40×40: Batman: Hush (2019)

Directed by Justin Copeland

“Who knew heroin was so flammable?”

Why Did I Get This?

As with Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, I picked this up on a bit of a whim but unlike that one, I was really familiar with the source material.

Hush is a great Batman story and ran for about a year in the early noughties, involving a mysterious new bad guy but roping in many of the Dark Knight’s Rogues Gallery. The artwork by Jim Lee is superb and the mystery itself is pretty well penned by Jeph Loeb (who was also responsible for Public Enemies).

I do remember watching this one, but little else about it other than there were some significant changes to the plot – let’s see how it holds up.

The Late Review

As always, the Late Review will go into detail about the film from start to finish, so if you’re looking to avoid potential spoilers, scroll down to the next heading.

When a new villain named Hush (Geoffrey Arend), arrives in Gotham it’s clear he knows secrets about Batman (Jason O’Mara), that could bring the Dark Knight to his knees. While Bruce Wayne becomes involved in a romance with Selina Kyle (Jennifer Morrison), their alter-egos Batman and Catwoman team up to put an end to Hush’s assault on the Caped Crusader – a fight which involves supervillains and heroes alike.

It was weird to see Daffy Duck and Porky Pig goofing around with the Warner Brothers logo at the start of this, considering the story itself is pretty dark, but not unpleasant – with all the shenanigans WB have been getting up to recently, it’s nice to look back to a happier time.

Into the film proper though, and there’s an immediate difference in animation style between Hush and Public Enemies – the lines are still clean and angular, but it feels much more like Batman: The Animated Series with how dark it is. Hush is very much a Batman story, so the brightness of Superman is very much noticeable by its absence.

Is it better? Gun to my head, I’d probably say yes (though how that situation might ever arise, I dread to think).

The backgrounds look equally good, but there’s more weight to the characters which helps the punches and crashes land with a bit more ‘oomph’. Similarly, there’s a noticeable difference to how some of the fight scenes are shot – an early cutaway to Nightwing (hey, it’s Firefly’s Sean Maher!), taking down a handful of goons feels dynamic and clear, while a scene with Catwoman taking on a bunch of hoods adopts a fluid movement around her, almost mimicking her fighting style. It’s a really nice touch, and means the fights feel different enough to remain interesting and doesn’t cause the kind of numbness that some lesser cartoon fight scenes might.

The voice cast is largely great too. While Kevin Conroy is, for some, the voice of Batman, Jason O’Mara’s tones really suit the fresh design and animation style, so Conroy isn’t really missed. Jerry O’Connell makes a great Superman, and Vanessa Williams is a great fit for Amanda Waller. Rainn Wilson is a bit more manic as Lex Luthor than Clancy Brown in Public Enemies, and while Jennifer Morrison’s delivery is sultry and smooth as Catwoman, for me it occasionally fell a little flat – laid back to the point of being horizontal, if you like. That being said, the relationship between Bruce/Batman and Selina/Catwoman works really well, and there’s no denying the voice work is a significant part of that, so all’s well that ends well.

Which brings me to the ending itself (see what I did there?), which is a big change to the comic book version.

In terms of the story itself, Loeb’s comic is adapted well by the magnificently-named Ernie Altbacker, and while there are some big changes, the bulk of it remains the same – bad guys and gals across Gotham all seem to be working differently to normal, and even Superman is acting weird, causing Batman to be suspicious someone’s pulling their strings before he is seriously injured in a fall.

His childhood friend Thomas Elliot, now a talented neurosurgeon, saves his life, but is then murdered – apparently by Joker, but actually by mysterious new villain Hush. Batman and Catwoman team up to track him down and take him on, leading to a surprising reveal.

Essentially, the identity of the villain has been switched – I’m assuming for a whole stack of reasons, not least of which being this is a 70-odd minute animated feature which assumes the viewer has some but not total knowledge of the characters and background. It’s not the payoff to a decade of world-building movies or series.

Does the switch work? Yeah, for me it does. Truth be told, I’ve read the comics a few times and I remember the stunning artwork and general themes better than how the mystery resolves itself. On top of that, there’s enough humour and style in Hush to keep it interesting, respect the source material and also allow the animated film to be its own thing.

Verdict

This was a lot of fun, and felt like a more adult adaptation than Public Enemies – not just due to the darkness of the animation, but it’s also rated 15 which means the fight scenes are violent, bloody and chock-full of headbutts, and we get some adult themes (the Bat and the Cat are at it like rabbits), and swearing (a rescued kid kicking an unconscious Bane and calling him an “asshole” made me laugh).

The changes to the story were handled well enough that they weren’t an issue, the voice cast was great, and the animation looks brilliant – a fight scene in a graveyard between Catwoman, Nightwing and Scarecrow featured some cool, trippy hallucinations, the visuals for Superman’s heat vision and super speed were great, and Batman’s Kryptonite knuckledusters were pretty sweet too.

Well worth a watch.

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