I always enjoy checking out these animated DC/Marvel movies, just because I realise how little I know about the wider superhero universe and see them as a nice, handy crash course in familiarising myself with marginal, peripheral characters. What this film does is show you just how violent these stories can be, and how I REALLY don’t know much about these films. Essentially a story focused on The Flash and how he calls upon the rest of the Justice League to help him out when someone else starts running around with his powers causing all kinds of trouble, it really pulls back the curtain on how many players there are to draw from. Fun in its own right, but perhaps not a particularly useful entry point.
Toymaker LEGO has been steadily expanding beyond the simple bricks many of us remember from our childhoods. These days the sets are dazzling, in their detail and range and represent many imaginary universes, rooted in popular films, stories and also worlds LEGO themselves have created.
To support this, LEGO moved some time ago in video games and also into making films. Often these are short features, run on the web or as part of TV programming, but increasingly stretching out to (shorter) feature length as well. LEGO Batman is an example of this, drawing on most of the Justice League characters and placing them in a very LEGO-looking animated Gotham City.
While this film is simple fun, aimed at younger audiences, it is also a very entertaining ride for older fans as well. The relationship between Batman and Superman is played for a lot of good humoured laughs and the whole thing, harks back to a campier less “dark” era of comic book adaptation. Surprisingly entertaining.
As much as anything I selected this title purely for some brainless, Sunday afternoon fun. I understand that it basically lifts its storyline from a recent computer game – Lex Luthor and The Joker team up to wreak havoc on Gotham City with the aid of a huge gun powered by kryptonite. Batman reluctantly joins forces with Superman in order to restore the balance, and along the way many of Batman’s rogues’ gallery of enemies make an appearance, as do a good number of the Justice League.
The animation style plays heavily into the LEGO aesthetic, which gives everything an undeniably cute appearance. Many elements, from the Batmobile to Danny Elfman’s score hark back to the Tim Burton era, while Joker looks most like Caesar Romero from the 60s TV series. The biggest surprise, however, came from the script. The plot itself is incredibly simple and designed solely to cue up a series of game-style challenges and confrontations, but the dialogue is surprisingly smart and witty, with a couple of genuine laugh-out-loud gags.
Hardly an indispensable addition, this is nevertheless an entertaining little discovery that will appeal to far more than just DC Comics completists or fans of brightly coloured Danish bricks.
The second part of Jay Oliva’s animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s landmark comic continues on apace, introducing a number of familiar characters from the DC Universe, including The Joker, Superman and The Green Arrow. When Joker (voiced here by Michael Emerson from Lost) is foolishly given the chance to go on a TV talk show as part of his rehabilitation, he wastes no time in returning to his old ways of mass murder and creating general havoc on the streets of Gotham. Meanwhile the Cold War is about to heat up in a Bay of Pigs style stand off over some Caribbean islands, and the President calls upon the Man of Steel himself to track down the Batman and put an end to his vigilantism once and for all.
Again the echoes of Nolan’s trilogy can be found throughout this piece of work, but it still manages to entertain more than many of the other recent animated comic book adaptations. Peter Weller in particular does a great job as Batman, and his legacy as Robocop takes on an extra layer of poignancy in the film’s later moments, when Bruce Wayne is forced to don a mechanised Batsuit.
I often struggle to really appreciate these animated films, despite enjoying the comics and the characters. There’s something about the medium that simply fails to engage me the way live action or other animated films do. This adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns (which I have read) was pretty great, however, and ends on a wonderful reveal that perfectly sets up the second half. That said, the film has a strange relationship with the recent Chris Nolan trilogy. Clearly the success of those films is what has made an adaptation like this possible, and Christopher Drake’s score clearly owes a debt to Hans Zimmer’s epic orchestrations. On the other hand, Miller’s source material was an obvious inspiration to Nolan when scripting his films, in particular the most recent, The Dark Knight Rises, and I can’t quite decide whether these overlaps help or hinder these different screen adaptations from co-existing. Nevertheless, I’m pumped for part two.