Blu-ray Review: Batman: Death in the Family
Directed by: Brandon Vietti
Written by: Brandon Vietti
Starring: Bruce Greenwood, John DiMaggio, Vincent Martella, Gary Cole, Zehra Fazal
Reviewed by: Eric Joseph
In observation of Batman: Under The Red Hood‘s ten-year anniversary, WB Animation have put out the first interactive DC flick of its kind to date, that being Batman: Death in the Family. Aside from re-presenting the pivotal moment in which readers chose whether or not to kill Jason Todd and the result that followed, this product is a very different beast from the comic book of the same name – but I can’t really complain.
You see, viewers watching this bad boy on Blu-ray will be able to decide Jason’s fate with their remote, thereby providing multiple branching paths for your viewing experience. If you dug stuff like the Telltale video games or Arkham Origins graphic novel, then this is most definitely for you. Just know that those of you who opt to watch the digital release will be able to view only linear paths, so it’s highly recommended that you go Blu-ray in this instance.
Make no mistake, it’s going to be difficult for me to write this review without including major spoilers. But hey, I want you to go in mostly fresh. You’ll thank me later.
First and foremost, I must compliment Brandon Vietti on the job he’s done. Although no single path really exceeds a half hour, they’re all thought out rather well and the most impactful endings tie in to some sort of occurrence from earlier in the narrative. Easter Eggs are plentiful (you won’t believe some of what lies in wait), and the voice acting is superb.
After the introductory scene, you will presented with the big choice of whether “Robin dies,” “Robin cheats death,” or “Batman saves Robin.” I’ll speak more about this in the “negatives” section, but the only option that affords major consequences is “Batman saves Robin.” Furthermore, there’ll be another significant choice after that entry asking whether you want to “Capture Joker” or “Kill Joker.” Know that all of these options mentioned affect the persona Jason adopts, those being Red Hood, Hush or Red Robin.
I also like that a pop-up menu is made available once the end credits roll. To be more specific, you can easily go back and make different choices to see how they each play out, instead of having to rewatch the earlier segments over and over again. You may wind up having to make four or five choices depending on your behavior, so, believe me, this is a big time-saver for critics especially.
What’s kind of funny is how there’s never an entirely squeaky clean version of Jason Todd coming out of any timeline, although his ultimate end varies drastically depending on your mandates. But again, you’ll need to watch them all, because I’m not going to tell you which features an instant classic of a Joker monologue delivered by a returning John DiMaggio. I’ll be sure to revisit that one on many occasions.
Before I move on, it’s worth mentioning that all of the other DC Showcase shorts from the past year are included as bonus content. That’s right, Sgt. Rock, Adam Strange, The Phantom Stranger and Death are all available in one place. Death has to be my favorite, though I did enjoy The Phantom Stranger quite a bit as well.
Like I said, the tastiest of meat is yielded upon choosing “Batman saves Robin,” whereas the others are somewhat dead ends. “Robin cheats death” does feature some intriguing consequences, but it’s over after six or seven minutes. “Robin dies,” however, serves up what can merely be described as Under The Red Hood CliffsNotes. I’m being serious. It’s really just Bruce Wayne recapping that story to a mysterious friend in a diner. It’s worth watching at least once to see his interaction with said buddy, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever revisit it because I’d rather just watch Under The Red Hood in full.
What I’m about to say next isn’t meant to be a criticism to anyone involved in this new production, but I really missed Jensen Ackles as the voice of Jason Todd. His voice has been the one heard in my head whenever I’ve read comic books featuring the beloved anti-hero for the past decade, and I’m positive I’m not the only one who feels this way. Ackles’ lack of availability probably came down to his commitment to shooting the final season of Supernatural, although Vincent Martella does a fine job of embodying an angsty young man whose fate pans out in several different ways. I imagine that must have been a lot of fun for the actor.
Rest assured that Batman: Death in the Family is a must-buy for fans of the Dark Knight and, as I stated earlier, Blu-ray is the way to go if you truly want an interactive experience. I do hope that WB Animation whip up something like this in the future. My suggestion would be Battle for the Cowl, with the option of giving viewers the chance to choose who succeeds Bruce Wayne as Batman: Dick Grayson, Jason Todd or Tim Drake. Heck, let’s throw in Damian Wayne to add more sizzle to the steak.