Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (2020) – So What Happens Now?

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War (Video 2020) - IMDb

      This is a film that brings an end to the ongoing films in this Franchise. This is a Franchise that includes all the Batman stories with Damian Wayne, the different Justice League films, the Teen Titans films and Justice League Dark. So, how does it stick to landing? Without going into spoilers I liked a fair amount of the world that we see and the character dynamics but some bad performances and the ending ruin what could have been a dark ending with hope. In the end, this is not a film I’d recommend as I feel the ending cancels out all the choices that were made over the course of the film.

The film was directed by Matt Peters and Christina Sotta and written by Mairghread Scott.

The story follows the Justice League as they plan an attack on Darkseid’s world of Apokolips in order to prevent an invasion of Earth.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Failed Attack on Darkseid – I like how our heroes attacking Darkseid fails and we see through him hacking Cyborg and seeing the invasion plans that it was doomed from the start. The rest of the story is us dealing with the fallout as he dominates Superman and makes the rest of the Justice League he caught into Cyborgs under his control. When Darkseid wins he really wins and the failed invasion sets the tone for the rest of the story. We learn the reason for his victory lies in his Paradooms. Parademons with Superman’s DNA, making them a mixture of Parademon and Doomsday. They are an awesome threat and win any battle they are in.

Earth’s Resistance – Earth’s resistance of Darkseid’s rule includes Lois Lane, Clark Kent and Raven primarily with Etrigan and Constantine until they are pulled in as well. From here we have the League of Shadows and the Suicide Squad join forces and eventually Lex Luthor himself changing sides to fight Darkseid. They are fighting a losing battle on occupied Earth and come up with a last ditch plan to rescue Batman and stop Darkseid. The resistance has a wonderful dynamic to them as the Suicide Squad controls the prison, which is one of the safest places in the world under the occupation and Clark Kent and Raven are the wanderers recruiting the last remaining heroes.

Clark Kent / Superman – Superman is defeated by Darkseid who decides his punishment will be to pump him full of liquid kryptonite, neutralizing him and after returning him to Earth. It is well done as we see that Clark Kent never stops fighting and is willing to risk it all to save the world. His power doesn’t define him, which is the kind of Superman story I enjoy. Besides Constantine and Raven, Clark’s is the main perspective that drives the narrative. The plan is eventually a success and in the Superman fights Darkseid once again after Trigun is purged from his body and in turn the liquid Kryptonite is too.

Lois Lane – Rebecca Romijin (Mystique and Number 1) voices Lois Lane and I got to say I like this version of Lois Lane. She is a military brat who has learned how to fight and clearly trained with Superman. She is the one who defeats Harley Quinn in a brawl that convinces Harley to give them control of the Suicide Squad. She is one of the faces of the resistance and I love how she drives the story. In the end she dies with Lex and the Suicide Squad to prevent the Paradooms from returning to Apokolips.

John Constantine – Matt Ryan continues to be the voice of Constantine and he is great in this. In this film we have a Constantine wracked with guilt as he ran from battle during the assault on Apokolips. His story arc is facing that guilt and loss of his love Zatanna as it is his final acts that help prevent Darkseid’s plans for Earth. We also see his pansexuality as we learn he and King Shark were once together. Sadly though, he is also behind one of the stupidest part of the film as he convinces Barry Allen to reboot this entire universe in another Flashpoint.  We also learn he ran away because Zatanna cast a spell when they talk in heaven together.

Okay:

Damian Wayne – I didn’t hate Damian Wayne in this film. It is still annoying how he doesn’t immediately help Clark Kent and the resistance, but his relationship with Batman is really well done as you see how much they care for each other. It is Damian’s risking of his life that frees Batman from Darkseid’s control.

Cons:

Raven – Raven is so bland in this film. She spends most of the story reacting to Trigun wanting to be freed and her only act of agency is bringing Damian back to life after he is killed. She is central to the story but it doesn’t feel that way. Trigun feels like a much bigger part and he is only a voice for the majority of the film.

The Flash – Flash is super bland in this and is captured and used by Darkseid after the failed assault on Apokolips. He reboots this entire film but he isn’t even a POV character, all he is is a plot device. I wasn’t a fan of the voice acting as he sounded bored and tired. Christopher Gorham was fine in the other animated films so I’m not sure what was going on here. His act of rebooting the universe is the final act of the film and it feels tacked on, like his role in this story.

When in Doubt, Reboot – I hate that this film ends in a reboot. A world rebuilding with cyborg heroes freed from Apokolips seeking to save the world from destruction could still be an awesome story. Instead all the growth and development we get of these heroes means nothing. I’ll still probably watch whatever the reboot is, but the fact that they thought the reboot was how to end this story really shows how little confidence they had in the world they’d made.

This is a film that I’d only recommend to those who have been watching the DC animated films in this continuity up to this point. If you want to see Darkseid as a threat and some good Clark Kent and Constantine work you will find things to enjoy. Sadly you can’t hang a story on that and if you reboot the story the audience is left wondering what the point of telling the story was in the first place. I wouldn’t recommend this film to any fans of the animated films and the ending ruins the potential for a lot of great stories that could have come out of the story this film tells.

Final Score:

6 / 10 Giving some points for telling a story with consequences but penalizing it for the reboot that potentially do away with those consequences.

Superman: Red Son (2020) – A Great Adaptation That Captures the Heart of the Comic

Image result for Superman red son poster

     Superman: Red Son is one of my favorite comics from back in college. I’ve always liked the Elseworld alternate world ideas where the characters we know are put in situations that shape them along different paths. “Red Son” is in both the comics and film, a great example of this for the heroes and villains within the DC Universe. This adaptation is great. It isn’t exactly like the comics, but I overall was a fan of the choices they made.

The film was directed by Sam Liu and written by J. M. DeMatteis based off the comic of the same name by Mark Millar.

The story follows Superman if he crashed within the Soviet Union. From here he must face his power versus the responsibility he feels to others, the State and himself while facing off against Luthor and the United States.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros:

The Animation – DC Animation has once again crafted a beautiful film. The colors and details in the scenes and faces bring the story to life. We also have Soviet Style Propaganda in the opening credits that are wonderfully crafted and brought me into the film really well.

Lex Luthor’s United States – Lex Luthor rises in power in the United States as he is the only one who has plans and inventions to deal with the threat of Superman. Like in the comics, most of the challenges he sends to Superman are ones he made…with the exception of Brainiac, who is his own power in this and not ever in an alliance with Luthor, unlike the comics. The United States that is presented isn’t stable and is true to the historical United States. The oppression through the 40s and 60s is talked about on screen which is where you can see overall where Superman’s perspective is to fix things. Luthor doesn’t see anyone outside of himself until the end, which is meant to mirror the United States as it grow’s in it’s relationship to the world.

Diana  / Wonder Woman – Diana in the comic goes from admiring Superman to having their friendship end in them as enemies. Over the course of the film we see her lose faith in man’s world and agrees with her mother as their nation once more goes into hiding. This is the first turning point for Superman in the film, where he begins to question his actions. It isn’t enough at this point but her arc of losing faith in Superman is powerful as she saves his life but Batman’s killing himself and the breaking her Lasso of Truth helps her realize the dictator Superman has become.

Superman’s Corruption Arc – Superman’s arc of power corrupting is realistic. We see him go from a tool of Stalin, find the Gulagz and his childhood friend dying and this leads him taking control of the Soviet Union. From here expands Soviet Power to end oppression of workers around the world. As Lex Luthor sends Superior Man, and Brianiac attacks we see Superman lose his ability to trust others. He uses Brainiac to mind control dissenters (he does in the comics as well) and each attack against him makes him more certain in his revolution. It is very well done and I like how the film captures those key turning point, and with it his disconnect from humanity.

The Freedom to Choose and Superman’s Return – The turning point for Superman, when he realizes people should be able to choose their own future is after Wonder Woman leaves and First Lady Lois Lane brings him Stalingrad, the city that Brainiac had shrunk into a bottle in his initial attack. It is after this Brainiac reveals his true intentions to conquer and it is only through Luthor and Superman working together that he is finally stopped for good. It is after Superman’s “death” that we see him return in the classic Clark Kent gear to watch Luthor’s resignation as Luthor also realizes his own obsession has hurt others as Superman’s did.

Okay:

Brainiac -In the comics he uses both Lex and Superman and I think it is stronger having him use both of them at different points. He just shows up in the film, which is fine but we never really see what the overall goal of Brainiac is. He is still a good threat but his presentation and arc is only okay.

Lex’s Arc With Lois – Lex’s arc with Lois is how his obsession with destroying Superman feeds his ambition and leads to him not being aware in his relationship at all. We can see hints of how he’s changing, such as when he kills Superior Man and Lois is disgusted by him…but we don’t see the next steps. It is only when he shows up to save Lois at the end and ally with Superman that we see a changed man. There needed to be another step inbetween for this to be a pro. It wasn’t badly done, but it needed more.

The Cons:

Svetlana – Svetlana shows up at the beginning as Superman’s childhood friend and is the one who tells him he should give his power to the State. She is later dies in the Gulag because she knew who Superman was before he was Superman, so had to die. She could have been a Lois Lane type character but the relationship between her childhood and death didn’t exist and that is really the only con. She is important but isn’t given enough scenes for how much she inspires Superman in her life and death.

This was a great DC Animated film of one of my favorite comics. If you are a fan of DC, animation or the original comic…this is a film well worth your time. The biggest comic has a huge twist that I will not spoil here, really you should read the comic, it is amazing.  This is a film that could have been longer and it would have worked and that in the end is the only real con against it. There were certain characters and plots that deserved more development. I highly recommend this film and the comic.

Final Score: 9 / 10

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

 

Batman vs. Robin (2015): Fascinating Villains But Execution Doesn’t Quite Work

Batman vs Robin

    This was a film that was enjoyable but didn’t quite work. Like the rest of the Damian Wayne stories, Damian is still way too overpowered and Nightwing is still nearly invisible but is gold in any scene he’s in. If anything this made me want to read the comics that inspired the film, “Batman: The Court of Owls” as the Court is a pretty awesome villain group and I like the way they do things. I want to learn more about them thanks to this film.

     “Batman vs. Robin” was directed by Jay Oliva, written by J. M. DeMatteis and produced by James Tucker. It is the sequel to “Son of Batman” and based off the comic “Batman: The Court of Owls” by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion.

     The story involves Damian having issues with Bruce’s killing policy as Batman learns more about the reason for his parents getting killed when a mysterious legend when he becomes aware of The Court of Owls who try to get Bruce Wayne to join them and to turn Damian Wayne into a weapon for them.

The Pros: The Animation – WB and DC animation continues to be beautiful. I don’t like a lot of things about this New 52 Universe but the animation is still one of the best parts and something DC has always been better at than Marvel.

The Action – The fight scenes are awesome as the Court of Owls send agents who actually feel like a threat anytime Batman or the Bat Family takes them on. You feel the stakes and it lends power to each scene.

The Soundtrack – Wiedmann continues to create a great soundtrack that captures the mystery of these films and the antagonists and heroes within them.

Dollmaker – Weird Al plays this guy and he is messed up. He turns children into feral dolls and his getting killed by Talon was one of the best parts of the film. Great and creepy enemy…

Dick Grayson / Nightwing – Sean Maher really owns this role and I hate that he hardly ever gets any screen time or is relegated to Damian’s babysitter. This is a character who was Robin, why isn’t more done with that? He continues to be one of the highlights of every film he’s in but is never given much to do. At least we get to see him fight the Court of Owls and Damian.

Alfred – Alfred is the father figure who helps Bruce learn how to be a dad and Damian to feel loved. I like how he is the warmth in the Bat Family and brings out the better nature of our characters.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce is overcontrolling in this and it blows up in his face, we see him learning how to be a dad in this and it is great seeing that arc. I just wish more could have been done with Bruce and Samantha as well as The Court of Owls and Bruce. Damian steals the storyline that should have belonged to Bruce Wayne.

The Court of Owls – These guys set everything in motion for the Wayne’s to die so that they could control the city. They are a great puppeteer organization and I wish we could have seen more of what they do as there are many members and they are all the rich of Gotham and around the world.

Talon – Talon becomes Damian’s mentor and the anti-Batman as he kills murders and the corrupt. He is also insane too as he called the cops on his dad leading to his dad getting killed and slaughtered the Court of Owls in Gotham to take control of it.

Okay/Con: The Writing – The dialogue is a bit stilted at times and could have done with more showing rather than telling.

Damian Wayne – Damian continues to be one of the weakest parts of these films. He beats everyone he fights so there are never any stakes and he continues to be a jerk or cross the line that Batman lays down so he just stays static. I was so happy when he left Wayne Manor at the end.

The Cons: Damian’s Plot Armor – Damian defeats Talon, Nightwing and even Batman to some degree at different points throughout the film. Seriously, he has no weaknesses or very good plot armor. It is annoying because he isn’t even noble and his plot armor and overuse just brings down the story.

  This was a story that could have worked better if Damian wasn’t such a Mary Sue/Gary Stu and actually had vulnerability and could lose some of the fights he gets into, and if the story hadn’t been all about him. Nightwing appears and he is great in all his scenes but he is so underutilized and ends up being Damian’s punching bag most of the time. The motivations of the Court of Owls were also never fully explained which hurt the story. I didn’t know what they wanted in the end or what their vision for Gotham was outside of power for the families controlling it. These are the things that kept it from being good and kept the film in the realm of enjoyable.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

Son of Batman (2014): A Decent Telling of Damian Wayne’s Origin Story

Son of Gotham poster

    “Son of Batman” is alright. At times this film has moments of greatness only for it to be shot down by bad writing and not developing some of the intriguing characters more. This is a story that really deserved more time than the running time of an hour, which really brings it down the most it in the end. This is a film that is the origin story of Damian Wayne, but in many ways he is the least interesting character in this, and that isn’t completely is his fault, it is the fault of the writers, which I’ll get into deeper into the review.

     The film was directed by Ethan Spaulding and written by Joe R. Lansdale and produced by James Tucker and based on the story “Batman and Son” by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert.

    The story involves the assassination of Ra’s Al Ghul by his former heir Deathstroke forcing Talia to take her son, who is the son of Bruce Wayne to Gotham City and Batman to escape. It is here Batman must deal with the reality of being a father and Damian must face a world outside of League of Assassins.

The Pros: The Animation – DC animation continues to put out beautiful looking work, and this is no exception. I’d almost say it is worth it just for the character designs as you make take inspiration for your own character work if you are comic artist.

The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is haunting and beautiful and reminded me of McCreary’s “Battlestar Galactica” soundtrack. Fredrick Weidmann did a great job.

The World – The world is cool but underdeveloped. The League of Assassins is huge and going through a civil war between the Ghul’s and Deathstroke and we even get glimpses of this Gotham and Batman.

The Characters – The characters who receive development are pretty great or okay. Sadly not all of them got development but the ones who did are a pro for me.

Slade Wilson / Deathstroke – The apprentice abandoned by his master out for revenge…this is Slade’s arc and it is great as he schools anyone he faces until the very end when he loses to Batman easily and just loses to Damian. I wanted more of this character and why Ra’s didn’t choose him to lead. Thomas Gibson did a great voice acting job.

Dick Grayson / Nightwing – Sean Maher (Dr. Simon from “Firefly”) is my favorite character in this. He has depth and reason for what he does and you get him moving on from Batman. He is a warning and promise for what his future may hold. I like how he clashes with both Batman and Damian too.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Jason O’Mara is okay but his Batman is like a softer spoken Val Kilmer. I like Val Kilmer but most Batman are a lot better and same goes here. He is good but doesn’t even touch great. I wanted more of his relationship to Talia and further development with Damian, sadly we didn’t get that.

Okay: Ra’s Al Ghul – Ra’s is around for a little bit and dies. We see how much of a zealot he is and also how he is a caring Grandfather but that is about it. He dies way too early and his legacy is never fully explored.

Talia Al Ghul – Talia seeks revenge and gets easily beat by Deathstroke. Wasn’t impressed at all with that, though her relationship to Damian feels real as well as her love for Bruce Wayne. Morena Baccarin does a good job with what little she’s given.

Damian Wayne – Damian is a little too perfect. He hacks Batman’s computer, beats Slade in the final fight and gets over his anger way too quickly. For a guy raised in trauma he’s surprisingly well put together, which just made him feel like a Gary Stu/Mary Sue. He’s the core character and the driver of the narrative so I expected more.

The Cons: Killer Croc – Guy is just a giant monster and gets zero development. Great design but that means nothing when there is zero character behind it.

Doctor Langstrom – Beyond caring for his family we get none of the mad scientist tendencies. Why was he working for Ra’s prior? This is never answered, or how he got connected to Killer Croc. This was a shame as they are both Batman rogues, but this connection never went anywhere.

Deathstroke’s Plan – An army of Man-Bat’s…really? Batman defeated these guys so easily, you think the military is going to be that unprepared that they wouldn’t have some kind of sonar weapon. It was a stupid plan when Ra’s made it and Deathstroke continuing it was a shortfall on his part.

   This was an okay film. It strikes for good but never fully reaches there largely because so many of the characters that would be great in different contexts don’t get the agency and development they deserve. This film aimed high as it was giving us the origins of the one of the most famous Robins, yet I didn’t care about him. He was overpowered and seemed to have no flaws beyond anger that we never got to see him fully face. He was the definition of a Mary Sue/Gary Stu and it took away from the story. I wanted to know more about Deathstroke, Talia and Ra’s but an hour was not long enough to do so and the overall narrative suffered because of it. This is what made the film okay in the end…lack of development, too short of time and Damian’s too perfect tendencies as well as the main’s outside of him not being enough to carry the story. If you like Batman, check it out for sure. DC Animation hasn’t made any bad films I’ve seen yet, but this could have been so much more.

Final Score: 7.4 / 10