Hugh Likes Movies: Gotham By Gaslight

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Batman: Gotham By Gaslight
Produced by DC Entertainment
Directed by Sam Liu

Batman GBGL

The Skinny: The graphic reimagining of the Batman mythos in the 19th century pits the Dark Knight against Jack the Ripper.

Superhero movies by their nature feature alternate versions of comic book characters. They compress plots that run for moths or years into digestible stories that audiences can enjoy in only an hour or two, without having to rely on previous knowledge of the hero’s adventures. “Batman: Gotham by Gaslight,” the latest direct-to-DVD animated feature from DC Comics, takes this truism a step further.
The dark but lushly animated film reimagines Batman’s one-man war against crime as taking place in the 19th Century, with him taking on none other than Jack the Ripper himself. In fact, the movie spends a lot more time on the case than with the origins of the character, which makes for a much darker and more explicit take on Batman’s world.
The overall effect is more gothic than steampunk, although most of the fight sequences take place on a burning airship, a burning ferris wheel, and a slaughterhouse that, inexplicably, hasn’t caught fire. The story is pretty much what one would expect from a Batman vs. Jack the Ripper story, and it hits all the broad points you would expect well enough. There are a few plot twists fans who haven’t read the original graphic novel might not see coming, but the story is mostly concerned with showing how these pulp characters fit into a slightly more antiquated Gotham City.
I will say that I felt the movie leans a bit too heavily on the Ripper-ology. The viewer is invited along with a few very nasty killings, and we get a good dose of Jack’s vitriol in the form of villain monologue. It all feels a bit voyeuristic, and lands on the other side of good taste in parts. This certainly isn’t the next film to go to after your child finishes watching Lego Batman.
Although this superhero isn’t for kids, older teens and adult Bat-fans may find something to like in this risqué and violent alternate take on the character and his world.

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Hugh Likes Movies: Spider-Man: Homecoming

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Hugh Likes Movies
Spider-Man: Homecoming
Sony/Columbia Pictures/Marvel Entertainment

Having finally ponied up to see Spider-Man Homecoming, I have some thoughts on Sony’s third launch of the character, and I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised by it.
Spider-Man Homecoming is a fresh take on the character, and it does a lot of things right that the previous movies have avoided.
The most obvious change is that Spider-Man is now firmly hooked into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As the previous reboot was an attempt to keep the character walled off, the movie’s open-armed embrace of the setting was surprising, and cleverly done. Having an ongoing narrative to hook into also gives the movie the additional leg up of not having to retell Peter Parker’s origin! Director Jon Watts does everything he can to avoid it, in fact.
We get a short origin of the villains, small-business construction contractors who turned to a life of crime when they were pushed out of the cleanup of New York from the aftermath of “The Avengers.” From there, we have a short sequence of video footage showing his cameo in “Captain America: Civil War” from Peter Parker’s point of view. Not only is this everything the audience needs to be up to speed, it also highlights the other great change about this version. This Peter Parker is a dork.
The previous franchises paid lip-service to the idea, but never fully embraced this aspect. They try very hard to impress a faux-cool onto the character, either through The Amazing Spider-Man’s self-indulgent skateboarding sequences, or the best-forgotten dance sequence in Spider-Man III. Those versions of the character are still hard-luck heroes, but they try and put a gloss of hollywood polish where it simply doesn’t belong.
This character is as young as he was when he first appeared in comics, and at age fifteen, he still makes all the mistakes you would expect. He tumbles awkwardly to a stop at the end of his swings, and he bites off more than he can chew, a constant irritation to his at-arms length mentor, Tony Stark.
Spider-Man Homecoming is the best version of this character by a long shot, but the movie does stumble here and there. The soundtrack is possibly the laziest of its kind that I have heard in a long time. Composer Michael Giacchino even records a cover of the 1960’s cartoon theme song in booming Marvel brass. In a previous movie review, I made a joke about him doing orchestral Ramones covers, but I never thought I’d actually see it happen. There is also a lot of teen drama in this movie, which can drag the film down, but is brightened by co-stars Jacob Batalon and Zendaya, who fill these scenes with teen-like enthusiasm and cynicism respectively. Also, well-done on the casting director for filling Midtown High with actual teenage actors. This is the first one of these movies in a long time that felt like a real place, and the spot-on casting had a lot to do with it.
“Spider-Man Homecoming” is a refreshing swing through new territory that brings the MCU to life in ways that Marvel’s own properties have failed to do. You can catch it in theaters now.

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