Friday, July 23, 2010

Movie Review: Batman - Under The Red Hood

There's a rather unfortunate trend going on when it comes to Batman: as the song goes, "can't read his, can't read his, no you can't read his poker face." Whether it's comics or direct-to-DVD animated movies like this latest WB offering, Batman has become a complete and utter cipher in recent years; beyond secretive, beyond unexpressive, beyond stoic. And, in my opinion, this has stripped away the character's most endearing quality: his humanity.

It's certainly true that Batman has never been the kind of superhero who wears his emotions on his sleeve. But what made him so appealing to me was precisely the fact that every now and then, the mask would slip. (Can't find any clips, but basically, any early episode of the Timm/Dini series that featured Two-Face demonstrates this quite nicely.)

That doesn't happen anymore. And "Under The Red Hood" is a perfect example of the result. Spoilers ahoy.

On paper, this should've had an emotional payload that would put "Mask of the Phantasm" or "I Am The Night" to shame. Jason Todd, Batman's second sidekick (and his self-proclaimed "greatest failure") was brutally murdered by the Joker. Five years later, the titular Red Hood emerges to wage war against Gotham crimelord the Black Mask, as well as Batman himself. He's fast, he's smart, and he knows every move Batman makes. A DNA sample just confirms what Bruce already suspects: Jason, his lost Robin, has been resurrected. And he's out for blood.

In terms of straight-up action, this one does quite well for itself, much like the previous "Crisis on Two Earths": the best and most effective scenes are the ones where the Red Hood effortlessly evades Batman's standard attempts to capture him, showing an awareness of the Dark Knight's tactics that's beyond even his oldest enemies.

The voice talent is a bit uneven - I'll admit my difficulties in accepting anyone other than Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as the voices of Batman and Joker, respectively, but Bruce Greenwood acquits himself quite well. John DiMaggio's Joker is quite different - the manic edge is intact, but there's a much darker and threatening undertone to this version, which suits the plot and atmosphere perfectly. I'd say the only real weak link is Jensen Ackles' Red Hood/Jason: he just doesn't reach the emotional high notes that the dialogue demands, especially in that pivotal scene where Jason finally reveals his real motives.

And that actually leads me to the biggest problem with this whole movie: there's no emotional core. The setup is there, and there are some very poignant flashbacks (the very last scene is the only one that moved me, as it really drove home the underlying tragedy of the whole story), but Batman doesn't react - at all - to the impossible return of his surrogate son. He's not horrified, he's not upset, he's not the slightest bit grateful that Jason's back. Even that critical moment where he explains why he didn't "avenge" Jason's death is delivered in the same flat monotone used when analyzing clues at a crime scene.

Bearing in mind that I haven't read the original storyline, I'm going out on a limb here and guessing that that utter lack of emotional response to the situation is something that was drawn from the comics themselves; if that's the case, then more's the pity. The failure of "Under the Red Hood" is that it promises a story that cuts to the heart of Batman the person, rather than just Batman the superhero, and it doesn't deliver any of that. So much more could have been done on that level, and instead we get explosions and shoot-outs and violent physical combat. Exciting, yes... but dramatically satisfying? Not even close.

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Ladies and gentlemen, today is a day of great victory for both geek culture and the human spirit.

Both Ethan and myself were dumbstruck at the news that SDCC attendees organized a counter-protest that chased Fred Phelps and his hate-spewing cult away. No violence, no police intervention, just enough utter conviction in a message that's infinitely more powerful than "God Hates (Insert Victim of the Week Here)".

And you know what instantly popped into my mind when I saw the photos?


So we raise our glasses to you, people of Comic-Con. Well done.

For the bloody WIN

Courtesy of deadwalrus, on the matter of Joe Quesada's "One Moment in Time":

Wait just one fucking MINUTE now.

Peter missed his wedding because a fat, Hispanic man fell on him, suffocating him, trapping him under his bulk, and restricting his movement?

...Isn't that, like, what happened in real life?

Bravo, good sir. Bravo!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Much Rejoicing in the House of Diana

Nickelodeon has just announced a sequel series to "Avatar: The Last Airbender".

My reaction was more or less this.

Here's what we know:

The Legend of Korra takes place 70 years after the events of Avatar: The Last Airbender and follows the adventures of the Avatar after Aang – a passionate, rebellious, and fearless teenaged girl from the Southern Water Tribe named Korra. With three of the four elements under her belt (Earth, Water, and Fire), Korra seeks to master the final element, Air. Her quest leads her to the epicenter of the modern "Avatar" world, Republic City – a metropolis that is fueled by steampunk technology. It is a virtual melting pot where benders and non-benders from all nations live and thrive. However, Korra discovers that Republic City is plagued by crime as well as a growing anti-bending revolution that threatens to rip it apart. Under the tutelage of Aang's son, Tenzin, Korra begins her airbending training while dealing with the dangers at large.

Now, the cynical part of my brain was distressingly quick to point out the many ways this can go wrong: what if the creators fail to meet their own standards? What if the network demands that Korra be Chickified? Oh, they were comfortable enough with Katara, Toph and Azula being progressive female characters, but then, they weren't the titular protagonists. What if the future world of the Four Nations is just a faded xerox of the original? What about the loose ends from the original that couldn't be covered in a 70-year gap (ie: Ursa's fate, to name just one example)? And worst of all, what if this new series takes cues from the Shamayawningalready movies?

And yet... and yet. There's something about this that feels right to me, like it could be another "Batman Beyond" in terms of the relationship between the parent and spin-off series; even based on the preliminary information, Korra sounds like a very different protagonist than her predecessor - she's already most of the way through her training, and I'd never use the words "passionate" or "rebellious" to describe Aang. The fact that the world has moved from medieval to steampunk makes a lot of sense given that the War has been over for a century, and the Fire Nation under Zuko presumably shared its technological advancements with the rest of the world. Even the central conflict is different this time: it's not a war story. Maybe it's what comes after a war story. I don't know... and I can't wait to find out!

So I'm going to be optimistic about this. And overjoyed at the possibility of revisiting one of my favorite stories.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Does Whatever a Spider Can

Andrew Garfield has been chosen to play Spider-Man.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is an excellent choice.

I've mentioned before that Garfield's performance in "Boy A" broke my heart into little pieces; he's the woobie to end all woobies, instantly sympathetic, and "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" shows he's got comic timing as well. And, of course, he's adorable, which certainly helps.

All in all, he's perfect for the role of Peter Parker. And yes, I'm actually going to see it when it comes out, thanks to this bit of news.