The biggest talking point to come from the latest in DC Animation’s ever-growing line of original films is the major change to the source material that comes late in the film. This isn’t an isolated event either. Aside from that, Batman: Hush is far from a perfect film but it competently adapts an immensely convoluted modern classic into a condensed run-time. It pulls a large ensemble of Batman’s famous rogues gallery and allies into a mystery that comes second to what’s actually a contemporary tale of forbidden love… dressed up in tights and leather.
Prior to Gotham by Gaslight, the most recent Bat-centric films have been Bad Blood (2016), Batman vs. Robin (2015), and Son of Batman (2014), all of which exist in the same continuity as Hush and are considered sub-par films with solid premises and lacklustre execution with too much emphasis on gore and violence. Gotham by Gaslight sits outside of this continuity, the same way that 2011 and 2012’s The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1 and 2 and 2011’s Batman: Year One do, and yet Hush for the most part matches the quality of those far more consistently than its prequels. Returning voices, art design, and continuity references at one time or another might have been creatively limiting but, for the first time, this shared universe doesn’t get in the way.
Written by Jeph Loeb and with art by Jim Lee, the original Hush story-line ran for 12 issues on a monthly release schedule, and spanned the entire lexicon of Batman’s vast cast of characters. Its story centres on Hush, a mystery man with a bandaged face who’s using Gotham as a chessboard and its various heroes and villains as the pieces. His identity itself is rather predictable, and the film strays as far as it possibly could have in trying to subvert the expectations of well-versed readers. This is a near-identical move to that made in Gotham by Gaslight, where the identity of Jack the Ripper is revealed to be a famous (and fictional) ally of the Batman. It’s a welcome experiment and one that we should hope to see more of.
Ironically though, Hush is an at times near-forgotten villain in his own film, the script capitalising on Tom King’s popular and presently running Batman comic and opting to focus most of its dramatic energy on the Batman and Catwoman relationship. It’s no surprise that an understanding of DC’s rich history is advantageous coming into this, though enough is implied for these films to always stand on their own. But while the Bruce and Selina romance is well-established throughout the film here, and despite allusions to past encounters, there’s simply not enough time to spend on their history here. Curiously, the Bat-Cat relationship is also prevalent in Gotham by Gaslight. The two films share striking similarities, though their settings and visual style set them far apart from one another.
Hush moves swiftly from one scenario to the next, much like the comic, here using Catwoman as the line with which the dots are connected. The Hush investigation is a rather flimsy one, certainly not the element driving the narrative, and while the reveal itself is a fresh subversion that avoids falling into oft-trodden territory (think Jason Todd), it could still have used a more deft hand at foreshadowing. Instead it feels like an afterthought rather than a carefully plotted one. The film bounces from one scenario to the next from start to finish and the things that happen often lose some of their punch. Batman finding himself in a life-threatening situation or losing someone close to him are moments that in a less convoluted story might have earned a more fitting reaction.
It’s something of a “what if?”, seeing Batman and Catwoman teaming up as both crime fighters and lovers. Though too often we’re being told that Selina is good for Bruce without being shown, there’s an undeniable chemistry between actors Jason O’Mara and Jennifer Morrison and the relationship is written with the appropriate energetic flare. It fizzles out a little by the end – the two seem to always come to the conclusion that they cannot be together. Tragic though it is, the realisation forces a film going at breakneck speed to crash straight into a brick wall. Still, the climax is suitably explosive, the combination between Bat and Cat is a satisfying one, and the villain gets his comeuppance. What more could you want?
Well, apart from narrative cohesion. The trouble with telling a mystery is that the pieces need to be there for an observant viewer to pick up on. It needs to be less of a shock and more of an inevitability, giving a viewer his “ah huh!” or her “oh, of course!” moment. Falling onto the romantic aspect of the story mitigates that need a little, and I can’t deny I took satisfaction in that the villain beneath Hush’s bandages is one that is utilised so rarely on the screen. Yet the mystery is just not given quite enough room to grow into something compelling, reducing the film at times to a highlights reel of iconic moments from the original book.
The DC Animated Universe has veered sharply from any need to faithfully adapt its source. Recent films have proven that artistic liberty is being taken with at times little regard for the sanctity of the original. That’s fine and it seems as though these films have been a testing ground to see what will stick and what won’t. Hush is the strongest Batman flick released since 2012, aside from perhaps Gotham by Gaslight and with none slated for 2020, it’s a good enough way to enter this Bat-hiatus for however long – or little – that might last.
Film ’89 Verdict – 7/10
Batman: Hush is available on Blu-Ray now.