Thursday, September 16, 2010

"The Batman vs Dracula" (2005)

Starring Rino Romano, Peter Stormare and Tara Strong
Written by Duane Capizzi
Directed by Brandon Vietti

I've only recently begun watching 'The Batman,' WB's newer take on the Dark Knight after Bruce Timm's excellent series came to a close.  Frankly, it can't even touch that earlier interpretation.  The voice cast is alright, but not nearly as impressive, and while the animation is solid, the writing is simplistic and often quite limp.  But that's a review for another time.  Let's talk about "The Batman vs Dracula," the series only attempt at a direct-to-video movie.

The Penguin (Tom Kenny) and the Joker (Kevin Michael Richardson) escape from Arkham Asylum, sending the cops and the Batman (Rino Romano) on the chase.  While Batman and Joker fight it out, Penguin manages to sneak into Gotham Cemetery, where he believes millions of dollars worth of loot is hidden in an old crypt.  Instead of money, he finds inside the rotted remains of the evil Count Dracula, and accidentally revives the vampire creature.

Soon, Dracula makes Penguin his slave and goes about attempting to turn the entire city into vampires.  Dracula tells Penguin that he needs to put himself among Gotham City's elite, to which Penguin replies that if he wants to rule Gotham society, he needs to topple one particular socialite: Bruce Wayne.  At a party at Wayne Manor, Dracula becomes enamored of news reporter Vicki Vale (Tara Strong) who also happens to be attracted to Bruce Wayne.

When Joker shows up in his vampire form, Batman manages to capture him and use him as a test subject to find a way to rescue all the people Dracula has been turning in Gotham.  When Dracula kidnaps Vicki, Batman must put his plan into action hours before daylight, risking a final confrontation in the dark with Dracula before he can drain her soul to revive his long-dead bride.

Like the episodes of "The Batman" series that I've seen, "The Batman vs Dracula" features some fine animation and voice acting, but a weak script.  None of what happens here seems to make any particular amount of sense.  Why is Dracula's crypt in Gotham City?  Why does he care about mixing it up with high society when he's just going to turn everyone into his vampire slaves?  These questions aren't answered.  Dracula walks around Bruce's party introducing himself as Dr. Alucard.  How does Bruce figure out his true identity?  He realizes that "Alucard" is "Dracula" backwards! The movie tries to set up some kind of love triangle, I guess, between Bruce, Vicki and Dracula, but it only barely approaches this concept at all, so it seems entirely limp - just like everything else.

Batman is blamed for all the missing people in Gotham, so the cops are out to get him... but we only see this once in the entire movie, a too-quick sequence where SWAT chases Batman through the cemetery and then some abandoned building.  But unlike the epic and excellent chase sequence in "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm," this version carries no dramatic heft whatsoever.  The lack of tension from the slow editing and dull musical score sap any energy out of the proceedings.  Even the final confrontation between Batman and Dracula in the catacombs under Gotham, which features lots of fast movement and vicious combat, feels dull and boring.  There's simply no energy in this version of Batman.

Rino Romano is an okay younger version of the Dark Knight, but when the script calls for him to be intimidating, he still sounds like a kid.  When Kevin Conroy shouts, "I AM BATMAN!" he positively growls it.  When Romano says it, it's with a light rasp.

Peter Stormare makes a fine animated Dracula.  His accent keeps things interesting, even though his dialogue isn't particularly memorable, and he manages to lend gravitas to his readings.  Even something as dull as, "If I'm in Gotham, it must be because of events beyond my control."  Like, really?

The only real bright point in this movie are the characterizations of Alfred (Alastair Duncan) and Joker.  These two have a real pep in their characters, and they also get the best dialogue in the movie.  Joker says "Batsy" a few too many times, but for the most part, he's pretty great.

"The Batman vs Dracula" is a pretty dull animated feature.  The editing and music sap any life out of what could've been a reasonably entertaining adventure (even with the unimpressive script).  The bright spot here is the voice cast, but nothing else is really of note.