ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘The Death of Batman’ Fan Film (2003)
Chris: Over the past six weeks, David Uzumeri and I have been steadily making our way through the Batman film franchise in a series of in-depth reviews, but today, we're doing something that's both a little different and a whole lot horrifying: We're entering the world of fan-films in a special Extra Credit Session of Remedial Batmanology.
David: I don't usually watch fan-films. I don't watch them at all. I'm probably being more than a little bit unfair judging things by this piece of crap, but I don't really want to again. Especially since it's hard to call the writer and director behind this... thing "fans" of anything except second-year stoner philosophy.
Chris: That's right, everyone: Today, we are being forced by editorial mandate to sit through 28 minutes of 2003's "The Death of Batman." Why? Because Laura Hudson is quite literally the worst person on Earth.
David: I better not have to pay for a single drink in San Diego after watching this. I haven't been through this much torture since I left fifteen minutes into the Steve Martin "Pink Panther" remake.
Chris: As much as I hate to admit it, this isn't the first time I've watched this thing. In fact, it's probably not even the twentieth. At the store where I used to work, our DVD guy would come back from conventions with a ton of fan-films (which, in retrospect, had to be a pretty dubious legal practice), and actually showing them on the store's TV pretty much guaranteed they'd sell like hotcakes. A few of them, like Grayson -- in which a grown-up Robin teamed up with WCW's Kimberly Page to solve Batman's murder -- only got insufferable after repeated viewings, but The Death of Batman was bad news from jump street. I mean, the DVD box even had a typo.
David: Pretty dubious? Even the YouTube presentation says it's not for commercial use.
Chris: Comic book conventions are a blind spot in the sight of God. Either way, I've lived through entire eight-hour workdays where "The Dead of Batman," as the box referred to it, was playing over and over on a screen twenty feet away.
David: That sounds like absolute Hell. It was bad enough watching it two feet away once.
Chris: No kidding. So when Laura Hudson came back from her weekend and told me "You would not believe the Batman fan-film I just saw," my immediate response was "is it the one where Batman does a ton of heroin?" I knew. I knew, and I couldn't stop her from making us watch it. I'm so, so sorry.
David: I don't feel so bad. It all depends on whether or not you're desperate for excuses to drink.
Chris: So, any thoughts before you lead us on a tour of half-assed psychodrama and rented costumes?
David: Everyone, what you're about to read is not exaggerated. I don't think it's possible to exaggerate something like this, largely because it's not meant to be exaggerated. You can tell that someone wrote this and really, honestly, truly believed they were making a damning indictment of the vigilante mindset and exposing the tragedies that lead to drug addiction and petty crime. They were shooting for The Wire, and they hit Walker: Texas Ranger.
Chris: That's giving this movie way too much credit.
David: Sorry. They were shooting for The Wire, and they hit Reefer Madness. It's ostensibly a Batman fan-film, but in actuality, it is clearly a polemic against the war on drugs.
Chris: I actually think you're still giving them too much credit, but if we don't move on, we'll be here all night trying to think of another film that's anywhere near this bad. Besides, there's no need: With the magic of YouTube, our readers can watch along with us and enjoy the Deep Hurting™ themselves!
David: According to IMDB, this is written and directed by a Donald Lawrence Flaherty and is actually from 2003, and let me tell you, David Simon he ain't. His second feature was in 2010 and called The Steamroom. It has the tagline "Four Men. One Room. A Whole Lot of B.S." Clearly, Flaherty is writing what he knows.
Chris: Take away two of the men and you've basically got this movie.
David: This is from the official website of The Steamroom:
Writer/ Director Donald Flaherty has directed over 100 shows and live music events. Donald's film, The Death of Batman, produced with a budget of just five-thousand dollars has been downloaded by over two-million movie fans worldwide, making it one of the most successful online films in history. The film has been called "visionary," "controversial," and "stunningly unique."
Chris: It sure is stunning -- wait, did you say five THOUSAND dollars?
David: So perhaps more astonishingly, he actually was able to leverage this execrable piece of douche into acquiring capital to produce something feature-length.
Chris: Also, as we well know, being downloaded by people on the Internet is a pretty dodgy measure of success. But on the other hand, we can honestly claim that by throwing it at our readers, we're just helping out.
David: That's you and me, Chris: independent cinema philanthropists.
Be Warned: The video contains sights and language that are not safe for work. Also, they may reduce the chances of viewers ever again feeling joy.
David: Let's kick off with Newscaster Lady In Front Of A Terrible Bluescreen on Gotham City News, "GCN," whose logo is "GCN" in what appears to be Garamond.
Chris: GCN Action News, featuring ace reporter The Director's Mom!
David: Now look, let me just say: Batman here is super obsessed with drugs.
Chris: I was legitimately surprised that when we finally get the flashback of his parents getting killed -- which is handy if you've never heard of Batman and want to learn more about him, which you won't -- they don't get killed by a gun that shoots tiny little hypodermic needles.
David: Like, obsessed with drugs waaaaaaaaay more than any other Batman I've ever seen. Batman is all about preventing people from having what happened to him happen to them -- he's essentially a creature of vengeance driven by compassion -- and this is an aspect that the movie completely misses. Even the Burton flicks remembered that Batman should at least try to care about people.
Chris: I think your first problem is assuming that anyone involved in this movie actually gives a f*** about... well, anything really, but especially Batman. But I mean, there's nothing in here that would be good even if it was done with an appropriately narco-obsessed character. Which, now that I'm trying to think of one, would pretty much boil down to Cloak & Dagger.
David: The Death of Bane. But yeah, Batman has apparently rounded up fifty drug dealers, which -- did you ever read Morrison's quotes about how he never wants to write Batman fighting petty crime and drug dealers and stuff, since then the entire thing just becomes extremely classist and he's impossible to root for, since he's just a rich white guy beating up the less fortunate and privileged?
Chris: To be fair, it's not unprecedented, especially if you only ever read Batman comics in the '80s and then watched the movies, which I get the sneaking suspicion is exactly the position the director started from. And that is kind of the point of this movie. The point that it sets up, takes careful aim at, and then completely misses in a spectacularly painful failure on every level.
David: I honestly doubt he ever read any comics. Anyway, Batman beat up a bunch of drug dealers and sent them to prison, and beat up a criminal syndicate that was dealing drugs. He apparently never actually deals with thieves and murderers, just low-level heroin addicts. It's Batman versus Bubbles from The Wire, and the warfare is so astonishingly asymmetrical that, yeah, it makes Batman look like a gigantic douche.
Chris: They do mention at one point that he fights the Joker and Two-Face, but as having them appear would require wrangling a couple more of the director's friends and a makeup artist, we don't ever see them.
David: After the newscast, our protagonist (not Batman) steals a taser from an unlocked car, and then walks into a room with his kit to prepare shooting some sweet, sweet heroin.
Chris: Ah yes. The ol' China Cat.
David: Batman comes up behind him to beat him up, because apparently Batman isn't just getting at drug DEALERS, he's just walking around beating up drug USERS. Because he's an asshole.
Chris: I also want to point out that this is apparently a trap set by this dude, and it consists entirely of "I will sit in a room doing heroin."
David: "Surely Batman's Skag-Sense will find this before I even get to prepare the syringe!"
Chris: "And now that you're here, Caped Crusader, I will launch into Phase 2 of my sinister master plan: getting beaten up for two minutes!"
David: He also yells the F-bomb at Batman for quite a while, after Batman vows to "make things interesting." Because Batman is just that turned on by beating up a random heroin addict.
Chris: This is a movie that does take the position that Batman is less a crimefighter and more of a crimefighting fetishist.
David: In his defense, Christopher Stapleton as Batman is a better martial artist than Michael Keaton. In any case, Our Hero the Drug Addict, whose name is actually, I s*** you not, "Trip Hope," gets Batman with the patented ol' sucker-tase-to-the-nuts by pretending to have an overdose.
Chris: I cannot stress this enough: The entire plot of this movie -- if you want to be charitable enough to call this a plot -- involves Batman getting tasered in the crotch.
David: The crotch. Of his. RUBBER. SUIT.
Chris: And then kicked! Because apparently, while Batman has chosen to armor the entire rest of his body, he totally just lets his Batarang 'n' Smoke Bombs hang loose!
David: But how else is he supposed to get off on beating random homeless drug addicts? That batarang won't throw itself, you know. Unless it's Batman Returns. Then it's made by Tiger Electronics and will totally throw itself.
Chris: I'm just more bothered that Flaherty thinks a) that Batman is dumb enough to not wear a cup, and b) that NO ONE ELSE WOULD HAVE EVER TRIED THIS.
David: I just don't think he cares.
Chris: Hey, do you think this is actually Widening Gyre Batman? It all fits. The drugs, the obsession with Batman's junk, the fact that it sucks...
David: Batman, while passed out, has a CA-RAZY DREAM, where he thinks about how awesome he is and remembers the sound of his dead parents dying, before waking up tied to a metal rod by some chains. Because Batman can't escape from a deathtrap assembled from parts he got dumpster diving outside Lowe's.
Chris: It's worth noting that Batman's chains are shot from every possible angle in this lousy thing, but there is no evidence whatsoever of there actually being a lock holding them together. I think there might be one just hanging there at one point, but the chains are just clearly wrapped as loosely as possible around Batman's arms with a metal bar in there. Literally all he has to do to get out of it is extend his arms slightly to either side.
David: It's all magnetic, Chris. It's a magnetic trap.
Chris: At first I thought this was unforgivably dumb, but then I realized that maybe "Trip Hope" knew that Batman was a master at escaping locks, and decided to confound him by not using them! Curse his criminal genius!
David: Eat your heart out, Wrath and Prometheus! TRIP HOPE hints that they "both suffer from nightmares," and then gets more and more upset that Batman doesn't remember who he is. This leads to his grand plan: getting Batman hooked on horse.
Chris: If the endgame here is getting him written by J.T. Krul, then it's the most horrifying trap I've ever seen.
David: Anyway, after shooting Batman up with "liquid gold" to "help his memory," Batman has another dream sequence, this time more explicitly of his dead parents. Note: his mother here is, apparently, played by Louise Bale, the actual sister of Christian Bale.
Chris: This has got to come up every year at the Bale Family's Christmas Dinner. "So, Lou, remind me again how much that little Batman movie you were in made? Because the one I was in made over one billion dollars."
David: "It also wasn't laughably terrible."
Chris: This scenario might have a lot to do with how my own sister and I treat each other at family gatherings, but I stand by it.
David: "Nice ride? Heroin is a GOOD ride. But it's a hard one to get off of. It's one of those habits I picked up in the BIG HOUSE." At this point, he's clearly pissed at Batman for putting him in prison so that he got addicted to heroin, for reasons we'll eventually find out. And the director has decided Trip Hope is just going to try to prison-initiate Batman, to "take away his identity" and "strip him of his soul." He also appears to inject Batman with heroin through the rubber suit.
Chris: The great thing about this is that Flaherty's idea of Prison seems to be entirely formed by Vlad the Robot from Achewood.
David: And then there's.... a scene. The most inexplicable minute or so of film I have ever seen in my entire life.
Chris: Yeah, this... This is what really pushes this one all the way over the top. There are bad fan-films, there are atrocious fan-films, there are legitimate war crimes, and then there's this.
David: Close your eyes, children, and imagine. Imagine that someone is playing a MIDI file they downloaded of the Entertainment Tonight theme song through an old Sound Blaster Pro. Imagine that you're seeing the director's mom and aunt presenting the "sexiest man of the year" award, where all the contenders appear to be candids from the director's college yearbook. Imagine that this is in the bottom left of the screen and juxtaposed, 24 style, with three separate angles of Trip Hope showing Batman what prison rape is like by forcing him to experience it.
Chris: You don't have to imagine it, everyone. Because this is what is actually happening.
David: That's right: the petty thief rapes crucified Batman while two women talk about how Batman is Gotham's sexiest man. I just can't ... I can't parse this sequence.
Chris: It's "stunningly unique."
David: And that ends, and is never mentioned again. It just happens. When we next see Batman, it's apparently been at least a few days, since he has full-grown beard and moustache.
Chris: According to the dialogue, "Trip Hope" has been prison-raping Batman for about a month at this point, which has been long enough for him to grow a beard, but not long enough for his eye makeup to wear off underneath the Batman mask they got from Party City.
David: So Trip Hope then yells at Batman some more about how he sent him to prison, and he wants Batman to feel bad and want to die. Which seems like a pretty dumb idea, so then he just beats him up with a pipe while they green-screen the newscaster into the lower right corner. I mean, this movie has a LOT of Batman getting the crap beaten out of him.
Chris: So much so that if you handed this thing to an FBI profiler, they would definitely reconstruct a scene from the director's childhood Halloween where an older kid in a Batman costume pushed him down and took his candy. Please note: I do not advise actually giving this movie to anyone whose job allows them to carry a gun.
David: At least not if you want to still have a TV afterwards. Batman wakes up again, and he basically tells Trip to kill him, but Trip's like "naw, son, you're addicted to heroin, so I already won." But then Batman is like "But you'll still lose! Because I've faced my fears! I'm..." and then he gets really, really despondent before saying "Batman," for seemingly no reason.
Chris: I think this is meant to be a moment of realization, the second where he realizes his indomitable will has already been broken, he just won't admit it to himself. But really, it just looks like the actor realized what he was a part of halfway through his line. "Oh man... This is about Batman? And you're actually going to show it to people? I've made a huge mistake."
David: He then says that he DOES remember sending Trip Hope to prison, since he was part of a meth lab, but then Trip Hope pulls a gun on Batman and reveals the AMAZING PLOT TWIST: he wasn't part of the meth lab. He did five years in prison because his car broke down in front of the meth lab and Batman sent him to prison because his public defender slept through his case.
Chris: This is, of course, nonsense. In the words of Wondermark's David Malki!, if Batman says you're guilty, you're guilty.
David: The drugs were forced on him in prison, and now they are a prison he can never escape!!
Chris: That's an actual line of dialogue, by the way. Someone says those words out loud, in front of a camera, with the goal being to have it seen by as many people as possible.
David: Then Trip Hope goes, "You sent an innocent man to prison! You sleep with that on your conscience!" and commits suicide. Then Batman overdoses on heroin.
Chris: Oh, and don't forget that the budget doesn't allow for any blood or sound effects so Trip Hope just pantomimes shooting himself in the head...
Chris: ...and then they put some syrup on the floor around him. Because apparently when you shoot yourself in the head, the blood comes out of your right shoulder.
David: And Batman kneels in front of him like he knelt in front of his own dead parents. DRAMATIC SYMMETRY!
Chris: Also, do we even need to talk about the sentence "Batman overdoses on heroin?"
David: Batman's body is then found in the river and they have an open-coffin funeral where he's still wearing his mask, out of "respect." Also, they blame the Joker for everything. They cremate him and bury the ashes in Gotham City Cemetery, as he "wished." How did they know how Batman wanted to be buried? Did he leave Gordon a will?
Chris: "If you're reading this, I have been involved in a crappy fan-film..."
David: And this is how I spent three hours on Tuesday night. I'll get you for this, Hudson. I need to come up with a lie to say what I actually did when people ask me at work tomorrow. I'd rather say I was on the Michele Bachmann campain trail.
Chris: Well, on the bright side, we don't have to deal with High Points. This entire movie is just one dramatic slope from crap to crappier.
David: Everyone involved in this should be ashamed of themselves.
Chris: Congratulations, Marmaduke: You are no longer the worst thing that Laura Hudson has made me watch.
David: What an awful, awful, awful liberal polemic. And I'm a bleeding-heart liberal.
Chris: You're so liberal that you actually did move to Canada.
David: Just before it got conservative! But while my country is busy putting people on the sex offender registry for having pictures of Lisa and Bart Simpson playing doctor, America's War on Drugs is being brilliantly taken apart by fantastic shows like The Wire and Breaking Bad. This wants to be that. This is not that. This movie makes Michael Moore look subtle.
Chris: Here's my whole thing with this movie: I get fan-fiction, right? I understand it. And one of the things about it is that it's a one-man show that's devoted to putting your ideas for these characters you like out there, and you can pretty much do it on the free. But when you actually start shooting a movie of your dumb ideas, there are suddenly other people involved. How in the hell did this make it past the stage of "saying it out loud to another human being"?
David: Ironically enough, probably drugs.