In all possible universes, this Batman ‘choose your own adventure’ movie is a success: here’s our review of an ambitious project.
Based (loosely) on the 1988 Batman storyline of the same name, this interactive movie gives viewers the chance to decide the fate of Robin (Jason Todd) through a variety of branching stories. Does Robin die at the hands of the Joker? Does he live? And in each case, what happens afterwards?
The results are entertaining, though firmly experimental. Large chunks of the story are comprised of repurposed footage from the existing DC animated movie Under The Red Hood, although there is a fair amount of new animation involved too. Comic fans will find plenty of Easter eggs and cameos to enjoy, as well as some surprising twists on the source material. It’s fair to say that they made this one for the fans.
Still, the fun comes less from the story itself and more from the interesting Elseworlds-like look at what might have been had events had gone another way. There’s a thrill you get from controlling the narrative which is more than enough to distinguish this from other DC animated comic book adaptations. Branching narratives aren’t exactly a new idea, but it still feels fresh and exciting to control a cartoon. Especially when it’s a Batman cartoon.
There are seven different ways the movie can end, some quicker than others, and it takes around an hour to watch the whole story in its entirety. Skipping back to earlier decisions so that you can see alternate outcomes is made mercifully simple and allows you to remain engaged throughout – you don’t have to rewatch more than a few seconds if you want to revisit a decision, and you will want to. Some endings are more creatively successful than others, but the animation and acting is high-quality throughout, and every version of the story is fun in its own way.
As an experience it’s fair to say the story isn’t really coherent in the same way a Choose Your Own Adventure book is unlikely to win literature prizes, but it’s worth playing once. Luckily, the collection has been presented alongside the other ‘DC Showcase’ shorts (previously available online) which star the likes of St. Rock, The Phantom Stranger, Adam Strange and Sandman’s Death, so there’s a hefty amount of bonus material, as well as commentaries for each short and the main feature.
As a word of warning, take care if you buy this package digitally – the interactive feature is only available on Blu-ray. The digital download contains just one version of the story, presented as Under the Red Hood: Reloaded with some alternate endings in the bonus features – and some footage remains Blu-ray exclusive regardless.
As animated movies go, Batman: Death In The Family is a qualified success, and the package as a whole is good enough to earn its place on your shelf – especially given that the feature experience, as conceived, can only exist on the physical disc.
Batman: Death In The Family is out now on Blu-Ray & Digital.
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