Bruce Wayne is missing. Alfred covers for him while Nightwing and Robin patrol Gotham City in his stead. And a new player, Batwoman, investigates Batman’s disappearance.
That, ladies and gentleman, is the official synopsis for this film. You’d think that DC could’ve been a little more creative, but I suppose it get’s the job done. I also believe they feel that the character circumstances – Batman missing, a spotlight on Nightwing, and the introduction of Batwoman and Batwing – will be enough to drive interest for this film. What I can confidently tell you, is that I’ve watched all of the DC Animated Universe films in this continuity, and while some improvements have been made, DC has also continued to make some of the same mistakes. For full details, keep reading!
The Source Material
This section can be skipped by those who have never read or have no interest in the source material.
DC has made a point to pull from their source materials for their latest films, and while the fanboy in me loves seeing these books come to life, DC could also stand to learn that less is more. For example, this movie alone pulled plots from books such as Batwoman, Battle for the Cowl, Batman & Robin, and Batman Incorporated, while also making nods to a number of other books and stories. The excitement of seeing all of these elements come into play is great at first, but it can also be quite disappointing. I strongly feel that each of these titles could easily create their own self-contained films, but instead, we’re stuck with anemic interpretations that never quite hit home. On top of that, because so many different stand-alone plots are being crammed into a single narrative, the filmmakers were forced to take a lot of liberties with the characters and stories to fit them into an incredibly short 70 minutes. I’ve taken a moment to break down some of the film’s source material by adding the synopsis of that book, as well as the aspects that were and weren’t pulled for Batman Bad Blood.
Batman: Battle for the Cowl – BATMAN R.I.P. and FINAL CRISIS saw the end of Batman. Now, months following the disappearance of her protector, Gotham City sits at a precipice and it may be too far gone for Nightwing, Robin, Commissioner Gordon and the rest of the city’s heroesto save the day. Amid the fires, rioting, looting and gang warfare, one question rings out from the souls of Gotham’s desperate citizens: Where is Batman? With guest-stars galore, the destruction of a sacred Gotham City institution and an ending that will have everyone talking, this event written and drawn by Tony Daniel (The Tenth) and other top creators features the battle to take on the Mantle of the Bat.
Batman & Robin – In Bruce Wayne’s absence, Gotham City needs a new Batman. Dick Grayson takes up his former mentor’s cape & cowl…and trains Damian Wayne as his own Robin! This is a whole new kind of Dark Knight: but is he what the city needs? Or just what it deserves?
The entire concept of Batman dying, and Dick taking the mantle is pulled from the two books listed above. The main themes of Bad Blood match the themes of these books… but the film doesn’t reach the depth that the books do. There also isn’t any actual battle to determine who will take the mantle. Dick just inherits the cowl because there aren’t any other supporting characters there to oppose him. More importantly though, the film doesn’t focus on Dick’s struggle to become Batman, following him as he copes with the potential loss of Bruce, or how he adjusts to the weight of wearing that outfit every day. The topic is brought up in the film, but only at a surface level, and this unfortunately leads to Dick never actually being the focal point despite the fact that he’s the lead. This is easily one of the biggest misses in the film.
Batwoman: Elegy – A new era begins as Batwoman strikes Gotham City! Kate Kane is a soldier fighting her own private war – one that began years ago and haunts her every waking moment. Written by Greg Rucka with stunning art by J.H. Williams III, you’ve never seen anything like this!
The Kate Kane/ Batwoman character was first introduced in the series 52, but I don’t feel as though she was fully realized until Greg Rucka’s feature of her in Detective Comics (the story that is now known simply as Batwoman: Elegy.) The story focuses on Batwoman encountering a psychotic killer, Alice, who is the leader of the Religion of Crime cult. This main plot isn’t featured in the film, but the back story concerning Kate’s past, and the first time she met Batman is featured. What really made me happy, was that they decided to stay true to Kate as a character. Her foundation is nearly a complete lift from book to film.
Batman Incorporated – Years of epic storylines converge as Batman Incorporated battles Talia and Leviathan for the very soul of Gotham City! Tragedy and triumph are the hallmarks of the second volume of Grant Morrison’s epic Batman Incorporated. Batman and his allies must strengthen their resolve as Leviathan moves to take Gotham City.
A number of plot threads from Grant Morrison’s Batman Inc. appear in Batman: Bad Blood. They don’t necessarily unfold completely, or exactly as depicted in the book, but many layers are taken concerning the core characters that are featured in both mediums.
Overall I found Bad Blood to be rather enjoyable, and fully believe that it is a better film than both Son of Batman and Batman vs Robin. I will openly admit that I didn’t enjoy Batman and Son at all. I don’t think you’d be able to talk me into re-watching that even if you paid me. Batman vs Robin, however, was good, but fell incredibly short of my expectations concerning the Court of the Owls, and more importantly, Dick Grayson in terms of his relationship with both Bruce and the Court. It was a minor change from the film’s source material, but it bugged me enough that I was left feeling a little peeved.
Bad Blood starts with a bang, and the momentum continues at a fast, action-packed pace throughout the entire film. If you enjoyed the previous two films, it’s safe to say that you’ll enjoy this chapter. Bad Blood heavily features supporting members of the Bat family: predominately Dick Grayson, Batwoman, and Robin. Batwing also makes his debut, but he doesn’t make as big of an impact as some might want. If I had it my way, I would’ve cut his character and utilized that time to layer in more character development and tighten up the plot a little. There was also a plethora of character cameos that will make a number of fans happy. Despite some slight hang-ups with the story, the positives appear to greatly outweigh the negatives.
On the technical side, there were also some improvements compared to previous films. The biggest changes I noticed were in performance and editing. The voice actors are more dynamic, and felt like they were actually working off of one another. Typically, for animated films, an actor will go into a studio, stand in a booth, and record his or her dialogue without any other actors. This tends to lead to performances feeling flat because actors aren’t able to feed off of each other’s energy or emotion. There are many scenes here that feel like the actors actually were working off of one another, allowing for more believable exchanges and reactions. In line with the acting, the editing also improved. If you go back and re-watch the previous films, you’ll notice pauses in between lines. This creates a lower energy and slower momentum, and was thankfully cleaned up for Bad Blood. I’ll be completely transparent: I formerly worked in video editing, so that might be something that may not be noticeable to most people, but was something I picked up on right away.
For more detailed opinions, check out my breakdowns below. Major spoilers are in spoiler tags, but if you want to stay COMPLETELY SPOILER FREE, I’d advise you stop reading now.
The Film’s Strengths:
- The Opening Scene. This is the best opening of all three Batman films from this current continuity. DC has a habit of throwing you into their stories – which they do in Bad Blood as well – but this introduction seems to accomplish so many more positive components. It gives a brilliant introduction to Batwoman by implying that it’s actually Batman. The action sequences are brilliant, and the fringe characters involved are a great nod to the breadth of DC’s villains in their rogues gallery. We’re also introduced to the Heretic, who is quickly set-up as viable and scary antagonist. Across the board, the first five to ten minutes
- The action. I’ve mentioned this a few times, but I was impressed with the action. This has been one of the strongest components of all of the films, so I didn’t expect anything short of fantastic, but it’s worth noting.
- Sean Maher, Yvonne Strahovski, and James Garret. The voice actors behind Dick Grayson, Batwoman, and Alfred gave great performances. These three actors played a large part in making the final product stronger than previous efforts, and I found myself enjoying them in nearly every scene. And while I’m still not amazed with him, Stuart Allan turned in a better performance than he has as Robin/ Damian Wayne. I’m not sure if it’s his age and experience that are improving his performance, but his improvements benefited the film by not bringing scenes down where Damian is the focus.
- Batwoman. I loved the interpretation of Batwoman/ Kate Kane! To put it simply, the creative team got it right. They stayed true to her origin and fundamental characterization, and that carried a huge weight. As a nod to the comics, they also touched on her developing a relationship with Renee Montoya, played into her military background, and provided a glimpse into the tragedy she experienced as a child. The film also strays from the source material by giving Kate guns. Some people might have an issue with this because Batman is opposed to the use of guns, but for me, it makes absolute sense for Kate to use guns. She’s military, born and bred. It’s in her blood. If so much of her development is based on a military background, then why wouldn’t she have guns? You can be a gun toting hero, you just don’t take kill shots… which is what she does. After watching Bad Blood, I couldn’t help but hope that they incorporate guns into Batwoman’s arsenal for the comics. This was a brilliant decision that improved the character rather than hurt her. Now, after this amazing set up, we just need to get a Batwoman film with Alice as the antagonist.
- Character Cameos. This film is a who’s who of Batman characters. We had the bigger names that were featured in the trailers, and billed as main characters, but we also got to see the Mad Hatter, Blockbuster, Onyx, Calculator, Killer Moth, Firefly, Hellhound, Electrocutioner, and Penguin… and I was satisfied with the characterization of all of them! Starfire even has an off-screen cameo. There are a lot of characters that are used well, and feel true to who they really are. If you’re going to have cameos, you want them to be done well, and Bad Blood did exactly that.
Mommy Dearest. As it turns out, Talia is the puppet master behind the scenes. Those of you that aren’t familiar with comics, this interpretation is so much more on point with who she really is as a character compared to her interpretation in Son of Batman. SoB made her out to be way too compassionate, trying to protect her son , and trusting Batman with that task…. Which is WAY off base. Bad Blood actually captures her true nature. She could care less about Damian, and she doesn’t want Bruce to protect Damian. She wants Bruce, because being with Bruce will bring her power. Before watching the movie, I was dreading her character, but that dread was put to rest!
Mad Hatter. Color me surprised. I’m not a Mad Hatter fan, but I really enjoyed him here. The creative team decided to make him a little less crazy, gave him a more-realistic presentation, and played to his strengths, while also underplaying his weaknesses. It turned out to be a good decision. I won’t go so far to say that he stole the shoe, but he became a formidable foe from a brains vs brawn standpoint. His death is also one for the books… I mean, come on. How often do you see a guy’s head explode?
Bruce Wayne: Sleeper Agent. The twist concerning Bruce in the final act was a nice surprise. This narrative was completely separate from the comics, so the surprise of it will play well for anyone that is familiar with the books. While I did predict this would happen, it was late enough into the movie that when I did come to this conclusion, I was still excited to see it unfold. A brainwashed Bruce Wayne is potentially the most dangerous person any of our heroes could face, and Dick learns that first hand.
The Best Man I’ve Ever Known. The fight between Batman and Nightwing is really entertaining. I’m a big Dick Grayson fan, so I was naturally rooting for him, but even if you’d typically side with Batman, you’ll find yourself rooting for Dick because of the circumstances. Batman ends up breaking Dick’s arm, and is about to kill him by shooting him, but Dick manages to break Bruce’s trance by talking about how he’s the “best man I’ve ever known.” This follows Dick discussing a number of Bruce’s flaws earlier in the film, and really drives home how much these two men mean to one another. Being able to see and know the worst of someone, yet still be able to say, “You’re the best man I’ve known” is more powerful and moving than I can put into words. This is one of the best moments in the entire film.
Batgirl. Hey! Look at that! Batgirl makes a cameo at the end… Cause… You know… The Killing Joke is coming, and she has to get shot… Too soon?
The Film’s Weaknesses:
- Dick Takes the Mantle as Batman. Ok, let me be clear, this isn’t bad, but it doesn’t come close to making the impact that it should. This is a huge moment! Batman is missing and presumed dead. The city is beginning to wonder where he is. Gordon and the GCPD are beginning to wonder where he is. Even Alfred is concerned. So Dick takes the mantle, and it’s presented in a, “Well, I guess I should do this until you come back.” It’s such a wasted opportunity. This easily should have been the focal point of the plot, and Dick should’ve been the lead, but he was overshadowed by Batwoman, and neutered a little by the cameos/plot. It’s a bit of a shame. An extra ten to twenty minutes of Dick coming to terms with becoming Batman would’ve moved this movie from good to great.
- Lack of Depth. There are so many plots within such a short amount of time that we never get the chance to fully dive into the characters. There were a lot of subtleties thrown in to try and give these characters texture, but there wasn’t much time or reflection for them. The character that received the best treatment was Batwoman, and even she could’ve used a little more development.
- The Pacing. The pacing is fast. Really fast! In some respects, this is a pro as much as it is a con. A fast pace keeps the energy high, and pushes the story along. The negative is that it can leave you wanting more, and feeling a little unsatisfied – which is exactly how I was left feeling. I wanted less characters and fewer plots, with more of a focus on core stories and characters. Taking a moment to breathe isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it usually puts plots into perspective, and helps create peaks and valleys with the emotional connection of a narrative.
- Car Chases. The scene where Batwoman is following Dick and Damian in the Batmobile is horrendous! I actually laughed when I saw it. It’s that bad. Terrible effects for that scene, and it left it feeling sloppy and lazy.
The Heretic. What the hell DC!?!? The Heretic was the BIGGEST disappointment in the film. He’s in the opening scene, and kicks the crap out of Batman and Batwoman, setting him up as a total badass. He has a mission, and establishes himself as a major threat physically. And for those of us that are familiar with the comics, he presented the potential to create one of the most devastating moments in recent comic history. Only for the movie to throw it away by killing him. What!?!? Are you kidding me!?!?
Spoiler for Batman Inc.: In the comic, the Heretic is a clone of Damian – as he is in the film – but he manages to beat the shit out of Batman, then ends up killing Damian. I didn’t think that would happen in the film (Damian is in Justice League vs Teen Titans), but the possibility still lingered. Beyond that though, he was the only real physical threat to the team, and all of the momentum that had been building from the first scene was completely thrown away halfway through the movie. This was easily the most irritating part of the film. I want to say, “At least Talia was the one who killed him” but I can’t because I’m so irritated.
Batman (Dick): (Phone rings.) “It’s Alfred.”
Batwoman: “Your butler is a part of this, too?”
Batman (Dick): “Trust me, he’s a total badass!”
Batman (Dick): “That would make them nunjas.”
Batwoman: “Hey, Batwing. Need a ride in the… Batwing?”
Rent, Buy, or Skip:
If you’re into owning a collection, then by all means, buy it. Other than that, I’d say rent it. It’s fun and entertaining, but it isn’t earth shattering. It’s just “good.” The special features might make this worth purchasing, but I can’t speak to that since I only had a digital download. If you’d like me to follow-up on the special features, just let me know, and I will.
Batman Bad Blood is available now on Blu Ray, DVD, and Digital HD.