Tag: Batman

Batman: Death in the Family (2020) Review 1

Batman: Death in the Family (2020) Review

Batman: A Death in the Family stands out as the comic that rocked Bat fans with its slaughtering of Jason Todd at the hands of Joker. But it wasn’t only Todd’s jarring death that made the book memorable, but the break between issues where fans were given a difficult choice to make: should Robin live or die? Fans phoned in and voted for the death of Bats’ sidekick, a decision that still stuns fans and makes them wonder what could have been. Batman: Death in the Family, DC animation’s new interactive Blu-ray, attempts to give us some answers.

In what appears to take place in animation canon with two other DC animated features, after Batman: The Killing Joke and before Batman: Under the Redhood, Batman: Death in the Family starts by sending Batman and Jason Todd, the current Robin, off to Bosnia to hunt down Joker and Ra’s Al Ghul. Batman had previously expressed concerns about Todd in the field, worried that he’s too bent on revenge and wishing for the death of the Clown Prince. The pair head for Bosnia and soon after, Todd is captured by Joker and beaten almost to death with that famous crowbar and left to die, locked in a warehouse with a time bomb.

That’s when viewers are given their first choice; kill Robin, let Robin survive on his own, or send Batman to save him. Each choice will set off varying versions of events that take Batman and Todd through numerous paths. Each path answers the darkest “what if?” questions before then being split by successive decision-making. It’s a disaster of a blast.

Batman: Death in the Family

The first trip I took through the story was a gut wrenching and fresh story for Todd that had me shrieking and crying in good measure. Replaying my way through was simple, as the Blu-ray has an easy-to-use interface that allows you to skip back to decisions with relative ease versus needing to sit through certain segments multiple times. While each pathway was enjoyable enough to make going back through them all worth it, not all pathways are created equally. Some came with new storylines and killer animation, but some were replays of Batman: Under the Redhood sequences or were carried by narrated exposition as opposed to new dialogue. The best parts of them all are the easter eggs both from canon and other Batman story lines, referencing various Robin successors, Joker’s ‘last joke,’ and even Zur En Arrh. Keen Bat fans will have fun peeking into the background for stills from other stories on screens, and casual conversations referencing older moments.

As a gimmick, the “choose your own adventure” style of the Blu-ray is well done and a lot of fun. It does a great job of dragging you into the story, making you feel culpable for certain outcomes and experiencing “monkey’s paw” regret. Though the Blu-ray comes with the varying choices, the matching digital version includes the more aptly named pre-made version, Under the Red Hood: Reloaded and additional predetermined stories, Jason Todd’s Rebellion, Robin’s Revenge and Red Hood’s Reckoning.

Batman: Death in the Family

Though named more similarly to the comic book, this animated feature follows much more closely to the story of Batman: Under the Redhood (from Judd Winick), which is a bit of a strange choice for a new feature to be a rehashing of an old. Animated features often borrow story beats from slightly differently named comic books (for instance Batman and Son versus Son of Batman) and this one follows that same tradition but rehashes old animated scenes. The comic book, (written by Jim Starlin and illustrated by Jim Aparo) like this feature, starts with Batman sidelining Todd over concerns of his impulse control. Todd, having learned he was adopted, sets off to track his birth mother in the Middle East. He stumbles across Batman who is also there to hunt down Joker. Todd’s story turns tragic before his eventual death, when his mother sells him out to Joker who takes his life. The story then explores Batman after the death of Todd. It’s unfair to demand the movie do everything the book does, or to expect the film to be identical to its source material, but the slick removal of these larger story elements takes a lot of the weight out of Todd’s various outcomes. The betrayal by his father figure, Batman, and his biological mother before his death support his rise to villainy. Batman struggling with the death of his Robin is a compelling addition to him taking the death of his charge (differently) than that of his parents. For Batman aficionados, it’s easy to read these things into the story which allows the heavy moments to hit incredibly well, but for a casual viewer, a lot of the emotional weight might not be there. To replace that, the film jams in Batman: The Killing Joke continuity, centering the emotional weight around avenging Barbara Gordon.

The animation and voice acting are as exceptional as you expect from DC’ animated features. Bruce Greenwood and John DiMaagio return as Batman and Joker respectively, which is fitting with the Batman: Under the Redhood overlap. Vincent Martella takes over as Jason Todd and brings an emotional flare that takes you into his head.

Though Brandon Vietti’s take on the narrative borrows a bit too much from another animated feature, and not enough from its matching comic book, he has created a compelling story that utilizes the interactive elements well enough to make the whole adventure worth the run time.

Batman: Death in the Family

Also included with the Blu-ray are four animated shorts from the DC Showcase. Sgt. Rock, directed by Batman: TAS’ Bruce Timm, takes Rock on a mission alongside universal monsters to hunt Nazi experiment generated super soldiers. The Phantom Stranger, also by Bruce Timm, sets the titular character up against a version of the devil who is compelling lost young people in the 1970s. Adam Strange, by Butch Lukic, brings a non-chronological story of Strange being lost on a mining colony hoping to find his way home. Death, by Sam Liu, borrows from Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman for a short about an artist taking on his inner demons with the help of a mysterious woman who has hints of Eyptian patron of lost souls, Anubis. This was the strongest of the four. The shorts are fine, and are created by many DC heavyweights, but they’re forgettable enough that I can’t imagine firing up a Blu-ray to re-watch them. They’re most certainly a bonus, and not the main event.

This interactive Blu-ray in an incredibly entertaining way to burn through an afternoon. It never lets you zone out of the film, forcing your attention onto a story that’s worth your interest. Though it often feels like a replay of dusty old assets, there is enough new material to take with you to other stories of characters like Red Hood, Red Robin and Hush, finally allowing you to see what would happen if Jason Todd had been spared.

Batman And Harley Quinn (Movie) Review - Don't Spoil Your Memories 2

Batman And Harley Quinn (Movie) Review – Don’t Spoil Your Memories

I popped in the Blu-ray for Batman and Harley Quinn filled with giddy expectation and joyful nostalgia. As someone reared and raised on Batman: The Animated Series in the 90s, simply seeing the old Bruce Timm character designs filled me with joy. Knowing that the movie would revive the original Harley Quinn created for that show in an age when poor Harley has been sexualized and stylized to emo boner fantasies felt like exactly what I needed to get back into the character. As the opening scenes played out, I also realized that the plot involved my beloved Swamp Thing and that I’d even get to see a character who I adore so much in the classic Batman TAS aesthetic. It seemed like an animated feature that was meant for me and would help revive my love for good ol’ Batman in an era when the cinematic DCU has made me question my loyalty for the character.

Then the plot started and my heart sank lower and lower until the credits rolled.

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Batman and Harley Quinn (2017) – images via Warner Bros. Entertainment

A huge appeal of Batman and Harley Quinn is the fact that Bruce Timm was in charge and presumably bringing back the aesthetic and storytelling that he founded in the 90s and proved to be so popular that it spawned an entire DC universe for a generation of TV animation brats. He wrote this movie after all, and the guy was responsible for several of the finest episodes of the Batman Animated Series. However, even though he designed Harley Quinn, he didn’t write the character. That fell onto the great and underrated Paul Dini whose presence was sadly missed here. Dini has a sense of humour and a dedication to empathizing with broken characters that made Harley Quinn an icon. Timm simply liked the look of the character—and boy does that ever show here.

Batman And Harley Quinn (Movie) Review - Don't Spoil Your Memories
Batman and Harley Quinn (2017) – images via Warner Bros. Entertainment

After a decent prologue establishing that Poison Ivy (Paget Brewster) has teamed up with Floronic Man (Kevin Michael Richardson) to steal Dr. Alec Holland/Swamp Thing’s formula to turn the world into living plants as revenge for the climate change destroying plant life perpetrated by humanity. Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Nightwing (Loren Lester) figure out the dastardly plot, but don’t know where to find the villains. So they decide to track down some of Poison Ivy’s old associates for help, which leads them to Harley Quinn (Melissa Rauch).

So far, so good. The design is almost fetishistically true to the original Batman TAS (with the exception of Nightwing’s mullet, thank god). The plot held promise and it was a crossover between Batman and Swamp Thing that should have happened on the TV series decades ago. The tone was in line with Batman TAS at its goofiest. This thing could work. Then Nightwing finds Harley at a superhero Hooters restaurant where model waitresses dress up as heroes to be ogled. Harley is working there, but wearing one of the more excessively sexualized Harley outfits from recent years. It felt like a self-aware joke at first, and then it became clear the cartoon ogling was sadly sincere. Once Batman, Nightwing, and Harley Quinn teamed up the movie soon devolved into a series of crass sex jokes and even a handful of fart jokes.

Batman And Harley Quinn (Movie) Review - Don't Spoil Your Memories 2
Batman and Harley Quinn (2017) – images via Warner Bros. Entertainment

The whole movie felt off. Like Timm was trying to make a funny Batman: TAS episode but forgot how so he resorted to frat house gags to fill the space. By the time the team stopped at a bar on the road and the movie paused for not one, but two consecutive karaoke numbers for the sake of quirky humour, I was out. Somehow Timm and co. blew the opportunity to revive the iconic version of Batman that they had once created. In its place wasn’t just a pale imitation, but an insult to fans. It has all of the bro humour and unnecessary violence that has dragged down recent DC animated movies. Only this was worse. Not only more crass and gratuitous than the DC animated movies that fans already complained about, but completely tone deaf and lazy (and this is coming from a guy who actually defended the loathed Killing Joke adaptation, which I maintain is very much worthwhile as long as you only watch the 45 minute faithful adaptation of the book and ignore all the crap surrounding it).

Batman And Harley Quinn (Movie) Review - Don't Spoil Your Memories 3
Batman and Harley Quinn (2017) – images via Warner Bros. Entertainment

How bad is Batman and Harley Quinn? Bad enough that the movie barely even ends, it just fizzles out once the writers reach 70 minutes and give up. There’s a token Swamp Thing cameo that’s deeply disappointing and then the entire story turns out to be set up for yet another Harley fart joke—and not even a good one. It’s sad to see Batman and Nightwing in their TAS form and voiced by the original actors reduced to token wise-crackin’ sidekicks to Harley. It’s as if everyone involved barely even wanted to make a Batman and Harley movie. They just took the assignment because an animated movie had to be made and Harley has hit a level of popularity that made the studio insist she lead. It wouldn’t surprise me if the script was written the night before production started and loathed by everyone involved. Sure the animation is gorgeous and recaptures the original design, but to what purpose? A YouTube fan fiction Batman: TAS revival would have been executed with more respect and creativity. The fact that Bruce Timm steered this ship is just sad. The movie may have been made for fans of Batman: The Animated Series, but they are the last people who should actually watch it. They don’t need this pain. Trust me. I experienced it and it’s almost too much to bear.

Batman And Harley Quinn (Movie) Review - Don't Spoil Your Memories 6
Batman and Harley Quinn (2017) – images via Warner Bros. Entertainment

The Blu-ray does look good though, as if that matters. The animation is gorgeous in that slanted and deceptively simple Batman: TAS way. The action scenes might be gratuitously long, but are beautifully executed by longtime DC animation veteran Sam Liu. Too bad the script didn’t deserve all the effort. There are also a handful of decent special features. There’s a nice 20-minute documentary about Harley Quinn featuring creators Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and (oddly) a clinical psychologist talking about the subtext to Harley’s childish voice and abusive relationship with Joker. More than anything else, the doc proves just how crucial Dini was to creating Harley Quinn and how much she’s missed. Amusingly, Timm seems baffled by Harley’s popular appeal, which explains a few things about this movie and the psychologist remains silent when discussing the character’s appeal to young women, which speaks volumes in a sad way.

Batman And Harley Quinn (Movie) Review - Don't Spoil Your Memories 4
Batman and Harley Quinn (2017) – images via Warner Bros. Entertainment

There’s also a nice ten-minute doc about Lorn Lester and his long career voicing Robin/Nightwing. Weirdly Kevin Conroy pops up, but the doc doesn’t get into his relationship to Batman, which is even more important. It’s a pleasant diversion, yet more than anything else just made me long for a full doc about the Batman: The Animated Series that will hopefully arrive some day. Finally, there is also a pair of Harley-centric episodes of the old series to remind fans how far off the mark this movie is as well as a preview of the upcoming Gotham by Gaslight adaptation. It looks gorgeous and the filmmakers say all the right things. Yet given the gross depths of Batman and Harley Quinn bro humour and grimdark posturing, I worry about how they’ll expand that classic Elseworlds tale. Especially given all the discussion of how dark the story is and the Jack the Ripper prostitute-murdering set pieces. They’d better not screw up that classic, even though it’s nice to hear that the team is interested in pursuing more Elseworlds tales for future animated DC features. It brings us all one step closer to the long rumoured Superman: Red Son flick. That could be something special and even if they screw it up, it should at least be better than Batman and Harley Quinn, which just might be the worst project that this team has made to date. Make sure to avoid it, especially if you love Batman: The Animated Series. Don’t spoil your memories of that beloved program on this gross and lazy cash in.

Warner Bros. Takes Aim at the Joker 4

Warner Bros. Takes Aim at the Joker

Warner Bros. is amping up its courtship of the Clown Prince of Crime.

In the past few weeks, WB made headlines by conjuring up the possibility of a stand-alone Joker film. This movie would be an origin story and a crime drama set in the 1980s. But most interesting is that it’s to be set outside of the present DCEU. If that isn’t enough to whet fanboys and fangirls appetites, film legend Martin Scorsese is in talks to produce. The film would also see director Todd Phillips taking the directing reigns—Phillips is known for writing and directing all three The Hangover films and his latest film War Dogs.

Warner Bros. Takes Aim at the Joker 1
Jared Leto in Suicide Squad (2016) – images via Warner Bros. Entertainment

More recently, an online report came out of The Hollywood Reporter stating that Warner Bros. has its eyes set on Academy Award Winner Leonardo DiCaprio to become their newest version of the Harlequin of Hate. And all the while, WB has plans to film a Joker-Harley Quinn movie and Suicide Squad 2, both with Jared Leto reprising his version of the Joker.

All of this news has been confusing, exciting, and maddening. But, would you expect anything else when enlisting the talents of the Joker?

As the news came down like a cluster bomb over the Internet, the reaction was swift and mixed. But honestly, is there anything wrong with cinema housing two Jokers at the same time? Actors egos aside, isn’t it a sheer delight to be a comic book movie fan these days? A time when there is a real possibility of multiple movies starring, co-starring, or somewhat-starring the greatest comic book villain of all time. If the films and performances are done superbly, isn’t there room for not only multiple actors playing the same role, but multiple storylines?

Just look at the original source material to find the answer.

Warner Bros. Takes Aim at the Joker
The Killing Joke – images via DC Comics.

DC Comics has a successful tradition of fantastic storylines existing outside their main plot points. Here are just a few titles that top the list: The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Batman: Year One, Batman: The Long Halloween, Superman: Red Son, Kingdom Come, and All Star Superman.

These are all terrific stories that not only expand the each comic book’s mythos but create a different physical version of characters like Batman, Superman, and the Joker. The writing of the characters may be consistent with the past or diverge from the standard, but all of the above comics have been illustrated by different artists. These artists gave readers a diverse range of character appearance. Sure, the characters mostly keep to their time honoured physical attributes and costumes, but they are all a different rendition of the original incarnation. Actors playing the Joker are doing the same. Whether it’s Cesar Romero, Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger or Jared Leto, audiences all know they are watching the Joker, but each version is a different take—and that is a good thing.

Further, should Warner Bros. embark on these stand-alone DC films, they will have taken their first bold step away from the Marvel mould. WB and their DCEU have attempted to be play catch-up to Marvel in the past number of years by following Marvel’s formula: an interconnected superhero film universe. However, with the possibility of stand-alone films, the DCEU has opened itself up to endless possibilities. No longer will they be hamstrung by their own interconnected stories. They will be free to step outside their present DCEU and build a universe of one-off films. More importantly, they’d be the first to do it.

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Jack Nicholson in Batman (1989) – images via Warner Bros. Entertainment

The template appears to be already set for Warner Bros. as well. Wonder Woman was easily the surprise hit—both critically and financially—of the 2017 summer and is a movie that, for the most part, is set outside of the present DCEU. Sure, the film is bookended with Diana in present day Paris, but having the remaining 90+ per cent of the film set during the First World War freed the creators to make the best origin movie possible without worrying too much about continuity. The main concern became staying true to the character—and look how that turned out.

So, as the Internet mulls over the pros and cons of a Joker stand-alone movie, one thing is for certain; with names like Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio bantered about, the superhero film genre has become more and more a home for A-list talent, and Warner Bros. is creating a plethora of story opportunities for this talent to reside.

DC Fans Divided On Proposed Films Based On The Joker

DC Fans Divided On Proposed Films Based On The Joker

Warner Bros. is currently planning two individual movies based on the Joker, and some fans have voiced their concern regarding the complications that may arise from two different movies based on the same character.

The first movie will be based on Jared Leto’s Joker from the 2016 Suicide Squad film. Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, the executive producers of the NBC hit show This is Us, are in talks to lead the proposed project featuring Suicide Squad’s Joker and Harley Quinn.

Additionally, there is a second proposed untitled movie featuring the Joker in the works being spearheaded by Todd Philips, the director behind the hit comedy The Hangover.

The Philips’ directed movie will focus on Joker’s backstory, which in the long and rich history of the DC universe has never really been explored. The other main difference between this proposed film and the aforementioned Suicide Squad venture will be that the Phillips’ directed film will star another actor instead of Jared Leto.

Todd Philips take on the Joker film—if greenlit—would be the first film under a new proposed DC banner. The new banner will encompass a series of films that aims to extend the canon. The new banner also aims to deliver unique and sometimes unusual narratives to some of the beloved superheroes within the massive DC roster.

This bold new direction for DC is a visible sign of the company trying to further distinguish themselves from Marvel—who, after being bought by Disney, has really flourished and taken both the silver screen and the small screen by storm.

Regardless of what fans think, DC trying new things with their properties is a bold move, but with the recent success of movies such as Wonder Woman, it’s a road worth traveling.

What Ben Affleck Potentially Being Replaced As Batman Means For The DCEU 3

What Ben Affleck Potentially Being Replaced As Batman Means For The DCEU

Rumours have been floating around that Ben Affleck won’t remain as Batman after Justice League, which opens in theatres this November. It remains to be seen how accurate these rumours really are and if, indeed, Affleck will soon depart the role. The news might also seem ridiculous for many. How can Warner Bros. possibly change actors for arguably the biggest and most important role in the DC Cinematic Universe? Well, there are a few creative ways the studio and The Batman director Matt Reeves could remove Affleck/Bruce Wayne from the equation. And given just how much creative control Affleck has lost since Reeves’ arrival, it feels almost inevitable that a new Dark Knight will soon enter the frame.

What Ben Affleck Potentially Being Replaced As Batman Means For The DCEU
Rumor: Matt Reeves may replace Ben Affleck as Batman in the upcoming DCEU Justice League film.

The rumours that have been hitting the web recently come with a few explanations as to how Warner Bros. can logically replace Ben Affleck. There are ways to introduce a new Batman that make sense from a storytelling perspective. For one, Dick Grayson/Nightwing could step in and fill Bruce Wayne’s shoes. It’s been done before in the comics and even in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight trilogy. Remember, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character was left the keys to the Batcave at the end of The Dark Knight Rises.

There was even a famous comic book storyline in 1993, called Knightfall, where Bruce Wayne became temporarily paralyzed and he appointed a vigilante named Azrael to be his Batman replacement. So, it’s been done before, and given just how much the DCEU borrows directly from the comics (this isn’t Nolan’s grounded trilogy by any stretch of the imagination), it could very well happen and make total sense.

What Ben Affleck Potentially Being Replaced As Batman Means For The DCEU 1
Ben Affleck as Batman (via: Warner Bros. Batman v. Superman)

It’s also important to think about what kind of filmmaker Matt Reeves is. Ben Affleck supposedly had a script ready and was set to direct the solo Batman film for a long time. Whatever transpired between the actor and Warner Bros. obviously forced the studio to bring in another director. Reeves is an auteur, similar to Nolan. He’s one of those rare breeds of filmmakers that is capable of working within a studio system without sacrificing his vision or relinquishing control over the project he’s making. He’s very hands-on.

Dawn and War of the Planet of the Apes are prime examples of this. Reeves came in the middle of this planned Apes trilogy and made the franchise his own while also keeping the core tone and feel from the first Apes film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. If the director sees a different actor as a much better fit for the role of Batman, then he’ll most certainly try to replace Affleck. Also, given just how successful Wonder Woman has been, it seems Warner Bros. are willing to give up a little more control over to the directors. After all, it did work with Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins.

So, replacing Ben Affleck makes sense, but how will the general audience react to this creative move, and how will it affect the DCEU moving forward? That’s where things get tricky.

What Ben Affleck Potentially Being Replaced As Batman Means For The DCEU 2
The Flash, Batman, and Wonder Woman in Justice League (via Warner Bros.)

Despite Wonder Woman, the DCEU still has plenty to prove, and it’s easy to perceive this Affleck news has being yet another sign that Warner Bros. doesn’t know what it’s doing with its universe. It will inevitably come off feeling like a complete mess one way or another. The only way to fix this is to make a fantastic Batman film without Affleck in the title role, which Reeves is more than capable of doing—but Warner Bros. would have to weather the storm caused by negative press.

If the rumours indeed turn out to be true, or even if they’re completely false, one thing is for sure: Warner Bros. is trying to salvage the DCEU in any way it can.

Remembering The Great Adam West

Remembering The Great Adam West

This morning we all woke up to the news that the world is a far less fun and magical place. The reason, we lost the great Adam West. He was 88 and passed away after what his publicist described as a “short but brave battle with Leukemia.” The man who will forever be known as the first iconic Batman earned a permanent and beloved spot in pop culture. He essentially invented ironic acting in Batman, doing it all with a wink and a smile to let the audience know he was in on the joke. After Batman left him typecast, he turned an ironic take on ‘Adam West’ into a second career. In carving out a unique cultural space for himself, he also laid the groundwork for an ironic celebrity that will continue long after anyone can remember Batman 1966. That’s a special achievement that will never be repeated. Plus, he invented the Batusi, and for that, we are forever grateful.

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