Literary Corner

Trash Culture Literary Corner: Batman & Robin, Chapters 8-9

So I suppose it’s inevitable I’ll just dwell on the same topics.  There’s only so much to be said about Batman & Robin the film, and like how Michael Jan Friedman must have struggled with stretching the movie’s sparse plot out into a book, it’s tricky to not return to some of the same ground in writing this book up.

That said, yeah, even though Michael Jan Friedman is a good writer, this book does more to show why Batman & Robin is an even worse interpretation of the Batman mythos than Batdude and Throbin.

batdudeandthrobin

For instance, there’s more clumsy juggling of “Mr. Freeze the tragic villain” with “Mr. Freeze the punster.”

Fries and his wife were playing with a puppy in a field somewhere.  Upstate New York, he thought – or was it New Hampshire?  It was the height of summer, judging by the brightness of the light and the cut of their clothes.  What was the dog’s name again?  He thought for a moment.  Sunshine?  Sunspot?  Something like that.  It was getting harder and harder for Freeze to remember such things.

Notice the subtle differentiation between “Fries” and “Freeze”?  As if Mr. Freeze no longer even sees himself as the normal human being he used to be?  That’s a legitimately good character moment, but it’s all followed by…

“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” said Frosty, “but I got something here you might want to see.”  He held out a newspaper clipping.  Without a word, Freeze lifted his gun and fired.  In a flash, Frosty had frozen solid, still grasping the clipping.  “I hate it when people talk during the movie,” he muttered.

I’m not saying you can’t have actual characterization, much less the occasional poignant moment, alongside old-school camp.  Look at “Batman: The Brave and The Bold” series, which embraced Batman’s goofy Silver Age post but still had effective, genuinely moving moments like the members of the Doom Patrol, who had become cynical and washed-up superheroes, choosing to sacrifice their own lives to save a group of strangers.  Like a lot of good writing, it’s a delicate balancing act, one that’s completely overturned with a barrage of crappy puns coming from an interpretation of a villain the audience is supposed to feel sorry for.  Imagine if Magneto in X-Men: Days of Future Past went around telling Xavier, “Well, that’s why we’re…polar opposites.

But lets move on before I churn out a whole treatise about this.  Mr. Freeze is planning to steal a diamond being exhibited at some charity gala that will be hosted by Bruce Wayne, but of course the whole thing is a trap.  By a cosmic coincidence, the gala has a botanical theme, and it’s where Poison Ivy chooses to make her true debut, appearing on stage like in the movie à la Marlene Dietrich coming out of the gorilla costume in Blonde Venus. 

marlenedietrich

Naturally right away her pheromone magic works on Bruce Wayne and every other dude in attendance.

“Hi there,” said the woman, lifting the man’s chin with a slender forefinger. She winked at him. “And, er, you are…?” he sputtered. “Poison,” she said, smiling. “Poison Ivy.” Poison Ivy, Batman thought, trying to focus on her features. But it wasn’t easy. He left like a man who had drunk a quart of love passion.

Poison Ivy appears as one of the flower-themed girls up for auction. This might be a chance to make some commentary about objectification and Poison Ivy’s rage against men like Prof. Woodrue, but…no, it’s all about Batman and Robin already starting to fight over Ivy by trying to outbid each other, even though it basically means that Bruce Wayne is trying to outbid Bruce Wayne. We don’t really know why Ivy is bothering with all this, aside from the fact that the script wanted her to be there to meet Mr. Freeze. Again, I have to wonder how strictly Michael Jan Friedman was required to stick to the script.

Oh, and I neglected so far to mention one of the most important characters in Batman & Robin.

Then, out of nowhere, Gossip Gerty made a face and asked, “Is it getting nippy in here?”

Does Gossip Gerty get more screentime than Commissioner Gordon in the movie?  Let’s just assume, yes, yes she does.

Anyway, Mr. Freeze crashes the gala and confiscates the diamond from Poison Ivy, who falls in love at first sight.  The feeling is not mutual for Mr. Freeze, who turns out to be completely immune to her pheromones.

“Let me guess,” he said haughtily, dispassionately. “Plant Girl? Vine Lady? Miss Moss?”

I have to admit again, I actually liked that bit…although like with Bane getting drafted as Poison Ivy’s muscle it does hint toward the script’s odd refusal to let Poison Ivy be much of a real villain in her own right, as opposed to the super-serious menace of this movie’s Mr. Freeze.

Mr. Freeze also leaves Poison Ivy with a snowglobe.  Inside is a miniature Gotham with the words “Welcome to Gotham City.”   No, I can’t imagine a more fitting way to welcome a newcomer to Gotham City than by having their super-criminals leave souvenirs to their victims.

Regardless of what I think about the tendency of most of the Burton and the Nolan movies to have at least pairs of supervilllains, teaming up Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy does make more sense than putting together Man-Bat and the Mad Hatter, or Harley Quinn and the Scarecrow (which actually was the plan for the unmade Batman Triumphant). They’re both from the minority of genuinely superpowered members of Batman’s rogues gallery, and as the book itself points out they’re both “elemental.” Plus thematically putting the villain who symbolizes lust and passion with a villain who is a mournful, tragic figure yet believes himself to be dead to emotion does generate some creative currency. I’m iffier on the idea of making Poison Ivy an obsessed fan of a supervillain; shoving her into a spot that better fits Harley Quinn, in other words. i mean, from the very beginning, even though Poison Ivy’s origin has seen a lot of changes, she’s generally been about being a woman who has been hurt by men or a male-dominated society and using sex appeal to force her own way. But I can still see a romantic obsession based on admiration of another’s ruthlessness and inhumanity working, you know, or at least working if this wasn’t Batman & Robin.

poisonivywithmrfreeze

Enough of that, though, as Batman and Robin pursue Mr. Freeze we get the real relationship that drives the story:  the partnership of Batman and Robin, or rather Batman having to put up with Robin’s perpetual motion machine of whining:

“You know,” Dick went on, “in the circus, the Flying Graysons were a team. We had to depend on each other. Each of us had to trust the others to do their parts or we were finished. That’s what whaaa whaaa whaaa whaaa whaaa whaaa the only way to win is by counting on someone else.”

I may have taken some liberties with the text there, but you get the gist.

At least we are left with this,

Bruce smiled tautly. “Be reasonable. You couldn’t even keep your mind on the job at hand. All you could think about was Poison Ivy.” Dick exploded – at least partly…

Hehehehehehehehehehe.  Oh come on, like you don’t think that’s intentional.

Well, we can’t possibly follow that up, so let’s breeze…or should I say, freeze through the rest: Mr. Freeze gets captured and sent to Arkham Asylum, while Barbara shows us that she’s even more of a Strong Independent Woman (TM).  We learn she knows judo and can handle a motorcycle, so it’s totally not out of the blue that she can be an effective vigilante fighting against superpowered lunatics!

Oh well, at least Michael Jan Friedman got away with not having to mention the Bat Credit Card.

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Trash Culture Goes To The Movies: Puppet Master 5: The Final Chapter (1994)

Well, I had a lackluster response to the last Puppet Master film. And since this is practically just the second half of the same movie, I can just go on without really breaking my promise to cover the whole series, right?

Good!

puppetmaster5cover

Okay, fine, I suppose some elaboration is in order.  The things I do for all eight of my readers…

I should admit, this sequel did a bit more to win me over when it started out with what I suspect happens to many horror movie survivors after the credits roll:  the hero ends up being arrested for all those mysterious deaths caused by supernatural forces. To be fair to the police, it doesn’t help that Rick keeps blaming Cameron’s death from the last movie on a killer puppet – when he himself has a bunch of killer puppets, no less.

puppetmaster5blade

Things aren’t much better for his friends. Rick’s girlfriend Susie can’t convince anyone of their story either. Lauren is in a quasi-comatose state due to her telepathic brush with Sutek and her warnings just come across as raving, even to Susie. Luckily, one person does believe Rick’s tale: Dr. Jennings, a high-up scientist on the Omega Project, who pays Rick’s bail. Unfortunately, Dr. Jennings is under pressure from a couple of suits from Ye Olde Military-Industrial Complex to look into all these bizarre tales of animated puppets. So he doesn’t quite have Rick’s best interest at heart.

Using information gleamed from Rick’s account of events from the last movie (which the audience gets too, in a four-minute exposition dump), Dr. Jennings deduces that the puppets are still at the Badoga Bay Inn – except Blade who was taken in as evidence, but handily escapes his plastic bag prison. Then Dr. Jennings makes the sensible decision to hire…a few goons (bunging goons, at that!) to break into the Badoga Bay Inn in order to get horribly killed by both the villian Sutek and the “good” puppets…I men, steal the puppets.

puppetmaster5goons

I’m not quite sure why that’s necessary, since Rick doesn’t necessarily even refuse Dr. Jennings the opportunity to examine the puppets, but, hey, whatever, I’m still wondering where the hell Camille from Puppet Master II got to.  Meanwhile Sutek decides to channel his own “essence” into one puppet that he will send to finish off Rick and Toulon’s puppets, declaring that he will learn Toulon’s secret…

puppetmaster5sutek

Wait, in the last movie, wasn’t Sutek trying to destroy those with Toulon’s knowledge?  Because, it was implied, Toulon had stolen some of his knowledge? I mean, it still didn’t make  sense why the hell Sutek was targeting anyone involved with the Omega Project in the first place, because even Rick didn’t seem to know anything about Toulon’s research, but it doesn’t make sense in a completely new way that Sutek would be trying to gain Toulon’s knowledge by…killing people who had nothing to do with Toulon. Especially when Rick doesn’t have Toulon’s entire formula.  Which he does get about halfway through the movie. When Lauren projects a psychic message through his computer (complete with a Star Wars-esque exhortation: “Use the formula, Rick!”). Which she has because…uh, Toulon told her? But Rick has been in contact with Toulon’s spirit anyway. And how the hell does Rick know the puppets by name when…

[AT THIS POINT THE AUTHOR OF THIS BLOG POST HAD TO SEEK MEDICAL TREATMENT FOR A BRAIN ANEURYSM.]

The bottom line: even when you have a movie that’s really just two halves of one big movie, the Puppet Master series still has a horrifically jumbled continuity.

But, hey, there is one highlight:  Rick has a gloriously trippy dream of Tunneler killing a willing Lauren in a bathtub.

puppetmaster5dream

At least we find out that Rick was also working as the caretaker of the Bodega Bay Inn at the same time he was doing research for the Omega Project, which makes a little more sense than him just happening to have the residence of a bunch of animated puppets as a lab.  Well, I mean, it makes more sense the same way building a ladder to the moon makes more sense than building a ladder to the sun.

Anyway, just summarizing the rest of the movie seems unnecessary, so let me hit the highlights. Rick has to activate Decapitron via lightning again, because it was too good a Universal monsters reference to use in just one movie, I guess. Dr. Jennings shockingly turns on Rick, who really only had himself to blame since he was a bit too nonchalant about the whole “hiring goons to abduct animated puppets I’ve come to consider friends and allies for nefarious purposes and personal profit” thing. They have a struggle in an elevator, which, in such a rare nod to continuity, is clearly meant to be the same elevator where Neil Gallagher met his messy doom in the first film. The puppets, led by a Toulon-possessed Decapitron, dispatch Dr. Jennings for his “greed” and then turn on Sutek, who really should have given a moment’s more consideration over placing his entire essence in a squishable, stabable vessel. Later we find Rick and Susie living happily together with the puppets. As Susie returns from jogging, she jokingly admonishes Pinhead: “No peaking, Pinhead!” (In case you were wondering if the puppets had a sexuality). Then Rick’s internal monologue solemnly vows that he and the puppets will fight whatever evils come next, an odd oath considering that a subtitle often used with this movie was “the final chapter.”

I do genuinely think this is a more fun movie than 4as much as we end up cutting into a poorly baked plot loaf. For silent animatrons, the puppets work quite well as violent anti-heroes, even if they are pitted against fairly bland antagonists like Sutek and Dr. Jennings. Plus, as much as I made fun of the story, I can’t help but admire in my own way a movie where the most important plot point is the deployment of a puppet everyone solemnly christens “Decapitron.” It’s just the story really and truly might give you a medical condition if you mull it over too much (like would it have been so difficult to have Rick in the Badoga Bay Inn because the Omega Project knew about Neil Gallagher’s own research into Toulon and wanted Rick there to explore the building while also conducting his own experiences based on what notes they managed to get from Gallagher…but I better stop there;  my head is throbbing again). Also, honestly, Puppet Master 4 and 5 could and should have just been one movie, despite all the puppet action it genuinely does offer.

Anyway, this was intended to be the grand finale of the series, although not really of the puppets themselves. Instead there was supposed to be a trilogy of spin-off films called Puppet Wars. This trilogy was going to involve delving into Charles Band’s twin obsessions, Universal horror monsters and small doll-like things, by pitting the puppets up against Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Mummy. Sadly, this did not happen because that would have been so much awesomeness it may have cracked the foundations of space-time itself. Instead the franchise went into a full four-year hiatus, returning in 1998 with Curse of the Puppet Master, which we’ll cover next time. Same killer puppet time, same killer puppet channel…

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