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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Batman: Assault on Arkham



Set in the continuity of the best-selling and excellent Batman: Arkham video game series, it's good to be bad in Batman: Assault on Arkham. Except no, it really isn't. It's horrible. For in the DC Universe, if you're a B-list or C-list supervillain, you may just have the unfortunate distinction of being suddenly drugged and unwillingly drafted into the Suicide Squad. The Batman himself is largely relegated to the shadows as the Suicide Squad takes center stage in Assault on Arkham. Coerced by fearsome super spy Amanda Waller (depicted here in all her preferred pre-New 52 glory as a heavy set black woman deserving of her nickname "The Wall," and not a svelte super model as in current continuity), the Suicide Squad are comprised of not-exactly household name arch criminals like Captain Boomerang, King Shark, the Black Spider, and Killer Frost. The most famous name in the Squad is Harley Quinn, in full loveable psycho mode. Even moreso than Batman, master assassin Deadshot emerges as the true star of Assault on Arkham, an honorable killer and loving but deadbeat dad burdened with trying to corral this gathering of psychos.

Under penalty of having their heads literally blown clean off their bodies via a nano bomb implanted in their necks, the Suicide Squad's mission is to break into Gotham's Arkham Asylum and steal the Riddler's cane, which houses a thumb drive containing the identities of every past and future member of the Suicide Squad. If that sounds exactly like the plot of the first Tom Cruise Mission: Impossible, it's because it is. One guesses the Suicide Squad never saw Mission: Impossible.* As one would predict from this gaggle of do-badders, things go FUBAR right from the get-go. Complicating matters is the Batman, hunting for a dirty bomb belonging to the Joker that will demolish Gotham in a nuclear holocaust, and the Joker himself, on the loose and working out his sordid relationship issues with Harley Quinn. Double crosses and gruesome deaths galore is the viewer's reward in this envelope-pushing PG-13 cartoon, along with a surprising amount of curse words and quite a bit of eyebrow-raising nudity from both Harley Quinn and Killer Frost. The voice work is uniformly excellent, with Kevin Conroy returning as the voice of Batman, Troy Baker nicely invoking Mark Hamill as the Joker, Hynden Walch delighting as Harley Quinn, and Neal McDonough delivering a cool, unflappable Deadshot. The quality of DC Animated movies has been touch and go in the post-Bruce Timm/Paul Dini years, but the brutal, ultraviolent, uncomfortably funny and even more uncomfortably sexy Batman: Assault on Arkham blows away recent entries like Justice League: War.

* There are some great Easter Egg homages to Batman Returns and The Dark Knight for the sharp-eyed.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014




In Luc Besson's bloody, bizarre, blisteringly entertaining Lucy, a gloriously game and thoroughly committed Scarlett Johansson stars as the title character, an American ex-pat living in Taipei. Lucy had the misfortune of dating (for a week) a skeevy drug trafficker who handcuffs her to a mysterious briefcase and marches her into a skyscraper owned by Chinese gangsters, lead by Min-sik Choi as the fearsomely perspiring Mr. Jang. In short order, Lucy is terrorized, battered, victimized, and forced to become a drug mule. Lucy has the contents of said briefcase sewn into her abdomen -- blue drugs called CPH4, which a surgeon explains is like "an atomic bomb" to a growing fetus. To the full-grown Lucy, it's certainly that, and much more. After being physically assaulted yet again, the bag of CPH4 bursts inside her and flows into her bloodstream, allowing her to unlock 100% of her brain capacity, gradually giving her godlike powers like matter transference, telekinesis, clairvoyance, and even time travel. If that's not impressive enough, she learns to speak Chinese in an hour and gives a car chase as breakneck as Steve McQueen despite never having driven before.

As Lucy adjusts to her astounding newfound abilities, she emerges as equal parts superhero, action heroine, and metaphysics philosopher. Lucy gives us a Jake the Explainer character in the form of Morgan Freeman, a professor in Paris who just happens to be lecturing on the theoretical potential of a human being reaching 100% brain capacity at the very same time that very event is occurring in Taipei. What are the odds? Once able to manipulate radio waves and broadcast signals, Lucy contacts Freeman, mainly so she can have someone to vocalize what's happening to her. Lucy doesn't need Freeman, per se, but who better for a girl going through changes to talk to than Morgan Freeman? All throughout Lucy's rapid evolution, Besson aims squarely at the audience's noses with constant cutaways to animals and nature (we even learn the first hominid was named "Lucy.") Besson's science is questionable at best, but scientific accuracy is hardly the point of Lucy.

In the best scene in Lucy, during a touching phone call to her mother, Lucy intriguingly tries to convey the myriad sensations of her increasing brain capacity, as she laments both her mortality and her humanity slipping away. Besson truly goes for broke in the third act as Lucy achieves 100% brain capacity and invokes dozens of Marvel and DC Comics characters with her abilities, including a ballsy time travel sequence where Lucy essentially becomes Metron of the New Gods. Despite the presence of Chinese gangsters, Interpol cops, and ultra-violent shoot outs, it seems as if Besson is attempting to direct his own version of Cosmos: A Space-time Odyssey, but he isn't. With Lucy, Besson is delivering a viscera-soaked, visually trippy, action-packed, science fiction tour de force of heady ideas that only Lucy herself seems to fully comprehend. Amusingly, Lucy's conclusion could even be interpreted as Lucy being an unintentional prequel to Her, which also stars Scarlett Johansson's milky voice. At the end of Watchmen, Dr. Manhattan left Earth for worlds unknown. If he'd stuck around, he would have met his match in Lucy.