If it's crap ... We'll tell you
Batman and movies are two of the biggest things I appreciate greatly in life. I found Batman: Deliverance today while making my Internet rounds. It's a fan film directed by Pierre Degranges, set many years in the future. Bruce Wayne has given up the mantle and developed a drinking problem, only to get back in the game because his psyche won't allow him to give up the Batman persona. After stopping a mugging, he randomly encounters Marvel's Wolverine and fights him to the death.
Lemme' get a few things off my chest: the film is gorgeous. Presented in chilling HD black & white, one can't help but appreciate the beauty of the film. There is an awesome shot of a Tumbler-inspired Batmobile cruising down a freeway, and while I've heard that the Batman costume was apparently a heavily-modified motorcycle outfit (check it out here), the way it's shot makes it look great. It's all bookended with jaw-dropping shots of Gotham. It's not perfect - Wolverine's claws look silly in some shots, as do a couple of shots where Batman actually takes out two muggers. In the case of the latter, I can admire the filmmaker's intention for avoiding the Bourne-like, over-edited, tight-close-up method of shooting action and opting for just showing Batman as a badass. But the shot of Batman engulfing the first mugger with his cape and slowly moving back comes off a bit goofy to me. There is also an inconsistency with Batman cowls between the scene where he fights the muggers and the scene where he fights Wolverine. I guess this is supposed to indicate two different time periods, but it's not really clear.
This brings me to my main point. This film actually infuriated me, and reminded me a lot of another fan film - Batman: Dead End by Sandy Collora. In Collora's film, which is hailed by a lot of Batman fans as the definitive live-action interpretation of Batman, the beginning focuses on Batman catching the Joker, fresh off of an escape from Arkham. There's an introspective, if hackneyed dialogue between the mortal enemies about their existence. And then an Alien shows up and kills the Joker. And then a Predator shows up and kills the Alien. And then Batman is about to kill the Predator, but then a whole bunch of other Predators show up. If it sounds like a five year old wrote it, that's how the film feels.
And really, that's how this film, Deliverance, feels. It starts off as a cool fan film taking inspiration from Frank Miller's Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, but then devolves into a nonsensical (and IMO ineffective) fight between Batman and Wolverine. The whole thing reeks with so much pretentiousness that I was half-expecting at the end to find out that it was made by American filmmakers using French dialogue to make the film seem more artsy (true story - one of my classmates in film school did that). The film even offers another regurgitation of the murder of Wayne's parents to drive home the idea that, yeah, Batman's messed up in the head.
But what does any of that have to do with Wolverine? Clearly, I admire the efforts of everyone involved from a technical point of view. But once again I feel like an effort to tell a compelling short story about Batman was wasted. There is no one to blame but the filmmakers - they set up the film with a heavy, thoughtful tone, set up plot points that you think will be paid off later but aren't (like Wayne Enterprises selling weapons to gangs), and is clearly filmed by technically competent filmmakers. It's all an elaborate disguise for a lackluster Batman versus Wolverine fight (nay, a laughable fight). The film isn't concerned with telling a story, yet it teases you with one. It's pop culture masturbation.
Here's the thing, if you have the money and time to indulge your "Batman versus" fantasies, by all means do whatever the hell you want and film a fight between Batman and Wolverine. More attention and care could have been paid to the actual fight. But don't insult my intelligence by trying to wrap it in a story and painting it with a thoughtful art atmosphere.
For generations, comic book fans probably thought that a faithful adaptation of their beloved heroes would be out of their hands because the only way to properly portray these larger-than-life heroes is with a sizeable budget. In the age of Final Cut Pro and DSLR cameras, anyone can make a beautiful film for thousands, not millions. Adobe After Effects completes the gap by making digital effects accessible to independent filmmakers.
And is this the best we can do? As a film student, I'm no stranger to films made by other directors with little interest in telling traditional narratives. These guys and gals are usually either more interested in experimental film or more interested in the visuals and pizzazz. But as a comic book fan, I'm just downright embarrassed by this film.
You know what most people think of when they think of comic book fans? Obese, greasy, acne-covered, bespectacled, slobby white men with braces and the attention span of a flea. On the culture scale, we're on the bottom. This is why a guy like me loves Batman Begins & The Dark Knight. They've made people sit up and go, "Hey, comic books can be the source of engaging, relateable stories."
And what does this guy do? He makes a film that forgoes making any narrative sense, or making any innovation in using film as a storytelling device, and instead uses all this dressing to hide the fact that the script halfway through spazzes out and decides to be about Batman fighting Wolverine. It's almost like at the start of the film, you picture the director to look a lot like Christopher Nolan, dressed in one of his trademarked suits (and maybe with a French moustache). By the end of the film, he's suddenly gained 100 pounds and is now sporting sweatpants and a Sucker Punch T-shirt.
The common defense would probably be that the film is intended as a sizzle reel to show off the capabilities of the filmmakers. This is what Sandy Collora said about his film, Dead End. However, what Collora failed to realize is that to be a good director, you have to be good at actually telling a story. Collora absolutely intended to use his special effects background to make a short film that would help him get noticed and possibly asked to direct feature films (he lobbied to direct a movie based on Captain Marvel). The lack of focus in that fan film probably got him offers for 2nd unit directing or more special effects work, since Hollywood's yet to knock on his door. Maybe I'm misjudging Atomic Productions' motivations for making Batman: Deliverance, but if they just wanted to make a cool movie, the least they could've done is make Wolverine's claws more convincing.
Where does that leave me? As a film student, I strive to make every short film better than my last. As a comic book fan, I'd like to see more movies (short or long, Hollywood or independent) that treat the medium of film and the legacy of these characters with the same amount of respect. I have no plans to direct any fan films of my own; I prefer to create my own content. I also still believe that these characters are most believable when there's a budget big enough to translate the ideas of the creators. But I've yet to see a fan film that pleases me both as a film lover and a comic book fan, as if the people who make these films are missing the film half of fan film. I can't be the only one who respects both.