Warner Bros. (2015), Warner Home Video (August 18, 2015), 1 Blu-ray + 1 DVD, 80 mins, 16:9 ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Not Rated, Retail: $24.98
The Joker gathers his ugliest gang yet, in a bid to use technology to become no less than king of the world. With even his own tech working against him, Batman and his fellow heroes must find a way to prevent the Joker from remaking the world in his image.
The Sweatbox Review:
It’s getting so one can’t even keep track of all the Batmen running around the video aisles. With several TV series under his bat-belt already, not to mention Robot Chicken, video game, and Lego versions, there is now a direct-to-video version of The Dark Knight aimed at a younger audience and designed to tie in with a toy line. The first Batman Unlimited movie, Animal Instincts, came out earlier in 2015, with The Penguin as the villain. Now, it’s The Joker’s turn to make life difficult for our favorite caped crusader and his super friends.
The Gotham of Batman Unlimited is a near-future one, with flying police cars, solar-powered streetlamps, and plenty of neon lights and video screens adorning buildings. It is in this world that The Joker plans to introduce a computer virus that will make him master of technology. He gathers a motley crew of villains, including The Scarecrow, Clayface, Solomon Grundy, and Silver Banshee, to assist him with all the kidnapping and robbery that is necessitated by his plan.
One kidnapping victim is Gogo Shoto, a young computer genius and game designer. The other is Cyborg, the cybernetic superhero who is a Justice League teammate of Batman. Assisting Batman in solving the mystery of these kidnappings are Red Robin, Nightwing, and Green Arrow, and naturally you can count on Cyborg to help before it is all over. With all the characters running around, do not expect too much characterization. This movie is all about action and high concepts, with several battles that stretch from the streets to the skies of Gotham, and also a cyber world confrontation.
The heroes all come off fine, with no forced comedy relief this time around, unlike the use of The Flash in the last Batman Unlimited movie. And, even though Khary Payton is once again voicing Cyborg, he is used in a more serious manner than he has been in Teen Titans or Lego Justice League. Though I may not care for some of the character re-designs (I can’t warm up to the new bat-emblem on the bat-suit, and Nightwing never looks right wearing red rather than blue, even if he did so for a time in the comics), I do enjoy the neon look for Gotham City. It’s a nice change of pace, and suits the “positive” futuristic nature of the show well.
The cyber world in this story, like similar previous attempts in cartoons, falls short of making sense. I have never thought that cyberpunk and Batman fit together terribly well, largely due to the necessity in a movie of visualizing something that takes place in a digital realm. It doesn’t help that many writers don’t seem to understand (or care about) how computers actually work. Showing a computer world in Tron was cool, but when done in a superhero show it just comes off as terribly hokey. Of course, having the sight of Batman riding that mecha-dino (as seen on the Blu-ray cover) just about makes it worthwhile.
This DTV movie series plays fast and loose with DC continuity. There’s a Red Robin, but no Robin around. Cyborg lives in Gotham City. Silver Banshee and Solomon Grundy break out of Arkham Asylum, though they wouldn’t likely be found there in the comics. Green Arrow appears in Gotham as if his Star City is a Gotham suburb instead of clear across the county. We do get glimpses of Nightwing’s past heroic identities, which was a nice touch. And, though the bonus featurette suggests that Batman Unlimited is at least a visual bridge to Batman Beyond, the representation of the characters is hard to reconcile with the previously established DC Animated Universe continuity. Of course, keeping in mind the young target audience for this movie, I can’t be bothered by any of this. It’s just a toy line video, after all.
And, by that standard, the film does fairly well. As with the Lego movies, one must approach this as a child would. And all that child wants is an entertaining 80 minutes with plenty of costumes and fights. And, unlike the old Super Friends shows and other cartoons of the 1970s, at least today’s superhero animated movies are allowed to actually show some real fighting and danger. The Joker plot may not make total sense, being somewhat vague on the specifics of what he is trying to accomplish, but he’s crazy anyhow, so maybe that’s fine. The other characters are each entertaining too, including some nice nods to Clayface’s Hollywood background (consistent with Batman: TAS). Nothing is too deep here, but it’s solid enough for children’s entertainment, and the heroes are righteous and victorious. What more could you want?
Is This Thing Loaded?
Gotham Of Tomorrow: Designing A Future World (11:23) is the highlight of the bonus material, featuring several contributors discussing the look of Gotham City in the Batman Unlimited stories. Many shots of artwork and animatics are seen, in addition to on-camera interviews with the writer, director, and designers. While many Batman fans may have horrible flashbacks to the Joel Schumacher films when they think of a neon Gotham City, trust me— it works better here.
Even if you don’t care for the main event on this disc, you may still get a kick out of the ten DC Nation Shorts included. These irreverent 2-mnute cartoons celebrate the DC heroes in fresh and silly ways. On offer here are three shorts for Shazam!, one for Riddler (with Batman, of course), three for Green Arrow (and Black Canary), one for Deadman, and two for Animal Man. There is also an episode from Batman: The Brave And The Bold, Mayhem Of The Music Meister. (The DVD has the design featurette, all ten of the DC Nation shorts, and a different episode of Batman: The Brave And The Bold, Emperor Joker.)
Surprisingly, the Blu-ray does not load any trailers when it starts, though the DVD begins with Trailers for Scooby-Doo Meets Kiss, the new Lego Justice League movie, and Looney Tunes: Rabbits Run. From the menu, both discs offer trailers for Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts, Tom And Jerry: Spy Quest, and Teen Titans Go. The DVD adds one for the Lego Dimensions game.
The Elite (eco) case holds a Blu-ray disc and a DVD on either side. This release gets a non-embossed cover slip that mostly replicates the cover art, but adds extra emphasis to the UltraViolet digital copy. There is a single insert inside for the UltraViolet code.
Ink And Paint:
This is a slick looking cartoon, and the 16:9 image here is rock solid, doing well to keep up with all the action and effects. Gotham City in neon is a better look than you might think, and the Blu-ray does the colors justice, with no bleeding or unwanted flaring. Digital-to-digital transfers should look wonderful, and this one does.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track delivers, with plenty of excitement generated in all speakers, though at a degree in keeping with a direct-to-video title. That means most of the sound is front-heavy, but careful listening does reveal some use of the rears and also decent bass. Other audio options include French and Spanish (Latino). Subtitles are available in English (captions), French, and two forms of Spanish.
The DVD has tracks in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai; and subtitles in the same, plus Taiwanese Chinese.
It would be easy to dismiss a title such as this, seeing as how it is a direct tie-in to a toy line. However, this is a valid interpretation of Batman and his friends, with a story as good as most superhero cartoons, with your favorite heroes in action, taking on a fun assortment of villains. Even if that doesn’t grab you, the DC Nation shorts are lots of fun (though their short run times may not make this a worthwhile purchase all on their own). For those looking for a little less “dark” in their Dark Knight, this is a good movie to share with the kids.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?