Cthulhu Should Be More Interesting Than This
Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham
The 1982 The Thing is a film all about horror and mystery. What is this thing, this monster, that's coming for us? How can it look like anyone? Who's next, and who can I trust? It's a movie that lives on dread, and it's brilliant because of it. Its combination of body horror and creepy terror makes it one of the best horror movies around, bar none. And if you're going to make a nod towards that classic film then you better bring the goods to back it up.
I thought about The Thing a few times while watching the new DC animated film, Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham, especially since the opening scenes of the animated movie hearken back to that 1982 classic. Characters exploring a blasted out base at Antarctica. Someone covered in lesions, seemingly like they've been taken over by an otherworldly force. A monster trapped in the ice, possible for thousands or even millions of years. Although the creature is eventually revealed to be something from the Cthulhu mythos, the creators clearly knew the field they were playing in and tied as many Thing allusions in as they could. Unfortunately then the film leaves the Antarctic, heading back to Gotham, and all the energy and drive of that opening is lost. What could have been an interesting The Thing riff just becomes a generic, and tedious, monster movie.
The missed potential of this early sequence is palpable. You can feel all the energy get sucked out of the film once it leaves that icy extreme. There's good reason to be disappointed because, when you think about it, a BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. / The ThingOut in the cold, bleak world, among the snow and ice, a danger lurks. It's not a danger you can see, not until it's too late. It blends in, camouflages itself, hides in plain sight. It may even be the person standing next to you. It's the Thing, and by the time you realize it's there it's already too late. crossover would be legitimately awesome. One is an alien creature that can hide in anyone, be anything, and it takes a cunning mind to detect it. The other is a master detective, one who can fight any foe but can catch them with the power of his intellect. We're looking at a face-off for the ages, and that doesn't even get into the weirdness that could happen as the Thing starts taking over Batman's rogues gallery. The Thing as JokerOne of Batman's first villains, and certainly his more famous (and most popular), the Joker is the mirror of the Bat, all the insanity and darkness unleashed that the hero keeps bottled up and controlled. is an idea that gives me chills just thinking about it. That would be bad-ass.
In reality, though, The Doom That Came to Gotham is anything but cool. It's a muddled and tired film that spends far too long on setup, only to reveal a bunch of generic villains we've seen before. Things happen for little reason, characters go on contrived chases for McGuffins, and in the end very little of consequence actually occurs. For a film that brings in the Cthulhu mythos, you'd think that at the very minimum there could have been stakes for this film, but this is probably the most low-stakes Batman movie I've ever seen. Hell, the kid-friendly Batman and Superman: Battle of the Super Sons did a better job depicting both body horror and a world-ending alien threat. This film only manages to bored by comparison.
Based on the comic event of the same name, Batman: The Doom the Came to Gotham is an Elseworlds tale set in the 1920s. It's finds Bruce Wayne (David Giuntoli) arriving in Antarctica with his wards -- Tati Gabrielle as Kai Li Cain, Jason Marsden as Dick Grayson, and Karan Brar as Sanjay “Jay” Tawde -- as they lead an expedition to find the missing Antarctic explorer, Oswald Cobblepot (William Salyers). Cobblepot, though, has clearly be infected with something and, when Bruce comes close, the made doctor flees. Bruce gives chase and ends up at a giant cavern. Within he finds a beast, a monster trapped within the ice, and Bruce watches as a disturbed professor, Manfurd (also William Salyers), ingests a piece of the creature. Bruce captures the professor, then blows up the cave, thinking he's sealed the danger away for good. He did not.
Back in Gotham, Bruce plans to hand the professor over to the authorities so he can be contained and studied. Whatever is wrong with him (and something is very clearly wrong), surely someone must be able to save him. Unfortunately by bringing the professor back to the city Bruce has set a series of events in motion. Demons will rise, Gotham will burn, and Bruce will have to give his own life, all according to a prophesy dictated by the demon Etrigan (Matthew Waterson). Bruce will have the battle a cabal headed by Ra's al Ghul (Navid Negahban) all to stop an ancient evil from taking over the world.
If there's any issue I have with this movie, more than all the little issues we'll go over, it's that it can't really commit to anything. Is it an Antarctic adventure? Yes, until it isn't. Is it a Cthulhu mythos story? Yes... until it really isn't. Is it a tale about how Bruce Wayne and his three wards have to fight a group of demons in Gotham? You'd think that, but it really isn't. At every turn the film sets up plot ideas and character moments that then don't pay off because instead of following any one of a number of these interesting thoughts, it instead ignores it to go do a generic story instead. There is so much potential to this movie but none of it comes to fruition because, for whatever reason, the creators just didn't bother following those good ideas.
If I had to guess, I'd bet that the creators were aiming for specific ending. Without spoiling anything, it's an ending that both confirms Bruce Wayne as Batman and, at the same time, totally blows up the concept. It's a solid ending, but the writers have to strain themselves to get to that ending, twisting this story all around itself for 90 minutes just for one cool conclusion. I understand having an ending in mind but, man, the journey is part of the adventure. It's not all about the destination, and tis journey sucks.
For starters, it's just boring. After the interesting opening scene in the Antarctic, we then venture back to Gotham for a lot of talking. Bruce talks to Alfred (Brian George), Bruce talks to Oliver Queen (Christopher Gorham), Bruce talks to Harvey Dent (Patrick Fabian), Bruce talks to his wards. Very rarely, though, does he actually do anything. The whole mystery of these demons is basically handed to him and instead of having him go out and, you know, detect, he basically just has to follow a pre-made trail all to get to the conclusion of the story. There's no mystery, no spice, just a linear path from Antarctic to conclusion.
What really makes me sad is just how many cool things could have been done with these characters and this reinvented 1920s setting. An adventure in the Antarctic with his crew getting picked off one by one while he figures out a way to hunt the beast would have been great. A story where he comes back to Gotham and, with his three Robins, hunts down the beast in the darkest parts of the city also sound cool. The beast taking over Arkham and the rogues coming out, demonic and evil to terrorize the city has potential. Instead, though, we get a tired story we've seen before, just with slightly adjusted 1920s trappings (which, frankly, don't feel that different from the trappings of Gotham by Gaslight).
A big issue is that the villain of this isn't the Thing, or Cthulhu, but instead of Ra's al Ghul. Ra's comes back and immediately sets about creating his dark cabal and plotting resurrecting demons. What this amounts to, though, is that the villain of the story is secluded away in the sewers, away from the hero, so the two never interact. He stays there, in the sewers, plotting and waiting and plotting some more, but he doesn't really do anything until the very end. Only in the climax does he finally come alive to do the incantation, and by then it's all prescribed and forced. By then it's too late for Ra's to feel like a threat.
I was irritated by this film because of all it's wasted potential. This story could have gone so many ways that would have been far more interesting than what we got, but it wasted them all. It had big ideas but it executed them in the most dreadful way possible. But, more than anything, I was just bored. This is a tedious movie without a lot going on, wasting all its time to get to an ending I didn't care about. This isn't a bad movie, it's worse: it's inconsequential.