Posts Tagged ‘Jason O’Mara’

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I was of two minds going into the latest DC Universe straight-to-video animated feature, Son Of Batman — on the one hand, I’m a tremendous fan of Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert’s sprawling, multi-year epic upon which this movie is based , and why not? It’s supremely good stuff. On the other, well — when you condense a story that took that long to tell down to roughly an hour and 14 minutes, something’s bound to be lost in the translation, right?

As it turns out, my concerns were pretty well-founded. To put things as succinctly as possible, director Ethan Spaulding’s adaptation isn’t just hopelessly truncated, it’s also hopelessly messy.

It’s not entirely — or probably even primarily — his fault, of course : this was definitely a pretty poor choice of “source material” from the outset, given that it relies so heavily on audiences warming to Batman’s heretofore-unknown son, Damian Wayne, over time. And time is one thing these DCU flicks don’t have a lot of. So I think I’ll give Spaulding a pass for his role in this debacle — after all,  at the end of the day, he was tasked with a pretty thankless job. I’m less forgiving when it comes to some other folks, though, so let’s get into that — as well as the requisite plot synopsis —  now, shall we?

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For those unfamiliar with the essentials, the basic set-up for Son Of Batman goes as follows : some years ago, Batman/Bruce Wayne (voiced here by Jason O’Mara, who’s no Kevin Conroy by any stretch and never manages to be very convincing either in or out of the cape and cowl) was drugged by Talia Al Ghul (Morena Baccarin, who does serviceable work here) and basically functioned as a one-night-stand sperm donor. The result of that less-than-blessed union was a baby boy, Damian (Stuart Allan, who does what he can with a lousily-written part), who was raised from birth to eventually take over the League of Assassins from his grandfather, Ra’s Al Ghul (Giancarlo Esposito, who sounds like he’s mailing it in), but this little family plan goes astray when Ra’s is killed by Wilson Slade, a.k.a. Deathstroke (Thomas Gibson, who also turns in less-than-inspired work), who has his sets set on usurping control of the League from the Al Ghul dynasty. Sensing things are probably getting a bit too hot for Damian (especially after he takes out Deathstroke’s eye in combat), Talia decides to unload the murderous little tyke on his old man for awhile, and it’s up to Batman to essentially “de-program” the junior psychopath and turns his — what shall we call them? — talents toward the cause of good.

All that’s probably more than enough material for a movie right there, but Son Of Batman  makes the mistake of lumping in various other storylines Morrison had going in and around this time, as well, and that’s where things get messy. The subplot involving Kirk Langstrom (Xander Berkeley, whose work stands out noticeably from the rest of the pack here) becoming Man-Bat and being strong-armed into creating an army of similar creatures never really manages to engage viewers, nor does its attendant “mystery” as to how and why established Bat-villains like Killer Croc have suddenly become steroid-pumped super-monsters. It’s all just too damn much.

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The real tragedy about shoe-horning all this excessive material in, though, is how the filmmakers are consequently forced to give short shrift to Damian’s character development. Morrison’s original story had our little Bat-tyke slowly transform from being an unlikable, untrustworthy little shit into a semi-responsible, even-more-semi-mature youngster who earned his way into taking on the role of Robin. In the movie version, he just flips a switch after fighting Dick Grayson/Nightwing (Sean Maher (who does reasonable enough voice work, but dear God — what’s with that horrible costume?) and assumes the mantle of his daddy’s masked sidekick more or less instantaneously. To say this sudden shift doesn’t work so well would be the understatement of the century.

Obviously,  a tighter (and frankly less ambitious) focus would have benefited the proceedings here to no end, and while biting off more than you can chew can sometimes make for one of those overly-sprawling, but agreeably risky, ventures we all know and love, in this case that’s just not in the offing. Son Of Batman (which I caught on DVD from Warner Premier — picture and sound are both quite nice, but apart from a trailer for another forthcoming animated Bat-flick extras are non-existent ; perhaps the Blu-Ray offers a bit more) plays out like a poorly-researched, unevenly-performed Cliff’s Notes take on a monumental, character-defining work that ends up feeling depressingly small and hopelessly abridged. Think of an animated version of one of those old Reader’s Digest condensed books performed by a cast who’s only marginally interested in what they’re doing and you won’t be too far off the mark.

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Still, if you’re new to this story,  on the off-chance that this flick doesn’t totally put you off the material bastardized to make it, might I humbly suggest picking up either the Batman And Son and/or Batman : The Black Glove  hardcover or trade paperback collections by Morrison and Kubert — they’re infinitely more satisfying,  and, who knows ? You may even walk away from them liking Damian Wayne — something this movie never really gives you the chance to do.

 

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It’s been a good six months or so since we took a side-step into the world of straight-to-video animation around these parts, so we might as well do a brief “course correction” on that and take a look at the latest offering from DC Comics/Warner Brothers Animation, the recently-released onto Blu-Ray, DVD and digital download Justice League : War.

This release marks something of a departure for the range itself in that it’s the first animated feature to take place in the “New 52” universe, so gone is the old “DC Universe” logo we’re used to seeing on these things and we’re back to a world where super-heroes are a new phenomenon and the public at large is just coming to grips with what  a massive shake-up to humanity’s status quo this all means. That’s cool and I can definitely get behind the whole idea of fresh “world building” to re-introduce these characters for a new generation of readers and viewers.

Unfortunately, what I can’t get behind is pretty much everything that’s been done with the whole “New 52” since then, and the numerous weaknesses inherent in DC’s printed-page universe are on full display here, as well. In short, the problem is that most (with a few notable exceptions) “New 52” product — and it is product, and a thoroughly homogenized, corporatized, personality-free, and ultimately soulless product at that — isn’t designed to engage the imaginations of younger readers, but to standardize the formerly-unique look and feel that manyof DC’s individual titles used to possess and give the company’s ever-aging (DC co-publisher Dan DiDio has even stated publicly that his target market is 45-year-old males with no kids and lots of disposable income) and ever-dwindling readership a universe that is consistent in both tone and style.

In that respect, it’s achieved its goal, the problem is that most “New 52” books are consistently bad and this newly-rebooted universe is a dire, hollow, humorless place. Apart from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s always-excellent Batman book, I honestly can’t think of any DC titles currently on the shelves that are worth picking up on a monthly basis. Most of these comics read and look like mid-’90s Wildstorm books (perhaps no surprise given that former WS head honcho Jim Lee is DC’s other co-publisher) that just happen to feature more established characters.

Still, it’s what we’ve been stuck with for just over two years now, and it was only a matter of time before the relaunched universe playing out on the printed page made the leap onto home video, as well. So here we are.

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Based on the graphic novel Justice League : Origin by DC chief “creative” officer Geoff Johns and the aforementioned Mr. Lee, and directed by old-hat veteran of these things Jay Oliva, Justice League : War is about as bland as its title would suggest, with the characters all essentially functioning as one-note ciphers : Batman (voiced by Jason O’Mara) is an overly-serious prick, Green Lantern (Justin Kirk) is an obnoxious hothead, The Flash (Christopher Gorham) is a CSI-type forensic cop who just so happens to be able to run really fast, Superman (Alan Tudyk) is a misunderstood alien feared by the very public that he’s sworn to protect because he’s such a swell guy at heart, Wonder Woman (Michelle Monaghan) is a tough-as-nails warrior who’s trying her best to crack her “ice princess” Amazon breeding, Cyborg (Shemar Moore) is a troubled teen trapped in a half-machine body who just wants his father’s approval, and Shazam (Sean Astin) is a quintessential “good egg” type, unless he’s in his civilian identity of Billy Batson (Zach Callison), in which case he’s a snot-nosed little juvenile delinquent. They all sport subtly redesigned costumes (I guess the powers that be at DC decided the look of every single one of their heroes needed “updating”) than those we’re traditionally used to seeing, and in the timeline this story takes place none of ’em have ever met before until they all reluctantly end up pooling resources in order to ward off an invasion of  Para-Demon hordes commanded by the dastardly Darkseid (Steve Blum) from his home base on the hell-planet of Apokolips.

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That’s about all you really need to know since the outcome of this battle is obviously pre-ordained, but worthy of special mention/condemnation for old-school Jack Kirby fans like myself is how wretchedly stereotypical all of jack’s “Fourth World” creations that are utilized in this story have become in the hands of far less skilled creators. From Darkseid to Desaad to the Para-Demons to the Mother Boxes, all have been uniformly stripped of the uniquely personal elements that the King Of Comics imbued them with and are every bit as “dumbed-down” as the heroes themselves are. Sigh.

Oliva does a nice job keeping the pace appropriately breakneck (having time to stop and think about the proceedings here would only make things worse), and the voice cast all hit the nail on the head reasonably well (apart from O’Mara who never really “connects” as Batman), but they’re being tasked with the impossible here — to try and make a bog-standard, personality-free story somehow interesting. Needless to say, it’s just not gonna happen.

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There’s a rumor going around various online circles these days that an editorial dictate from on high at DC to the various “New 52” creators — many of whom the company has been exposed as treating like so many interchangeable parts in their machine in the years since the relaunch was initiated — stated that the overall tone of of their books should hue as closely as possible to so-called “fan fiction,” and many of those “fanfic”-type excesses that have come to pass, like Superman and Wonder Woman becoming romantically involved, can be seen in their early stages here, so it’s a pretty fair bet that all that crap will be making the leap from the printed page to the TV (or computer) screen in relatively short order, as well. Be ready.

The events portrayed in Justice League : War may take place a few years in the past as far as comic book continuity goes, but make no mistake : this is the shape of things to come. And it definitely ain’t pretty.