Blu-Ray Review
Batman: Hush

Batman: Hush is the latest fan-favorite comic book storyline integrated into the DC Universe Movie line and its ongoing canon. Hush is not a 1 to 1 translation of the comic but where it diverges from the source, the movie breaks into new territory into a deep, cerebral exploration of what Batman is and the tragic truth of how far he's willing to go and not go. But there's still the who's who of Batman's Rogues Gallery coming out the woodwork, the manipulations of Hush, Catwoman and a good 'ol romp with Superman that made the comic one of the greatest stories ever told. Much like this year's Reign of the Supermen, Batman: Hush brilliantly walks a tight rope between being a loose comic adaptation, a solo movie, and being part of an ongoing continuity. Hush is an excellent character deconstruction and heartfelt love story.

The center piece of the movie without a doubt is the character study presented by the relationship between Batman and Catwoman going to the next level. Where it's the issue of trust or who will change for whom and who won't, both are propelled into an almost anthology of battles from Batman and Bane, to Poison Ivy and Superman, Harley Quinn, Joker, Clayface, Scarecrow, Riddler, and Hush. Each time we see how far Batman is willing to operate near the edge into the abyss. For Bane, he'll let him get electrocuted into submission and cooperate with the morally dubious Amanda Waller. With Superman, he'll fight with Kryptonite but admonish Catwoman for throwing Lois Lane off a roof. Or for killing a friend he wasn't really being a good friend to, he'll choke and pummel the Joker but leave him still breathing. He'll even try to pull a villain to safety by rope in the most impossible of situations. But he won't get Catwoman go over the line and slice any throats. Nor will he let anyone on his team come anywhere close to violating his golden no-kill rule. While Damian was able to change for the better under Batman's code and we got to watch that unfold over several movies, it's heartbreaking see the opposite happen for Catwoman under Batman's code and Batman with Catwoman on his team. Fittingly, a leopard cannot change its spots. A tiger cannot change its stripes. One can't change one's essential and core nature despite their best effort. It very much mirrors the ending of another love story, "Casablanca." It wouldn't have ended any either way like with Rick and Ilsa. Batman and Catwoman love each other but had to let each other go. She knows freedom from her past but he is bound by his. But maybe someday...

Newcomers to the DC Universe movie line will likely be disappointed by this take on Hush but for returning viewers, it is a commonality for these comic adaptations to only be a base of inspiration. While there will be story elements and homages very familiar to readers, don't expect a complete adaptation. The last time we really saw that was with the "Batman: Year One" animated movie in 2011. Or another way to look at it is a version of the movie that works within the constraints of an 82 minute runtime and presents a more cohesive and tighter script than what a year long serial story arc that plays out over 11 issues can get away with. In a way, the notion of operating within an ongoing continuity also presents some challenges and opportunities to put a new spin on several story points. Batgirl is substituted in for Huntress and helps with recovering Batman after his fall. Or Bane takes Killer Croc's place in the hostage situation and has a result, the movie is able to touch on last year's "Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay" through Amanda Waller and recovering him for her team of supervillains. And whether it was intentional or not, it makes more sense if you read the Hell To Pay tie-in comic. The fabled Batman-Superman battle is trimmed to its core using Kryptonite knuckles and putting Lois in life threatening peril. There's even more weight to it if you watched the past releases "The Death of Superman" and "The Reign of the Supermen" which put a big focus on Superman/Clark and Lois' romance, which is useful to compare to Batman and Catwoman, as well as introduce the new suit Superman wears in Hush. Same with Lex. Changing where he was in the comics as the President, we get treated to a little more as to what happens with Lex after the finale of Reign of the Supermen as a bonus of sorts. For whatever reason, while the Bat Family gets a decent focus, it is kept smaller whether it be for pacing, time constraints, or budget, regulars like Leslie Thompkins or Harold who were in the comic are are kept out of the movie but Bat Family in the movie canon like Batwoman and Batwing are omitted. On the other hand, Commissioner Gordon has a bigger role than he's had than in previous movies. Joker's part is reworked slightly to make it more compelling than the comic, he's framed for the murder of Thomas Elliot and is beaten senseless by Batman until Commissioner Gordon can snap him out of it. Another brilliant reworking because of the canon, is since Talia is dead, Lady Shiva is kept in the movie but she becomes the touchstone for that world of the League of Assassins who tells Batman a Lazarus Pit was used and at the same time, provide a status check up for the group in this canon. Or since Jason Todd or Tim Drake aren't in the picture yet, the Clayface mystery is shifted down the line to Riddler while the graveyard battle for Scarecrow is expanded on and involves Nightwing and Catwoman. The biggest chance is reducing the role of Thomas Elliot to red herring which in return hacks away of lot of his backstory and gives time to grow Batman and Catwoman's arc more organically throughout the movie. As a consumer of DC animation, I wasn't too put off by the filmmakers molding Riddler into the real villain of the movie as it happened before in recent times with the "Scooby-Doo! & Batman: The Brave and The Bold" animated movie which was also supervised by James Tucker.

As I mentioned in the above paragraph, there are a lot of nice "bonus" lines that provide mini-updates on certain parts of the canon but there's also a decent amount of easter eggs, references, and nods here and there. Like in the opening scene, the party takes place at the Gotham Museum of Natural History where Batman first fought some zombie Talons in Batman vs. Robin. Or Ivy's hideout in Metropolis is a nod the Day of the Triffids movie which combined with Ivy is amusing since it was a sci-fi movie was about antagonistic venomous plants. There's also the double reference of the mask worn by Heath Ledger's Joker in the opening scene of "The Dark Knight" and the design of Pagliacci matches costume worn by the Joker the Batman' 66 episode "The Joker is Wild". Nightwing's current suit is a slight update from his previous suit that was used in Judas Contract. Mostly the same but in Judas Contract, the emblem was red and here, it's now blue. There's also a few cameos here and there like Renee Montoya walking with Gordon when he first appears or Lucius Fox at Thomas Elliot's funeral. One for the older fans was Riddler doing a snippet of "Shake Shake Shake" from KC and the Sunshine Band. Which kind of works since Riddler's ambition was higher in this movie and that's reportedly what the song was about, "to get out there and do it." My favorite callback was Nightwing humorously alluding to how Batman ended up with a son when Catwoman is taken to the Batcave for the first time.

The issue I could see viewers having with the movie was sadly the sheer amount of villains, some of the staging, and pacing perhaps but there are a few nitpicks here and there depending on where you're coming from in your knowledge of the source material. Ignoring the continuity, this is a gratuitous amount of cameos. While on one hand, we've waited years and years for them to show up in the canon like the Joker for example. He was teased early on in the movie line at Arkham in "Son of Batman" or on the Bat Computer in "Batman vs. Robin," and a fleeting mention by Harley in "Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay." Then he finally shows up in a canon movie only to be used as a patsy and punching bag although that's the same role he played in the comic. Despite that it pays off in the finale of the movie and Joker's inclusion was brilliantly altered a smidge, it could still feel like a letdown to some. I suppose some might take offense to the "slide show time skip" with the likes of Mr. Freeze, Penguin, and Two-Face instead of them getting their five minutes of fame. But on the flip side, you could argue, the characters that appeared are the ones that needed to. Otherwise, it would have been a series of vignettes that ran a little too long for one's attention span. Or Riddler. On the surface, his part in the story passes the squint test. But from another angle, by the end of the movie, you have to really just roll with it. The Riddler debuts in this movie so his rage of being treated as a C-lister, his motives, his planning, and his capabilities have to be taken at face value. This wasn't something that's been built up over several movies. It's sort of left to each viewer to either accept or reject as a good enough reason and portrayal. That's if they're even familiar with the character to begin with. And it's up to the viewer to suss out what the Lazarus Pit did to "upgrade" Riddler, it's not going to spelled out to the letter. But the big reveal does come off jarring. It's just too much at a point when we're thinking, 'Okay, Batman, punch him out and get to the ending.' Another thing one could really nitpick is the fall Batman takes. Sure that's armor and there's probably padding, but the depiction of that fall seemed rather unrealistic. That length of that fall looked fatal or crippling at best. Or even the jump Catwoman makes onto the train. The anthology structure of the movie may not roll with some viewers and could be misinterpreted as a pacing issue. Long time viewers could be annoyed with some of the more tried and true things being repeated again, like Bane's Venom tube being cut and him being subsequently electrocuted or changing the mystery villain's identity (which was just done last year in Gotham by Gaslight but that was a different crew to be fair).

The movie marks the directorial debut of Justin Copeland who started working on the DC animation direct to video movies in the mid-2010s as a storyboard artist and later did double duty as storyboard supervisor. Copeland and the team's storyboarders didn't skimp on any action or drama scenes and knew when to go big or go small, adapted some key scenes from the comic, and provided a fresh new angle on Batman, Catwoman, and Gotham that hasn't been done before. But it's almost criminal that Copeland only directed this and and co-directed the upcoming Wonder Woman: Bloodlines but it's only because of a once in a lifetime opportunity came up with an adaptation of the Skybound/Image series "Invincible." Sad he had to go, like Jake Castorena, but happy he's still going to be entertaining audiences with his future endeavors. Ernie Altbacker had an intimidating task of taking an 11 issue storyline and adapt it into a 80 minute screenplay but I think he succeeded and showed a clear vision and careful guiding hand with what to keep, what to toss, what to rework, and what to add to make the Olympian jump from page to screen. I think where Altbacker succeeded was not focusing on the villains at the expense of the story but how the story is lifted by each villain encounter - like Aesop's Fables applied to Batman - culminating in the final battle with Riddler, a twisted mirror of Batman's ego perhaps.

Jason O'Mara and Jennifer Morrison put the movie on their backs and carry it along with ease while performing essentially two roles each as Batman and Bruce and Catwoman and Selina, respectively. The on-screen chemistry is there from the start of the movie at the party and you really want Bruce and Selina to work out this time despite the obvious. Sean Maher, Stuart Allan, James Garrett, and Bruce Thomas reprise their roles as Nightwing, Damian, Alfred, and Commissioner Gordon and despite being in and out of the Batman movies, it's still like no time has passed and they're on game. Rainn Wilson, Jerry O'Connell, and Rebecca Romijn have a guest spot is a nice bonus after they got a strong focus in the past two Superman movies as well as with Vanessa Willams returning as Waller and Hynden Walch as Harley Quinn from Hell To Pay. Newcomers Maury Sterling as Thomas Elliot, Geoffrey Arend as Riddler, Jason Spisak as Joker, Adam Gifford as Bane, Peyton List as Poison Ivy, Sachie Alessio as Lady Shiva, and Peyton List as Batgirl all put on strong performances in their debut and here's hoping they'll be showing up again in either these roles and/or in new ones. Some of them we had so little time with, it was almost criminal. I'll say it. I was impressed with List's take on Batgirl.

The DC Showcase line restarts starting with a Sgt. Rock short in the Batman: Hush release. Sgt. Rock clocks in at 14 minutes, 55 seconds. The story was a standard hard lesson learned from war and humanity in the presence of monstrosities but the caveat of the short is the talent amassed for it: directed and executive produced by Bruce Timm, written by Louise Simonson and Walter Simonson and Tim Sheridan, character designs led by Kevin Nowlan, scored by Dynamic Music Partners, and Karl Urban voiced Rock. Much like the Batman: Strange Days DC Nation short he did a couple years ago, Timm taps into an old school pulp era again but this time throwing Sgt. Rock from the late 50s comics and the Creature Commandos from the 80s together into a World War II story they're both accustomed to as both were originally set in that time in their original comic book debuts. It wouldn't be a World War II story with Nazis and weird Nazi science in the mix as well. Ultimately, Rock is faced with the decision: complete the mission or do the right thing.

The filmmaker commentary track features Executive Producer James Tucker, Director Justin Copeland and screenwriter Ernie Altbacker. Whether you've read my movie reviews in the past or if you're reading one for the first time, I think every movie should have a commentary track and when it doesn't, I'll make a point of mentioning that. So this movie automatically gets a higher rating for having one. But on a slightly more serious note, the commentary does what it should really and provides a look behind the scenes in the making of this movie like the choice to make the romance between Batman and Catwoman the foundation of this story rather than the mystery of who Hush is, the various changes they made in adapting Hush from comics to screen, how to make the movie work for those who read or didn't read the original comic book arc, what was left on the cutting room floor, the easter egg references, which "young" or veteran storyboard artist worked on which major scene, some improv by Hynden Walch, accurate gun designs, working out the Joker scene, and how to end the movie. All in all, the commentary was a delight.

The movie's featurette, "Batman: Love in Time of War" explores the history of between Batman and Catwoman through out the various forms of media. It includes the standard talking head segments with animation and comic book professionals, academics, and behind the scenes of Batman: Hush. The other special features include the sneak peek of the next DC Universe Movie title, Wonder Woman: Bloodlines coming out later this fall, a bonus episode from the Batman: The Animated Series "Catwalk" and trailers for Justice League vs. The Fatal Five and the live action hit Shazam! and a Hush figurine if you bought the combo pack from Best Buy.

Batman: Hush is another powerful and entertaining entry in the DC Universe Movie line. It might have a few shortcomings to some like a glut of villains, pacing, or the reveal of main villain, but the arc of Batman and Catwoman's romance contrasted with a tragic character study more than makes up for it. While it's not the direct adaptation some may want, it is a tight and concise script that much more seasoned and mature take on the classic storyline. And if you think about it, it the first truly solo Batman movie of the canon. The bonus features for Batman: Hush was an excellent platter of treats to pick from. There's a featurette about Batman and Catwoman, a filmmaker commentary, vintage Batman bonus episode, and the return of the DC Showcase animated shorts, starting with Sgt. Rock. Batman: Hush is a highly recommended purchase.

Main Feature: 4 out of 5
Special Features: 3 out of 5
Average Rating: 3.5 out of 5