Look at what I got for Christmas 2020! And now that I’ve watched all the five movies contained in this amazing box, here are some thoughts on each of them…
Batman: Mistery of the Batwoman (2003) – J. Graves, T. Maltby, and C. Geda
The narrative universe in which this movie takes place deserves a brief explanation. It’s the so-called DC Animated Universe (or Timmverse or Diniverse) that was born with the fantastic Batman: The Animated Series which originally aired between 1992 and 1995. You may also remember the related beautiful animated feature film entitled Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) which even had a theatrical distribution, while subsequent films were released direct to video.
Mystery of the Batwoman is the fourth film in this series after Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998) and Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000), but each of them contains a story of its own. That of Mystery of the Batwoman is quite simple: in Gotham, a mysterious Batwoman (Kyra Sedgwick) appears to fight crime, but she does it without respecting the code of honor of Batman (Kevin Conroy) since she doesn’t hesitate to use firearms to kill criminals.
The main villains in this case are the Penguin (David Ogden Stiers) and the mobster Rupert Thorne (John Vernon). They are producing and selling illegal weapons assisted by the gangster Carlton Duquesne (Kevin Michael Richardson). Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne begins dating the rebellious daughter of the latter, Kathy (Kimberly Brooks). There are also various other notable characters including a new detective (Kelly Ripa) in the service of Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) and a brilliant employee of Wayne Enterprises (Elisa Gabrielli).
The story is based on the mystery of who’s behind the Batwoman mask and it’s an unusually female-centered story for the year it was conceived, which is laudable and remarkable. Mystery of the Batwoman is a good product with a grand finale that enters the list of Batman’s best moments on the small screen with a spectacular yacht fight. It has a good pace, but I have the feeling that the story could have been told with a classic double episode of the animated series without losing too much content, perhaps eliminating the presence of Bane (Hector Elizondo) who raises the level of the fight but is not necessary to dig into the main theme of the story: revenge or justice? How to overcome the pain of a loss? Batman once again finds himself facing people with a similar past to his own but who have made different choices to live with it…
To conclude, I enjoyed watching Mystery of the Batwoman and I would recommend it to fans of the world’s greatest detective, but I don’t think it adds much new for anyone who has seen the early 90s animated series.
Batman: Bad Blood (2016) – J. Oliva
This film isn’t part of the Timmverse and it’s the third installment of a story that began with Son of Batman (2014) and continued with Batman vs. Robin (2015). In fact, they all came from the same director, Jay Oliva, and even the cast and technical department don’t change much from one film to another. Unfortunately, I only realized this after starting to watch the film: confused by the high number of characters and too much information taken for granted, I realized that there were things I should have known but that I was unaware of.
Bad Blood isn’t bad, that’s not what I mean, but being a sequel it rightly takes some narrative liberties. So here we are in a world with Batman (Jason O’Mara), Nightwing / Dick Grayson (Sean Maher), Batwoman (Yvonne Strahovski, different from that of Mystery of the Batwoman), Robin (Stuart Allan) who is the son of Batman and Talia al Ghul (Morena Baccarin), and at one point even Batwing / Luke Fox (Gaius Charles, son of Lucius Fox, Ernie Hudson).
Fortunately, I know a little about the Batman universe (there’s a lot of Nolan’s films, even the League of Shadows) so I was able to follow the story quite well, but it’s evident that in order to fully enjoy the film you need a viewing of previous chapters.
The style is very modern, with computer animation resulting in a different look than that of Mask of the Phantasm or Mystery of the Batwoman. The story unfolds well with Talia al Ghul’s very complicated plan to take control of prominent diplomats that almost seems to get back to the 1966 Adam West film (and there are also several winks to other previous films like Mask of the Phantasm with the name Chuky Sol and to Tim Burton’s Batman with a line on many things to do and so little time).
Another strong point is the presence of various great scenes, above all the fighting in the monastery (against the ninja nuns, the nunjas) and the cruel deaths of Heretic and Tech (a sort of mad hatter) that seem almost out of place in a product aimed at a young audience and where masked people fall from tall buildings with almost no consequence.
But in general I’m afraid that Batman Bad Blood left me a bit cold, certainly in part because it’s not a good idea to watch a story starting from the third chapter. But it wasn’t me who put this in the Bluray box! Finally, the soundtrack is at times excellent and at times decidedly disappointing, which doesn’t help.
Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010) – B. Vietti
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner. This film has nothing to envy to Tim Burton’s films or Mask of the Phantasm (it is no coincidence that Bruce Timm is among the producers)! Brutally violent, dynamic, well-crafted, with a tight script and a breathtaking story told at an incredible pace, Batman Under the Red Hood is a great animated film. Written by Judd Winick, author of Batman’s story arc Under the Hood published between 2004 and 2005, and directed by Brandon Vietti (former collaborator of the legendary Greig Weisman), it also features some excellent music composed by Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion and Lolita Ritmanis.
The story begins with the brutal murder of the second Robin / Jason Todd (Jensen Ackles) by the Joker (John DiMaggio) maneuvered by Ra’s al Ghul (Jason Isaacs). Years later, a mysterious Red Hood appears in Gotham who takes control of the city’s organized crime, snatching it from Black Mask (Wade Williams). Batman (Bruce Greenwood) and Nightwing / Dick Grayson (Neil Patrick Harris) are forced to face him but things get tough when it becomes clear who’s hiding under the red hood…
Under the Red Hood uses its beautiful story to reflect on Batman’s motivations, how to deal with loss and guilt, and what differentiates a criminal from an executioner. Batman doesn’t kill, he’s not out for revenge: he has a code of honor and tries to administer justice. But, Red Hood wonders, is this the right thing to do when he fights a psycho like the Joker who has filled whole graveyards just to have a laugh? Even killing Robin was something he did almost casually!
There are plenty of profound dialogues and thrilling scenes, with a handful of flashbacks that are particularly effective (perhaps the final one doesn’t close the film as it deserved, if I can be a bit critical). This film can be enjoyed even after multiple viewings, as it contains much more than a series of fist fights between Batman and an endless series of criminals (although it also has some of those)!
To conclude, the special contents of Bluray are impressive. There are two twenty minutes-long documentaries about the two Robins, Dick Grayson and Jason Todd, whose fate was decided by Batman readers in 1988 (with the story arc A Death in the Family) with a telephone poll: 5343 calls in favor of Jason’s death exceeded the 5271 calls to save him by only 72 units!
And the Bluray also contains four episodes of Batman: The Animated Series personally chosen by Bruce Timm to accompany Under the Red Hood (obviously centered on Robin). This is another reason why I will never tire of praising physical supports, so superior to the streaming services which are so fashionable nowadays…
Batman: Gotham Knight (2008) – Y. Aoki e altri
This feature film is actually a collection of short films more or less connected to each other (and with links also to the Christopher Nolan’s movies, for example there’s the character of Anna Ramirez, voiced here by Ana Ortiz).
The episode I liked the most is Have I Got a Story for You which shows the exploits of Batman (Kevin Conroy) which, seen from the eyes of four teenagers in Gotham City, are even more intriguing than the real ones. According to one of them, Batman is a real shadow; for the second he’s a huge red-eyed bat; for the third, he’s an indestructible android… Their stories are interrupted when the real Batman, injured, gets where the teenagers are playing and talking while he continues to fight a mysterious criminal! Funny!
Crossfire is also interesting: extremely violent, in its few minutes it also develops the world of Gotham, his organized crime, and the police department.
Instead, I found Field Test and Working Through Pain confused: they don’t get straight to the point and I quickly lost attention. Too bad, because they are some good scenes and beautiful drawings, but that’s not enough. By contrast, In Darkness Dwells offers an interesting storyline with Killer Croc and Scarecrow (Corey Burton), but in this case the drawings didn’t quite convince me.
To close everything here’s Deadshot. It’s a good short above all thanks to the excellent villain (voiced by Jim Meskimen). Overall, I would only recommend avid Batman fans to watch this Batman: Gotham Knight.
Batman: Year One (2011) – S. Liu and L. Montgomery
This is nothing more than the faithful transposition of the masterpiece novel written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli in 1987. In fact, I watched it while leafing through the graphic novel and I haven’t noticed any notable difference, apart from the necessary changes as the illustrators are different and the feature film is animated, unlike the book. Okay, there are also fewer deaths, but it’s a small thing.
What, then? Well done, but personally it added little to what the graphic novel had already given me. The novel came out almost 25 years earlier and played a fundamental role in revolutionizing the world of Batman. So its transposition is a respectful exercise, but it cannot have the strength of the original.
If you’ve read Miller’s work, you won’t find anything new watching the animated transposition, and if you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for? You’ll find a fantastic story of the first steps of Jim Gordon (in the film voiced by Bryan Cranston) and Batman in a gloomy and corrupt Gotham City that greatly inspired the cinematic world then created by Christopher Nolan (the scene of the bats called by sonar in Batman Begins, 2005, is taken from Miller’s graphic novel, for example). Ciao!