Monday, October 20, 2008

Batman: TAS - Episode 4 - The Last Laugh

As you can surmise from the opening title, this episode features the Joker. I really like the Joker, in all media appearances I've seen. I love him in the comics - I recall an issue of JLA where his thoughts are made manifest in the form of a funhouse, and we see that to a logical, rational person like Superman and Martian Manhunter, that his thought patterns are like a mess of mirrors, reflections and fractions of reflections everywhere, no clear line of thought, just a jumbled mess. I love him in the Animated Series, such as in the animated movie Mask of the Phantasm, "Looks like there's a new face in Gotham and soon his name will be all over town... to say nothing of his legs, and feet, and spleeeen..."

And speaking of film, I've always really enjoyed Jack Nicholson's portrayal of the character and up until the release of Batman Begins considered Tim Burton's Batman to be the best Batman film, and one of my all time favorite movies, "Winged freak, terrorize Gotham...Wait till they get a load of me." And now that The Dark Knight has been released, well, I can't imagine that anything will ever compare to the thrill, and the terror I felt at seeing the latest movie version of the Joker. The absolutely beautiful manner in which he sewed chaos throughout Gotham, they way he so easily turned ordinary people into murders (attempted anyway) was just so fascinating. During his interrogation (watch the clip), the way he taunts Commissioner Gordan, "Depending on the time, he may be in one spot, or several." And later to Batman, "I don't want to kill you. What would I do without you?! ...You complete me."

It was just such an amazing experience, I don't think I've ever had such a powerful reaction to a movie before. Not seeing Star Wars Episode I for the first time, or The Bourne Identity, Jurassic Park, all these movies that are such favorites of mine for how they made me feel like I was a part of the movie. Even seeing Star Wars Episode IV (that's A New Hope for all you old fogeys, there is no movie called Star Wars) when the Special Editions were re-released in the theaters, or The Lord of the Rings saga, none of that made me feel invested in the characters like The Dark Knight did. Except for Rachel Dawes, I never could bring myself to care about her.

The point of all this is that when I see that one of these animated episodes will feature Joker I have fairly high expectations, probably too high since TDK, but even discounting that I know how good (or at least how much I enjoy) some of the future episodes, so I expect the same greatness out of the early episodes. And so far, it's just not there. It's the first season of the show. At this point, it's still the first month of the show (if it was broadcast weekly, I'd have to look that up again to know for sure). They haven't hit their stride, they haven't quite figured out how best to portray and use all the characters. This isn't the puberty stage of the show, it's not even the terrible twos, it's the first few days where it's still learning how to drink its mother's milk. It that just the most terrible analogy ever?

So, The Last Laugh starts by letting us know it's April Fool's Day, and the next thing we see is a garbage boat floating down the Gotham River, or through the docks, I don't know. Anyway, we know it's a Bad Thing since the pilot of the ship is a clown. And everybody knows that Clowns are Evil. There's some funky green vapor rising of the pile of garbage, and as people smell the vapor they start laughing uncontrollably and doing silly things, like slap fighting, or driving on the wrong side of the road while hanging out the window. Obviously Joker is up to no good.

Since it's April Fool's Day Alfred tries to bring a smile to Bruce's sour face. Does that guy ever smile? No, because if he did it would be weird. It's morning and Bruce is shaving, so Alfred proffers, "Here sir, I've drawn you a bath." Bruce walks over to find the bathtub is empty! Drawn him a bath, indeed.

April fools! Bruce is not impressed. Alfred turns on the radio at Bruce's request and he hears of the plague affecting Gotham. According to the news says hundreds of Gotham citizens have inexplicably began acting like total laughing fools. What a nice thing to say about someone! Batman is on the case. We see that Joker and his clown-masked goons are leaving the barge to take advantage of the situation, breaking into armored cars that have inadvertently driven off into the river, or just waltzing down the street pushing shopping carts and relieving people of their valuables, breaking into jewelry stores, etc. I think part of my disappointment with the Joker episodes so far, is that his jokes aren't funny, they're bland and predictable. "When the going get's rough, the tough go shopping!" he says as they debark, or "Who says crime doesn't pay?" or "Now this is what I call a sidewalk sale." It just really doesn't work for me. At least I know it'll get better.

Back in the Bat cave (which is what I want to say every time we cut back to Batman in the Bat Cave) we get a plot device explanation from the computer - an air born gas emanating from the river front district is causing people to act stupid, exposure to the gas will result in permanent insanity. Batman doesn't really respond to such a grandiose statement, and it therefore looses a lot of its weight, so the next reveal also has no impact on me. Batman intercoms Alfred to ask for something, to which Al replies, "Oh, go fetch it yourself, thbbbbbtttt!" Batman's not amused, and then hears crashing and ridiculous laughing. He runs upstairs worried and finds Alfred swinging a broom around knocking things off shelves and tables and breaking Ming vases - because anytime a vase breaks in a movie you are almost guaranteed it's a Ming. Apparently they're quite easy to come by. "Just a little Spring cleaning, sir." Alfred says, and it's the best joke of the episode, as the room is littered with rubble and debris from smashed flower pots and thrown books and overturned tables and chairs, and don't forget the Ming vases. Also the room is full of green vapor because the windows are open, but Batman instantly realizes what it is and puts on his gas mask. Just like World War I, never leave your bed without one.

Anyay, Alfred is obviously batshit crazy and now Batman must find a cure for the gas that causes permanent insanity. Man, I wish I had some of that gas. Anyway, now with proper (but not very impressively conveyed) motivation, Batman sets out to stop the Joker and find a cure for his crazy gas. He uses his boat (on remote control) to tow the garbage barge away from the city, while he boards and beats the crap out of Joker's goons. "Look who's come to trash the place!" Joker quips. Okay, I liked that one. The first two goons stand no chance against Batman and he defeats them without even trying. Then the third goon breaks the tow cable with his bare hands, and we learn that he's a robot when Batman punches him and it clangs painfully. They stuff him in a garbage can of some sort with a locking lid. Joker punches holes in it so Batman can breathe, and then tosses it overboard, where it sinks to the bottom of the river.

Our good hero escapes by remote summoning his boat, which is also a sub, and having it shoot lasers at the barrel. Luckily it slices open the barrel without hitting him. Woo! That was close.

The next encounter is at the junkyard where Joker (presumably) stole the garbage barge, Acme Waste Disposal. The two thugs are spraying some vile green liquid on the garbage to renew its potency, when Batman cuts the hoses with a well thrown batarang. The thugs are drenched in liquid, and Batman shortly removes their masks so they can join the ranks of the reality challenged. He's cleverer fighting the robot this time, beating it with a metal pole instead of his hands, and eventually getting it dropped into a garbage masher. Those things sure are convenient, they're great for grinding the bones of your enemies into talcum powder.

Joker isn't happy about the demise of his good friend Captain Clown, and he lures Batman into the disposal plant where he has obviously learned where everything is. We get a somewhat creepy shot of Joker staring at the camera for several seconds, just waiting for Batman to arrive. He tricks Batman twice into precarious positions hanging over what looks like boiling lava, but since that seems like an odd substance to have in a waste disposal plant it's probably some acidic compound to break down the garbage, maybe? Or maybe a pit of fire for burning the stuff.

Of course being the hero, and quite well trained and prepared for such problems Batman triumphs over Joker, again leaving him hanging over some dangerous pit, in this case a furnace for burning garbage, just like the end of Christmas with the Joker. This final confrontation at the disposal plant was enjoyable, much more so than the rest of the episode. It's nice to see how often Joker can surprise Batman, for all his experience and preparation Joker still gets the better of Bats some way or other throughout the episode. I think my favorite moment was the final time when Joker and Batman are on a catwalk above the fiery furnace and Joker throws two razor playing cards at him. Batman dodges the first, and snatches the second right out of the air, which surprised the Joker quite a bit.

Strangely, we hear nothing of how Batman found a cure for the chemical that caused 'permanent insanity' upon exposure, but we see that Alfred is obviously cured, and not in a good mood as he cleans up after his wacky antics of earlier. In particular, we see him mourning over the loss of the Ming vase, but Bruce cheers him up, "Don't worry about it. I'll just take it out of your salary for the next couple of years." Hilarious. "Hey Alfred, April Fool's!" And the day is saved! Though we're not told how, or if anyone died in the insanity. Oh well, it probably wasn't anybody important.

Directed by our good friend Kevin Altieri, who as I'm sure you remember, directed the first episode On Leather Wings, and will also direct the last episode of disc one, P.O.V. and a two part episode on the next disc that I'm quite looking forward to, Two-Face. IMDB had no info on the writer of this episode, Carl Swenson, other than the fact that he wrote this episode. Maybe I'm not the only one that thought it wasn't that good?

This episode was alright, but not great, sorry to our friends Carl and Kevin. The first half felt fairly bland, until Batman caught up with the Joker and the fighting started, and the final confrontation wasn't bad, but overall I felt kinda let down. I didn't even see anything that deserved to be shown to you, so all you get is screencaps, no videos. Perhaps my expectations are too high, but after seeing The Dark Knight I don't know how I can do otherwise. I saw the peak of cinematic perfection in that movie, and all movies and Joker performances hereafter will be compared to that, and will be found wanting.

Remember kids: Believing oneself to be perfect is often the sign of a delusional mind.

Episode Listing

2 comments:

Marissa said...

"Perhaps my expectations are too high, but after seeing The Dark Knight I don't know how I can do otherwise. I saw the peak of cinematic perfection in that movie, and all movies and Joker performances hereafter will be compared to that, and will be found wanting."
Can I use that as an excuse to never have to buy you another movie?

ryanlb said...

No.