Jan 26

Cartoon Review – Batman Bad Blood

Don't mess with Alfred

Don’t mess with Alfred

The latest DC animated movie is out and it’s the continuation of the Son of Batman story in Batman Bad Blood. Batman has gone missing and is presumed dead so it’s up to former Robin Dick Grayson to don the Batman costume with Bruce’s son Damian as his Robin to try and bring order to Gotham as it comes under a new threat. This movie also introduces Batwoman and Batwing in their first animated appearance. This review will contain spoilers and discussion of one of the bigger twists of the movie.

I haven’t really liked the direction the DC animated movies have been going in these last few years, moving away from adapting great DC comics and into adapting current New 52 DC comics. Those New 52 comics haven’t exactly been that good, especially the earlier ones which are the ones being adapted. Justice League War being the worst of the movie line, a story so thin it’s just an hour long fight scene where the writer confused “young and inexperienced Justice League” with “everyone’s an asshole.” The final episode of Justice League Unlimited had the same plot, but in twenty minutes managed to have more story and character moments with four times the amount of characters.

Then there’s the current Batman movie line, which started badly with Son of Batman, a movie with moronic plot beats and incredibly silly moments we were meant to take seriously. The next movie was Batman vs Robin, which as you can guess by the title there’s very little actual fighting between those two characters. But it was a better movie, though not a particularly great one either. All of that is to set up my utter surprise at really liking this new movie, despite thinking it was going to turn out like the other recent movies and ready to hate it. It felt like a return to really good DC movies again.

The plot is also deceptive from the trailers and even my short summary at the top. It’s not about Dick Grayson being Batman, but him dealing with his issues with Bruce, and also Damian’s own journey, the introductions of Batwoman and Batwing, plus Bruce learning to expand the family a bit. I had thought the plot was going to be just Dick as Batman, and him getting some help as he takes down whatever new threat is in Gotham that’s holding Bruce (Because Bruce has to be back as Batman for the Justice League movies, so multiple Dick-Batman movies were out of the question). Instead we got a Bat-Family movie, one about building that family, which I was not expected and was much better than the movie I had expected.

The other curveball was the main threat, in all of the promotional material Heretic was played up as the big bad, seen as a Bane like figure. The twist is that he’s not the main villain, Talia Al Ghul is. Heretic is a clone of Damian who has his own plans and motivations, but instead of seeing Heretic go off the rails and defy Talia we get Talia being a smart villain and kills Heretic before that could happen. I know that will annoy some fans because of how central this new mystery villain was in the PR material and that he became “wasted potential” but his storyline is one we’ve seen done many times, and it’s a little dull now. The villain betraying his masters for personal reasons and becoming the real big bad of the story was even done in the last movie with Talon, he even had a connection to Damian too. But the main villain realising their henchman/underling/creation is going off the rails and will betray them at some point, and then actually prevents that from happening? That’s a good subversion of a tired trope.

Not to mention the fact that this is Talia, someone who doesn’t often get the chance to play the villain. Mostly her role has been the love interest villain who saves the hero from her evil father because she really loves him, but is also conflicted because her father is still her blood. So not only does this movie break her away from that it also pushes her as a full on villain. She’s not doing any of this for her father or anyone else, and it’s different than any of his plans too. In some of the recent comics, and the Dark Knight Rises movie, she’s been a full villain, but it’s still great to see her not falling back on just being Batman’s conflicted love interest. I preferred her over anything they could’ve done with Heretic. He was a good fake-out villain, but not one I would’ve cared to see a full movie about, especially not when the other option is giving a female villain the spotlight. Which doesn’t happen all that often.

It’s not all good, however. The movie has a lot going on and a lot of characters to juggle, all in the restrictive 70 minute run time. So there’s some things that feel a little underdeveloped and I wish the creators had more time to devote to the new characters and also the villains and their plot. What works well with that run time is the fact that these movies are part of a larger continuity; so this movie doesn’t have to spend time establishing Talia, or Damian, or anything else that was covered in the previous two movies. So there is more time for the new characters and the older ones can get scenes that development them more.

Batwing, sadly, gets the short end of the stick here. He’s got some time with with his father, Lucius Fox, and the writer managed to have some conflict between them without turning it into a Daddy Issues complex that happens so often. Time is spent establishing him as a character but not that much on why he becomes a superhero. It’s a very quick transition from his father getting injured to him deciding there’s a war going on in Gotham and since he’s a soldier he needs to fight it. There was some good bits with him here and there, but there could’ve been more and some breathing room to help even it out.

Batwoman is a favourite character of mine, and it was almost perfect here, but the creators missed the mark with a few things and it’s a little disappointing since there were little things for the most part. The biggest one is that in the comics Batwoman respects Batman, so she plays by his rules, no killing being the main one, and in this movie she’s using guns and killing goons. That feels like a pointless addition and a little too reminiscent of another Batman character, the Red Hood. Then there’s her origin, in the comics she felt it was her duty to serve in the military but was expelled from West Point under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Denied that right to serve made her go a little bit self destructive until one night she was attacked by a mugger, who she easily stopped but behind her was Batman ready to step in and save her.

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In that moment she found her way to serve again. In the movie Batman just says she was expelled “and something broke in her” with no mention of DADT or her need to serve. The mugger scene turned into her being drunk and attacked by several guys, with her needing to be saved by Batman. Defeating the entire point of being inspired by Batman, having her saving herself showing her discovering she could help more people like that, and turns her origin from something special to something cliché. After Batman saves her she “swore she’d never need Batman or anyone saving her ever again” and just becomes a 90s ‘strong female character’ stereotype. It’s just disappointing since the creators could’ve easily put in her actual origin without needing extra time, only rework a few things, add some dialogue about her finding her way to serve, and change the fight so it’s her taking down the guys instead of Batman. It’s just a little sad that her first outing in other media is done by people who don’t get the character, things were pointlessly and needlessly changed that make her a less interesting character. They even coloured her twin sister’s hair wrong, the twin sister of a red head is somehow blond in this, so even the littlest of things were hard for them to get right.

At least the one thing I thought was going to be left out in this movie was not only in it, but they pretty much went whole hog with it. It’s been no secret that Batwoman is a lesbian, that was the one thing the media blew up about when the character was introduced, but it’s also no secret that homosexuality is treated as “Don’t Show, Don’t Tell” in Western animation, unless it’s specifically an “Adult” cartoon. Even though this is a PG-13 movie it’s still a Batman animated movie, I thought for sure it was something that’d be vaguely hinted at, at most. But they not only made mention of it, it wasn’t shied away from in the slightest. It’s explicitly mentioned she likes girls, she makes jokes about it, she even gets a scene with one of the comic lover interests, Renee Montoya, where they hook up. It’s stopped short at anything physical, like kissing, but after recent shows like Steven Universe and Legend of Korra this is another step forward by having an openly gay character with no ambiguity or vagueness about it.

There’s some great things in this movie, and there’s some things that are a little off that could’ve been fixed, and should have. But as a whole it’s a really fun movie that is the best Batman movie since Dark Knight Returns. This review may be a little ranty but hating one part of the movie doesn’t mean I hate all of it. This is a movie where everyone gets to do something, even Alfred gets to kick some ass and that’s always a positive. It really is about celebrating the Bat-Family, because despite the general consensus that “Batman works better as a loner” the truth is that Batman is more interesting as an icon that brings together all of these wonderful characters that a variety of stories can be told about. At this point we’ve seen most of the Batman stories, but we haven’t scratched the surface for characters like Nightwing, Batwoman, Batwing, or the many others that don’t get to show up in outside of comics. This brings out the best in the shared continuity of the DC animated movies and with the final shot of the movie I hope the next Batman movie capitalises on all of these wonderful characters it has introduced. With this and Justice League Gods and Monsters, the DC animated movies are feeling like they’re getting back to the greatness they used to have.

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