Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) – An Enjoyable Animated Adventure in the 1960’s Batman Series

  Adam West is a man who has left quite a legacy on the world. I knew primarily as the neighbor of Quahog on “Family Guy,” but got an appreciation for him when I reviewed the film that came out of the  Batman 60’s TV show, which I’ll post later in the review. The longer I’ve been with dark and gritty Batman the more I’ve come to appreciate the anti-fascist Batman. The one who is a public servant and at the end of the day is honorable, rather than the sometime psychopath of the modern incarnation that has existed since at least Burton’s Batman. West is a man who is going to be missed and this review is in honor of him.

“Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders” was directed by Rick Morales and written by Michael Jelenic and James Tucker.

The story takes place within the same universe as the 1960’s tv show as Batman and Robin face off against Catwoman, The Riddler, Penguin and the Joker as they come up with a plan to turn Batman evil in order to pull of an devious heist and steal a powerful device.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Writing – The writing is clever, from Robin’s word play and the articulation of Adam West to the many visual and verbal puns that cover this film like music…I really enjoyed the dialogue in this film and it is a big part of what kept me watching.

Batman and Robin – The dynamic duo are the only competent ones in Gotham as the Police Chief and Commissioner Gordon don’t know how to do anything but call Batman and Robin for help. I really like the duo, they have a great mentor/student and father/son relationship that is only further developed over the course of the film such as when Robin has to save Batman and we see Batman take his crime fighting to a fascist degree after he gets infected by Catwoman’s concoction. West’s Batman is wonderful in this as he always appeals to the villains’ better natures before fighting them. Like how Superman once was in film, he appeals to the good in people and Robin is the one striving to do the same. This innocence and lack of cynicism really lends power, especially in all the crap going on currently.

A Stand Against Vigilantism and Fascism – When Batman gets infected her turns into a dictator and takes over every role in Gotham City with the Replicator gun. He arrests everyone or takes their jobs and makes everything about him and his great nobility. It is a great critique of the Batman who does this and is rewarded for it…the Nolan, Snyder and Burton Batmans at the end of the day are not public servants…they are vigilantes that have no regard for the law outside of what they get out of it. This makes Batman an anti-hero, which isn’t bad but I hardly consider him a hero anymore…even though he is one of my favorite comic book characters. This Batman is an actual hero and his corruption to becoming like modern day Batman illustrates the flaws in the ideology of the current incarnations of the Dark Knight.

Okay: The Villains and their Plan – The villains just want to steal art…that is it and there is Penguin creeping on Catwoman. They are okay in that Joker just wants to have a good laugh and the Riddler needs clever Riddlers but they never become more than the one note villains which was a waste. I enjoyed when other classic villains from the show face off against them (an early Mr. Freeze!) as they each had potentially a bit more going on, given they were working with Catwoman and Robin to defeat the evil Batmen.

The Cons: Catwoman and Sexism – Catwoman pretty much only uses her sex appeal and the heroes’ chivalry as a weapon. This was a shame as her master plan to turn Batman evil is successful though she switches sides after being betrayed and again randomly wants to kill Robin and run away with Batman, implying she never changed before killing one of her lives? She is the only woman in the film and she is entirely defined by the male gaze, whether it is Batman or Penguin. This was a damn shame given how central she is the story. I really was hoping for better from her character and it was this issue that kept the film from being good, even though I found it enjoyable.

The film was a lot of fun and a lot better than the 1960’s film, which in many ways had camp that didn’t quite work and was really unfocused (https://cameronmoviesandtv.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/batman-1966-fun-camp-that-doesnt-quite-work/). This one was self aware but wasn’t insulting as I could tell how much passion was put into this project. I really hope that “Batman: The Caped Crusaders vs. Two-Face” which has Shatner playing a 60’s Two-Face. I really enjoy this Batman now and plan on checking out the show as whole, knowing that I’ll probably being seeing more of the sexism in regards to Catwoman, but I’ll also see Eartha Kitt who is one of the people I highly admire and of course Adam West in one of his most iconic roles. R.I.P. Adam West, may the good always defeat evil.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

 

Finding Dory (2016): A Brilliant Exploration of What it Means to be Dory

Finding Dory Poster

    For sequels that didn’t need to be made, this is a really good sequel. Pixar is one of those studios I’ve come to expect quality from and they continue this here as this is a film that will pull on your heart strings and gives our characters complete arcs and a fantastic adventure for it all to take place in. My non-spoiler thoughts are basically that you should see this film. It is no “Inside Out” or the untouchable Pixars but is is really good and is well worth your time.

   The film was directed by Andrew Stanton who also wrote the story and screenplay with Victoria Strouse also writing the screenplay with him. The producer was Lindsey Collins.

   The story involves Dory’s (Ellen DeGeneres) search for her parents when a memory is triggered that she lost them a long time ago and that they are at the Jewel of Morro Bay, California. This leads to her Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Nemo (Hayden Rolence) traversing there to help her remember why she is searching and to find them again.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The World of “Finding Dory” is an amazing one! Whether it is in the reef or the Marine Life Institute Pixar’s diverse assortment of characters creates a rich world where the relationships only make it greater.

The Soundtrack – Thomas Newman once again creates gold! I have yet to be disappointed by his work and here he does a good job of capturing Dory’s terror of being lost and her joy of being reunited once again with her family.

The Animation – It’s Pixar, their animation has only gotten better with time. You can see the details on the fish, from their expressions to their scales…Pixar continues to create animation that looks so alive.

The Opening Scene – The opening scene is touching and sad as we see that Dory getting lost is what lead to her forgetting what she was looking for (her parents) that lead to her finding Marlin in the first place. Her parents help her with memory games and we see where she gets her songs and sayings from…they were to help her remember to find her way home.

Dory’s Memories – Dory’s memories are some of the strongest moments as we see her connection to characters and what they mean in those flashbacks, even if Dory doesn’t get their meaning fully…we do.

The Characters – Pixar has always been very character driven in it’s productions and this film is no different. The characters are what make this film besides the action, score and animation…and we get many more amazing characters.

Fluke and Rudder – These Sea Lions played by Idris Elba (Fluke) and Dominic West (Rudder) are hilarious and sadly also a bit of bullies. They help Marlin and Nemo get into the Marine Institute but they are also always picking on Gerald, who isn’t all there. They provide great comedic relief though as they are the one who call the birds to pick up Nemo and Marlin and witness the journey and escape at the end.

Destiny and Bailey – Destiny is a Whale Shark and Bailey is a Beluga Whale. Destiny was Pipe Pals with Dory when they were kids and is near sided so is always crashing into the tank. Bailey believes he can’t use his sonar…their arcs are coming to count on one another and have great chemistry with one another and Dory. Destiny was played by Kaitlin Olson and Bailey by Ty Burrell…both were fantastic.

Hank – Ed O’Neil plays my favorite character in the film. He is a red octopus who was traumatized by his experience in the sea so just wants to live out his life safe in a tank. It takes his adventure with Dory to realize he does care about people and to soften him up. He becomes part of her family by the end. His dark humor is great with Dory’s idealism and I’m glad we get to spend so much time with him.

Marlin and Nemo – The classics are back from the first one and much of their journey is finding Dory while Marlin learns to both respect Dory and her disability and also to let Dory be free in herself…an arc her parents also have to go through. I’m glad we didn’t spend as much time with these two as their arcs were largely in the first film.

Jenny and Charlie – These two are Dory’s parents and their arc is learning to trust their daughter and let her be herself and make her own choices. This understandably hard as they’d been waiting for her for years outside the Institute after she got lost…but she demonstrates that they raised her well and that she may not remember always but she knows how to survive, plan and to help others.

Dory – Dory is the main character of this film and her relationships are what define the film as we see her help her parents, Hank and Martin grow to accept her fully just as she learns fully to accept herself and her own power. As someone who found this for myself living with aspergers this is huge. Dory’s story is one of empowerment and shows that no matter how hard things get, going forward you can change your circumstances and find those who accept and love you.

Living With a Disability – A huge theme of the film is what it is like to live with a disability. As one who grew up with Aspergers I can relate to this, you face challenges were early on you do need help on and there are some things that never go away…even as you find ways to face those challenges and to grow from them to the point where you can be successful and stand on your own and from it live with the dignity everyone deserves.

Disabilities and Dignity – Dignity is a huge theme of the film as it is when Dory is shut down and hurt that she really goes off and gets lost…it is when the support is there that it is easier to face her memory loss and it is from dignity that she finds self respect and respect from her friends and family.

Okay: The Marine Life Institute – I think this was meant to be shown as positive sine the animals are all to be released into the wild (except those that are too sick) but it is still an antagonist I guess? The Marine Life Institute and their role in the film is ill-defined and more could have been done to explore the different animals’ relationships to it.

Cons: Drags in Places – There are some action sequences that go on a bit too long, especially at the end where Dory panics…the scene could have been shorter and still had the same impact with her finding her parents, same goes for the escape at the end. Some scenes just go on too long. If more had been cut I’d have easily given this a 9.

The Treatment of Gerald Versus the Theme – Gerald is a Sea Lion that also appears to have a mental disability but it is largely played for laughs. This struck me as off as the whole point of the film is accept people with all their quirks and that all deserve dignity. I don’t think Gerald ever got that from others.

   This was a really good Pixar film and one I’d highly recommend. It is bound to make you tear up at least once as Dory’s story is one that many people are no doubt familiar with. Dory gives a human face to what it is like to live with disability and the film is wonderful at respecting her dignity and personhood as we see just how great her family is by the end of the film. The only contradiction to this is the treatment of Gerald who is bullied and looks like he is also facing some sort of mental handicap. Gerald deserved respect just like Dory. Outside of this problem and some pacing issues this was a really good film. If you are fan of Pixar or animation you won’t be disappointed.

Final Score: 8.8 / 10

Star Wars: The Clone Wars (2008): Great Television Film, Should Not Have Got a Theatrical Release

Star Wars The Clone Wars

   “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is a really fun television movie that finishes up the Christophsis arc and introduces us to Ahsoka and the huts as players in the game of the Clone Wars. It gives us a lot of good world building but the writing and even the cinematography show that this should have only been released to television, not to theaters as it was.

    The film was directed by Dave Filoni, written by Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching and Scott Murphy and produced by George Lucas and Catherine Winder.

    The story begins with Jabba’s son being captured by the Separatists and Yoda ordering Obi-Wan and Anakin to find and rescue his son and deliver him to Jabba. This is also when Yoda sends Anakin his new apprentice Ahsoka. They must all work together to win the battle of Christophsis and to find and rescue Jabba’s son before the Separatists make a deal that will give them control of Jabba’s routes through the Outer Rim.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Kevin Kiner did a great job on this soundtrack! The music was the best part of this film. It had a very “Battlestar Galactica” feel to it and during the action sequences especially it made the stakes feel high.

The Action – This is a good action movie. Lots fights to show how powerful each of the factions are in the Clone Wars and how powerful the individual Jedi or Sith are as well. This made for some wonderful fights, especially Dooku and Anakin and Obi-Wan and Ventress.

The Battle of Christophsis – The Christophsis arc is finally complete! Thanks to the action of Ahsoka and Anakin in shutting down the Separatist shield that was protecting their forces and Obi-Wan capturing the general we have a Republic victory! It takes a lot to get there though and many die on both sides. It isn’t glorified and the Republic troops arriving to occupy doesn’t exactly give hope either.

Count Dooku – Dooku is being played by Sidious as Sidious wins no matter what happens (Jabba working with the Republic is a win for him, Jabba working against them will lead to him getting more power). Dooku is being played in this though and we see him fail against his enemies and his blaming Ventress for in it for her initial failure. In this we see his cruelty, manipulation and why he is a Sith.

Ventress – Ventress puts up a good fight in this but is cornered in the end by Obi-Wan. This doesn’t stop her from fulfilling her duties though as she warns Dooku of Skywalker’s approach and manages to escape Obi-Wan to fight another day.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Obi-Wan is the clear headed one who has no problem taking a new apprentice. It is he who realizes that Ahsoka will be good for Anakin and will help Anakin to grow as Anakin has helped him to grow. We also see his arrogance too as he gloats to Ventress when he knows Ahsoka and Anakin have escaped the Monastery.

Anakin Skywalker – Anakin doesn’t want a padawan, but comes around when he sees how similar Ahsoka is to him and that gives him self awareness about how he is reckless and cocky. They have a great dynamic too and he does share his hatred of the Tatooine and the desert with her as has lost so much to the Hutts and remembers his life as a slave quite clearly. It is a great character moment and we see how Ahsoka is making him a better person.

Ahsoka – I really like Ahsoka! She’s young for a padawan but is powerful in the force. We see her save Anakin multiple times and show a kindness Anakin lacks. She cares for Jabba’s son at one point and we see her hold Anakin responsible for his recklessness as he does to her. It’s a great dynamic and they act a lot like a mixture of friends and siblings. I can’t wait to see how her character grows and changes from the Clone Wars.

Okay: The Minor Characters – Whether it was Cody or Rex, Yoda or Windu, Jabba’s Uncle or Padme…none of them felt fully fleshed out. They felt more like plot devices and not full characters in this. This is a shame as the main characters had some wonderful character moments.

Delivering Jabba’s Son – The delivery of Jabba’s son is okay, I liked the fight between Anakin and Dooku as they seemed more closely matched, but it dragged. Especially in regards to the droids against Ahsoka. Jabba was also far to easy to play.

The Cons: The Script – The script is corny and not nearly as solid and tight as it would if it was an episode or part of an arc made into a single film. At times it lags just to give us money shots of the landscape when that time could have been cut out or given us more character moments.

The Tone – The tone is all over the place. We get some really brutal deaths and Jabba even has dancing girls but we also have lots of jokes and humor that kids would clearly enjoy. This clash of tones kept it from being great.

It Going to Theatres – This film should not have gone to theaters and if I’d seen this in theaters I would not be as kind to it as I am now. It is better than the prequels in regards to it’s potrayal of Anakin and his relationship to others but it also is not quality enough to go to the theaters. Like “Spark of Rebellion” this should have been a tv movie as it just feels like a long episode. Because of the choice of how it was originally presented is going to be counted against it.

  This film should not have gone to theatres but it is still good as a tv film. We finally finish the Christophsis arc, get to see Dooku in action and see that the Hutts and Gangs are a 3rd faction in the war just as they are usually presented in the later eras as the X Factor in the war between the Empire and Rebellion. Ahsoka is a wonderful character too and I really like the character dynamic between her and Anakin. The final bit, the soundtrack is super memorable and is worth listening too, even if you have no plan to see the film.

Final Score: 8 / 10.