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Batman: Bad Blood

Warner Bros. // PG-13 // February 2, 2016
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Thomas Spurlin | posted February 7, 2016 | E-mail the Author
The Film:

DC's animation studio have struggled in certain areas over the past few Batman-centered releases, receiving mixed reviews in their depiction of the Caped Crusader and his relationship with Damian Wayne, his son and the new Robin. Son of Batman strained to adapt Grant Morrison's take on the father-son dynamic duo, unable to contain the brooding and overpowered nature of the superhero's young spawn. Batman vs. Robin improved upon those issues to a degree, yet it also dropped the ball while incorporating Damian into a hastily-done take on the Court of Owls, the conspiratorial puppet-masters at the heart of Gotham City. Batman: Bad Blood follows through with the third installment in this continuing arc, but it takes a different approach by incorporating a host of new heroes -- the start of a family -- responding to the disappearance of Batman, thus also diverting some of the attention away from the young Boy Wonder. Despite its persistent action, too many new, rushed heroes and an afterthought of a main plot keep director Jay Oliva's latest from taking off.

Bad Blood starts off with fireworks, as many of DC's animated works do, but they occur around the crime-fighting initiative of a red-and-black, long-haired, gun-toting hero, Batwoman (Yvonne Strahovski), and how Gotham's protector arrives to help her out of a tough spot against a host of new enemies, led by the brawny and knowledgeable Heretic (Travis Willingham). When Batman (again played by Jason O'Mara) disappears during the explosive battle against this formidable new force, leaving the city of Gotham exposed for quite a while, those closest to him begin operating in contingency mode to fill in the gaps until they learn of his fate, forcing his former protege Nightwing (Sean Maher) and son Damian (Stuart Allen) to preserve the illusion that Batman's still around and on-watch. While both are capable crime-fighters, their efforts can only go so far and don't go unnoticed ... notably by Batwoman, whom Batman saved during their fight. Coupled with another new hero, Batwing (Gaius Charles), the group of allies search for Batman while combating The Heretic and his henchmen.

Bad Blood faces a similar dilemma to that of the upcoming film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where incorporating a range of new characters into their respective universes has to mesh with a coherent, purposeful story. The big difference, beyond the fact that more people have heard of Wonder Woman than Kate Kane, is that Zack Snyder has a full-length feature runtime to cram in exposition, whereas Jay Oliva and his team must fit everything into the traditional 75-minute space of their animated films. It's a challenge that proves too daunting for the limited time, resulting in a hasty and clunky introduction to Batwoman's harrowing past and sexuality -- what's otherwise a compelling narrative fleshed out in Greg Rucka's Elegy collection of books -- and an even more cumbersome introduction to Luke Fox, the brilliant and military-seasoned son of Lucius (Ernie Hudson). Both of them fight for attention alongside a continuation of Damian Wayne's growing pains as Batman's apprentice and Nightwing's struggle to get out of his teacher's shadow, none of whom get the time needed for their characters to expand beyond their surface-level traits.

That's because the script from J.M. DeMatteis, who also wrote Batman vs. Robin, works toward developing this DC Universe's version of the "Bat-family" as quickly as possible, cobbling together a narrative inspired by comic stories -- Batman: Battle for the Cowl and Batman: Incorporated -- that bonds together heroes inspired by the Caped Crusader. DeMatteis spends so much time on new characters and gathering them together that he neglects the fabric of the plot itself, a perfunctory spin on what'd happen if Batman / Bruce Wayne were presumed dead. Something had to be sacrificed to make it work in such a short span, and the void can be spotted in the lack of a compelling threat, one with obscured stakes and a villain who's essentially a clone of long-time nemesis Bane: a smart, tall, muscled biological enigma with personal insight into Batman. Combined with clunky references to DC's prior animated films, lower-tier henchmen from the Rogues Gallery, and a lack of levity -- aside from a joke about ninja nuns -- and we've got an underlying story devoid of Batman that meanders and rapidly loses steam.

A lack of action isn't the problem, either: Bad Blood packs a wallop with hard-hitting set pieces and tense sequences that embrace the unearthly capabilities of its eclectic characters, from electrical strikes to mind-control. Visually, the DC Universe's installments continue to evolve in the action department, emphasizing bodily impact in the hand-to-hand combat and pulling back on explosions to create impressive animated displays, boasting impact rivaling even Hollywood productions. Yet, this escalation in bravado moves forward without elevating the real importance of what's going on, doggedly relying on the formulas of DC's prior animated films and Batman's no-kill policy for overused thematic gravity. It doesn't help that the action occasionally goes overboard with a lack of practicality, especially when it comes to young wunderkind Damian, who fends off massive -- we're talking massive -- foes without too much trouble and dances around machine-gun fire that's hot on his heels.

Eventually making some sense of the title with plot twists and peculiar representations of past characters, Bad Blood continues to throttle forward as if it's a vehicle merely designed to transport its brainstormed components into the warzone of Gotham City, tossing these new and old players into the fray all geared up and ready to appear in future adventures. There's nothing wrong with that, but it should be more inconspicuous and captivating than what materializes in this obligatory search for Batman, which rarely appears to have a purpose beyond these necessary introductions and developments to progress the meager plotting. The final shot should be one of invigoration, inspiring excitement about the possibilities of what this new Bat-family could accomplish with a unified goal and moral barometer, yet director Oliva can't shake off the sensation that everything in Bad Blood has different objectives than telling a cohesive story in the vein of Under the Red Hood or Justice League: Doom.

The Blu-ray:

Batman: Bad Blood swoops in on Blu-ray within the now-expected presentation from Warner Bros. and DC Animation, contained in a standard two-disc eco case that includes a bare-boned DVD Copy and a Digital Copy slip. The most noteworthy part of the package comes in the embossed, raised slipcover that replicates the front and back artwork, enhancing details of the characters adorning the front, the lettering, even the bats flying across the sky.

Video and Audio:

At this point, fans know what to expect from the high-definition presentations of DC's animated fare: the artwork sees incremental improvements in clarity and fluidity of movement between releases, yet a few niggling issues continue to pull the artwork down a notch or two, stylistic choice or not. Bad Blood is no different, a rampantly dark and urban visual experience framed at 1.78:1 in its 1080p AVC treatment that sports bursts of color wherever necessary, typically in the lights of Gotham City, synthetic energy details in the characters' outfits, and vivid oranges and yellows amid explosions. Sharp, appropriate black lines keep the artwork looking sturdy in both dark and light sequences, though the hazy style of DC's features returns once again to cloud the overall detail clarity in numerous flashbacks and hazy or rainy Gotham nights. Black levels respond well to the lighting differences and never kill details in moderate shadows, a frequent challenge considering the frequent darkness of the image. Color banding is, of course, present in certain moderately dark sequences and in response to global lighting, but they're largely infrequent across the transfer. By and large, Bad Blood does justice to the artistry in HD.

Of course, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track drops in to save the day with an indisputably powerful presentation of Bad Blood's action-film pursuits. Explosions boom hard and wide across the full surround stage, energy bursts and gunfire tap into fierce mid-range clarity and separation, and the thump of fists and feet during combat hit hard on the lower-end. One or two scenes have too much commotion going on for the track to handle, muffling some of the effects underneath the vigorous soundtrack, but these are infrequent. For the most part, the music pulses alongside the action with exceptional balance between the two. The dialogue fluctuates from the lower registry of Sean Maher's vocals to Yvonne Strahovski's alto levels and the punchy, petulant tempo of Stuart Allen's Robin, all of which remains evenhanded and responsive to channel placement. There's a lot of surround activity, too, from bats in the Batcave to the chatter of patrons in a diner, that creates fine atmosphere in quieter sequences. Fantastic. English, French, and Spanish subtitles are available.

Special Features:

Warmer Bros. have scaled back a bit on the extras made available on this Blu-ray for Bad Blood, notably dropping the commentary track that has adorned the past couple of releases. Therefore, its collection of video supplements will have to do the talking, starting off with Putting the Fight in Gotham (26:21, 16x9 HD). Like several other featurettes included in these releases, the appeal of the primary video extra transcends one's interest in just the included film, focusing on how Jay Oliva and his team have developed the action choreography and design across all their releases. From Oliva's mentioning of imagining the characters as "action figures" to tweaking the craftsmanship found in Christopher Nolan's films and the classic Batman: Animated series, this nearly 30-minute supplement -- complete with clips from other productions and storyboards -- paints a general, yet informative picture of how the team's creative process wraps around how to make the combat as "authentic" as possible.

DC creative mind Mike Carlin, comic-book historian Alan Kistler, director Jay Oliva and others set aside some time to chat about Expanding the Bat Family (13:41, 16x9 HD), touching on how the presence of Robin evolved the idea of Batman as a loner into the leader of a group of like-minded crime fighters. Topics discussed progress through the evolution of Batwoman and how she relates to Catwoman, the development of Robin and how Bad Blood centers itself so heavily on Nightwing, and the rebellious nature of Luke Fox in terms of doing the right thing. The observations alternate between insightful and superficial character description, but it's a nice package as a whole with, again, a lot of fun snippets from the comics and animations edited into it.

WB have also included two episodes of Batman: The Brave and the Bold pulled out From the DC Comics Vault, as well as a pair of Trailers: A Sneak Peek at DC Universe's Next Animated Movie: Justice League vs. Teen Titans (11:31, 16x9 HD), and Suicide Squad (3:08, 16x9 HD).

Final Thoughts:

While Batman: Bad Blood boasts strong rushes of action and a collection of fresh, interesting characters to the DC Animated Universe, it focuses too much attention on fitting them into a 75-minute timeframe without taking the time to properly flesh them out or to flesh out the story driving them forward. Creating a spin on the what-if scenario where Batman has either disappeared or been presumed dead, and how his allies and proteges would fill in the gap, it's both too messy with its myriad intentions and too one-dimensional to embrace the stakes of what's going on. Polished combat, genuine voice-acting, and versatile new personalities with diverse traits make for a brisk viewing experience, but there isn't enough underneath these elements to give the story enough longevity in the continuing Batman canon. WB's Blu-ray looks great and sounds exceptional, and arrives with a pair of decent video extras on the fight designs and the expansion of the Bat-family, but this isn't one of the studio's best. Rent It.

Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site
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