krandor as a bottle decoration in Brainiac’s ship.
Superman: Unbound is based on Superman: Brainiac by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank. Brainiac presented here is a cold, calculating monster that is an unstoppable force in the galaxy. He’s been at it for decades, adding city after city to his collection and leaving a trail of death and destruction in his wake. Brainiac brings up echo of the Borg, as he arrives in a lone ship (though his is shaped like a black skull), his robot troops adapt to the local defenses and absorb the knowledge of his victims. They both carve out cities from the ground, and Brainiac is more machine parts than organic at this point. But he’s also just one guy, as opposed to a collective consciousness. The motivations are similar but also different.
We begin with seemingly normal situations on Earth, massive violence in Metropolis (committed, they say, because Superman will obviously be busy with an earthquake in South America that happened a bit ago!) The heavily armed thugs manage the best the surprisingly militarized Metropolis police, but what they don’t bank on is Supergirl showing up to ruin their fun. Lois Lane (who volunteered to be their hostage) provides the snark as Supergirl rips through their defenses, joined by Superman, who faster than a speeding bulleted his way back to the US in time to take out the last of the bad dudes.
Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox
Written by James Krieg
Based on Flashpoint by Geoff Johns and Andy Kubert
Directed by Jay Oliva
Flashpoint became the even that subsequently rebooted the DC universe into The New 52!, as the covers say. Basically, everything got rebooted, and was done so with less of a notice than you would like to wrap up storylines in dozens of comic books. This resulted in some things being a bit more rebooted than others, but all that continuity you knew and loved was once again thrown out the window by the latest DC reboot. Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox doesn’t get into the continuity situation (except a brief costume change at the end), but deals with the storyline that causes it, leaving the actual fallout for the eventual sequels like Justice League: War. It lacks the excitement and fun of some of the animated DC flicks, though does have a few bright points to offer.
Flash is a character that, like Batman, is overshadowed by his villains. I say this not because I don’t really care for Flash, but because I find the dynamics of his villains far more interesting. Captain Cold and the Rogues are a cool team dynamic, working together for profit while avoiding excess casualties, even if they occasionally get sucked into more bloody affairs simply because they walk in the criminal underworld. Flash is potentially one of the most powerful heroes on the planet, and they regularly do battle with him. They even fight against other super-villain teams that try to control them. However, Professor Zoom/Reverse Flash/Eobard Thawne is simply an Evil Flash from the future who is a jerk. Sadly, the tale here turns the Rogues into petty thugs easily tricked by Professor Zoom, who then orchestrates manipulating Flash into altering history and continues to taunt Flash even as the future Professor Zoom comes from ceases to exist. C. Thomas Howell puts in a good performance letting the creepy sociopath shine through, but he’s stuck with what is there in the script to deliver, and Professor Zoom never becomes a classic villain.
The biggest problem with Flashpoint is that it was never really that good to begin with. The series wasn’t terrible, but it never really turned into a classic story that will survived through the ages. The only real continual allure is the alternate reality itself, and even some of that is a bit corny. We already had alternate versions of the Justice League members not that long ago with Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, and despite the limited screen times, many of those characters felt more developed than the inhabitants of the Flashpoint world.
The fact the event was used to justify the rebooting of all of DC continuity makes it a lightning point of controversy, as some of the rebooting caused arguments of their own (Superman’s marriage went kaput, many dead characters sprung back to life, a few established female characters suddenly became giant slores) in addition to the general idea of everything getting reset yet again in DC. One theory was the resetting was a ploy to gain new readers, though if that was true, it didn’t seem to pan out too well, but much digital ink was spilt as various factions argued throughout the internet.
Categories: Movie Reviews, Ugly Tags: Andy Kubert, animated, Batman, Batmania, C. Thomas Howell, Cary Elwes, Dana Delany, Dee Bradley Baker, Geoff Johns, Hynden Walch, James Krieg, James Patrick Stuart, Jay Oliva, Kevin Conroy, Kevin McKidd, Michael B. Jordan, Nathan Fillion, Ron Perlman, Sam Daly, Steve Blum, super heroes, Superman, Vanessa Marshall
Justice League: Doom
Written by Dwayne McDuffie
Based on JLA: Tower of Babel by Mark Waid
Directed by Lauren Montgomery
The Justice League is under attack, except this time it’s by one of their own! Okay, not really by one of their own, but by the very plans Batman developed to deal with members of the Justice League.
Justice League: Doom is based loosely on the JLA: Tower of Babel storyline by Mark Waid, Justice League: Doom changes things up enough to be a different take while providing a nice adaptation of the overall themes. The main villain is changed (from Ra’s al Ghul to Vangal Savage) and some of the Justice League’s lineup is different, but the feelings of betrayal by a paranoid Batman remain.
Doom is not direct sequel to Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, but follows it with very similar character designs and voices. Many of the DC Animated films are their own shards of a loose continuity that exists purely to tell that exact tale. It’s a perfectly fine way to operate, allowing the general mythology of the heroes to exist and leaving toom for the specifics needed to make the stories work and be unique. The return of many of the familiar voice actors helps sell the loose familiarity and provides a comfort to longtime fans so they aren’t put off by Batman sounding weird or something.
Justice League: Doom is one of the better DC Animated films, dividing enough characterization between the different members to give each of them their own take, while still keeping a focus on Batman. Switching the villain to Vandal Savage helps push a more minor villain into focus and provides an excuse to make the full range of the plans make more sense than eliminating reading and talking.
Categories: Bad, Movie Reviews Tags: animated, Batman, Batmania, Bumper Robinson, Carl Lumbly, Carlos Alazraqui, Claudia Black, Dwayne McDuffie, Grey DeLisle, Kevin Conroy, Lauren Montgomery, Mark Waid, Michael Rosenbaum, Nathan Fillion, Olivia d'Abo, Paul Blackthorne, Phil Morris, Robin Atkin Downes, super heroes, Superman, Susan Eisenberg, Tim Daly