Tag Archives: DCU

Batman: Assault On Arkham

Batman-Assault-on-ArkhamOver the past 6-7 years, Warner Brothers and DC have done a great job in making and releasing direct-to-video animated movies.  In most cases, they have done so well that fans often are left wondering why they can’t have the same success on the big screen.  Assault On Arkham is the latest entry in the animated DCU, and, much like its title, it packs a punch.

Assault is based on the Batman universe created for the Arkham Asylum/Arkham City video games.  It is also the first Batman animated movie to not be based on events already published since Batman: Gotham Knight.  While Batman is in the title and figures into the movie, it is really about the Suicide Squad.  For those not familiar with the Squad, it is a grouping of some of the more popular villains that can do some good every now and then.  The Squad gets its missions from Amanda Waller, only person not in prison that is not afraid of Batman.  For each mission, the objective is simple: get what Waller wants, or die trying.  That last option includes her remote-detonating bombs that have been implanted.  In this movie, the Squad is to infiltrate Arkham, recover something the Riddler has hidden, and then bring it back.  There is a subplot of Batman looking for a hidden nuclear bomb made by the Joker, as well as another subplot relating to Harley Quinn and her “sweet Puddin”.

Much like the video game, there is plenty of action.  Make no mistake: this movie is rated PG-13, and I feel it is a hard PG-13.  Unlike most DCU animated movies, the body count is high and the bloodshed is shown on-screen.  As I watched this, I couldn’t help but think about an episode of Kevin Smith’s podcast, “Fat Man on Batman”, where he was doing a “live” commentary of Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker with Paul Dini.  During that podcast, it was discussed how WB was reluctant to release the first version because it involved shooting someone on-screen.  Of course that was 14 years ago, and Warners has changed.  The other jarring thing that makes this a hard PG-13 is the partial nudity displayed by Harley and Killer Frost.  Now don’t get that excited – both were from the back, but Harley was more exposed and hers led into a sex scene.  While Frost’s reasons made sense, Harley’s scene felt gratuitous.

The voice work was ok.  Kevin Conroy was excellent as usual, as was the use of CCH Pounder in reprising her Justice League/JL Unlimited role of Amanda Waller.  John DiMaggio was wasted as King Shark, when had done so well as Joker in Under The Red Hood.  When you have the guy who got great reviews while being compared to Mark Hamill for the Joker, then YOU USE HIM AGAIN.  Instead they went with someone else that did ok.  The new person doing Harley was fairly decent, but felt like she was impersonating Tara Strong – if she reprises this role again, she should change it enough to make it unique from Tara.  That is what Tara did to differentiate herself from Arleen Sorkin.  All of the other vocal performances were serviceable, but none really stood out.

The Blu-Ray comes with the following features:

  • Digital copy
  • DVD version
  • Commentary track
  • Making-of featurette
  • Sneak peek at next feature to be released (Justice League: Throne of Atlantis)
  • Harley Quinn featurette
  • 4 bonus cartoons
  • Best Buy exclusive: plastic Harley Quinn figure

My Advice:  If you just want action/violence with a thin semblance of story wrapped in the guise of the Batman world, then have at it.  This is definitely not for kids under age 13 due to the violent deaths.  I just wish they had spent more time developing a better story that would have made us care as to why we are watching this.  While I have included the trailer below, notice that it acts like the violence will be about the same level as the other movies.

Batma: Assault On Arkham Official Trailer from Warner Brothers and DC Comics

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 & 2

Settle in for a long read, faithful TAM readers.  This is not going to be your average review, and there will be several plot points discussed…

The Dark Knight Returns (TDKR) pulls its story from the groundbreaking mini-series created by Frank Miller in 1986.  1986 was an interesting time for the world and the United States.  It was the height of the Cold War, and groups of Americans still had distrust for the government after the handling of Vietnam.  The wide-eyed, “Leave it to Beaver” innocence of the 50’s no longer existed as more and more people grew cynical about everything.  That cynicism started to bleed over into television, movies, music, and books.  Comics seemed to be the last refuge for those that wanted to believe that heroes would always do the right thing and were above reproach.

Then DC Comics did the unexpected by allowing Frank Miller and Alan Moore to publish dark tales of heroes.  Alan Moore presented The Watchmen, using characters that seemed to be clones of DC icons.  Since it did not contain any of the mainstream heroes, The Watchmen was seen as its own universe, one that did not mirror the current US, and seemed a bit extreme.

Dark_knight_returns

Frank Miller’s tale caught everyone off-guard for several reasons.  Most people my age grew up on the live-action TV show and the cheesy Saturday morning cartoons.  These formats gave us a Batman that was as much a Boy Scout as Superman is often referred to as being.  A dark and sinister Batman that could intimidate everyone was something new that reminded us of how much we liked another dark-caped fictional character, Darth Vader.  TDKR also gave us a different view of Superman, one of someone who is physically impressive, but may not be as strong as Bats in the brains department.  We were also unsure as to how to react to the fact that Bats was hated by the police and the US government.  Finally, we were not prepared for the amount of real violence depicted in Miller’s tale, perpetuated by both heroes and villains.

What followed after publication was the inevitable maturing of Batman as an icon.  The regular series took the reception of the mini-series as an indicator that the reading audience wanted a darker, grittier Batman.  Tim Burton used the dark, brooding icon as the basis for his vision of Batman on film.  He even references Miller’s book by mentioning a conflict in Corto Maltese, a significant location in TDKR.  The Batman most people love today has his roots more in Frank Miller’s creation than in Bob Kane’s original ideas.

Ok, enough about the comic book – this is supposed to be a movie review.

DC and Warner Brothers made the smart decision to split the story into 2 movies.  Normally, I hate this; however, by doing so, Warner’s was able to give us the entire story on-screen with little left out.  The comic mini-series was 4 issues; the movies were set up to do two issues per movie.  The overall animation is good and Andrea Romano does well with voice-casting.  She does not rely on her usual go-to Batman/Joker team of Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill.  Instead she uses Peter Weller of Robocop (nice 80’s pop culture nod) and Michael Emerson.

391555_172302782904441_562469005_n

Part 1 shows us a Gotham City without Batman.  He has been “retired” for 10 years, leaving matters in Commissioner Gordon’s hands.  Most of Bats’s Rogues Gallery are locked up and show no sign of wanting to escape.  The first story arc deals with Harvey Dent going through plastic surgery to repair his mangled face and being released.  Soon a crime wave hits, Bats comes out of retirement, and it is soon discovered that there is no plastic surgery that can heal mental scarring.  Meanwhile, an undercurrent of unrest is flowing through Gotham thanks to a gang called the Mutants.  It also does not help things that the Joker’s shrink is going on TV and blaming Batman for creating all of the whackos.  One person who believes in Batman and wants to help is young Carrie Kelley.

Let’s pause for a moment and delve back into comics history.  In what seems like a throwaway scene in TDKR, one of the reasons given for Batman’s retirement is the death of Jason Todd, the vilified second Robin.  This scene is complete with a view of a memorial case with Jason’s uniform.  TDKR came out in 1986; does everyone remember what happened in 1988?  That’s right – DC killed off Jason Todd (oops, I mean “the public killed off Jason Todd by calling the phone number that said kill him”).  Given the unpopularity of Jason Todd, one can easily surmise that DC noted the public’s acceptance of Jason’s death in TDKR as clearance to kill him off in the main continuity.

277323_192894050845314_1096325202_o

Now back to the movie.  Carrie Kelley convinces Batman into keeping her as Robin after she helps him in escaping from his failed first encounter with the Mutants.  Even though he knows the risk of introducing another Robin, Batman also realizes he needs her help.  With that, he is able to defeat the Mutant leader and reestablish dominance over Gotham City.

That brings us to the end of Part 1.  On to Part 2…..

478224_216941005107285_1565610036_o

This is the part of Miller’s story that took everything we believed about Batman and turned it upside down.  Creating a story of this magnitude and not including the Joker would be like planning a Super Bowl party and not including the Super Bowl.  It just doesn’t happen.  While Joker’s homicidal tendencies had always been referenced, previous incarnations of Batman had always stopped the plans before anyone died.  Not true here – with every life Joker takes in TDKR, Batman relives the horror of his parents’ own deaths at the hands of a robber.  We don’t just see someone die – we see multiple people suffocate or carelessly shot by Joker as he walks along.  However, the most terrifying part is seeing how close Batman comes to breaking his one unbreakable rule of not killing.  Even then, it is questionable regarding Joker’s demise.  While Joker does the final act, it is Batman who makes it possible with little effort from anyone else.  What is not focused on, is how Robin ends up taking a life while trying to save hers.  All of this leads up to final story arc of Superman versus Batman.

If you saw Pulp Fiction, then you might remember the scene where Mia Wallace asks Johnny Vega if he is a Beatles man or an Elvis man.  She goes on to explain how you can appreciate both, but deep down you like one or the other more.  The same is true for comics.  More than any two other heroes from any publishing company, people most identify themselves as a Superman fan or a Batman fan.  In case you could not tell, I am in Bats’s cave.  Given the popularity of both, it has been a constant debate as to who would win in a fight between the two.  Miller makes every fan-boy happy by giving us that fight.  Neither hero survives unscathed, with the strengths and weaknesses of each one on full display.

One aspect I had not given much thought to was that of the obvious dating of the material.  I am so used to DC’s animated movies taking place at any point in time that I was not expecting obvious 80’s references.  The most jarring of these was the inclusion of Ronald Reagan in several scenes.  That made me look closer and realize that everything had an 80’s look to it.  The other notable reference was the use of Cold War tensions with the Soviet Union and the public’s fear of nuclear war.  It also makes you really appreciate a Batman story nearly 30 years old that still captivates the audience.

Both Blu-rays include the standard mini-documentaries on Batman, Superman, and Joker.  They also include select episodes from the animated series and digital copies of both movies.

My advice:  A must-buy for devoted Batman fans; for everyone else, definitely get it from Netflix or RedBox….

Superman Batman – Public Enemies

Over the past year or so, I have been rather effusive with my praise for DC Comics and Warner Brothers for understanding how to make animated movies and keeping the quality up.  So here I am again with a review of yet another offering from the DC Animated Universe.

Our story is based on the popular graphic novel of the same name, which is really the first 5-8 issues of the Superman-Batman comic book series.  Lex Luthor is President and has turned public sentiment against those superheroes that “refuse” to swear an oath of loyalty to him…err….the US. A subplot deals with the approach of a huge kryptonite meteor.  What follows is a story with a good beginning, okay middle, and, sadly, poor ending.  My first warning sign was the running time of 67 minutes, just over the amount of time for two episodes of Justice League.  I liked where the story was going and then it was bam!!  In the final 15 minutes, everything that had been set up was completely resolved with little effort.  The last time I felt this dissatisfied with a DC movie was when I watched Superman:Doomsday.  Neither movie did anything to wow me…

I bought the Blu-Ray version, so I can not review the added features.  I watched this via the digital copy provided.

My advice:  Good enough to kill time, but do not expect the level of goodness that you get from Green Lantern: First Flight or Justice League: The New Frontier….

Green Lantern: First Flight

It’s funny how Warners and DC are making me feel déjà vu.  If you check out my review of Wonder Woman, the last offering, you can just insert the first paragraph.  So let’s go the personal route…

Growing up, I had 5 superheroes that I identified with:

  • Thor – Blonde hair and strength with a cool hammer
  • Hulk – Strong, but scary temper that could not be controlled
  • Spiderman – Brainy nerd becomes a hero to all
  • Batman – Able to do anything he wanted without any extra powers
  • Green Lantern

What I liked about Green Lantern is that, while he had a power ring, it was his will-power that made things happen.  By having the will to overcome any problem is how one becomes super.

First Flight is an origin story that follows the comic storyline fairly well.  An alien crash-lands on Earth and is found by Hal Jordan, a test pilot.  A ring changes hands and Jordan finds himself the protector of our universe.  What follows is Jordan’s introduction to OA, the Green Lantern Corps, and of course, Sinestro.  What I liked most is that this became an origin story of two characters, GL and Sinestro, as well as how their relationship changed forever.  it reminded me of how I felt when I found the comic book storyline of how Superman and Lex Luthor first met.

As with all DC/Warner efforts, the voice-casting and art is spot on.  I bought the Blu-Ray version, so I can not review the added features.  I watched this via the digital copy provided.

My advice: Watch a great origin story, even on the Blackest Night….

Wonder Woman

Warner Brothers and DC have enjoyed an 18-year relationship in producing quality superhero animation.  With the release of Batman:The Animated Series on TV, it was shown that good stories and superheroes could mix.  That success was followed by Superman, some Batman movies, and the Justice League series.  With the winding down of the JLU series and the rise of live-action, DC took a step back to figure out where to go next.  That step back yielded two highly-praised efforts: Justice League: The New Frontier; and Batman:Gotham Knight.

Enter their latest offering:  Wonder Woman

This is an origin story, adapted for today.  While some of the details have been changed, the spirit of the story remains.  An island exists, shielded from the rest of the world by magic and populated only by Amazons, frozen in time.  A US pilot crashes onto the island and is found by Diana.  Through competition, Diana is selected to escort the pilot back and to track down an escaped Ares, god of War.  Action ensues and the world is graced with the heroine, Wonder Woman.

Much like New Frontier, DC and Warners relied on traditional animation versus anime or digital to tell the story.  While the animation is beautiful, it is the story and voice-casting that stands out.  Andrea Romano once again, as she has for over 20 years, delivers a cast filled with recognizable names who are able to craft their voices in such a way as to sound familiar, yet not let their celebrity overpower their character.  Bruce Timm, as producer, ensures that the story holds true to the spirit of the origin and that what is delivered is top-quality.

I bought the Blu-Ray version since it had a digital copy included.  As such, I can not review the extras included on the Blu-Ray part, but there are a number of documentaries on various aspects of Wonder Woman.  The digital copy disc included a copy for the PC, as well as a copy for a portable device.

My advice:  Give this one a whirl – no golden lasso needed to verify that I speak the truth…