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Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem

Warner Bros. // Unrated // August 18, 2015 // Region 0
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted August 14, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Would you mind repeating that? Sorry, I couldn't hear you over the sound of Batman blasting Jokerdactyls out of the sky atop his robot dinosaur (with a friggin' Bat-emblem for a tail!).

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No, no, I don't think it's a bad connection or anything. It's just tough to make out what you're saying when Batman is dogfighting Mecha-Joker on the streets of Gotham City.

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...and then there's this other part where...well, you get the idea. If you like your Batman yarns to be bleak, grim, and slathered in viscera, you're reading the wrong review. Batman Unlimited is DC's all-ages animation line, and when I say "all-ages", I really do mean it. The dialogue and storytelling don't pander to a younger crowd, and while the superhuman slugfests are family-friendly, they're still every bit as well-staged and thrilling as DC's PG-13 animated efforts. I'm deeper into my thirties than I'd like to admit and don't have any kids to use an excuse, and I still love the heck out of these movies.

As much as I dug Animal Instincts, the premiere entry in the Batman Unlimited series, Monster Mayhem easily tops it. The basic formula pretty much remains the same: a motley crew of four super-badniks are pulling off heists all across Gotham, it turns out that a scheming master villain-type is yanking their strings, and only Batman and his buddies stand any chance of stopping the technologically-fueled apocalypse du jour. Monster Mayhem reigns supreme over Animal Instincts because of...well, everything! For one, the roster of supervillains is a heckuva lot stronger this time around. Silver Banshee hasn't scored a whole lot of screentime in DC's animated movies or TV series, so it's pretty great to have her take something close enough to center stage here. Clayface is a character that works more brilliantly animated than in any other incarnation, and Monster Mayhem takes full advantage. I'm not wild about Scarecrow's pro wrestler redesign, and he's the most underutilized of this bunch, but the guy's obviously a great fit for a Halloween-themed rogues gallery. Oh, man, and Solomon Grundy...! Undead and loving it, everyone's favorite Southern-fried zombie runs away and steals every single scene he's in. Seriously, I kept a running tally of my favorite moments throughout Monster Mayhem, and something like two-thirds of 'em revolve around Grundy. The movie keeps its cards close to its chest and takes a while to reveal that the Joker is the sinister mastermind behind it all, but he's right there on the cover, so you probably figured that out anyway.

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And what is that nefarious scheme, you're probably asking right about now? Why did Clayface snatch a world-famous video game designer? What does that big ol' gem the bad guys stole have to do with any of this? Let's just say that the Joker controls the horizontal. The Joker controls the vertical. If it's got a microchip or electricity pumping through it, the Clown Prince of Crime can flip it on, turn it off, or aim its laser-blasting cannons right back at you. The newly-crowned King Joker has brought the GCPD to its knees, he's turned the Bat-arsenal against the Bat-family, and he's about to take his computer-and-everything-else-too virus global. The only things standing in the Joker's way are Batman, Green Arrow, Nightwing, Red Robin, and Cyborg. At least it's an even match! Five bad guys; five good guys. Oh! Wait. I forgot that Cyborg is a cyborg. I might need to double-check my math here.

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Monster Mayhem is so. much. fun. I mean, look at all those cacklingly clever battles royale in an abandoned amusement park, complete with Solomon Grundy squaring off against the Caped Crusader in the Tunnel of Love. The movie is pretty much just one "oh, wow!" after another: from its lengthy, masterfully staged, adrenaline-pumping action sequences to the wildly imaginative ways it plays with (and against!) its futuristic tech. Though Monster Mayhem is meant to be a cross-promotional thing with Mattel's action figure line, the dinosaur tie-in is genuinely pretty great and makes sense in context. Batman's cyber-wolf-motorcycle is a square peg -- why would a guy with Bat-everything ride a Wolf-anything? -- but doesn't really get in that way all that much. Not having to deal with any origin stories lets Monster Mayhem hit the ground running and relentlessly plow forward. There just isn't a wasted moment anywhere throughout this sucker. The master scheme is vastly superior to the one in Animal Instincts, and it's riddled with twists and turns along the way that make the whole thing that much more engaging. Monster Mayhem deftly weaves in a lot of character-centric moments without grinding things to a halt and making you think "okay, now it's time for characterization!" The dialogue is playful and witty, and it plays that much better when delivered by a cast of seasoned voice actors like Roger Craig Smith, Will Friedle, Yuri Lowenthal, Chris Diamantopoulos, and Troy Baker (!) as the Joker, among many others. As infectiously fun as the movie is overall, there's still a little gravity when it counts, particularly Scarecrow psychologically pummeling Nightwing in a Hall of Mirrors (because reflections and the mind and stuff). Oooooh, I just love it to pieces. Whether you're thinking about grabbing it for your eight year old or for yourself, Monster Mayhem comes very Highly Recommended.

Yet again, Batman Unlimited delivers a knockout punch in high-def. The linework is razor-sharp and remarkably well-defined, and Monster Mayhem's animation is bolstered further by deep, inky blacks and a vividly saturated palette. I couldn't spot any sputters or stutters in its AVC encode, and the minor banding I noticed a couple of times throughout Animal Instinct never caught my eye here. No complaints or niggling "but..."s or "except..."s here! Five stars all the way.

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Monster Mayhem swoops onto a single layer Blu-ray disc at its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. An anamorphic widescreen DVD is riding shotgun.

I genuinely can't get over how phenomenal Monster Mayhem sounds. Its 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack immediately unleashes colossal waves of bass that put even mega-budgeted summer blockbusters to shame. The sound design aggressively seizes hold of every available channel, from a T-Rex's foundation-rattling stomp to the Batmobile roaring forward from the rear speakers. Every last element in the mix is startlingly clean, clear, and distinct, and the thunderous LFE and emphasis on directionality put it in a class all its own when it comes to superhero animation. An absolutely outstanding effort.

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Also included are Dolby Digital 5.1 (640kbps) dubs in French and Latino Spanish. Subtitles are served up in English (SDH), French, Spanish (Castilian and Latino), and Japanese.

If there's any way in which Monster Mayhem doesn't quite dominate Animal Instincts, it'd be with its extras. There's no action figure accessory bundled this time around, and Monster Mayhem doesn't pile on as many other 'toons from DC's archives. There's still plenty of great stuff here, though!

  • Gotham of Tomorrow: Designing a Future World (11 min.; HD): "Think Blade Runner meets Times Square by way of modern-day Japan: all inky darkness, huge screens and day-glo neon."

    Intriguingly, Monster Mayhem's making-of featurette doesn't really focus on any of its spooky villains or how this movie in particular came together. The spotlight is instead swung towards the design of this Gotham City, meant to bridge the present day with the future of Batman Beyond. As an animation geek, I found myself bowled over by this discussion. Every stage of the design process is tackled here, from the remarkably extensive research that goes into this quasi-futuristic architecture, blending together multiple eras and teasing at what's to come, and even the little touches that you might not consciously notice that make this not-too-distant-future world feel that much more real. Definitely worth a look.
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  • From the DC Comics Vault (23 min.; HD): There's only one episode from The Brave and the Bold here, but boy, is it a good one: "Mayhem of the Music Meister!" This musical episode showcasing the talents of Neil Patrick Harris easily ranks among the series' very best, and for a show as consistently brilliant as The Brave and the Bold, that's really saying something.

  • DC Nation Shorts (19 min.; HD): Oh, wow! We're lookin' at another ten shorts from Cartoon Network's DC Nation block. This batch is extra-appealing to me as a lifelong, frothing-at-the-mouth Weird Al fanatic, seeing as how my close, personal friend (not really) contributes the voice of the Riddler ("Riddle Me This!") and Animal Man ("Bank & Train" and "Beach & City"). Also featured here are three Shazam! shorts ("Courage", "Wisdom", and "Stamina"), three Green Arrow shorts ("Onomatopiea-Bot", "Brick", and "Cupid"), and "Deadman Catch" starring I-bet-you-can-guess. Again, their visual styles are all over the place, but I mean that in the best possible way: inventive, unique, and distinctive. The shorts are basically two minutes a pop, but their credits gobble up a good bit of that.

The Final Word
Between Justice League: Gods and Monsters and these two Batman Unlimited movies, I'd probably argue that DC's direct-to-video animated features have delivered in a way that none of the nine-figure live-action superhero blockbusters this year have managed to match. Monster Mayhem is the most fun I've had with capes-'n-cowls animation this side of The Brave and the Bold, it's a substantial step up from the already pretty darn good Animal Instincts, and this is the perfect way to set the table for Justice League Unlimited's debut on Blu-ray in a couple of months. Seriously, if you love comics and don't pick up Monster Mayhem, you're doing it wrong. Highly Recommended.
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