Son of Batman

  • Title: Son of Batman
  • Director: Ethan Spaulding
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2014
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Animation, Action, Fantasy, Drama
  • Cast: Jason O’Mara, Stuart Allan, Thomas Gibson, Morena Baccarin, Sean Maher, David McCallum
  • Format: Widescreen, color, animation
  • DVD Format: Blu-Ray

“I’ll drive.” – Damain
“No.” – Batman
“I know how.” – Damain
“No.” – Batman

“Do you know what you were tonight?” You weren’t a warrior. You weren’t a soldier. You were a child.” – Batman
“If it hadn’t been for him [Nightwing, Dick Grayson], I…” – Damian
[breaking in] “If it hadn’t been for Dick, you’d have gone too far.” – Batman
“It’s easier my way!” – Damian
“It has nothing to do with easy. It’s about doing what’s right, because it’s right and that’s the only reason you need.” – Batman

“You’ve never felt vengeful?” – Damian
“Everyday. You have to keep your center, Damain. You can’t fight crime by becoming a criminal.” – Batman

Son of Batman is the first of a trilogy of films about Damian Wayne – the son of Talia al Ghul (daughter of Ra’s al Ghul) and Bruce Wayne. Damian will become the fourth Robin (after Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake). The film opens with Ra’s al Ghul and Damian standing on a balcony in the secret temple of the League of Assassins. They watch the assassins exercising and training below, and Ra’s tells Damian it will be his birthright. But the temple is attacked. Talia protects Damian, but ultimately Ra’s is killed. Talia takes Damian to his father in Gotham City.

Once Talia makes introductions she leaves, and Batman returns to his mansion with his young son. Meanwhile a scientist, whom we learn later is Kirk Langstrom, is being forced to work on a formula or his wife and daughter will be harmed. Previously working for the League of Assassins, Langstrom is now working for Deathstroke – the leader of the attack on Ra’s temple. At Wayne Manor, Damian finds an antique sword and attacks the bushes. Bruce is impressed by the young man’s skill, while Alfred bemoans the destruction of the shrubbery.

Later that day or the next, Damian shows up at Wayne Enterprises – and proves himself an adept hacker. Bruce brings him home and grounds him. This will not go well.

Deathstroke’s henchman, Ubu, enters a hotel room with two hookers – but immediately gets suspicious. Damian arrives and fights Ubu – the fight spills out onto the street. Damain’s about to take Ubu’s head off with a sword, when Nightwing arrives. A few minutes later, Nightwing, looking the worse for wear, calls Bruce and tells him he has his son.

Back at the Batcave, Damian says just the wrong thing to Batman, and Dick who knows his mentor well, mutters, “uh-oh”, then Batman reads Damian the riot act. However, Damian is allowed to put on his own spin on the Robin suit and he and Batman travel on Gotham’s rooftops together. Batman introduces the new Robin to Commissioner Gordon with a nod and a “I’ll explain later”. Gordon gives Batman a clue, a scrap of paper from the investigation of Ubu. Batman and Damian follow it up, finding Langstrom. They find out Deathstroke has his family. There’s a massive fight against guards that ends-up in an old stadium that’s filled with giant man-bats.

Damian has Langstrom at knifepoint. He’s taken to the Batcave. There, finding out about his family, and that Ra’s wanted him to create a formula to create human/animal crossbreeds to create super-soldiers. Batman and Damian head off on a rescue mission, while Nightwing watches Langstrom as he makes a antidote to his man-bat formula. Damian had recognized the scientist’s daughter’s description of two mountain peaks like cat’s ears as Interlochen.

The rescue mission goes smoothly, and Batman finds the mother and daughter. But the daughter slips Damian a phone with a video message from Deathstroke and a location of Damian’s still-missing mother, Talia. Bruce calls Dick from a hotel room – then realizes Damian is missing. Batman, having heard from Mrs. Langstrom that Talia was also a prisoner but she was taken to another location. Dick quickly deduces the location, a nearby oil rig off the coast of Scotland.

The oil rig is at sunset and the animation is gorgeous. Damian takes an elevator to a sea base. Batman arrives and takes out the guards. Damian discovers a Lazarus Pit. Deathstroke threatens Talia. Damian threatens Deathstroke. But when pushed, Damian drops his gun. Talia gets shot trying to save Damian from Deathstroke. Batman arrives. Man-bats also attack. Batman uses sound signals on his batarangs to draw away the man-bats. Batman has the injured Talia.

Man-bats burst through the reinforced glass ceilings of the base, causing water to rush in and the system to overload. The man-bats burst above the base from the ocean and Nightwing and Langstrom fire antidotes at the man-bats from Nightwing’s plane.

Batman takes Talia into the Lazarus Pit. Damian and Deathstroke face off in a sword fight. Talia is cured by the Lazarus Pit.

The Sea-base starts to collapse as the sea rushes in. Water from the Lazarus Pit, which is being mined, also gets released. Deathstroke goads Damian into killing him – but Robin refuses – taking the name as his own for the first time. However, Deathstroke is caught by the explosion of the Lazarus pipelines. Batman, the new Robin, and Talia make it to an escape capsule and Nightwing rescues it from the ocean and the collapsing oil rig.

Talia and Bruce discuss who will have custody of Damian, but in the end he will stay with Bruce for now. Talia goes to rebuild the League of Assassins.

The animation in Son of Batman is excellent. This film looks gorgeous and the action sequences (of which there are many) are crisp and easy to follow. The sunset colors of the oil rig sequence are stunning. The film’s last shot of Batman and Robin, their capes blowing in the wind, the sunset behind them is beautiful. But this is also an extremely violent film with a high body count. The characterization is OK, but could have been better. Bruce Wayne seems a bit bland – and I found it hard to believe he didn’t even questions Talia. You’d think he would have demanded a paternity test – if only because of his position. Yet, Bruce also stops short of openly declaring that Damian is his son to the world.

I avoided this film and the two sequels for awhile because I’m not a fan of Grant Morrison at all, nor am I a fan of New 52, and I don’t really like Damian either. But, having said all that, I enjoyed this film. It looks gorgeous. The characterizations were pretty good. I loved seeing Dick Grayson as Nightwing, and the hint of the brothers-in-bat-hood relationship he will eventually have with Damian.

Recommendation: See It
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Well, it should be the next in sequence, Batman vs. Robin, but it will probably be Batman: The Killing Joke which I just bought.

Superman Doomsday

  • Title:  Superman – Doomsday
  • Director:  Bruce Timm, Lauren Montgomery, Brandon Vietti
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2007
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, Animation, Drama, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Adam Baldwin, Anne Heche, James Marsters, John Dimaggio, Tom Kenny, Swoosie Kurtz, Cree Summer
  • Format: Widescreen, color animation
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray 

“Just look at him, so sleek, so powerful, so beautiful, like some great golden god made flesh. Of course, any sensible god would demand absolute obidence in return for his favor. But no, our Man of Steel protects us and keeps us with no strings attached. And the people, hum, they practically worship him anyway. Enjoy your reign while you may, Superman, for as surely as night follows day, there comes a time when even gods must die.” – Lex Luthor, prologue

“The subject in question was biologically engineered to be the ultimate soldier: precise, clinical, unstoppable. But its creators came to realize it could not distinguish between friend and foe, thus this Doomsday machine lives to extinguish any and all life forms. Because it must.” Superman’s robot in the Fortress of Solitude

Luthor has a group of scientists and miners digging to the Earth’s core in search of a new energy source that Lexcorp can sell. However, they get more than they bargain for by freeing Doomsday, a biological killing machine. Luthor will later have his assistant Mercy eliminate all trace of Lexcorp’s involvement in freeing Doomsday, and to cover his tracks further, Lex cold-heartedly murders Mercy.

Doomsday escapes and wrecks havoc. Lois and Superman had been having a romantic get away to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude, when Superman’s robot informs him of Doomsday’s attacks on Metropolis. They return. Superman fights Doomsday, and they both cause havoc. Lois and Jimmy Olsen cover the story. The fight between Superman and Doomsday wrecks buildings, causes havoc, and ranges all over Metropolis – city streets, subway tunnels, city streets again. But in the end, Superman does the only thing he can – he grabs Doomsday from the back, flies straight up to the stratosphere, then crashes to Earth. He and Doomsday land in a huge impact crater. Doomsday is stopped, but Superman is also killed. Superman crawls out from beneath Doomsday’s body, and dies in Lois’s arms. Jimmy Olsen takes a picture of the dead Superman, and of Lois with tears streaming down her face.

Martha Kent, who had been watching the fight between Superman and Doomsday on TV, collapses off her chair, tears streaming down her cheeks. In the wake of Superman’s death, Clark Kent is missing, though Perry White is convinced he’s “fine” just incommunicato in Afghanistan (where Kent had gone as a war correspondent). Lois decides she has to talk to Clark’s mother, and drives to Smallville to see her. At first, Martha is suspicious, but when Lois talks about being “in love with him” and “being loved by him” the two go inside to talk.

Lois returns to Metropolis and covers a story of Toyman threatening a schoolbus full of kids. She sneaks inside to rescue the kids, and all of them get out but one little girl. Lois and the girl are also threatened by a “Chuckie”-type living doll/toy with a big knife. Lois defeats the toy/doll, but Toyman pushes the bus off the building. Lois and the little girl are rescued by “Superman”. At first, Lois is overjoyed to have Superman back – but then she notices things – like he doesn’t know where her apartment is, and his attitude towards her is cold and clinical not romantic. Lois tries to figure out if it’s a result of Superman’s trauma, or if this Superman is perhaps not really Superman.

Lois becomes even more suspicious when Clark Kent still doesn’t return or make contact, and Martha calls her and says that even though “Superman” has returned – Clark hasn’t contacted her, he hasn’t even called.

The new Superman goes to confront Luthor, but he’s trapped in a room filled with red sunlight, and Luthor beats him up with Kryptonite brass knuckles. We then learn two things – this new Superman isn’t Superman, he’s a clone made by Luthor and under his control. And Luthor actually missed his enemy Superman so much after his death, he made the clone but a clone who would work for him. Luthor also has Superman’s dead body in status.

Lois tries to get Jimmy to help her investigate, but Jimmy, feeling his mortality after the huge Superman – Doomsday fight in Metropolis, has quit the Daily Planet, and taken a well-paid job as a Paparazzi photographer for a tabloid. Jimmy refuses to help the first time Lois asks.

Meanwhile, Superman’s robot steals Superman’s real body from Lex Luthor. The robot takes the body to the Fortress of Solitude where it turns out Superman isn’t dead – his pulse had slowed down to a rate of once every 17 days to allow him to heal. It had taken the robot 17 days to detect it, and another 17 days to pin-point the location. The robot tells the still injured Superman he retrieved him from LexCorp.

“Superman” takes on Toyman, and, after learning the villain had killed a young child at a day care center, takes him from police custody, flies up high with Toyman, then drops Toyman to his death on top of a police car. Jimmy takes a picture of the bloody and very dead Toyman. It becomes very apparent this this is not the Superman we know – he’s cold, threatening, and scary. Plus he’s still very, very powerful. When the police commissioner asks Superman to come in for questioning – Superman simply refuses because he has “better things to do”, and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop him.

At the Fortress of Solitude, the robot continues to treat Kal-El, the real Superman.

Back in Metropolis, “Superman” goes into a beauty shop and looks into a mirror. With his X-ray vision he finds a lead ball in his head containing Kryptonite. He uses his laser heat vision to remove it.

Lex Luthor hits on Lois when she confronts him. Lois lets Lex kiss her – and knocks him out with a hypo. She, and Jimmy search Lex’s office.  Lois and Jimmy use Lex’s unconscious body on a retinal scanner. They find Lex’s bank of cloned Supermen.  Lex arrives to kill Lois and Jimmy, then Superman arrives. Superman destroys the clone bank. Superman locks Lex in the red room and takes the entire thing into the stratosphere then throws it to the ground.

Meanwhile at the Fortress of Solitude, Superman weight-lifts and exercises to tone his body. He hears the news reports of Lex Luthor’s death. The army is mobilized in Metropolis to take out “Superman” for “killing” Lex Luthor.

The real Superman, in a solar suit, armed with a Kryptonite gun, flies to Metropolis to confront the clone “Rogue Superman”. Superman tries to use the Kryptonite gun, but it goes flying. Superman and Rogue Superman fight. There is a lot of destruction during the fight. Lois grabs the Kryptonite gun, but when she fires at Rogue Superman – she misses. Rogue Superman beats up Superman. However, Superman is able to get the Kryptonite into Rogue Superman’s chest and it explodes – destroying him. Superman is also weakened by the blast but survives. He kisses Lois Lane as proof that he’s the “real” Superman. At the end he reveals himself to Lois as Clark Kent.

Luthor also is reveal to be not as dead as he appears.

This animated film adapts the Death of Superman storyline from the regular weekly Superman comic books. The blu-ray is accompanied by three excellent documentaries – especially the one on the public and press reaction to the Death of Superman (Superman # 75), as well as trailers and sneak peeks for other films in the DC Animated Universe series of films. However, this film also has some changes and unique features that differ from the original printed story. First, Bruce Timm, who co-wrote, produced, and co-directed the film with others introduced Luthor both as a narrator for the story and as the cause of Doomsday’s escape. I thought that made the film stronger – if someone’s going to kill Superman – it should be his well-known enemy. Second, though, simply for time limitations, many of the vignettes of the one to two-year long story arc of the death of Superman and his return weren’t used.

Also, this story, like many Superman stories, is a slug fest. Yes, it’s a slug fest where Superman loses, and he has to sacrifice himself to stop the threat, but it’s still a slug fest. The second half of the film -the world without a Superman, and Lois, Perry, Jimmy, and Martha all coping with there grief in their own ways, was better than the opening and closing fight scenes. However, I wanted to see more of that human story – especially Lois and Martha. Specifically, when Lois goes to see Martha at the Kent family farm, and Martha invites her in – I really wanted to see what happened next.

The animation in Superman- Doomsday was incredible. It was gorgeous and at times I forgot I was watching an animated film. It was that good. I haven’t seen a DC Comics / Warner Brothers Animation film that looked this good since Batman: Under the Red Hood (which, yes, I realize chronologically came after this – but I saw it first.) The realistic animation style and the seriousness of the subject matter also reminded me strongly of Batman: Under the Red Hood.

I will say though that this animated film from several years ago handled Doomsday and the Death of Superman better in many ways that a certain live-action film that is probably still in theaters.

Recommendation:  See It – especially  if your a fan of Superman or good animation
Rating: 4 Stars
Next film: I have several new films to choose from, but probably Spy

All-Star Superman

  • Title:  All-Star Superman
  • Director:  Sam Liu
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2011
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy, Drama, Animation
  • Cast:  James Denton, Christina Hendricks, Anthony La Pagulia, Edward Asner, Alexis Denisoff, John Dimaggio, Robin Atkins Downes
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format: R1, Blu-Ray

“Lex Luthor, you’re under arrest for attempted murder and crimes against humanity!” – SWAT Captain

All-Star Superman opens with a group of scientists in a spaceship that’s about to crash into the Sun, in no small part due to evil goings-on by Lex Luthor. Superman flies near the Sun and rescues the scientists but soon finds out that he suffered and overdose of solar radiation and he’s dying. Essentially, the theme of the story is Superman with cancer. You would think that would be depressing, but this animated film has a wonderful tone to it. The story is very episodic, but in a very real sense we’re seeing Superman actually fulfilling the items on his bucket list.

Superman, tells Lois Lane he’s Clark Kent – something she barely believes, and brings her to his fortress of solitude. There he gives her a serum that gives her his powers for a day, and the two have a romantic day playing superheroes together. They even stop a fight between Samson and Atlas and intelligent dinosaurs from the center of the Earth. When Superman brings the creatures back where they belong, he’s goaded into a fight with Samson and Atlas. However, he ends-up besting them with his intelligence solving the Riddle of the Ultra Sphinx. The riddle is what happens when “the irresistible force meets an immovable object”, Superman answers, “They surrender”, and rescues Lois. He then bests Samson and Atlas in arm wrestling.

Meanwhile, the Daily Planet has exposed Luthor’s water crisis scheme, and Luthor’s been charged by the International Court of Justice. Not only is Luthor found guilty he’s sentenced to die in the electric chair even though it’s been banned for years.

Clark goes to interview Luthor in prison, and Luthor states he likes Clark Kent but he hates Superman – and he’s happy that even though he will die, Superman will die first. The Parasite escapes during Luthor and Kent’s discussion and starts a riot in the prison, killing guards and prisoners alike. Luthor escapes.

Superman, in his fortress with her, tells Lois he’s dying. Lois insists he will figure out an answer.

Superman takes the bottle city of Kandor to a planet that they can safely colonize. Two months later he returns to Earth.

Two Kryptonians show up and prove to be spoiled, superior, colonials bent on cultural imperialism. Superman discovers, however, they have been poisoned by Kryptonite. In the end, they are sent to the Phantom Zone.

Superman even goes to his father’s grave, leaving a Kryptonian flower there. He says hi to his mother, Martha Kent, but doesn’t stay long.

Lex Luthor is “executed” but he doesn’t die – he’s stolen some of Superman’s serum to give himself super powers for 24 hours.

Superman records his final journal entry in the Fortress of Solitude.

Luthor’s next stratagem arrives – Solaris a living, intelligent sun eater who will poison the sun and turn it blue. Luthor thinks he’s gotten Solaris to turn the Earth’s Sun red, which will leave Superman helpless – but Solaris betrays even Luthor and poisons the Sun to turn it blue.  There’s a classic fight scene.  Superman has his pet sun-eater attack Solaris, but Solaris rips it to shreds. Superman then faces the super-powered Luthor, including firing a gravity gun at him. The gun eventually speeds up Luthor’s personal time, so just as Luthor is beginning to see the real meaning of things, and that everything is connected, he collapses because he’s burned through the serum.

But Superman is also dying. As his face cracks with light, he kisses Lois then flies off to the Sun to “fix it” and reverse the poisoning done by Solaris. The film ends with Lois sitting in a park. Jimmy Olsen drops by and asks her if she’s “going to the memorial”. Lois says no because she knows that Superman isn’t dead, he’s fixing the Sun and he will be back.

All-Star Superman has a wonderful 50s/early 60s quality to it. It has innocence and sweetness without being saccharin. The story is episodic, but underlining the individual bits is the very real threat that Superman is dying, essentially from cancer, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. You’d think that would be depressing, but Superman takes the news in stride and does take the time to do the things he wants or needs to do. It’s even Clark Kent who writes the “Superman Dead” newspaper story then collapses at his desk. The animation style also has a wonderful retro look to it that works wonderfully with the story.

There are some lovely special features as well, including interviews with Grant Morrison who wrote the original graphic novel. Overall, it’s an enjoyable and feel-good Superman story that doesn’t get bogged down in just fight sequences but shows the audience a human side to the Man of Steel.

Recommendation: See it, especially if you’re a fan of Superman or Classic DC Comics
Rating: 4 Stars
Next Film: Hot Fuzz

Justice League War (Origins – New 52)

  • Title:  Justice League War 
  • Director:  Jay Oliva
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2014
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre(s):  Action, Fantasy, Animation
  • Cast:  Sean Astin, Christopher Gorham, Justin Kirk, Michelle Managhan, Shemar Moore, Jason O’Mara, Alan Tudyk, Ioan Gruffudd
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray

“They don’t like us much!” – Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
“The world’s afraid of us.” – Batman
“You say that like its a good thing.” – Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
“It’s necessary.” – Batman

“Superman’s close, I’ve been tracking his flight path.” -Batman
“Pfft, on what?  Your own satellite?” – Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
[pause, as Batman checks an electronic gadget]
“I was kidding.  You have a satellite?!” –  Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)

With Justice League War Warner Brothers Animation moves from creating animated DC Comics films based on classic Silver Age (and early modern age) DC Comics, to making films based on the New 52.  Justice League War is a perfect case in point, as it is based on the graphic novel Justice League Volume 1 Origin (which is, in turn, really just a compilation of issues 1-6), written by Geoff Johns, penciled by Jim Lee, and inked by Scott Williams.

The first time I watched War I was impressed, the animation is good, and I felt the story did what it needed to do – introduce a big enough threat to bring together all seven superheroes who, until that time, had only been working in their own respective cities. These heroes, including new hero, Cyborg (Victor Stone) must over-come their distrust and fear of each other and learn to work together to overcome Darkseid, his Parademons, and his lieutenant, Desaad.

However, the second time I watched this, last night, I was considerably less impressed. Yes, the animation is gorgeous. And it’s nice to see older DC elements, like mother box and boom tubes, brought back. And if one needs a really big threat, it doesn’t get much bigger than Darkseid. Yes, this is essentially a re-boot. And, DC Comics, has rebooted it’s universe before.  They’re somewhat famous for it, actually. Personally, I actually started reading DC Comics when they re-booted the universe after Crisis on Infinite Earths. That was a great time to start reading comics – everything was new, you didn’t need to know the long complicated history, even the books started at number 1. I imagine, now, there are people who did the same thing for New 52 – they started there, and don’t know (or care) about the Silver Age and post-Crisis on Infinite Earths books I read and loved in college (just like when I started reading DC I didn’t care if a story was set on Earth 16 or Earth 2 or whatever). And that is perfectly OK. I see no need to rain on their parade.

But, as a fan of the Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths era, I really don’t like New 52. There, I said it, I don’t. Justice League War, especially on repeat viewing, is a perfect example of why I don’t like New 52. War, is, as the title suggests – full of battles and wisecracks. I’ve watched other DC animated films (Justice League:  Doom is a perfect example) where I also felt there was too much of an emphasis on fights and not enough on character – but at least in Doom, there is character. And, it’s the flaws in the characters that are exploited and must be overcome that are central to the plot. That keeps me riveted to the screen. But in Justice League War, not only is the majority of the film fight scene after fight scene, but the characters are pretty much stereotypes – not the DC characters we know and love. Hal Jordan, rather than being a man who knows no fear (and intergalactic police officer for the Green Lantern Corps) is reduced to “the one with the funny quips and lines”. Barry Allen, the Flash, is “the one who’s the nice guy next door”. Wonder Woman is the overly naïve “little girl” type. Superman is “the angry one”; I mean, seriously – Was that even supposed to be Clark Kent? Because he sounds like Young Justice‘s Conner Kent. Billy Batson (Shazam), well, actually, he’s got the same “little kid in a big body” quality he’s always had – but then, that is what he’s supposed to be. Cyborg is”‘the new guy”. And even Batman is “the only one who knows what’s going on / the parent”. These aren’t our much-loved characters – they are stereotypes. Even in the last line of the film, Wonder Woman describes her fellow heroes as iconotypes by comparing them to the Greek gods. (Jung would call these archetypes and it is a fair and valid comparison.) But I found the lack of real character a major disappointment. Creating great characters, not only the major characters, but the minor characters, has always been a strength of DC Comics. I feel New 52 falls short of the mark. Though this is an origin film, and it’s always possible that there will be improvement as the series develops.

Justice League War also cuts frequently from scene to scene as the various heroes fight Parademons in whatever city they happen to be in, before joining together to fight Darkseid, Desaad, and more Parademons. And in fighting together, the seven Justice League (a term never used in the film) founders, do learn to work together. They do learn that cooperation is very important, as is teamwork.  Perhaps the series will improve.

Recommendation:  See it, if you want to stay up to date with New 52
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Prestige

Superman Unbound

  • Title: Superman Unbound
  • Director: James Tucker
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2013
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, Animation
  • Cast: Matt Bomer, John Noble, Stana Katic, Molly Quinn
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Must be awful being you. Most powerful man in the world, and you still can’t control the women in your life.” – Lois to Clark

“I am the knowledge and strength of 10,000 worlds, and flesh and machine. I am becoming everything.” – Brainiac

“I think it’s a bug in his programming, that cyborg core inside him, it wants to know everything there is to know in the Galaxy.” – Jor-El
“So he said.” – Superman
“But that’s impossible, worlds are living things, their knowledge is always growing and changing. So, he has to stop them, turn them into these fake versions instead. You can’t control a living thing without destroying what’s alive about it.” – Jor-El

The animation in Superman Unbound is of very high quality, especially in the space scenes, and it’s much better than the disappointing animation in Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. But I was very happy to see quality animation again, after the disappointing Flash film. This film features Supergirl (Kara) Superman’s cousin, as well as Superman, and the villian Brainiac, and is based on the graphic novel, Superman: Brainiac, by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank.

The film’s opening gambit has Supergirl and Superman rescuing Lois Lane from military kidnappers in black. Lois complains that she has to keep her relationship with Clark Kent a secret.

Then a meteor falls towards Pheonix. However, it isn’t a meteor but a probe, occupied by a killer robot and with an transmitter. Superman defeats the robot, and destroys the transmitter and probe – but brings the robot to his Fortress of Solitude to study. There he runs into Kara, his cousin, aka Supergirl, who is freaked out. She recognizes the robot as having attacked her home city of Kandor on Krypton and causing the city to completely disappear. She tells Superman the villain’s name, Brainiac and that he will do the same to Metropolis on Earth.

Superman leaves Earth to deal with Brainiac before he gets to Earth, and Supergirl deals with issues on Earth, except in Metropolis. Eventually, Lois uses Jimmy’s emergency call watch, and Supergirl arrives. Lois confronts her about avoiding Metropolis, to which Supergirl warns her to get out of the city, visit the Kent’s farm in Smallville – go anywhere, just leave. Lois gets Kara to open up and finds out she’s afraid Brainiac will take Metropolis and destroy Earth, like he did Krypton.

Meanwhile, Superman listens to a recording of a Kryptonian science report on Brainiac and travels to another planet where he’s attacking. Superman helps destroy the robots on the alien planet. However, the planet’s sun explodes and Superman is stunned unconscious and taken aboard Brainiac’s ship. He awakens in a lab and destroys the robots analyzing him. Superman discovers cities in bell jars and “specimens” stored on Brainiac’s ship. He discovers Kandor also in a bottle. Superman runs into Brainiac, fights him, loses because he doesn’t have as much strength away from a yellow sun, and is transported inside Kandor. However, in his scan of Superman’s thoughts, Brainiac learns of Earth and heads his ship (shaped like a giant, black metal skull) there.

Inside Kandor, the micro sized city hasn’t changed in over thirty years, plus it has a red sun, so Superman’s powers are limited. But he discovers Kara’s parents, who fill him in some on Brainiac. He’s a cyborg with cybernetic and computer parts. But, Kor-El believes the system has a “bug” – because Brainiac want’s to know everything – an impossible task in an ever-changing galaxy. So, Brainiac has become an obsessive collector instead, stealing a world’s knowledge, taking a city and it’s inhabitants for his collection, then destroying the world so it cannot change. The city becomes locked in a bell jar, like a preserved butterfly on a board. Superman manages to escape Kandor, but promises to return and rescue the Kryptonian city. Recharged by another yellow sun, Superman picks up the bottle Kandor, and starts destroying Brainiac’s ship, before taking Kandor to his Fortress of Solitude.

Brianiac awakes and repairs his damaged ship.

Superman tells Kara her parents are alive inside Kandor, and he plans to take the city to a habitable planet with a red sun.

Brainiac and his robots attack Earth, and take Metropolis the way he had taken Kandor. Superman and Supergirl fight Brainiac and his robots. Superman defeats Brainiac by flooding him with sensations – sounds, smells, the feel of mud, et cetera. Meanwhile, Supergirl stops the missile that Brainiac had fired from his ship at the sun. Once Brainiac is defeated, Metropolis is returned to it’s normal spot, as is Kandor. Kara is reunited with her parents. At the end, Clark proposes to Lois in the Daily Planet newsroom.

The animation in this film was excellent, and the voice cast did an excellent job. I liked that Brainiac was more of a obsessive collector of cities, intelligent beings, and information, rather than simply knowledge and information. And the plot made it clear, it wasn’t gathering information that was an issue, but how Brainiac went about it. Essentially, Brainiac was like a Victorian natural history student, cataloging, in this case, the galaxy. Though, that plot also reminded me, strongly, of the Doctor Who episode, “Ghost Light”. One thing that concerned me was that Superman seemed to have very little concern for all the other cities on Brainiac’s ship – at one point he tries to destroy the ship, despite all the other cities with presumably living “specimens” inside. Later, Superman mentions resettling all the other cities on habitable planets – but I wondered if he realized what a big job that would be – there were hundreds of bell jars, from hundreds of planets. I wondered why Superman didn’t call in the Green Lantern Corps to help – it’s exactly the sort of thing they are trained for. But still, overall, it’s a good movie with a lot of action and battles. Superman fans will probably really love it.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox

  • Title:  Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox
  • Director:  Jay Oliva
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Animation, Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Justin Chambers, C. Thomas Howell, Michael B. Jordan, Kevin McKidd, Kevin Conroy, Sam Daly, Dana Delany, Cary Elwes, Nathan Fillion, Ron Perlman
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“They’re motivated by greed.  They lack the commitment, the absolute focus…” – Professor Zoom (Reverse Flash)
“…to kill me.” – Flash
“To erase you.” – Professor Zoom (Reverse Flash)

“Brake the sound barrier and there’s a sonic boom. You broke the time barrier, Flash, time boom. Ripples of distortion out from the point of impact, shifting everything just a tiny bit – but enough. Enough for events to happen slightly differently.” – Professor Zoom (Reverse Flash)

Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox starts with what we quickly realise is a flashback or memory. Young Barry Allen and his mother are stranded at the side of the road with a broken car.  Another car passes but fails to stop to help them.  Barry is incensed that the person in the car didn’t care enough to do what’s right and stop to help them.  Nora, Barry’s mother, urges him to not worry about it – then spots a gas station close by, they decide to walk there to find a phone.

The next flashback finds Barry coming home from school – only to find that his mother has been killed.

In the present, Barry and his wife, Iris are putting flowers on his mother’s grave. Barry expresses his regret that he wasn’t there to save his own mother.  He and Iris are interrupted when Barry gets an emergency call, there’s been a break-in at the Central City Flash Museum.  As Flash, Barry arrives and confronts The Top, Mirror Master, and eventually Captain Cold, Captain Boomarang, and Heat Wave.  It soon becomes obvious that the person in charge of the break in is Eoband Thawne, aka Professor Zoom, aka the Reverse Flash.  He uses the distraction of the Rogues Gallery attack to place small but powerful bombs on each Rogue as well as on Flash.  He also traps Flash in a gooey substance he can’t escape.  Flash manages to trap Professor Zoom, but he can’t get free.  The Justice League arrives, and each takes a Rogue to get rid of the bombs, without hurting anyone.  The various plans that each Justice Leaguer uses, work and all the bombs are destroyed harmlessly and the Rogues sent back to prison.  Meanwhile, Flash is still trapped.  Professor Zoom taunts Flash, but Flash manages to disarm the explosives on himself and Thawne.

Next, Barry wakes at his desk.  He’s a little confused by the news headline on his computer screen – and even more confused when he exits the building and meets his mother.  Things go from bad to worse, as Flash realises he’s in an alternative world that never had a Flash.  A world that’s in the midst of War.  Barry goes to the Wayne Mansion just outside Gotham City – but the place is a wreck.  He gets inside the Batcave and meets Batman – a very violent Batman, who uses guns, and has no problem with killing.  Barry quickly realises that this Batman is Thomas Wayne, and it was Bruce who died That Fateful Night.  To make matters worse, the death of her son, and seeing her husband become a violent vigilante has turned Mrs. Wayne into the Joker.  Though it takes some doing, Barry not only convinces Thomas that his world is “all wrong” – he convinces him they have to re-create the experiment that turned Barry into the Flash.  The resulting scene brings to mind various filmed versions of Frankenstein.  The first try fails, But, the second try works.  The Flash, however, is unable to get enough speed and theorizes there’s another speedster out there also tapping into the “speed force”.

Since using his own power won’t work, Barry’s next idea is to ask for Superman’s help.  Batman tells him, though, this world has no Superman.  Barry, however, from his own nightmares of the divergent timelines, gets an idea.  Batman calls in Cyborg, who works directly for the US Government, and convinces him to hack every computer system he can, looking for information.  Eventually Thomas Wayne/Batman convinces Cyborg to hack government and military records.  This leads them to find a warehouse that holds the little baby rocket from Krypton.  Superman is locked-up, and very weak because he’s been kept in a room with red light and hasn’t experienced the Earth’s yellow sun. Batman, Flash, and Cyborg break Superman out of the military cell.

In Europe, which has been flooded by Aquaman, then taken over by Queen Diana and the Amazons, Lois Lane is about to be killed by Amazons.  She’s rescued by the Resistance, another group of Heroes, like Cyborg’s group.  Lois swears she saw a yellow-clothed speedster, but the Resistance Group tells her that no speedster works with them. When Batman sees the footage, he tells Flash, who realises it’s Dr. Zoom.

Lex Luther, Deathstroke and Clayface work together on a US Military Carrier to attack Aquaman and attempt to find his doomsday weapon.  They fail.

The Military also find Hal Jordan and offer him the chance to fly a captured alien spaceship.  Hal jumps at the chance.  (The ship’s pilot is dead and enclosed in a glass tube.)  The air force general tells Hal that when he died, a glowing green ring flew off his hand and into space.  Hal has trouble believing that part of the story.  However, Hal has no trouble flying the ship.  He too goes after Aquaman, specifically attacking a giant octopus-like creature.  Unfortunately, Hal and his ship are swallowed by the creature and Hal is presumed dead.

At that point, the President fires Cyborg, stating there’s nothing left to be done. Cyborg goes to Batman and the Shazam kids and tells them it’s over. Flash talks everyone into not giving up. They all go to Europe. In Europe, they meet Lois and the Resistance group. However, Aquaman and Wonder Woman are in the midst of their final battle. There’s a huge fight, and one by one, most everyone is injured or killed. Finally, Reverse Flash arrives and confronts Flash – explaining that everything that’s happened is his fault, he changed things – and created the mess.

There’s more destruction and heroes, Amazons, and Aquaman’s troops dying.  Superman arrives, and cuts off Aquaman’s arm to save Cyborg.  However, severely injured, Cyborg dies.  Diana goes to kill Aquaman, but he launches his doomsday weapon, Captain Atom.  Barry’s absorbed the info from Professor Zoom.  Batman kills Zoom, and gives Barry a letter for Bruce.  Barry runs and runs, barely escaping the Doomsday weapon, and catches himself.  He prevents himself from changing the past.

Barry again wakes up at his office – and everything is back to normal.  He visits Bruce and gives him the letter.  Bruce recognizes his father’s handwriting and is moved to tears by Thomas Wayne’s letter.

The first time I watched this film, I really didn’t like it.  It seemed so unfair to Barry that he’d have to sacrifice his mother and his happiness with Iris to save the world (in the alternate reality – she’s married to someone else and has a child.)

Watching it a second time, I liked it slightly better, but the film still has some issues. First, Barry, The Flash, is thrust into the altered reality suddenly, and with no explanation. We don’t see him time travel, or Professor Zoom trying something, or even a strange portal. There’s no visual or other indication that somehow time has changed. So the audience is as much in the dark as Barry Allen. And, although in some films, that technique of utter confusion can work, because the audience has faith that All Will Be Explained, in a short, animated film, it becomes wearying to have no idea what is going on. The film is full of action sequences, that sometimes make sense and other times don’t – because so little is explained in the film. And the only explanation is at the end, and from the villain – who places the blame squarely on Barry’s head. Really? How did Zoom know? If he was from the altered reality – he shouldn’t know anything about Barry Allen, because Barry never became the Flash in that reality. Not to mention, if Zoom tapped into the Speed Force by copying the accident that made Barry the Flash – how could he exist without an accident to copy?  (A non-invention paradox.) Meanwhile, Barry actually brings up the other problem – how could his interfering with his mother’s death have affected events before that event? Professor Zoom’s explanation is inventive, but not quite convincing. My guess is he actually lied to Barry – and it was Zoom who messed with things to create the Really Messed Up world then dumped Barry into it. Or, caused a version of Barry to exist that never became Flash. It certainly sounds more like a plot put together by a supervillain.

The other issue was the animation – which I thought was crude, and frankly, pretty bad.  The Justice League in the opening barely looked human – or, Kryption or whatever they may be.  And in some scenes, the animation was OK, in others, especially the opening flashbacks – it looked very much like Japanese anime, and it others the humans/heroes just didn’t look right – at all.  (Diana / Wonder Woman looks awful in nearly every shot she’s in.) It really was quite messy – and there seemed no reason for it.

I will say, it was nice to see a story about Barry Allen, The Flash, but this particular story was dark, and the execution wasn’t very successful.

Recommendation:  For die hard DC fans only, otherwise skip it.
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  No idea – I have, The Prestige, Inception, Superman Unbound, Justice League War (New 52 Origins)”, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on deck.

Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 (Spoilers)

  • Title:   Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2
  • Director:  Jay Olivia
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Animation, Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, Michael Emerson, David Seltz, Mark Valley, Robin Atkin Downes, Maurice LaMarche, Michael McKean, Conan O’Brien, Rob Paulsen, Frank Welker, Tara Strong
  • Format:  Windscreen, Color Animation
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“Look, either shut it down, or one of these days someone with authority is going to tell me to come stop you.  And when that happens…” — Clark
“When that happens may the best man win.” – Bruce
 
“Come on, finish me…. Doesn’t matter, I win, I made you lose control … and they’ll kill you for it.” — Joker
 
“Tonight, I am going to maintain order in Gotham City, you’re going to help me!  But not with these [guns]!  These are loud and clumsy!  These are the weapons of cowards!  Our weapons are precise and quiet!  In time, I will teach them to you.  But for tonight, you will rely on your brains and your fists.  Tonight we are the law!  Tonight I am the law!”  — Batman
Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is a classic graphic novel that’s been in print since it’s original publication in 1986.  It’s excellent, and truly raised the bar for graphic story-telling and changed comics forever.  It’s the first graphic novel I ever read and one I occasionally re-read.  I’m very glad Warner’s allowed two movies to be made from this big and complicated graphic novel.  I was worried though that Warners would “wimp out” with the more controversial aspects of the story.  I’m happy to report they did not.  The political aspects of the storyline are here in full.  Hazzah!
Whereas the first part (film) focuses on Bruce putting the Batsuit on again and Two Face and the Mutant gang Leader as villains, the second part focuses almost exclusively on The Joker as primary villain, though there is still a lot going on.  Even more than Part 1, television newscasts are used as a narrative device in Part 2.
In Part 2, the remainder of  the Mutant Gang has split into various groups.  The Sons of Batman, with their blue face paint, declare Batman as their leader, and attempt to save Gotham City from other criminals – violently.  The Nixons, with their tall blonde female leader, “Bruno”, rob and steal without remorse.  Bruno has red swastikas painted on her breasts.  Batman sets up a sting to catch her, and succeeds. Superman arrives in Gotham and saves a blind man who’s fallen into a subway track in the path of an on-coming train.  But the reason he’s there is to encourage Bruce to hang-up the cape again.  However, the majority of the film concerns Joker.
Jim Gordon retires.  The new police commissioner, Ellen Yindel, as her first act as Comissioner, issues a warrant for Batman’s arrest.  When Clark and Bruce talk, Clark has a bald eagle on his arm, and Bruce pets Clark’s white dog — which is a great image!
Joker is in an asylum, being treated by Dr. Wolper.  He manipulates Wolper to get him a pass and an interview on the Dave Endocrine Show.  Wolper does this, and soon Joker is free.   He kills Wolper with a coffee cup during the show’s taping, as well as Endocrine and his audience with his deadly Joker gas. Batman and Robin (Carrie) had gone to the show’s taping to try to stop Joker, but Yindel’s police attack Batman.  The police spend so much time trying to catch Batman that they fail to stop Joker.
After escaping the chaos at the television studio, Joker finds Selina Kyle, and uses hallucinogenic lipstick to control her mind, as well as one of her girls.  The girl gets a Congressman to declare the country should declare open war on the Soviets before falling to his death (while wrapped in an American flag).
The president announces on TV that American troops are battling Soviet troops in the South American Island country of “Corto Maltese”.  As in the graphic novel, the president looks like Reagan, and he’s voiced in the animated film to sound like Ronald Reagan, including his “folksy wisdom”.  He announces a war by saying, “Now those Soviets would like to see us turn tail and run, but we’ve got to protect our interests, I mean, stand up for freedom and the good people of Corto Maltese.  So don’t fret… we’ve got God on our side.”  This political conflict forms the backdrop of the entire film.  News is blacked out “due to severe weather”.
Batman finds out about the connection to Kyle Escorts.  He finds Selina, dressed like Wonder Woman, and tied-up.  She tells him about Joker and the mind-control lipstick.  Batman is too late to save the Congressman.
Batman also finds out Joker’s next target is the local amusement park, which is just opening.  Batman and Joker fight in the house of mirrors, where Joker shoots Batman in the shoulder.  Joker escapes into the tunnel of love, and he and Batman fight again.  Joker knifes Batman across the stomach and stabs him several times.  Batman beats Joker, who finally collapses against a wall.  Joker taunts Batman, then breaks his own neck.  Batman passes out.  Later, Batman awakes.  He places incindiaries on Joker’s body and disappears, as Yindel’s police troops close in.  Joker’s body burns and the entire tunnel blows up.
Carrie rescues Batman and takes him to the Cave where Alfred does surgery.
Reagan announces from an “undisclosed location” via television special report, American troops won in Corto Maltese, but the Soviets are “poor sports” as a missile’s been sent towards the Island nation.  Superman deflects the missile and it blows up over Gotham City.  Superman is irradiated, crash lands, and kills everything he touches — flowers, trees, grass, etc.
Gotham is blacked out and everyone panics.  Bruce realizes it was an EMP blast.  Batman and Robin ride on horseback into Gotham.  Batman rallies the Sons of Batman, and later citizens and even former members of the Mutant Gang into keeping order in the city.  Meanwhile, Jim Gordon, organizes people in his own neighborhood to put out fires.
The country is buried under a cloud of smoke and ash.  In Gotham, there is no sun, but electricity is slowly coming back on.  Gotham is the only city not torn apart by crime, rioting and looting.
The president (still Reagan) enforces martial law, and sends a recovering Superman after Batman. Batman works with Carrie, Oliver Queen (formerly the Green Arrow), and Alfred on a plan.  He fights Superman in Crime Alley, distracting him until Queen can fire a Kryptonite arrow at Superman.  The arrow doesn’t kill Superman outright, but weakens him.  Batman somewhat defeats Superman, but then he falls victim to a heart attack.  Superman, Diana (once, but no longer, Wonder Woman), Selina, and Jim Gordon attend the funeral.  At the end, Carrie, heavily veiled, is the last to stand by Bruce Wayne’s grave.
Wayne Manor has burned to the ground, after Alfred, following Bruce’s instructions, hit the self-destruct.  Alfred escapes the house but dies of a massive stroke.
There’s a cut to the sound of a heart monitor.  Then, Oliver Queen begins to instruct the Sons of  Batman in cleaning up the Bat Cave.  Bruce arrives and states he will instruct the Sons of Batman (as well as former Mutants and other citizens who joined him the first night after the missile fell).  They are now Bruce’s army.
I liked Part 1 slightly better; Part 2 seems like more of a slug-fest.  However, kudos to Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano, Warner Brothers Animation, and DC Premiere for not shying away from the darker and more political aspects of  Frank Miller’s classic book.  The second half of Part 2 works really well.  In the first half,  Batman’s final confrontation with Joker seems almost anti-climatic.  However, though the film is dark and violent, it is also really good — with an adult story, and incredible animation that evokes the art of Miller’s classic.  Recommended.
Recommendation:  See it!  (Though not for young children)
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Third Man