Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman [retro review]

“I miss working for the Joker.”

The Scoop: 2003 PG, directed by Curt Geda and starring the voices of Kevin Conroy, Kelly Ripa and Kyra Sedgwick

Summary Capsule: Yet another uninvited vigilante is prowling the streets of Gotham, but Batman’s not having two chicks busting crime in his town… next thing you know they’ll be wanting to vote or something.

Drew’s Rating: Is the mystery how she manages to pour herself into that costume?

Drew’s Review: A brief history lesson: when the Batman animated series moved from Fox to the WB in 1997, it was decided to streamline the artistic style a bit with slimmed-down, sleek designs, more angular but less detailed. In addition, it was decided to jump forward several years from the original cartoon. Batman was now even grimmer with a new Robin (Tim Drake) by his side, while Dick Grayson moved on to become Nightwing. This new direction proved popular among fans, and after finishing its 28-episode run, a direct-to-video movie was commissioned… which brings us to Mystery of the Batwoman.

The film centers around (not surprisingly) Batwoman, the latest in a loooong line of mysterious new vigilantes in Gotham City. Her goal: bring down gun smugglers Rupert Thorne, Carlton Duquesne, and the Penguin. But her crimefighting activities attract the attention of the Big Bat himself, who’s notoriously averse to uninvited helpers. While Batman tries to uncover the identity of his female counterpart, alter ego Bruce Wayne woos Kathy Duquesne, daughter of aforementioned gangster Carlton. But as his suspects one by one prove to have airtight alibis, can the Dark Knight unlock the mystery of the Batwoman and put a halt to her activities? And are those activities simply the mark of a concerned citizen, or a more personal vendetta?

The hook of Mystery of the Batwoman is both its most interesting element and a limiting factor. There IS interest in finding out who’s behind Batwoman’s mask; and while most viewers will probably figure out the secret before it’s revealed, it’s a decent (if clichéd) plot element. But that’s also the problem — once the title character’s identity is known, there’s not much substance left to the film, which ends up being little more than an okay mystery and a bunch of explosions. That’s okay as far as it goes, but from the excellent Batman: TAS team, we’ve come to expect a lot more.

Mind you, the animation looks sharp, and the vocal cast is as talented as ever. Kevin Conroy does give us a slightly higher-pitched Batman than usual; one of his best vocal qualities is that he uses a slightly different voice as Bruce Wayne and as Batman, but here they sound mostly the same. But Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) and Robin (Eli Marienthal) give strong performances, and Tara Strong nails the three or so lines she gets as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. Though it must be said, viewers are likely to pay more attention to the famous names who join the cast this time around, including Kyra Sedgwick as Batwoman and Kelly Ripa as computer geek Rocky.

But as Tom Cruise is all too aware, star power can’t compensate for a mediocre script, and MotB doesn’t have the benefit of face recognition for its big names. The whole thing just feels slightly off-kilter, from the recasting of several characters (Robin, the Penguin) to the by-the-numbers plot. Perhaps most telling is producer Alan Burnett’s comment on a featurette: “I wasn’t interested in doing something ‘definitive,’ I just wanted to do a fun story.” That’s exactly what MotB is — a kinda fun little movie that’ll keep the kids entertained for 75 minutes… but not a gothic masterpiece, not an emotional tour de force, and not a Batman classic. It’s worth seeing once for completists and those who prefer more lighthearted superhero romps, but ultimately falls victim to the heightened expectations created by its predecessors.

Not to be crass, but that bat is riding a pretty sizable updraft if you catch my meaning, and I think you do.

Intermission!

  • In her cameo, Barbara Gordon comes onto Bruce like a drunken prom date. Several times during The New Batman Adventures, writers hinted at Batgirl’s interest in Bruce after her failed relationship with Dick Grayson/Robin. Which is… creepy. [Storm_Rider adds that in Batman Beyond, which follows the same continuity, then-Commissioner Barbara Gordon confirms that she and Bruce did eventually have a romantic relationship.]
  • Bullock’s got a new partner? What happened to Montoya?
  • So, the umbrella Bruce uses to jam a department store door… didn’t he technically steal that? What kind of example is Batman setting for youngsters?
  • For a kids’ cartoon, they really sexualize the women in this movie.
  • One of the women Bruce suspects of being Batwoman is Kathy Duquesne; her name is a nod to Kathy Kane, the original Batwoman in the comics. (Kathy’s niece Betty Kane became the first Bat-Girl, preceding the better-known Barbara Gordon Batgirl by several years.) Alan Burnett explains they had intended to use the name “Kathy Kane” but were asked to change it by DC Comics, thanks to some morally gray actions on the part of the movie Batwoman.
  • Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, the producers most responsible for the success of the Batman cartoon, did not have any involvement in Mystery of the Batwoman.
  • The DVD includes an animated short called “Chase Me” starring Batman and Catwoman, which is arguably more enjoyable than the movie itself. There are also several featurettes about the film — they spoil Batwoman’s identity, so wait until after you’ve seen the movie to watch them.
  • Every main character has their own personalized score, including a pretty sultry one for Batwoman. The only actual song is “Betcha Neva” by pop singer Cherie, who gets animated to sing it in the Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge.
  • A few years after this movie came out, DC made headlines by introducing a new Batwoman in their monthly comics, and making her the first openly lesbian superheroine. This Batwoman is Kate Kane, an ex-soldier who has no connection with any of the characters in this movie.

Groovy Quotes

Bruce: The last thing Gotham City needs is a vigilante running amok.
Alfred: As they say on the streets, “I ain’t touchin’ that one.”

Robin: What do they make here?
Batman: Trinkets, figurines… weapons of mass destruction.

Kathy: It’s a dressing room! The worst thing that can happen is that I’ll need a size 8. Why don’t you go rob gift wrap or something?
Thug: I miss working for the Joker.

Penguin: And Mr. Wayne! It’s been quite a while, hasn’t it?
Bruce: Yes. I believe the last time was when you stole plutonium from one of my labs and threatened to blow up the city.
Penguin: Oho, oh, yes. Heh heh. My more… rambunctious days.

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1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero [retro review] « Mutant Reviewers From Hell

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