Friday, August 8, 2008

Batman: Gotham Knight

On the eve of The Dark Knight, a hotly-anticipated film guaranteed to bring in more money than several small countries, a few cash-ins were to be expected. The most heavily advertised of these was Batman: Gotham Knight, a series of short films animated by some of the most acclaimed/popular anime directors and studios. What should result is the best of east and west combined into the most kickass Batman cartoons ever. This is not what we got.

Batman is a pretty difficult concept to screw up. You've got an ordinary guy who dresses like a complete lunatic, armed with smarts, martial arts skills and enough money to purchase some seriously cool nonlethal weapons and tools. Once you have that, you can take it pretty much anywhere and it'll probably be enjoyable.

What we have are six cartoons that sort of try to link up with each other and the Batman film franchise, but don't really succeed very well at either of these. The idea of having it all directed by anime hotshots is clearly and blatantly ripped off of The Animatrix, which had far more input from the feature filmmakers and was probably better than the sequels it was created to serve. This comes across like somebody read twenty pages of the Dark Knight script and decided that was good enough. Sticking them inseparably together doesn't do them any favors, either.

On a side note, Target's packaging had a sticker that referred to this as the "first-ever PG-13 animated Batman movie," which is true as long as you ignore that other PG-13 animated Batman movie, and that other one that probably should have been PG-13.

Let's begin. Since the film doesn't bother to identify who's responsible for each segment until the end credits, neither will I.

Have I Got A Story For You opens up with what all true Batman fans were clamoring for: kids skateboarding. Said kids have gathered around a couple empty pools in the graffiti part of town and start sharing tales of Batman trying to stop some utterly generic dude in a wetsuit with a jetpack and goggles, and no other features whatsoever. What follows was clearly intended as an exercise in showing how different people interpret Batman's methods and what the citizens think of him, which arguably could have been really cool.

They didn't have time to make that, so instead they went with a first-grade approach. "What if Batman was a zombie?!" "What if Batman was a real giant bat-man?!" "What if Batman was a robot?!" None of the fights last longer than about 90 seconds, and then it's back to annoying kids sitting around and babbling.

Finally the real Batman and jetpack wetsuit dude show up. Batman is battered and bruised from the day's fighting (and really paunchy for some reason), barely able to stand up, and the only kid that didn't share a tale gets to whack the totally unnamed, totally uninteresting villain in the head with his skateboard. This knocks him out instantly, since they were only allotted twelve minutes. The other kids run up, wanting to know what just happened. "Man, have I got a story for you guys!" In this story, Batman was probably a pirate.

Crossfire begins with Batman apparently turning the guy from the first short into the police, but the fact that Batman is totally fine tends to contradict that. We're introduced to Detective Anna Ramirez, from The Dark Knight, and Detective Cris Allen, who might have been in the film but damned if I can remember. Allen doesn't trust Batman, but Ramirez does, and the two discuss this and establish the state of Gotham following Batman Begins while they take the villain to Arkham.

Apparently deciding that Two People Sit In A Car And Talk: The Movie wasn't exciting enough, after their errand is complete, Ramirez drives them dead center into a gang/mob turf war. The gang on one side, the mob on the other. That's when things go from boring to stupid.

Instead of making any attempt to drive off, the detectives crouch in the car and wait for the inevitable. Sure enough, the gang (led by "The Russian," a devilishly clever alias) and the mob start shooting at each other. They stand in a straight line, point their guns in a straight line, and fire, as if they were fighting a war in the 1600s. Sure enough, most of them die, as the budget apparently didn't allow for anybody to take cover behind cars. The head mobster, Maroni from The Dark Knight, is the only one budgeted to do anything, and in turn apparently becomes the first to notice the detectives' car in the middle. He runs to it for shelter.

The gang members blow up said car with a handy rocket launcher, allowing Batman to heroically save Allen from seriously about five stories up and perhaps change his mind in the process. Batman flies down, then runs around beating the crap out of all the gang members and seemingly absorbing bullets. Maroni attempts to hold Ramirez hostage, but is unprepared for the sight of Batman walking calmly through enormous flames. That's right, Batman is completely fireproof. Including that completely exposed portion of his face.

Allen, not wanting to get upstaged, jumps down three stories onto concrete and is totally fine, pointing his gun at Maroni. Batman, sick of standing in the middle of a goddamned fire, takes Maroni out with absolutely no effort and then grapple-hooks away straight up into the air somehow, noting that Gordon is "a good judge of character." That's where the short ends, with virtually no resolution or emotional conclusion. Needless to say, I did not get caught up in it.

In Field Test, we get our first look at Bruce Wayne himself, in this case rendered with as generic an "anime" look as they could muster. It starts with him and Lucius Fox (from the films, don'tcha know) as Fox introduces him to his newest toy, an electromagnetic bullet deflector that activates on sound. Not seeing any potential downside to this, Bruce decides to try it out.

Bruce then attends to his day-to-day business, such as attending a homeless shelter unveiling and basically accusing a guy of murder to his face in the middle of a golf course. After magnetically deflecting said dude's golf club halfway across the county, Bruce moves on to his other Field Test. Batman kicks it off by crashing Maroni's boat into The Russian's boat. He then flies in and starts beating the crap out of people. They shoot him, bullets reflect, he pummels them until the point of paralysis, as per his usual.

Finally he holds The Russian and Maroni up by their necks until they agree to stick to their own turf for a while. This is the cue for one of the mob members to shoot Batman, and the bullet inevitably bounces into some random gang member's shoulder. A brief trip to the hospital later, Batman decides it's just too dangerous to have something that ricochets bullets into other people. Nobody else can die because of him -- villains spending two years in traction is A-OK, though.

Truth be told, that was one of the better shorts in the collection. The same can't be said for the next one, In Darkness Dwells. It begins with a swoopy camera through the skyline to show just how intense this is going to be. You see, a large crocodile-man (Killer Croc for the unacquainted) attacked a church, stealing a cardinal or somesuch, and everyone inside said church went super-crazy. Gordon wanders into some seemingly unrelated, unbelievably decrepit catacomb hallway inside (seriously, the thing looks straight out of Eternal Darkness). After sending Ramirez and Allen away, he tells the story of what happened in the church to Batman, who is hanging from the ceiling. Because he is a bat. -man.

After coming to the incredibly obvious conclusion that the Scarecrow had to be behind this on some level, Batman follows the trail of the maybe-lizardman. Diving through a teensy hole in the floor, he gets on his way. A tedious trip through the sewer system and a discussion with some completely unnecessary underground people later, Batman finds the Croc and gets bit about twelve seconds into the fight, getting infected with FEAR TOXIN in the process. Always the pacifist, Batman responds to this by sticking a live bomb in Croc's mouth.

With Croc wandering off to vomit out his intestines or something, Batman moves on and just so happens to run into the Scarecrow and a bunch of crazy sewer people/asylum inmates. They're about to execute the stolen cardinal, so Batman beats the living crap out of all of them and then brings the whole sewer down, surely killing like a dozen people in the process. He and the cardinal ride the waves to the safety of a dam. Sure, whatever.

Gordon is already there with a helicopter, somehow, and tries to get Batman to come along, but Batman is just too cool for that, so he glides away. So in the end, none of the characters have any motivation or logical reason to do anything they're doing, the settings and fight scenes are barely linked together as if 12 minutes was just too damn long, Bruce is injected with fear toxin and absolutely nothing whatsoever comes from it, and Batman is completely impervious to entire sewer systems crashing down upon his head. Brilliant.

Working Through Pain begins with a terrified crazy guy pulling his own "Have I Got A Story For You" featuring Batman as a giant collection of bats; he fires into it and runs away. Batman, actually present, has been shot. After sticking his finger inside the wound to make sure it hurts or something, he uses a magical cauterizing iron and goes into flashback mode.

Think visions of bloodied African war veterans being operated on without anesthetic is a bit graphic and pretentious for this movie? Think again. Bruce's flashbacks begin there, after which in real life he falls down something like thirty stories of mine shaft and crashes on a pipe. But it's okay -- he's working through the pain.

The rest of the flashbacks center in India, where he meets up with "Cassandra" to learn how to work through his pain. Cassandra is a bit of an outcast from some unidentified sect because they don't teach icky girls the secrets of coalwalking and lying on beds of nails enlightenment. She's constantly berated by the townsfolk, but refuses to leave because "this is where [she] belong[s]." She tries to make the analogy to what Bruce is trying to do in Gotham, but since he's working to better the city and she seems to be doing nothing but sitting on her ass, it doesn't quite work.

One night, an angry mob comes by Cassandra's house to attack her for having cooties. Bruce steps in, since Cassandra makes absolutely no effort to defend herself, and fends them off in his usual way -- beating them until their internal bleeding makes it too hard to stand up. This leads Cassandra to kick him out of town, apparently for having dared to lift a finger against dudes with knives. As he walks away, she tells Bruce not to thank her -- after all, his pain is too great for her to teach him to deal with. Not that this really makes any sense, but nothing she says ever really does anyway.

Also, in real life, Bruce limped his way right into a stash of guns, to be dealt with in the next part of the film. This short didn't really make any sense at all and was pretty slow, but it was fairly engaging, and you didn't have to warp your mind to connect one scene to another, so I'm gonna give it a pass.

The final short is Deadshot, focusing on the DC villain so named. The animation style is immediately very offputting, as the characters themselves are extremely detailed and barely move. It starts with Bruce and Alfred talking about what to do with the guns found in Working Through Pain. This allows Bruce to talk about how totally awesome guns would be if he could use them, overlaying a sequence where Deadshot himself snipes a single dude in a party through a champagne glass from a ferris wheel halfway across Gotham. This is not the most implausible event in this cartoon.

Turns out that Deadshot's next target is everyone's favorite punching bag, Jim Gordon. Gordon hops in a huge cop caravan for his safety while Batman watches from up above. Alfred chimes in from home to let Batman know that the handy satellite surveillance he suddenly has access to reveals no rooftop snipers in the vicinity.

But there's trouble! The caravan is passing under a bridge at the same time a train passes over it! Since shooting a target with a rifle from one moving target into another is unspeakably flashy, Batman figures that's just what will happen, so he flies by. Seriously, he glides right next to the train, as he totally can do all the time. Deadshot takes aim and fires ...

... and Batman flies in and punches the bullet away. He doesn't knock the rifle into another direction. He doesn't knock Deadshot over. He punches a bullet. While flying. Deadshot is unimpressed by this for some reason, and pulls out some sort of wrist machine gun because Batman is of course the true target. Batman avoids every bullet, or his nonexistent body armor reflects some of them or something, and hops on the train just before it enters a tunnel.

Completely forgetting about the insane powers he just had, Batman attempts to get closer to Deadshot by means of running straight at him across like six train cars. Unsurprisingly, he gets shot. He's okay, though; no limping around and flashbacking this time. Deadshot wanders in closer while Batman hides between train cars, and just as unsurprisingly, Batman gets the jump on him and destroys the wrist gun with his gauntlets. He then holds Deadshot's face millimeters below a series of outcroppings in the train tunnels until Deadshot spills the beans on who hired him and, presumably, shits his pants. Convinced, Batman punches him square in the nose at full force.

Later, Deadshot's all arrested, and Bruce is getting his bullet wound patched. Since this is the final short, he takes a moment to compare everything that just happened to his parents' murder. He wanders over to the window and sees the Bat-signal, shining on Gotham's everpresent cloud cover. No, a bat's work is never done!

And with that, the spastic, incoherent thing is finally at an end. How this is supposed to link to The Dark Knight is beyond me; it barely works with itself. We've got six shorts in various degrees of awful, with Batman at six different looks, six different ability levels, and working in six different Gothams. The only remote consistency with itself or anything else is the savage brutality Batman unleashes upon hapless criminals -- and that's just not enough.