Monday, October 17, 2011

Short Film Review: Batman: The Last Laugh

In one of Gotham’s dark alleyways, the Jokers thugs assail a young woman (Christina Falcon).  Batman (Greg Rementer) leaps to her rescue, only to be overwhelmed by her attackers.  The Joker (Selman Markovic) then appears and knocks him unconscious.  Batman comes to in an abandoned warehouse where he’s been strung up like a side of beef.  The Joker than vacates the premises with his female hostage, allowing his minions to administer a severe beating to the Dark Knight detective.    Batman breaks free and fights his way through a veritable battalion.  He then resumes the chase, tracking the joker down to remote location.  As batman closes in on his prey, it becomes evident that the Joker has one of his nasty little surprises in store.


Unlike many other fan films starring the caped crusader, Batman: The Last Laugh doesn’t tell a story or explore a particular theme in regards to its subject.  It’s basically a scenario that serves as a launching pad for extensive fight scenes and stunts.  The joint effort between Enso productions and Gotham City FX places Bats into a deadly obstacle course, where he is pummeled beyond recognition.

The main theme of the piece seems to be physical punishment.  Batman is made to endure a trial by fire where he is assailed by endless hordes of opponents at multiple locations.  They attack him with everything short of firearms and bladed weapons.  It’s like a deadly game of dodge ball where the target is dodges everything thrown at him en route to his main goal.  

The film starts off similarly to Christopher Nolan’s modern film noir masterpiece Memento.  It reveals it’s ending, showing the closing moments in reverse.  We see the Batman felled by an explosive devise and approached on all sides by his enemies.  The film then takes the viewer back to the beginning, and shows us how Batman’s current predicament came to be.  From then on, everything unfolds in a linear fashion.    

There isn’t much at all in the way of dialogue aside from the damsel’s shrieks and the Jokers incessant, maniacal cackling.  Batman doesn’t utter anything aside from requisite grunts and groans, usually after sustaining some measure of physical punishment at the hands of his enemies.  The thud of impacting blows peppers the soundtrack liberally, setting the mood/tone of the piece every bit as much as it’s musical score.  In one comically exaggerated moment, Batman is slammed in the chest with a sledge hammer.  Though he spits out a mouthful of blood, he is able to immediately engage his assailants in combat.

The Last Laugh equips the caped crusader with a melee fighting style fashioned for facing off against multiple opponents in an open space littered with obstacles.  Holds and throws send opponents flying.  Wide swinging offensive moves keep them at bay.  They charge at Batman in a variety of ways, many seeming to prefer acrobatic leaps and flips.  The timing and coordination give everything a balletic grandeur that is emphasized by the use of slow motion.  Some moments are slowed down to the point being virtual freeze frames.  It’s like modern fight choreography by way of Peckinpah.  
The highlight of the piece, at least for my money, is an extended single take that lasts a full 35 seconds.  It shows Batman disposing of multiple opponents, two of which are armed.  It makes use of speed ramping, using the technique like a set of finely tuned breaks on a late model sports car.  Batman utilizes the terrain to his advantage, even making use of one of the weapons wielded against him.  The camera keeps its distance, rendering the techniques clearly in spite of the dim lighting.  It’s easily better than any single fight in both of Nolan’s films.  

Batman: The Last Laugh manages to do something that Hollywood has proven itself consistently incapable of.  It turns Batman into a formidable fighting machine and displays his prowess in a way that viewers can appreciate.  It stands to reason that a superhero who doesn’t have the added advantage of superpowers would have to be a master of hand to hand combat.  Yet, Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan insist obscuring his physical prowess with dim lighting, intrusive camera work, and unimaginative choreography.  This is especially bothersome in Nolan’s case, since he clearly takes the character seriously and gets just about everything else right.  Batman isn’t just a guy with gadgets.  He’s a tactician who knows how to match an opponent even when his toys fail him.  Walter Garcia and his associates seem to at least get that much.      

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