The Art of the Deal… Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (2012)

Ghost Rider SOV TeaserAnd while the original ‘Ghost Rider’ focused on just that, Ghost Rider, this one focused on the ‘deal’ to be Ghost Rider. Now, up-front, I’ll admit I’m a comic book guy and film buff and this film is not ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘Iron Man’ or even ‘Thor’. However, it isn’t Dolph Lundgren’s version of the Punisher or, luckily, the original ‘Ghost Rider’. (FYI: I saw this film for free at a special engagement Preview.. otherwise, I probably would not have seen it till the DVD or pay cable release.)

‘Spirit of Vengeance’ is a bit more of a reboot than a sequel, and in my estimation better than the original from a comic book standpoint. As a Hollywood flick, it’s simply the same sh!t, different film. The story is recycled from a number of genres, the acting is nothing the Academy need worry about (Nick Cage’s performance was on par for… well, any Cage performance), and some of the action sequences are a bit too herky-jerky for the 3-D, but it isn’t a total loss. The comic lore is advanced a bit (depending on which version of Johnny Blaze / Danny Ketch you want to follow) and even drops hints for returning characters in a possible sequel. Idris Elba does give a fair performance for an underwritten yet prominent character and Christopher Lambert cameos are always fun.
Spirit of Vengeance‘Marvel Knights’ is the mature comic line for Marvel characters and at some point Disney will hand their more adult characters to film makers who understand the difference between making a 90 minute crash’em-up and a story with action. While Punisher: War Zone was almost a step up for ‘Marvel Knights’, this one is a step back. Luckily, it’s only a 90 minute crash’em-up flick and you’ll be on your way to lead a normal, happy life. Bathroom breaks allowed but you probably won’t need it.

2 Stars

Advertisements

“I’m not so sure about that Bette Davis..” Three on a Match (1932)

3 on a MatchThat was a quote from the director when speaking to the WB front office about the great turns shown by the young cast members of ‘Three on a match’. Ann Dvorak received high marks for this great showing as a socialite who tires of her lifelong place in the upper crust of virtue and society only to take the most devastating of falls to the bottom. Joan Blondell also received high marks for her role as Dvorak’s childhood friend and social opposite who soon takes her place at home and in high society. Davis, who gave a standard turn for a supporting role, didn’t earn Mr. LeRoy’s kudos… but everyone makes a mistake now and then.

I’ll admit, I didn’t expect too much out of this film and was greatly surprised. The story starts out innocently enough (as many a WB early 30’s crime drama did) and then opened a wound just to pour salt in it with a lemon juice chaser by the very riveting end. Lyle Talbot and Warren William turn in very good supporting turns along with a very early gangster cameo for Humphrey Bogart.
The 3Well paced and to the gritty point, this one is a keeper. Popcorn and absolutely no bathroom breaks.

5 Stars

Jim Gordon Isn’t The Hero Gotham Needs, Just The Idiot It Deserves (Ouch!)

Gotham promo posterOkay, first, that’s not my headline but it is an awesome use of Gordon’s own line from The Dark Knight. Second, yes, Gotham is getting slightly worse but no worse than it started to get just before the Holiday break.

Sure, the show is called Gotham and takes place in the DC Comics fictional city of the same name that serves as the home base to The Batman: The Dark Knight, The Caped Crusader, The World’s Greatest Detective, you get the idea… But aha! The show opens with the single most defining moment in DC Comics history… the murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne.  So we have our starting point, the “birth” of The Batman or at the very least, the creation of the sense of justice and vengeance that would inspire a young Bruce Wayne to later assume the mantle of The Bat.

Starting point… not story.  And that is where Gotham has failed.

The story that should have spawned from that event was not the grooming of Bruce Wayne towards his ultimate fate but the grooming of James Gordon, golden boy detective, towards his.  Under this thought process, Bruce Wayne is an afterthought, a peripheral character who has other things to do than be continuously portrayed as a whiney-bitch Luke Skywalker type… looking off into the future and crying cause shit isn’t right. His parents were just murdered, I’ll just accept that he’s off sulking somewhere, tears in his eyes, wanting vengeance. Gordon is and should be more solidly portrayed as the main character.  Being the lead detective for the Wayne Murder Case will eternally link him to Bruce and the main theme of the show… the ground work for The Batman.  But the ground work is lain, Gordon is the lead detective in a case that was cold before the bodies were buried and Bruce Wayne will be Batmandone!

The Bat-Man

What should we be doing?  Seeing why Jim Gordon is Jim Gordon.  Commissioner Gordon wasn’t created by the circumstances of the GCPD, he was born to deal with those circumstances.  Yes, he is the ‘one good cop’ in a city of bad ones.  Yes, he does take it upon himself to set the tone for what Gotham’s Police Department should be. That’s always been his burden.  It’s why Batman aligns himself with the then Lieutenant, Captain and later Commissioner.

Do we need to see ALL of the Batman villains big and small making appearances?  No.  In some cases, it makes less sense to the origins as a lot of these people will end up being 15 years older than the Batman once he arrives on the scene (see: Harvey Dent). Can we see drips and drabs of these villains, absolutely.  This show could be filled with more Easter Eggs than the annual Egg hunt on the White House lawn… and that’s where the fun lies.

Bruce Wayne and his faithful protector (as well as best character on the whole damn show to this point), Alfred, could make appearances several times a season, not every episode.  Perhaps a two-parter each season could take place in flash-back, opening with The Batman and Commissioner Gordon going over a case that has roots in Gordon’s early days just to satisfy the unquenchable need for a “Batman” story in Gotham. The Penguin and the mafia serve as great Gordon fodder at this point, the ongoing war he fights in the background of everyday crimes until help arrives in the form of a Bat and then the war escalates in response.

Batman will always be Gotham City’s greatest hero, but Gotham is about its greatest unsung warrior.


From Rob Bricken @ io9:

Gotham is getting worse. I don’t mean the city; even though it has increased its Noble Cop quotient by +1 with Jim Gordon’s arrival, it seems to be just as messed up as it was before he arrived. No, I mean the show, and the most obvious example is the way Gordon is somehow turning dumber every episode.

Since the premiere, Jim Gordon has been a good person and a good cop. By trying to do what was right he was nearly murdered a few times, ordered to murder other people, and even busted down to insane asylum security officer for an afternoon. When he came back last episode, he appeared to have lost some of his nobility — he was more willing to bend the rules on behalf of the greater good. I thought the show might be showing us The Early Temptation of Gordon, in which he would realize if he had any desire of fixing Gotham City, he’d have to hold himself to the same standard.

Then comes along last night’s episode, “Welcome Back, Jim Gordon,” in which it’s revealed that Gordon may just be a moron. When a witness gets murdered right inside the precinct — stabbed in the back with an ice pick — of course Gordon is the only cop in the entire city the size of New York that feels like this needs to be investigated. Of course the chief and Bullock tell him to stop, and of course he doesn’t (and Bullock helps him anyways). And also of course, Gordon is stymied by the bafflingly huge amount of corruption in the GCPD, which not only allows its narcotics cops to operate their own drug warehouses but has an elaborate system in place designed to keep Gordon from busting them.

There are only two things that set this Gordon plot apart from Gotham‘s other episodes. 1) Gordon busts a cop named Delaware for being on guard duty when the witness was murdered (when do narcotics detectives have to watch the interrogation rooms?) and for having drugs in his car; the hilariously, obviously corrupt narc Flass says he was only staging an undercover operation. It’s a lie, but it could technically be true, and it points out how little circumstantial evidence “detective” Gordon busted Delaware on. 2) When Gordon can’t get anywhere, he calls up his old buddy the Penguin to see if he can find anything on Flass, seeing as Maroni runs the drug trade and Penguin and Maroni are tight. One of Penguin’s goons basically tortures Delaware’s wife until he offers a confession and shows them the ice pick Flass used to stab the witness with.

Is it part of Gordon’s fall from grace that he makes a deal with the devil to catch a crooked cop, or is it just stupidity? I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. But Gordon’s naïve belief that somehow engaging criminals to do his job for him would have no negative consequences — even though he very specifically asked Penguin not to hurt anybody — is absolute imbecility. At the end of the episode, Delaware crawls up to Gordon and begs him not to have thugs hurt his family anymore, and you can practically hear the sad trombone noise as it dawns on Gordon that hey, maybe criminals can’t be trusted.

*Maybe it’s desperation. Gordon, seeing that he’s a man alone on an island, needs to take more drastic measures (just as Bullock did using Fish) and those measures are what ultimately leads Gordon back along the path to solidify the thought that only he can be the one to change things… he and those trusted allies he has yet to find.*

Luckily, the mob side of the equation picks up this week, although maybe it picks up too fast. Fish Mooney is tortured briefly by one of Falcone’s guys, and it’s the right sort of ridiculous. Fish’s hyper-nonchalance at being suffocated is absurd, but it works for her absurd character, and it’s a fun scene to watch Jada Pinkett Smith chew. Meanwhile, her second-in-command escapes from his captors, finds Fish, frees her, and they prepare to leave Gotham — after, of course, Fish pays Penguin a visit.

The Penguin has taken his mom to “his” new nightclub. His mom gets wasted and embarrasses him, Gordon stops by to ask for his favor, and at the end of the night, Cobblepot gets super-drunk and Gotham turns into a mini-Fear and Loathing in Gotham montage for no fucking reason. It’s not cool, it’s not good, it’s not even bad, it’s just… weird? Senseless? Inexplicable? Anyways, it’s at the tail end of this when Fish shows up, and we get a confrontation I was surprised to realize how much I’d been looking forward to. The Penguin starts by obsequiously kissing her feet, and begging to be spared. When this doesn’t work, and Fish starts berating him for being a mere umbrella holder, Oswald finally snaps. “This umbrella holder outwitted you every step of the way!” he shouts, and even Fish is stunned by how true it is. This is Gotham at its most effective, and the scene makes the episode. Then Zsasz and his gun molls pop in and chase Fish and her goon away. Butch sacrifices himself so Fish can escape, and I’m pretty sure we’re still supposed to care about his character for some reason; instead, I’m only excited to see what Zsasz does with him, since he takes him prisoner instead of killing him.

Gotham rogues gallery

In other news: Barbara isn’t in this episode — I assume she’s watching QVC on a couch somewhere, because she can’t find the remote and is too lazy to go look for it — but Bruce Wayne is back! He’s taken to forcing Alfred to drive around the poor parts of Gotham looking for Cat so he can give her a gift he bought her in Switzerland! He passes a message to her through Ivy, and she stops by Stately Wayne Manor to discover… it’s a big honking snow globe! (I assume Bruce purchased it at the Gifts That Are Supposed To Seem Really Thoughtful In TV Shows And Movies When The Writers Can’t Be Bothered To Think Of A Genuinely Thoughtful Gift store. It is literally stocked with nothing but snowglobes.) Cat loves it, but then she flips and is mean to Bruce and tells him they’re not friends and leaves and Bruce cries for a while until Alfred comes in and literally makes fun of him for crying. Your young Batman, everyone!

*Again… a periphery character at best. Same with Catwoman and Poison Ivy*

I mentioned this yesterday when I reported that Gotham had turned the Dollmaker’s real name into “Dr. Francis Dalmacher”, but there’s a fine line between fun and silly and campy and just stupid, and Gotham crosses it way too often. Maybe the most egregious example is when the GCPD Internal Affairs department rules the witness’ death — remember, he was stabbed in the back multiples times with a giant ice pick — a suicide. I know the GCPD is supposed to be corrupt, but that’s a disbelief-shattering level of absurdity that is too astonishing to comprehend, even in a show about a kid who eventually starts dressing as a bat and fighting crime. I mean, that’s as dumb as anything found in the reviled Batman & Robin movie (with the possible exception of the Bat-credit card). If the GCPD is so corrupt as to be completely unaccountable to the laws of reality, what the fuck is Gordon supposed to do? What the hell could Batman do here, other than just shut the police force down entirely?

*Or perhaps its just to show how disgustingly blatant the GCPD is in being crooked?  They’re the cops, who will you turn to when the people you’re supposed to turn to in need turn against you? I think the total absurdity of the idea this man’s murder is deemed a suicide is more a middle-finger to society in Gotham than just a writing flaw.*

And when the Gordon story falls apart, all that’s left to Gotham is watching the origins of all these beloved Batman characters. Unfortunately, with the exception of the Penguin, Gotham still has no idea how to make those stories interesting either: The Riddler isn’t doing anything but harassing a female co-worker, Catwoman only shows up when Bruce Wayne is on-screen, Poison Ivy isn’t even carrying a goddamn plant anymore, and the upcoming Dollmaker is apparently named Dalmacher because the show isn’t even trying to make its future Bat-villains compelling anymore.

*Too much going on and too much trying to please the vast Bat-Universe.*

The irony here is that it would be so easy for Gotham to be fascinating. Seeing young Bruce actually start on his path to becoming Batman would be awesome, as would watching Selina on her first heists. Giving the Riddler any kind of characteristic other than spouting riddles and being creepily obsessed with a co-worker would be great — anything that would hint at why he’ll eventually become the Riddler. Having Harvey Dent… uh… show up again to do anything, that would be nice. Look, you’re doing it right with the Penguin! You clearly have the ability! And then Gotham could finally start living up to the massive amount of potential everybody keeps saying it has.

Assorted Musings:

• As it turns out, Alfred hates children, poor people and very possibly women. His utter disdain when Gotham Alfredhe catches Bruce crying over Cat is insane. It’s like Frank Miller guest-wrote it.

*Again, the best character to this point in the show, fantastically portrayed by the Third Doctor’s son.*

• I also liked how Oswald seems to genuinely regard Gordon as a friend. It’s a strange relationship, but seeing that Gordon is the main character and the Penguin is the most interesting character, I feel like they ought to be sharing way more scenes.

*They should indeed as Gordon saved Oswald’s life, just for him to rise to power against him.*

• Zsasz’s refusal to run after his targets has a very Pepe le Pew.esque quality to it.

• Um, Bruce was seemingly pretty well-adjusted until Cat told him off and Alfred mocked his pain. I feel like Gotham may be retconning Bruce’s origin so that his parents’ murder doesn’t drive him to become Batman, a girl telling him she doesn’t like him does. It certainly seems to be what’s happening to Riddler.

*Periphery…. at best.*

Assorted Stupidity:

Sorry, there were a couple of other things in this episode that bugged me so much I had to list them even though I didn’t put them in the recap proper.

• When the witness is murdered, Gordon assumes a cop is involved (someone had to turn off the camera in the room and so forth) but the Chief warns him that he just got reinstated. If he “even hints” that a cop may be involved, his co-workers will revolt and he could get busted back to Arkham. So Gordon’s first act? Start accusing and interrogating cops randomly. Sigh.

*Sigh nothing… he won’t take directives to cover the corruption that is so blatant.  It’s why Jim Gordon becomes Commissioner James Gordon.*

• When Zsasz and his molls are in a shoot-out with Butch, Butch drops one of the girls. Zsasz and the other two stop shooting simultaneously, and look down at the girl’s dead body as if they’re all shocked that someone could possibly die in a gunfight. Also, Butch for some reason doesn’t shoot at them at while they have their time-out. It’s dumb.

• At the end of the episode, Gordon starts to arrest Flass, and of course all the other cops — who, it should be remembered, unanimously abandoned Gordon to get murdered when Zsasz popped by the police station a few weeks ago — of course don’t even move. So Gordon gives a big inspirational speech about how hey, maybe if you guys are corrupt assholes letting people get murdered in your own fucking building is a step too far, and the Chief actually steps up and arrests Flass.

• Do you realize how stupid this is? This is the chief. Sarah Essen is in charge of the police. All the police. She can effect change, so, if she’s no longer on board the helplessly corrupt train, she can actually clean up the GCPD faster and better than Gordon ever could. This obviously can’t happen, so the show is going to have to backtrack from this moment pretty much immediately.

*It will backtrack. Gordon will be guilt ridden over his request of the Penguin for help, reveal that the evidence against Flass was illegally obtained, spring Flass and everyone will chalk it up to just another corrupt cop walking free on the GCPD, giving Gordon the desire to make amends.*

• What’s even more annoying about the scene is how Gordon literally has to give a 5-minute Friday Night Lights speech in order to arrest a cop who literally confesses to murder in front of dozens of witnesses who are police officers. Gotham wans to portray this as some kind of heroic moment for Essen, where she finally steps up and does the right thing when it is almost the bare minimum of what she should be doing as a police officer. Gordon should be infuriated that she had to think about it before acting, not moved. Grr.

*Gordon is changing the mindset of a department so corrupt it allows murder in its own police houses… in a city so dark, dank and corrupt it requires a man to don a cape & cowl and dedicate his life to the cleaning up of those City streets and return it to a civilized world.  Duh!*


With that out of the way, I have often said that people who don’t understand comics shouldn’t be too judgmental of them in other mediums.  75 years of cannon is hard to squish together over an entire series, never mind a season of television, but many simply expect it.

“The Avengers Will Assemble!”

Thor teaserAnd no matter what anyone tells you, that is the cold hard fact of this film. As the second to last place setting for next summer’s ‘Avengers’ superhero team-up flick, ‘Thor’ does nicely.

Much in the style of ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ (Damn, I hate that sub-title), the story touches greatly upon the mythos of the title character (obviously more deeply based in Norse mythology) and updates it accordingly. Luckily in this case, for all the simplicity in the story development and character set-up, Kenneth Branagh was at the helm and worked the proper amount of development into both the story and the primary characters.

The script, obviously having a major mythic back-story to draw from, mixing it with the established comic lore and then adding the S.H.I.E.L.D. element and place setting actually moves fairly well. Yes, there are a few slower parts, but this is Norse mythology directed by Kenneth Branagh and it ain’t all gonna’ be on rocket propelled roller-skates. However, this is a Marvel comic book film directed by Kenneth Branagh and you can’t really go wrong.
Donald Blake and his girlWith cast members such as Anthony Hopkins and Natalie Portman you expect a good turn and you certainly get it. A few of the characters are a bit cardboard but the actors do well to keep them believable. Chris Hemsworth fits quite well behind the hammer, playing both sides of the egotistical God of Thunder as well as anyone could play an egotistical God of Thunder. If there was one complaint, much like a Skywalker turned Vader in Episode III, the turn from one side to the other as Thor makes his heroic choice was a bit rushed. Obviously, the clock was ticking and the story needed to move into Act III, but…
Father and SonsAs a place setting for the forthcoming ‘Avengers’ (and if you saw the post end credits teaser scene, a great unknown lead in for Captain America) this film performs and does so far better than Iron Man 2 (whose exit teaser was a place setting for this film). As a stand alone film about Marvel’s Thunder God, it exceeds expectations.

Not quite Comic Book epic, but definitely taking you for the ride. Bring popcorn and no bathroom breaks.

4 Stars

Avengers… ASSEMBLE! Marvel’s The Avengers (2012)

Avengers European posterFifty years ago, that simple phrase ushered in a vision of comic book excitement and sheer imagination. And let there be no doubt, this film lives up to The Avengers storied past.

With a brisk pace, compelling character plot and backed by a motivating Alan Silvestri score, The Avengers is an excellent ‘movie’. It meets the requirements of a Saturday matinée popcorn flick, an action movie and a damned epic comic book film. The dialogue stays fresh while mixing comic relief, drama and Steve Rogers’ archaic sense of civility. Joss Whedon and his staff did a fantastic job of sharing the ‘heavy lifting’ between characters while remaining true to Stan Lee’s original visions.
Loki DemandsMarvel’s answer to DC’s Justice League of America, The Avengers took several of the comic line’s mid-level characters and created Marvel’s first true “Super-Team”. With the Silver-Age revival of Captain America in issue number 4, the Avengers never looked back. This film, the culmination of plot bits and end of credit scenes from Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America (I still don’t get why people left during the credits… ) we finally get the epic telling of Marvel’s most elite team. Sure, many in the comic world will debate who really comprises the best incarnation of Avengers (as they will X-Men), but this assemblage of heroes is it. It harkens back to the Silver Age while keeping a purely modern feel (which propelled Iron Man from background character to comic media sensation in his debut film) for the characters, the story and the idea that such fantasy could indeed seem so real.
Assembly RequiredBelieve me, this is the film that will dictate the future of the comic book film industry… and it is the film that has to make Warner Bros./DC stand-up and take note. Easily the second greatest comic book film of all time, Avengers mixes its comic lore against The Dark Knight’s gritty realism. Marvel, who for years plodded in a non media landscape and survived bankruptcy to give us the Blade Trilogy, Spider-Man, Iron Man only to score the slaughter in 2011 (perhaps thanks to their purchase by Disney) with such summer blockbusters as X-Men: First Class, Thor and Captain America have reached a definite new level of epic storytelling with The Avengers.

The TrioAnd let’s not forget, we still have Iron Man 3, a Captain America sequel and a Thor sequel before we get to the next installment of The Avengers and their previewed antagonist, Thanos (who makes a showing in the surprise hit Guardians of the Galaxy to delay his Infinity Gauntlet appearance, aka Avengers 3 & 4).
ShwarmaReaching comic book epic, grab the popcorn and snow-caps and absolutely no bathroom breaks. And yes, you’ll be seeing it at least twice in the theatres.

5 Stars

Another Iron Man Movie… Iron Man 3 (2013)

Iron Man 3 teaserTo me, this film seemed to have even less to do with the original Iron Man (and the best film of the ‘trilogy’) than Iron Man 2 which barely achieved place mat status. It certainly didn’t do anything to advance the saga of Tony Stark nor did it add a sense of closure or continuity to the recent Avengers storyline. It did however do much more in destroying Pepper Potts as a credible character.

As most Shane Black movies go, it involved Christmas… no wait, that’s not fair. It involved things that get shot and blow-up at Christmas. Making a useless involvement of AIM, the Hydra-esque secret agency which could have been easily folded into the ongoing Marvel film or Television universe, the plot just sank. If the point of the movie was that Stark can survive through his wits, sarcasm and ingenuity, well we established that in the first movie, it’s why he’s Iron Man. Since there are no plans to extend Iron Man into Phase Two or Phase Three in his own solo adventure, let’s hope his involvement in the expanding Avengers universe fares far better than this.
Kingsley MandarinDefinitely a wasted effort for the reliable Downey Jr. in follow-up to the masterful first Avengers film but a total fail for the awesome effort of Sir Ben Kingsley who stole a portion of the film (I can only hope he will return to the Marvel Universe in a future film).

Bring popcorn but a break is allowed.

3 Stars

5 of the Greatest Batman Animated Films

From: Wall Street Cheat Sheet

There’s little to no question that the most recent Batman trilogy directed by Christopher Nolan has become the new standard to which all future titles will be compared. They acted as the perfect trifecta achieving financial success (Boxofficemojo.com lists combined domestic profits of the trilogy well over one billion dollars), critical success (the lowest metascore from Metacritic.com was a 70), and popular success, with an audience approval rating of 94% on rottentomatoes.com for both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. And while these films stand as the flagships of the franchise, they’re not the only full-length features that deserve praise.

 

The feature-length animated films of the Caped Crusader deserve — and have received — equal acclaim. It may be easy to dismiss these as “kids’ stuff,” but it would be doing them a huge disservice as they share many of the great qualities found in the Nolan films; brilliant visuals, immersive environments, and rich storytelling pedigree that can trace its roots back to some of the most famous Batman comics ever penned and inked. The sheer number of Batman animated features made choosing where to start a daunting task to undertake. So to make things easier, here are five of what are, arguably, the greatest Batman animated movies of all time.

5. Batman: Year One

Year OneIt may seem cliche to start with the beginning but cliches exist for a reason. Batman: Year One chronicles the first year Bruce Wayne transforms into the Batman and it does it in a very straightforward way, mirroring the graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller. Miller is known for his very dark take on comics, with Sin City and 300 being terrific examples. Batman: Year One even helped inspire Christopher Nolan’s well-received dark take on the Batman franchise.

The similarities between Nolan’s Batman Begins and Miller’s Batman: Year One are numerous but that doesn’t mean this animated film is lacking in new content that fans of Nolan’s Batman are not already familiar with. Year One delves further into Miller’s classic comic by accurately following the original content rather than just drawing inspiration from it. Viewers are given the treat of seeing the comic come to life in the most precise portrayal possible.

 

The idea of Bruce Wayne being new to the crime fighting game is driven home time and time again as Bruce chastises himself for being an amateur — a lucky amateur. On top of getting this unique view of a less confident hero, audiences also get to enjoy the rise of a detective who one day becomes the staple and reliable, Commissioner Gordon, wonderfully voiced by Bryan Cranston. The film is just as much about the growth of Bruce Wayne as it is James Gordon, making it a must-see for anyone interested in the history of the Dark Knight and the honorable Commissioner. Not to mention that the action sequences are all top-notch.

~Personally, I would have moved this one up the list a bit.  It follows the Comic as closely as stated above and that wins points in a DC Animated Universe that often ‘borrows’ from the stories, but doesn’t duplicate them in full.~

4. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

Return of the JokerIn the spirit of anachronism, next up on the list is Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, a full-length feature inspired by the animated series depicting the future generation of crime fighting. If the previous item focused on Batman’s first day on the job, this one depicts his retirement. Making the decision that he is too old to safely and productively patrol the streets of Gotham, Bruce Wayne decides to end his career as Batman. Twenty years pass until various chance situations result in 17-year-old Terry McGinnis taking up the mantle of Batman with an ancient Bruce Wayne as his mentor.

 

By focusing on Batman’s nemesis, the Joker, this film was able to delve into the popular history of the Batman franchise while telling a new story and maintaining its unique universe all at the same time. It was the best of both worlds; everything that was right with the Batman Beyond series combined with the staple characters and fascinating events of the Batman universe that fans know and love. Bruce Wayne being voiced by Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill voicing the Joker was practically all the movie needed to scratch that nostalgia itch that kept so many people from enjoying the Batman Beyond TV series.

~This would have moved up my list as well for the simple reason of it’s gritty story telling.  The fall-out of the Joker’s misdeeds is much more realistic as told here. If you have the opportunity, view the ‘uncut’ version as it depicts a disturbing torture scene not often seen in WB animation.~

3. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm

Mask of the PhantasmIf there should be considered one true voice of Batman, it should be Kevin Conroy, the man who has voiced Batman since 1992 with the debut of Batman: The Animated Series. And Mask of the Phantasm marks Conroy’s first of what would be many times voicing Batman in a feature-length movie.

 

This film was commissioned after the very first season of Batman: The Animated Series, and it really shows; it drips in the style and soul that made the television series so wonderful. Gotham is amazing, portrayed with the signature art deco style from the animated series that helped distance itself from the campy Adam West Batman of the 1960s. That distance further increases with Conroy’s portrayal of Batman; a perfect blend of foreboding and heroic. The Batman seen in Mask of the Phantasm is a darker version that today’s fans are probably used to, but he is still the voice of moral guidance throughout the story, which makes him the hero every kid could look up to.

 

It’s easy to assume that kids were the target audience of this film, but there are plenty of mature themes that run throughout. Writers did something that had yet to be done in the television show by delving into the romantic life of Bruce Wayne. What’s even better is that this is done in a productive way that ties into Batman’s own origin story. If the added romance wasn’t enough, the film also contains multiple flashbacks that are reminiscent of Citizen Kane. It has since been revealed in Les Daniels’ Batman: The Complete History, that this was intentional.

 

There’s no denying that an entire generation, when asked about Batman, will hear Kevin Conroy’s voice, see the art deco Gotham skyline dotted with dirigibles, and feel the hair stand up on the back of their necks at the thought of Mark Hamill’s Joker. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is not only a terrific movie, but acts as a testament to one of the most memorable eras of the Batman mythos.

~Having seen this one in the theatre on it’s initial release, it easily would have vied for the Number One or Two position on the list.  It set a new standard for the Animated Series, which already had raised the bar all on it’s own.~ 

2. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 and Part 2

TDKRThe writers of Batman: Mask of the Phantasm went out of their way to take a cartoon aimed at children and added a story line and themes that could be appreciated by adults as well. The creators of The Dark Knight Returns may not have ever even heard of children before. Based on Frank Miller’s 1986 comic book, the animated adaption is dark, violent, and incredibly mature. Though not really over-the-top in terms of what our society is used to violence-wise (it’s given a PG-13 rating by the MPAA), the film and depiction of Batman is definitely the most aggressive on this list.

 

Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment stay very true to Frank Miller’s comic in this animated movie adaption both in terms of plot and overarching themes. Anyone who was pulled in by Christopher Nolan’s darker take on the Batman universe will respond positively to this portrayal of the Dark Knight as well. Miller practically pioneered the dark tone for Batman, so much so that he’s been quoted as saying in an interview with Playboy that “[Nolan] seems to think he owns the title Dark Knight. [laughs] He’s about 20 years too late for that. It’s been used.”

 

Being “dark” isn’t the only draw Batman: The Dark Knight Returns has. The film tells tales that are relatively unknown to most movie-going audiences. Imagine that instead of taking on mentee Terry McGennis (mentioned before in Batman Beyond), Bruce decided to take things into his own hands and come out of retirement. Cleaning up a newly plagued Gotham, viewers are able to see what Batman has to do in order to make up for his age and resulting ailments. These new problems require new and sometimes unsettling solutions that fans aren’t used to seeing, but should find interesting all the same.

 

On top of the stories being new to people, they’re also huge in scale. There is a great sense of finality for Bruce and his relationships with many long-standing characters and super villains from the Batman universe. This animated feature even portrays one of Batman’s greatest challenges of all; going head-to-head with Superman, a clash that looks to have heavily influenced the upcoming Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.

 

The combination of new hurdles, dark tone, and climactic battles makes Batman: The Dark Knight Returns a must-see for anyone wanting to see Batman really let loose and do what needs to be done.

~I agree, this one, like Miller’s ‘Year One’, stays fairly true to the source material.  I may have dropped it down a peg out of the top two, but definitely on the list.~

1. Batman: Under the Red Hood

Under The Red HoodAll of the films on this list got here because they are loved by both fans and critics. They’re held in such regard for a multitude of reasons that include voice acting, animation quality, story line, and theme. Every movie on this list achieves some level of success in every one of the aforementioned categories, but Batman: Under the Red Hood might just do it better than all of them.

 

Neil Patrick Harris and John DiMaggio do a terrific job at voicing Nightwing and The Joker respectively. The latter deserves additional credit for putting such a unique spin on a character who has been portrayed in so many memorable ways over the years. John DiMaggio (best known for Bender from Futurama and Jake the Dog from Adventure Time) plays The Joker in a unique way that is every bit as good as Nicholson’s, Hamill’s, and Ledger’s portrayal of the psychotic clown.

 

Batman: Under the Red Hood employs a slightly more traditional animation style than The Dark Knight Returns in the sense that it’s reminiscent of many other DC universe TV series and movies. However, the creators managed to accomplish this without making it look dated or lazy. Everything looks beautiful while maintaining a style that DC fans have grown used to when it comes to animated movies.

 

A familiarity with the Batman pedigree is just as important, if not more so, than employing a familiar animation style. The creators of Under the Red Hood get points in this regard, too. Like others on this list, the film does an amazing job at combining important events from the Batman universe with new storytelling. Specifically by taking one of the most memorable events in comic book history, the brutal death of Robin (the Jason Todd incarnation), and exploring the long-term consequences of it. The result is something new that can be appreciated by long-time fans and newcomers alike.

 

This film is a combination of everything that makes a good animated Batman movie. Beyond just scoring top marks in “important” categories though, the film lets viewers see a much more vulnerable Batman and gives one of the best glimpses into why the hero adheres to the code he has made for himself.

~Although I can see why the writers altered the direction of the opening as compared to the original source material (which involved a larger comic universe storyline), it just doesn’t rate over ‘Mask of the Phantasm’ or ‘Year One’ for me.  It is definitely a well done piece, but maybe in the Five or Four spot for me.  Still worth seeing.~