“Batman: Soul of the Dragon” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.
As someone who’s watched a superfluous overabundance of movies, I sometimes ponder if every original idea has been exhausted. Then I watch something like “Fatman,” with a brazenly weird and fantastically original concept, and it gives me hope that there are more great ideas yet to come.
“Fatman” gives us three very compelling and eccentric main characters. There’s Billy (Chance Hurstfield), the bratty billionaire’s son who doesn’t like to lose and makes me think of what Patrick Bateman from “American Psycho” would have been like as a child. He’s not above hiring an unnamed hitman (Walton Goggins) for some muscle when he believes that he was unfairly given the runner up prize at a science fair. The hitman has a hobby of collecting memorabilia made in Santa’s workshop and holds a grudge about being slighted by Santa as a child. Then there’s Santa—I mean, Chris (as in Cringle)—played by Mel Gibson as a stressed-out businessman worrying over government subsidies to keep his workshop afloat.
Now think about how Billy reacts when he receives a lump of coal in his stocking. That’s the central plot of “Fatman.” How no one before thought of a naughty boy seeking revenge on Santa as an idea for a story is amazing. At least, this is the first time I’ve seen it. As brought to screen by directors Eshom Nelms and Ian Nelms, working from their own screenplay, it’s a work of action-comedy genius.
Goggins stands out in his hitman role. He does creepy-crazy very well and pulls no punches. There’s a ferocious zealotry in his single-minded obsession to hunt down Chris, not only to fill the contract he was hired to carry out but also for his own personal vendetta. Goggins commits so deeply to the role that when he says, “I’ve come for your head, fat maaaaan!” it’s a chilling statement and you best believe it.
There’s a subplot in which Santa’s workshop is looked at as a business, with Chris as the business owner who has to strategize about finances. It works from a logistical point of view and enriches the world created in “Fatman”–the same world in which it’s not even a question that Santa exists, which is refreshing. Luckily, Chris has a staunch ally in his wife Ruth (Marianne Jean-Baptiste), who always seems to know what to say to help Chris make it through his struggles.
For his part, Gibson wears the weathered skin and gray hair well. It is strange that he’s considered fat though, since he is not. At least, not by today’s standards. Chris is a rough and tumble northerner with a tremendous amount of upper body strength. With the exception of a bit of a belly, his upper body bulk is mostly muscle and he breaks so many forearm exercisers that he has a drawer full of spares. Chris is dressed in a lot of bulky clothes, but these serve to make him look more imposing than fat—a look that comes in handy when Gibson flips his switch and goes from friendly Mel to crazy Mel. As we learned over thirty years ago with the “Lethal Weapon” movies, don’t mess with crazy Mel. Buy it.
Batman: Soul of the Dragon
The last time a “Batman” movie featured this little of the character Batman was 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises,” which I prefer to call “Bruce Wayne Mopes Around.” The Caped Crusader is also incidental to the story of “Batman: Soul of the Dragon,” and so for that matter is Bruce Wayne (voice of David Giuntoli). The protagonist is Richard Dragon (voice of Mark Dacascos), who is what James Bond would have been like if played by Bruce Lee.
Glaring absence of Batman aside, “Soul of the Dragon” is an enormously entertaining animated movie that wears its love for 1970s kung fu and spy movies on its sleeve. All the archetypes are here in well-timed flashback scenes that inform the present day story and show how Bruce came to meet Richard at the kung fu school of calm, white-bearded kung fu master O-Sensei (voice of James Hong). Among his classmates seeking O-Sensei’s training are exceptional female protégé turned underworld crime boss Lady Shiva (voice of Kelly Hu) and big black man with afro and anger issues Ben Turner (voice of Michael Jai White). No points for correctly guessing whether or not Ben comes from a rough, inner city neighborhood.
The art design is very ‘70s, with cars, clothes, and interior décor that resonates with the period. The soundtrack even has the funky sound so prevalent in movies of this type from this decade. If only putting Batman in the title was less of a ploy and he had more involvement. Fans seeking a “Batman” movie will probably feel duped and disappointed. However, if you can get past that and enjoy “Soul of the Dragon” for the love letter to ‘70s action movies that it is, then it is worth a watch. Stream it.
“Come Play,” about a mysterious creature who uses a lonely boy’s cell phone to break into our world, starring Gillian Jacobs, John Gallagher Jr., and Rachel Wilson; and “Born a Champion,” comeback story about a man who was cheated in a jujitsu match and years later has to get back into shape in time to vanquish his foe, get revenge, and claim his prize, starring Sean Patrick Flanery, Katrina Bowden, Dennis Quaid, and Costas Mandylor.