“Justice League” Review

Full disclosure: I’m more of a DC Comics man than a Marvel reader. So I was very much anticipating the first big-screen depiction of the Justice League, despite Warner Brothers’ questionable and stumbling towards creating a DC movie universe. The bar is pretty low for this film, which is rather disappointing for DC’s first theatrical ensemble picture. Though Snyder’s direction is still spotty and flawed, there are small bursts of hope present, more so than the painfully dark and muddy Batman v. Superman, though not as many as the triumphantly bold Wonder Woman movie.
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“Batman Returns” Review

Of the many Batman movies released in the 1990s, Batman Returns (1992) is by far the most dark. Needlessly dark, in fact. It’s as if Tim Burton was so embarrassed to be making a movie about a man who fights crime in a bat costume that he was determined to put a bafflingly maccabe and odd coat of darkness on this superhero franchise. He may have achieved his goal of distancing himself from the usual Batman hype, considering that McDonald’s pulled their Happy Meal tie-in deal.
The movie begins with perhaps the most depressing of openings in any Batman movie: The abandonment of an ugly infant child into the river.

Due to an incident with their baby attacking a cat, the Cobblepot family decide that the only sane thing to do is literally send their child downriver. I can only imagine how they would respond if their toddler tortured the dog. The unlucky baby Oswald ends up at an abandoned zoo where he is raised by penguins, hence his villain name of The Penguin (Danny DeVito). He grows into a bitter, dirty and hate-filled human with penguin-like features that desires revenge on a city that shunned his ugliness. He also somehow has some colorfully dressed henchmen to do his bidding.

Before you can shed a tear for Penguin’s plight, the movie leaves his pathos and steers us towards another villain. The white-haired Max Shreck (Christopher Walken) wants to control an energy monopoly on Gotham City. Blackmailed by Penguin, Shrek devotes his resources to making Penguin socially acceptable and eventually a mayoral candidate. If Penguin can make his way into office, Max will be able to build his own energy factory without interference from the current mayor. It’s rather easy to run for mayor of Gotham considering Penguin’s lack of political experience, his shadowy past and his short temper which leads to biting off noses.

And then there’s the third addition of Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer). Her origin is perhaps the most confusing of all as Selina Kyle, a secretary of Max who was tossed out a window for knowing too much. When she lands on the cold pavement, she is somehow nursed back to health by a swarm of cats. Animals sure do a lot of parenting in this picture. The cats have apparently endowed Selina with nine lives, a spell they must have cast amid trying to eat her body. One room-destroying mental breakdown and S&M outfit later, she is ready to play the role of Catwoman and get revenge on Max. Or just go crazy as she runs rampant in a department store for no reason, whipping the heads off mannequins and making the building explode.

Where is Batman in all this? Once more played by Michael Keaton, the titular character is more aloof than he was in the previous picture. He doesn’t have much to do aside from punching a few henchmen and stopping Max’s evil scheme. But he isn’t much of a hero in how his Batmobile is easily sabotaged by henchmen and even fails to save a woman from being murdered by bats. There’s a romance that develops between Batman and Catwoman, but it never reaches the erotic tension that is greatly implied. How sexual can two characters be when they spend all of their romantic moments dressed up as a tire and a suitcase?

Batman Returns thankfully has a strong cast and unique visual style in an attempt to cover up its murky tone and muddled story. But Burton’s trademark style of Gotham City, with its gothic design and costumed henchmen, can only go so far to make one overlook the shortcomings of the characters. I didn’t feel anything for Penguin’s sob story, Catwoman’s sexiness, Max’s desire for power or Batman’s mysteriousness. The movie attempts to be dark and noirish, but features surreal moments of comedy as when Batman adds record scratches to Penguin’s audio admission of public manipulation. The lack of maintaining a consistent tone or narrative gives this aimless production a stylishly bitter nihilism – something that feels out of place for a Batman movie.

“Batman: Assault on Arkham” Review

The villains of Batman tend to be much more intriguing than the title hero and now a handful of them have been given their own animated film. But rather than admiring their pathos, this film is more a Dirty Dozen deal. The villains are not spruced up to be more redeemable protagonists and are instead given the reluctant rouge angle. They’re all still evil characters, but just evil enough to be likable for the rather violent mission forced upon them.

The secret government organization known as Suicide Squad takes in villains and offers them a chance to shave off some time from their prison sentence. In exchange, they must complete a secret mission for the government. If they fail, being captured won’t be an issue as the explosives attached to their necks will explode. And, naturally, these missions are not voluntary. The group selected for this mission includes the keen-eyed assassin Deadshot, the witty Captain Boomerang and the overly eccentric Harley Quinn among others. Their mission is to break into Arkham Asylum and take out the recently captured Edward Niggma. But once the group starts questioning the reasons behind the secret murder, they try to stay one step ahead of Suicide Squad supervisor Amanda Waller. And with The Joker running loose inside the asylum and Batman hot on their trails, they’ve got their work cut out for them in addition to dealing with the security.

While the villains we follow for this story are mostly B and C listers of the DC Comics roster, they’re still very fun to follow in a darkly comedic way. It helps that the film is setup with this tone similar to that of a 1970’s mercenary ensemble feature. I was reminded of those 1980’s mercenery ensemble pictures if not for the music and editing than for the slick introductions given to our key players. The manner in which they proceed to carry out their tasks while retaining their despicable behavior is incredibly entertaining. I guess I was just more impressed that film did not dial back on the villainy. This is a group that while reluctantly working together still will not hesitate to kill one of their own if they can get ahead. There is just enough backstory given to Deadshot where we identify with him the most and hope he’ll make it out alive.

It may sound strange writing this, but Batman and Joker are the weaker links of this movie. The Dark Knight manages to pull off shreds of good detective work, but his master plan for infiltrating the Suicide Squad could be seen a mile away and wasn’t all that surprising when it was revealed. The twisted love triangle between Joker, Harley and Deadshot was not as strong acting as a setup for the third act showdown. Joker manages to get in some mildly amusing bits, but nowhere near as entertaining as the relationship between Killer Frost and King Shark or the sly wit of Captain Boomerang. This group manages to hold their own in this thriller of bad guys working for people are far more worse.

While ‘Batman: Assault on Arkham’ does have a thriller angle to uncovering the secrets of the Suicide Squad program, it’s much more enjoyable for its bombastic directing. It’s ruthlessly violent, scandalously sexual and a clever script to boot. This all manages to come together in a fun, almost campy appeal to prisoners breaking into a prison. It manages to be vastly different from DC Comic’s previous direct-to-video animated films which all seem to follow a similar template. For being so wildly different, I can’t help but recommend such a movie even with our title character missing for half the film.

“Son of Batman” Review

I fear that Warner Brothers may have exhausted their Batman animated movie ideas if they’re now resorting to estranged child plots. Such a concept seems like something more common for a television program in the twilight of its run. It’s a move that one would have to be very brave and very capable of pulling off to make for an entertaining movie. This is not that movie as the whole idea is given a very lukewarm presentation.

Damien Wayne has grown up far from his father Bruce Wayne in the mountain HQ for the League of Assassins. His entire life has been spent on intense warrior training with his mother Talia and his grandfather Ra’s. Terror strikes, however, when the evil Deathstroke descends on the stronghold with his highly-trained minions to destroy the League. When Ra’s is murdered in the scuffle, Damien vows swift revenge for the death of his grandfather. His quest leads him to Gotham City where he finally comes face to face with his father. Naturally, being the dark knight, it isn’t long before Damien takes an interest in the Robin costume and the dynamic duo takes on a father-son relationship.

The two are polar opposites, however, with Damien being more of a killer than a crime fighter. Growing up with assassins, he’s been taught some rather nasty lessons that Bruce must now rectify with his more humane approach to vigilantism. He shows him the ropes by following the trail of clues that leads them to some fights with Killer Croc and a gang of Man Bats. Those fight scenes are decent, but never really ascend past the level of television animation. And the final showdown between the two and Deathstroke is so underwhelming for a fight with swords and martial arts. These three are supposed to be masters of their fighting craft and here they’re pulling out amateur moves and mistakes. This could have been an impressive display and instead it just feels like another uninspired moment.

What’s really so disappointing about the film is the very poor choice in voice talents. None of these voices really fit all that well. I couldn’t buy the emotion of Bruce Wayne, the cruelness of Damien and the evil of Deathstroke. All of the voice acting either feels ill-fitting or phoned in with a dry delivery. The animation looks decent, but does appear to be a step down from Warner Brothers’ previous direct-to-video animations. It has that sort of stylized jerkiness you’d see on ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’. For television, it looks great. But as an animated film for video, this needs an upgrade. I wasn’t entirely uninvested in the film as there are some great dialogue exchanges between Bruce and Damien as well as some fun lines for Alfred and Nightwing. As a whole, however, I was more distracted by the dip in quality for just about every department. In the canon of these direct-to-video DC Comics movies, this is certainly not a highlight and may be one of the worst they’ve made.