LIFF 2013 Part 9

Yesterday there were no films.  I was in Leeds, but watching the excellent Mark Thomas, doing his '100 Acts of Minor Descent' tour.  He's been away from his traditional calling of social activism mixed with amusing mischief for too long, and it's good to see him back to it.  It's hilarious and on until April next year.  If you can manage to find a ticket, go see it!

If it wasn't for someone screwing things up at work I'd have been into Leeds to see Harlem Street Singer, but they did, so I couldn't.  It's just this one today:

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (US) (wiki)

Originally produced as a two-part straight to DVD release, this film stuck them together and put it on the big screen.  Set sometime towards the end of the Batman canon, Bruce Wayne has been in retirement for ten years, and Commissioner Gordon is about to join him.  Robin died somewhere along the way, and The Joker is in the loony bin.  And the city has gone to crap and is overrun with 'mutants' who just commit crimes and violence for fun.  Bruce cannae take the TV coverage of all the crime no more and dusts the cape off, but no sooner does he start laying down the smack than the public begin chiming in with their evenly split opinions.  As well as the criminals, this also gets the newer members of the law and some pretty high-up political line-toers on his back as well.  It's all a pretty big mess, but Batters keeps charging through as long as his ticker will allow.

So, what about the film that got it's own documentary then?  Well, it was interesting to see someone pick up the baton and see what could be done with a 'reboot' of sorts of the canon, giving old Wayne the weakness of advancing years had a lot of potential peril, much of it realised in it's 2 and a half hour length.  A new, female Robin mixed things up a bit as well. 

But it never felt as 'epic' as one might expect from the buildup.  (Disclaimer: I haven't read a single batman comic)  From the opening scenes, where Bruce tries to relive his kicks post retirement with some Gotham Racing (see how they tied that in?) - the lazy use of computer models, poor perspective and view changes and some shoddy cell animation showed that the producers were aiming no higher than your average saturday morning cartoon.  In fact, I recall the batman cartoons from the nineties being slicker and more stylish.  It 'improves' - if that's the right word - by bringing in some pretty violent and well choreographed fight scenes later on, but the damage was done from an aesthetic point of view far earlier.

And this criticism is not just superficially aimed at the animation either; the film seemed desperate to cram as many things in from all sorts of angles; as you might expect you get The Joker and Two Face (who seemed to just disappear halfway through), but then.. Superman? Green Arrow?  It seemed like they just wanted to cram as many things from the DC comics, then glaze it with some heavy handed gloop about morality or media saturation or whatever. 

Beyond the distractingly poor animation, it was also difficult to take seriously.  Examples: in the middle of a rioting Gotham, Batman rides in - on a fricking horse no less - and tells everyone to stop fighting and looting and help each other out, because 'community' - which they then do as one unit with no questions asked.  And the mutants - I thought we had moved past one-dimensional villans who are just villans to fill in a space on the screen.  What about the bit where Robin uses her tiny slingshot to knock a doll the size of a 5-year old off a rollercoaster from about 300 feet away - the puny pebble sends the doll flying into the air! 

It's this childish slapstick cartoon notion of reality that is likely to put off adults, and the bloody violence and dark scenes later on make it unsuitable for kids, that makes the film unsure exactly who it exists for. 

When the film introduced us to Boris - the topless woman with swastikas taped to her boobs - fighting batman who is dressed as an old woman, the audience just giggles with mild disbelief.

You need to realise the expectations of the audience here - many of us grew up on Batman in his various guises - the camp 60's TV series and cartoons, Tim Burtons superior 80's reboot and the cartoons off the back of them, (lets sidestep the return to campness that was Arnie), and finally the 'prequels' with Christian Bale.  The punters wanted to see Bruce Wayne rise again in a high-quality, dark and moody animation that you could show to people and go: there - this is what it's all about.  This is what people read comics for.  What we got instead was low production values, unintentional mirth and a rushed through script that just threw in whatever was going in the hope something would stick.

If Frank Miller's original graphic novels were anything like this, then my from-afar respect for the artists of the canon has just dropped somewhat; However I suspect they have been betrayed by a scrimping budget and the wrong motivations about getting a film out there.  Masterpiece, this certainly isn't. 5/10

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