BATMAN VS. TWO-FACE (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 12 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action, some mild Language and Suggestive Content

Directed by: Rick Morales

Written by: Michael Jelenic & James Tucker

Voices of: Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar, William Shatner, Steven Weber, Jim Ward, Thomas Lennon, Lynne Marie Stewart, Jeff Bergman, Wally Wingert, William Salyers & Sirena Irwin

Last year, DC failed to deliver any great live-action superhero films. BATMAN V SUPERMAN was a disappointing chore, SUICIDE SQUAD was dumb fun (though a lot of people really didn’t like it), and, even, the animated KILLING JOKE suffered from big problems. A pleasant surprise came in the form of BATMAN: RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS. While most Batman stories are brooding, dark and serious, CAPED CRUSADERS was a refreshingly fun return to the campy 60s BATMAN (complete with voices from the original cast). I was excited to discover a sequel recently hit home video, especially as it seems to serve as an appropriate swan song for the late Adam West. BATMAN VS TWO-FACE is a step beneath its predecessor, but remains goofy fun nonetheless.

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After an experimental machine (guaranteed to remove all of the evil from Gotham’s supervillains) backfires, district attorney Harvey Dent (voiced by William Shatner) is hideously disfigured and turns into the evil duality-obsessed Two-Face. Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) have seemingly endless fights with Two-Face, but their most recent one has ended with Harvey Dent as a seemingly changed man…complete with his old face back. However, Two-Face somehow seems to still be running rampant in Gotham. Could another villain be trying to terrorize and frame Harvey or might there be something stranger occurring? It’s up to the caped crusaders to save the day before Gotham is turned into a bunch of half-scarred lunatics.

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As BATMAN VS TWO-FACE began, it seems to be appropriately hearkening back to the 60s BATMAN series. From the cheesy opening credits to the sheer light-hearted mood, the film is silly entertainment that’s absolutely appropriate for the entire family. The fights are complete with on-screen words (like “Pow!” and “Whack!”) and it’s impossible to take any of this seriously, which is part of the point. However, there are annoying spots where that 60s style seems to be forgotten. A fight without the iconic on-screen words feels drastically out of place and seems to have been missing these funny bits as a massive oversight.

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As far as the voice cast is concerned, Adam West and Burt Ward are having a blast in their original roles of superhero and sidekick. Burt Ward is especially hilarious as Robin this time around, while West’s Batman attempts to gets a more dramatic story arc as he tries to salvage his friendship with Harvey Dent. Julie Newmar is fun as Catwoman and Lee Meriwether receives an amusing cameo. RENO 911’s Thomas Lennon is sadly underused in the role of Chief O’Hara, and Steven Weber gets in a few lines as Alfred.

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The voice cast’s newest addition is William Shatner in the dual-role of Harvey Dent and the gravely-sounding Two-Face. Shatner’s distinct vocal mannerisms are pretty easy to recognize, though that’s part of why his inclusion as Two-Face is so damn fun. The film also squeezes in lesser villains like Bookworm and King Tut, but doesn’t seem to have nearly as much fun with the Riddler, Joker, and Penguin this time around. Also, the presence of both Dr. Harleen Quinzel and Dr. Hugo Strange feel like afterthoughts.

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Though I have praised a lot about BATMAN VS TWO-FACE, this film falls noticeably short in the areas of writing and pacing. The first CAPED CRUSADERS was ridiculously fast paced, constantly upped its silliness, gleefully mocked the more serious incarnations of Batman, and was creative from beginning to end. It was difficult to predict exactly where that film’s plot was heading, which led to it being completely engaging. TWO-FACE’s storyline is far more predictable. There are also stretches where the pacing lags and the movie threatens to overstay its welcome, even though it runs at only 72 minutes in length.

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Even though BATMAN VS TWO-FACE is a noticeable step down from its refreshingly wacky predecessor, it contains goofy fun for those enjoy the sillier side of Batman. This film also seems like a good note for Adam West’s final film, because he kept doing what he loved up until his final days (being the “Light Knight” as opposed to the “Dark Knight”). It’s sad that we won’t see any more CAPED CRUSADER animated features (you simply can’t replace Adam West’s voice as Batman), but it’s great that both of these animated renditions of the 60s BATMAN series even exist. If you enjoyed the first CAPED CRUSADERS, you’ll likely enjoy this one too. Just lower your expectations a bit and you’ll have a good time!

Grade: B

THE BOSS BABY (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some mild Rude Humor

Directed by: Tom McGrath

Written by: Michael McCullers

(based on the picture book THE BOSS BABY by Marla Frazee)

Voices of: Alec Baldwin, Miles Bakshi, Tobey Maguire, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow & Conrad Vernon

To be completely honest, I had hopes for THE BOSS BABY. The trailers made this film look like a silly family friendly comedy, some of the jokes made me laugh, and the animation looked visually pleasing. DreamWorks Animation also has a pretty good track record, slight hiccups aside (cough, HOME, cough, SHREK THE THIRD). So I rented THE BOSS BABY with a pep in my step and hoped for the best. 97 minutes later, I’m baffled as to what the director, writer, cast, crew, and producers were even attempting to do with this movie. Despite having a couple of positive qualities, THE BOSS BABY is a mind-boggling combination of bad ideas and uneven storytelling.

Based on the picture book of the same name, THE BOSS BABY follows young Tim Templeton (Miles Bakshi) who’s content with being an only child and receiving all the love from his parents (Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow). Tim finds his normal life shattered when his parents arrive with new baby brother Theodore (Alec Baldwin). This suit-wearing infant (who’s constantly carrying a briefcase) isn’t like other babies though, because he’s actually been sent from Baby Corp to stop the rival company Puppy Co. from stealing love away from babies worldwide. Things get more complicated when Tim realizes his new brother’s identity and the two work together to stop evil CEO Francis E. Francis (Steve Buscemi) from killing off new babies forever.

From the plot description, you may be thinking to yourself, “Man, THE BOSS BABY sounds really stupid and weird.” Well, you haven’t heard the last of this movie’s strangeness. In a creative decision that seems clever at first and then becomes confusing, THE BOSS BABY has imagination sequences in which Tim shows off his crazy thoughts and pretends to be on adventures. A smarter movie might have framed the entire “infant secret agent versus adorable puppies” storyline as a product of Tim’s overactive imagination. BOSS BABY’s visual style makes it clear that the imagination sequences have nothing to do with the super-smart infant with a business mindset.

This movie might make sense if the viewer were high whilst watching it (not that I’m advocating that…unless it’s legal where you live). In BABY’s own mismatched logic, the storyline doesn’t make a lick of sense. Of course, this piece of family entertainment also tries to cap things off with a forced feel-good message about brotherly love and family in the final ten minutes. However, this only left me scratching my head and rolling my eyes. After all, how will THE BOSS BABY 2 (scheduled for 2021) ever happen if we’re to buy into the would-be emotional ending that this film tries to sell us?

As far as the voice cast goes, the two big stand-outs are Alec Baldwin as the titular boss baby and Steve Buscemi as the CEO antagonist. Baldwin’s constant mixing of baby language with adult business lingo supplies a few laughs. The film’s humor also has references to GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS and even THE MATRIX for older viewers to enjoy, but constantly goes to the well of toilet, drool, fart, and vomit jokes. Meanwhile, Buscemi’s baddie and his lumbering silent sidekick provide genuine laughs as over-the-top evil characters. I enjoyed watching their scenes and these moments are easily the best bits in the entire film. Every other character is bland and predictable, including main character Tim.

THE BOSS BABY seemingly doesn’t know what audience it’s aiming for and is constantly conflicted about its cinematic identity. There are fart jokes and colorful images to keep the kiddies occupied. However, the plot gets needlessly complex (with a never-explained mixture of imagination and “reality”) and a crazy conspiracy thriller aspect. A Tobey Maguire narrated epilogue attempts to sell this as an emotional tale, but that feels entirely unnecessary and unearned. At the end of the day, the animation is nice to look at and there are a handful of laughs to be had, but those are about the only positive things I can say for THE BOSS BABY. Again, I’m not advocating it (unless it’s legal where you live), but THE BOSS BABY is indeed a children’s film that might make more sense and be far more enjoyable if the viewer was high.

Grade: D+

DESPICABLE ME 3 (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action and Rude Humor

Directed by: Kyle Balda & Pierre Coffin

Written by: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio

Voices of: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Trey Parker, Miranda Cosgrove, Dana Gaier, Nev Scharrel, Steve Coogan, Julie Andrews & Jenny Slate

One of three unexpected animated sequels in 2017’s summer movie season (alongside THE NUT JOB 2 and CARS 3), DESPICABLE ME 3 falls in the middle of its great-to-okay franchise. I feel that the first DESPICABLE ME is overrated and a bit bland, but has enough sweetness and laughs to barely overcome its many flaws. DESPICABLE ME 2 is Illumination’s best film (so far) and a sequel that easily surpassed its predecessor. MINIONS was an okay spin-off that had great moments, but was aimed far more at little kids than previous two DESPICABLE films. DESPICABLE ME 3 serves as an improvement over the first DESPICABLE film and its yellow pill-shaped spin-off, but falls beneath the still-superior second installment. This is a fun piece of family entertainment. Nothing more, nothing less.

Former-supervillain-turned-good-guy Gru (Steve Carell) and agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig) have been serving as husband and wife crime-fighting partners for the Anti-Villain League. After he’s thwarted by 80s-child-star-turned-evil-villain Balthazar Bratt (Trey Parker), Gru and his wife are fired. Things look grim for Gru until he receives an invitation from his wealthy long-lost twin brother Dru (also Steve Carell). It turns out that Dru is looking to get into supervillainy and hopes that Gru will assist him. Meanwhile, Lucy struggles to be a good mother towards Margo (Miranda Cosgrove), Edith (Dana Gaier), and Agnes (Nev Scharrel).

DESPICABLE ME 3 has colorful, vibrant animation. The designs on a giant robot and certain backgrounds look pretty darn realistic, even though these settings are populated by cartoony characters. The film also excels in its Minion moments. The Minions were the funniest part of the first two DESPICABLE ME films and they (once again) steal the show here. Their subplot, which involves them revolting against Gru and serving hard time in prison, is filled with hilarious moments and one montage that ranks as one of the funniest bits of the entire DESPICABLE series.

The film falters when it comes to the more emotional side of things. The first DESPICABLE film had Gru adjusting to a newfound family life and the sequel had a love-interest for Gru alongside more hijinks of him parenting a preteen who was developing an interest in boys. The third DESPICABLE ME forgoes any emotional arc for Gru altogether as his brother storyline serves as simple comedic means to an end. The only emotional moments to speak of involve Lucy Wilde trying to adjust to motherhood and Agnes facing a blow of harsh reality towards her wild imagination. The former only makes up about five brief scenes of screen time and the latter is wrapped up in the space of 15 minutes.

The series’ more grown-up moments take a backseat for a plot that’s very predictable and feels like your average kids cartoon. Much like the MINIONS spin-off, DESPICABLE ME 3 is aimed for a much younger audience and barely attempts to put the same amount of effort into entertaining older viewers as it does occupying children’s short attention spans. One positive quality that might give adults a few chuckles comes in Trey Parker’s 80s-obsessed antagonist. His break-dance fighting (ripped off from ZOOLANDER), constant reminiscing over a bad TV show, wacky weapons, and references might get an occasional laugh or two, but this villain isn’t nearly as clever as he could have been and DESPICABLE ME 2’s El Macho still serves as the series’ best baddie.

There really isn’t much else I can say about DESPICABLE ME 3. This film ranks higher than the okay first entry, but is not on the same level of smart writing and emotional weight of the far-superior second film. The vibrant animation and fast pace are sure to keep this fun for children, while adults will likely get a few laughs out of it. The Minions easily steal the show, but that’s always been the case in this franchise. Meanwhile, the actual draw of this third installment in Gru’s long-lost brother doesn’t make much of an impact at all. If you liked the other DESPICABLE ME movies, you’ll like this one. However, just don’t expect anything really special.

Grade: B

DESPICABLE ME 2 (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 38 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and mild Action

Directed by: Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud

Written by: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio

Starring: Steve Carell, Kristen Wiig, Benjamin Bratt, Miranda Cosgrove, Russell Brand, Steve Coogan, Ken Jeong, Elise Fisher, Dana Gaier & Moises Arias

DESPICABLE ME 2 has the benefit of being from the same pair of directors and two screenwriters who made the first DESPICABLE ME. It also serves as an animated sequel that’s superior to its predecessor in every possible way. Because the first film is out of the way and groundwork has already been laid for this franchise, DESPICABLE ME 2 hits the ground running with new material, more imagination, better humor, and memorable new characters. While the first film had a bland plot and just enough charm to barely overcome its faults, DESPICABLE ME 2 is a blast from start to finish.

Having adjusted to family life and newfound parenthood to three adopted daughters, supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) is recruited to The Anti-Villain League and partnered with potential love-interest agent Lucy Wilde (Kristen Wiig). Together, Gru and Lucy go undercover at a mall to investigate a possible villain who’s hiding in plain sight. All the while, Gru’s Minions are being mysteriously abducted and eldest daughter Margo (Miranda Cosgrove) finds love in a preteen boyfriend.

DESPICABLE ME 2 has two main plotlines occurring alongside two smaller subplots and hardly receives any time to drag. In careless hands, juggling multiple storylines may have wound up making this family-friendly animated sequel into an overly complicated mess. However, the team of directors and writers seem genuinely interested in furthering their established DESPICABLE universe and wind up with a sequel that’s vastly superior to their previous effort. DESPICABLE ME 2 is smarter, bigger, and funnier than the first film. Some of these qualities can be attributed to all around better storytelling which uses clever twists to produce big laughs and surprising revelations.

While the first DESPICABLE ME suffered from a thin excuse for a villain, this sequel has a much more colorful and entertaining antagonist in play. I won’t go into specifics about this baddie because this sequel slowly reveals their identity for bigger laughs and extra twists, but this person is a far more interesting villain than the last film’s Vector. Another improvement is that Gru’s relationship with his daughters is more believable and focused this time around. He has a unique bond with the cute Agnes, tomboy Edith, and maturing Margo. The interactions between this unusual family result in both heartwarming moments and hilarious bits. It’s especially funny to watch Gru’s escalating distress over Margo’s growing interest in boys.

Gru has a love-interest of his own in Lucy (voiced by Kristen Wiig, who previously played the strict orphanage owner from the first film) and their chemistry feels natural too. Lucy is quirky and Gru is awkward, but the two characters just seem (literally) made for each other. This romantic plotline is further hammered home by Gru’s bad childhood experiences with crushes and aggravated interactions with an annoying neighbor who keeps trying play unwanted matchmaker. It’s also worth noting that DESPICABLE ME 2’s Minions play a major role in the plot. I thought they were easily a highlight of the first film, but they get even funnier in this sequel and contribute to the main story in a big way.

DESPICABLE ME 2 isn’t a perfect animated film in that a few jokes fall flat and older viewers will be able to correctly guess where certain plotlines are heading from a mile away. However, this second DESPICABLE installment packs a few smart surprises for adults alongside big laughs, a soft heartwarming center, and energetic animation that’s always moving. DESPICABLE ME 2 is a sequel that outdoes the original in every way and (at least for me) currently sits as Illumination’s best film yet!

Grade: B+

DESPICABLE ME (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and mild Action

Directed by: Pierre Coffin & Chris Renaud

Written by: Cinco Paul & Ken Daurio

Voices of: Steve Carell, Jason Segel, Russell Brand, Miranda Cosgrove, Diana Gaier, Elsie Fisher, Will Arnett, Kristen Wiig & Julie Andrews

DESPICABLE ME was released in 2010 to massive financial success, launched the popular yellow-pilled creatures known as Minions, and served as Illumination’s first feature film (the company has since become a major competitor for DreamWorks, Pixar, and Disney). Even though this film made a big impression on the animated film market and audiences, I find DESPICABLE ME to be bit overrated. It wasn’t even the best animated sensitive supervillain film of 2010. That distinction belongs to DreamWorks’ MEGAMIND. However, this film sports colorful animation, some clever jokes, and enough charm to overcome an overly familiar storyline and narrative faults.

Bald supervillain Gru (Steve Carell) has been depressed because another supervillain has recently taken the limelight away from bad guys everywhere by stealing Giza’s Great Pyramid. In order to reign supreme as the greatest supervillain of all-time, Gru decides to enact a plan to steal the moon. To do this, he’ll need to steal a shrink ray from rival villain Vector (Jason Segel) and adopt three orphaned girls Margo, Edith, and Agnes (Miranda Cosgrove, Diana Gaier, and Elise Fisher) to unwittingly assist him. As his plan moves forward, Gru begins to grow a soft spot for his three new daughters, much to the dismay of his mad scientist colleague Dr. Nefario (Russell Brand).

DESPICABLE ME walks the tightrope of trying to be colorful and innocent enough for young children, while also supplying enough dark humor and mature jokes for older viewers to enjoy. While it mostly maintains this balance, things occasionally slip too much into little kid territory. There are really fun jokes revolving around Gru living a totally inappropriate life for a family (including one hilarious bit involving a torture device) and his gradual acceptance of his new children is very cute to watch, but the overall story is too simple and not nearly as clever as it tries to be. The latter is especially epitomized by Jason Segel’s lackluster villain. This antagonist is just plain boring and a would-be conspiracy around him feels like a half-baked development in the proceedings.

Steve Carell’s voice is unrecognizable as Gru, aided by a strange accent. Meanwhile, Cosgrove, Gaier and Fisher are convincing as the three adopted daughters, with Fisher’s adorable Agnes guaranteed to melt even the hardest of hearts. These characters are further aided by vibrant animation that breathes life into a world of supervillainy with regulations. One big plot point revolves around Gru trying to secure a loan from an evil bank to finance his diabolical deeds. The film also succeeds in its yellow pill-shaped Minion moments. Some people may utterly despise the Minions with every fiber of their beings, but I’m in the group that loves these hilarious creations. The Minion scenes have just the right combination of potty humor, immature antics, and fish-out-of-water slapstick.

DESPICABLE ME’s plot may be a bit too basic and the overall film is overrated in the grand scheme of things (MEGAMIND is miles better and its second installment is a bit improvement too). Still, this is a fun piece of family entertainment that’s sure to keep younger viewers occupied, while supplying a decent supply of laughs for teenagers and packing in enough sentimentality for parents (especially seeing that the whole movie revolves around a new parent adjusting to having three new additions to his family and growing a heart). DESPICABLE ME is decent. Not great, not really good…but just decent.

Grade: B-