My Faves: Young Justice

I know I’ve mentioned this show briefly before, but it got taken off Netflix yesterday, and I’m feeling sentimental.

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Young Justice
Creators: Mostly Greg Weisman and Brandon Vietti
Starring: Danica McKellar, Jesse McCartney, Nolan North, Khary Payton and so, so many others…
Aired: 2010-2013-2018?
Rated TV-PG

As the name might imply, this is a show about a team of young superheroes–or teenage sidekicks, to be more precise–who work alongside the Justice League. It starts when fellow sidekicks Robin, Kid Flash, and Aqualad go on an unauthorised mission together and end up saving Superboy, a Superman clone, from the evil lab that created him. Their mentors still don’t think they’re ready for the Justice League, but after seeing what the four kids are capable of, they agree to let them form a super-team of their own. Miss Martian, Martian Manhunter’s niece, and Artemis, a Green Arrow protege, are quickly added to the group (presumably to balance out the testosterone), and eventually it expands to include more than a dozen former sidekicks. But after a few covert crime-fighting missions together, the Team (no, they never get a proper name) begin to realise most of their enemies are connected through a shadowy organisation called the Light. And they’ve barely scratched the surface of the Light’s nefarious plans.

This was one of the first DC shows I ever watched in full, and it was a great gateway into the rest of the DC universe. It has a gigantic cast, plucked from every corner of comic continuity, and almost every character is at his/her best. I went into this show knowing a little bit about Batman, Superman, and the Flash, and that was it. I came out of it as a huge fan of the rest of the Bat-family (particularly Nightwing), the rest of the Flash family, Blue Beetle, Miss Martian, and quite a few other heroes I’d never heard of before. And as I’ve become a more informed fan, I’ve just come to appreciate this show’s unique take on many of its characters even more.

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For example: Best. Lex Luthor. Ever.

But the main reason I love this show has nothing to do with my love for DC. It has to do with my love for smart stories about smart characters. The cast of Young Justice is almost entirely made up of master strategists, cunning manipulators, and double agents, all trying to outwit each other at once. This naturally leads to a convoluted plot full of unexpected twists, in which nothing is quite as it seems in the beginning. It’s great fun. And the fact that many of these smart characters are teenagers, who do occasionally act like normal teens when they’re not saving the world, does surprisingly little to hinder the fun.

In fact, the characters are a big part of what makes this show work. Like Justice League Unlimited and other great super-team shows before it, Young Justice manages to give every one of its many, many main characters a chance to shine. (At least for the first season. More on that later.) But on this show, it’s usually more than just a moment in the spotlight. Each member of the original Team has a layered personality and a complex character arc that lets them grow and change naturally over the course of the show, which is pretty impressive, considering each episode is only a half hour long and a lot of that time has to be spent advancing the plot. While some of the protagonists’ actions can seem dumb or annoying at first, there’s almost always an understandable reason behind them. The show also doesn’t shy away from showing the kind of impact a crime-fighting lifestyle could have on a teenager. Everyone on the Team struggles with issues related to their job, from Robin’s fear of becoming as ruthless as Batman to Miss Martian’s insecurity and anti-heroic tendencies. Not to mention the drama that naturally results from a bunch of hormonal teens working together. But they all manage to rise above those issues whenever the day needs saving, which is fun to see.

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They’ve even got a sweet day-saving ship!

Unlike some of my other “faves,” however, I will admit this show has flaws. Its soundtrack and voice acting aren’t nearly as good as anything in the DCAU, for example, and it tends to rely a little too heavily on exposition. Also (and this is a minor spoiler, so…sorry) Season 2, dubbed “Young Justice: Invasion,” starts five years after the first season’s cliffhanger ending. I have very mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it means a lot of important character development happens offscreen, which is usually a bad thing for any story. It also introduces a ton of new characters, some of whom never get enough development for us to really care about them, and it stretches the suspension of disbelief a bit, since some of the major plot points from Season 1 really shouldn’t have taken five years to resolve. On the other hand, some of the new characters do get plenty of development, and they’re fantastic. Blue Beetle and Impulse are the stand-out examples, but there are others. Also, skipping ahead five years means Robin ages into Nightwing, which is always a good thing.

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For…multiple reasons.

Story-wise, the second season is as good or better than the first, and after the first few episodes, the time skip problems get much less irritating. So overall, I’d say the good outweighs the bad. Which is also true for Young Justice as a whole. It has some of the best animation I’ve ever seen in a TV show, tons of cool action, and unforgettable characters. It’s also incredibly tightly plotted. Not a single episode could be considered “filler.” Not a single character is expendable (except maybe Lagoon Boy from Season 2, because he sucks). Not a line of dialogue is ever wasted.

And yet, this show only has two seasons at the moment. It seems to have endured Firefly levels of sabotage from Cartoon Network, where it first aired, with long hiatuses being imposed with no warning, episodes airing at the wrong times, etc. It was cancelled after the second season, and the reason I’ve heard cited most often is that it wasn’t selling enough toys. But thanks to ongoing fan support and tons of views on Netflix, it’s been renewed for a third season, to be called “Young Justice: Outsiders”! I’m pretty excited. Even though it won’t be on Netflix, apparently. And I have to wait until 2018, apparently.

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I need a time machine.

In the meantime, there are always DVDs…and if you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing this show, I highly recommend  you make every effort to do so.

Grade: A for Aster

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The Flash

It’s high time for me to talk about my other favourite DC superhero.

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The Flash
Creators: Greg Berlanti, Geoff Johns, Andrew Kreisberg
Starring: Grant Gustin, Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Carlos Valdes, Tom Cavanagh, etc.
Aired: 2014-Present
Rated TV-PG

The Flash is the second of (currently) four shows that make up the CW’s DC universe, usually dubbed the “Arrowverse.” And it is by far the best. The third season just hit Netflix, but things got started back in Season 1 with 11-year-old Barry Allen witnessing his mother’s death at the hands of a mysterious figure who appears in a bolt of lightning. No one believes his version of the story, so his father is blamed for the murder. Fast forward a decade or so, and Barry’s working as a (ridiculously young) CSI tech in his hometown of Central City. Ever since the incident with his mother, he’s been obsessed with finding proof of the “impossible,” and he gets his wish one night when a particle accelerator at nearby S.T.A.R. Labs explodes, causing him to get struck by SCIENCE!-infused lightning. When he finally wakes up after a nine-month coma, Barry discovers he has super speed. With the help of the team of scientists who were working on the particle accelerator (Harrison Wells, Cisco Ramon, and Caitlin Snow), he learns how to use his powers to become a superhero. Good thing, too, since he’s not the only person who got superpowers in the explosion, and most of the other new “metahumans” in Central City put them to less than altruistic purposes. When he’s not chasing them down, The Flash works to find out what happened to his mother, woo his longtime crush Iris West, and, of course, fight the Big Bad of the season, who usually has similar powers to his own.

So why is this the best of the Arrowverse–and, in my opinion, the best CW show ever? Well, for one thing, out of all the live-action superhero stories I’ve seen, this is the one that best captures the comic book spirit. It makes absolutely no attempt to make its stories more “grounded” or “mature” than their source material, but instead does its best to embrace the wackiness at every opportunity. It’s got colourful costumes, goofy dialogue, giant psychic gorillas, convoluted time travel, parallel universes, and enough technobabble to make Spock’s head spin. There are big crossover events with the other shows in the Arrowverse (which tend to be hit or miss, thanks to those shows’ inferior nature). Every season ends with an epic finale, but along the way there are plenty of light-hearted episodes dealing with the metahuman of the week. There’s even a freaking musical episode!

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And it’s amazing.

That’s the first reason I got hooked on this show: it’s just so darn fun. The action is cool, there’s a good amount of humour sprinkled throughout, and most of the stories are campy and cheesy in the best possible way. What has kept me watching, though, even through some of the show’s less fun episodes, are the characters. Every member of the main cast is extremely likable in their own way. Barry himself is the kind of hero who will stop a bank robbery, give the would-be robber a heartfelt talk about how to change his life, and then re-paint someone’s garage on the way home. All while making awful speed puns. He’s a caring, optimistic hero who tends to inspire people both in- and out-of-universe. Of course, he struggles with his own set of flaws, mainly not thinking things through before doing them (a logical flaw for a speedster), but he usually manages to work through those things and emerge as a better person.

Then there’s the supporting cast: Detective Joe West, Barry’s loving, supportive father figure/Commissioner Gordon figure; Caitlin, the frosty-tempered but warm-hearted S.T.A.R. Labs team medic; Iris, who starts out pretty one-dimensional but eventually grows into a strong woman worthy of the Flash’s affection; and Harrison Wells, who is technically a different character every season because he keeps getting replaced by alternate-universe versions of himself. But whether he’s a wise mentor, a grumpy anti-hero, or the designated comic relief, he’s always entertaining thanks to Tom Cavanagh’s flexible acting skills. My personal favourite character, though, is Cisco. Not just because he’s the biggest nerd in an already nerdy cast (always an endearing trait), but because he is, if possible, even more principled and pure-hearted than Barry. He’s always quick with the jokes and one-liners, but he’s also perfectly capable of saving the day when he needs to. All these characters share a very heartwarming bond of friendship, proving over and over again that they’d do anything to help each other.

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And no wonder. How could you look at Cisco’s adorable face and NOT love him?

With occasional exceptions, the show also tends to have excellent villains. The Big Bads have, so far, always been evil speedsters with personal grudges against Barry, which did feel a tad repetitive by the third season, but each one still manages to be menacing in his own unique way. My least favourite is Season 2’s Zoom, because he got the least amount of characterisation, but even he wasn’t bad. The other two evil speedsters, the Reverse-Flash and Savitar, are equally great in my book. But there are plenty of memorable meta-of-the-week villains, too. The Trickster is the closest thing we’ll ever get to a live-action Mark Hamill Joker, and he even manages to make an epic Star Wars reference. Grodd is the aforementioned psychic gorilla, and while his CGI appearance sometimes leaves a bit to be desired, he’s still plenty intimidating. Then there’s the cool, sarcastic, morally conflicted Captain Cold, whom I love with all my heart, whether he’s fighting for or against Team Flash.

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He’s just a really chill guy.

Of course, while it is a glorious DC comics show, The Flash is also a CW show, and it comes with many of the problems that that implies. There are far too many romantic subplots, and they take up far too much screen time. Lots of conflicts arise because the characters don’t communicate well enough, or make stupid decisions, or just happened to be written by someone who decided they should be arguing that day. The special effects are not exactly cinematic in quality, and neither are all of the supporting actors. But as someone who has watched more CW junk than she’d like to admit, I have to say that those flaws are much less noticeable in this show than in most of its fellows. The romance is annoying, but it never overtakes the main plot. The special effects aren’t perfect, but they’re far from terrible for TV. And some of the conflicts may be unnecessary, but at least they’re usually resolved within an episode or two rather than being dragged out through a whole season, as I’ve seen happen elsewhere.

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I guess you get over your problems quicker when you can run faster than the speed of light.

I’ve heard some people say The Flash has gone downhill with each season. While I can understand why some might think that way–the repetitive story arcs, the more serious tone of Season 2, etc.–I’m not sure I agree. Yes, the first season is probably still my favourite, but that’s mostly because it was my first introduction to The Flash and his universe. Later seasons may have had similar Big Bads, but they also brought in more great characters, more development for existing characters, and, of course, more comic book wackiness. Season 3 also brought a significant change to the show, one that seems like an exceptionally bold move for the CW (though it has plenty of precedent in the comics). Of course, it could all be undone within the first few episodes of Season 4. For now, though, I maintain that The Flash, with all its flaws, is a thoroughly enjoyable show that brings several wonderful superheroes (and supervillains) to life.

If it keeps up this way, I’ll be running back to this show for years to come.

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“Run, Barry, run!”

Grade: A-

P.S. In case anyone was wondering about my opinions on the other shows in the Arrowverse, the short version is: Arrow’s pretty good for the first two seasons, then gradually becomes unwatchable by Season 4; I couldn’t finish the first season of Supergirl because it was preachy, overly political trash; Legends of Tomorrow is good whenever it focuses on characters who were introduced on The Flash.  Also it has Rory Williams playing the Doctor, so there’s that.

Wonder Woman

Today is a happy day, my friends. It is a day that shall live on in history.

We finally have a good female superhero movie.

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Wonder Woman
Director: Patty Jenkins
Writer: Allan Heinberg
Starring: Gal Gadot, Chris Pine
Rated PG-13

Diana is a princess of the Amazons, a race of warrior women created by the Greek gods to protect the world from evil. She’s grown up on the island of Themyscira, which is magically hidden from the rest of the world, and has trained since she was a little girl to be the greatest warrior her civilisation has ever known. She gets her first chance to really use those skills when a man comes to Themyscira: Steve Trevor, a World War I pilot who crash-lands near the island and accidentally brings a bunch of angry Germans after him. When Diana finds out that the entire “world of men” is at war, she believes only one person could be responsible: Ares, the god of war, sworn enemy of the Amazons. But the rest of her people refuse to help, leading our hero to steal some special weapons (including a sword aptly called the Godkiller) and run away with Steve to try and save the world. Tank-flipping and lasso-throwing ensue.

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I am Diana, princess of Themyscira, and I am here to save the DC universe!

Wonder Woman is not the best superhero movie ever made. In fact, this has been such a great year for movies that it’s not even the best superhero movie of 2017 (that would be Logan). But it’s special. I drove for an hour to get to the earliest possible showing, just because I wanted to be there when the most famous superheroine of all time finally got the movie she deserved. I’m a woman, and I love superheroes. I can relate to male heroes when they’re written and acted well, but when all the cool ones are male, it starts to feel like Hollywood writers think fans like me don’t exist. Either that or they think it would be totally implausible for a woman to be a cool hero capable of carrying her own story, and that’s even worse.

And even with all the good early reviews, I was still a little bit nervous about this movie. There are so many ways Wonder Woman could go wrong on the big screen, and with the DCEU’s track record so far, I didn’t have a whole lot of faith they could do her justice. But they did! This movie is everything I could possibly have hoped for, in a female superhero movie, in a Wonder Woman movie specifically, and in a DC movie. I loved it!

But before I gush any further, I will admit that Wonder Woman has some flaws. The biggest one, for me, was the overuse of slow motion. It’s not as bad as it was in the Snyder-directed movies, but it does get to be a bit much during most of the battle scenes. Slow motion is kind of a pet peeve of mine, because unless it’s done exceptionally well, it usually just makes a scene cheesier than it needs to be. Also, as is so often the case with superhero movies these days, the villain in this one is a bit weak. His motivations are vague, and he doesn’t really get much of a personality. He’s played by a good actor who does his best to sell the part, but it’s still pretty forgettable.

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This chick, on the other hand, was successfully creepy.

Also, the movie does take some liberties with Wonder Woman’s origin story, the biggest of which is that she enters “man’s world” during the first world war instead of the second. I kind of wish the writers had kept to the original time period, if only because punching Nazis is the greatest and most time-honoured of superhero traditions. But since the villain is the god of war, I guess it does make sense that he would be around for the War to End All Wars, which ended up sparking most of the major conflicts of the 20th century. And finally, I don’t think the “bookend” scenes at the beginning and end of the film, showing Diana in modern-day Paris, were strictly necessary. But maybe that’s just because I don’t appreciate being reminded that this movie takes place in the same universe as Broodingface vs. Sulkypants.

Now, on to the good stuff! Without a doubt, this movie’s greatest strength is Wonder Woman herself. Gal Gadot absolutely nails the role, bringing an infectious joy to the character alongside tons of physical confidence. There is no moral ambiguity about Diana. She’s a kind, compassionate, brave hero who wants to make the world a better place. Her weakness is that she’s a little too optimistic, wanting to believe that all people are good and would never harm each other unless they were under the influence of an evil god. Naturally, the horrors of World War I prove to be more than a little disillusioning for her, and she ultimately has to decide whether she still wants to fight for humanity, despite all our faults, or just give up on the species altogether. But along the way, we get a bunch of endearing scenes that just show her falling in love with the world: seeing a baby for the first time, or getting introduced to things like snow and ice cream. Her unfamiliarity with the social norms of the 1910s also lead to a lot of comical moments, and, shock of all shocks for a live-action DC character, she actually has a sense of humour herself! She’s a three-dimensional character with a compelling arc, and my word, is she incredible in a fight. I could spend hours just watching the scene where she walks across No Man’s Land in full Wonder Woman attire, deflecting machine gun fire off her bracelets. I think I actually let out an audible squee during that scene.

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“I am no man!”

But Diana isn’t the only great character on display. Steve Trevor is also a lot of fun to watch, as per usual for a Chris Pine character. He, of course, falls love with Wonder Woman over the course of the movie, and their relationship develops in a very natural, believable way, as each of them is shown learning from and inspiring the other. You know, like how a relationship should be. And Steve is every inch the hero his girlfriend is, just without the tank-flipping ability. It would have been easy to make Wonder Woman look good by making Steve weak or “un-masculine” in some way, as has been done so many times in movies about tough action girls. But this movie doesn’t go that route, instead portraying both of them as brave, capable heroes with different strengths and weaknesses. Which, again, is the way it should be! 

They’re joined by lots of colourful side characters, from Steve’s British secretary, Etta Candy, to the ragtag bunch of multicultural soldiers and ex-soldiers he’s friends with. They’re all mostly there for comic relief, but most of them get some good character moments as well. Also…a heroic soldier named Steve, played by a guy named Chris, who leads a band of misfit soldiers during a world war, dates a tough brunette, and crashes a plane into the ocean? This movie is like the alternate universe version of Captain America: First Avenger!

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Like that other Steve, he also looks good in a uniform.

Anyway, leaving aside the fact that it’s about a woman for once, this is simply a great superhero movie. It has awesome fight scenes (apart from the slo-mo), plenty of humour, a dash of ridiculousness, and, most importantly, a hero who is unafraid and unashamed to fight for truth, justice, and human decency. It respects the hero’s roots (even throwing in some nods to specific comic book storylines), but takes her in slightly different directions when it suits the story. It doesn’t try too hard to be “gritty” or “realistic,” but instead just gives us good characters so that we become emotionally invested in their journey. Oh, and Wonder Woman’s theme music remains among the coolest I’ve ever heard in a superhero movie.

Wonder Woman also leaves us with an important message: No one person can solve all the world’s problems, even if that person has superpowers. But everyone, superpowers or not, can choose to do good. And that choice is always worthwhile.

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“I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.”

All that to say, superhero movies are no longer a “man’s world,” and I could not be happier, either as a woman or a superhero fan. And as a DC fan, well…this movie actually gives me some hope for the rest of the Justice League movies. All may not be lost for my favourite super-team.

May Wonder Woman be a sign of things to come.

Grade: A for Amazon

The LEGO Batman Movie

It’s been three years since The LEGO Movie surprised me by turning what should have just been a two-hour toy commercial into one of the funniest, most creative, and most heartwarming animated movies in recent memory. And it’s been four years since the DC Extended Universe, which should by rights be the best superhero movie franchise ever, began the slow, agonising process of breaking my heart. Now, in this year’s  crossover, can the magic of LEGO save the Dark Knight from dullness?

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This movie centres on Batman as he appeared in The LEGO Movie, in all his self-absorbed, dim-witted glory. He has no trouble saving Gotham from the Joker’s latest evil schemes (not even when latter teams up with such fearsome villains as Calendar Man and Condiment King), but he is having a lot of trouble forming relationships. Even admitting the Joker is his arch-nemesis proves to be too great a commitment for Batman–which the clown doesn’t take very well. When the new police commissioner, Barbara Gordon, unexpectedly helps to capture all of Gotham’s supervillains at once, Batman is left with no one to fight–except Alfred, who wants him to become more mature and responsible, and Dick Grayson, the orphan he accidentally adopted, who just wants a dad. To get out of his funk (and, of course, foil a new scheme by the Joker) Batman must confront his greatest fear: being part of a family again.

If you saw The LEGO Movie, you have a pretty good idea of what to expect from this semi-sequel: gorgeously detailed animation, a diabolically catchy soundtrack, tons of pop culture references, and Batman being a giant ham. It’s every bit as funny and frenetic as its predecessor, even if the concept feels less fresh and original than it did the first time around. The plot twists and surprises of the first movie are hard to beat, and for the most part, this one doesn’t even try.

But that’s okay, because this doesn’t feel as much like a LEGO movie as it feels like a Batman movie where everything happens to be made of LEGO. And when you look at it that way, it becomes what DC fans have been vainly hoping for ever since Man of Steel came out: a DC-based film that makes sense, respects its source material, and is willing to have fun. It’s packed with shout-outs to every incarnation of Batman that has ever graced the screen, from the ’60s TV show to Suicide Squad–which it soundly mocks. It even gives a nod to HISHE’s “Because I’m Batman!” meme, for those of us who frequent YouTube. And the story itself wouldn’t feel too out-of-place in a Batman comic (well, with the exception of a few non-DC properties that turn up towards the end). It truly feels like a movie made by and for Batman fans.

“How many characters from the comics should we put in this movie?” “ALL OF THEM!”

This is undoubtedly the most light-hearted incarnation of the Dark Knight to hit the screen in my lifetime, but he’s still got some issues. Just like in all his appearances, he’s hung up on his parents’ death, which in this case makes it hard for him to form relationships, for fear of being hurt again. It’s a pretty relatable problem, and in between all the jokes, it’s developed in a pretty touching way. When it comes time to give Batsy some much-needed character development, this story does so with great sincerity and heart.

And as always, Batman would be nothing without his supporting cast, who are all in fine form here. Alfred has never been more kind and fatherly, or more awesome. Robin has never been more adorable. And Batgirl–well, Batgirl hasn’t made a lot of appearances on the big screen, has she? So I guess I’m just happy she’s here. I’m also happy that she’s voiced by Rosario Dawson, a.k.a. Claire Temple, who has lots of experience talking sense into overly angsty male superheroes. Even the Joker is kinda likable in this movie, even though he’s still pretty evil.

He just needs a hug. And an archnemesis.

I have some nitpicks, of course. For example, I’m sick of seeing Batgirl played as a love interest for Batman. It’s creepy, it’s weird, and it still feels a little wrong even when it’s played for laughs in a kid’s movie. Also, I don’t know how I feel about Sauron being part of Joker’s evil army at the end (minor spoilers, sorry). I know it’s fun to put a bunch of Big Bads from various franchises together in a LEGO movie, but if you’re going to parody the incarnation of evil from the best fantasy tale of all time, you should at least  pronounce his name right. Also also, did Batman need to be waving an iPhone around? Do Warner Bros. and LEGO really need the advertising money?

Look at this. I’m critiquing a LEGO movie. What is wrong with me?

I’m as useless as Bat-Shark Repellent.

Despite some minor flaws, this is, without question, the best Batman movie since the Dark Knight saga. I won’t go as far as some critics have and say it’s the best Batman movie ever made, but it’s definitely in the top five. And like The LEGO Movie, it comes with a message any parent should be glad to teach their kid: You can’t do everything on your own. It’s worth it to make friends and be part of a family, even if you risk getting hurt in the process. That lesson isn’t exactly revolutionary coming from a kid’s movie, but I can think of a few grown-up superheroes who could stand to hear it again. Not to mention a few real-life humans.

Bottom line: LEGO has, indeed, saved Batman. (At least until Justice League comes out and ruins him again.) And everything is still awesome in the LEGO-verse.

The seating arrangements could use some work, though.

Grade: A

Batman vs. Superman and The Dark Knight Returns

Happy Batman day, folks!

I’ve decided to celebrate this, the 77th anniversary of my favourite hero’s first appearance in print, by giving you two movie reviews for the price of one! And after this, I promise I’ll calm down with the Batman posts.

As it happens, both of the Batman movies I saw most recently draw inspiration from the same comic, Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns,” which…I have not read. But I think it’s fairly obvious which one is more faithful to it.

The Dark Knight Returns, Parts 1 and 2

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This two-part animated movie starts out with Bruce Wayne in his 50s, having been retired from crimefighting for several years. When a violent gang called the Mutants threatens to take over Gotham, he decides it’s time to put on the cowl again. He even picks up a new Robin and puts the Batmobile back into action. But while his return ends up inspiring the people of Gotham to fight back against crime (again), it also inspires a few old enemies to get back into it.

There are many things I like about this movie, a few things I don’t like, and some things that are just plain odd. (Like, what’s the deal with Batman dressing up like an old lady at the beginning of Part 2? Not to mention the entire existence of “Bruno”…I mean, just…what was that?) I enjoyed the first part quite a bit more than the second part, but I won’t deny that the latter did have a pretty epic finale. The soundtrack is amazing, Peter Weller does a great job voicing Batman, and the fight scenes are on par with the very best live-action superhero movies I’ve seen. The movie also does a pretty good job of making an older Batman seem convincing (he’s a lot less agile than he used to be, he has to rely on his tech a little more, etc.) while still allowing him to be his usual intimidating, unstoppable self. No small feat. Oh, and I rather like the girl Robin.

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Especially compared to every other female in this movie…

One thing I didn’t like was that the plot requires pretty much everyone not wearing a costume to do very, very stupid things. The mayor allows himself to be alone in a cell with a huge, crazy gang leader who has already threatened to kill him. A psychiatrist and an entire talk show studio decide it’s a good idea to invite the Joker to appear on live television (because when has that ever gone wrong before?). Then there’s the whole subplot of the U.S. government using Superman as a weapon in a Cold War-like conflict…realistic on the government’s part, perhaps, but somewhat dumb and out-of-character for Supes.

Like many a superhero tale, this movie spends quite a bit of time discussing whether Gotham’s better off with or without its costumed vigilante. Is he the only one who can stop the colourful psychos that constantly terrorise the streets, or is he the only reason the colourful psychos exist in the first place? Although there’s some ambiguity around the issue, in the end, the movie seems to decide that the world needs Batman–someone not under the authority of the law or the government, but who still refuses to cross certain lines–in order to keep people safe. Of course, if the authorities in charge of upholding the law didn’t act brain-dead most of the time, one wonders if that point would still hold water. But to Batman’s credit, he doesn’t see himself as Gotham’s only hope–he works to teach other people to fight crime the non-lethal way, and to carry on the Bat-legacy after he’s gone.

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Can’t stop the signal.

Anyway, that fight with the Mutant leader at the end of Part 1? That was awesome. Also, Batman totally beats Superman in a fight in this movie. A good fight, not the kind that will be described in my next review. Sorry, but that’s not a spoiler. That’s how every fight between those two is destined to end.

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Batman on a horse. Your argument is invalid.

Grade: A-

Speaking of Batman fighting Superman…

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice

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It’s probably only fair to say that I did not set myself up to like this movie. I didn’t see it in theatres, because I was still bitter about having wasted money on Man of Steel. Instead, I read every review I could find online, including the spoiler-y ones, rented it when it came out on DVD, and watched it on my laptop at midnight, alcohol in hand, right after marathoning the Dark Knight trilogy. If I’d watched it under better circumstances, maybe I would have liked it a little better…but I kinda doubt it.

The plot is so convoluted it almost defies description. In a nutshell, Batman wants to murder Superman for causing tons of civilian deaths in Man of Steel and for being too powerful in general. Lex Luthor wants to murder him for more or less the same reasons, plus something about daddy issues. So he decides the best way to do this is to pit the two superheroes against each other, via an overly complicated plan that takes more than an hour to come to fruition.

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Laser his brain! Laser his brain, now! 

What can I say about this movie that hasn’t already been said by every critic ever? No, Luthor’s motives did not make any sense. Yes, the “Martha” scene (WHY DID YOU SAY THAT NAME?!) was unintentionally hilarious. No, none of this was Ben Affleck’s fault. I could talk about how spectacularly everyone at the Daily Planet sucks at their job, or how Jesse Eisenberg’s performance destroys everything I ever loved about Lex Luthor as a villain, or how utterly confusing and pointless Batman’s visions/dreams/whatever are. But I think my main problems with this movie can be boiled down to two.

First of all…*deep, cleansing breath*…BATMAN DOES NOT KILL PEOPLE!  Yes, I know previous live-action takes on him have bumped up against the line a few times, but this movie has him intentionally mow down an army of low-level criminals in one of his first action scenes, stab dudes in the chest, and turn to murder as his first solution in dealing with Superman (instead of, I dunno, talking to him, or even doing detective work to find out what his intentions are towards humanity). This take on Batman would kind of make sense if it was the third or fourth movie in the franchise, if his reputation as a principled hero had already been established, and if he was given a compelling motive for temporarily abandoning his principles. (In fact, BvS does attempt to explain it a little by establishing, in one easy-to-miss shot, that this story takes place after the death of Jason Todd. Not that any casual fans will get that.) But this is Batman’s first appearance in the Snyder-verse. Anyone who somehow came into this movie without any prior knowledge of Batman would get their first impression of him as a callous killer. And that makes me very sad inside.

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Even sadder than Sadfleck.

The worst thing about BvS, though, is that it takes itself so darn seriously. There’s hardly a moment of (intentional) humour in the entire three-hour runtime, while there are plenty of speeches about God and man, the Problem of Evil, what it means to be a hero, etc. I thought Man of Steel went a little bit overboard with the Superman-is-Jesus symbolism, but this movie takes it waaaayyy further. Which is vaguely offensive, considering this Superman’s main personality traits are sulking, self-doubt, and monumental stupidity. Not exactly the things Jesus is known for. But all of the grand philosophical talk amounts to nothing anyway. For one thing, I was unable to understand or care about any of the people doing the talking, and for another, the movie tends to answer complex questions like, “What does a being with god-like power truly owe to mankind?” with, “Time to punch a cave troll!” A lot of dialogue is there to make the characters sound “deep,” but it doesn’t really mean anything or have anything to do with the plot.

One day, I have hope that the DC cinematic universe will finally get its act together and make a good movie. It’s possible. Ben Affleck does a fine job as Batman in this movie, on the rare occasions when his script makes sense, and Wonder Woman is pretty cool during her five minutes of screen time. And a lot of it looks really nice. Money and special effects technology is clearly not the issue when it comes to DC. They just need to start spending a little more of that money on screenwriters and directors who actually know how to tell a story. And won’t make Batman kill people.

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I would like to point out, though, that Batman still beat Superman in this movie.

In the meantime, I prefer to celebrate Batman Day by watching something with “Dark Knight” in its title.

Grade: D

 

DC Animation

I’ve always been on Marvel’s side in the Great Cinematic War between Marvel and DC. To a non-comics reader like me, it seems like a no-brainer. Ever since superhero movies became cool again, Marvel has consistently put out movies that range from decently entertaining to completely awesome, while, with the exception of the Dark Knight Saga, DC has put out movies that range from brain-meltingly horrible to ploddingly dull.

But when I express this opinion to one of my many DC-loving friends, their reply is almost always along the lines of, “Stop judging DC by its live-action!”

So I’ve taken their advice and dived into the world of DC’s animated creations. And so far, I am pleased with what I’ve found. DC cartoons are as diverse and creative as its live-action films are boring and colorless. They’ve got something for all ages (a general rule seems to be that the TV shows are for kids and the feature-length movies are for adults) and just about every taste (I mean, as long as you like superheroes).

Here’s what I think of the DC cartoons I’ve discovered so far:

Young Justice

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My precious, adorable children, who could all kill me in a heartbeat.

A bunch of teenage sidekicks (starting with Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Miss Martian, Superboy, and Artemis) form their own super-team to work alongside the Justice League–complete with their own shadowy evil conspiracy to fight. This show has one of the most complicated plots, and largest casts, that I’ve ever seen crammed into two seasons, but it’s so well-paced that nothing ever feels rushed and every character gets a chance to shine. The first season is significantly better than the second, but the second season is still well worth watching. Alas, it was cancelled too soon. This is the show that made me realize Robin can be awesome. It also made me really conflicted about which version of the Flash I like best.

Every episode moves the story along or develops characters in some important way, so I can’t recommend skipping any of them, but some of my very favourite ones include: “Bereft,” “Homefront,” “Failsafe,” “Coldhearted,” “Bloodlines,” and “Satisfaction.”

Grade: A

Justice League

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Batman’s standing off to the side so no one notices he’s in charge.

Note: This is listed as two different shows on Netflix–Justice League and Justice League Unlimited–but they follow the same continuity, are made by the same people, etc. (JL comes first). They do have different theme songs, though. Anyway, this is the story of the Justice League proper, starting with the original group of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Martian Manhunter, Green Lantern, and Hawkgirl, and later expanding to include a slew of other heroes. (But secretly it’s all about Batman. Seriously, he saves the rest of the League’s butts in like half the episodes.) There are some multi-episode story arcs, especially in Unlimited, but for the most part these are all self-contained episodes about heroes saving the world from the threat of the week. They can be silly or serious, but they’re almost always a lot of fun.

My favourite episodes include: “Legends,” “The Savage Time,” “Only a Dream,” “A Better World,” “Hereafter,” “For the Man Who Has Everything,” “Question Authority,” “Divided We Fall”…basically, any episode that prominently features Batman, the Flash, and/or the Question is going to be amazing. Even if it also includes a witch who turns people into pigs.

Grade: A

Batman: Under the Red Hood

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Get it? He’s literally under the Red Hood!

This was the first DC Animated Original Movie I watched, and I’m afraid I watched it first because it has Jensen Ackles’ voice in it. (Yes, I’m a Supernatural fan.) But it really is quite good. It mostly takes place a few years after Jason Todd, the second Robin, is killed by the Joker. Batman’s still struggling with the guilt he feels from that incident, but he also has another problem: a vigilante called the Red Hood is terrorizing Gotham’s criminal underworld, and he absolutely does not have a no-kill code. What he does seem to have is a grudge against Batman. While there’s a decent amount of humour in the movie (mostly provided by Nightwing and the delightfully hammy minor villain Black Mask), it ends up being a real tear-jerker. Like, I wanted to watch The Dark Knight after this to cheer myself up. That’s how depressing it was. Doesn’t stop it from being a thoughtful character study on several people in the Bat-verse, and providing the best answer I’ve heard to the age-old question, “Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?”

Grade: A

Justice League: War

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Guy on the right? He’s voiced by Sam Gamgee. Guy on the far left? Wash from Firefly. You’d think this movie would’ve turned out better…

Another version of the Justice League’s origin story, this one pulls together the same seven characters mentioned above–except with Cyborg and Captain Mar…er, “Shazam” instead of Martian Manhunter and Hawkgirl, and with a different version of Green Lantern. They’re all just starting out as heroes, and are happily working alone, when an invasion by the world-conquering Darkseid forces them to form a team. The story is fun, and pretty light-hearted by DC animated movie standards, but I don’t think it shows all of the Justice League at their best. Superman in particular comes across as a huge jerk, and Wonder Woman’s gung-ho fighter attitude, combined with a really shocking amount of naivete, gets annoying fast. And of course this is the movie that finally supports my Superman/Wonder Woman ship. *sigh* Batman’s still amazing, though, so it’s not all bad. The TV show just did it better.

Grade: B

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox

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“He ran so fast he broke reality! And now he has to fix reality…by running faster!” –a lot of Flash stories 

One day Barry Allen, a.k.a. the Flash, wakes up to find that his whole world is different. On the bright side, his mom’s alive! On the other hand, he has no powers, his wife is married to someone else, Batman is a gun-toting alcoholic with no qualms about killing people, no one has ever heard of Superman, and Aquaman and Wonder Woman are locked in a war that could destroy the Earth. Clearly, there’s a timeline here that needs fixing. I am not a fan of the animation in this one–it makes the more muscular characters look ridiculous, and a lot of others have weird lips– but the story makes up for it. It puts a really interesting twist on several familiar characters, while teaching Flash the most difficult lesson of his life. But I can’t stress enough how much it is NOT FOR KIDS–or sensitive adults, for that matter. I’m pretty sure the only reason it isn’t rated R is because it’s a cartoon. Hard to imagine a live-action movie getting away with a PG-13 after showing a close-up of a gaping head wound, or stabbing a 10-year-old onscreen. If you can make it through the gore, though, the ending is a tear-jerker in the best way possible.

Grade: A-

I think it’s time Marvel and DC fans shook hands and admitted that their franchises are just good at different things. Any suggestions as to which superhero cartoon I should watch next?

Monthly Movie Rant: What other heroes can learn from Batman

Welcome to my first Monthly Movie Rant! (I’ll try to make this a monthly thing, anyway–we’ll see how it goes.)

I’ve been thinking about superhero movies lately. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about Batman movies. Mainly because I watched five of them last week. (Yes, I am aware that I have a problem.)

But he’s just…so…cool…

Batman is arguably the most enduringly popular superhero of all time, at least when it comes to us film fans. Sure, he hasn’t been around quite as long as Superman (though it’s very close), but he has, like, three times the number of good movies. And now that Marvel and DC have enough superhero films planned out to last my entire lifetime, I think it’s time the other heroes started learning from the master. So, heroes, here’s how you can be more like Batman:

1. Don’t be so high and mighty and powerful.

In a metaphorical sense.

Batman’s only superpower is the ability to have a plan for all possible situations, and several impossible ones, at all times, which is really just a basic survival skill if you live in the DC universe. And I think that’s a big part of his appeal. I believe a superhero’s main job is wish fulfillment, and a hero without powers is perfect for that. Batman is rich, powerful, handsome, and has ninja skills. But there’s nothing supernatural about him, which means, if you dream really big and come from a wealthy family, even YOU could be Batman! But seriously, who hasn’t calculated the exact amount of money and training they would need in order to be Batman? That’s part of his whole shtick even in-universe: “The Batman could be anyone.” It also makes him more relatable. Here’s a superhero who can’t just fly away from his problems, even if he wanted to. He’s more down-to-earth (both literally and figuratively) than your average man in tights. I believe it’s possible for powered heroes to achieve this kind of dynamic–after all, even they have weaknesses–but the only other one I can think of who really comes close is Iron Man, and, well, he can still fly. Plus, Iron Man is a jerk.

2. Have a heart.

Pictured: heroism.

And Batman is not a jerk! This is, hands down, my favourite thing about him: in most portrayals (certainly all the best ones), Batman is a big softie underneath all that scary bat imagery. In Batman Begins, he takes time out of an important mission to cheer up a poor kid. In the Year One comic, which helped inspire that movie, he punches a corrupt cop through a wall, not because he had just tried to kill him, but because he shot at a cat. And he constantly hangs on to the belief that all the people in his wretched hive of a city can be redeemed, no matter how hopeless it gets. It’s those little things that make a hero, in my mind. Lately a lot of heroes are always fighting such big battles, or are so busy battling each other, that we lose touch with what made them heroic in the first place. We’ve got enough movies about superheroes stopping alien invasions and what-not. I want more heroes who cheer up little kids.

(No, I didn’t like Batman vs. Superman – why do you ask?)

3. Find better villains.

“I’m not a monster; I’m just ahead of the curve.”

As awesome as Batman is, he would never have come this far without his rogues gallery, particularly the Joker. But even ignoring those guys, consider who Batman fights in between encounters with mutated freaks: regular, run-of-the-mill gangsters and crooked police. In other words, exactly the kind of villains we have in the real world. This ties back to the wish-fulfillment thing. For me, the most effective heroes are the ones who deal with semi-realistic problems. It can be very nice to imagine a powerful guy in a cape swooping in to bring child abusers and bribe-takers to justice, because justice sure ain’t happening in real life. And the Joker, in his own way, feels even more real. He’s not just some random evil guy. He’s the embodiment of evil, especially the kind of mindless, chaotic evil that’s becoming terrifyingly common in the age of terrorism and school shootings. And in a Batman movie, you can watch somebody beat him. I would argue that the reason Marvel has yet to produce a compelling villain in their movies (the Netflix shows are, admittedly, a different story) is because they insist on having the heroes fight gods and mad scientists who bear no resemblance to regular, everyday evil. I mean, would it kill the Avengers to take a day off from the space battles and beat up some drug dealers? Daredevil could sure use the help!

4. Find better directors.

He’s not the kind of hero Hollywood deserves, but the kind it needs.

Batman has appeared in countless excellent stories, across all forms of media, but I’d be lying if I said my obsession with him isn’t Christopher Nolan’s fault. And is that so surprising? Nolan is easily the most respected director who has made a superhero film, at least in my lifetime. Okay, Joss Whedon was already famous–for cult TV shows. Zack Snyder was kinda famous–for a long string of comic book movies that all looked exactly the same and featured naked people as their primary selling point. But Nolan has yet to make a movie that isn’t highly artistic, philosophical, and critically acclaimed. That’s the kind of director you want for a superhero movie, because when you come right down to it, a good superhero movie is good for the same reasons as any other movie: well-rounded and likable characters, tight editing, a coherent story, and cool visuals. Hollywood clearly has the money to spend on A-list actors for their comic book movies; why not hire A-list directors as well?

5. Do your own thing.

Hey, everybody’s gotta start somewhere.

Part of the reason Batman became so popular in the first place was because he was so unique. Superheroes in general were pretty new back then, and the Bat’s darker world and more pragmatic crime-fighting style provided a nice contrast to Superman and his ilk. In these post-Nolan days, a lot of superheroes have tried to copy Batman, but they do it in the wrong ways. Marvel looked at the Dark Knight saga and thought, “Hey, evil laughs and motiveless villains really DO work!” DC looked at them and thought, “These movies are really dark. Audiences must like dark superheroes.” And then they hired Zack Snyder and put a ban on jokes and bright colours for all future movies. People didn’t like Nolan’s Batman trilogy (or any other Batman fare) because it was dark. They liked those movies because they were good movies. Other heroes, you can find your own ways to be great! Just follow the general advice above and put your own spin on it. Some of you are already trying. Keep it up, and one day you may step out from Batman’s shadow, just like Nightwing did.

Speaking of which, can anyone give me a good reason why there isn’t a live-action Nightwing movie in the works? I would watch that until my eyes bled.