After wrapping up the frankly stale DC Animated Universe with this year’s Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, DC seemed to be steering towards a brighter, new direction in terms of their animated films. We just recently had Superman: Man of Tomorrow, which was a solid, fresh take on the Superman origin story, and now DC seems to be trying out a new, ambitious tactic by experimenting with interactive-based storytelling, and what better storyline to utilise than Batman: Death in the Family, the controversial storyline that saw the Joker murder Jason Todd, the second Robin.
At its core, this film is a tie-in with Batman: Under the Red Hood, which is still regarded as one of the greatest DC animated movies ever made, and Death in the Family essentially plays out like a glorified, tie-in, bonus feature for that particular film, but there’s a twist: instead of just following the official path of having Joker kill Jason, the film lets you choose what the outcome should be. You can let events play out as they did in Under the Red Hood, but there are other options you can also try out. You can have Jason cheat death but suffer severe physical and psychological damage or you could actually have Batman save Jason himself. There are other options in play, and some of them are darker than others.
Even though every branching path results in Jason becoming a murderous vigilante (which is a bit of a shame considering Jason paths aren’t really that different), it’s still genuinely intriguing to see some of these different paths unfold, and some of these paths contain several surprises and unexpected left turns here and there. Plus, the movie includes several homages to classic comic book moments and lines, such as The Killing Joke or Hush. Each story path runs at about roughly 10-25 minutes each, and its re-watchability factor is simple and easygoing for even the most casual viewer. Once the credits roll on a branching patch, the menu pops up with previously-viewed chapter points, so you can go back and try out different alternative choices.
If there is a downside to this, it’s that each path feels relatively too short and could’ve benefitted from being fleshed out more or possibly given a feature-length movie on its own. Certain paths end far too soon, and it’s not helped that one of the longer paths involves a retelling of the entire Under the Red Hood storyline, which basically involves recycled clips from that film but accompanied by Batman’s narration. It does work for casual fans that haven’t seen that film, but if you already own Under the Red Hood, there’s really no point in checking out this particular path since it’s just a glorified recap, though it does end on an unexpectedly surprising note that was fun.
Overall, Batman: Death in the Family is an ambitious experiment that does work for the most part, despite some shortcomings of its own. It works as a great tie-in film with Under the Red Hood, which is helped by maintaining the solid animation from that film, as well as having some of its strong voice cast returning to their respective roles with ease (Bruce Greenwood is still the most underrated Batman voice actor to date). Plus, some of the variations of Jason’s descent into violence works effectively well. However, some paths aren’t as fleshed out as they could’ve been, and it is kind of unfortunate that Jason’s paths are quite similar to one another.
Dir: Brandon Vietti
Scr: Brandon Vietti
Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Vincent Martella, John DiMaggio, Gary Cole, Zehra Fazal
Prd: Brandon Vietti
Music: Christopher Drake
Country: United States
Runtime: 18-30 minutes
Batman: Death in the Family will be released on Blu-Ray on October 26th