An uprising within The League of Assassins sends Talia al Ghul and her child to Gotham City, where they seek the protection of The Dark Knight. It’s soon revealed that the child is Batman’s very own son, but the boy has more interest in seeking revenge on the man who sacked the mountaintop stronghold of his grandfather, than bonding with his estranged Bat-dad. Meanwhile, the usurper Deathstroke grows ever closer to building an army of monstrous, winged assassins who will obey his every command. The latest DC Universe Original Movie Son of Batman is directed by Ethan Spaulding and produced by James Tucker with a script by James Robinson & Joe R. Lansdale adapted from Grant Morrison & Andy Kubert’s Batman And Son.
The Source Material
This section can be skipped by those who have never read or have no interest in the source material.
The previous DC Animated film, Justice League: War, was a surprisingly faithful adaptation of a fairly mediocre comic. Son of Batman, however, is based on what many consider to be a modern classic yet the source material is disregarded and that’s likely a big reason why I was so disappointed with the film: it actually had potential! Potential not only for one film but for setting up several films to follow based on Grant Morrison’s Batman epic. Calling the film a “loose adaptation” is an understatement. Batman: Under the Red Hood took many liberties with its source material and was all the better for it. In my opinion, Under the Red Hood far surpasses its comic book counterpart and stands out as one of the best films DC Animation has produced. The source material behind Son of Batman, called Batman and Son, by Grant Morrison & Andy Kubert is thrown out the window and the drastic changes that are made make very little sense. And forget about seeing some of the books most memorable pages come to life!
Think you’re going to see that jaw-dropping opening sequence in which Joker is destroying Gotham when suddenly Batman pulls out a gun and shoots him in the face? It’s not here. What about the James Bond-esque globe trotting that leads to Batman having to fight dozens of Man-Bats in front of a museum’s vibrant display of pop-art? Not here. The shocking reveal that Damian lopped off The Spook’s head? Nope. Damian vs. Tim Drake in the Batcave? Heck no! It would appear that Tim Drake never existed in this universe and the fight scene between him and Damian is given to Nightwing on a typical Gotham street rather than the visually interesting set piece of the Batcave’s trophy room. That might be forgivable if the fight scene actually occurred on screen, but it didn’t. The best we get are 8 still-shots distributed in the end credits.
All of the key details that could have set up a Black Glove or Batman RIP film are totally absent. No Joker, no Zur-en-arrh, no Jezebel Jet, etc. Talia al Ghul has not even evolved from star-crossed love interest into a full-fledged villain with a “woman’s scorn” motivation and the ambition to surpass her father’s achievements as the new Demon’s Head. In fact, she’s a damsel in distress and excuse to show ample cleavage for most of the film. The comic’s twisted plot to dump off Talia’s son and disrupt Batman’s operation while she runs off to begin her quest of world domination on the other side of the planet is scrapped. She’s just looking for refuge. Our main bad guy is Deathstroke and as if it weren’t enough to stomp all over Batman & Son, the filmmakers also incorporate Deathstroke and totally rewrite his backstory and all of his former personality traits to create someone who is Deathstroke in name only. Quite simply: every change made from the source material was awful and the one thing they kept from the books is something that they shouldn’t have. One of the things I loathed about Morrison’s contribution to the comics was that he had Talia drug and essentially date rape Bruce all those years ago when conceiving Damian. That remains in the film and, worse, she goes into detail about the date rape with Damian, her son, still in ear-shot of the conversation.
Batman & Son wasn’t a dense comic to adapt and it was naturally cinematic in nature. The changes that were made from page to screen appear to have been made just for the sake of making changes, none of which were an improvement.
While watching the film I found myself yelling at the TV more often than not. Usually these exclamations were a different variation of “Why did they change that?!” or “Why would that character do/say that?!”
I found it to have a dull plot, poor voice acting, the characterization of Deathstroke was downright insulting to fans, had a clumsy message on when it’s right to kill, and, much like Justice League: War, it tried to be a “mature film” by showcasing violence and gore rather than dealing with the consequences of all that action. It doesn’t just make for a boring story, but it creates action that caries little or no weight at all. At the very least it could’ve been fun, but amazingly they made a movie in which a 10-year old boy can fight ninja Bat-monsters and I’m still hitting pause to see how much time is left on the clock.
Here are the film’s strengths:
- Damian is written exceedingly well. While the characterization of many of the film’s villains is questionable, the Bat-family is doing alright and the brand-new Robin really shines. Damian’s characterization is almost exactly what it was in the comic the movie is based on. His pompous interactions with the likes of Dick Grayson and Alfred are the high point of the film
- Any scene with Alfred was delightful. Alfred’s witty banter was spot on and overall the film had a good sense of humor
- The design for the Batmobile and Batwing were cool and the use of computer effects for both vehicles blended in nicely
- Batman interrogates a chained Killer Croc in a scene that shows Batman remaining unfazed by his foe’s vicious nature. I liked that and basically any moments in which actor Jason O’Mara portrayed a calm and in-control Batman
- Although Nightwing isn’t in the film much, his scenes were always amusing and his description of Kirk Langstrom’s experiments marked one of the funniest moments of the film
- There are some good-looking character designs in the film. Deathstroke looks good and Damian himself matches up with what we saw in his first appearance as Robin in the comics
- The end credits did offer a glimpse at the fight scene we all wanted to see
Here are the film’s weaknesses:
- Damian’s voice actor, Stuart Allan, sounds like any other American kid you hear in any other cartoon. I suppose I always imagined Damian sounding more aristocratic in tone and with a slightly exotic accent like Ra’s and Talia have always been shown to have
- The League of Assassins look laughably outdated. In the opening scene, why are they defending their secret base with nothing but trebuchets and swords? They’re the world’s most feared terrorist organization, not the super villain equivalent of the Amish– they should have modern technology. Heck, there’s even a point where Talia rushes to a turret and it only fires arrows. What the heck is going on? How has nobody slaughtered the League of Assassins before when they’re stuck in the 18th century?
- The characterization of Deathstroke, Talia, Ubu, The League of Assassins, and Ra’s al Ghul was awful
- Deathstroke may have looked like Deathstroke, but with an all-new backstory and cowardly personality he is NOT the Deathstroke that any fan will recognize. My God, he ran from every fight in the movie at some point and got his butt kicked anytime he hung around longer than a second or two. At the start of the film, why did he land, go into Ra’s al Ghul’s base, and then have his choppers fire rockets into the very room he just entered? Why did he and his men wear a half/half insignia BEFORE he lost the eye that spawned his trademark? And Thomas Gibson’s performance didn’t work at all. He spoke the lines, but there was nothing behind them. I’m amazed by how Deathstroke is treated in this movie. I mean, the character has been getting squeezed into every cartoon, comic, TV show, video game, and animated movie lately so obviously DC is pushing him pretty hard so why keep the look and scrap everything else about him that people like? This Deathstroke is not ruthless, charismatic, or cunning. He’s a whiny coward who not only gets beaten by a 10-year old, but flees from a 10-year old
- Talia was reduced to a damsel in distress for most of the film. She’s supposed to be a brilliant leader of a group of the world’s deadliest assassins and yet when it’s time for retaliation their master plan is to rush into Deathstroke’s front door
- On of the most memorable moments of the source material is when Damian sneaks out of the Batcave and murders a super villain. Rather than have that shocking scene we replace the super villain with Ubu and Damian never slays. There was no suspense in the potential murder either because we had already seen Damian kill countless people in the film’s opening sequence. In the comics, the discovery of what horror Damian was capable of was used to great dramatic effect, but here there’s no impact at all. Believing Ubu would ever betray Ra’s al Ghul is something I just can’t buy. No follower of Ra’s al Ghul is as loyal as Ubu, but here he would sell out to satisfy his personal vices
- Ra’s al Ghul & The League of Assassins don’t seem evil at all. Batman’s in an awkward position in the movie where he has to help one branch of an evil organization destroy the other, but it’s an idea that’s never explored. The League of Assassins seem like a peaceful colony in a serene hideaway that’s one day attacked by choppers like they’re the Na’vi from Avatar or something. Ra’s al Ghul just seems like a kindly grandpa that we’re watching our protagonist try to avenge. Ra’s al Ghul is Damian’s Uncle Ben Parker
- Too much Man-Bat buildup that goes nowhere. The source material explained the Man-Bat army pretty quickly and painlessly whereas the film makes Kirk Langstrom an integral character and we hype up the monster ninjas for most of the first half of the film. Are they the unstoppable soldiers they were advertised to be? Let me put it this way: Remember all the buildup for the Urk-hai in Lord of the Rings? Double that. Now, imagine if Saruman’s Uruk-hai from The Fellowship of the Ring never killed Boromir and were instead all wiped out by Merry and Pip throwing rocks. THAT’S what the Man-Bat ninjas are like in this movie
- The voice acting was quite flat all around. I think a lot of that has to do with today’s technique of having the actors come into the studio and do their performances one at a time rather than getting the whole cast in the same room at once to react to one another in real time. Rarely does it ever feel like we’re hearing real conversations. It’s just pre-recorded lines played on cue. This practice probably works a lot better when all of the roles are filled by experienced voice actors, but the DC Animated films always seem to cast film and TV actors who are often times trying out voice over work for the first time
- O’Mara’s sleepy, monotone delivery only works when Batman isn’t in an emotional scene. Otherwise, every line sounds the same. However, he did sound better than he did in Justice League: War
- Dick Grayson does nothing for most of the movie and his big scene is cut into 8 frames that are played over the credits at the end of the movie. Seeing as how Damian is practically superhuman in this movie, you can only imagine how easily Nightwing, who bested Damian, would wipe out Deathstroke and his army
- It’s hard to suspend disbelief during Damian’s fight scenes. He’s a tiny 10-year old who needs to look like he can bring down hulking figures like Ubu and that’s going to be hard to translate for the screen. You’d think that we would see a unique fighting style that utilized his small stature and superior speed, but the fight scenes all played out as if he was another adult who could simply overpower his enemies and that didn’t look good. Not. One. Bit. More often than not, it was unintentionally funny. Worst of all, the boy doesn’t even seem to take damage. In one scene, he is stabbed through both arms and removes the blades by pulling the hilt through his flesh and yet he presses on without any sign of pain or fatigue. Every blow he takes his meaningless
Here are the film’s weaknesses that are spoilers
- There are numerous occasions in which characters do things that don’t make sense
- Like Deathstroke landing at the mountain stronghold, walking inside, and then his own men fire rockets into that very room
- Then there’s Deathstroke’s retreat. Why did he leave the compound? Because a 10 year old cut out his eyeball? His team just conquered the entire area and he’s leaving because he got hurt? He has helicopters, they have swords, arrows, and a couple of catapults.
- The whole opening scene is ridiculous, just look at the part where Ra’s al Ghul uses a sword to deflect assault rifles. 1) The gunmen surround him, thus putting their other teammates in the line of fire 2) How the heck is he able to deflect hundreds of bullets in every possible direction at once?
- Why would you hire Killer Croc to steal chemicals for you when you have all these ninjas available? What’s better for a theft than a ninja? Surely not a 9 ft tall crocodile man who is also a junkie
- Batman threw a shuriken at Damian’s face just for the hell of it, then was surprised, “Nice reflexes!” when Damian caught it. Batman, what if he didn’t catch it? You just killed a 10-year old boy in the middle of the Batcave and for no conceivable reason!
- The movie changes the rules of the Lazarus Pit. Ra’s al Ghul is badly burned and nobody puts him in the Lazarus Pit, why? This is a textbook example of a time when the Lazarus Pit is supposed to be used. Later in the film, Deathstroke says shooting Talia in the head would be something even the Lazarus wouldn’t bring her back from– also not true
- The relationships and character development were all rushed with no turning-point moment for anyone to change. What did Damian see in his father that made him like him so much? What made Damian decide that not killing was actually the way to go? What did Talia see in the final scene that made her change her mind about taking Damian home with her?
- What the heck was the message about not killing in this movie? Damian’s arc takes him from being a kid who would gladly stab someone to death —> to being a kid who would gladly stab someone and then leave them for dead. What the hell is that?
- And what about the scene where Batman & Damian are rescuing the Langstroms and Damian wraps his legs around an assassin’s head and then twists? I heard a crack! Did you hear a crack? It sure as hell looked like Damian snapped the guy’s neck right in front of Batman and I expected Batman to get angry but I guess he didn’t hear the crack as clearly as I did because it looked and sounded a lot like Damian snapping that dude’s neck
- Then there was the battle with the Man-Bats in the coliseum! Batman killed the Man-Bats! He dropped the roof on top of every single one of them and then left. They are dead! You can’t have a movie about Batman teaching his son not to kill and then show him killing
- “I don’t have to save you.” isn’t a Batman thing to do. It wasn’t right when it happened in Batman Begins and it’s not right with Damian leaving Deathstroke to die here. It totally counts as killing. Leaving someone to die when you could easily save them is the same thing as killing them– it’s especially true if you mock them about it before you fly away to safety
Unlike the past few DC Animated releases, this picture doesn’t come with a commentary track of any kind. It does, however, include the following exclusively on Blu-ray:
- Strange Blood Ties: Damian Wayne Featurette
- The Fang and The Demon Head: The League of Assassins Featurette
- These were really interesting, but short documentaries about the comic book history of Damian Wayne and Ra’s al Ghul. Interviews included Grant Morrison, a “Comic Book Historian,” and the film’s producers. They discuss works such as Son of the Demon, Batman & Son, Batman RIP, Batman & Robin, and Batman Incorporated in detail so if you intend to read those books you might want to steer clear because they drop quite a few big spoilers. Otherwise, I think fans should find these two features to be pretty insightful. On a different level, I was a bit frustrated to hear the film’s producers talk at length about the complexity of the source material when none of the aspects they rave about made it into their film. I also found it kind of odd that Deathstroke didn’t get his own documentary since he plays a far bigger part in Son of Batman than Ra’s al Ghul did.
- Designing the Characters with Phil Bourassa Featurette
- Character designer Phil Bourassa narrates an art showcase and explains the work that goes into designing these characters for an animated film. Bourassa also worked on Young Justice and you can see a definite similarity between the look of that show and what’s in Batman and Son, but with a bit more of an anime influence. His commentary has a few intriguing moments here or there, but I admittedly began to zone out at the midway point.
- A Sneak Peek at Batman: Assault on Arkham
- The filmmakers introduce the voice cast and discuss how their movie relates to the world of Rocksteady’s line of Arkham games. Batman: Assault on Arkham isn’t a direct adaptation of Batman: Arkham Asylum at all, but appears to be more of a Suicide Squad movie packaged as a Batman film, which I’m okay with. They want to popularize the Suicide Squad and a great way to do that is to attach it not only to Batman, but the successful video game franchise as well. It’s essentially an original story with the character/set designs of Arkham Asylum/City and the sneak peek successfully made me interested in seeing it.
- From the DC Vault – 4 Bonus Cartoons
- Batman Beyond, “Out of the Past”
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold, “The Knights of Tomorrow”
- Batman: The Animated Series, “Showdown”
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold, “Sidekicks Assemble!”
Buy, Rent, or Skip
Skip entirely or wait until it shows up on Amazon Prime or Netflix instant streaming one day.
Definitely one of the worst DC Animated films I’ve seen.
Son of Batman is available for Digital Download now. It will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on May 6th.