Tag Archives: DC Comics

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

 

Wonder Woman (2017): DC Finally Finds a Hero

     “Wonder Woman,” is a great. I just need to put that out there now before I get into the reasons why because it really is amazing and if you like comic book or super hero films you will enjoy this film. DC has been having a hard time finding heroes, Superman doesn’t really save anyone in the films he’s been in and when he does it is in a somber way, almost like he hates it…and Batman is beating up criminals and leaving them to die in prison so he isn’t exactly what I’d call a hero either as we never have the chance to connect with the people he is supposedly protecting. Wonder Woman changes all of that in her film. DC finally gives us the much needed hero which in turn may save their cinematic universe.

The film was directed by Patty Jenkins, written by Allan Heinberg and produced by Zack Snyder, Richard Suckle, Deborah Snyder and Charles Roven.

The story involves Diana (Gal Gadot) who is pulled into World War 1 when spy Steve Trevor’s (Chris Pine) plane crashes near her home, the Island of Themyscira. Going against the wishes of her mother Queen Hippolyta, she joins him to seek out and destroy Ares, who she believes is responsible for the War and the peace broken on her Island when Steve arrived.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The Premise – The premise is wonderful as we get a fish out of water story as Diana and her Island are outside of the world in a magic bubble. This leads to some great moments where Diana has to adapt to a world full of technology where there is patriarchy in all power structures and her very existence upsets them (as she is a princess from a Matriarchal Island). The premise is not only her hunting down of Ares but her own self discovery and finding her purpose and living what it means to be a hero.

The Universe – Themyscira (the Amazon Island) is an amazing place that looks like an ancient Greek isle where women outside of time train and fight and have representatives and well as Queen ruling them…we have World War 1 and see the horrors of trench and chemical warfare and we have Diana in the present, unaged showing that even as he has changed she is still the Amazon who left that Island long ago.

The Characters – The characters are the best part of the film as each of them reveals contradictions about themselves. Diana is confident and driven, but also unsure and can easily despair. Steve is a spy who lies, smuggles and kills but also will risk everything to stop the greater conflict and the other side characters reveal things about themselves too. My favorite character was Queen Hippolyta’s sister Antiope (played by Robin Wright) who is the Amazon General and went against the rules to train Diana and in the end dies preparing Diana for the fight against Ares…and the commandos who go with Steve and Diana are amazing too as each of them is broken and courageous, each in their own way.

The Horrors of War – The horrors of war and despair it can bring are handled really well in this film. One of the characters we follow has PTSD and another lost his dream when the Great War began. Diana also loses her mentor, her Aunt Antiope to a German soldier when Steve’s plane crashes near the Island…and at one point in one of the best parts of the film, Diana breaks the No Man’s Land in the trenches and saves a starving village…only for the Germans to gas the village…There is so much despair and the hope that we see are in the acts of saving others or simply surviving. War is hell, and this film presents it beautifully.

Okay: The Villains – There is Doctor Poison who we never get to know but is a sociopath only wanting to kill and destroy, we have a war obsessed German General who hams it up well enough but is forgettable…and of course Ares who appears first as an ally and reveals that he didn’t have to corrupt humanity much at all, just push their own destructive urges. Ares is the best of the lot but even he could have been explored a lot more. Each of these villains have potential but like Marvel Phase 1 Villains they are disposable and fail to enhance the story.

The Message – The message is one of hope and love (which is alright in presentation, but seems to have been completely forgotten in her exile) and a call for equality (the message that worked) as Diana simply by existing and standing up for herself, changes the circumstances of those around her. In speaking up and taking action she is the hero…whether it is to Ares, her mother or the British and German Generals.

The Cons: Bullet Time – The action overall would be great if not for the bullet time. There are so many scenes were the action is slowed down and it just hurts the film. There is no reason for them to do this and it doesn’t add anything to the story and just distracts from whatever the focus in the scene should be. This is a Snyderism that should be used sparingly, if used at all.

Diana’s Exile – After Diana defeats Ares, she goes into exile. We never find out what she was doing in between World War 1 and “Batman v. Superman” but for a movie that had her say her message is to bring hope and love to the world…we don’t see any of that and her making that her thesis statement should have been shown, rather than her going underground and only becoming Wonder Women at the end of “Batman v. Superman.”

This movie won’t be in my Top 5 of the year, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is still a favorite. This is a movie that remembered what it means to be a hero as the whole point of Diana joining our world was to protect the weak and fight for the innocent. This was something DC forgot when they started their cinematic universe to compete with the MCU. I hope going forward they can remember it. This is a movie I highly recommend and I hope it not only changes the DC universe but gives us more heroes like Diana in future films as we finally see more of the amazing women that populate the world of heroes.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

“Constantine” Season 1 – A Procedural Show That Could Have Been So Much More

Constantine Show

     “Constantine” was a show that could have been so much more, and really should have been brought back by the CW given that they’ve saved “Supergirl” and shown they are really good with DC properties (though I can’t stand “Arrow”). Hell, Constantine was even a guest star on “Arrow” so I hope they bring him back for a mini-series as this series is very incomplete. With only 13 episodes, this is a show that never really found it’s footing, even if the main cast were pretty great.

    The show was created by David Goyer and Daniel Cerone and based off the DC comics of the same name.

    The premise of the show is Constantine (Matt Ryan) is a part time practitioner of the Dark Arts and master of all forms of magic who is commissioned by Manny (Harold Perinneau), an Angel to help in the fight against the rising Darkness, as Constantine’s soul is already condemned to Hell and this is chance for redemption and doing some good in the fight.

The Pros: The World – The World of “Constantine” is an amazing one in which so much more could have been done. We introduced to different types of demons, magic and spirits…and I wanted to know and see more.

The Premise – The premise of the condemned man trying to redeem himself is one that has always intrigued me, especially when they are bitter and fed up with everything they’ve been through like Constantine is. It gives room for them to grow and to critique what they are being asked to do.

The Cinematography – I liked the cinematography. It clearly looks like effort went into creating a world that felt like a comic book, though I think the look of the comics is better and darker, this at least captured some of the spirit for network television. Romeo Tirone did a good job.

The Characters – The main characters kept me interested and coming back for more, even as the procedural nature of the show was grating on me and my attachment to the overall story.

Chas – Chas is from Constantine’s original crew where Constantine first got his soul condemned to Hell when he let a girl be taken to Hell. Chas took in all the souls around and is near immortal in his own way. He is really cool as he is alien because of what was done to him but still holds his humanity and keeps Constantine grounded. He also is a father. Charles Halford is good in the role.

Papa Midnite – Midnite is one of my favorite characters in the comics and was in the Keanu Reeves “Constantine” film as well. In this he is an antagonist up until the end as he is traditionalist practitioner of voodoo and honoring the Spirits and Lao and Constantine respects nothing and dishonors his traditions, leading to him trying to kill Constantine until he is called off at the end. I wanted to see their relationship develop as it is an intriguing one in the comics. Michael James Shaw added so much power to this role.

Zed – Zed sees visions and is our audience stand in at first as her mysterious backstory is slowly revealed, as well as the price she pays for sight, given that she has a tumor in her brain. Angelica Celaya gives this role both strength and compassion as she is also one of the people who grounds Constantine and helps him see beyond himself. Like Chas, she is his humanity he tries to push away.

Manny – Manny is the Angel who is using Constantine to his own ends as we see him call off the hit from the organization Papa Midnite serves as we learn Manny is the one calling the shots and maybe the one bringing the Darkness. He has a complex relationship with Constantine as we see him stay out of things but help in his own ways, at one point even being put into a host’s body and having to experience humanity and mortality. Harold Perrineau gave this role so much and if they bring back the series, he is the character I don’t want recast.

Constantine – Matt Ryan nails Constantine’s cynicism so well, as well as him being the deal maker who walks to line between good and bad and does everything he can to survive…but try to do the right thing. His arc is really that of getting invested in the bigger fight against the Darkness and finding his humanity through past members of his crew who got him into magic in the first place (and usually losing them) or finding his humanity in their acts of valor and in the actions of his friends. He really is a great anti-hero. Matt Ryan captures the man from the comics better than Keanu Reeves which is partially due to look but also in how he speaks and interacts with others.

Okay: Jim Corrigan – Minor character in the show who is a doubter who later joins Team Constantine against the Darkness. More could have been done with him so he felt unfinished. His comic book history is rather large and I didn’t get any of that from the show.

Okay/Con: The Ending – Manny is manipulating everything is the most interesting part but it feels unfinished and you can tell the show got canceled. The Finale felt rushed and we still really knew nothing about the coming threat or how it related to Manny.

The Cons: Inconsistent Tone – The tone was all over the place…some days Constantine would lose a friend, another episode they’d try to do comedy that wasn’t quite dark enough to fit the tone. It felt like a “Monster of the Week” when there are great arcs in Constantine they could have done in full.

Procedural When Could Have Been More – The show in the end felt like procedural that wasn’t going anywhere and I think that is why it got canceled. We learn nothing about the Darkness really and for a huge world full of demons, angels and monsters…we don’t actually learn all that much about it. It is a glimpse into a world that could have been so much more if it had taken advantage of the amazing source material it was pulling from. Sadly it became like any other “Mystery of the Week/Monster of the Week” Procedural and I think that led to it being canceled.

     This is a show where I enjoyed the characters and premise but felt that it never lived up to the potential of the source material. I’d still recommend it at this point as this is sadly the best adaptation I’ve seen of the character “Constantine” and I hope he gets a second chance, as Matt Ryan does a great job capturing this amazing character from DC comics. If you like the comics, it is worth watching just for Ryan’s performance…beyond that there are better supernatural, procedural and shows adapted from DC comics out there. I’d like to see the CW bring back the character for a mini-series and either do something cool with the Darkness from this show or give us a full fledged adaptation of one of his best comic arcs. Constantine deserves that, and this show sadly couldn’t give us that.

Final Score: 6.5 / 10

Batman: Bad Blood (2016) – The Cast is Great but not the Execution

Batman Bad Blood

    “Batman: Bad Blood” shows both the strength and weaknesses in full degree of these Damian films (I don’t really consider them Batman films, he’s a support character like in the Justice League “New 52” films). The large cast manages to help this film over some of the others though as Nightwing and Batwoman are amazing characters who really help carry the film through the Damian and villain drag that occurs sometimes during the film.

   The film was directed by Jay Oliva and written by J. M. DeMatteis and produced by James Tucker.

   The films involves a group of villains capturing Batman leading to Batwoman and Batwing teaming up with Nightwing and Robin to figure out who did it and stopping their evil plan and figure out who the mysterious Heretic is who leads them.

The Pros: The Animation – WB and DC animation continues to be stellar but that is kind of a given at this point. The dark tone of the film is captured in the animation and it is great at flowing with the action.

The Soundtrack – Wiedmann once again creates a fantastic soundtrack. I can see why they chose him to make the music for these films. His Bear McCreary feel he brings to it all compliments the Universe.

The Action – The action is the one good thing I’ll say about the “New 52,” the fights have consequences that often in death (which even the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems unable to pull off) and I like that death is permanent, with a few exceptions like the character I’ll be going into next.

The Mad Hatter – This guy is a great villain! With Talia he manages to control Bruce Wayne and take control of the World Leaders in the process. He nearly wins too until Alfred explodes his head when he fighting another person in the same room. I wish he’d survived.

Heretic – Heretic is a Damian Clone and is awesome. He bests everyone he fights and only dies because Talia is stupid and would rather destroy a good weapon than use it for the final fight. I wanted more of this character. His attachment to Damian was cool and he showed what Batman would look and act like had he stayed with the League.

The Bat Famiy – The Bat Family is the best part of this film. Everyone has their moments and I like how expansive it is.

Lucius Fox – Lucius Fox gets shot but we see how he is in the adoptive family of Batman. He is there through it all and seeing him torn about his son going to war when there is war at home plus wanting to protect him is handled really well.

Alfred – Alfred shows that he shouldn’t be underestimated as he saves Bruce Wayne from the villains and shows how great he is in a fight as well his counseling of Nightwing when Nightwing becomes Batman.

Luke Fox / Batwing – This is a great idea. Lucius has always been an honorary member of the Bat Family (given Grayson isn’t a Wayne and is the first Robin) and this makes things official. He reminds me of Iron Man and Falcon and is the confident guy who embraces his role as the air support in any fight. He needed more exploration beyond a injured father. Seriously, this character has so much potential to be a favorite in the Bat Family!

Dick Grayson / Nightwing / Batman – Maher owns this role and now he finally gets to do something beyond babysit Damian! In this he’s Batman when Batman is kidnapped and does a great job in the role. This is probably my favorite version of Grayson, so there is that. Even in “Batman: The Animated Series,” I never really like Robin until he became Nightwing and developed an identity beyond sidekick.

Kate Cane / Batwoman – Thank you DC for not messing up the fact that she’s a lesbian! Kate is an amazing character who we never get to see really go over the edge in fighting villains like the traditional Kate Cane was, but she’s great as the answer of the character going rogue inspired by Batman but not in his shadow as much. Really liked what they did with her character. Her arc is one of healing.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce Wayne is mind controlled for most of this but you see how he hasn’t been good at dealing with trauma as he has traumatized others. Bruce Wayne is someone who is trying his best but is flawed in ways that really put him next to the League of Shadows, Jason Todd as Red Hood exists for a reason and this story explores why. He’s controlling but isn’t good at setting limitations. He goes to extremes and it alienates others and it makes him human.

Barbara Gordon / Batgirl Cameo – Barbara appears in the end it is amazing! She was one of the best parts of “Batman: The Animated Series” and “Batman Beyond.” Barbara is a character who is the character who knows vigilante and the law and seeing her get started in this universe is wonderful.

Okay: Damian Wayne / Robin – Less of a Mary Sue / Gary Stu but still that. Talia apparently had no influence on him as he’s not even tempted and and he again wins every fight that isn’t against his older self.

Talia Al Ghul – So we see Batman help after Ra’s dies and now she does this? More that this is in her nature and her whole plan all along would have helped strengthen this. She also maybe dies at the end but that doesn’t matter as much as we never knew her motivations fully at that well anyway…

The Cons: Disposable Villains – Killer Moth, Firefly, Electutioner, etc. Who cared about these folks? They are minions and even their design ins’t all that memorable. C-List and never rise beyond it. Someone needs to give these characters a “Guardians of the Galaxy” film to redeem this crap.

Lack of Talia Setup for Betrayal – I brought it up before but Talia deserves

   This was one of the better films out of the “New 52” Batman films but still suffers from those same problems. The Al Ghuls just can’t be written right, whether they are Damian or Talia they never rise above okay as with Talia the motivations are never fully explored prior…she exists to be Ra’s daughter and that’s it. Damian has the same problem in the other direction…he’s untouchable and a Gary Stu/Mary Sue…so at least in this one it took the Team to take the bad guys down and that is what helps it rise above the others to really good. Definitely worth checking out for Nightwing and Batwoman.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015) – This Aquaman Kind of Works

Justice League Throne of Atlantis Poster

 Aquaman has always been a Justice League member I’ve cared the least about. When it comes to the alien perspective, give me Martian Manhunter or for nobility and royalty give me Wonder Woman…Aquaman was always just kind of there, the noble who works with the Justice League. Given these facts, Aquaman atually works in regards to this film, the villains are the ones who don’t.

      “Justice League: Throne of Atlantis” was directed by Ethan Spaulding and written by Heath Corson and produced by James Tucker.

     The story involves the Justice League being pulled together when forces in Atlantis begin to act against the surface world. It is up to them to find out the reasons why and the heir to the throne Arthur Curry / Aquaman to stop the war and save the world.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – Wiedmann is part of what makes these movies great. His soundtrack gives power to the action and the scenes and gives the world an epic feel.

The Animation – WB Animation is truly awesome. This is one thing DC is continuing to do right post Bruce Timm so I salute their studio. It’s a shame they can’t pull this off with their live action films.

The Action – The action is fantastic and the fight scenes between the people of Atlantis and the surface world is handled really well.

The Justice League – The Justice League is really fun, minus Superman and Wonder Woman who don’t feel like characters, just concepts and whose romance feels contrived…but minus them I like the rest of the team.

Hal Jordan / Green Lantern – Nathan Fillion really owns this role. His relationship with Batman is fun as we see he is the guy with good intentions but can’t see the bigger picture. He has a great moment in the final battle where he uses his ring to make a giant mecha suit. He plays off the rest of the League really well.

Barry Allen / The Flash – Barry doesn’t do as much as he could have done but for what time he appears he bring lightness to the brooding of this Universe.

Victor Stone / Cyborg – Cyborg is the heart of the team and the one always looking out for Earth. He is the one who pulls everyone together to solve the mystery of the submarine and discover Black Manta’s and Orm’s plan.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Batman is great in this and the only one who Orm doesn’t completely defeat at the end. He stays out of the fight and figures out how to defeat Orm’s trident leading up to Aquaman claiming the throne. It is Batman with Cyborg who reveal Orm’s killing of the Queen to the world.

Arthur Curry / Aquaman – Aquaman reminds me of Thor and Hercules. He is half-Atlantean and his arc is discovering and claiming his birthright. There are elements of “Lion King” to it as well as his brother Orm is the one he is stopping when Orm kills his mother. For what it’s worth I liked the character and he worked in this film, which is good given this film is about him.

Okay: Queen Atlanna – We never get why she is so focused on peace with the surface world or her relationship to her possible warrior husband who died. She is a mystery and because of it her motivations are never fully known. She wasn’t bad but she was missed opportunity.

Mera – Mera is okay, but her romance with Aquaman is contrived, there is no leadup to them being attracted and liking one another it just kind of happens. She’s a great fighter at least.

The Cons: Diana Prince / Wonder Woman – She is there to motivate Superman and that is it. She’s a plot device and it sucks. She is Superman’s romantic partner and that is it.

Clark Kent / Superman – Way too overpowered and may cheating on Lois Lane? Seriously, was is the deal with Superman in “The New 52?” He is just an all around overpowered dick. He’s everything wrong with Damian Wayne tenfold.

Black Manta – This guy also is just evil and has unexplored reasons for the things he’s doing besides the desire for power. He has a cool design but he is just wasted as a character and never felt like a threat.

Orm – He’s blatantly evil (kills his own mother) his motivations are never fully explored and he has no redeeming qualities. Seriously, this guy is a terrible villain and his design is awful too. He looks like bad cosplay of an orc when he wears his mask.

   This was an enjoyable film and better than the “New 52” Batman films (seriously Damian brings those films down). I like this new Justice League minus how unrelatable Wonder Woman and Superman feel. Neither feel fully fleshed out as characters and Superman is the Damian Wayne of the Justice League. He is way too overpowered so whenever he is free the fight has no stakes. I’m surprised he didn’t defeat Orm honestly, and I’m glad he didn’t…Aquaman had to win something and his entire arc was reclaiming his birthright “Lion King” style. So I would recommend this film, it isn’t a favorite, but it is good.

Final Score: 8 / 10

Justice League vs. Teen Titans (2016): Honoring the Old “Teen Titans” Show and Creating a Great Original Story

Justice League vs Teen Titans poster

    “Justice League vs. Teen Titans” is a lot of fun. As someone who grew up on Bruce Timm’s justice league and the old original animesque “Teen Titans,” this is the first time with these films I’ve felt the spirit of both really captured, while still remaining true to “The New 52” tone they’ve had going on in all these films. The Teen Titans are really who carry the film and this is there story and it is their development and actions that end up making this a favorite film for me.

     The film was directed by Sam Liu, written by Bryan Q. Miller and Alan Burnett and produced by James Tucker.

SPOILERS ahead

     The story involves Trigon’s (Jon Burnthal) attempt to return to Earth to destroy it and to use his daughter Raven (Taissa Farmiga) as the way to do so. When the Justice League investigates he takes control of a few members leaving the Teen Titans to team to together to stop him and save the Justice League.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack at moments reminded me of Bear McCreary which added a lot to the haunting nature of Trigon and the pasts of Raven and Damian. Frederik Wiedmann once again did a fantastic job.

The Animation – WB and DC continue to put out great animated films and this one is no different. The world is dark but beautiful and feels epic in feel.

The World – The world is rich as we get an appearance of Trigon, the Legion of Doom, the Justice League and Teen Titans. This world is huge and still gives room to explore many of the characters within it.

The Characters – The characters are what carry this film and the reason to see it. Whether it is certain Justice League members or the Teen Titans as a whole, these are the folks who make this film fun.

Batman / Bruce Wayne – Batman is the only Justice League member not to get possessed and it is thanks to him that Cyborg is saved and later the rest of the Justice League. He risks himself in the process though and is out of it until the end.

Barry Allen / The Flash – Flash appears briefly but his comedic antics and comedic villains are both on display, even at the end. I like the Flash a lot now as he adds much needed levity to the super seriousness of “The New 52.”

Oliver Stone / Cyborg – Cyborg gets to be both Justice League and Teen Titans and brings pizza at the end as a callback to the show! He is great and we see that he is the leader when Batman is out of commission. He is pretty much a Teen Titans member and co-leader with Starfire over the course of saving Raven and getting to the final fight.

Dick Grayson / Nightwing – Grayson should have been in the final fight. I don’t know why he wasn’t as he’s pretty much Damian’s babysitter until Damian is dropped off at the Justice League. Maher is once again wonderful and brings charm to the awkward flirting that Starfire and He do with one another. We needed more of this character.

Trigon – Jon Bernthal is fantastic as the monster and power that is Trigon. I wanted to see more of this character and his influence on the world beyond just trying to enter it and sending his sons out. He still felt like a threat though, even though the final battle with him was kind of stupid.

Teen Titans – The Teen Titans are the best part of this film and really the main reason to watch this. I didn’t see “Teen Titans Go” and don’t plan on it, so this is the best version of them since that past 2003 show.

Koriand’r / Starfire – Starfire is the leader and she feels like an alien in this but also the idealist we saw from when she was in the show. Her dynamic with everyone is great as she is the glue and the one who helps Damian open up.

Jaime Reyes / Blue Beetle – Blue Beetle is cool and doesn’t put up with Damian’s crap. He is very much the Cyborg of the group (and not just because he is pretty much a cyborg from the alien tech melded to his body) as his personality is big, leading him to fight with Damian. I like how he doesn’t know the suit’s power…he reminds me of some of Venom’s hosts that way.

Damian Wayne / Robin – Finally Robin isn’t perfect (sort of)! We see his anger come out and how he was raised by sociopaths and it does make an impact on how he interacts with others when he invades the Teen Titans security, eggs Blue Beetle on and nearly dies because of it and confronts a demon taking the form of Ra’s Al Ghul, giving him the chance to face his past trauma and see how alike he and Raven are. Both having fathers out to destroy the world. His friendship with Raven is one of the best parts of the film. Loved that he neutralized Superman with kryptonite and later puts it back in his pouch as Superman frowns.

Garfield Logan / Beast Boy – Brandon Soo Hoo’s performance reminded me of classic Beast Boy from the 2003 “Teen Titans” show. He’s funny and his wit and humor make him gold in every scene. I love how he fights too and moves between small and large creatures to have the largest impact in a fight, and he does it a comedic way.

Okay: Wonder Woman – She like Superman feels a little too alien and even though she’s played by Rosario Dawson, I never got her character fully. I’m also biased against her design and miss the classic design, but that would be made up if she had a bit more development and motivations…she isn’t as bad as Superman at least.

Okay / Con – Justice League Development – We see them fight Lex Luthor and some folks at the beginning in the Legion of Doom but it never goes anywhere and the villains never feel like a threat. It’s cool to see Lex Luthor at least.

The Teams Working Together in the Final Fight – The fight in Trigon’s realm is cool, Superman’s fight against the Justice League and Flash, Wonder Woman and Superman against Trigon is just weak…so it ends up being an okay/con.

The Cons: Superman – This guy is alien, distant a jerk and has zero chemistry with any of the characters, and he’s supposed to be in love and dating Wonder Woman. I never got that and his presentation in this new 52 Universe feels off. I miss the Bruce Timm Superman, he felt like a real character at least.

Superman Stops Evil Justice League Alone – Cyborg and the Teen Titans are trying to get the crystal for Raven to trap Trigon in it again but they feel useless as Superman stops both the Flash and Wonder Woman who are also possessed before they even reach the portal. Seriously, the Teen Titans and Cyborg weren’t even needed, it’s implied through how easy he saved the other two Justice League members that Superman could have done it all himself.

     The only real downside to this was lack of development for the Justice League, which made sense given this was about the Teen Titans, and Superman being so overpowered everyone being there felt unnecessary. I hate this version of Superman, he’s distant and treats everyone around him like crap besides Diana and even their relationship doesn’t really work because we never see it develop so I didn’t feel chemistry in that relationship. Seriously, I look forward to when one of these films eventually kills Superman off. Besides that, the Teen Titans are awesome and the best I’ve seen the characters since the show that aired in 2003. This managed to capture that same spirit and be it’s own thing, which is the best that could have been hoped for.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10. A favorite and worth checking out.

The Dark Knight (2008): A Masterpiece That Explores Virtue, Liberty and the Nature of Humanity

The Dark Knight

    “The Dark Knight” is a masterpiece in every sense of the word. It is more than just a great Batman film, it is a classic that illustrates just how great the medium of storytelling can be through the use of film. The best films can capture the best and worst of humanity and ask us questions about what it means to be ourselves. The best films challenge are assumptions and “The Dark Knight” is one of those films. This is also the Batman film with two of my favorite Batman villains. Both the Joker and Two-Face are two of the more complex Batman Rogues of all time and most of the stories that explore them are at least good.

     The film was directed, written and produced by Christopher Nolan who wrote it along with Jonathan Nolan. The film was produced by Emma Thomas and Charles Roven.

   The story involves Batman (Christian Bale) a year into his time protecting Gotham and explores the rise of the Joker (Heath Ledger) who escalates the war as Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) target the Mob with Batman and James Gordon (Gary Oldman) leading to the mob putting their fate in the Joker’s hands.

The Pros: The Cinematography – The cinematography is the best it’s ever been in the “The Dark Knight Trilogy.” The contrasts of light and dark are best illustrated in the transformation of Harvey Dent and Two-Face and the scenes involving the Joker or Batman and the Joker together. This is a story of contrasts and the cinematography captures it beautifully. Wally Pfister once again did a great job.

The Soundtrack – Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard created their best soundtrack thus far as we get the haunting theme of the Joker mixed with rising tension intermixed throughout the score. The story feels on edge because of how the music weaves so seamlessly with the plot. The aura of terror never goes away.

The Writing – The Nolan Brothers when they write together are better than when one of them teams up with Goyer. I think this is probably due to them understanding each other better which in turn allows them to explore the characters better and work the themes in without having what little fat there was in “Batman Begins.” The fact that it takes inspiration from “The Killing Joke” and “The Long Halloween” (two of my favorite “Batman” comics) is part of what gives the writing so much power. It pulls from great stories.

The World – The World is rich and feels lived in. From Sal Maroni taking over the Mob, the politics and corruption within both the District Attorney’s office and the Police and the politics between them. Batman is the one who holds this brittle vase together but the Joker gives it the push that makes it all fall apart.

The Characters – The characters are amazing in this. From the minor characters who were once faceless antagonists, to the large characters who express the themes of the story. The characters in this are a lot better than I realized until my most recent viewing.

Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow – He has a small role and is taken out early by Batman. The fact that he survived for so long is to his credit. He’s pretty minor compared to Joker and Two-Face is what the film shows as well as that he and Batman are both fit for Arkham.

Commissioner Loeb – Loeb actually gets exploration in this! We see all he’s doing to take out the mob and the consequences he takes for it, like his heavy drinking which makes it easier for the Joker to kill him. I like that we actually get to know the character this time.

Mayor Garcia – The Mayor is pretty great in this too as we see his courage in how he goes forward with the parade to honor Loeb and to give Harvey Dent the power he needs to go after the mob. I liked this character and wanted to get to know him more. His “real talk” with Harvey Dent is a powerful scene as it illustrates the growing war as the Joker’s victim is hanging at the Mayor’s window after the talk.

Detective Ramirez – Ramirez is a great character. She’s flawed as she’s looking out for her mother and this leads to her being in with the mob. We see that she isn’t all bad though she’s just ruled by fear which leads to her getting Gordon’s family to Two-Face. She is the symbol of the broken system.

Lau – Lau is a great character. The fact that he saves the Mob’s money on his own is great and he would have won if not for Batman ignoring international borders (one reason I don’t believe the 8 years or Retirement in “The Dark Knight Rises”). He ends up being burned alive on a pile of money buy the joker showing his role reversed as in the mob he was the most powerful person for protecting the money, but in the Joker’s city money means nothing.

Sal Maroni – Sal is great, he has a young arrogance about him that makes him fun anytime he’s on screen. He’s also a guy who can’t see all that long term as he is the one lets the Joker run havoc all over Gotham and in turn he can’t even escape because of it as Two-Face is waiting for him, changed by the Joker and with it Sal’s choice comes back to end him. In that way, he’s tragic in his own way.

Lucius Fox – Freeman gets more exploration in this as we see his ideals are strong on the side of personal liberty (one reason he might like Batman as an individual under no one) and when he stand against Batman’s NSA Spying Machine we see that it doesn’t matter how much he likes Bruce, he won’t let him become the Emperor of Gotham. No individual in Gotham should have all the power and Lucius stands by this even as he uses the machine once to help catch the Joker.

James Gordon – Gordon’s story in this is a tragedy. We see his distrust of Harvey Dent yet his belief in him too and how all of that is lost when the Joker breaks Harvey and James in unable to save Rachel Dawes. He is promoted to Commissioner when Loeb is murdered and never catches a break after that. For much of the film he is trying to save people from the Joker as the Joker is always one step ahead and the war against the Mob that he was working on with Batman and Harvey becomes nothing. In the end the war nearly costs him the life of his son though it does cost the life of Harvey Dent, which is something he is never able to live down as he embraces the lie that Batman killed Harvey Dent and hiding Dent becoming Two-Face.

Alfred – Alfred is great in this as Caine gives the mentor role power again. In this he illustrates how much it takes to defeat some enemies as we learn that Alfred was a pretty terrible person in Burma as he burned down an entire forest to catch one thief. This metaphor leads Batman to creating his NSA spying device showing that Batman did learn from Alfred and embraced the worst aspects of the fascist state that Alfred had once worked for. Luckily they both move on from that, but it shows how far both of them will go, in a way proving the Joker’s point about people.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – This is the film that tests the limits of Batman’s code as we see him fighting a losing war against the Joker when the Mob unleashes him when Batman, Gordon and Dent have almost defeated them. He never leaves his ideals of not killing in this but we see how far he’s willing to go as he metaphorically burns the forest of Gotham by spying on everyone to catch the Joker. It’s powerful and shows that Batman is willing to become a villain to stop a villain. In that way he is the Emperor of Gotham as the narrative of the Emperor being chosen in times of trial in Rome to protect the populace and how it lead to it becoming a permanent position. Batman not only loses his love in this and the respect of the city, but he loses his purpose as well as the Joker is proven right in many ways with the “Tragedy of Harvey Dent.”

Dark Knight Joker

The Joker – The Joker is an anarchist who lives to upset the status quo. He loves playing with people’s mind and comes up with different stories related to his scars to get into the heads of whoever his enemy is. Heath Ledger’s performance is one of the best villain performances of all times and is a classic for a reason. There is a reason you see at least one his Joker’s on Halloween or Comic Cons. His point is that humanity is just animals and civilization is a lie, so the only way to live is to live uninhibited by rules and he does this by destroying powerful figures or breaking them to make his points true. it is enough to turn Harvey Dent into Two-Face even if his “Prison Experiment” using the ferries doesn’t work. He doesn’t care about his life (as seen when he lets Harvey Dent flip the coin on his life) and lives purely for his ideals. For him the ideals are enough (like Batman) and like Batman it gives him power and makes him a symbol that can never fully be defeated. Even though Batman physically defeats him at the end (but is unable to kill him). R.I.P. Heath Ledger, you not only changed cinema forever but the culture with the character you played.

Dark Knight Two-Face

Harvey Dent / Two-Face – Harvey Dent is the idealist who in many ways represents humanity’s potential to rise to ideals and to fall into despair. His fall into Two-Face happens when he realizes all his plans to stop the mob are falling apart and his allies can’t even save the woman he loves. This makes him easy prey for the Joker who turns him into Two-Face leading to him embracing chance as his code of justice as he saw the law was unable to trap and prosecute the Joker, stop the Mob or save Rachel. In the end Two-Face is despair and in becoming a “Punisher” like vigilante proves the Joker’s point about how anyone can become a killer after a really bad day.

Liberty v. Security – Liberty v. Security is a major theme in this as we see Batman impeding on Liberty to stop the Joker when he taps into everyone’s cell phones. His very existence is an infringement upon Liberty too in a way as he is above the law yet enforces them. The Joker is one of the answers to this as is Lucius Fox who show that becoming a Dictator isn’t the answer.

Does Vigilantism Help? – Does becoming a vigilante help? We see in this that it probably doesn’t. From inexperienced look alikes who dress up like Batman and put themselves and others at risk and in turn lead to the rise of the Joker, who was never on the scene until Batman appeared. The question is never fully answered as Batman does capture the Joker, but since he might have helped create the Joker in the first place…does Batman’s existence help or hinder more in the end?

Fascism v. Anarchy – The main theme is one of fascism versus Anarchy. Batman is fascism incarnate as he is above the police and the law and enforces his own brand of justice that is everything but killing. In answer to that there is the Joker who seeks to destroy all systems that uphold the law so the people can do whatever they want and become their base selves. While Batman seeks to scare others into becoming their best selves.

Codes – The Joker’s code is that a person should live how they want and that life itself doesn’t matter, what is important is tearing down structures of power to get people back to their basic selves. Batman doesn’t kill because he sees the good in people and sees Batman as the hope that can inspire that. Harvey’s ideal at first is to the law and using it to stop corruption. It isn’t until he loses everything that his ideal becomes chance as he blames chance and entropy on all his sorrow.

The Nature of Humanity – Is humanity good or bad at it’s base? The Joker would say bad as shown by how the city turned on itself when he caused fear and terror while Batman who belives that humans are good as shown by the Ferry Experiment where the prisoners and civilians don’t kill each other…showing that humans can rise above their fears like he did. Who is right? That’s really up to you as throughout human history you will find proof of both, though I think there is more on the Joker’s side…humans have historically been far more cruel and selfish than good and giving.

Okay: Rachel Dawes – Rachel Dawes is an idea and never gets beyond that. For Harvey she’s the thing worth living for that feeds his idealism and keeps him strong, for Bruce Wayne she’s the way out of him being Batman and having a normal life. For both she is an escape and her death triggers the change in both our characters. She’s a plot device so never becomes great. She always is just okay.

Pacing – The pacing is alright but doesn’t quite work. There are many times where the film feels like the climax has happened but before you know 3 more climactic events have happened. This is the only real downside the film has besides Rachel Dawes.

    “The Dark Knight” manages to make even it’s minor characters compelling, even as the main drama goes down between Gordon, Dent, the Joker and Batman through whose perspectives we explore the ideas and get the drama. This film isn’t afraid to tackle big ideas and the possible consequences of thBose ideas. Not only that we get to see it through the eyes of fascinating villains or compelling heroes we care about. This gives power to the consequences are characters make that illustrate the ideas the film explores. These deeper ideas and complex characters keep me coming back and this is a film I will never grow tired of. It is always worth a second look as he each time the ideas are explored by the characters it gives a chance to explore one’s own thoughts on the answers to the questions. This film is one of the greatest films of all time.

Final Score: 10 / 10