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ANIMATED FEATURE REVIEW

Batman: Bad Blood
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Release Date: January 19th, 2016 - Digital; February 2nd, 2016 - Blu-ray, DVD

Synopsis: The mysterious disappearance of Batman, coupled with the emergence of powerful and malevolent new villains in Gotham City, force Nightwing (voice of Sean Maher) and Robin (Stuart Allan) to take crime-fighting into their own hands – while simultaneously searching for their missing leader. They're not alone for long. New super heroes Batwoman (Yvonne Strahovski) and Batwing (Gaius Charles) – each armed with her/his own sensibilities, physical abilities and crime-fighting tools – arrive in Gotham to assist in the cause. As this new "family" strives to find its own dynamic, chilling clues lead the group to suspect the Dark Knight may have gone over to the dark side. It’s up to the entire Bat team to uncover the truth before Gotham City falls prey to its greatest threat yet.

As the voice of Batman, Jason O'Mara (Complications, Terra Nova) leads a celebrity-laden cast that includes Yvonne Strahovski (Chuck, 24, The Astronauts Wives Club) as Batwoman/Katherine Kane, Morena Baccarin (Homeland, Gotham) as Talia al Ghul, Sean Maher (Firefly, Serenity, Much Ado About Nothing) as Nightwing, Gaius Charles (Grey’s Anatomy, Friday Night Lights, Aquarius) as Batwing, Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters) as Lucius Fox, and Stuart Allan (Batman vs. Robin) as Robin/Damian Wayne. Produced by Warner Bros. Animation and DC Entertainment, Batman: Bad Blood is directed by Jay Oliva (Man of Steel, Batman vs. Robin) from a script by J.M. DeMatteis (Batman vs. Robin). James Tucker (Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, Batman vs. Robin) is Supervising Producer. Benjamin Melniker & Michael Uslan are Executive Producers. Sam Register is Executive Producer.



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Batman: Bad Blood Feature Review
By James Harvey

Picking up where Son of Batman and Batman vs Robin left off, Batman: Bad Blood is an ambitious wrap to Bruce and Damian Wayne's story that succeeds in some major ways, but also stumbles in others. Batman: Bad Blood finds Batman's supporting cast thrust into the forefront as they must find a missing Dark Knight and deal with a threat that may be more than they can handle in a plot that feels like natural escalation from the previous installments, but it just doesn't quite succeed on all fronts.

The fate of the world hangs in the balance as Batman and Damian Wayne again deal with foes from their shared past, this time in the form of Heretic. Comic readers know how involved he is in Damian Wayne's own backstory, but the Heretic's threat is only part of a global plot that Batman and his family of sidekicks find themselves caught up in. In an attempt to avoid spoiling some genuinely great surprises, I'll try to be as vague possible, but the script by J.M. DeMatteis does a great job in balancing what's essentially one-and-a-half movies packed into a 74-minute runtime. The trailer basically breaks down the the first 50 minutes of the movie, as Nightwing, Robin and Batwoman attempt to discover the mystery behind Batman's disappearance, and the role Heretic plays, and that eventually rolls into the film's massive third act. It's definitely an ambitious attempt by the DC Universe Animated Original Movie creative team to raise the stakes on these more intimate solo Batman films that generally succeeds.

The film's story is pretty straight forward, moving from set piece to set piece without rushing, allowing for some pretty nice character moments. Nightwing and Batwoman get the most of these small as the film explores their respective connections along with Batwoman's own backstory. Despite this film kinda being billed as Batwoman and Batwing's respective stories, Batwoman's definitely takes the forefront. Batwing does get a few moments, particularly between he and his father, Lucius Fox, but it pales compared to the time Batwoman gets. The film's theme of family is important throughout, especially as it looks at Batman's growing crime-fighting family in comparison to the twisted upbringing of Heretic and his "family." The dichotomy is actually pretty interesting, though not explored enough as I find more time spent on Heretic and his "faults" would've been more interesting, as well as maybe giving Talia Al Ghul a bit more development (though you can argue she had plenty in Son of Batman) . Still, it makes enough of an impression that it's not forgotten as the film heads toward its finale and the importance of what family actually is comes into play.

The movie, while inspired by Grant Morrison's run on Batman and Greg Rucka's stint on Detective Comics - where he introduced the latest iteration of Batwoman a few years back - is definitely it's own beast. Batman: Bad Blood takes some cues from the aforementioned comics, but it brings them together as part of a larger narrative that, amazingly, doesn't feel overstuffed. The movie even features a couple of awesome cameos that add to an already packed flick. A lot happens in this movie, but never does the movie feel like too much is happening too fast, and feels akin to a concluding chapter of a trilogy (we even get a couple callbacks to Son of Batman and Batman vs Robin).

Batman: Bad Blood also delivers on some great action-oriented set pieces, too. Whether it's the cold open where Batman and Batwoman face off against the Heretic and a squad of goons, or Nightwing (as Batman) and Robin versus Black Mask, or even the major set piece where all our heroes (except Damian) face off against a horde of "nunjas" (as Nightwing calls them), this movie delivers on impressive fight choreography and solid work bringing it all to life. And yes, some of the violence is a bit amped up, like from previous DC Universe Animated Original Movie titles, but it actually seems a little scaled back in terms of how graphic it is. The "nunja" battle is part of arguably the biggest set piece of the film, though the finale definitely gives it a run for its money. The stakes are higher, the foes more dangerous and the action pretty great, even if one of our heroes is kinda sidelined for most of it. Again, no spoilers.

However, for all the the films does right, it does unfortunately slip in some respects. As mentioned above, Luke Fox/Batwing definitely could've used more screentime to really sell his roll as the team's resident Iron Man/techie-guy. Yes, we get enough exposition about him, and he gets a serviceable reason to put on the armor, but it feels so by-the-numbers. Honestly, if he was removed from the movie, the outcome of would've barely changed. It's great to see Batwing in the movie, and he even gets a suiting scene that's directly out of the first Iron Man movie, but I just wish his role was more crucial.

And the same can be said about the majority of the films bad guys. Save for three, debatably four villains, everyone else is merely a thug with a gimmick, some of whom don't even get lines. I get that this is a great way to include some villains who, otherwise, would never see the light of day in an animated series or movie (well, I'm sure Beware The Batman would've gotten around to a few them if that show wasn't unceremoniously dumped), but it also feels like a slight. Onyx in particular gets a role that likely could've been fleshed out a bit more clearly had her role been expanded a little Don't get me wrong, it was very great to see Batwing tussle with the likes of Killer Moth and Firefly, but it lacked some urgency given the small role of some of these characters.

And, on one last spoiler-free note, the resulting fate of the film's big baddie is handled in a disappointing fashion and definitely should've been handled in a more definitive way. For the story that Batman: Bad Blood is trying to tell about Batman and Damian Wayne, something more conclusive would've been the better way to go.

Batman: Bad Blood does contain a few small animation errors and obvious shortcuts, but any noticed errors amount to nothing more than extreme nitpicking. One characters in included in the background of one shot while the previous scene showed her mighty busy elsewhere in the same building, and another has the film reusing the same shot of Nightwing twice in the same scene. The film also uses an odd red filter effect to amplify the death of one of the film's antagonists, which looked somewhat out of place. These are small issues, nitpicking at most, that doesn't detract from the film.

In terms of cast and crew work, it's another solid effort behind the camera. The script by DeMatteis is solid, save for some of the missteps mentioned above, and is expertly directed by Jay Oliva. Oliva has really refined his abilities on these movies over the year, and Batman: Bad Blood is no exception. He does a fantastic job at framing shots, choreographing the action and finding the ways to get the most out of each moment even when working against an obviously tight budget. The score work, once again by the excellent Frederik Weidmann, helps bring an air of consistency by revisiting themes from Son of Batman and Batman vs Robin and making good use of them here. His scoring is really giving these animated titles a unique sound.

Wes Gleason steps in for Andrea Romano as Voice and Casting director and does an admirable job. No one's lost a step, it seems, and some even some more comfortable in their respective roles. Stuart Allan, as Damian, and Morena Baccarin, as Talia Al Ghul, have definitely found their level here. In terms of new cast members, Yvonne Strahovski fits Batwoman like a glove, Gauis Charles does solid work with his limited role as Batwing, and Ernie Hudson as Lucias Fox is pretty inspired. Travis Willingham does a solid job as the stoic Heretic, though gets a couple excellent character moments that nicely showcase his character's less-than-stable-hold on reality. James Garrett also does solid work as Alfred Pennyworth, taking over the role from David McCallum. Lastly, Sean Maher's Dick Grayson finally takes center stage here, after supporting roles in Son of Batman and Batman Versus Robin, and he does an excellent job in not only carrying the movie but bridging all the characters together nicely.

I also feel the need to point out how the film deal's with Batwoman's sexuality, in that's it's handled as if it's no big deal and, frankly, that's the perfect way to approach it. There's no dramatic reveal, it's just ... who she is. And by doing that, the filmmaker's actually make it all the more impactful (which might not even be a word). Granted, they kinda gloss over why she was discharged from the army, but the film doesn't hide who she is nor makes it something salacious. It's handled superbly and with respect, and deserves recognition, and it makes me hope for the day when that'll just be the norm and not an exception. The creative team behind Batman: Bad Blood really deserve a nod for this.

If you enjoyed Son of Batman and/or Batman vs Robin, you'll likely enjoy Batman: Bad Blood. It pushes the storylines first developed in those two movies ahead, brings about some satisfying resolutions while also laying the groundwork for future installments. There's lots of potential now that Batman's world has really opened up. With that same train of thought, this film likely won't win over anyone who's been disappointed with the previous in-continuity DC Universe Animated Original Movie titles. These films take place in a very specific continuity (which began with Justice League: War) that some viewers dislike soley because it takes some cues from the DC Comics New 52 universe, and nothing in Batman: Bad Blood will undo any of that. It's weird to completely overlook a movie due to something outside of its control, but that's a whole different conversation. With Batman: Bad Blood, we're getting deeper into Batman's world in this continuity, one that feels like we're still kind of on the outskirts of. It's one that I'd definitely like to see more of, particularly if any future installments explore Batman's past and/or highlight confrontations with his A-list rogues gallery.

To wrap it up, Batman: Bad Blood is definitely worth checking out, at least to see how the movie deals with the new additions to it cast. The new blood injected into the solo Batman titles really gives Batman: Bad Blood a shot in the arm, and it's fantastic to see characters like Batwoman and Batwing on screen and giving prominent roles. Here's hoping that they're here to stick around, especially as I'd like to see Batwing's character get fleshed out a little more. Exceeding Son of Batman and on par, if not better, than Batman vs Robin, Batman: Bad Blood is one family adventure worth joining in on. Recommended.

[ Continue on to the Batman: Bad Blood Blu-ray review ]

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