Top 5 Characters in “Gotham”

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       With “Gotham” now at an end, I was thinking at how I best wanted to explore my thoughts on the series. First, I think it is a solid show well worth your time if you are a Batman fan, though it’s flaws kept it from being great. One thing that kept it good, even with the flaws was how memorable so many of the characters were. I’m a huge fan of Batman and his rogues gallery and this series brought some amazing interpretations of his allies and rogues to the screen. “Gotham” is a show that tells the story of Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne before Bruce Wayne becomes Batman. It is here we see one version of how his enemies came to be and what motivates Gordon and defines the city of Gotham. The series was created by Bruno Heller, and the fact that this list exists shows that at the end of the day, I did like this show.

The show wasn’t always the best, there were a few times I took a break during it’s run and to me the final was serviceable but nothing I’d praise. It just established what the show had been leading up to the entire time and didn’t do it in a unique way. I’m avoiding details for those who haven’t watched the finale yet. I want to avoid Final Season spoilers as this show makes it easy to talk about the broad strokes of what worked or didn’t.

For the weak characters, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Bruce and Selina for a long time. They eventually became okay. Ra’s al Ghul was wasted and given he is played by one of my favorite actors (Alexander Siddig) I held that against the show. The Al Ghul’s in general were wasted as was the League of Shadows. They were supposed to be this apocalyptic force but they never did much to the heroes of the story in big picture scheme of the show. For the few who did do something they almost always end up dead or useless by the end of their arcs. The gangsters like Carmine and Sofia Falcone stayed compelling during their runs but they also didn’t have the unique feel of the characters I’m going to give an honorary mentions too. Same goes for Theo / Azrael and his sister Tabitha / Tigress. They were interesting but weren’t fascinating enough for an honorary mention.

For my honorary mentions. Those go to Barbara and Jim Gordon, Harvey Bullock and Lee Thompkins to start. These were are complicated characters who often times fell on the side of the good. Also honorary mentions to Scarecrow and the Mad Hatter for being fascinating villains whose twisted mentality added to the show. None of these folks made the list but were a joy to watch and what kept the show interesting when my favorite characters weren’t getting exciting moments. Fish Mooney was also great and I enjoyed what they did with her over her run on the show. Zsasz also deserves a mention too. Whether he was working for a crime boss or on his own, he always had fun and was threatening in any situation they put him in.

How without further ado, here are my Top 5 Characters on “Gotham.”:

 

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5th Place – Alfred Pennyworth

Alfred is a character I wish we had gotten more time to know. I’m not the only one apparently since he is getting his own show in Fox called “Pennyworth.” This goes to show just how powerful Sean Pertwee’s performance was. Pertwee gave a hardness and empathy that I have rarely seen in how Alfred is written or potrayed on film. This was a man who was taking care of Bruce and fighting rogues throughout the entire season. Sometimes it would break him physically or emotionally, but he always came back. He had the compassion that Jim sometimes lost and he’d been through so much more with his time in the Special Forces of Great Britain. He also wasn’t a doormat for Bruce, when Bruce was a selfish teenager, he left. He left Bruce sort out himself but was always there to help, when Bruce was ready. The little scenes we get related to that past crystallize this Alfred as a wonderfully compelling badass. This Alfred understood the choice when Bruce was going vigilante, and even though he questioned he still supported him in the end. Some of the best scenes in this entire show came from Pertwee and I’m curious what “Pennyworth” is going to bring to the Lore of this show and the compelling character of Alfred Pennyworth.

 

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4th Place – Jerome and Jeremiah Valeska / The Jokers

“Gotham” took an approach to “The Joker” I haven’t seen before. For the character two brothers played by the same actor inhabited the role. We got Jerome Valeska’s origin in Season 1 with Jim Gordon and he was one of the main antagonists until he made his brother Jerome crazy later. Each them inhabits parts of the Joker lore. Jerome is more “New 52” (who had his face taken off and sewed back on) and is insanity who acted more on instinct and big events while his brother Jeremiah was more of the thinker. His brother Jeremiah thought big and is the one who we end up following until the end. This Joke has a a friendship with Bruce before Jerome drives him crazy and this gives depth to the craziness that comes later. As you can see I could not choose between the two and as they are both played by Cameron Monaghan. I feel that they deserve the tie. Each brings a different part of the lore to this character that is so essential to Batman’s lore. I also thought that the writer’s could have gone deeper, which is why neither of them are further up on the list. Cameron’s acting is great but at times they didn’t know what to do with this character and he rarely had season running arcs.

 

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3rd Place – Edward Nygma / The Riddler

Edward Nygma was a character I hated initially. He was all the aspects of the toxic creep and was presented as potentially redeemable for the longest time. It took him going full “Riddler” that really changed my perspective on him. It was in his role as the manipulator who wanted to make a name from it that made him compelling. “The Riddler” and Nygma contrast and them agreeing on being bad and devoting themselves to it is what made him a great villain. He had to go through Arkham to get there but when he came out it was his relationship with Penguin that added complexity, especially as his old toxic evil habits came back again. Cory Michael Smith brought so much nuance to this role and dual personalities that exist between Nygma and “The Riddler.” Even given this dichotomy though, he is always the villain and never does anything that doesn’t logically serve his own ends, but he will put his neck out for others and take risks for that core goal. We see this with Lee Thompkins and even Penguin a few brief times. His frenemy relationship with Penguin was one of my favorite things and whenever they found a working relationship, things were gold as “The Riddler” was the strategist while Penguin was willing to ruthlessly fight and kill for anything he desired. They were a dangerous duo and it was out of that relationship that “The Riddler” became one of my favorite characters.

 

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2nd Place – Doctor Hugo Strange

B.D. Wong’s version of Doctor Hugo Strange is the best version of this character I have seen thus far. The first time I appreciated Hugo Strange as a character was Gotham City as he was a manipulator pulling on the strings and winning through most of the story. He manages to trap Bruce Wayne in Arkham City in the game, which is a huge feat in and of itself. It was making him a minion in that story, which was the problem. Here is is often times serving people, but he always has a larger agenda at play or at least some level of survival to be himself beyond another’s aims. Throughout the entire series Strange was always one step ahead of foes and I can’t think of a time where he truly lost. Whomever was around would never kill him because he was far to useful and he’d use that to eventually outdo them or escape. This is the character who out of the 5 here has the least connection to Bruce Wayne, which makes me curious about what his relationship will be later to Batman, later in the lore post “Gotham.” “Regardless, “Gotham” is worth watching if only for the Doctor Hugo Strange episodes and B.D. Wong’s masterful performance. He brings in the insane mad scientist who has a familial bond with his creations and resurrections, as well as a ruthlessness of someone who in the end is doing everything to some greater unknown end.

 

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1st Place – Oswald Cobblepot / The Penguin

Robin Lord Taylor truly created the best version of “The Penguin” I have seen in any of the DC Lore. This is a Penguin who has been Mayor, been through Arkham, Blackgate and risen and fallen multiple times. Even with the rise and fall of this character, with those rises and falls over seasons came to define the best of “Gotham” for me. In this show we get to learn about Penguin’s father born of money who he ended up re-establishing a relationship with, only for his step-family to kill his father and further drive him to madness. This combined with betrayals throughout his many rises lead to Penguin becoming paranoid. This paranoia became one his defining traits along with his selfish petulant nature. How did this end up being appealing? Because those aspects of the character are always there but oftentimes he would choose courage or take a risk with an enemy and make them an ally. He does this with Ed after Ed tries to kill him and easily found compromises with the Mob and gangs when he wasn’t taking them over. For how obvious Cobblepot’s flaws are he knew how to use them. This is why he is my favorite character. Along with him being smart enough to know his foes, Robin Lord Taylor granted this character limited moments of empathy and sorrow that gave depth to the character that I have not seen in any show or movie for Penguin, nor read in any comic. This is why he is 1st Place on my Top 5 Character of “Gotham.”

For any fan of DC Comics this is a show worth checking out. I’d put it far above “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin.” There are better properties like Burton and Nolan, but this is an example of good adaptation. This series is better than “The New 52” animated Batman films that I reviewed years ago aren’t nearly as good at making their heroes as compelling or deep and their rogues are forgettable. This series is in no way perfect. Characters are brought back to life, plot lines are abandoned and sometimes there are arcs that only exist for the sake of love triangle dramas. Some of these choices worked and some didn’t, but at the end of the day I stuck around for the characters. These are the five characters who made the show worth watching in the end, and the reason I’d recommend this show to any Batman fan.

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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

 

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

Suicide Squad (2016): The DC Cinematic Universe Finally Discovers Fun

Suicide Squad poster

     Why couldn’t DC have given us a film like this sooner? This is a film that still is dark but shows that you can have fun and be dark, this is a film with a soul. It isn’t a great film by any stretch of the imagination but this is the fun that DC has needed for a very long time in their movies. This is the core reason, besides some great performances and characters that really make this a film worthy of checking out.

SPOILERS ahead

       “Suicide Squad” was directed and written by David Ayer and produced by Charles Roven and Richard Suckle.

      The film involves Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) putting together a group of meta-humans to work under the radar for the U.S. Government. Things go wrong though when one of the group, Enchantress (Carla Delevinge) rebels as well as the threat of the Joker (Jared Leto) who is seeking to save Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) from Waller and her organization.

The Pros: The Aesthetic – The aesthetic of this film is wonderful! This is a film of color contrasts where you have bright pinks, whites, red and purples with dark grey hues. Doing this ended up illustrating the personalities of our protagonists against the world they were a part of and reacted to.

The Tone – The tone is dark but there is humor that runs throughout it. This is a film that knows our heroes are crazy and broken so embraces it and lets them be themselves. This tone is a huge part of what makes this film work.

The Soundtrack – Steven Price did a great job choosing the songs for this album. We here Eminem, Queen and countless other songs that help capture the roaring crazy of our heroes and their world and situation.

The World – The world is a dark nihilistic world in which there are no heroes and a moral grey exists in all choices where there are less bad options but no good ones (Superman being celebrated for example I’d consider moral grey, he was never a hero to me in these last two films). Because of this it allows moral complexity to our protagonists and everyone’s shadow or light is revealed over the course of the film. There is good and bad that exist in all the characters in this film and no real villain besides Enchantress.

Amanda Waller – Viola Davis is amazing as Waller. She puts the Squad in line on multiple occasions and we never see her really break. She also manages to blackmail Batman into covering up her Squad’s operation and she doesn’t bat an eye when he threatens her. She knows she is the one who breaks people for the greater ends and we see that so many times in this film.

Bruce Wayne/Batman – Batman is the reason Deadshot and Harley are in prison as Batman saved Harley from drowning when her and the Joker were on a rampage and Waller gave Batman a tip to take out Deadshot when he was around. The after credits scene was him and Waller making a deal with him getting more info on the Justice League in return for him covering up the events of the film. Ben Affleck really is great in this role.

The Joker – Leto’s Joker isn’t scary, he’s a lot of fun though. The man is a high energy gangster who is all about Harley and ruling over the gangs of Gotham. In this film his soul goal is the rescuing of Harley and it ends with him succeeding. Can’t wait to see him in action again against this world’s “Heroes.”

The Squad – The chemistry between the Squad is what really drives the film. If they had no chemistry this film wouldn’t have worked and would have been a throwaway rental rather than the good film that it is.

Captain Boomerang – Jai Courtney can act! After some of his past performances I didn’t think he could since he comes off as so bland. As Boomerang he is wonderful though as he fights and trolls everyone around him but shows that he can step up for others as we witness in the final fight.

Kantana – Kantana has the Sword of Souls that holds her husband’s as she took it from the man who killed him with it and has been avenging him since. She is awesome and I wanted to see more of her character. She is the serious character contrasted by the more laid back nature that everyone else has.

El Diablo – A gangster who accidentally killed his family with his fire power and is redeemed when he uses his power to stop the villains and save the team. I liked him and felt he should have had more interactions with the team before the end.

Killer Croc – Croc is amazing and my favorite character in this film besides Waller, Joker and Harley. He is fun, comfortable in who he is and shows he has humanity and that rejection by people won’t stop him from helping them.

Deadshot – Will Smith was alright…Deadshot having a daughter humanized him and his humor worked. At times it was hard to see Deadshot since it felt like the celebrity of Will Smith melted through but other times it was clearly Smith’s version of Deadshot so I have to respect him for that. He had great chemistry with those around him and Smith’s Deadshot never stopped being an anti-hero.

Harley Quinn – Margot Robbie owned this role! Also I have to say, I’ve wanted to see live action Harley on film for a long time. Margot owns this role and I hope she gets her spinoff film. In this we see her agency in regards to the Joker with the implication that the two of them have always been broken and that’s why there is something strange between them. Can’t wait to see where her story goes after Joker broke her out at the end! The Squad was like family to her, now we’ll see if that was all words and wanting someone since she thought Mr. J was dead or if she actually meant it.

Okay: Col. Flagg – Bland protagonist overall but I like that he kept threatening the crazies. He was a person who wanted control and could never be Waller so in the end lost control and was part of the Squad.

Enchantress – A Gozeresque villain who does a lot of damage and could have been a lot more. Her “Ring” Witch form is great and I liked her in the final fight, but her motivation was weak. Everyone wants to rule the world…give us more…

The Cons: The Government – Faceless agents except for Waller. This was a missed opportunity since we could have seen more people than Waller who have valid reasons to question and be against the Justice League.

Slipknot – Shows up and has his head blown off. No character at all.

Slow Motion Action – I hate slowing down fights, this slowdown almost ruined the final fight which had been fine prior. There is no reason to do this and it is stupid almost every single time it is used.

Too Much Tell Not Enough Show – We get a lot of backstories told to us that should have been shown in character interaction not Waller or someone else telling us the backstory. The Squad’s chemistry could have easily revealed those stories naturally.

    At the end of the day this was a good film that I would recommend. DC finally discovered these things called jokes and fun and actually managed to use them! See Snyder, these aren’t alien concepts! I didn’t like Ayer’s bullet time stuff but he did a good job of choosing this cast and letting their natural chemistry flow through the sometimes stilted dialogue. This is a flawed film but it is a film I’d watch again if only for the soundtrack and all the scenes with Joker, Harley, Killer Croc and Amanda Waller. DC, pay attention to this film, don’t lose the ability to laugh at yourself and have fun. The Suicide Squad new this and in the end it was part of the reason I cared about what happened to them. Ayer has finally brought humor and heart to a franchise that has desperately needed it.

Final Score: 8.2 / 10

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

Batman: Assault on Arkham (2014) – An Underutilized Waller and Suicide Squad

Assault on Arkham

    So many of these DC films have potential. The “Arkham” Games are a great series that manage to explore the Universe in such a way that villains feel respected and like a threat versus in this they feel mostly small time or not wholly their own characters and underutilized, which is shame as this is a Suicide Squad film, one of the most fascinating groups in the DC Universe in one of the greatest Game Universes. This film still manages to be alright, but Amanda Waller and her threat feels like missed potential, you have a problem.

     “Batman: Assault on Arkham” was directed by Jay Oliva and Ethan Spaulding and written by Heath Corson and produced by James Tucker.

    The films involves Amanda Waller (C.C.H. Pounder) bringing together the Suicide Squad to infiltrate Arkham Asylum to get information held in the Riddler’s Staff. The team must deal with the threats of each other and Batman (Kevin Conroy) who is tracking them.

The Pros: The Animation – WB and DC animation do a good job with this. It captures some of the feel of the games, even if the animation is a bit more like that of the other current DC Animated films, but it still has enough character for me to make it a pro.

The Suicide Squad – They are underutilized overall but I like the idea and how some of the characters are handled.

King Shark – This guy is the Killer Croc of the team and is a lot of fun! He’s a cannibal but he falls in love with Killer Frost and she kind of does too, their relationship is adorable as this is the guy who wants to eat any enemies he comes into contact with. His design is funny and threatening too as he has a bit fin on his head and a metal mouth.

Killer Frost – Killer Frost is Waller’s agent who was sent to kill the Riddler since he broke away from Waller’s control. She never stops serving Waller and has good moments with the characters given that none of them can trust her.

Harley Quinn – Harley is very much the Harley of the games and sadly has an identity only as the Joker’s girlfriend in the end. She sleeps with Deadshot and tries to kill the Joker once before becoming old Harley again. I was hoping they’d do something more with her character but since this is a prequel and in the games she’s weak, of course they went this way. She’s still a pro though since it is great seeing Harley even if she isn’t used fully, in action.

The Riddler – Riddler is small character but his conversations with Waller and Killer Frost are great. This is a character who is all about the puzzles and they capture that decently here.

Amanda Waller – Waller should have been so much more badass. She was voiced by the actress whose voiced her in the Justice League (C.C.H. Pounder) and she’s amazing. Sadly here all her plans don’t end up going well and she isn’t shown to be a good villain this is a shame as she starts strong by killing KGBeast and Frost’s betrayal.

Joker – Joker breaks out during the Suicide Squad assault when Harley tries to kill him but it makes it so he can escape. He’s good but doesn’t do anything super memorable. He survives the impossible but his plan isn’t all that deep or funny…so he was good but not great.

Batman – Kevin Conroy voices Batman! To me he’ll always be the best Batman (the one in Season 1 of “Batman: The Animated Series,” and in this we see his detective work as he figures out where Joker’s bomb is and what the Suicide Squad and Waller are up too. He solves everything so it is good Batman, though I wish he’d lost this one.

Okay: Black Spider – Ninja on Suicide Squad who dies fast, at least his clash with Deadshot was interesting but brief.

Deadshot – The guy has a daughter and is presented as a rogue Mercenary. He wins every situation though and is the main character of everything. He was the definition of a Gary Stu/Mary Sue. He had no real weaknesses. He was okay at least, but not good.

The Cons: kGBeast – Waller blows off his head. He is just kind of there.

Boomerang – This guy is annoying, he seems to only exist to clash with Deadshot and is a punk. So surprised this guy wasn’t the one they chose to kill off. He seems to only exist to make Deadshot look good by comparison.

The Ending – Waller doesn’t win and Deadshot is targeting her with his Sniper Rifle…I never wanted to root for Deadshot, i was rooting for Waller and Harley…this was annoying and ruined what could have been a great dark film showing the danger of Waller.

    For a film that features the Suicide Squad I was hoping they’d actually win. It is okay for Batman to lose sometimes but it implies he doesn’t since Deadshot does what Batman can’t and even if he doesn’t kill Amanda Waller, at least defangs her a for a while. This is a shame as even within the games her organization was a perpetual threat behind the scenes, it is hard to take the threat seriously after this, Batman will just solve it on his own. There were some good things in this though…Harley Quinn and the Joker for one as well as C.C.H. Pounder returning to voice Waller, she had some great moments in the beginning even if they failed to have it payoff.

Final Score: 7.6 / 10

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 believes 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 those 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