7 Reviews (1 New)
The Batman breaks-in on a money-laundering gang. As the ringleader flees he is confronted by a mysterious wraith-like figure in the car park. Batman only sees the aftermath of the villain's death and chases the figure, only for it to escape. The fiasco is blamed on the Batman as a 'loose canon', but the Dark Knight has other concerns.
At a bash held at Wayne Manor, Bruce remembers Andrea Beaumont, his lost love - and his first ventures as a vigilante. Another gangland criminal is accosted at a graveside by the spectral phantasm and killed by a toppled angel statue. Again, it is blamed on the Bat. Andrea is at her mother's grave and sees Batman near the Wayne memorial. Batman seeks a link between the mobster hits, and discovers Andrea's father could be the culprit, as he owes the mob money which he can't repay, and they killed his wife.
The Joker has made a temporary home in the ruins of the old World's Fair. He has heard the rumours that Batman has gone 'nuts'. The Joker leaves a deadly trap for the Batman, but it is the Phantasm who shows up and barely makes it out intact. Batman and the Phantasm tussle on the rooftops, but then the wraith disappears leaving Batman confronted by armed police. SWAT teams pin him down. Batman is hit by an explosion but creates a diversion by shooting his cape and cowl up on a grappling hook. As the police move in Andrea arrives in her car and they escape.
After Andrea's father was given 24 hours to come up with the money or be killed, he fled with Andrea to Europe, leaving Bruce heartbroken but free to take on the mantle of the Bat. But her father's later invested money still wasn't enough to placate Valestra, hence the appearance of the Phantasm. Bruce assumes that it is her father, but he will be shocked by the truth. The Joker is revealed to have been one of the mob. He tries to kill Batman with a mini-bomb, but the Batman uses a Bat-arang to explode it prematurely, before it reaches its target.
It is revealed that Andrea's father was killed by The Joker, and now the Phantasm has come for him. However, The Joker sees through Andrea's identity, and it is only Batman's arrival that saves her. Batman tells her to leave and goes after The Joker. After an action-packed battle in the disused World's Fair Andrea shows-up again to ensure The Joker dies in his own explosion. But Batman loses her in the smoke and escapes through the sewers. Later, he finds a clue that she might still be alive.
You could call this a movie-length episode of the award-winning Batman The Animated Series, as the format, settings and music is very much in the same style. It is from this point that Warner/DC sets-up an on-going release of very high quality, adult-oriented, intelligent and edge-of-the-seat thrilling movies. The groundwork began with set-pieces like the Batman's frantic but clever escape after being effectively surrounded and cut-off by the police, thinking him responsible for the mob killings. This is the turning point before the Batman branding became much darker. Here, the Warner logo still features Bugs Bunny!
Kevin Conroy as Batman and Star Wars' Mark Hamill are re-utilised from the series. Hamill will go on to voice The Joker in many more Batman animated films - and a very good job of it he makes, too. There are some nice touches in Mask of the Phantasm. During a flashback to Bruce at the opening of The World's Fair he sees the concept of a futuristic car which later becomes the Batmobile. We also see Bruce torn between love (a normal life) and his new path (destiny), for which he is awaiting a sign. Much later, we see Batman fighting The Joker at the abandoned World's Fair, and swatting away radio-controlled planes like a scene out of King Kong.
The humour in a dark environment comes inevitably from English butler Alfred: "What rot, sir. Why, you're the very model of sanity. By the way, I've pressed your tights and put away your exploding gas balls." There is also the drollness of "Pardon me, sir, but Miss Bambi is dancing on the piano."
Bruce W. Timm is a name we will see again and again, synonymous with quality releases. Here, he co-directs and co-produces. The other director is Eric Radomski, and the other producers Benjamin Melniker & Michael Uslan. The story is by Alan Burnett, adapted by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasko and Michael Reaves. Music comes from the stable hands of Shirley Walker.
I would suggest any Batman fan step back in time a little to give this a go. Anyone who loves Batman The Animated Series will naturally love this, but it is a progressive stepping stone to the very high quality Batman animated movies of recent years.
(Original review Ty Power 2020)
It is the turn of the century, and in Victoriana Gotham the Batman arrives to prevent some street kids from mugging an elderly couple. They are being made to work for Big Bill, who attempts to fight the Batman before physically being shown the error of his ways. After directing the boys to a safe refuge, Batman hears a scream. After performing in a mini theatre, exotic dancer Ivy has left to make her way home. She has been accosted by a well-to-do man, who opens his bag and proceeds to slash her with a blade. Batman arrives just too late, and discovers her body in a pool of blood.
The Gotham World's Fair is opened by the mayor with Bruce Wayne's money, and reveals a new search light and Ferris Wheel - among other wonders. It is interrupted by Miss Kyle, who wants to know what the mayor is going to do about the women being gutted in the streets. The press is calling the killer Jack the Ripper. One on-looker speculates that it could be the Bat creature. Sister Leslie knows Batman is on the side of the angels though, and tells Bruce the latest victim was an orphan. Commissioner James Gordon is pledged to clean-up the streets of Gotham, but is having a hard time of it.
On his night patrol, the Batman follows Miss Kyle and watches as a figure stalks her. Finally trapped in a meat warehouse, she is attacked. However, she produces a whip and defends herself. Just as she is overcome the Batman arrives and a tough battle ensues. A recovered Miss Kyle helps Batman, and he finally springs a trap door. Selina Kyle proceeds to lay into the vigilante, blaming him for the villain's escape. But when she turns the Batman has long since gone.
Commissioner Gordon has a nightmare wherein his wife, Barbara is the next victim of the killer. Walking out on the veranda for some fresh air, he is approached by the Batman. He convinces Gordon that he is a friend, and asks for access to the police files on the killer. But Gordon does not appreciate being accosted at his family refuge. He seeks to tell the Batman just that, but the figure in the shadows has gone.
At the Monarch Theatre, Bruce Wayne is making an obligatory appointment with District Attorney Harvey Dent. Dent wants to see the star of the show, Selina Kyle. She describes Dent as "... a regular Jekyll and Hyde," a reference to his future persona as Two-Face. Bruce realises that as a protector of the destitute, Sister Leslie is a prime target and races to the convent. He arrives too late.
Doctor Hugo Strange wants to talk to the Batman about the Ripper, and invites him to Arkham Asylum. But when Jack the Ripper turns-up first and throws Strange into a pit of crazies, the chase is on. As a prison guard falsely reports that Batman killed Strange, the Ripper jumps from the roof to a Zeppelin and makes his escape, trailed by the Batman hanging from a grappling hook. Batman fights the mask-wearing killer on the zeppelin and across the rooftops, watched by the police at street level. The police fire at the two figures on the out-of-control zeppelin, and Batman swings clear as the dirigible explodes into flame. Commissioner Gordon arrives to prevent Bullock and his men from shooting at the Batman. Our injured hero 'borrows' a coat, but there are too many police on the streets. Selina Kyle beckons him into a carriage, where he sheds his clothing. When the carriage is stopped and checked, they pose as lovers.
Gordon and Bullock later arrest Bruce for the killing of an old down-and-out lady who was seen to be accusing him of something at Sister Leslie's funeral. He is taken to Black Gate Prison, accused of being the Ripper. There is a reference to the logic of Sherlock Holmes as Bruce concludes that one of his mentors is framing him. Selina threatens to reveal his secret to offer him an alibi, but it is for selfish reasons. Bruce creates a diversion and escapes. Meanwhile, Selina finds Gordon at the World's Fair and reveals the secret. But Batman has discovered a secret of his own: a hidden room in the Gordon household. A 'holy crusade' to wipe-out the scum from the city as Jack the Ripper.
Batman races to the Fair on an excellent Victoriana steampunk Batcycle, as a drugged Selina flees Gordon. A deadly fight ensues on the new Ferris Wheel, and the Batman struggles to defend himself against the trained boxer and bare-knuckle fighter. Fire spectacularly engulfs the Ferris Wheel as Batman saves Gordon from falling. Gordon manages to handcuff them together, but Batman escapes using a Houdini trick and attaches the other cuff to a railing. Knowing he is beaten, Gordon walks back into the flames. Batman and Selina barely avoid the falling Ferris.
A Victorian setting Gotham is such a natural backdrop in terms of style and architecture for Batman that, when you think of it, it's simply astonishing it hasn't been done before. It's fitting, too, that other characters and references come into play in this story. Radio adventurer Sexton Blake outwitting his middle- or upper-class twisted philanthropic villains and, in particular, super sleuth Sherlock Holmes, who is referenced in the film. And talking of Holmes, in all but name we witness the origins and exploits of The Baker Street Boys ("You gotta pay the tariff, ain't that right, Dicky?" "Names, Jason, remember? We don't say our names.") . It's obvious that Victorian London was meticulously researched to create a Gotham similar in style, with dark alleys, fog, gas lamps and authentic clothing for the period.
Gotham By Gaslight was written by Jim Krieg - based on the graphic novel by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola. It was produced and directed by Sam Liu. A special mention should go to Frederik Wiedmann, who composed music which fits the piece like a glove. Orchestral and driving, without being over-dramatic (a failing of many Hollywood films). It's simply fantastic. The cast is strong. It's nice to see (or should that be hear?) Anthony Head as Alfred Pennyworth. Bullock's (DiMaggio) brusqueness comes across here in his 'shoot-first-ask-questions-later' attitude - even pointing out at the World's Fair that the victims are "... only common women."
It's quite brave to have Commissioner Gordon as the villain of the piece - Jack the Ripper, because over the years Gordon's the one person Batman has come to have an uneasy alliance with. However, this does come from the Elseworld series of DC stories which take place in an alternative universe. The final scene amidst the inferno of the Ferris Wheel is quite remarkable. As the Ferris began to fall I pressed the remote's freeze frame button so that I could see everything that was going on in a single shot. Spectacular. It just goes to show what can be achieved nowadays with conventional animation. DC excels at these adult-aimed films and are simply eons in front of Marvel's animation.
Blu-ray extras include: Caped Fear - The First Elsewhere (a making-of documentary); an Audio Commentary with Executive Producer Bruce Timm, Writer Jim Krieg and Dictor Sam Liu; A Speak Peak at the next DC Universe Animated Movie; and two bonus Batman cartoons, including The Brave and the Bold (targeted at a younger audience).
(Original review Ty Power 2020)
"Hey, creature. Leave those kids alone!"
A team of dark ninjas steals some experimental technology. Barbara Gordon is there and saves the lives of some scientists, but before she has the chance to suit-up as Batgirl a smoke screen is created and some unseen newcomers fight-off the Ninjas - so that everyone has gone by the time the smoke clears.
Wayne Enterprises is the obvious next target. Penguin and his cronies intend to steal the tech first, but are seen-off by the Turtles. When the dark-clad Ninjas assault the Wayne lab, Batman takes them down one by one. But then a more highly skilled armoured Ninja warrior with mystical powers arrives, and a long, closely-fought battle ensues. The warrior resorts to mysticism to win the clash and disappears in a smoke screen.
Batman confronts the Turtles, each of which believes the other is involved in the thefts. Batman causes one of them to crash through the counter of a pizza shop. The turtle warns the patrons to run, as there's a crazy guy in a Bat suit. They all stare at the Turtle, before running out screaming, "A talking turtle!" Obviously, they're used to seeing the Batman in Gotham but not a man-sized Turtle. Conversely, being from another city, the Turtles know nothing about a Batman. Batman betters the Turtles, so they use the smoke screen trick to tactically withdraw.
The villain of the piece is the nemesis of the Turtles - The Shredder. But his reluctant partner in this venture is non other than Ra's al Ghul. They plan to build a machine to dispatch the Ooze serum which will turn the citizens of Gotham into beasts and tear the city apart. Watching the exchange from the shadows is Robin.
The Turtles research the Batman ("So he wears a Dracula costume and punches clowns!") a reference to Batman's arch enemy The Joker). The Turtles have followed Shredder to Gotham ever since he stole the Ooze. They think his partner may be Batman, but the Bat doesn't act like a villain. They find the Batcave through the sewer cave system (eh?) but are attacked by Robin, who fights them all off before being pinned to the floor by one of their shells. Batman arrives in the Batmobile in the nick of time ("Get off Robin... Now!").
Robin explains that the partner to the Shredder is Ra's al Ghul. He breaks into the mental ward (presumably, Arkham Asylum) where we briefly see Mr Freeze, Bane, Scarecrow, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Harley Quinn and , of course, The Joker, who they have come to release. The Shredder has been promised immortality in the Lazarus Pit by Ra's al Ghul for his help utilising the Cloud Seeder.
Commissioner Gordon tells Batman about The Joker, who has taken over the asylum and turned all the inmates into twisted mutants - like they weren't twisted enough already! Batman, Robin and Batgirl, and the Turtles attempt to take out the mutant villains, but The Joker has mixed the Ooze with his own concoction which turns Batman into Man-Bat, a hideous powerful creature. But they have an anti-venom which turns him back to Batman after a fight to administer it. The Man-Bat had taken down the other villains, and fallen masonry helps Batgirl to incapacitate The Joker. More of the anti-serum can be given to the police to change the other inmates back.
But all of this is a massive diversion. The Penguin has stolen the Cloud Seeder for Ra's al Ghul and Shredder. The team storms the Ace Chemicals plant where the Cloud Seeder is going to be installed with the hybrid Ooze to turn every citizen in Gotham into a monster. There are some nice action sequences here, as they are obliged to fight-off several mutant creatures and dark Ninjas. Whilst two of the Turtles attempt to incapacitate the machine while it flies over Gotham, Batman takes on the Shredder, two Turtles have a hard time against Ra's al Ghul, and Batgirl and Robin tidy-up by taking-out the remaining black-clad Ninjas.
Let me say that I have no love for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in live action, cartoon or comic format. It is without doubt a format meant for young children. As a keen enthusiast of the Batman character, I could see no sense in putting these together. I couldn't have been more wrong. This is a well-plotted and tightly structured reluctant team-up. There is some nice humour which generally stays this side of silliness by keeping up the pace and urgency of the story. Sometimes opposites attract. There is dry humour from the deadpan Alfred the butler, and a very funny suiting-up montage of the Turtles, wherein one of them slides a slice of pizza into his weapon holster.
But this is no spoof. There is plenty of action, with meticulously choreographed fight sequences. Batman is always single-minded, focussed, and deadly serious, and the humour mainly come from certain situations rather than being in your face. Many of these adult DC animated films are phenomenally good (unlike most of their live action movies); this is definitely one of the better ones I've come across, and a very pleasant surprise.
Extras include: Cowabunga Batman! - When Comic Book Worlds Collide (documentary about how the project came together); Fight Night in Gotham (about the Ninja fight sequences); and a Sneak Peak at the forthcoming Batman: Hush.
(Original review Ty Power 2020)
Washington DC: A woman terrified by the sight of countless demons in the street drives away at speed, hitting a number of them. She runs into the protective arms of Wonder Woman, only to discover she has run over several people. Metropolis: A man is demanding at gunpoint that a monster tell him what it's done with his family. Superman arrives in time to stop the man killing his wife and two small children. In the shed are the bodies of neighbours. Gotham: A woman is threatening to jump off a building with a baby. When Batman tries to talk her down she tells him she has given birth to the devil, and throws the baby from the top. Batman saves the baby, but the woman throws herself off before Batman can get back to her. At the Hall of Justice, the League discuss similar phenomena from around the world. Batman dismisses a magical source but later, when shaving at Wayne Manor, Bruce Wayne sees the name Constantine appear all over the walls.
Backtrack three days, and Constantine the English mage is playing cards in Las Vegas with demons. He puts up his House of Mystery as stake, forcing the demons to put up a Dreamstone and Soul Catcher. Having all cheated, they inevitably fight. Constantine summons Etrigan the Demon to slay them.
Batman visits the magician Zatanna in search of Constantine. Deadman tries to possess Batman in order to speak privately to Zatanna, but Batman's mind is strong and Deadman is rejected. Deadman was a circus performer whose spirit was saved by a goddess who took pity on him after he was killed during a performance by a sniper. She gave him the powers to possess people in order to bring his killer to justice. The three of them drive in the Batmobile to Constantine's House of Mystery, which seems to move around. A mystic tornado chases them, and they barely make it to the house, the Batmobile being torn to pieces.Orchid is the magic of the house in bodily form. She reads and sums-up the feelings of everyone present.
They visit Ritchie who is dying, his place surrounded by Shrouds. Constantine has a reputation for rubbing people up the wrong way, and Ritchie is a former colleague waiting to get even. He punches the mage in the face, but still surrenders a Psychic Key... to Batman. Constantine uses the key to enter - with Zattana the memories of the father who tried to kill his family, and barely escape as a dark creature, who descended the father into madness, attacks the hospital. They need more information from Ritchie, but he has just been attacked and the Shrouds or Wraiths are trying to take him. Batman stabs the man in the chest with adrenaline and he snaps back to life.
Many centuries ago Destiny forged the Dreamstone with Black Magic and his soul. He used it to feed of people's torment through nightmares. Merlin summoned Estrigan to slay him. They are looking for Felix Faust, the perceived enemy, and approach Swamp Thing to help them find the shielded and heavily fortified citadel. A chaotic magic battle takes place. But is he really behind all of this? Batman has the answer. They have left a dangerous man in the House of Mystery, and soon a god will wreak havoc by setting everyone against each other.
Justice League: Dark was written by Ernie Altbacker, from a story by J.M. DeMatteis and Ernie Altbacker. It was executive produced by Sam Register, and directed by Jay Oliva. The music score was by Robert J. Kral. Other voice artistes include JB Blanc and Ray Chase.
This is more of a Constantine story than it is a Justice League, who are only seen briefly during the opening minutes. Having prior knowledge of the mage and his background would definitely be an advantage here. It's good to give other lesser known DC characters an outing, but what lets down this story is that it's chaotic. There are too many characters and backstories, and the tale is too convoluted for a film lasting only 70-odd minutes. Fortunately, Batman is a mainstay in nearly all of the inherent situations, and he helps to ground the mystical elements somewhat.
The animation - as with most of these recent DC adult-orientated movies - is exceptional. It allows a 'the sky's the limit' attitude and the ability to put pretty much anything within reason on the screen at a fraction of the cost of live action. You've got to hand it to DC and Warner, these movies are becoming increasingly more popular as time goes on... and rightly so. Their dedication to the cause is phenomenal, and makes me believe that this is the format that comic book heroes and villains should be realised in.
There are some touches of humour in Dark which cleverly don't slow the action or make light of the proceedings. For example, Ritchie says, "I'm still wondering what Batman's doing in my living-room." It's a very English sense of humour. Orchid says to Batman, "You exude pain. Your life is a patchwork of blackness, with no time for joy. How do you cope with it?" To which Batman replies, "I have a butler." With Constantine being English, we also get some cynical or sarcastic exchanges, such as when a demon threatens, "I'll rip your bloody arse out!" To which he replies, "Sorry, mate. I'm using that."
Extras on this Blu-ray disc include: The Did You Know? featurettes: Constantine Origin, Colour of Magic, Black Orchid, and Deadman casting. There is also a 2016 NY Comic-Con Panel, a Sneak Peak at the next animated movie, plus two Bonus Cartoons from the DC Vault.
(Original review Ty Power 2020)
Mirror Master hacks the Batman's computer. Bane meets Star Sapphire, Metallo and Cheetah. Together they are invited the Hall of Doom and paid to take-out the Justice League. Our heroes are unravelled one-by-one by the villains. Superman by use of Kryptonite, Batman by the theft of his parents' bodies, Martian Manhunter by a substance which sets his body aflame, Green Lantern by his apparent failure to save a person and his feeling of being inadequate to wear the Ring of Power, Wonder Woman by being drugged and not knowing what is real, and the Flash by being lured into a trap that attaches a bomb to his wrist which will explode if he stops running. Bruce is buried alive with his dead parents.
Vandal Savage, head of the Legion of Doom, has lived for thousands of years and believes he cannot die. He wants to reshape the world by destroying half of it. Cyborg convinces Wonder Woman she has nanobots attached to the base of her brain, making her see everyone as Cheetah. Bruce punches his way out from underground. Batman issues instructions as all of this is his fault. Flash is told by Batman to run through an iceberg, which breaks-off the bomb. Wonder Woman is saved by Cyborg, and Martian Manhunter is injected with a substance which stops him secreting Magnesium, making the flames go out. Batman shows Green Lantern that the so-called victim is a robot facsimile, and that he hasn't allowed anyone to die. Superman is dying from a Kryptonite bullet. Batman arranges for a Kryptonite scalpel to be made and Martian Manhunter uses his shapeshifting abilities to hook out the bullet. Superman recovers.
Batman explains to the Justice League how he studied all previous and existing members of the League to discover witnesses, should they turn bad or be taken-over by mind control. After a little argument, what they really object to is how the information was so easily stolen.Batman's encyrption for the files is formidable, but he had a contingency plan that if anyone decrypts them they 'call' home.
The location is the Louiseana Swampland. The Justice League members arrive, but while our heroes are dispatching their relevant villains, Vandal Savage manages to launch his rocket - even though Cyborg tries to stop him. Superman goes after it, and Green Lantern Follows. It splits into many smaller rockets, which Superman destroys. But two make it through. Lantern delays the resultant solar flare while the others come up with a plan. They create a displacement field over the Earth, and the solar flare passes harmlessly around it.
Cyborg is welcomed as the newest member of the Justice League. The subject of Batman's distrust is discussed. Batman doesn't believe he has to defend his actions. The League has great powers; he would do the same again. If they can't see that, he doesn't belong here. Batman abruptly turns and walks out. Superman later asks Batman if he had a contingency plan for himself going bad. Batman replies that his plan was the Justice League. Superman entrusts a small lump of Kryptonite to Batman's care.
Justice League: Doom was written by Dwayne McDuffie. It was produce and directed by Lauren Montgomery. The voice direction was by Andrea Romano, and the music score by Christopher Drake. Other voice artistes include Bumper Robinson, Claudia Black, Carlos Alazraqui, and Paul Blackthorne.
I'm not a fan of the Superman character, and Green Lantern does little for me either. However, this is a great romp primarily because it is a Batman story. I love the way he is so single-minded and determined, and won't allow anyone to divert him from his goal. There is also an appearance by the Royal Flush Gang at the beginning of the film. The animation is good and there is plenty of action - even though this is a tale of morals and broken trust. The bright costume colours (apart from Batman) of the heroes and villains are right out of the earlier comic book versions, rather than the recent live-action films which have toned-down the costumes.
Extras on this Blu-ray disc include: Guarding the Balance - Batman and the JLA (featurette), Cyborg - His Time Has Come (featurette), Creative Team Commentary, DC Digital Comic Book - Justice League of America (Issue 43) Tower of Babel, A League of One - The Dwayne McDuffie Story, Preview of DC Universe's Next Animated Original Movie - Superman vs The Elite, and Bruce Timm Presents 2 Bonus Cartoons for young children.
(Original review Ty Power 2020)
Marvel has had several attempts to turn its most successful comic character into an animated serial. However, never before has the true essence of the student behind the mask been captured so effectively as in the nineties version.
There are two main reasons why this Fox adaptation is so superior to the previous efforts to animate this superhero. The first is the improved conventional animation techniques combined with computer-generated 3-D imagery. Sequences involving Spider-Man or a helicopter moving between buildings is extremely impressive. One such example shows movement, smooth and camera-like across water towards shore, where the skyscrapers are reflected on the surface. Secondly, and more significantly, there is greater story-line continuity than ever before, which brings the teenage lead's agonies closer to casual audience understanding. Before elaborating the importance of this further, a brief background explanation is called for.
Peter Parker is an ordinary but scientifically gifted teenager who is accidentally bitten by a radiation-infected spider during a university experiment, giving him the proportionate strength and abilities of an arachnid. Although previously weak and often oppressed, he cannot display his new-found physique for fear of inadvertently revealing his secret identity.
What makes Spider-Man unique (at least at the time of his creation by Marvel's Stan Lee in 1962) and relatable is that instead of helping to change his life for the better, as with the majority of superheroes, the acquisition makes his private life a miserable existence of missed opportunities. He is even forced the hard way to channel his abilities to fight crime - after his failure to intervene in a robbery results in the death of his Uncle Ben at the hands of the same perpetrator. Ultimately, he doesn't always make the right decisions, but his motives are dictated by what he feels is right. To cover this insecurity and general bad luck is the irrepressible humour, faithfully carried over from the comic books. In strict contrast to D.C.'s Batman, who is dark and moody and hardly says a word, Spider-Man never shuts up. The relentless quips, rather than becoming tiresome, are a constant amusement for the viewer - if not the respective villains.
The Peter Parker of this series is nineteen. Whilst beyond his naïve bookworm school days when no female would benefit him with a second glance, he remains partially insecure, unsuccessfully balancing his private life with amateur but effective policing commitments. Realism dictates that it's impossible to win every fight; sometimes subterfuge is necessary - or help from other quarters such as Nick Fury and his S.H.I.E.L.D. organisation, or in one case Professor Xavier's X-Men.
There's no doubt that Marvel was fully committed to doing justice to the hard-hitting stories of recent years. All the favourite reprobates raise their ugly but colourful heads: Smythe and the Spider Slayers, the Hobgoblin, Venom, the Scorpion the Vulture, the Chameleon, Kraven the Hunter and, of course, Doctor Octopus. In fact, the history of these characters means that twenty-minute stories seldom flesh them out as sufficiently as they deserve. This setback is partially rectified by having major storylines running to several episodes.
The relating or peripheral characters are believable in that they highlight real problems. The editor of the Daily Bugle, where Parker sells pictures of Spider-Man tackling criminals, is a loudmouthed extrovert who purposely underpays for the headlining snaps and despises Spider-Man with a passion - even financing the powers of the Scorpion purely to see the web-slinger publicly humiliated. But more interesting is the on/off relationship with Felicia Hardy (later to become the Black Cat) and Mary Jane Watson (aspiring actress and model). Regularly, Parker is forced to make excuses to get away, and often arrives late or fails to materialise at all for prearranged dates, driving his personal relationships further apart.
Most of the stories are variations on basic established pieces, and the science therein is fundamentally contrived. However, dotted among these are some outstanding tales. The Saga of the Alien Costume, which ran for seven years in the comics, is contained in only three parts here and Venom (a relatively new and enduring villain, compared with Doc. Oc. and others) is first seen and ultimately dispatched in the final part of the trilogy. In this instance it makes for a breakneck-pace rollercoaster ride. The Neogenic Nightmare saga contains more than a dozen episodes telling the story of Spider-Man's mutation and his attempts to reverse the process. At one stage he even sprouts extra arms and then becomes Man-Spider. Of course, along the way we are introduced to other Marvel characters such as the vigilante the Punisher, Morbius the vampire, fellow unsung hero Daredevil and Blade the vampire hunter. The web-slinger is periodically aided by Dr. Curt Connors (a.k.a. the Lizard) and his Neogenic Recombinator machine.
In conclusion, then: the scripts are relatively tight; the animation, whilst not in the league of most Japanese Manga releases (the overseas Animation House is Tokyo Movie Shinsha) or the fantastic adult-oriented DC Batman and Justice League projects, remains several notches above average - particularly the computer generated backgrounds; and the action is frantic, sometimes a little too hectic. I have great respect for this character from my childhood, and this is certainly the best screen animated adaptation of the myth thus far. There is much more continuity here, and depth of character. The major comic book stories are fleshed-out, giving our hero room to swing - so to speak. This five season serial incorporates practically all of the stories that matter, including the little known but much loved The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man (about a terminal cancer patient getting to meet his hero), The Wedding (wherein Peter marries Mary Jane Watson amid a menagerie of villains), and appropriately ending with Madame Web and a journey into another universe.
(Original review Ty Power 2020 - incorporating a short article written for sci-fi-online in 2002)
Season 5 was the last of this sadly under-achieving animated outing for X-Men from the 1990s. In this first volume we get six 20-minute episodes amounting to approximately 1 hour 45 minutes running time on a single disc. Professor Xavier, Beast, Wolverine, Storm, Cyclops and a handful of other regulars return in a series of stories which, ironically, seem to improve slightly the closer we come to the conclusion of the show...
In Phalanx Covenant (2 parts), bad guys Sinister and Magneto help Beast and Forge to combat a symbiotic life form which is determined to assimilate the human race and eventually all life. They receive an unexpected ally in a friendly individual from the collective race. This is a pretty enjoyable story, but it jumps the line back and forth between serious and silly. As you will have guessed, the idea is stolen from Star Trek’s the Borg, and includes elements of the Venom/Carnage sybiote which originated with the black costume saga from the Spider-Man comics.
In Storm (2 parts), the X-Men’s Storm is abducted and taken to another world where the weather is in constant angry turmoil, wrecking cities and killing people. After pleas from the warrior king, she agrees to help, and in return becomes a champion of the people. Storm falls in love with the king, but when other X-Men track her down they discover that the citizens are frightened slaves, controlled with an iron fist by the king.
In The Fifth Horseman, a hidden Mayan temple and its people are dedicated to the return of Apocalypse. The power of a mutant boy is needed to smooth the transition, but when the boy is lost and Jubilee and Beast wander into their midst, Jubilee is taken as the new conduit and Beast is transformed into a large feral version of himself.
As I said, a definite improvement on previous seasons, with more ‘people’ stories that are slightly more character driven - as should be. But it is too little too late.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2010)
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