Warner Bros. (2016), Warner Home Video (February 2, 2016), 1 Blu-ray + 1 DVD, 72 mins plus supplements, 16:9 ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, Rated PG-13, Retail: $24.98
When Batman goes missing, his protégés attempt to keep Gotham City under control, even to the extent of a former Robin donning the bat cowl. Taking over for the real Batman is difficult enough, but to actually save him, it will take further additions to Bat-family.
The Sweatbox Review:
In an era of comic book stunts, one of the biggies is the killing off of a major superhero. It has happened to many of them, often encouraging large amounts of publicity and sales. For Batman, the year was 2008, and his “death” saw him plunging into the water while aboard a helicopter. Actually, he “died” again right after that, since (naturally) he actually hadn’t died the first time, with the “final” death coming at the hands (well, eye beams) of the intergalactic thug named Darkseid in the series Final Crisis. Later, it was revealed that Batman was actually sent back in time, and not really killed. Comics are weird. What’s even weirder is that the same “he-died-but-was-actually-sent-back-in-time” plot was being used simultaneously with Captain America over at Marvel Comics. Yep, comics are weird. Gloriously weird.
And the above is NOT the tale presented in Batman: Bad Blood, as it would seem even crazier in a 72-minute movie that has no time for such outlandish and complex storytelling. So, read comics. They’re really cool.
The comic book tale of Batman R.I.P. was followed by Battle For The Cowl and Batman Reborn, and altogether these stories serve as the inspiration for the latest Batman animated movie. Moving on from the events of Batman Vs. Robin, Batman is again alone in Gotham City, or so he thinks. His son Damien, the latest Robin, may be away, but a new hero named Batwoman joins him one night to battle a host of C-list villains. Normally, Batman would have no trouble with the likes of Killer Moth and Firefly, but on this night the ragtag team of villains are being led by a mysterious new villain named Heretic, and Heretic himself is a match for Batman’s fighting capabilities. With the battle going badly for Batman and Batwoman, an explosion occurs and Batwoman is thrown free, while Batman seems to have been caught in the lethal conflagration.
A couple of weeks pass, and no Batman. Batman’s butler Alfred covers for Bruce Wayne, and Batwoman – who does not know Batman’s identity or how to contact his loved ones – conducts her own search in the city. When the media catches on that no one is answering the bat-signal, news eventually reaches Damien that his father is missing, and he returns to Gotham. Likewise, the very first Robin, Dick Grayson – who is now known as Nightwing – finds his way back to Gotham as well. After a visit with Alfred in the Batcave, Dick makes the decision to give Gotham its Batman, by donning the cowl for himself. (This is an older costume, complete with the classic yellow oval in the bat emblem. Ah, how I’d missed it!) Later joined by Damien, they become the new Batman and Robin, turning the old dynamic of a grim dark knight with his light-hearted charge on its head. This time, it’s a more jovial Batman accompanied by a surly kid. This new state of affairs was explored wonderfully over the course of many months in the comics, but here we get to enjoy it only briefly before our heroes are further joined by Batwoman. The costumed team then grows to four with the addition of Batwing, the son of Bruce Wayne’s trusted associate Lucius Fox.
It is then up to this new Bat-family to learn to work together and rescue Batman (like you didn’t know he wasn’t dead!), confront a league of nunjas (yes, I spelled that correctly), and defeat Heretic’s gang, not to mention the actual sinister force behind it all— a person from Batman’s past. It’s high drama in the greatest comics tradition, even if there’s no Darkseid. And before it’s all over, yet another new bat-character takes the stage…
I wasn’t a big fan of the last two Batman animated movies in this series, Son Of Batman and Batman Vs. Robin, so I wasn’t sure how much to get my hopes up for this one being more to my liking. Fortunately, this outing is the best of the bunch, evading both the overly ridiculous violence and preposterous plotting of its predecessors, while serving up a grand adventure. Well-respected comics pro J.M. DeMatteis writes this tale, as he did the previous one, but here he manages to avoid the worst excesses of mad plotting and distasteful scenes. Or maybe the director did a better job of following the script? Whichever is the case, the result here is much more pleasing than the last two movies.
Even with so many principle characters, the story feels reasonably well-balanced, and each hero certainly has his or her own distinct personality. Batwoman, who has a richer history in the comics so far, is fleshed out better than Batwing here, but we know just enough about Batwing to like him; I’d be happy to see him appear again in a future movie. And as usual, the fight scenes take almost too much precedence in the story, but I have to admit that director Jay Oliva managed to keep things in check well enough this time for the audience to appreciate the character beats.
The voice cast holds up their end well enough too. Andrea Romano is not listed as the voice casting director this time around, but this time it is the experienced Wes Gleason who makes sure that his cast doesn’t take things too far into camp territory. Jason O’Mara has grown on me as Batman, while Sean Maher’s Nightwing and especially Stuart Allen’s Damien continue to feel right as well. Yvonne Strahowski joins the cast as Batwoman, and Gaius Charles is suitably cast as Batwing.
This is still only maybe my fourth-favourite of the many direct-to-video Batman movies, but it’s a step in the right direction. It is a solid movie with good characterization, bold fight sequences, and clear plotting. All it is missing is anything to really make it special or emotionally satisfying, but for a Batman film it is decent enough.
Is This Thing Loaded?
This movie is accompanied by two pretty good featurettes that look at both moviemaking and the history of the characters. Putting The Fight In Gotham (26:26) is an extensive look at how fights are choreographed in the DC animated shows and movies. Current director Jay Oliva discusses his quest for verisimilitude in designing fight sequences, and contrasts his approach to what came before in the days of Saturday morning cartoons. Other contributors include DC executive Mike Carlin, and Man Of Steel stunt coordinator Damon Caro.
Expanding The Batman Family (13:46) is a nifty look back at how Batman’s supporting costumed characters were developed in the comics, beginning with Robin in 1940, and ending with today’s Batwoman and Batwing, as featured in Bad Blood.
From The DC Comics Vault come two bonus episodes of Batman – The Brave And The Bold: Knights Of Tomorrow and The Crisscross Conspiracy.
The Blu-ray opens with a teaser for Batman V. Superman, followed by a trailer for the next Lego Justice League movie, Cosmic Clash. From the menu, you can also choose to watch a Suicide Squad trailer. It is also in that section where you will find the Sneak Peek at Justice League Vs. Teen Titans (11:28). This movie promises to combine the Batman and Justice League animated movie narratives, while reimagining the 1980 New Teen Titans origin story.
The DVD has only the advertising material: the Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad trailers, the ad for the Lego Justice Legaue disc, and another one for the latest Teen Titans Go DVD; plus the Justice League Vs. Teen Titans sneak peek.
Warner has kept this line of movies looking consistent in their packaging, allowing them to look pretty keen on my shelf. An embossed cover slip has Nightwing on the spine (the character spines have been here since the first “New 52” release, Justice League: War), and a two-disc Blu-ray case inside. The insert has only the UltraViolet code and information. (Note that there is also a limited edition version with a Nightwing figure included, plus a Target Steelbook edition.)
Ink And Paint:
The 16:9 picture largely matches the other Batman movies in this series, but I am noticing less of the “blur” or softening effect that disturbed me in the past. Or maybe I’m just getting used to it. Regardless, it was never the fault of the transfers anyhow. The image here has minimal banding, and no noticeable picture break-up, delivering a smooth and consistent look throughout the film.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track delivers every punch, kick, and grunt in all their glory. The sound designer seems particularly inspired by the action here, ricocheting sounds all over the home theatre and dictating keen viewer interest. Despite all the bombastic events in this movie, with copious fights and explosions, dialogue remains ever audible; and the music, while as exciting and soaring as it is needed to be, is tastefully kept at a distance when it suits the moment as well. This is a first-class job and it supports the feature extremely well.
Additional tracks include French, German, and two forms of Spanish. Subtitles appear for all the same languages. The DVD adds a Thai track (while carrying only “traditional” Spanish audio), and it adds subtitles in Portuguese, Chinese, Thai, and Korean.
It has been a little while since we have seen a truly superior DC animated movie, but Batman: Bad Blood is certainly acceptable, and even pretty good. Fight fans will have much to enjoy in particular, but the story does also feature a number of interesting characters who each contribute to a good story of a growing family within the superhero milieu. Technical specs are solid, and the bonus features do enhance the quality of the disc. This is a step up from the last two Batman movies in this line, balancing out the action and plot better in order to make a stronger movie, and this bodes well for the future of this series.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?