Thursday, August 20, 2015

'Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem' review

The Joker and Cyborg get the "Batman Unlimited" treatment in the new animated film, "Monster Mayhem," which was released Tuesday on DVD and Blu-ray.

Like its predecessor, "Batman Unlimited: Animal Instinct," the bad guy has collected a gang of super villains to work for him. In the case of "Monster Mayhem," it's Solomon Grundy, Silver Banshee, Scarecrow and Clayface. Aside from the lesser-known Silver Banshee (whose only power is a Black Canary-like destructive sonic cry), they're all male villains and are Batman's foes.

Also like the first movie, the Caped Crusader has a supporting cast; Nightwing, Red Robin and Green Arrow are back.

The snarky Flash is out and in goes the always bland Cyborg. The dialogue this time around certainly isn't as snappy and this meant I missed the Scarlet Speedster and the dynamics he brings to the crime-fighting team even more.

When I saw the trailer for "Monster Mayhem," I was excited to hear who I suspected was Mark Hamill as The Joker. To my surprise when I checked the credits, I realized it's Troy Baker, who does an equally fine job. Honestly, it's hard to tell Baker's Joker vocals from Hamill's and I in no way believe the former was aping the latter's iconic performances.

I realize the "Batman Unlimited" series is family-friendly fare, so that comes with certain expectations and what some fans might consider limitations for what you can do.
Solomon Grundy and The Joker
But the climactic battle between The Joker and Batman — as well as the Clown Prince of Crime's random take-over-the-world scheme — pushed even my tolerance for juvenile escapism. While The Joker enjoys seeing the world made over in his image from time to time, there's nothing about his usual mojo and love for chaos that would mean he would want such complete control. It's all a bit too orderly for such an agent of chaos and nihilism, no matter what the incarnation is. Besides, there's nothing in the script that explains why The Joker is looking to control the world.
Screen capture and meme by CARY ASHBY/CARY'S COMICS CRAZE

As far as the climactic battle goes, it's as if the writers threw everything into a blender. After all, Batman battles The Joker in a computer-generated world, where apparently anything goes. Why shouldn't Bats ride a robotic dinosaur (not unlike the creatures in "Animal Instinct") and turn the many versions of his enemy into himself once they're defeated? Why indeed …!

The subtitle "Monster Mayhem" honestly left me wondering too — for longer than I care to admit.

Finally, the fanboy light bulb went off and I realized the word monsters refers to the monster-like villains Solomon Grundy and Clayface and certainly the faces of Scarecrow and Silver Banshee. In the case of Scarecow, his entire design is a monstrosity compared to the comics or previous animated incarnations. It's a case of trying too hard to be different for no good reason and falling flat.

Scarecrow attempts to freak out Nightwing by playing a psychological game
with him in a house of mirrors. Not the tweak to his original Robin costume,
but the first so-called "disco" Nightwing costume is straight out of the 1980s.
Overall, "Monster Mayhem" is good for a bit of escapism, but it's not a must-have for any Batman fan's collection.

Extras: The 10 animated shorts are fun to watch. Or at least half of them are.

Each of the light-hearted vignettes are 2 minutes long or shorter. They aren't as laugh-out funny as those on "Animal Instinct," which are just a riot. (My daughters, 6 and 10, really thought they were a hoot!)
Green Arrow is determined to let Black Canary test out some new trick arrows
on a rock monster they're fighting. The results are hysterical.
Image courtesy of behindthevoiceactors,com

Those featuring Animal Man are just plain silly. But that's just the point, isn't it? Especially when Animal Man is such a goofy-ass character anyway!

The shorts featuring Shazam (who I grew up being called Captain Marvel before a DC/Marvel legal dispute made DC Comics/DC Entertainment change his name) and Green Arrow are quite clever. And just like the ones featuring the animal-based Superman, Batman and Justice League on "Animal Instinct," the G.A. and Shazam stories here are worth watching a second time.

The beauty -- simplicity -- of these animated shorts are that DCE is willing to poke fun at its own characters. And that's what rings so true about the Animal Man, Green Arrow and Shazam ones. The writers "get" the characters and so they know how to put them into ridiculous situations.

I'd recommend you watch the Deadman short first and work your way into the others; you'll be laughing more as you progress.

Grades -- "Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem": B-; Shorts: B+

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