The shadows of Gotham City are no place for a child, but Damian Wayne is no ordinary child. Now bearing the mantle of Robin, he blazes a headstrong and sometime reckless trail alongside his father, the Batman. while investigating a crime scene, Robin encounters a mystterious figure, Talon, who leads him on a life-altering course through the depth of Gotham’s secret society known as the Court of Owls. It’s a dangerous journey that will force Batman and Robin to face their most dangerous adversary, each other! Witness the epic battle that will shape a destiny and forge the future of Robin forever.
The Source Material
Batman vs. Robin shares the same name as a storyline from Grant Morrison’s run on the Batman & Robin title which saw Dick Grayson under the cowl, but it actually has nothing to do with it and everything to do with Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo’s Court of Owls (which would’ve made a much title for this picture). However, Batman vs. Robin is not a direct adaptation of The Court of Owls, it merely draws heavily from it. Another story that inspired this film quite noticeably was Batman & Robin, Vol. 1: Born to Kill only now the villain Nobody has been replaced with Talon, an original character who looks like William Cobb with the mask and Calvin Rose without. The movie also features a powerful scene that nods to the 666 Batman Universe.
Directed by Jay Oliva
Written by J.M. DeMatteis
Produced by James Tucker
I admittedly went into this one with low expectations. It’s the sequel to Son of Batman and for me that just might be the worst DC Animated movie to date. But I was entertained by Batman vs. Robin and even liked some of the changes made to the Court of Owls and Born to Kill storylines. But the movie is still far from being great and the biggest thing holding it back is Robin. If the whole movie was just Batman vs. The Court of Owls, I’d rank it pretty highly on DC’s growing list of animated pictures.
The movie opens really dark with Robin out to rescue some kidnapped children from The Dollmaker, a character that’s gotten a lot of undeserved attention lately. Seriously, he’s been in Gotham, Arrow, and now this. He’s nothing special, Hollywood. Anyway, the version of Dollmaker we see here is a hulking figure unlike what we saw in the comics and he’s voiced by an eerie, unrecognizable Weird Al Yankovic, who I’d like to hear voice more characters in the future. Dollmaker is turning his captives into a kind of zombie horde to do his bidding and in that way he has more in common with Professor Pyg. It’s all very twisted and the creepy mood and nicely choreographed fight sequence establish the tone of the film well. The problem is that it also gets something else across: Robin is not only irritating but this is his movie, not Batman’s.
From the very first moment we see Damian has followed clues that Batman missed (that… that can happen?) and it’s the Boy Wonder who handles most of the fighting. Batman is forced to play catch-up and it’s evident that we’re in for a lot of Damian-worship in this flick. Still, when Batman does arrive we do get a terrific moment in which The Dark Knight embraces one of the scared children and assures them that their safe now. I found that to be one of the best parts of the movie since we so rarely see these characters expressing any sort of care or even witness them save the day at all. All too often our modern heroes do little more than minimize the carnage. Seconds later, Robin is confronted by and bonds all-too-quickly with a mysterious assassin known only as Talon, who has been following Robin for some time. The rift between father and son grows out of that dark union and ta-da we have the titular conflict.
So we see that Batman is a character who actually cares about the people he’s saving, but struggles to express the same tenderness toward his son– that is interesting– and it’s obvious that he could have been to the crime scene on time if only his sidekick communicated with him. We also see that Robin is headstrong and irritating and way too trusting of masked assassins, yet he, not Batman, is somehow going to be the hero of this story. Well, somewhat. Batman is the driving force of the film, but, and this is the most aggravating thing, he does all the work and then Robin gets the glory. It. Is. Maddening.
I used to not like Damian Wayne, but then I started reviewing the comics here at Batman News and I read everything that the character starred in. After a while I grew to care about Bruce and Talia’s son, but these movies are making me hate the little guy all over again. When Batman vs. Robin focuses on Batman’s quest to hunt down the Court of Owls or shows sentimental moments between father and son or gives us a thrilling fight with Batman and Nightwing side-by-side against The Talons, it’s a great movie. One of the best in some time. But then, out of nowhere, the interesting people grow weak or do something inept and it’s up to Robin to set things right.
The film’s called “Batman vs Robin” but does anyone really want to see that aspect? I think not. It’s the Court of Owls that’s the fascinating obstacle to overcome and the father/son drama is botched. The fight scene between the dynamic duo just made me roll my eyes and hope we could get back to the movie’s real conflict. They’ve overpowered Damian and he just hasn’t earned all of these moments of triumph, especially when he isn’t growing as a character. Worse, the father/son dynamic the film hinges upon somehow ignores Dick Grayson entirely in-lieu of making Damian look like the ultimate heir to the cowl. I think it hurt more to see how dismissive Bruce was of Dick than it did to watch Nightwing get pummeled by Damian. If we’re going to examine the Bat-family dynamic through a father/son lens, why not explore the relationship not just between Bruce and Damian, but Bruce and Dick? You could even dive into the bond between Bruce and Alfred as well. And when you have flashbacks with Kevin Mutha’fn Conroy voicing Thomas Wayne you can and should go deeper into that father/son relationship as well! Instead we center everything around a single son who is really, really unlikeable.
BUT if we take out the Damian-is-the-best element, what we have here is actually really good both in story and heart-pumping action. Bruce’s struggle to be a good father? Well done. Dick’s efforts to bond with Damian while also trying to balance his life as a fighter of crime and lover of beautiful women? Hilarious. And, most importantly, the Court of Owls are as captivating as they were in the pages of Batman and the animators perfectly captured Greg Capullo’s original designs. I was particularly impressed by the spooky atmosphere of The Court’s meetings and how beautifully realized the climactic battle in the batcave was handled (even if we did miss the giant dinosaur’s stomping action). Some might find aggravation in the fact that the filmmakers omitted the original saga’s “big bad” or that the powers of the talon assassins were scaled back, but I appreciated how Snyder’s more over-the-top elements which came after Batman #6 were toned down. The core of the story that made it so interesting in the first place is there. The backhand that knocked out exactly the right tooth, the monologue delivered at a jet engine, and the multi-title cross-over siege of Gotham are all gone and I think that was the right choice.
The animation looks sharp and is very fluid during the fight scenes. As I said, the cave fight is magnificent until Bruce and Dick have to step aside to make room for Damian. Also worth applauding is the set design which also looks like it was lifted directly from the pages of Batman.
The new additions to the voice cast are a step up from Son of Batman— I’ll never forget how bad Deathstroke sounded. As I said before, Weird Al gives a creepy performance, and Jeremy Sisto lends a powerful voice to Talon (he made a solid Dark Knight back in New Frontier). However, Jason O’Mara still doesn’t sound like Batman to me and it’s made all the more evident when you compare his voice to Sisto’s and, no surprise here, Kevin Conroy, who plays Thomas Wayne. Stuart Allan is fine as Damian but I can’t help but imagine Damian would have some kind of accent since he was raised in multiple different nations and both Ra’s and Talia are typically portrayed with an English accent. David McCallum stood out as a wonderful Alfred, I think he had quite a few more lines than in Son of Batman this time around, and I hope he holds onto the role much like O’Mara has with The Caped Crusader.
Note: There isn’t anything after the credits, which I’m sure disappoints many of you who were hoping or a teaser for a possible Death of the Family film.
- Gotham City’s Secret: The Mythic Court of Owls featurette
- The Talons of the Owls featurette
- Batman vs Robin audio commentary
- Four bonus cartoons from the DC Comics Vault
- A Sneak Peak at Justice League: Gods & Monsters
There’s also a version out there that comes with a little collectible Batman figure, but it costs about $10 bucks more and it is absolutely not a toy you’d spend $10 dollars on. If you want a cool Batman collectible figure, throw in another ten and buy a quality one from DC Collectibles.
Buy, Rent, or Skip
I think it’s worth buying and adding to your collection. It’s a movie that I wouldn’t mind sitting through again and I’m also eager to listen to the audio commentary. If you’d like to win an ultraviolet download code for the film, I’ll be hosting a trivia contest on or around the 29th of April on twitter @AndrewBatReview.
I enjoyed it. I thought it had a good story, great action, and made terrific use of The Court of Owls. It did a particularly excellent job translating Capullo’s visuals to the screen. However, the Damian-worship got extremely taxing (especially seeing him so overpowered compared to Batman) and you shouldn’t make a Batman film centered on a father/son dynamic and then be so dismissive of Dick Grayson’s importance.