Saturday, April 9, 2016

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2

Year 8, Day 100 - 4/9/16 - Movie #2,300

BEFORE: Nearly the whole cast of Part 1 carries over into Part 2, as one would expect.  I'm now 1/3 through the year, with 200 slots left, but with 140 movies still on the list to fill them.  At this point, I'm not sure if I can finish the project this year, considering how slowly my list is decreasing, which at this point is not at all.  

THE PLOT:  The Batman has returned after a 10-year absence. The Gotham authorities want to arrest him. An old foe wants a reunion. The Feds want the Man of Tomorrow to put a stop to him.

AFTER: They really upped the stakes in the 2nd part of this story - I guess that would be issues 3 + 4 of the original comic.  Once the book stopped showcasing those weird mutant gang-bangers and their "future-speak" (sample: "Slice and dice" and "chick-chick-chicken legs...") there was room for a lot more, like an older Catwoman who seems to be back in the prostitution business, the doctors who reformed "Two-Face" setting their sights on the Joker, a one-armed Green Arrow, and the new police commissioner finally realizing why Gordon never took down the Batman.  Oh, and I nearly forgot about the giant topless Nazi woman, apparently Joker's girlfriend, who wears red swastikas over her nipples.  Classy.  

And there's also plenty of evidence to support that this takes place in an alternate-reality 1980's - the president looks a lot like Ronald Reagan, who's sending troops to an El Salvador-like island called Corto Maltese, and the Joker gets booked for an appearance on the "David Endocrine" show, which is a thinly-veiled Letterman show, complete with a Paul Shaffer look-alike.  I bet Joker kills on that show, really just slays 'em.  That audience will be dying - with laughter!  

A lot of the original comic, and a lot of this film, is told via various news anchors and talk-show hosts weighing in on the issues of the day.  Lois Lane is not among them, but an older Lana Lang is apparently now managing editor of the Daily Planet (probably there's some backstory there) and she's one of those anti-Batman people - naturally, she's more of a Superman fan.  There's much debate over whether Batman is ultimately responsible for villains like the Joker, some say Batman's mere presence led to the viciousness of Gotham's villains, but also, since he won't kill them, doesn't he become responsible for the people they go on to kill later?  I never quite understand this point of view - so you're saying you want a man dressed as a giant bat, who patrols the streets of your city, to also be a killer?  You think that somehow Batman is soft on crime?  Being anti-crime is all that he's about?

You'd probably think that billionaire Bruce Wayne would vote Republican, and that middle-class Clark Kent would be a Democrat, but something tells me the reverse is true.  Kent grew up in Kansas, which is red-state territory, and he seems to champion the little guy, but from someone that powerful, it seems a bit like lip service.  Plus his attitudes seem more conservative, almost puritan - I'm thinking Superman is secretly a Republican.  Bruce Wayne?  Total liberal, don't let the fat wallet fool you, it's just for show.  Remember, he's anti-gun and makes massive donations to charity.  (And Wonder Woman supports the Feminist agenda, and Oliver Queen?  Green party, of course.)  

Speaking of Superman, or as Green Arrow calls him, the "boy scout", here he seems to be the President's go-to man for solving problems, like nuclear missiles, or a vigilante Batman.  Which seems a little weird, because the Senate and the press in "Batman v Superman" took Superman to task for interfering with foreign policy.  Guess that little issue of authority got worked out by the government hiring Superman - well, he does stand for "truth, justice, and the American Way" after all.  And even though Batman and his Sons of Batman gang (formerly the Mutant gang) are all that keeps Gotham from descending into chaos, the President still needs Batman taken down.  

Yep, it's Batman vs. Superman again, maybe for the last time.  Batman uses all of his technology, and some Kryptonite, in the big clunky bat-suit, to take down an already-weakened Superman.  This battle was a huge inspiration for the confrontation in the recent Zack Snyder film.  Turns out you can defeat Superman with tech and smarts, that guy's relied on his superpowers for far too long.  

Starring Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, Michael Emerson, David Selby, Paget Brewster, Grey Griffin, Townsend Coleman, Dee Bradley Baker, Michael Jackson, Maria Canals-Barrera, Maurice LaMarche, Yuri Lowenthal, Michael McKean, Tara Strong, Frank Welker, Gary Anthony Williams, Carlos Alazraqui, Dee Bradley Baker,  (all carrying over from "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1"), Mark Valley, Robin Atkin Downes (last heard in "Batman: Year One"), Jim Meskimen, Tress MacNeille, Conan O'Brien (last seen in "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty").

RATING: 6 out of 10 funhouse mirrors

Friday, April 8, 2016

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1

Year 8, Day 99 - 4/8/16 - Movie #2,299

BEFORE: My wife's away for three days at a management training seminar in Chicago, so for me, it's a weekend full of drugs, hookers and guns - in video-game form, of course.  If I buckle down I might be able to get through the whole of "GTA 3" in 3 days.  It's been a few years, since I've been spending my video-game hours on "Lego Star Wars", "Lego Batman" and "Lego Pirates of the Caribbean", this could be a nice break before I start "Lego Batman 2" or "Lego Hobbit".  

And see, I told you, Frank Miller is back.  This film is based on the 4-issue limited series he wrote in 1986, around the same time they were re-booting Batman with a new origin, they were also giving a peek far into the future - OK, a possible future.  But the series really took off once it was released as a trade paperback, for a while there I made sure to re-read it every couple of years, like I do with "Watchmen".  And a fair number of the ideas made their way into the recent "Batman v Superman" film.  More on that in a bit.  

Three voice actors carry over from "Under the Red Hood" - Wade Williams (as Black Mask last night, and Harvey Dent tonight), Carlos Alazraqui (as Chi Chi last night, Hernando tonight) and Bruce Timm (as the Riddler last night, and Thomas Wayne tonight).  

THE PLOT:  A new breed of criminal ravages Gotham City, forcing 55-year-old Bruce Wayne back into the cape and cowl. But, does he still have what it takes to fight crime in a new era?

AFTER: It's very smart, setting a storyline far into the future like this - the writer then doesn't have to worry about all this continuity.  By now, Jim Gordon totally knows that Bruce Wayne was Batman - when did he figure it out, back in "Year One" or somewhere along the way?  It doesn't matter.  Jason Todd is dead, and Bruce still feels bad about it - was this from his first "death" or did he die a second time?  Again, it hardly matters.  

What's really significant now is probably what was "borrowed" from this storyline to appear in "Batman v Superman" - the bulky costume, for one.  And the fact that Batman is older, 55 here and retired from crime-fighting, I think the Affleck Batman was supposed to be in his 40's, it's funny that being only 10 years older, Bruce Wayne is portrayed here like he's a senior citizen.  All that street-fighting and getting shot at takes its toll, I'll wager.  The recent film also used a shortened version of Batman's origin, very similar to the one first seen in this comic.  And if you read the comic-book and you know what happened in issues 3 + 4, you know there are more elements in common, which I'll discuss tomorrow.  

You can just feel from the pacing here that this film covers issues #1 and 2 out of four, there are two climactic battles, one with Two-Face and one with the Mutant Gang leader.  Two-Face gets plastic surgery here and is believed to be reformed, but you can change the man's outward appearance and still wonder if he's the same criminal under the skin.  And the Mutant Gang leader is a gigantic, overly-muscular bald brute with sharpened teeth and incredible strength - Batman learns that fighting skill alone isn't going to take him down, he needs to fight smarter.  And that's exactly who Batman is, the perfect combination of intelligence and fighting skill.  

I never really noticed before that most of the "Mutant" gang aren't mutants at all, not in the "X-Men" sense of the word, anyway.  But most of them wear visors similar to Cyclops', many have bald heads like Professor X, and the leader has sharp teeth like, umm, Wolverine?  I wonder how much of this was intentional, was Batman supposed to be fighting some amalgam of the X-Men?   

NITPICK POINT: Commissioner Gordon talks about the U.S. entering World War II, as if he were there.  But if he's 70 years old in the future, at a point where Bruce Wayne is 55, I can't quite get the math to work out where Jim Gordon is old enough to be politically aware in 1941.  It only works if this takes place in an alternate version of 1986, and Gordon was 25 in 1941, then he'd be 70 in 1986.  That means Bruce Wayne was born in 1931, which kind of works, but it calls to question how far in the future this is set, if at all. Why not just remove the mention of F.D.R. and leave it ambiguous?

Also starring the voices of Peter Weller (last seen in "Star Trek Into Darkness"), Ariel Winter, David Selby, Dee Bradley Baker, Paget Brewster, Michael Emerson (last seen in "The Legend of Zorro"), Townsend Coleman (last heard in "Lego Batman: DC Super Heroes Unite"), Maria Canals-Barrera, Richard Doyle, Grey Griffin (last heard in "Batman: Year One"), Michael Jackson (no, not that one...), Michael McKean (last seen in "The Brady Bunch Movie"), Sam McMurray (last seen in "The Front"), Maurice LaMarche (last heard in "Frozen"), Frank Welker (last heard in "Big Hero 6"), Gary Anthony Williams (last seen in "The Internship"), Tara Strong, James Arnold Taylor.

RATING: 5 out of 10 packs of nicotine gum

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Year 8, Day 98 - 4/7/16 - Movie #2,298

BEFORE: I've started the planning and paperwork for this year's San Diego Comic-Con - if you've never been to the "big show" at SDCC, it's kind of like the Super Bowl (minus the sports) swallowed the Oscars (minus the awards) and crapped out a costume party and a traffic jam.  It's NerdStock, GeekFest, Lolla-pa-Loser - yet when you get 125,000 geeks in one place, it sort of seems like they've taken over the entertainment world (which they have) and that the stuff we all talk about and are interested in is somewhat important.  (Like, who would win in a fight?  Batman or Superman?) 

But, as you might imagine, this sudden influx of people to the great city of San Diego causes a lot of problems - long lines in restaurants, lack of available hotel rooms.  But it also helps out the city a great deal, especially people who own restaurants and hotels.  The event brings thousands of people and millions of dollars to the city - so on behalf of geeks to the the people of San Diego, I say two things: "We're sorry" and "You're welcome."   

Last year, as I was in the S.D. airport, waiting for my plane back on the very busy travel day after Comic-Con, there was a flight attendant at the next gate trying to entertain a large crowd of passengers with a trivia quiz, so they could win free snacks to enjoy on the plane. "First question: What is Batman's real name?  That's right, it's Bruce Wayne!  You win!"  Umm, no, I thought, if this guy was up on his comic-book knowledge, he would have known that Bruce Wayne "died" several months before, and for the moment at least, Jim Gordon was subbing in for Batman.  

"Second question, what is Captain America's real name?  That's right, it's Steve Rogers!  You win!"  Again, I thought, this guy is behind the times, because Marvel had chosen to allow Steve Rogers to get really old, lose the super-soldier serum, and passed the costume and shield on to Sam Wilson, who was formerly known as the Falcon.  "Third question, what it Hulk's real name?"  I just had to put my face in my hands and try to ignore this quiz - because, which Hulk?  Green Hulk?  Red Hulk?  She-Hulk?  Rick Jones Hulk?  While we're at it, which Spider-Man?  Peter Parker, Miles Morales, Ben Reilly or Otto Octavius?  Marvel was doing a cross-time storyline where all the Spider-Mans (and Spider-Women) from all the different realities were teaming up.  

But I felt that it wasn't my place to try and correct this guy - he meant well, after all.  Plus he probably wouldn't have believed me, but the simple fact is that I knew much more about the subject at hand than he did - and these stories are constantly changing.  The comic-book writers will give a hero some time off, like they did years ago with Tony Stark as he battled alcoholism, then let James Rhodes take over as Iron Man, and then when they brought Tony back, they just turned Rhodes into War Machine, and boom, two heroes where there once was one.  That's another title on the shelf.  

To be continued in the next section.  Voice actor Fred Tatasciore carries over from "Batman: Year One".  

THE PLOT: Batman must go toe-to-toe with a mysterious vigilante who goes by the name of Red Hood.  Subsequently, old wounds reopen and old, once buried memories come into the light.

AFTER:  Which brings me to Robin, Batman's sidekick.  Or sidekicks, because there have been 5 Robins so far, more if you count the one seen in the future, or in alternate realities.  And DC's continuity over the years has been so complicated with universe-changing reboots like "Crisis on Infinite Earths" and "Flashpoint" that each character's history has become hopelessly convoluted. 

The first Robin aged out of the program and became an adult superhero, Nightwing.  The second Robin, Jason Todd, had an origin similar to the first one, being the child of circus acrobats, but then the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" happened, and reality changed - he became an orphaned street kid who tried to steal the tires from the Batmobile.  This is what's known as a "retcon", or retroactive continuity, when one writer changes the story that has come before, to suit his needs and create a different story moving forward.  

The problem with the new Jason Todd?  He was too "street", and kind of a dick. (And not the Dick Grayson kind of Dick.)  So, in a storyline titled "A Death in the Family", the next writer allowed him to be kidnapped and beaten up by the Joker, and let the fans decide via a 900-number whether Robin should live or die.  Fans chose death, Batman became moody (OK, moodier) and it was a few years before he took on the third Robin, Timothy Drake (who has since been retconned out of ever being Robin, but that's another story...).

Years later, it seemed like Jason Todd was alive again somehow, but it was really just Clayface pretending to be him to mess with Batman.  But then another reality-changing event in the DC universe caused two separate universes to merge (or something), and Jason was back for real, as the criminal, the Red Hood.  (The man who became the Joker was the first Red Hood, but that's also another story...)  It's a little unclear whether Jason just crossed over from another universe, or if reality was changed so that he never died in the first place, but it doesn't really matter, because that whole universe got retconned away by "Flashpoint" anyway.  

So if you watch the "Batman" movies and you're confused by continuity, welcome to my world.  Try reading the comic books if you really want to be thrown for a loop.  Every few months there's a new writer, who has no problem ignoring or throwing out the work of the previous writers, if that helps him to tell the story he wants to tell.  Hello, who's in charge here?  Isn't the book's editor supposed to be able to tell a writer what he can or can't do, for the sake of the confused fans?  I strongly suspect that no one's minding the store.

As for this film, since the scope of reality-bending or universe-collapsing was well outside the scope of this story, it needed to find another way to bring Jason Todd back from the dead, which it did rather neatly.  Turns out there's a popular Batman villain who resurrects himself and others on a fairly regular basis, so that worked quite well.  The people who write the comic books could learn a lesson in simple storytelling from the writers of this film.  From there, the motivations are quite simple - Jason Todd acts as a crime lord, taking over the territory of the Black Mask, in order to reach his ultimate goal of taking down the man who killed him, the Joker.  

And this puts Batman in a tight spot - facing off against his old partner, who wants to kill his greatest villain.  Batman could just do nothing and let the Red Hood kill the Joker, but that's not what Batman's about.  Batman tries to save everyone, and he doesn't kill - but that means he has to live with the fact that if he doesn't kill the Joker, he's partly responsible for everyone that the Joker kills in the future.  Apparently whatever state that Gotham City is in doesn't believe in capital punishment, because the Joker would certain qualify for that.  

Also starring the voices of Bruce Greenwood (last seen in "Flight"), Jensen Ackles, Neil Patrick Harris (last seen in "Gone Girl"), John DiMaggio (last heard in "Epic"), Jason Isaacs (last seen in "The Patriot"), Wade Williams, Gary Cole (last seen in "Tammy"), Kelly Hu (last seen in "The Scorpion King"), Phil LaMarr, Kevin Michael Richardson (last heard in "Planes: Fire & Rescue"), Jim Piddock, Carlos Alazraqui (last heard in "The Book of Life"), Bruce Timm.

RATING: 6 out of 10 crowbars

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Batman: Year One

Year 8, Day 97 - 4/6/16 - Movie #2,297

BEFORE: I found myself behind the scenes at MAD Magazine today, thanks to my boss and the director we've got visiting from out of town, who arranged a visit with the magazine's head art director, and I volunteered to come along as their photographer.  Hey, sometimes my job does have its perks.  For a long time, MAD shared an office building with DC Comics, but DC moved out to L.A. about two years ago, so now they're sharing space with TMZ and some other Warner Bros.-owned properties.  

It's been a big Movie Year already for writer Frank Miller, I watched "Sin City: A Dame to Kill For" in January, and "Robocop 3" a week or so ago.  And more is on the way in a few days, but tonight it's the Batman origin story, which is based on the story he wrote for Batman comics issues 404-407 back in 1987, which is when I got on board.  This was the re-boot origin, before the most recent re-boot.

Voice actor Steve Blum carries over from "Lego Batman: DC Super Heroes Unite".  

THE PLOT:  A wealthy playboy and a Chicago cop both return to Gotham City where their lives will intersect in unexpected ways.

AFTER:  This covers a lot of the same ground as the current TV series "Gotham", detailing the early days of Jim Gordon's days on the GCPD, rooting out police corruption while also dealing with the first stirrings of major costumed crime in town.  However, on that show, Bruce Wayne is still a teenager, and here he's in his early 20's, returning to town after training with crime specialists and fighting mentors, ready to begin his quest to clean up the streets of Gotham City.  However, don't go into this one expecting to see him in costume much, some of it takes place before he gets the idea to dress as a bat, and then at the end, for some reason he abandons the costume again.

Symbolically, Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne are portrayed here as opposite sides of the same coin (to use Harvey Dent's favorite metaphor...), both want to clear the streets of criminals and corrupt cops, just one chooses to do it from within the system and one from outside, as a vigilante.  What's really funny is that the voice actor who plays Batman here went on to play Jim Gordon in "Gotham" on TV just a few years later.

They both want to take down the mobster, Carmine Falcone, but Falcone is tight with Commissioner Loeb, so Gordon can't make any progress unless he first takes down Loeb's dirty cops.  Meanwhile Loeb issues an order for all Gotham cops to shoot this new vigilante on sight, which places Gordon in a position where he has to investigate and stop the Batman, for Batman's own sake.

And yet Gordon and his partner, Sarah Essen, never figure out that Bruce Wayne is Batman, although they have their suspicions.  Batman has to be athletic, focused, wealthy enough to fund a war on crime, and has to have easy access to technology like Bat-copters and Bat-boats.  Bruce Wayne is one of like three people in town who fit the bill, but whenever they question his whereabouts, his butler always says he's out of town, and whenever they come to visit, he appears to be intoxicated with a foreign floozy on his arm.  But hmm, that cast from Wayne's skiing accident would cover up the leg wound that Batman got, wouldn't it?

So all during the run of Batman comics following this storyline, the readers had to wonder - does Jim Gordon know?  He's got to know, right?  The story in "Year One" is very clever - if you want to believe that Jim Gordon figures out Batman's identity, there's evidence for that, and if you want to believe that he chooses NOT to know out of some professional courtesy, there's evidence for that, too.  

Jim Gordon's a real bad-ass, though - when he doesn't get jumped by three hooded men at once, he's really a very good fighter.  So it's interesting to note that for the last year or so, Jim Gordon replaced Bruce Wayne as Batman in the comic books, after Bruce "died".  (He came back, of course, but didn't remember his life as Batman until just recently - and became Batman again, just in time for the next reboot.)  But when Gordon was Batman, he wore sort of a robot suit to make him stronger...

Also starring the voices of Bryan Cranston (last heard in "Madagascar 3"), Ben McKenzie (last seen in "88 Minutes"), Eliza Dushku (last seen in "This Boy's Life"), Jon Polito (last seen in "Gangster Squad"), Alex Rocco (last seen in "The Wedding Planner"), Katee Sackhoff (last seen in "Riddick"), Jeff Bennett, Grey Griffin, Robin Atkin Downes, Stephen Root (last seen in "Robocop 3"), Fred Tatasciore.

RATING: 5 out of 10 bullet-proof vests

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Lego Batman: The Movie - DC Super Heroes Unite

Year 8, Day 96 - 4/5/16 - Movie #2,296

BEFORE: I've got a whole week of Batman and/or Superman movies planned, in honor of their 2016 face-off.  Which is (allegedly) their first meeting in the DC movie universe, but it's in fact not the first time the characters have appeared on screen together.  Wait, what?  How is that possible?  Ah, I'm including animated films, which have tackled this topic before.  So from the very serious Affleck/Cavill film, I go straight to the silly, in this 2013 film (video?) based on the Lego Batman video-games.  Umm, I think.  

OK, the truth is that when I decided to go see "Batman v Superman", I had no outro, it seemed like a dead end.  No Ben Affleck movies left on the watchlist after taking care of "Bounce" and "Gone Girl" in February, no Henry Cavill (Man from U.N.C.L.E. hasn't run on cable yet), no Jesse Eisenberg (same goes for "American Ultra").  So I was only left with indirect linking (Kevin Costner from "Batman v Superman" was also in "The Guardian" with Clancy Brown) and the decision to link via characters, like I did to get to "Robocop 3".  The chance to create a theme week should outweigh the actor linking, no?  

Only yesterday did a possible direct link present itself, I just added "Big Eyes" to the list, so there was a link via Amy Adams to another film.  It's too late, I'm already committed to the DC heroes theme.  At least once I get into an animated chain I know the linking will be easier - these voice casts are usually the same actors, again and again.  

THE PLOT:  When the Joker and Lex Luthor form an alliance, Batman must team up with the Justice League in order to stop them.

AFTER: I sense that this is some kind of direct-to-video sequel, but I swear I got it off of pay cable.  And there is a real Lego Batman movie coming next year, I saw a preview for it that ran before "Batman v Superman". So this is the Lego Batman movie that Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.  Or something like that.  Hey, at least the Joker finally showed up, though he's four days late for April Fool's Day.  

In this film, Lex Luthor teams up with the Joker - it's Election Day, and Luthor's running for President. (E-Lex-tion Day?)  See, this is what I was saying about Luthor, he thinks big.  But an rude, outspoken billionaire running for President?  Hah, that could never happen.  He wants to use Joker's laughing gas to make people vote for him - or maybe to kill them so they can't make it to the polls, that part of the plan is a little unclear.  But hey, either way that's election fraud in the DC universe.  

And they're very subtle about it, after they mix up the chemicals, they go walking around in a giant robot, shaped and colored to look like the Joker, to distribute the gas.  Great plan, Batman and Superman would never think to look for the Joker inside a GIANT JOKER.  But I realize this film was targeted at kids, so I really don't expect it to make much sense.  

Mostly kids just want to see things changing shape, and Lego robots and Lego Batmobiles and Batcycles and Batboats that get blown to pieces, and then rebuilt very quickly.  I guess if kids like playing with cars, they'll also watch a cartoon about racecars, and if kids like playing with robots, they'll watch a cartoon about robots.  Things were so simple when we were kids, right?  No jobs, no responsibilities, just turn on some cartoons that defy the laws of physics and turn off your brain for a little while.  

Me, I liked cartoons (and that happy jolt of entertainment to my brain) so much, I built my lifestyle around it.  OK, cartoons and Star Wars.  Maybe I stopped watching them for a while when I began working in animation, because it was just too much, but I came back.  I still watch the "Avengers" cartoons and "Star Wars: Rebels" but not the lesser Marvel toons, and I stayed away from all the Batman cartoon series for some reason.  Maybe I can atone for that a little bit this week by watching the feature-length Bat-Toons.  

Anyway, Batman doesn't really care for Superman in this film either, but not for the same reasons as in last night's film.  Superman here is played like a dumb do-gooder, and Batman keeps begrudging the fact that he needs Superman's help.  But after teaming up (along with the rest of the Justice League) to take down Joker and Luthor, they seem to be friends.  Just not, you know, super friends.  

The highlight is probably the two heroes using a tactic to defeat Joker and Luthor that I've never seen them do before - probably because it wouldn't be possible in the real world, or even in the comic-book world.  Only in the Lego world could the two heroes pull a switcheroo like this, so the Kryptonite wouldn't affect Superman, and the big, heavy object falling on Batman wouldn't kill him.  Clever.

Starring the voices of Clancy Brown (last seen in "Pet Sematary II"), Troy Baker, Travis Willingham, Charlie Schlatter, Christopher Corey Smith, Laura Bailey, Steve Blum, Townsend Coleman, Rob Paulsen, Brian Bloom (last seen in "The A-Team"), Cam Clarke, Katherine Von Till.

RATING: 4 out of 10 explosive pies

Monday, April 4, 2016

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Year 8, Day 95 - 4/4/16 - Movie #2,295

BEFORE: Laurence Fishburne carries over from "Quicksilver" to play Perry White, and that puts me right where I want to be, going out to the movies on a Monday night.  Some bad reviews and a large 2nd-weekend drop-off in ticket sales means that I've waited exactly the right amount of time to see this, the cinema should be fairly empty, and yet the internet hasn't been filled with plot spoilers yet, at least not where I've been looking.  So here we go...joining me tonight will be Jim, an animator in from L.A. visiting our studio.  My wife didn't see the last Superman film (or the last Batman film for that matter) so she probably won't mind skipping this one either.

FOLLOW-UP TO: "Man of Steel" (Movie #1,490)

THE PLOT: Fearing that the actions of Superman are left unchecked, Batman takes on the Man of Steel, while the world wrestles with what kind of a hero it really needs.

AFTER: It's the age-old question among comic-book fans: "Who would win in a fight?"  We do it for Thor vs. Hulk, for Spider-Man vs. Wolverine - heck I once heard some people in a comic-shop debating Big Bird vs. Barney (Barney's a dinosaur, but not a vicious one, and Big Bird's got the height and the reach, but only one good arm.  Hey, at least he's got big feet, he can kick.  Advantage, Big Bird.)  Colbert's been doing "Friday Night Fights" recently, asking fans to weigh in on similarly themed imaginary battles.  

But now we know who wins in a fight between Batman and Superman - and it's the audience.  I didn't have too many problems with this film (scroll down, I'm sure I'll deal with them later on...) and I haven't read the bad reviews yet, but I know they're out there.  But in over 7 years of watching and reviewing films on a near-daily basis, in rating almost 2,300 films, I've given out exactly TWO perfect 10 scores.  One was for "Watchmen" (like tonight's film, directed by Zack Snyder) and the other was for "The Dark Knight Rises" (like tonight's film, starring Batman).  So to say my expectations were high going in would be a bit of an understatement.  

"The Dark Knight Rises" combined three Batman storylines which I was very familiar with - "Knightfall", where Batman first fought Bane, "The Dark Knight Returns", with Batman coming back to Gotham after a long absence, and "No Man's Land", where Gotham City is cut off from the mainland and functions as a near-lawless society.  And it combined all three storylines seamlessly, I really liked the way that the pieces fit together, and even though I'd read all of those comic storylines, the film still found a way to surprise me.  To me, that's a perfect score.  

"BvS:DoJ" similarly tries to combine a number of famous DC comic stories - first is "The Dark Knight Returns", set in the future, but it features a killer fight between the two heroes, an older Batman wearing a special suit and using Kryptonite weapons to take Superman down.  Second would be "The Death of Superman", where a character named Doomsday came to Earth and battled all of its heroes, taking the Man of Steel out for a while (death is almost never permanent in comics, don't cha know...) and then let's say the third would be the formation of the Justice League, a story that has been told several times, most recently during the last DC reboot in 2012.  

There's a lot of good stuff in this film, especially the philsophical stuff about the role of a god-like hero in society - which does remind me of "Watchmen", the way normal humans in that story reacted to Dr. Manhattan, a character who could control time, see the future and destroy a line of tanks with a mere gesture.  At what point does someone with such powers become a weapon?  Who controls that weapon, who watches the Watchmen and who makes sure that they fight the good fight?  This is addressed in "BvS" by way of congressional hearings about Superman's actions after he flies into a foreign country to rescue Lois Lane.  Sure, he took down some terrorists, but on whose authority?  He may fight for truth, justice and the American way, but who defines what exactly that entails?  

This is further supported by Batman's (or, rather, Bruce Wayne's) witnessing of the actions depicted in the last Superman film, "Man of Steel", where Supes battled General Zod, causing building after building to crumble from the Metropolis skyline.  Heck, I felt it was really excessive at the time, and a bit too reminiscent of 9/11, and just because a film CAN destroy building after building with special effects, it doesn't mean that you should.  But it turns out that WayneCorp had a building in Metropolis, and there was nothing Bruce could do to save his building or the lives of his employees, so he realizes how dangerous Superman's powers are.  (Now, of course, he could blame General Zod for all that destruction rather than Superman, but they needed to set up the motivation for the heroes to fight...)

But on a very basic level, what happens when someone with Superman's powers starts appearing in the news?  He appears to do only good deeds, but what if someone were to take control of his mind?  What if his powers got out of control, or he just had a bad day and got mad or something?  And if he's saving this person over here, what about that person over THERE?  He always seems to be there when Lois Lane needs him, but does that cause a conflict of interest?  If he's saving her (again), then who is he not saving at the same time?  And what gives him the right to make those choices, which might have unforeseen consequences?  A vision from Clark Kent's father reinforces this concept, telling a story about saving one family farm from a flood, but by diverting the river to destroy another family's farm. 

I'm making this sound like a real thinking-man's film, and it sort of is, but there's plenty of action too.  Batman shows that he's a one-man force, going up against a warehouse of armed bad guys by himself, something similar to what I've seen recently in two other films: "Kingsman" (Colin Firth vs. a church full of crazy killers) and "John Wick" (Keanu Reeves vs. a nightclub full of Russian mobsters).  I could get all nitpicky and point out that Batman never uses guns in the comic books, but who cares, really - watching him in action, fist-fighting, shooting, breaking through walls, using gadgets all at the same time, it's action-film ballet, and it's a hot trend right now, with each new action film raising the stakes.  

But if I've got any beef with this film it's those typical franchise problems - where does this fit in with the three Christopher Nolan Batman films?  And if it doesn't take place in-between "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises", then when does this occur?  (I know, the simple answer is "whenever the story needs to occur", but I want more specifics.)  I'd like to think that for every franchise out there - from Aliens to X-Men, that there's someone in charge, someone with a brain who respects all of the material that has come before.  Sadly, that's not usually the case.   I might as well ask where this fits in with the Michael Keaton Batman, or the George Clooney one - and that's the problem, every franchise all the way down to "Robocop" gets re-booted every few years, whenever Hollywood thinks a new generation is ready to buy a ticket for that ride again.  

It's not just Superman, who had a reboot after "Superman Returns", or Batman, who's had more reboots than I can count, it's James Bond, who had a soft reboot every time a new actor played him, and a hard reboot with "Casino Royale" a few years ago.  It's the Spider-Man franchise which rebooted after three films, released another two, and now has a new actor playing Spidey in the upcoming "Captain America" film.  These things are starting to happen more and more often.  They rebooted "Robocop", "Planet of the Apes", "Mad Max", "Terminator" - where does it end?  

Even in the comic-books themselves, the reboots are happening more frequently.  I understand that you can't keep telling the same stories, and that characters have to change over time, and every so often they have to do something to get the new readers involved, but criminy, it's getting ridiculous.  We had the Golden Age Superman, then the Silver Age Superman, and for a while there were even TWO Supermen, from parallel Earths, just to explain how he could have been part of one super-team in the 1940's and another team in the 1960's.  Then they started over with a new Superman in 1983 (that's when I started reading), and that one lasted until "Flashpoint" in 2011, when time-travel allowed them to start over with a new origin story, and change the character to make him more accessible to current readers (again).  Now there's talk of rebooting the comic-book Superman AGAIN this year.

Of course, it's all explainable as a multiverse - this Superman lives in this universe, that Superman lives in THAT universe, and you can just read about the one you like best.  But I bet it's probably confusing to some people if Clark's dating Lois Lane in the movies, but not in the comic books.  In the recent comics he was dating Wonder Woman for a while, which kind of worked, I think, they certainly have a lot in common - but the previous Superman was married to Lois, and then that all went away, only it really didn't, because that Superman and Lois recently made an appearance in the NEW DC universe, so instead of things getting simpler, they're only getting more and more complicated.  Again, I want to see every franchise run by someone with a brain, who can tell writers and directors what they can and can't do, so these stories don't all conflict with each other.

Marvel Comics has similar problems - the "Avengers" movie really took off, but they had to explain that the movie Avengers live in a different universe from the comic-book Avengers, for many reasons.  Hawkeye's married to a normal woman in the movies, but a notorious Don Juan in the comics, bedding nearly every female Avenger in sight.  Captain America spent 18 years frozen in ice in the comics, but in the movies it was more like 60 or 65 years.  And don't get me started on Quicksilver....  But the X-Men movie franchise maybe got things right, after fans pointed out discrepancies between the first three "X-Men" movies and the prequel "X-Men: First Class", they just had Wolverine time-travel in "Days of Future Past", and with him changing the timeline, they can now move forward and tell whatever story they want.  Dead characters can be alive again, just like with the "Secret Wars" reboot.  

But let's get back to "Batman v Superman".  I didn't like the new Lex Luthor at first, because he seemed like some cross between a rich hipster douchebag and someone with manic autism or ADHD - admittedly, if that's what they were going for, they cast the absolute perfect actor for that.  The new Lex is definitely somewhere on the spectrum, plus he's got daddy issues (NITPICK POINT: LexCorp can't be named after Lex's father, because "Smallville" established his name was Lionel Luthor, right?).  But Luthor should see himself as a hero - heck, all the best villains should see themselves as heroes - because he's someone trying to defend the world from the threat of Superman.  But if he appears this addled and this manic, then Luthor starts to resemble the Joker, and he's just not anything like that.

Again, this brings us back to the Superman as Jesus metaphor, but Lex Luthor doesn't see it that way.  He believes that an alien isn't necessarily an angel, just because he comes from the sky.  Luthor should be portrayed more like Donald Trump, just replace "Mexicans" and "Muslims" with "Kryptonians" - and don't forget, there was a storyline before the reboot of 2011 where Lex Luthor DID get elected President on an anti-alien platform.  

But let's face it, it wasn't all this meta-physical stuff that made us go see this movie, it was the big fight between Batman and Superman.  Can the world's greatest detective and combat fighter take down the most powerful man in the world?  Maybe with a little help from a green rock?  That battle did not disappoint, even though there was a long build-up to the event.  (It's a 2 1/2 hour film, so get the refillable popcorn tub, and the small soda, so you can plan your bathroom breaks accordingly.)  

A pivotal point in the film is based on something that both heroes have in common in their origin stories - and it's been sitting there the whole time, right in front of my eyes, I've been reading about these characters for over 30 years, it's so simple and I never noticed it, never made the connection.  Kudos for that.  

But the main goal here is still to introduce Wonder Woman and set up the formation of the Justice League, which does get done, though perhaps not the way you might have thought.  Batman gets a strange warning from the future about how important it is to do this, which (as a friend has already pointed out to me) seems an awful lot like a time paradox.  It's a bit like if you invent a time machine, then at some point you use that machine to go back and give yourself the plans to build the time machine.  Then who really invented it? 

Also starring Ben Affleck (last seen in "Gone Girl"), Henry Cavill (last seen in "Whatever Works"), Amy Adams (last seen in "Her"), Jesse Eisenberg (last seen in "Zombieland"), Diane Lane (last seen in "Murder at 1600"), Jeremy Irons (last seen in "The Words"), Holly Hunter (last seen in "Copycat"), Gal Gadot, Scoot McNairy (also last seen in "Gone Girl"), Callan Mulvey, Tao Okamoto, Michael Shannon (last seen in "They Came Together"), with cameos from Kevin Costner (last seen in "Dragonfly"), Ezra Miller (last seen in "Trainwreck"), Jason Momoa, Jeffrey Dean Morgan (also last seen in "They Came Together"), Joe Morton (last seen in "Bounce"), Charlie Rose, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Soledad O'Brien, Anderson Cooper, Nancy Grace, and the voices of Patrick Wilson (last seen in "Little Children"), Carla Gugino (last seen in "Miami Rhapsody").

RATING: 8 out of 10 uncashed checks

Sunday, April 3, 2016


Year 8, Day 94 - 4/3/16 - Movie #2,294

BEFORE:  And as difficult as it was to link to "The Warriors", it was just as difficult to find another link away from it - this required separating "Quicksilver" from another Kevin Bacon film, "The Big Picture", which of course goes against my nature, but doing so not only made a space for "The Warriors", it also made certain things line up rather nicely.  So it had to be done.

Oddly enough, this is the fourth film in 6 months that shares its name with a Marvel superhero, but is not a superhero film - in October I watched both versions of "The Thing", and in February I watched "The Invisible Woman", which turned out to be about Charles Dickens.  I suppose if I were in a pranking mood, and if the linking supported it, I could have watched those films directly before the new "Fantastic Four" film.  Or watched this one before an "Avengers" film.  Strangely, I can't think of another film that fits that bill, sharing its name with an unrelated Marvel hero, except maybe "Demolition Man".  Or I guess that film "Iceman", which was about a frozen caveman.  And that film "Domino", about a female bounty hunter.  And there's probably a horror film somewhere called "The Beast", so never mind.  

David Harris, who played Cochise in "The Warriors", carries over to play "Apache" in this film, and if you check out the cast list, you'll see I'm perfectly set up for "Batman v. Superman" tomorrow.

THE PLOT:  Jack Casey used to be a hot-shot stock market whiz kid. After a disastrous professional decision, he loses his nerve and joins a speed delivery firm in San Francisco, is attracted to a fellow bicycler, Terri, and befriends Hector, a budding entrepreneur.

AFTER: A few years ago, when that film "Premium Rush" came out, I wondered how they got away with promoting it as the first movie about NYC bike messengers.  What about "Quicksilver", did everyone forget about that movie?  Ah, but "Quicksilver" is set in San Francisco, a whole different thing.  I spent a day walking across S.F. a couple years ago,  and I was exhausted by the time I got to the really hilly part - I can't imagine it's a great environment for any cyclists, let alone messengers on bikes.  Throw in the traffic, pedestrians, and the fact that movies always depict San Francisco as having an abundance of fruit stands and workmen carrying giant pieces of plate-glass around, and you've got a recipe for disaster.  

But when our hero flames out in the world of high-finance - though the movie spends no time explaining exactly what went wrong on the trading floor - he finds that the high-speed world of bike messenger services is just the thing he needs to boost his confidence again.  Seriously, how do you lose all of your money AND your parents' life-savings over the course of an afternoon?  That money should have been in an IRA, because those capital contributions are pre-tax, and you don't have to declare the dividends until you start drawing from the account.  

Similarly, we never get to understand how exactly he gets the money back, near the end of the film when he's pulled back into the world of finance - high risk, high reward, sure, but is he trading on margin?  Is he just buying low and selling high, or what?  Does he even have a right to try and win back his parents' retirement account while using his messenger friend's hot-dog cart money?  Isn't this what got Bernie Madoff in all that trouble?  I have a feeling that the stock exchange works quite differently from betting on horses at the track, but you'd never know it from watching this film. 

Apparently, this guy is some kind of addict when it comes to being in trouble, because if he's not involved in high-stakes trading, he rides a bike at high speed through the aforementioned dangerous streets of San Francisco, and in his spare time he engages in staring contests with the drug dealer that he knows killed another bike messenger.  Good times.  Oh, and he likes to do bike-dances around his impossibly large loft apartment while his entitled girlfriend practices for the ballet.  

OK, I could kind of allow it if his girlfriend was a professional ballet dancer, like maybe she could afford that enormous downtown loft space and let him crash there, but eventually they realize that they travel in vastly different social circles and she's never seen again.  In which case he has to pay for that giant living space on a bike messenger's salary.  No freaking way.  But this frees him up for a possible romance with the troubled loner girl, who's also a bike messenger for some reason, yet never tells the same backstory twice, so I'm not sure if she was just a compulsive liar, or hiding from someone, or just incredibly insecure.  

So there are a lot of gaps in the story, many things are never explained, like why is Louie Anderson hanging around the bike messenger service?  Does he own the place, or is he a frequent client, or does he just like hanging around with skinny people?  How does working as a messenger help someone get his mojo and self-respect back, does it have something to do with collecting all those phone numbers from those horny secretaries?  Maybe it's just the rush he gets from the endorphins. 

NITPICK POINT: Maybe this is just on my mind because it's tax time, but if you buy stock low and then sell it high for a massive profit, you have to report that on your tax return, that's called a capital gain.  By making a one-day killing on the exchange floor, and then signing the profit over to someone else, say, your parents, you're not doing them any favors - they're going to have to pay the capital gains tax on that.  

Also starring Kevin Bacon (last seen in "The Big Picture"), Jami Gertz (last seen in "Sixteen Candles"), Paul Rodriguez, Rudy Ramos (last seen in "The Enforcer"), Laurence Fishburne (last seen in "Man of Steel"), Louie Anderson, Gerald S. O'Loughlin, Georgann Johnson, Whitney Kershaw, Charles McCaughan. 

RATING: 5 out of 10 issues of the Wall St. Journal