It's an animated adaptation of Judd Winick's 2004-06 story arc of the same name in the Batman comic books. It's impressive. I think it's missing something in the last act, leaving it a little empty, but it's still something you'd happily show to a Batman newbie as a first introduction to the universe.
The most notable thing about this film, for me, is its brutality. It starts with a close-up of Robin. Oh dear, I thought. The next thing we see, though, is the Joker with a crowbar. Naturally, I became happier. Robin clearly wasn't going to enjoy the next few minutes, but I hadn't been expecting how far they'd take this. Yes, that's right. Not only are we about to see A Death In The Family, but they're doing it as a pre-credits sequence.
There's lots of mythology. Batman's strongest stories are often the ones that get personal and this one's close to the bone. At root it's a story about Batman and Robin, except in bad ways and with complications. Plus of course the Joker. He was mandatory. He spends most of the film in Arkham Asylum, but he's the one who started it and you couldn't tell this story without him. These are strong ingredients and it's easy to see why the film's been so popular. Of course there are other story elements too, but all orbiting around that core.
Specifically there are two Robins, including Nightwing. There are two Red Hoods, if you count the fact that that's how the Joker started out, and for luck a Black Hood too. After that there's a peripheral Ra's Al Ghul, plus one or two I'd never heard of before. Who remembers Amazo, eh?
Leaving aside my niggles with the last act, most of the film is excellent. Everyone's badass and scary, not least of course the Batman. Our introduction to him involves a moving truck and... wow. He'll fight opponents with actual superpowers, but don't think that'll faze him. My favourite moment in the film was when he jumps into the middle of a group of evil super-assassins in mid-combat and for a second just stands there and stares them down. Meanwhile the Red Hood is Batman-level tough but in addition will kill people for something as minor as saying his name. His first scene involves a bag of severed heads.
I also really like their take on the laughing guy. This isn't Joker as criminal mastermind, but instead Joker as nuclear option and a force of nature. This is a monster that even criminals should be afraid of. It doesn't matter who you are. Even a 600-year-old immortal Fu Manchu will regret it if he gets involved with the Clown Prince of Crime and the story shifts in a fundamental way when he's around. His psychology is distinctive too. He doesn't have sane goals, but instead seems to want to make Batman play by his rules and would apparently welcome his own death if it meant he'd won this homicidal headfuck game.
At one point he even made me laugh. "Ah, so you do think about me."
The Black Hood is the only one who struck me as, perhaps, slightly tame. He's a gangster boss who'll blow his top at his associates and... punch them. Eh? In a superhero cartoon, that's like patting them on the head. Watch proper gangster movies and you'll see people getting cut with knives when the boss is going ballistic like that.
All that's great. There's a solid hour of good movie here. The rest of the film isn't bad either, but I couldn't help feeling that it lacked resolution. Maybe it's too close an adaptation of the story arc in the monthly Batman comic, which of course is inherently an open-ended format? That's a guess, since I haven't read it. Anyway, about this last act I don't quite see what it's trying to say. It puts extreme characters in an extreme situation and does nothing wrong, but I can't help feeling that I was more satisfied by Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
. In addition I thought Nightwing deserved to return. Their chosen triangle is probably stronger dramatically, but thematically I think we needed Dick Grayson.
The voice acting isn't great, despite a starry cast. Jason Isaacs is Ra's Al Ghul, for instance. However the animation's dynamic, even if I found myself getting distracted by how obviously computer-modelled all the vehicles were.
Would I recommend this? Yes, I think so. It's not the best Batman film I've seen, or perhaps even the best animated one, but it's clearly in the top half. My niggles are nebulous, while its virtues are clear and solid. It has an excellent Joker, memorable relationships and an interesting direction in which to take Batman lore. Note the way in which Red Mask has become both Batman and (through his nom de geurre) the Joker. Fundamentally though it's a mean, violent thriller with an iconic hero and a line-up of villains against whom even he might be out of his depth.
"What kind of superhumans?"