On Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman

Related to The New Batman Adventures, Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman was only relatively OK.

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One of the main problems I had was with the motivations of Kathleen Duquesne, Detective Sonia Alcana, and Dr. Roxanne Ballantine, as they appear to be bent on revenge, making them merely Straw Feminists (see Feminist Frequency‘s #6). Furthermore, at the conclusion of the film, all of them are saved from certain peril from another male character (all three via Batman), Roxy and Sonia are saved from the water by Robin, and finally, Kathy Duquesne is saved by her father (see Feminist Frequency‘s Damsel in Distress series). According to IGN‘s article, “Ranking The DC Animated Universe,” being placed at #7:

Mystery of the Batwoman came after the revamped New Batman Adventures had run its course. This movie succeeded in offering a new romantic entanglement for Bats even as he tried to solve the identity of the mysterious new female vigilante stalking the streets. Mystery of the Batwoman too suffered from relatively sup-bar animation quality. The presence of Bane, a villain who has never fared well in animated form, didn’t help either. On the plus side, the DVD included the animated short “Chase Me,” one of the best things ever to come out of the animated series.

According to the DVDTalk review:

Regardless of how many hundreds of millions of dollars they may have grossed, Batman’s live incarnations don’t come close to matching what Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and company have accomplished with the animated efforts Mask of the Phantasm and Return of the Joker. It’s tough to produce a comparable follow-up when the bar is set that high, and despite some initial misgivings I had, Mystery of the Batwoman manages to entertain while taking a markedly different approach than its predecessors.

The title gives at least a vague idea what to expect from Mystery of the Batwoman. The movie begins as a weapons shipment is assaulted by a figure in a bat costume, and this vigilante’s ruthless approach nearly leaves the arms runners dead, if not for the last minute intervention from a nearby Batman. Intrigued, the Dark Knight sets out to uncover the identity of Batwoman (voiced by Kyra Sedgwick), and three front-runners quickly emerge. The first is Roxanne Ballantine (Kelly Ripa), a clumsy but brilliant metallurgist in the employ of WayneTech whose boyfriend was wrongfully imprisoned thanks to the Penguin. There’s also Detective Bullock’s new partner, Sonia Alcana (Elisa Gabrielli), who has a history with both Batman and mobster Rupert Thorne. Last on the list is Kathy Duquesne (Kimberly Brooks), whose character design would seem to suggest that the filmmakers felt compelled to cram Halle Berry into a Batflick before the upcoming Catwoman could hit theaters. Kathy is the daughter of Carlton Duquesne, who’s acting as the muscle for a high-powered munitions ring headed by the Penguin (voiced by David Ogden Stiers rather than one-time mainstay Paul Williams) and Rupert Thorne. All three women have a motive for wanting to take down the Penguin, Thorne, and the elder Duquesne, and whoever’s hiding behind her cowl forces the villains to call in additional muscle. Not only does Batman have to deal with an international shipment of experimental weaponry, an enigmatic opponent who plays by her own set of rules, and a budding romance between Bruce and Kathy, but the additional arrival of drug-fueled strongman Bane (Hector Elizando).

I first watched Mystery of the Batwoman a month or so ago, and my initial reaction was tepid. The jazzy score seemed entirely out of place, lacking the sort of energy I’d expect from an animated action flick. The first half of the movie dragged, unable to really capture my interest until the mystery aspect was dropped and action really amped up. A pop song inserted into the middle of the movie seemed jarring and interminable. The premise came across as little more than a blurry photocopy of Mask of the Phantasm — detailing some of the comparisons would require diving into spoiler territory, but both movies have a mysterious, newly-introduced vigilante who has it out for a group of gangsters, and Batman spends a large portion of the movie trying to uncover who’s behind the mask. Heck, even the movies’ titles are similarly structured. There was also a brilliant intermingling of past and present in Mask of the Phantasm as well as Return of the Joker, not only telling a great story, but further fleshing out the Batman mythos. Mystery of the Batwoman is more linear and straightforward. Since this movie is predicated on being interested in Batwoman’s secret identity, the fact that I couldn’t have cared less left me fairly bored for a substantial chunk of its 75 minute runtime.

A few weeks later, this DVD showed up in my mailbox, and my thoughts about the movie took a near-180. I’m not entirely sure why that is, but I think it’s because I stopped comparing Mystery of the Batwoman to Return of the Joker and Mask of the Phantasm and started appreciating it for its own merits. Mystery of the Batwoman bears little resemblance to them, and that’s entirely by design. Judging by the comments by producer Alan Burnett in the disc’s extras, the movie’s mission statement is to avoid being as dark as those two films. So, sure, Batwoman doesn’t have a body count the way the Phantasm did. There are no insights into Bruce’s past, though fans of Batman Beyond, particularly Return of the Joker, may enjoy a nod to his future in the form of an awkwardly flirty phone call with Barbara Gordon. Mystery of the Batwoman is lighter but still heavy on the action, offering a more accessible blend of character development and explosive battles. I found myself appreciating some of the more subtle details — eye movements, slight changes to a character’s facial expression, the sorts of details that don’t overtly whack the viewer over the head — the second time around. Admittedly, the movie didn’t completely endear itself to me with that second viewing. The subdued score still didn’t seem to mesh with the action on-screen, and several lines of dialogue continued to leave me wincing: “Geez Louise, it’s a woman!” and “For a computer geek, you’re pretty smart,” in particular. (The thrice-damned phrase “computer geek” is actually tossed around twice.) Still, the majority of the gripes I had after that first viewing completely dissipated the second time through, propelling itself from a movie I at first considered to be ‘passably okay’ at best to ‘pretty good’.

Mystery of the Batwoman is a confection. There are no layers to peel and explore…no deep, introspective examinations into its characters’ psyches. The filmmakers set out to make a fun, straight-forward animated action flick, and at that, they succeeded. Mystery of the Batwoman hits DVD with a few supplements in tow, including a short created exclusively for this release.

 

 

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