REVIEW: BATMAN: ASSAULT ON ARKHAM

 

CAST

Kevin Conroy (Batman: TAS)
Neal McDonough (Arrow)
Hynden Walch (The Batman)
Matthew Gray Gubler (Excision)
Troy Baker (Ultimate Spider-Man)
CCH Pounder (Avatar)
Greg Ellis (Dexter)
Giancarlo Esposito (Alex Cross)
John DiMaggio (Futurama)
Jennifer Hale (Batman Beyond)
Nolan North (Teenage Mutant NInja Turtles 2012)
Eric Bauza (Justice League: Gods and Monsters)
Chris Cox (Family Guy)

Assault on Arkham actually takes place a few years before the events of Arkham Asylum, making it a prequel with loose, flexible ties to the games’ Batman mythology. Unsurprisingly, there isn’t a whole lot more to the premise beyond what’s covered in the title: after a black-ops attempt to apprehend The Riddler (Matthew Gray Gubler) goes sideways thanks to the Dark Knight’s (Kevin Conroy) nobler intervention, bigwig government agent Amanda Waller (CCH Pounder) — “The Wall” — assembles a crew of imprisoned villains to covertly raid his new place of residence, Arkham Asylum, to recover a sensitive device that was in his possession. Veterans to Waller’s “Task Force X” (both in-universe and on a meta level) including Deadshot (Neal McDonough), a Joker-less Harley Quinn (Hynden Walch), and Captain Boomerang (Greg Ellis) are brought together with newbies — Black Spider (Giancarlo Esposito), Killer Frost (Jennifer Hale), King Shark (John DiMaggio), and KGBeast (Nolan North) — for a calculated strike involving sleight of hand and usage of their individual strengths, all while evading Batman’s grasp both off and on the grounds.

Assault on Arkham soars past several of their recent offerings with its presentation of the villains and an unabashed, darkly-humorous attitude. Mostly, it’s because the concept doesn’t intrude on the characters’ varied demeanors: there’s plenty of breathing room for the loose-cannon leadership of Neal McDonough’s excellent Deadshot and the supercharged quirk of Hynden Walch’s jilted Harley Quinn, as well as Captain Boomerang’s roguish gristle and the unlikely bond between King Shark (basically a cross between Bane and Croc) and the saucy Killer Frost. Allegiances fluctuate within the group amid the moving parts of Waller’s plan, and the erratic rapport between their allowable one-note personas spices up the simplicity of casing Arkham.

 

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REVIEW: BATMAN BEGINS

CAST

Christian Bale (American Psycho)
Michael Caine (Quills)
Liam Neeson (Taken)
Katie Holmes (Go)
Gary Oldman (Red Riding Hood)
Cillian Murphy (Inception)
Tom Wilkinson (Cassandra’s Dream)
Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner)
Ken Watanabe (Godzilla)
Mark Boone Junior (Memento)
Linus Roache (The Chronicles of Riddick)
Morgan Freeman (Ted 2)
Colin McFarlane (Doctor Who)
Christine Adams (Pushing Daises)
Jack Gleeson (Game of Thrones)

As a child, Bruce Wayne falls down a dry well and is attacked by a swarm of bats, subsequently developing a fear of bats. While watching an opera with his parents, Bruce becomes frightened by performers masquerading as bats and asks to leave. Outside, mugger Joe Chill murders Bruce’s parents in front of him. Orphaned, Bruce is raised by the family butler, Alfred Pennyworth.

Fourteen years later, Chill is freed in exchange for testifying against Gotham City mafia boss Carmine Falcone. Bruce intends to murder Chill in revenge, but one of Falcone’s assassins does so first. Bruce’s childhood friend, assistant district attorney Rachel Dawes, berates him for attempting to undermine the justice system, saying that his father would be ashamed. Bruce confronts Falcone, who tells him that real power comes from being feared. Bruce decides to travel the world, learning new skills and abilities to confront injustice. In Ladakh he meets Henri Ducard, who trains him as a member of the League of Shadows, led by Ra’s al Ghul. After completing his training and purging his fears, Bruce learns that the League intends to destroy Gotham, believing it to be corrupt and beyond saving. Bruce rejects the League’s cause and burns down their temple during his escape. Ra’s is killed by falling debris, while Bruce saves the unconscious Ducard.

Bruce returns to Gotham intent on fighting crime. Inspired by his childhood fear, he takes up the vigilante identity of “the Batman” and sets up a base in the caves beneath Wayne Manor. He takes an interest in his family’s company, Wayne Enterprises, now run by the unscrupulous William Earle. Company archivist Lucius Fox allows Bruce access to prototype defense technologies including a protective bodysuit and a heavily armored car called the Tumbler. To avert suspicion from his vigilante activities, Bruce poses as a shallow playboy.

Batman intercepts a drug shipment, provides Rachel with evidence against Falcone, and enlists honest Police Sergeant James Gordon to arrest him. When Falcone threatens to reveal psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Crane’s illicit activities if Crane does not declare him mentally unfit for trial, Crane uses a fear-inducing hallucinogen and a scarecrow mask to drive Falcone insane and has him transferred to Arkham Asylum. While investigating “the Scarecrow”, Batman is exposed to the hallucinogen and left incapacitated. He is saved by Alfred and given an antidote developed by Fox. When Rachel accuses Crane of corruption, Crane reveals that he has been pouring his fear-inducing drug into Gotham’s water supply. He doses Rachel with it, but Batman saves her and subdues Crane, who claims to work for Ra’s al Ghul. Batman evades the police to get Rachel to safety, administers the antidote, and gives her a vial of it for Gordon and another for mass production. Ducard reappears at Bruce’s 30th birthday party and reveals himself to be the actual Ra’s al Ghul. Having stolen a powerful microwave emitter from Wayne Enterprises, he plans to vaporize Gotham’s water supply, rendering Crane’s drug airborne and causing mass hysteria that will destroy the city. He sets Wayne Manor on fire and leaves Bruce for dead, but Alfred rescues Bruce.

Ra’s loads the microwave emitter onto Gotham’s monorail system, releasing the drug as the train travels toward the city’s central water source. Batman rescues Rachel from a drugged mob and indirectly reveals his identity to her. He pursues Ra’s onto the monorail and overpowers him just as Gordon uses the Tumbler’s cannons to destroy a section of the track. Batman refuses to kill Ra’s but also chooses not to save him, gliding from the train and leaving Ra’s aboard as it crashes and explodes. Bruce gains Rachel’s respect but loses her love, as she decides she cannot be with him while he is Batman. Bruce buys a controlling stake in the now publicly traded Wayne Enterprises, fires Earle, and replaces him with Fox. Gordon is promoted to Lieutenant of the Gotham City Police Department, shows Batman the Bat-Signal, and mentions a criminal who leaves Joker playing cards at crime scenes. Batman promises to investigate.

This is a superb telling of the origins of the Batman character, full of brooding tension, a very apt musical score and an exciting finale. This film is a testament to how effective it is as an origin story.

REVIEW: GOTHAM – SEASON 1

CAST

Ben McKenzie (Batman: Year One)
Donal Logue (Ghost Rider)
David Mazouz (Touch)
Zabryna Guevara (All Good Things)
Sean Pertwee (Dog Soldiers)
Robin Lord Taylor (Another Earth)
Erin Richards (The Quiet Ones)
Camren Bicondova (Girl House)
Corey Michael Smith (Carol)
Jada Pinkett Smith (Collateral)
John Dorman (The Wire)
Victoria Cartagena (Salt)
Andrew Stewart -Jones (Beauty and The Beast)
Drew Powell (Straw Dogs)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Richard Kind (Stargate)
Grayson McCouch (Armageddon)
Brette Taylor (Rescue Me)
Clare Foley (Win Win)
Lili Taylor (The Conjuring)
Carol Kane (The Princess Bride)
David Zayas (Dexter)
Jeremy Davidson (Roswell)
Margaret Colin (Independence Day)
Susan Misner (The Forgotten)
Kim Director (Blair Witch 2)
Christopher James Baker (Sanctum)
Todd Stashwick (The Originals)
Nicholas D’Agasto (Final Destination 5)
Makenzie Leigh (The Slap)
Lesley-Ann Brandt (Spartacus: Blood and Sand)
Morena Baccarin (Firefly)
Christopher Heyerdahl (Sanctuary)
Peter Scolari (The Polar Express)
Dash Mihok (Silver Linings Playbook)
Anthony Carrigan (The Flash)
Julian Sands (Smallville)
Maria Thayer (Hitch)
Cameron Monaghan (The Giver)
Jeffrey Combs (Star Trek: DS9)
Colm Feore (Thor)
Milo Ventimiglia (Heroes)
Willa Fitzgerald (Scream: The Series)
Chris Chalk (12 Years a Slave)

Gotham City has an old, relatively vague history independent of when Thomas and Martha Wayne were shot down in an alleyway, usually the first and primary thing that comes to mind about the motivation that drives Batman: the crime that got so bad that it took his good-natured parents away from him. The surroundings responsible for the billionaires’ murder weren’t created overnight, though, and intensified in response to their death, a time period that often goes unaddressed unless a detail about Bruce Wayne’s transformation into the brooding hero needs mentioning. As a response to the character’s unrelenting popularity the folks at DC aim to use that largely unexplored space to provide an origin story for the city’s violence and corruption, an attempt to recapture the magic of Smallville in a darker environment. The result is Gotham, a blend of crime-case procedure and mobster politics that also fills in the gaps between the orphaning of Bruce Wayne to where Batman begins.

Taking pages out of the playbook of the comic-book series “Gotham Central”, the show largely focuses on the interworking parts of the Gotham City Police Department, notably the arrival of rookie detective Jim Gordon in the midst of rampant corruption. The OC star Ben McKenzie brings initiative and fire to the character, a war veteran and straight-laced servant of the law who’s thrown together with a dirty partner in Harvey Bullock, whose sympathetic flaws are marvelously embodied by Donal Logue. Their first case together? The murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, later revealed to be connected to the city’s organized crime activity. In their investigation, Gordon quickly gets introduced to key players pulling the strings in Gotham, notably a swanky nightclub operator in Fish Mooney (Jada Pinkett Smith) and her aging, rational boss, Carmine Falcone (John Doman). Then, there’s Oswald Cobblepott (Robin Lord Taylor), an attendant to Fish whose wavering allegiances also come to the surface in response to Gordon and Bullock’s investigation, working him into a position of persistent danger and upward mobility if he plays his cards right.

Against the backdrop of a Gotham City that combines Tim Burton’s gothic vision with Christopher Nolan’s stark approach into a relatively timeless metro area, Gotham comes in hard and fast with its nods to the DC universe, eliminating any early concerns about how much of the mythology it’ll incorporate. In fact, the show actually suffers from an oversaturation of these references, especially in how many of the classic villains have benign links to the GCPD in their pasts and, quite simply, how many have already shown up and taken shape into their well-known personalities. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, nor with tweaking what’s known about the universe into its own continuity, but it does detract from the production succeeding as a credible prequel to the age of Batman — touted early on as a selling point for the show.

It’s fascinating to see the riddlesome Edward Nygma (Cory Michael Smith) as an awkward, morbid Dexter-like puzzle-solver working in the precinct, and to see a young Catwoman giving prowler pointers to a young Batman not long after she witnessed the infamous Wayne murder.

The areas where Gotham works are within the politics of the GCPD and the evolving criminal element, and, by association, the origin stories of Jim Gordon’s fight against the department and The Penguin’s ascent up the crime ladder. Elevated by Gordon’s furious diligence against the powers-that-be who keep him from properly doing his job. Gotham is in a comfort zone while exploring maneuverings of Robin Lord Taylor’s brilliantly grimy performance as Oswald Cobblepott. Combining the knowledge that he’ll eventually become a massive player in Gotham with the unpredictable, volatile nature of his younger self exemplifies what a prequel can accomplish.

Gotham really exposes the crux of its issues in the origin story of Bruce Wayne, built around the young orphaned billionaire developing the gumption and skill to investigate his parents’ murder, planting the seeds for his growth into the Caped Crusader.

As Gotham grows in it’s first season it becomes fascinating show dealing with the city before Batman came along and as it heads into it’s second season who can truly see the show has found it’s footing and will hopefully be around for sometime to come.