A rather ironically ambitious idea, like the story that it adapts, Batman: Death in the Family attempts this choose your own adventure with a promised “seven” different endings. The execution, however, leaves some mixed results. The idea of choosing the direction where a character goes is a fascinating one. The grand problem is while one branch out to many the other two choices doesn’t really offer you much at all beyond it. The other is well, you don’t get much on story.
The credits tease what’s going on, and not shortly thereafter we’re treated to a quick rundown of the plot before we’re given our three choices to decide the course of the rest of the feature. Likewise, those expecting some kind of follow-up ala what we got past either series. We sort of do, as a nod in one of the routes. But we really don’t get much else. In that regard, the film feels flimsy and trivial.
Therein lies the first of two big flaws with the film. Much is paid for one scenario, while the other two suffer because of it. I confess, I figured the “Jason dies” option would lead toward a retelling of Batman: Under the Red Hood, and sure enough we do get that with Batman (Bruce Greenwood) in a diner talking to another of the encounter. The segment was probably the most I fast-forwarded because of those who watched the original film know what is going to happen. I was merely curious who the being Bruce was talking too, and what would come from it. In that aspect, the final talk between Bruce and the mysterious listener is amusing when the identity is revealed of who it is. It’s just that, it feels a bit wasted to suffer thru a “best of” montage of a prior movie to get toward the end goal.
The other is Jason “cheating death”. It’s a one-sided short, which is the shortest in length of the other two. On the plus, it’s a better adaptation of “Hush” than both the character of Hush and the event story written by Jeph Loeb/Jim Lee (and infinitely better than the animated movie based on the story from last year). I really expected this to go a more open route as the other, but nope. This is just a one-way ticket, which is kind of sad when you think about it really.
The true meat and potatoes of this movie is if you choose the “Jason Lives” which has so many branches I had to keep going back to see what would be unlocked if I chose this path. Here you get the true experience of the film. When you chose this route it’s a great “what if” that blends a lot of Batman comics together. I really loved the “twist” in certain sections which I didn’t see coming. I have to confess it’s this section where Vincent Martella shines as Jason Todd (reprising his role from the original film, and also filling in nicely in the later portions since Jensen Ackles doesn’t sadly reprise his role). You see him weighing the balance of fully embracing vengeance or struggling hard with keeping the morals Bruce taught him.
Likewise again, John DiMaggio‘s Joker is just so darn captivating, entertaining, chilling, and all of the above when on screen. Other than Martella, DiMaggio just relishes playing this character again and it shows when the two interact with one another. There are two scenes when these two have interactions is alone the price for the movie.
Therein lies the other major flaw of the film. You have to watch this on disc and not digital. If you watch it on the latter it deprives you of the actual experience and choice where you want to go. I fully get why as the technology isn’t still available digitally for this to pan out, and by choosing digital you do yourself a disservice in how you’re truly going to enjoy the film. If one truly wants to enjoy the film, then yes much like 1985’s Clue, the best way is to just pop this in by disc and go from there. Otherwise, it just ruins the fun of being denied the choice.
Batman: Death of the Family, is a nice companion piece to Batman: Under the Red Hood. If your doing a double-feature with a group. Popping one in and following with this, isn’t really a bad idea. You can have a game of voting which way to gone down. The biggest fault I can have against the movie is well, that’s all it is. There isn’t much meat given in the story that we haven’t seen in the other. There are nice moments and tips of the hat to other things in this. I think what might have solved this would have been to have put these two films into the wing of the Young Justice universe.
You already have Greenwood and another who are both alums of the series. It would answer the questions some have for Jason Todd in that series, by spinning it off to here. Plus that series so needs to expand more past the singular premise. Boy does it need to expand more with spinoffs given the cast it plays around with (and by default pisses many off with some getting screentime while others still getting a scant amount).
That said, Batman: Death in the Family is a fascinating experiment/adaptation of the original story putting you the viewer at determining your experience. It better helps out in experience if you watched the prior film first than this. The problem is even with these grand ideas, it just doesn’t pay off fully with one of the paths, while the other is just a retread of another film until the end. Overall, I’d say definitely try to watch this film on disc though. Or else it’s a mess of a film that loses the true entertainment value of choice it allows.
3 out of 5