Batman Live review
|REVIEWS - TV|
Batman's stuck indoors, but he's kept the action and Batmobile...
The moon is bright, sirens ring out and searchlights illuminate monstrous skyscrapers. In front of this bleak city skyline, a security guard silently walks around miniature buildings on a jutted-out stage. Suddenly, the stage is bombarded by a collaged voice-over and folk busily walking around, going about their everyday lives. All of them have one question on their lips: “Who is Batman?”
The cast freeze-frame to show us his tragic beginnings and we're taken back to little Bruce Wayne play-fighting with a sword before his parents are both brutally shot by a mugger moments later. Batman Live builds on this, centrally exploring the birth of Batman and Robin, veering more towards early TV shows than Christopher Nolan or Tim Burton's later darker re-imaginings, ensuring this really is a show for all ages.
Bats flying across the back screen go to black before we're plunged into Haly's Circus in a sequence almost like a film's opening credits. Comic book style scene interchanges take us from Haly's Circus to Wayne Manor - where Wayne takes in an orphaned Dick - and then onto Gotham Art Museum where we meet Catwoman.
Essentially, Batman Live relies on its computer animation, allowing the live elements to wow us with amazing props and costumes, without the need to worry about painted backdrops or sets. Through its great reliance on this projected screen, there's also a constant reminder of Batman's humble comic book beginnings - comic strip style flashbacks fill in gaps in the story, fight sounds are accentuated and cheesy anguished-looking illustrated faces appear on the screen after the Haly's circus trapeze accident.
The inside of Haly's Circus is where it all begins and the first of many quite literal show-like, child-friendly sequences. Inside the big top, The Flying Graysons trapeze act wows the audience while clowns walk around interacting with those who've paid for the most expensive tickets. The Penguin and his Iceberg Lounge are also clearly amusing for kids, as we meet the “cream of Gotham's criminal crop” and are treated to a Snowboys and Snowgirls routine with the rather lame, Miss Crystal Frost. Clever circus-based magic tricks punctuate the show as Harlequin escapes from a box mid-air, before Dick appears in a transparent sphere. And of course, there's The Joker's “Ultimate Killing Machine” sword trick, “The bashing of the bat” tribal-inspired dance routine and a scene where Robin begins Tai Chi lessons, courtesy of Alfred's Special Forces training.
Taking the show to stadiums and arenas around the world - although currently ploughing its trade in the UK - ensures Batman Live has enough space to really shine. One of the most impressive aspects of the show are the dizzying array of spectacular large and technically-challenging props it boasts. Nearly all of the coolest props are exclusively related to The Joker, who first appears springing out of a jack-in-the-box with giant guns showering the audience in confetti. Looking a little like Eddie Izzard, he later dramatically descends from the ceiling with a bunch of balloons bursting one at a time. He's actually given his own jet pack and hot air balloon but his coolest prop is a giant luminous Joker face with cleverly moving teeth, tongue, eyes and hair.
The Joker aside, inside Arkham Asylum is pretty haunting with hanging corpses intertwined in chains and more super-imposed on the back screen. A giant chair and table is perhaps the least successful stage design, giving Wayne Manor a strange Alice in Wonderland feel, but as the only visual misjudgment this is easily forgivable. Costumes are amazing throughout the large cast, with particular favourites coming from the white stallions and the staggering Scarecrow, despite his painfully cheesy voice-over. And of course what would Batman Live be without a Batmobile?
Batman Live is like Batman for beginners, cramming the basic backstory in with every villain imaginable, assembling them all at Penguin's Iceberg Lounge and later at Arkham Asylum. Two-face is given an amusing exchange with himself; The Riddler convinces all Batman's enemies to join forces to destroy him; Harlequin and The Joker (“The Sultan of Psychosis”) take over the circus; and Poison Ivy uses her charms to ensnare Batman. Other Batman favourites like Police Commissioner Gordon and Alfred, the butler, also make an appearance.
While the show looks amazing visually, the script and acting lack. Alfred and The Joker are the real stars of the show, amusingly delivering the funniest lines. True to his character, Alfred remains the stiff Brit, helpfully suggesting laughable potential names for Robin (“Circus Lab”, “Big Top Boy”...) while The Joker relies on terrible so-bad-they-are-good puns (“I love helium jokes – they're a gas”). Fight scenes are in line with the quality of The Joker's gags, all terribly drawn out and embarrassingly slowed-down, making for a rather uncomfortable - and highly forgettable - addition.
Clearly the focus of Batman Live is visual splendour so it's easy to see how it cost £7.5m to put on and reportedly took two and a half years to devise. While it's certainly colourful - and has a clear, child-friendly moral message - it's all a little too slick and Americanised. Our protagonist just seems too weak and pathetic to be the true fighter we know as Batman. As a modernised, old-skool variety style show, Batman Live works; and, regardless of its failings, will certainly reel in comic book fans keen to educate the next generation of Batman enthusiasts.
Batman Live has already begun its UK tour; visit the official website for remaining dates and venues.
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE HELP SUPPORT OUR SITE, AT NO COST WITH ONE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK 'LIKE' BUTTON BELOW:
If you're interested in writing for Shadowlocked (disc and screening reviews, etc, or just getting some extra coverage for your extraordinary writing talent, get in touch with us.