Friday, October 28, 2011

Friday Night Movie Review 9: Batman Week Edition!

Holy smokes, you guys! Not only do the Fruitless Pursuits team have three new mini movie reviews for you, but all of them are Batman films in honour of our impromptu Batcelebration Week! Why that's almost as shocking as Christopher Walken promising the Penguin "unlimited poontang!" in Batman Returns!

Which three Batfilms do our Batcritics bring to justice? Join us after the Batjump and we'll find out!


Batman: Year One (2011)
With any luck, there are several Batman reviews already in this article... so I'm going to add one more, and it's a "no brainer".

Go buy Batman: Year One. Just do it.

Back in 1985/86, DC comics rebooted most of their continuity through "Crisis on Infinite Earths". As part of that, writer Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli did a four issue run of the Batman series (#404-407) giving a new take on Batman's origins and first year on the job. It's also an account of Lt. Jim Gordon as he comes to Gotham and has to learn how to cope within a corrupt system. The story is legendary within comics for being a real turning point in people's perception of the character, and making him the borderline personality disorder that we all know and love. It also re-introduced Selina Kyle as Catwoman, making her a prostitute in the process...because Frank Miller seems to have something against women.

So how good is the movie?  Well,'s fantastic! It's not a direct translation, as four issues of a comic aren't enough to fill a movie on their own...even a movie that's only 64 minutes long; but the padding never feels like padding, and the story moves so well that when it was over I both couldn't believe it was already over, and was surprised by how much time had passed.  Ben McKenzie, from the tv show Southland is not someone I'd ever heard of, but he plays a very effective Batman AND Bruce Wayne.  You can hear Bruce beginning to make the distinction between the two personae, and there's a genuine attempt to separate them, keeping both true to character. 

Eliza Dushku plays Selina Kyle, who takes her inspiration from Batman and takes to the streets on her own crusade. Dushku is generally hit and miss for me, and I think if she'd been in it more, it might have been a miss...but her character is around just enough to make the point and Dushku does very well with what she's given to do. The real standout is Bryan Cranston as James Gordon. It's funny, but the way this story is told, there's actually some of Cranston's other big claim-to-fame Walter White from Breaking Bad in the character of Gordon. He's transferring from Chicago with his pregnant wife and while trying to be a good cop, kinda forgets to be a good man and husband for awhile. In Gotham, the cops are either crooked or dead and he's trying very hard to find a middle. 

All-in-all, the whole thing is fascinating to watch.  I don't want to say more because I don't want to ruin the story for you.  But I will say it is ultimately a great story told well, and anyone who's ever thought they might be a Batman fan could do a lot worse than watching it.


Batman Forever (1995)

I was a mere 10 years old when I saw Batman Forever at the movies, and from the moment I stepped out of the cinema, I knew my life had changed. It became my Favourite Movie Ever (for a few months, at least), and is essentially what started it all for me. Not too much of a stretch to say that I may not be the pop culture-loving person I am today if not for a gaudy, camp Schumacher movie that most people hated. In celebration of Batman Week, I thought it would be a good time to revisit the movie and see how it measured up after all this time.

I'm going to be honest. I went in thinking it was going to be a crushing demolition of my childhood, but you know what? Loved every second of it. Well, except for all the bits with Nicole Kidman, she was bordering on unbearable, but everything else was just as ridiculous and wonderous as I remembered. Despite the fact the sets look like someone vomited rainbows over every scene (possibly a rebellion against Tim Burton's first two dark instalments), they still hold up to modern scrutiny and look pretty darn impressive, especially the scene in the alley with the UV paint and lights. And even though Jim Carrey was massively popular in the mid 90s and was likely cast as the Riddler on that fact alone, he's perfect for the role. Again, I expected to hate his over-the-top and juvenile portrayal, but it just worked. The scene where he destroys the Batcave is total perfection. Tommy Lee Jones is clearly having a hell of a lot of fun as Two Face, but it's really Carrey that carries the 'villain' side of the movie.

In case you haven't seen it, Batman Forever is 'The One With Two-Face and The Riddler and Robin and the New Costumes'. The Riddler has invented a 3DTV experience that taps into your brain and steals all your thoughts (which is why I'll never buy a 3DTV. I'm onto you, government), Two-Face is along for the lols and the opportunity to kill a whole bunch of people, and along the way Dick Grayson's family ends up totally dead, so he joins Batman and they get nipple suits and go out to get the baddies. Spoilers: they get the baddies. It's a hell of a lot of fun, and most of the charm is in how hilariously 90s it is. 'Cellular telephones' are a thing that are valuable enough for bad guys to steal along with diamonds, hand-held remote detonators are as big as a box of tissues, and 3D entertainment is an amazingly unattainable futuristic dream. Also, Chris O'Donnell is in it. Aw. Chris O'Donnell.

Obviously it doesn't match up to the OTHER Harvey Dent movie The Dark Knight, but as a product of its time it's well worth a re-watch. Maybe stay away from Batman & Robin though. Even I'm not brave enough for that.


Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
I received this Blu-ray as a freebie with my coveted copy of Arkham City, and it was apt because I was interested in knowing more about the Red Hood character since he inexplicably earned his own title in the recent DC Reboot, namely the amusingly terrible Red Hood and the Outsiders. Oh, and for further DC synergy, this straight-to-video animated movie was written by Judd Winick, author of controversial new comic series Catwoman in a Bra.

This movie combines a few infamous comics storylines and attempts to unravel the whole mess with Batman's Robins. It's basically about how Dick Grayson wasn't Robin, so tire-thief street urchin Jason Todd became Robin, and then he got killed, and then a nefarious villain brought him back to life, and meanwhile Dick Grayson became Nightwing/Neil Patrick Harris, and then zombie Jason Todd became Deadpool. And he wears the signature red and black Deadpool mask and shoots double pistols. BANG-BANG-BANG!

If comics continuity hurts your head, then don't let that stop you from watching this film because everything is pretty neatly explained for a first-timer. And don't worry if you don't like Robin, because the film opens with the Joker beating the shit out of him with a crowbar. But if you're a Joker fan, you might want to worry a little bit, because this is a pretty sullen and static Joker - he's not overly animated - and the voice work by Bender from Futurama is disappointingly low and restrained. He's more sinister than batshit insane, and he's also pretty pumped - forget the skinny evil clown - this guy looks like he could go a few rounds bare-knuckle boxing with Batman. Considering this film has many allusions to the Death in the Family and Killing Joke books, it felt like a missed opportunity. Perhaps I shouldn't be shocked though, because I also think Joker's being mishandled in the current comics. 

That said, it's an entertaining enough film with some solid action and character moments, and I like its style.   And while I can't say I'm totally in love with the movie, the Blu-ray itself is a nice package. The Jonah Hex short is actually very well made and entertaining and I do like the fact that it also includes four classic episodes from the original Batman: The Animated Series. They're not hi-def though, so be prepared for them to look like you're watching them through a dirty fishbowl!



  1. Also watched both Red Hood AND Batman Forever today. It was a Batman day, most certainly.

    Red Hood: I was oddly affected by it. Some of its surprisingly rough. Also: Jason Isaacs is on it. I like me some Lucius.

    Batman Forever: Damn, I saw this in the cinema and it was my favourite movie for YEARS (not as fickle as J most obviously). Soundtrack is the best. It was from an era where leading men still had hairy chests. And Chris O Donnell was surprisingly not-annoying. And I concur with Jacinta, Carrey's Riddler is so incredibly what the christ but it was great casting.

    Also Debi Mazar and Drew Barrymore's costume designers FTW.

  2. Batman Forever has such an uneven tone! I wonder if Burton had something planned before it became a Schumacher film, and what we saw is a weird hybrid or something?

    The Batman (and even Robin) story to an extent is surprisingly dark and psychological and emo, but it's intercut with a ridiculously camp, over-the-top villain story with Jim Carey acting like a total cock. Send a copy of Batman Forever to Emma Stone, Jim. See where that gets you.

  3. Darn I knew I forgot something this week :D Is it Friday already?

    Good reviews! All Batman, all the time! Spectacular!

    For the record, I wasn't a fan of Ben McKenzie as Batman/Bruce in year one but it WAS an awesome movie for all that. Batman Forever would have been better without kidman or tommy lee jones, and red hood was cool but a little odd. Still all worth watching at least once and preferably once or twice a year :D

  4. I spent much of Batman Forever thinking 'DAMN Val Kilmer was hot' and then 'DAMN why did he have to age so badly?'

  5. Oh and my 'few months' thing was just a gag, I was BRUTALLY obsessed with this movie. My door was plastered with posters of Val Kilmer and Chris O'Donnell and I played the soundtrack constantly. I saved up my pocket money for the video, which in the Olden Days was expensive and took FOREVER to come out. None of this 'out in a couple of months for $20' business. Kids these days...

  6. I was 19, and unironically thought it was great, and saw it twice at the movies (once on a date!). But even then I thought that booth where Bruce Wayne tried on the helmet looks super weird and cheap, and the final shot of them running in silhouette is kind of awkward. And cheap.

  7. Nooooo, the silhouette scene was amaaaaazing! Even today watching it I squealed a little bit. My favourite awkward moment is when Batman meets Chase for a 'midnight rendezvous' and then as he's leaving does that incredibly stiff smile. So good.

  8. That smile really genuinely is one of my favourite bits. It's Batman truly enjoying himself for the first time ever. Because he knows he's going to get some without feeling like a furry.

  9. I'm with Jacinta, the running silhouette is the total fucking boss. It's the BATMAN FUCK YEAH moment.

    Not sure if I thought Val Kilmer was hot. He's pretty - odd looking. Looks a lot like Jonathan Taylor Thomas. I did like the Chris O Donnell, though, earring and all