Batman Hush - Blu-ray - Cover

Ask any Batman fan which story they most want adapted as an animated film, and only behind maybe The Long Halloween, the most common answer will be Hush.  And really, it makes sense: it’s an incredibly popular book with a fairly cinematic story, along with appearances from tons of beloved Batman villains.  Now, at long last, Hush will have his day, as the fan-favorite storyline has finally been made into an animated movie as part of DC’s line of direct-to-video animated films.

Batman: Hush had its premiere at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, where I got to see the film along with hundreds of fellow Batman fans.  Since then, it has received a… let’s say divided response from fans, with some loving the adaptation and others taking issue with some fairly major changes.  While there hasn’t been any backlash like there was with The Killing Joke or– to a lesser extent– Gotham by Gaslight, the changes to the well-known narrative have resulted in what should have been a surefire hit getting a much more lukewarm reception.

On the one hand, that is pretty surprising.  After all, people love Hush, and even a somewhat faithful adaptation should have been satisfactory.  Slavish faithfulness to the material and a “page to screen” approach is what made Batman: Year One‘s adaptation earn a reputation as being… kind of boring, so throwing in some twists to keep fans on their toes is almost a requirement.  Add to that a great voice cast that includes Jason O’Mara, Jennifer Morrison, Geoffrey Arend, Hynden Walch, Sean Maher, Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Bruce Thomas, Maury Sterling, and both Peyton Lists and you have yourself a recipe for success.

Then again, Hush is one of the most popular Batman stories of the new century, so any changes made to the material are, naturally, going to be heavily scrutinized.  So maybe the reception isn’t that surprising?

Ultimately, this review is to let you know what I thought of Batman: Hush.  And… I didn’t like it, but not for the reasons you’d think.

Now, I have a bit of a complicated relationship with Hush.  It’s gorgeously illustrated, and there are aspects of the story that I really like, but I’m not enamored with it from front to back.  So when it was announced that a Hush adaptation was on the slate, I took it more as an inevitability than something that I was clamoring to see.

Even still, I was optimistic.  After all, I like and respect The Dark Knight Returns more than I actually love it, yet its animated adaptation is one of the best films to come out of this whole DC Animated lineup.  Get someone in there who loves the material, yet also knows how to trim the fat and boil the story down to its essence, and this could have been great.

Sadly, it isn’t great, though it never dips so low as to being bad.  Really, for about two-thirds of its run time, the biggest sin this movie commits is being kind of boring.  There are some minor changes made to the flow of the plot, of course, and given that it’s in continuity with the batch of “New-52” inspired movies that started with Justice League: War, there’s a lot from the original story that’s cut out entirely.  Naturally, Talia al Ghul is nowhere to be seen, so Batman works directly with Luthor instead.  Oddly enough, the first big action sequence features Bane instead of Killer Croc, because… Bane is more popular, I guess?  It’s not an unwelcome change, but they never really justify it, so it’s more curious than anything.

Still, the main idea is the same: there’s a new bad guy in town who goes by the name “Hush,” and he’s manipulating a fair amount of Gotham’s criminals to get at the Batman.

For a long while, I found myself more focused on checking off story beats than actually getting invested in the movie.  Introduction of Tommy Elliot?  Check.  Batman’s line is cut?  It plays out differently here, but check.  Excursion to Metropolis, where Superman and Batman fight in the sewers?  Check.

In all honesty, there’s a lot that feels forced, like they included it because it’s iconic and they had to do it rather than because it actually fit.  Much as I dislike the line itself, Batman’s “deep down, Clark’s essentially a good person, and deep down I’m not” worked in Loeb’s original script because it was almost underplayed.  It was a way that Bruce saw himself, at least in that point in time, and how he justified the extreme measure he took to take out his friend.

In the movie, however, it feels like nothing more than a pithy catchphrase, spouted off because it sounds cool rather than actually meaning anything.  Taken along with the hilariously silly imagery of Batman using spiked Kryptonite brass knuckles instead of a simple ring, it feels hollow.

That’s not the only “iconic” shot that feels forced, though.  There are a few scenes throughout where the animators tried to replicate the framing and composition of some of Jim Lee’s imagery from the comic.  No, this style isn’t a match for Lee’s, but that’s not the problem.  The problem is that these little “freeze frame” moments are so awkward and jarring that they kind of bring the movie to a halt.  The scene where Batman and Catwoman first kiss is fine, I suppose, but it still kind of took me out of the movie.  By far the weirdest example is when Batman runs out of the opera house and sees the Joker, gun in hand, crouched on top of a box.  It’s so distracting and awkwardly staged that I honestly kind of groaned.

Generally speaking the animation is just kind of average, too.  There’s a big set-piece in a smelting mill late in the movie that’s animated really well, and I liked most of the character designs.  Having to stick to the visual continuity of these films was a detriment and hindrance, though, as the movie looks pretty flat more often than not.  There were some silly mistakes too, like a closeup of Commissioner Gordon’s hand with his wedding ring on the wrong finger.  A simple mistake, but one that jumps out at you because of its prominence in the shot.

And yet it’s not all a lost cause.  Problems with the animation and pacing aside, the voice cast is strong.  Jason O’Mara has grown into his role as Batman, and while he is occasionally a bit monotone, he has a few good lines with some strong comic timing.  Sean Maher is a terrific Nightwing, and Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, and Rainn Wilson reprise their roles as Superman, Lois Lane, and Lex Luthor, respectively.  Wilson’s Luthor isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but I like how he’s kind of weaselly and slimy.  It fits with a Lex who’s trying to put on the pretensions of being a hero.  Maury Sterling is terrific as Tommy Elliot, and Geoffrey Arend nails the Riddler’s egocentric bloviating.

The real find, though, is Jennifer Morrison’s Catwoman.  She’s charming and sultry while still having a compassionate side, though she never loses the sly confidence that sets her apart from other women in Batman’s life.  She and O’Mara have fantastic chemistry together, playing really well off of each other as partners in romance and fighting crime.  Here’s hoping we get to hear more from her in future animated projects, because she’s a terrific Selina.

Given that the love story between Bruce and Selina is brought to the forefront for the film, it’s important that this dynamic work.  It really, truly does, to the point that even expected scenes like Bruce revealing his identity to Selina ring true.  Morrison doesn’t overplay or underplay her lines, reacting instead with a bit of shock before stating, matter-of-factly, that “Bruce Wayne is Batman.”  Props to Morrison and voice director Wes Gleason for finding the right balance with this Catwoman.

I mentioned earlier that the first two-thirds of the film are kind of boring.  There’s a major change to the story in the final act that is getting quite a bit of attention, much of it negative.  Honestly, this is when I got interested in the movie, because I didn’t know where it was going to go.  While I didn’t love the execution of the twist in Gotham by Gaslight, you at least have to give them props for trying something different so the movie has some surprises.  The change to material here is handled much better, though I’ll have to discuss it in spoiler tags for propriety’s sake.

Spoiler

As I’m sure you’ll recall, the comic story ends with the revelation that the Riddler was behind everything, not Hush himself.  This new villain was introduced and gave Batman grief over twelve issues, yet he was revealed to be a pawn in the Riddler’s scheme.  I never really bought that, so I ended up loving the take in the movie: the Riddler is still behind everything, yes, but he is Hush.

See, when Tommy gets shot in the alley after the opera, he’s dead.  Knowing the original story, I was just waiting for him to come back, and the filmmakers probably anticipated that.  They even tweak the Clayface feint from the book, only now he stands in for the Riddler when he’s questioned at police headquarters instead of posing as Jason Todd to toy with Batman.  Even here I thought that Elliott was still going to be a key player, making some final act appearance to let either Batman or the audience know that he’s alive to scheme another day.

But no, it’s made clear that Tommy is truly, completely dead.  In one of the film’s most gruesome scenes, Tommy’s corpse falls from a booby-trapped ceiling, planted there by the Riddler to mock Bruce.  It’s kind of hilariously over the top, but still, this was a nice change from the source material.  I really didn’t know where they were going to go with the story, so I became newly invested.

The final confrontation between Batman and the Riddler is rather bombastic, with Riddler mo0nologuing quite a bit about his master plan.  He was afflicted with an inoperable brain tumor, yes, and sought Thomas Elliot’s help, but Elliot was not able to cure Nygma.  Determined to, you know, not die, Riddler discovered the location of a Lazarus Pit and immersed himself in the curative pool.  A lot of this lines up with the comic, but Riddler quickly discovered that the Pit’s ability to heal is only temporary, and his illness comes back even more aggressive than before.

Where everything falls apart is in the aftermath of their confrontation.  Riddler stumbles and falls into a smelting pit, and Batman uses his grapnel to try and save him.  Bruce– exhausted and injured– struggles to pull the weight of his foe to safety, so Catwoman cuts the line so she and Batman can escape.

This rubbed me the wrong way, as Catwoman isn’t a remorseless killer, but she’s also a survivalist, so I could have written it off as her looking out for her and Bruce’s safety.

But then they talk about it, and it kind of ruined the movie for me.  Bruce is remorseful, stating that Nygma didn’t need to die and he could have saved him.  Selina lashes out, saying that they would all be dead had she not taken action, and the script makes it sound like Batman’s drive to save people and reform criminals is a form of psychosis.  Maybe I interpreted it wrong, I don’t know, but it mirrors conversations that Bruce and Selina had earlier in the movie, where she gives up her penchant for theft to be with Bruce.  Are they trying to say that Bruce needs to be willing to let people die to be with Selina?

Had the scene been Selina trying to tell Bruce that people are going to die and he’s not able to save everyone, no matter how hard he tries, that would have been different.  No, he should not beat himself up when someone’s death is out of his hands, that’s absolutely true.  But that’s not what they’re saying here.  What it sounded like, to me, is that Bruce’s desire to prevent the deaths of even the worst criminals is a crutch, an outdated, naive view that he needs to grow out of.  Does she have a point?  While I don’t agree with it, I would have liked to have seen how the characters explored it, but they don’t.  It’s almost tacked on at the end so as to drive a wedge between the duo, and delivered in such a cynical and accusatory manner that it all but erased the goodwill the movie had earned over the preceding half hour.

If you don’t want to be spoiled, I’ll just say that the movie makes an interesting choice with two of its characters, and that managed to get me invested in the story.  It’s all dashed in the final moments of the film, though, with a closing scene that feels cynical, accusatory, and even mean-spirited toward Batman’s motives.

I went into this movie wanting to be surprised, willing to let the movie stand on its own without letting my feelings toward the story color the viewing experience, and I was still disappointed.  Aside from a strong vocal cast and a few interesting twists, Batman: Hush is, in the end, a movie that is at once dull and maddening.  If anything, it makes me want more weird Batman movies like Batman Ninja, Scooby-Doo & Batman: The Brave and the Bold, and Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Bonus features: There are a few short videos included with the set, most notably the new DC Showcase short Sgt. Rock.  I’m just glad these are back on principle, so the quality of the short itself is almost secondary to the joy of seeing more of these stories.  Karl Urban plays Rock in a surprisingly violent little war-time story that has a supernatural slant.  Urban is terse and gruff, which works with the material, but the plot is kind of slow and ultimately forgettable.  Still, Adam Strange and A Death in the Family are on the slate, so yeah, more of these please.

Other features include Batman: Love in Time of War, which features the likes of Dan DiDio and Jim Lee discussing the history of the Hush story and Batman and Catwoman’s romance in general, and a first look at the upcoming Wonder Woman: Bloodlines.  Mairghread Scott wrote the script for this movie and she has quite a bit of screentime in this featurette, going into great detail about the story and her love of the characters.  I’m typically not into these “first look” featurettes, but Scott was endearing and charming with an infectious enthusiasm that got me to watch the whole thing.

Overall: I really wanted to like this.  It’s Batman, after all, and I’m not going to complain about a new animated movie, even if it’s based off a story I don’t particularly love.  Boasting some strong performances, the movie is nonetheless pretty slow for a large portion of its run-time, feeling more like it’s checking off boxes rather than telling a compelling story.  A major twist late in the proceedings almost saves the entire movie, taking the story in some unexpected directions that both works in this universe and kind of improves on the original material.  It all falls apart in the final scene, though, with a dialogue that is trying to equate Batman’s mission with Catwoman’s life of crime, but instead feels completely misguided and off base.  Because of that, Batman: Hush is a big missed opportunity.

SCORE: 5.5/10


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