Why Did Batman Cross The Road? Because We Were Sick of His Clucking (The LEGO Batman Movie review)

Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na nah. Just kidding. It’s like a 1000x yeah instead.

 

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Cast: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes, Zach Galifanakis, Jenny Slate
Director: Chris McKay
re-released on blu-ray June 13, 2017
********** 10/10

IMDB: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 90%, Audience Score 81%
The Guardian: ****/*****

Chris McKay also know as Chris Taylor, is an American director and animator of film and television. Best known for his work directing and editing the shows Robot Chicken and Moral Orel, The LEGO Batman Movie is his first film. He is also set to direct a live-action Nightwing movie which has yet to be scheduled.

Having spent most of his early career involved in video production, McKay learned about editing and eventually landed an editing job with ShadowMachine, which allowed him the opportunity to work on what would become the hugely successful Robot Chicken stop motion animated sketch comedy show. Which led him to help co-direct animation for The Lego Movie and giving him the opportunity to direct the film of today’s focus.

A little flavour on the film

Taken from Wikipedia and edited down –

The Joker (Zach Galifanakis) has plans to destroy the city, then Batman (Will Arnett) hurts his arch-rival’s feelings by telling him he is not as important in his life as he thinks he is, leading Joker to seek the ultimate revenge on him.

During the city’s winter gala, which also celebrates the city’s new police commissioner, Barbara Gordon (Rosario Dawson), Bruce Wayne falls head over heels, only to be infuriated by Barbara’s plans to restructure the police to function without the need of Batman. Joker then crashes the party with all of Batman’s rogues gallery, and oddly enough surrenders, with the exception of Harley Quinn (Jenny Slate), who disappears during the confusion.

Suspicions now raised, Batman plans to steal Superman’s Phantom Zone Projector, a portal to a prison housing some of the most dangerous villains in the Lego multiverse.  Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) intervenes and involves Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), whom Bruce unwittingly adopted as his ward during the gala. After the heist, the pair break into Arkham Asylum and send Joker to the Phantom Zone, but Barbara locks up Batman and Robin for their reckless actions.

Harley steals back the project and frees Joker, with all the Phantom Zone villains in tow. Barbara has a change of heart realizing what has happened. She frees Batman and Robin, and along with a suited up Alfred, the four of them team up to stop Joker. When they meet one-on-one again, Joker confronts Batman, stating they are arch-rivals, but Batman baulks at it and Joker zaps him with the projector. In the Phantom Zone, Batman accepts that even he needs help, and makes a deal with the Zone’s gatekeeper, Phyllis (Ellie Kemper), to retrieve the villains so that he can stop the destruction of Gotham.

Joker intends to blow up the city’s Energy Facility, forcing the thin floor of the city apart and be destroyed, and so Batman assigns Barbara a Batgirl costume, and recruits the other villains Joker has left behind. It’s too little too late, and the bomb rips the city apart. Knowing this was his fault, Batman reluctantly convinces Joker that he is the true reason for being the hero he is, before they, their friends and allies, and the city’s inhabitants, chain-link themselves together and pull the plates back together, saving the city.

Phyllis decides that Batman can remain after seeing how much he had changed in order to save everyone. Batman then allows Joker and the rest of his rogues gallery to temporarily escape, with the confidence that whenever they return, they will be no match for his new alliance with Robin, Batgirl, and Alfred.

Now, what the synopsis I have provided doesn’t tell you is how self-referential and hilarious this movie is to experience.

It is at-once a biting satire of previous Batman franchise outings, teasing the ever-popular use of Bruce Wayne’s backstory as plot motivation, as well as directly addressing the eternal dance between The Joker and The Batman. And yeah, it’s great that The Batman wants to fight around, but The Joker wants him to commit to him as an arch-villain. And rightfully so, they’ve only been at it for over seventy years!

The zaniness of Lego also fits well with Batman’s wonderfully odd and sometimes embarrassing tacky history of stories, costumes and villains. Think Disco Batman, Eraser and Clock King. And yes, you get to see King Tut, Polka Dot Man and Egghead make appearances too.

Pros: It is surprisingly sophisticated in it’s exposure of Batman, how pop culture has appropriated him, and core issues we’ve all been thinking about for what seems like decades. Top it off with a smart bow, riddled with fun for kids, and this is a movie not to be taken for granted. Michael Cera is heartwarming as Robin.

Cons: It does become a bit difficult to swallow all of the bricks towards the end, surprisingly enough because the story works so well to disengage us from the kitsch of the format it’s presented in. And the happy Bat family moment feels a bit shoehorned.

Runtime: 1 hour 44 minutes

Points of Interest: In a blink and you’ll miss it moment, Batman references the 1989 movie when he says  “You want to get nuts? Let’s get nuts!” to the Joker. Billy Dee Williams voices Two-Face for the movie. He also portrayed Harvey Dent in the 1989 movie, but never got to play Two-Face in the third movie because Joel Schumacher recast Dent with Tommy Lee Jones.

I cannot say enough good things about this movie. It is so reinvigorating to see DC poke fun at The Batman for once. Acknowledging all of the missteps over the past few years, *cough* Suicide Squad, Batman V Superman, and Man of Steel *cough* it’s great for them to realize that Batman is their best character, but that people are sick of seeing the same old Bruce Wayne.

The LEGO Batman Movie gives the people something to look forward to. It’s fun, interesting, and even humanizes the Bat. Go Will Arnett go.

theories Summarized

Maybe it’s my fine art background or maybe it’s simply my love deconstructing and reconnecting the LEGO assemblages I made as a young boy, but this is exactly what postmodernism should have been doing with Batman in the 1990s, not making him a goof with big nipples, but a caricature worthy of dissection and primed for exploration.

That said, you should also check out this cool vid we did for episode three of Watch Culture!

Out of theories for now creative cuties, tune in tomorrow for some wisdom. Same Bat time, same Bat channel.

Tim!

She’s So Animated! (Wonder Woman (2009) review)

Super heroes have been dominated by male leads in film since almost the beginning of their celluloid representation. Which is odd, given that there are more than enough female super heroes to go around, with compelling story arcs of their own to be had.

This is one of those times.

 

Wonder Woman (2009)

Cast: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Alfred Molina, Rosario Dawson, Marg Helgenberger, Oliver Platt, Virginia Madsen, David McCallum
Director: Lauren Montgomery
re-released on blu-ray May 16, 2017
******** 8/10

IMDB: 7.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 88%, Audience Score 78%
The Guardian: n/a

Lauren Montgomery is an American animated film director and artist. Aside from directing the Wonder Woman film I’m about to revisit, she also had a hand in Green Lantern: First Flight, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, Justice League: Doom, and co-directed Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths and Batman:Year One. A fairly young director still, Montgomery has been drawing from a young age and is heavily influenced by Disney, Bruce Timm of Batman: The Animated series fame, and anime.

Wonder Woman is her first directorial outing. And to be frank, it’s quite entertaining. But I’ll let the plot drive some of this demonstration for me first.

The story opens by explaining that the eternally youthful Amazons and their queen Hippolyta (Virginia Madsen) were granted the island of Themyscira after defeating Ares (Alfred Molina) and his monster army in battle. Hippolyta even beheaded her and Ares’ son Thrax in battle, who was begot from rape.

Hippolyta would have killed Ares too in battle, but  his father Zeus (David McCallum) stopped her from the action. Instead, Hera (Marg Helgenberger) bound his powers with bracelets that could only be opened by another god and the Amazons held Ares in prison cell indefinitely.

Later, Hippolyta was granted a daughter with Zeus’ blessing, and Princess Diana (Keri Russell) was born from sand and blood.

Over a millennium later, an American fighter pilot, USAF Colonel Steve Trevor (Nathan Fillion), crash-lands on the island. Steve and Diana meet and fight, and she defeats him, taking him to the Amazons. Interrogated with the golden lasso, they learn he is not an enemy. An emissary will be tasked to take him home. Diana volunteers, but her mother argues against that notion, to which Diana defies the order and participates in the emissary contests with a helmet to hide her identity.

Simultaneously, the Amazon Persephone, seduced by Ares, kills Artemis sister, Alexa, and releases him. Now also tasked with capturing Ares, Diana brings Trevor to New York, and he volunteers to help Diana.

In the world of man, Diana starts an investigation that will eventually lead her to Area, by way of the underworld. Diana attempts to stop Ares, but harpies knock her out and Trevor saves her instead of stopping Ares. Elsewhere Ares persuades his uncle Hades (Oliver Platt) (who has made Thrax his slave) to remove the braclets, to which Hades agrees.

When Diana wakes up, she is furious that Trevor saved her instead of stopping Ares, but Trevor makes good points about the Amazons isolation and ignorance, winning her over.

Ares and the Amazons battle in Washington, D.C. and Ares raises the undead to his side, but Artemis is given a chant from her dead sister Alexa to redeem the dead and remove Ares’ command. Ares promptly destroys the undead while Hippolyta faces Persephone in combat and kills her. Not before Persephone points out that by hiding away, the Amazons never got to know men and be whole women.

Ares and Diana finally square off and Diana narrowly outmaneuvers and beheads him just as Hippolyta beheaded Thrax. Diana and Trevor share a kiss and we see in the Underworld that Hades has enslaved Ares just as he did with Thrax.

Hippolyta  determines that Diana should be the official Amazon misses emissary and sends her back to New York. Trevor and Diana become a couple and Diana is now by the world as Wonder Woman.

The animated Wonder Woman follows many of the same notes as its 2017 live action version, but interestingly enough, it has different examples of humour and even more in the way of action sequences. Wonder Woman rejects the notion of a secondary role for women in action/ adventure stories, she is her own heroine.

Pros: It’s fast paced, well animated and the voice acting is excellent in almost every instance, though you never feel like are expected to know tons of her back story. Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion and Alfred Molina in particular are a treat to watch in action.

Cons: Aside from the complex issues of gender, there are dialogue moments which are difficult to swallow (ie. “You’re starting to sound like a woman”), and it is a bit jarring to hear Rosario Dawson’s voice and see a white woman in her stead.

Runtime: 1 hour 14 minutes

Points of Interest: The movie originally received an R rating from the MPAA, though most of edits came from minor changes to the battle scenes. This is the second time Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion have worked together, after Waitress.

While the story has clearly stuck to the visual aesthetics of comic book history, we are never treated to a sexualized or naive Diana Prince – she always carries herself as a patron of truth, justice and freedom. In fact, there is little in the way of narrative calling her out based on gender. The story is strong, and ripped out of the Wonder Woman’s past, so expect to feel that higher sense of morality by film’s end. It’ll be a wonder if you don’t.

theories Summarized

I’ve now seen both this film and the live-action version, and while I love the weirdness of comic books, the 2017 film is something to behold. Yet, that doesn’t make this story irrelevant. It touches more on the greek myths of which Wonder Woman is based, and in some cases, has even better mature humour. If you’ve enjoyed any of the DC Universe Animated Original Moves, you should give this one some time.

Tim!

A Non-Comical Book, Err Film (Batman: The Killing Joke, review)

Sexuality is a complicated thing, dear readers. People of all sexual orientations exist in this world – heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual, polysexual, pansexual, and transexual. And those are just the baseline, it gets more intricate then that. Which is a difficult thing to address because we have so much cultural material out there that mostly address heterosexuals, and to a lesser extent, homosexuals.

Every other persuasion gets considerably less attention.

Now, I’m writing about this challenge as a straight white male, so I realize my opinion is pretty limited, and that I am quite privileged in my perspective, but I will mention this, I have no idea how the actual percentages shake out on this sexuality matter.

Regardless, when we are reduced to our sexual motivations, that sucks. And not in a good way. Especially when it comes to art.

 

 

 

Batman: The Killing Joke (2014)

Cast: Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Tara Strong, Ray Wise
released on blu-ray August 2, 2016
***** 5/10

batman_250x375_r5

IMDB: 6.8
Rotten Tomatoes: 48%, Audience Score 56%
The Guardian: N/A

Sam Liu is a Chinese American animation director, artist, and designer. He has directed several animated superhero films at both Marvel Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation. I could list the heavy CV of films he has had a hand in, but it’s rather exhausting to look at, so let’s just take my word for it, okay?

As Bob Dylan once sang, the times, they are a changin’.

And this story probably didn’t need to be retold, especially the way it did, but before I tell you about the story, I’ll give you a bit of background first.

Batman: The Killing Joke is an adaptation of a rather slim graphic novel of the same name, which was originally created by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland in 1988, and which was itself also an adaptation of another story from the 1950s called The Man Behind the Red Hood which originally served as an origin story for Batman’s greatest foe, The Joker.

It has been widely lauded as one of the greatest Batman stories of all time, and has been critically reviewed as the definitive Joker story. It is a story describing both how The Joker came to be and for him to prove that anyone can sink into madness.

The flashbacks show a failed comedian and his very pregnant wife, and the comedian eventually decides to work with criminals to steal from a playing card company. It’s adjacent to his former work, which is a chemical plant. But his wife dies in a household accident, and he is forced to help the criminals anyway. The criminals dress him up as The Red Hood to implicate him if cops arrive. Cops do arrive, and then Batman. The comedian escapes from Batman, but is flushed out the chemical was pound lock – this turns his skin white, his lips red, and his hair green. He loses his sanity.

In the current timeline, The Joker invades the Gordon’s home, shoots Barbara (Batgirl), and kidnaps Commissioner Gordon. He then subjects him to sexualized images of his naked and bloody daughter, ridiculing him, and parading him through an abandoned amusement park. His hope is that Gordon will go insane just as he did, but this does not happen. Then Batman arrives, fights The Joker and proves to The Joker that he is the only insane one. The comic closes with Batman attempting to rehabilitate his foe, and The Joker responding with a joke that insights laughter from both parties, then the comic ends with an empty panel. Leaving the question of what happened to the reader.

It was a powerful story for the time, and still an interesting read, but Alan Moore has admitted that it lead superheroes down a dark road, and that while he wanted to show that comic books could be anything, all it did was darken the industry, and it hasn’t really recovered since. He regrets having written the story.

Now, let’s get to the update. Without diving too much into it, the new animated movie adds a prologue to help introduce us to Batgirl, even showcasing her challenges with a villain of her own, and a strained relationship with her mentor. The villain is sexually attracted to her, and of course gets in her head, which has Batman take Batgirl off the case. The story eventually shifts to a sexual tryst between Batman and Batgirl. Then Batgirl intervenes in the case anyway, and she ultimately resigns from crimefighting. Thus setting up the rest of the movie, which is a beat for beat repeat of the original story.

And so the story shifts the motivations of Batman and Batgirl, while removeing the weight of both The Joker and Gordon’s role in it’s outcome.

Pros: When the story sticks to the source material, it is engaging and an interesting account of both The Joker and his role with Batman.

Cons: We didn’t need to see a sexualized Batgirl. And we definitely didn’t need to see a 30 minute prologue story, when Batgirl should have gotten her own feature length animated film. Also, the animation is quite bad in many places.

Runtime1 hour 16 minutes

Points of Interest: Mark Hamill had retired from voicing The Joker, and would only come back if this story was adapted for film. The movie received a limited theatre release a week before it dropped in stores and online; the last time this happened was with the 1993 Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.

The fact that Alan Moore didn’t want his name on this adaptation might have been considered a sign that DC shouldn’t have green-lit this story, but that’s the perpetual struggle with comic book publishers, it’s a constantly dying industry, and they have to do something to inject life back into their business. And so an adaptation of an almost 30 year old Batman story was made into a movie. You can watch it, but I’m not sure that it’s worth it.

 

 

 

I really wish this movie didn’t turn out the way it did. I mean, the original story is interesting and noteworthy for a morality tale and cross-examination of Batman and The Joker as they relate to each other. And yes, Batgirl does plays a victim role in the original story, so it’s not like it’s the most brilliant piece of writing ever, but man did they screw up the adaptation with that prologue. It went from being an interesting story to something completely different. It just doesn’t mean the same thing with those changes. A story reduced to sexual motivations, and unnecessary sexualization of a female character.

Tim!