The Lego Batman Movie (2017): A Wonderful Satire and Celebration of Batman

    “The Lego Batman” movie is hilarious, a great satire and celebration of Batman and a great addition to the Batmanverse if you are any sort of fan of the character. This is a film that finally makes Batman fun again and brings in just how important the Bat Family is, which is something many of the live action films have forgotten. Before I get into story spoilers, I highly recommend this film. Much like the “Lego Movie,” it never stops being fun.

    The film was directed by Chris McKay, written by Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna, Seth Grahame-Smith, Jared Stern and John Wittington while being produced by Dan Lin, Roy Lee, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller.

   The story involves Batman who after defeating Joker and his Rogues Gallery once again is alone but finds his life changed when Jim Gordon (Hector Elizondo) retires and his daughter Barbara (Rosario Dawson) takes his place and wants to work with Batman (Will Arnett). Dick Grayson (Mchael Cera) is also accidentally adopted by Batman who must now deal with caring for others again as Joker sets a plan in motion to reach the enemies in the Phantom Zone, as he’s hurt that Batman doesn’t see him as his nemesis.

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of Batman is fascinating and Lego’s take on it adds a lot of much needed humor as well as a recognition of the campy roots that have always been a part of Batman to some degree. We see a diverse array of Rogues, the Justice League of course the people of Gotham.

The Action – The action is fantastic, with my favorite parts being the opening fight where Batman faces off against his Rogues and the Phantom Zone enemies invading and pretty much destroying Gotham. The action is fluid and quick and remains focused even with so much going on.

The Joker – Zach Galifianakis was brilliant casting as the Joker. He brings so much snide and emotion to the role and I loved how he had a co-dependent relationship with Batman where all he wanted was to be the most hated and Batman’s nemesis aka have a special relationship. His Joker isn’t all bad either as at the end he helps save Gotham and in the Phantom Zone is freaked out by the mentality some of the villains have.

The Bat Family – The Bat Family is wonderful as see Alfred is Bruce’s surrogate father just as he becomes Dick Grayson’s (Michael Cera doing some great comedy) surrogate Dad. Batgirl (Rosario Dawson is once again fantastic) is the one who sees the big picture of them working together and that it is needed and Batman is the inventor whose inventions help save the day. It is Alfred calling Bruce to action that helps him grow (Fiennes does a wonderful job as the character), Robin’s usefulness, innocence and admiration and Batgirl’s accountability that help him complete his arc and finally grow out of the fear that was with him on the day his parent’s died.

Satire of Batman – Batman is trapped as a perpetual child who plays rock and roll is an ungrateful narcissist and this on display, from tantrums (a good satire of Bale and Affleck’s Batman at his most extreme), his strange villains from his early run (Condiment King, etc.) his strange rivalry with Superman (Batman v Superman, Dark Knight Returns) and how a lot of it comes from Batman’s childish need to one up and be extreme, and his isolation and just lonely that really is. The great thing is, a character arc comes out of it!

Batman’s Character Arc – In the end this satire is a celebration of the character because his anger and rage is mocked but it is also explored and it goes somewhere. Batman grows up and realizes he isn’t alone. Besides “Dark Knight Rises” I can’t think of a film that has really done this well (“Batman Returns” did it but not well).

 Okay: Batman’s Rogues – Batman’s rogues don’t much besides being minions of the Joker and function as one entity (which was a shame) some of the references are funny though, from Condiment King (actual rogue) to Bane having Tom Hardy’s Bane’s voice. As jokes and references they are fine but they don’t exist as characters, which would have raised this film higher.

The Phantom Zone Villains – Gremlins, The Eye of Sauron, King Kong and Lord Voldemort are some of the baddies in the Phantom Zone. They also largely exist as references too and as villains so powerful Batman’s Rogues and the Bat Family have to team up to defeat them.

The Cons: The Legoverse – Gotham is built over dirty laundry and the Phantom Zone has a talking Lego that sounds like a kid. I didn’t like either of these things. I get it is the Legoverse but these things took me out of the great Batman story that was taking place and was the worst part of the film and only real con.

   This was a film that was amazing as a Batman film, but brought down by the ties to the Legoverse. It was that aspect that took me out of the great Batman story that was being told. There is fantastic character arc that takes place with Batman finally growing up, from Gotham being built over dirty laundry and the Phantom Zone talking lego…I still highly recommend this film and consider it a favorite. I’m curious to see what the Lego Team comes up with next and hope that DC can take note of the fact that Batman can’t remain static. The great movies have him grow and change, it is when that is forgotten we are given the dramatic child who Will Arnett satires beautifully.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10

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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

The Dark Knight Rises (2012): A Fantastic Film Exploring the Power of Ideas, Consequences of Lies and Finding Resolution

The Dark Knight Rises

     “The Dark Knight Rises” is the most controversial of “The Dark Knight Trilogy.” This is both because of how people see the villain and some of the story choices that were made in regards to the timeline leading up to the film and some story choices during the film. This is a movie that you’ll enjoy more if you fill in the blanks and take it from the logic of the past films. For this reason for me it is a favorite, though I understand why people hate it, while for me…I enjoy it more than “Batman Begins” as I found the structure for this a lot better and the emotional payoff much more rewarding. This is an ending and a great ending is hard to pull off and I believe this film does it, and I’m also biased in that I loved Bane as a villain…which I know many people did not. This film is about bringing some of the character arcs we have followed the last 2 films to a close and first and foremost it does that, and it does it well, even with all the flaws.

      The film was directed by Christopher Nolan who also wrote and produced it. Jonathan Nolan was one of the co-writers and the other producers were Emma Thomas and Charles Roven.

     The story takes place 8 years after the events of “The Dark Knight” and organized crime has been taken down by Batman (Bruce Wayne) and the Police Department through the Dent Act, formed after Harvey Dent’s death. A lie hides over the city though as the truth behind what Harvey became is hidden by retiring Police Commissioner James Gordon (Gary Oldman) as Bane (Tom Hardy) arrives in Gotham to destroy it forcing Batman out of hiding as he must deal with this new threat and others.

The Pros: Cinematography – Wally Pfister is once again great in casting shots. From the fights with Bane that contrast his strength and power, to the shadows that Batman fights from and Gotham Occupied with the snow showing us a dead city devoid of hope and embracing despair.

The Soundtrack – Zimmer once again creates an amazing score! From the chants of Bane’s theme to the beautiful piano piece for Catwoman that shows the mystery of the character. His score has always succeeded in elevating the story and this is no different as we see Bruce Wayne go from his lowest point of despair to rising beyond the identity of Batman.

Narrative and Pacing – Narrative and pacing are the best they have ever been in the Trilogy. The story never drags and there is a clear ending rather than a bunch of climaxes. The clear beginning, middle and end compliment the story and characters and create a fantastic resolution to the story.

The World – The World is fantastic! This is a world where I don’t believe Batman ever really fully retired…as long as organized crime was around he was fighting and he had to give something for the police to chase at the end of “The Dark Knight.” Just like the League of Shadows will never ever fully go away, neither will Batman as a character or identity others can adopt. Both of these things are ideas and this movie fully captures that. Any person can adopt ideas greater than themselves and use it for good (John Blake taking up the mantel of the Bat) or Bad (Talia and Bane seeking to destroy Gotham to end it’s corruption).

The Characters – The characters continue to be one of the richest parts of the series and what will keep me coming back and even finding inspiration in them for my own writing.

Daggett and Stryver – These two were meant to show the corrupt Business world and that even without organized crime that is with the black market and drugs, Gotham is still just as corrupt…it has just become White Collar. They are fun and they clearly had fun being bad guys and in these roles who were presented as mini-bosses but were just Bane’s patsies as he was the one with the real power all along. They were the ones rules by fear and money.

Jonathan Crane / Scarecrow – Crane is back and when Gotham breaks everyone out of Gotham and Arkham he becomes one of the judges in the Kangaroo Court. This guy is awesome and there is even the chance he escaped in the end. This character is a survivor who embraces the madness in himself and around him.

Lucius Fox – Freeman continues to own this role and is there to help Bruce Wayne heal, from his coming back as Batman to helping Batman save Gotham and giving him hints he survived at the end. Lucius is the stalwart ally who is always there and is the only person not to betray Bruce’s trust.

Alfred – Alfred loses Bruce and learns how important it is to face the truth. He shouldn’t have burned Rachel’s letter about her marrying Harvey Dent as it hit Bruce in the worst place, leading to his being asked to leave…only to return believing Bruce Wayne to be dead. Luckily he finds that Bruce does grow beyond his role as Batman which is what he always wanted. Michael Caine does a great job once again.

Miranda Tate / Talia Al Ghul – Marion Collitard does a good job as Talia. Bane is the great villain (Talia is just good) and I think this is largely because she is too much of the classic League of Shadows. She uses a clean energy generator as a weapon which has bringing people back to their base nature and back to nature…calling back to the eco-terrorist roots of Ra’s Al Ghul and his League. She breaks Batman’s heart too and we learn that she could have truly been a friend and lover and been changed had they met much before this movie. It is the death of her father and his rejection of Bane that inspire her quest and identity as Bane and her had been shown the worst of humanity and saw that in Gotham. It was the pit that needed to be cleaned.

James Gordon – Gordon like Alfred deals with the consequences of the lie in “The Dark Knight.” He loses the trust of his only ally on the police force (Blake) when it is revealed and we see that. He became corrupt and the consequence was Bane faced no resistance from the populace and the populace embraced his revolution to take Gotham apart. He finds resolution though when he learns that he inspired Bruce to become Batman and helped Bruce to heal when he needed it most. We also see him becoming a healer again at the end as he is one of the few leaders left in a city torn apart by war. Gary Oldman truly inhabited this role.

The Dark Knight Rises Catwoman

Selina Kyle / Catwoman – Hathaway is fantastic and is my favorite Catwoman! She is a character who does what she wants but also seeks to become more as she wants freedom which we see she never had due to her financial state and being trapped where she lived and in how she dealt with it by becoming  a thief. She shows virtue though as she comes back to save Gotham and saves Batman from Bane before Bane kills Batman. It is partially thanks to her that Gotham is saved. She becomes a hero and in it finds freedom.

The Dark Knight Rises Bane

Bane – Tom Hardy is awesome in this role! Bane is one of my favorite villains in this series along with Two-Face, the Joker and Scarecrow. He is threatening in both body and how he carries himself and psychologically. His arc is showing his ideals are true, that humanity will destroy itself and to fulfill the League’s quest to destroy Gotham. He gets this perspective from his time in prison and the price that was taken on him for saving Talia from the mob who killed her mother. He loses everything and is stronger for it as all he has to live for is Talia and the ideals of power. It takes Catwoman shooting him with the Batpod. I wanted to spend more time with this character. There is so much depth and threat to this guy and so much unknown, even with all we learn. Like the Joker there is mystery there…and it lends power to the character.

John Blake / Robin – John Blake is my favorite Robin (Robin is actually in his full birth name) he is the orphan who discovers Bruce Wayne is Batman when Bruce visits his orphanage as a kid. This inspires him to become a cop and we see that he is the one with Gordon fighting against the occupation by Bane and having the most success. Joseph Gordon-Levitt is awesome in this role and if more films had been made of him in the role as Batman or Nightwing working with Batman I’d have been there, or read them had they made comics about it. This character has depth and isn’t a punk but an idealist who loses the idealism and goes his own way, becoming the new Batman.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce Wayne’s arc is moving on from the loss of his parents and Rachel as the truth of both when he loses everything (his company, identity as Batman and being unstoppable, Alfred and Gotham) and after losing everything he finds Bruce again and is able to transcend the Batman identity and grow. Bane breaks him and it is in the breaking that he can heal from the scars he never addressed. The Pit is as much in his mind as it is a physical Pit and it is only in rising from both that he manages to save Gotham and himself. This is Christian Bale at his best as we see his full range of anger, despair, hope and content. This film is the much deserved resolution Bruce has been seeking since he lost his parents so long ago. Now he can be Batman and Bruce Wayne. The world is his and whatever he chooses to do it will no doubt be to help others as before but as a truly healed person, not the broken vigilante he was before.

The Breaking of Batman – This scene is powerful as Bane shows that he inhabits the idea of the League of Shadows and Batman better than Batman. He is the manipulator from the shadows who fights psychologically and physically. He breaks Batman totally and leaves him to suffer while Gotham is destroyed. It is powerful scene as he knows how small Bruce Wayne is in his identity in the end.

Climbing the Pit – The Pit is there to remind Bruce Wayne that he is more than Batman. He had gotten beyond fear and in doing so had nothing to live. In becoming an ideal he had trapped himself inside the ideal. It is only when he leaves room for fear to fail that he rises about it and finds Bruce Wayne again, which is the identity he lost the moment his parents were shot. Climbing the pit is healing both physically and mentally and becoming more than he ever was before.

What Desperation Can Breed / Revolution – Gotham is separated between the extreme rich and extreme poor. This leads to the revolution that Bane incites that leads to the easy occupation of the city and letting the city eat itself before it’s inevitable destruction.

The Cost of Batman’s Victory in “The Dark Knight” – The cost of victory is the occupation and death of Gotham. The mayor and all areas of authority get destroyed over the course of the war. Even though the city is saved from the bomb, the scars Bane left on the city will probably never be healed…which I think is something both Blake, Bruce and Selina realize, which is why they’ll be around to help. They have left the city, but everyone returns to Gotham.

Importance of Truth – Bane is able to so thoroughly break Batman and the city by revealing the truth of Harvey Dent which riles up the city against the rich and authority. There is only a small resistance and the mob turns on itself showing that the lie to save Gotham did nothing as eventually the city did turn on itself. The city’s base self was laid bare.

The Ending / The Power of Ideas and Growing Beyond Self – I felt this was done beautifully. Gordon realizes the child he comforted whose parents were shot (Bruce Wayne) became Batman, his friend and ally. Blake becomes the new Batman as he realizes the structures of Gotham are ones he can’t work with and he sees the corruption that Gordon saw but chose to work within to change and Selina and Bruce transcend their past identities becoming fully free…off the radar and the map and free to be whatever they want to be. Batman becomes Bruce Wayne which can hold both identities and more. Alfred get’s his happy ending finding that Bruce found happiness too.

Okay: The Writing – There are awkward dialogue moments and some extremes that shouldn’t have been in here (Batman having no cartilage in his legs, and his “retirement”), but the strengths of the characters and other moments like any moment with Alfred or the fight with Bane elevate it. So I’m putting it as okay.

The Cons: Talia’s Death – This wasn’t done well. She didn’t have to say anything…we knew her father’s dream was done if the bomb went off.

Dialogue Moments – There are some awkward dialogue moments in this…for example in the finale fight as Batman and Bane stare awkwardly at each other. It is stilted, but once they get fighting it is fine. There are other moments of wooden dialogue too, luckily they are only moments and not consistent.

   This is a film that ends the Trilogy really well. Batman moves on and at the very least becomes International. This film captures the idea behind “Batman Inc.” in many ways as we see him abroad but setting things up for Blake to inherent the mantel of the Bat. Bruce Wayne is both Batman (fixing the Bat Light) and Bruce Wayne (his living openly abroad). This is something he never had in any of the past films. Bruce Wayne was only Batman in the past films as he was unable to live beyond his obsession. It is only in realizing that Gotham will always have problems and need protecting but that can happen and he can live too. He takes Alfred’s advice and stays true to himself. In that way Batman dies so that Bruce Wayne who inhabits both identities can rise and there is something beautiful in that. I get why people hate it, but our heroes shouldn’t stay static. Let Bruce Wayne grow as all characters should so he can be more than just the traumatized child lost in fear. Bruce Wayne deserves better than that and this Trilogy is his story, his growth, his rising.

Final Score: 9.9 / 10

Batman Forever (1995): A Bit Too Campy, A Cluttered Cast and Moments of Good

Batman Forever

   “Batman Forever” is okay. At moments it is fun and looks as if it could be more (whether fully embracing the dark or fully embracing the camp) but since it can’t really decide on what it wants to be it never becomes better than okay and never reaches good. One thing this film showed as well is doing Robin in a Batman Film is hard. Batman has always been the more interesting character and it is a difficult thing to write a good sidekick, especially when you only have a running time of 2 hours. So without further ado, here is the review.

     The film was directed by Joel Shumacher and written by Lee and Janet Scott Bachler along with Akiva Goldsman and was produced by Tim Burton and Peter MacGregor-Scott.

     The story involves the escape of Two-Face (Tommy Lee-Jones) from Arkham, the rise of the Riddler (Jim Carrey) and what Batman (Val Kilmer) and Robin (Chris O’Donnell) who is made an orphan by Two-Face do to stop them.

The Pros: The Color Contrasts – I like the use of color in this film. At times it feels like it was filmed in a comic book even though the cinematography isn’t great. The use of color worked despite the cinematography.

Two-Faces’s Goons – Black and Red masks…these guys look awesome and actually manage to be a threat sometimes, not many Rogues Goons can say that in any Batman film.

Alfred – Michael Gough owns this role and is great being the father figure to DIck Grayson and Bruce Wayne. I can see why they kept him around for so long. He really inhabits this role really well.

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Val Kilmer is a pro, and was a safe choice for Batman. He was a major action star at the time so choosing him to feel this role made sense. He bring humanity to the character even if doesn’t really elevate Bruce Wayne or Batman to great the way future and past actors did.

The Message – Batman heals beyond his trauma and chooses to be Batman because he wants to be, not because he has to be. This is really awesome and could have been presented a lot better.

Okay: Dr. Chase – I like the idea of the character (her being a Doctor and trying to help Bruce Wayne) but her execution ends up being nothing more than a love interest to be saved, even though she’s presented as being able to take care of herself. Nicole Kidman was a waste of talent.

Edward Nygma / The Riddler – Jim Carrey works at times when he isn’t over the top, but other times he is just too campy…and I didn’t get the character. He came off as trying to hard but he had moments of brilliance inbetween the ham, which is why I’m not putting him down as a con. He was alright but not good.

Harvey Dent / Two-Face – We never get to know what lead to Two-Face snapping beyond the acid on the face and I never believed in his friendship with Bruce Wayne (they seem to imply it existed but we never see Harvey recognize Bruce at all). This was a missed opportunity and could have made this character good. Instead he is okay. He like the Riddler could have been so much more, just like this film.

Cinematography – The color contrasts are great but their are no unique shots in this. Nothing stood out and nothing really unique was presented. It was safe, so just ended up being mediocre.

The Cons: Dick Grayson / Robin – This Robin is a punk and there is nothing likable about him. He steals from the person who took him and doesn’t respect the wishes of the person who is caring for him and steals his stuff. This was the first film where Robin didn’t work. At least in the Adam West show he worked as the Wonder Boy on some strange level.

The Riddler Plot – Stealing everyone’s intelligence through television…it feels like it is trying to be smart but just comes off as stupid.

To Kill – Batman seems to not want Robin to get revenge against Two-Face but ends up killing him anyway…sure Batman, what were you trying to teach Robin exactly? That you get the kill?

The Soundtrack – Elliot Goldenthal is awful. This film feels half assed and stolen from the old Adam West show while at the same time trying to be Burton and failing at both. Seriously, I don’t want to hear anymore of this music.

The Writing – This script has some of the most terrible and wooden dialogue in any comic book film. Fingers on a chalkboard would be an apt comparison.

Tone – This is a film that doesn’t know if it wasn’t to be  camp and fun or dark…at times we have old 60’s sound affects, which the score doesn’t help, yet we have Two-Face or Riddler murdering someone in the next scene. What exactly did the movie want the audience to feel?

   This film didn’t have many pros because so much of it was safe. I think this was largely a reaction to the sexuality and maturity in the past Burton films so the studio wanted to play it safe, which is probably why Shumacher was chosen, as he’s never been a good director. This also explains the need for 3 writers as it gives a written by committee feel to the film. This is a film that can’t find it’s soul or tone and suffers for it. It isn’t a terrible film, but mediocre is not exactly an endorsement. This is a film that could have been so much more given how great of villains Two-Face and the Riddler are and the possibilities in any Dick Grayon story.

Final Score: 7.2 / 10