Monday, June 10, 2013

Animation Review: Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003)

Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman takes place shortly after the highly acclaimed Batman: The Animated Series (more specifically: The New Batman Adventures) and presumably before Justice League, but within the DC Animated Universe of fantastic cartoons which graced the airwaves in the early 90's through the mid 2000's. As amazing as that line of cartoons is, this film is a cut above most of it. Despite being a short one hour and eleven minutes, Mystery of the Batwoman serves up everything an animated movie needs, with all the trimmings.

I really can't find much fault with this movie. Sure, Batwoman isn't Kate Kane, but that really doesn't matter one bit. The only negative aspects that stick out to me are Bane's design and the weirdly animated waddle of Kathy Duqusne in her introductory scene, where we are left to assume that her legs are made out of snakes upon which she perches with all the balance of a toddler on a tight rope. Other than those two things, both of which can be overlooked, there isn't a whole lot of fault. In fact, the film is downright perfect.

The musical score is simply brilliant, although I'm rarely ever a fan of the "Real songs" interjected in animated media. The majority of the soundtrack is all wonderful and original orchestration, but the one or two "Real songs" utilized fit their scenes perfectly and aren't out of place at all. I can imagine the target audience, young boys, to be somewhat embarrassed about the inclusion of the lady-centric songs, but they really don't drag down the film down at all. I'm actually surprised that there was never a release of the film's soundtrack, because it's something I would have purchased immediately after viewing. Of particular note is a score which plays in Batwoman's early sequences, which sounds remarkably like something out of Kingdom Hearts and reminded me of the Hollow Bastion BGM, a track which I absolutely love and which definitely sets an elegantly sinister tone.

Batman's faithful companion, Robin (Tim Drake), does play a supporting role in the film, although his presence is relatively minor and I feel that even Alfred had a larger plot to play in the grand scheme of things. This isn't a bad thing. While Robin can be awesome character, there is a time and a place for him, and this story really isn't it. This is a Batman story, and I think it probably could have benefited from having even less of Robin that it did. It definitely could have done without the two minute cameo of Barbara Gordon, whose inclusion was merely to tie the film to the DCAU and contributed nothing to the plot (a fact which greatly annoyed me, as I was hoping for a little Batwoman vs. Batgirl, and the tease without payoff was simply a waste of time).

Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman plays up all the greatest strengths of the Batman character, living up to the "Mystery" in its title and putting the emphasis on detective work with a generous amount of action. In trying to keep the mystery and story a fresh one, the film introduces a number of new characters as suspects as well as a number of supporting characters to follow them around. Of particular note is the Duquesne crime family, fathered by Carlton Duqusne, a powerful African-American gangster who's in league with the Penguin and Rupert Thorne. To my knowledge, Duquesne has not appeared in media outside of this film, which is a shame. Despite being a relatively typical "Kingpin"-flavored character, I could see Duquesne easily climbing his way up the ranks of Batman's more notorious and dangerously sane roster. If there's no place for him there, we all know Red Hood is in dire need of a serious opponent.

All of the character's are portrayed naturally, with no glaring ickiness in the voice acting, which is something that is still common in American animation even today. The sound effects are all crystal clear and feel nicely weighted, adding to the tension and seriousness of their situations. Buildings don't simply crumble with the light shuffling of a few pebbles (something common in most animated series), but each tumbling boulder crashes with enough force to bump the bass in any sound system. Ah, I can only drool at the thought of watching this again with my subwoofer in place.

Although, if I may back up for a moment, there was one character interaction which felt a bit stilted to me. Here comes some major spoilers, which I normally don't worry about, but for this film it could seriously impact the entire experience. So that's your warning. When it is revealed that there is not one but three Batwomen we are of course treated to the mandatory scene where these women interact. To throw Bruce and ourselves off the trail, these three individuals have been shown to be very different (and all well-developed and solid) characters who would likely have nothing to do with one another: Kathy Duquesne is a fashion bug obsessed with hot guys and hotter trends, Roxanna Ballantine is a nerdy scientist with almost zero coordination (unless she needs it) and a thing for bad boys, and Sonia Alcana, the latest addition to Gotham PD, a promising detective with a tragic history of violence. You'd think these women wouldn't get along, and they don't. Despite somehow pulling off some of the greatest feats in Bat-History, these women, when together, are shown to be a completely disfunctional band of rogues who can barely hold it together, and their dialogue is glued with no stickier and adhesive. A little more touching up of the interaction between these girls would have made a world of difference, but ultimately their short "Evil Villain Scheming" sequence doesn't detract from the bigger picture, and still serves to keep the story coherent.

In short: this film has a few itsy bitsy flaws, but is otherwise flawless. The animation is superb, and modern day film teams could learn a thing or two from it (particularly on its ability to remain remarkably fluid, even while animating vehicles, without resorting to garish 3D models). I loved every second of this experience, and it's something I'm going to come back to again, and again, and again. Despite its errors, this ranks right up there with Under the Red Hood as far as I'm concerned, and way up there with the best of the best of movies, period. Ten out of ten, Batman. You've done it again.

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