The FFOW! series takes a look at that vast library created by the proud and the passionate: fan films. Whether the budget and talent is astronomical or amateur, FFOW! celebrates the filmmakers whose love of comics, books, movies, video games, and TV shows inspires them to join the great conversation with their own homemade masterpieces.
Director Vincent Tran has gained momentum this past year thanks to his very successful Supergirl fan film, Girl of Steel. (You can read my review here). His modern interpretations of DC characters strips off the colorful costumes and replaces them with logical and emotional motivation. The same trend continues in his newest film, a spinoff set in the same Tran-verse of DC continuity that promises even better stories.
Batgirl Rises stars Lindsay Heath as a Barbara Gordon who spends her late hours working in the library and mourning the loss of her brother James Jr. (Devon Coull) after a retaliatory attack from Johnny Vitti (Robert Angelic Granger). One night, as Gordon prepares to leave work, she too is attacked by mob henchmen. She fends them off with the help of a mysterious blonde (Constance Brenneman). The two women form a connection over mutual loss. Determined to learn the truth about her brother’s fate, Gordon agrees to team with her new partner and infiltrate the crime families of Gotham. It won’t be easy, and as they might soon discover, some secrets should remain buried . . .
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT
Tran’s storytelling has escalated to a new high. Where Girl of Steel played well as a teaser of Kara’s further adventures, Batgirl Rises forms a complete psychological snapshot of key characters in the DC universe who are rarely seen as this complex.
Certain SPOILERS below.
The actors put definite thought into motivation and performance. Take Constance Brenneman, who during a recent premiere at Universal Studios gave her point of view on the character of Dr. Harleen Quinzel: “She’s truly propelled by love, which is a very strong force. And, in the scheme of things, Joker needs her to get out of all these binds. And, she just doesn’t really need him . . . I think she should [have her own starring project], because for all intents and purposes, she’s far more dynamic than the Joker.”
Brenneman’s Harley is outstanding. She isn’t a caricature of the animated series creation. This character could have been believable as a shrink before she fell for a patient and is also believable as a vengeful femme fatale. Equally good is Coull as the ever-slightly off James Jr. He said, “It goes back to, to me, comic books. You can’t get into all this craziness of super powers and fighting and all this other stuff, but you gotta go back to the story. Who are these people? The relationships. I think that’s where it lies.”
Along with Quinzel, Barbara Gordon, and the previous film’s Kara Zor-el, Tran’s movies proudly focus on female characters without objectifying them. “The mission behind this whole film is making sure that we picture women, even visually with our eyes, that we don’t see them sexually,” Tran has said.
Tran’s direction creates a film pace that feels especially haunted. The opening shots more closely resemble those in a horror thriller than a Batgirl comic, with a claustrophobic library and characters appearing and disappearing in the middle of the aisles. “There are no rules to doing superhero movies,” director Tran said, and he’s right. Playing with genre staples outside of comic book films is the fan film community’s greatest asset. A flashback dream sequence in the middle of the film is staged so unnervingly that it reflects Jonathan Demme’s work in The Silence of the Lambs, as characters address killers by looking straight into camera.
With these added textures in the mix, the set piece action scene feels more intense. It’s not a stylized fight like Girl of Steel. It’s dirty and dangerous.
Certain newspaper headlines in the background of the film hint at a possible Gordon-Kara trilogy team-up from Tran in the future. Cross your fingers!
WHERE YOU CAN SEE IT