Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) – Classic Rivals and the Timelessness of Batman

Batman Beyond Return of the Joker

   “Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker” still holds up. It isn’t as good as I remembered it being, but it is still easily a favorite and does some really creative stuff with the Bat Family, seriously…this blows the modern day DC Animated Films out of the water. There simply isn’t a comparison in quality and storytelling and I think most of that credit goes to Bruce Timm who managed to make Superman interesting enough to receive an entire Animated Series and to have created two successful renditions of the Justice League…outside of creating the best Batman on screen.

    The film was directed by Curt Geda and written by Paul Dini (though Bruce Timm and Glen Murakami wrote the story too) and produced by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm and Glen Murakami.

     The story takes place in the universe of “Batman Beyond” which takes place years into the future where Bruce Wayne (Kevin Conroy) has become an adviser and mentor to the new Batman Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle)  in Future Gotham. When the Joker (Mark Hamill) resurfaces after being dead for 35 years it is up to Terry to solve the mystery and discover the dark secret of why Batman was working alone when he found him.

The Pros: The World – The world of Future Gotham is fantastic! A new Batman, Barbara as the new police commissioner and the use of future tech in gang warfare are fascinating. As much as Gotham has changed, it has also stayed the same…which is fitting.

The Animation – This is WB animation with Bruce Timm at the helm and it rocks! The animation is unique and has a simple yet beautiful style to it. Each character looks distinct and Gotham looks like a true future city.

The Characters – The characters are why we’re here. They drive the story and it is that core drama between Bruce Wayne and the Joker and his drama with the Bat Family old and new. These core relationships drive the story.

The Jokerz – The Jokers are awesome and Dee-Dee are twins that are grandaughters of Harley Quinn, carrying on her legacy in their own way. They have cool look with a ghoul looking guy, a fat clown in a mask, a Scarecrow type and a man with Hyena blood spliced into him.

Harley Quinn – Harley is a messed up character who seems to have grown up by the end. She is one of the tormentors of Robin and takes part in the abuse and torture Joker puts on the populace, but when we see her as an old woman she regrets it all. She’s done and just wants to take care of her family. She healed from the trauma the Joker did to her, which is powerful.

Tim Drake / Robin –  Tim Drake is the last Robin in the Batman Universe and we learn why in this as he is tortured and turned into Little J by the Joker and Harley. After he is rescued and kills the Joker he is left with the trauma and scars that Barbara helps him through. Joker still won to some degree though as the micro-chip the Joker installed on him leads to the Joker taking control of him until Terry McGinnis can rescue him. In the end Bruce reaches out and expresses how lucky he is know Tim.

Barbara Gordon / Batgirl – Barbara is the one taking care of everyone as she is mature enough to deal with her trauma and others’ trauma (unlike Bruce Wayne). It is thanks to her that Terry finds out that Tim is the Joker and from there how to stop him. She really is an awesome character!

The Joker – Hamill is back as the Joker in the past (when he dies) and the future with his technology rebirth! He is such a great villain. He not only broke Harley making her a villain but broke Tim almost making him another villain and breaking him enough that Tim killed him the first time. This isn’t the end though, he destroys the Batcave, Wayne Manor, Laugh Gasses Bruce and a good portion of Gotham with a lazer. Seriously, not a single Joker compares to this besides Ledger’s in “The Dark Knight.”

Bruce Wayne / Batman – Bruce deals with his trauma finally and we see him begin to heal as he faces the fact that he cut himself off from everyone, but thanks to Terry he begins to heal things with Tim and Barbara bringing the Bat Family back together again.

Terry McGinnis / Batman – Terry is the glue and the main driving force as we see him dealing with being both Terry and Batman and in the end finds he is Terry as Batman, not the other way around as he defeats the Joker not by being Bruce but by mocking him  and being himself and forcing the Joker to be stupid and tricking him. Terry is an amazing Batman and I’m glad he’s official canon now. He’s a Batman I’d like to see in live action films. This film shows why. He’s a punk who grew up and now does everything he can to help others.

Tim Drake’s Story and the Death of the Joker – This incident is why Bruce went loner. Tim kills the Joker breaking the rule and lives with the guilt from that only for Joker to win anyway…Not only did Joker destroy the Bat Family, he lived on from the trauma caused by that day. There is reason he is one of the greatest villains of all time.

Timeless Batman – Batman can work in any environment or world and it doesn’t have to be Bruce. This film showed as much, Terry has his own darkness as Bruce does but unlike the Joker it doesn’t define them and it is their classic rivalry against what the Joker represents in chaos that really makes Batman timeless. All of Bruce Timm’s Batman work shows as much as he explores the Batman of the future in Terry McGinnis and in the past in Bruce Wayne. Batman is about overcoming your demons and  using that to help others and that is what they do.

Okay: Side Characters – Dana and Bruce Wayne’s rival and Terry’s family are just kind of there. They exist in relationship to Terry and Bruce and don’t feel like full characters. They are good for their function in the script but could have been more…this movie should have been longer.

The Soundtrack – It is quite at times and besides the Beyond opening theme isn’t all that great. It works but it isn’t a pro.

  This is a film well worth your time if you are a fan of Batman. Bruce Timm and this world were a world I grew up watching and it holds up stronger to this day. Seriously, this film blows all of the “New 52” films out of the water. You get to know the characters, no characters are unstoppable and the flaws of characters are on display always.  The world of Gotham feels lived and there is so much history which you’d come to know from this film even if you’d never watched “Batman: The Animated Series” or “Batman Beyond.” This film stands on its own and is one of the darker films in the Universe that still manages to hold a place for healing and hope for the characters. If you get the chance, check it out!

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

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Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 2, Episodes 12-14 – “Duchess of Mandalore Arc” – Shades of Grey and Power Plays

Satine-MemorialShrine

      The “Duchess of Mandalore arc” is awesome! In this we explore the conflict of neutrality during wartime as well as the benefits and disadvantages of a warrior or pacifistic philosophy as both the Duchess Satine and Death Watch leader Viszla both have reason to believe what they do as sovereignty is the primary theme of this arc and how different factions seek to use that to their own benefit and make Mandalore a pawn.

    “The Mandalore Plot” was directed by Kyle Dunlevy and written by Melinda Hsu and Drew Z. Greenberg, “Voyage of Temptation” was directed by Brain Kalin O’Connell and written by Paul Dini and Henry Gilroy and “Duchess of Mandalore” was directed by Brain Kalin O’Connell and written by Drew Z. Greenberg and Brian Larsen.

     The story involves Obi-Wan arriving at Mandalore to investigate the terrorist group Death Watch who rumor has is being controlled by his past lover Duchess Satine. He soon discovers they are false rumors and when the Death Watch leader Viszla is revealed he must protect Satine as she advocates for Mandalore to deal with it’s own affairs and not have an occupation done by Republic Forces. She is later framed for the death of a Mandalorian and must reveal the truth of the recording of her Prime Minister to the Senate that speaks for Mandalorian Sovereignty that was doctored to present that as not being the case.

The Pros: “Duchess of Mandalore” – “Duchess of Mandalore” was my favorite episode in the arc as we got to see Viszla in action see Palpatine working actively against Satine so that Republic forces would have reason to occupy Mandalore (and in turn later the Empire) and how she and Obi-Wan navigate the political minefield using Padme to save Mandalore’s sovereignty, though it doesn’t solve the problem of Death Watch or how Death Watch is out of Satine’s control unless she gives up her pacifism. It’s a powerful plot. 10 / 10

Death Watch – Death Watch is a hyper-nationalist organization that wants to restore Mandalore to it’s former strength that it had in the Old Republic as an Empire. Viszla even wields an ancient Mandalore saber that can counter lightsabers. They are a small and powerful organization that has sympathy among the populace as Satine cannot protect them from the Separatist and just neutralized the Republic.

Mandalore – Mandalore is a once warrior nation that now is a primarily a trading world but it still carries it’s warrior roots through Death Watch and the Civil War it experienced prior. It is a beautiful world too and has a classic feeling to it, it captures both ancient mixed with modern with expresses the Mandalorian people really well.

Pre Viszla – Viszla has his own government on the moon where the losers of the Civil War were sent who aren’t pacifists. Unsurprisingly he is sympathetic and a leader of the populace he rules and because of that seeks to empower them as the current Mandalore is vulnerable to outside threats. Minus the hyper-nationalism he is an issue that Satine has not dealt with and his perspective is never dealt the justice it deserves as Mandalore needing an army to protect it’s sovereignty.

Count Dooku – Dooku is the one who sees the big picture and warns Viszla to wait when the assassin fails to kill Satine. He is a player of a long game of making Mandalore another faction that the Separatists control and it is his cool head even after failing Palpatine that make possible that Death Watch will be around for a long time to come.

Palpatine – Palpatine is a smart manipulator in this and would have succeeded if the Assassin had killed Satine. His end goal is control of Mandalore via Republic troops and he has reason to send them as the Separatists are a threat and Mandalore has no defensive force outside of Death Watch which it doesn’t see as representing it to the other governments. Even though his plan does not succeed he never lets on or breaks character with Satine or the Jedi that he was behind any of it. He is truly the Emperor for a reason.

Duchess Satine – Satine is an idealist and dreamer and the events of this arc change that in some ways. She still stands for sovereignty of her world and no involvement of outside troops but she is willing to defend herself. She explores her past with Obi-Wan and confesses that she loves him but afterword they are both so proper and don’t want to risk their friendship as Obi-Wan would never betray his Jedi vows. She respects that though and his call for defense while she calls for pacifism. She is also a nationalist and stands for her people regardless of the cost.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Obi-Wan deals with his romantic interest Satine and we see that though he is committed to Satine he would have given it up when he was a Padawan if she had asked. It’s a great character moment that reveals the humanity in Obi-Wan as well as the fact that he is so committed to the Jedi Code because of that loss. The Code and his being a Jedi is all he has so he can be no closer to anyone beyond as a friend, but he stands with her and helps stop Death Watch’s plot.

Anakin Skywalker – Skywalker is getting closer to the darkside and Darth Vader as we see him justify the occupation of Mandalore since Death Watch is out of Satine’s control, we see him kill the Senate Separatist Spy when Satine and Obi-Wan are unable to do so and we see he doesn’t think about it at all. Killing someone is nothing to him as the ‘Imperial March’ plays. This show really does show Anakin’s descent really well. It starts with taking life for granted and he never lets up on that as the ends of protecting others are always the drive behind it, and it’s hard not to see the times he has taken that choice on the show as wrong, questionable for sure…but not wrong.

A Matter of Sovereignty – Sovereignty is a major theme this episode and the different ways it is sought. For Satine it is not involving outside power, while for Viszla it does involve outside power and a strong military to defend against threats. Neither side is wrong and that is what is debated this episode as we know that the Empire will destroy Sovereignty later while the Separatists may do that sometimes now, but not always. Does Sovereignty involve military strong power or diplomatic soft power, for me the answer is both are needed though the episode falls on soft power primarily as Satine is a pacifist. What this debate means for Mandalore still remains to be seen, the Republic and Separatists aren’t involved yet, but the war is far from over.

Okay: Romantic Potential – The romance feels more realistic than Padme and Anakin but that isn’t saying much. There back story of having to depend on one another for survival when they were younger was really cool and they do have good chemistry but I wanted to see more warmth between them, we only got moments of that.

The Assassin – The Assassin was awesome! He kills a Mandalore informant who passes the real info of the Prime Minister’s recording to Satine and dies in the process and he escapes every attempt at capture and manages to hold his own against Obi-Wan and Satine. We never learn more about the individual and I wish he’d done more damage but he was okay.

    This was a powerful arc, with “Duchess of Mandalore” being a personal favorite of mine as it establishes that Death Watch is not out of the game yet and also that Mandalore is alone for better and for worse to deal with it’s own problems. There is so much potential here as I don’t believe Satine is in control, her almost getting arrested is going to look bad in the public eye, not to mention the death of her Prime Minister. She has no control over Death Watch and they still control a lot of the narrative. This is something the episode doesn’t fully deal with and why I don’t consider this a victory for Satine. There was no middle ground of Republic help which could have stopped Death Watch, while now they have time to recruit and to grow.

Final Score: 9.8 / 10.

Mandalorian_TCW

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 2, Episodes 1-3 – “Children of the Force Arc” – The Sith Agenda and the Amazingness of Cad Bane

Sidious_hiring_Bane

     “The Children of the Force Arc” does two great things that we haven’t seen before. We get to see more of Sidious’s long term agenda for the galaxy and his quest for Acolytes and are introduced to Cad Bane, one of the coolest Bounty Hunters and one of the best antagonists in the series so far outside of Count Dooku and Ventress.

     “Holocron Heist” was directed by Justin Ridge and written by Paul Dini. “Cargo of Doom” was directed by Rob Coleman and written by George Kristic and Scott Murphy and “Children of the Force” which was directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell and written by Henry Gilroy and Wendy Meracle.

   The story involves Darth Sidious hiring out Bane to capture a Holocron and Kyber Crystal that will allow him to find all the Force Sensitive children in the Galaxy in order to make an order of Acolytes to serve him. From here Anakin and Ahsoka work on capturing Bane but don’t succeed in doing so until after he’s already started capturing children. From here the Jedi seek to find where they are in order to stop the plot as Bane plots his escape.

The Pros: The Premise – I like that everything that is done and secret, the first episode is heist and it never lets up from that since Bane is a bounty hunter and he has know help beyond those who he uses so he depends on deception to defeat his enemies who far outnumber him. The antagonist having high stakes against him and him rising to the challenge and defeating the protagonists multiple times in creative means make him compelling and gives tensions to the story.

Ahsoka – Ahsoka is driven by revenge a lot in this one and it costs her when Bane uses her to get Anakin to open the Holocron. She learns from the experience though and is the one who captures Bane when he goes undercover as a Clone Trooper to make his escape after Anakin and Ahsoka destroyed the ships Gunray gave him.

The Sith Agenda – The Sith plan is to turn the Force Sensitive children into slaves that can be used as weapons. In this you see just how great Sidious’s disregard for life is. He is fast too and quickly destroys the data on Mustafar so the Jedi won’t learn of his existence. We see him play Anakin at one point too when Anakin suspects someone is behind Dooku pulling the strings.

Anakin Skywalker – Anakin shows that he will risk all for an individual and helps Sidious by his attachment to Ahsoka. She begs him not to help but Anakin is so afraid to lose others he will go to any means to save the ones he loves. Whether it is torturing Bane or risking important information and his life for his Padawan.

The Space Battle Against Cad Bane – Anakin drops three walkers on the ship and begins tearing it apart as Bane puts his ship on self destruct and uses the many Republic troops around as his means to escape and to cause chaos, as well as to capture Ahsoka. It is brilliant and you see how smart he is and how Anakin’s recklessness makes him unpredictable and dangerous as an enemy.

Darth Sidious – This guy is evil, smart and a genius. He is planning far enough ahead that he’ll have pawns after the war and is so good at covering his tracks no one even knows he exists. It is brilliant that Palpatine manages to do all of this and control the Republic through legal means.

Cad Bane – Bane is one of my favorite antagonist. We see him dress like a Jedi once to capture the Holocron, hold Ahsoka hostage when he looked defeated and escape from Obi-Wan and Mace Windu when he took them to his base after they were inside of his head. He is a worthy opponent and I hope he survives the series. This villain is fantastic. He is true to his deals, is brutal and cares nothing for life and has a sense of humor about it too.

    This was a great arc and all the episodes are really solid. We have great antagonists at work who at different points are the underdogs and have the strengths of our heroes used against them. This creates a masterful story in which Cad Bane is still out there to fulfill whatever his agenda is, which at this point probably includes Revenge against the Jedi.

Final Score: 10 / 10.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 1, Episode 9 – “Cloak of Darkness” – The Threat of Ventress

Cloak of Darkness

    “Cloak of Darkness” is a great episode and definitely a favorite. We get some development of minor characters and we get to see just how dangerous and awesome Ventress is! As well as just how influential the Separatist is within the Republic.

    The episode was directed by Dave Filoni and written by Paul Dini.

    The story begins with Master Luminara and Ahsoka delivering Nute Gunray for trial when Dooku sends Ventress after to save or kill Gunray. From here we see her plan unfold as Luminara and Ahsoka try to handle the threat and hold onto their hostage.

The Pros: The Action – The action in this episode is fantastic! We see Ventress fight Luminara and Ahsoka in some wonderfully dark locations that put her assassin skills to use and the assault starting out with a drop of Super Battle Droids to give Ventress the distraction she needs.

Faro Argyus – Is a member of the Senate Commandos and a Separatist spy as he helps Gunray escape due to the reward that Dooku offered him. Sadly he ends up dead as Ventress kills him. I wanted to see more with this character as so far the betrayers tend to have complex reasons for doing what they do be they Clone Troopers that change sides or Faro.

Nute Gunray – Gunray is all about survival and he’s honest about it. In this way he is compelling because he knows he is a coward but he knows he is valuable due to his assets and money. This makes the fight to get control of him all the more compelling because what he offers and represents is compelling.

Master Luminara – Luminara is over confident and believes she can take Ventress on on her own. This ends her being injured and Ventress’s eventual escape with Gunray. She’s aware she messed up though and is grateful to Ahsoka for saving her and recognizes she was right about the threat of Ventress.

Ahsoka – Ahsoka is good in this, we see her great at stalling Ventress and being harsh to Gunray to get him to negotiate. She gets it after Anakin most likely and we see how anti-Jedi she is in some of her practices as Luminara calls her out for her cruelty and fear. In the end they respect one another though as Ahsoka’s past experience with Ventress gives her a better understanding of the threat.

Ventress – Sidious sees Ventress as a failure for the Separatist losses early in the timeline will Dooku’s faith is shown to be well placed. Ventress at her core is an assassin and that is how she works best, when she has specific targets and can cause chaos and doesn’t have to worry about negotiations. We see how cruel she is to as she kills Faro out of spite and for his pride.

    This episode was great at showing just how Sithlike Ventress is and how great she is as a Separatist agent. Already in the series she has two victories to her name against major characters while Grievous has none and has ended each running away. She is the compelling antagonist and I can’t wait to see what the series does with her.

Final Score: 10 / 10.