Directed by: Farbod Ardebili
Starring: Adam Karnow Chefitz, Aaron Sylvan Gordon, Sam Stern, Molly Dominick, Jesse Alvarez, Chauncey Mabe, Tom Musca
Short Film Review by: Jack Bottomley
Fan films are often derided by certain critics for being uncreative and taking someone else’s ideas as their own but this is an unfair reading because in many ways all filmmakers and artists start off as fans. See the recent wave of indie directors jumping to franchise work (Gareth Edwards, Colin Trevorrow, Taika Waititi, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Jon Watts) and how they take their youthful influences and loves and apply them to all their work. Fan films are more an expression of passion than anything else and in Bats & Jokes; writer/director/animator/scorer Farbod Ardebili takes Batman in some very dark directions.
Clearly inspired by Alan Moore’s “Batman: The Killing Joke” in terms of tone and delivery (the film really reflects on the multiple choice nature of the Joker character’s backstory), this short film sees Batman and Joker come head to head once again, only this time Batman discovers the true beginnings of the clown prince of crime and what he finds shakes the crime fighter to the core. Right out of the gate the violent imagery by illustrator Jacob Newell and animator Ardebili sets the scene and this visually striking take on Bob Kane’s iconic creation is a darkly arresting watch. Ahead of a planned live-action Joker origin movie, and with current DC projects taking risks aplenty (some paying off, some not), this short film feels quite timely and reminds a bit of the kind of story that might have made it into the 2008 animated anthology film Batman: Gotham Knight.
In many ways a post-apocalyptic tale wrapped in a story of crumbling psyche, this film acts as a tribute to the relationship between Batman and The Joker, who have always been the opposite sides of one coin. The film features time-jumping, limb butchery, symbolism and a wealth of character cameos and for fans and followers of DC, there will be a lot here to entertain across the 15 minute duration and indeed lots to think about. The ending in particular is quite memorable and, while the story does have to rush towards it, the impact of the brazen climax is still felt and in many ways it recalls the bold changes of lore in Moore’s aforementioned work, Tim Burton’s 1989 film and last year’s interesting animated ripper era yarn Batman: Gotham By Gaslight.
The voicework is solid; if a little too distant to the characters at times, but it is quite an undertaking to see Batman, Joker and Alfred all voiced by one actor in Adam Karnow Chefitz and he has a good go at it. While Aaron Sylvan Gordon also makes an impression as a legendary DC character that briefly makes an appearance, leading up to the twist finish. However, this film is more of a visual journey and the animation is very well done, as is the gravitas-filled scoring and the impressive sound design by Ailin Gong.
In spite of some faults, films like this continue to show such ambition and whether they are fan films or original features, the diverse array of artists presenting their work nowadays is brilliant to see and it is no mystery why the big blockbusters are increasingly recruiting independent voices, many of whom are huge fans already. Bats & Jokes is another of those projects that feels like it will get another talented team of Bat fans noticed.
Bats & Jokes is stylish, dark and – considering the length – quite complex.