Batman vs Robin Movie Review

‘Batman vs Robin’ Review

If there’s one form of adaptation DC has always had a knack for, it’s animation. From the classic Bruce Timm and Paul Dini era of Batman and Justice League shows to the more recent film versions of New 52 storylines, DC and Warner Bros. have delivered some pretty solid cartoons over the years.

Their latest works have included large scale features like Justice League: War and Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, both of which dealt with a large cast of characters and imposing supernatural villains. Now we have the more intimate and character-driven Batman vs. Robin, the follow up to last year’s Son of Batman.

Combining elements of Grant Morrison’s run on Batman and Robin with Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls story arc, the movie continues to explore the troubled relationship between Bruce Wayne and his son Damian, whom he had with Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter Talia. Now the new Robin, Damian poses a tremendous challenge for Batman as a result of his upbringing with the League of Assassins.

Feeling that his son is too rambunctious to keep going on missions, Bruce tries to keep him at home when a legendary secret society called the Court of Owls shows up in Gotham. This of course creates a classic father and son tension which then culminates toward the movie’s climax.

As Damian seeks to make a name for himself apart from his father, he aligns himself with a member of the court called Talon, whom he sees as a figure willing to do to criminals what Batman won’t. With the court gaining leverage over him, the Dark Knight must put an end to this organization’s masquerade and make amends with his son, before it’s too late.

Fusing together two major storylines from the Batman mythos into one movie is no doubt ambitious, and there are pros and cons that stem from this approach. While the Court provides a nice catalyst for fracturing Bruce and Damian’s relationship, it also makes it difficult to keep the story focused.

In the comics, the Court of Owls is a more than formidable adversary for Batman with an extensive mythology that is linked to Bruce’s origin. With the movie, director Jay Oliva and screenwriter J.M. DeMattais manage to scratch the surface of who they are, but are ultimately limited given that the central conflict focuses on the father/son dynamic. While it is exciting to see this relatively new group of villains onscreen and in some pretty stellar fight sequences, it’s a shame how little depth they are given in this movie.

It would have made more sense for them to use someone from the League of Assassins in place of Talon’s character and make a separate Court of Owls movie altogether. This way we could still see Damian’s struggles and temptations play out, and then get a film devoted to the Court. As it stands, Batman vs. Robin is a bit too disjointed in its plotting, and for those who have seen it I’m still perplexed by how the final battle concludes.

In terms of voice acting, the only thing Jason O’Mara’s Batman still needs is a distinction between the brooding vigilante and Bruce. Having seen him in this and the other Batman and Justice League movies he’s been in, I have yet to detect a significant difference between his hero voice and his alias. Especially since that’s one of the things that made Kevin Conroy’s Batman so iconic (on that note Conroy does provide the voice of Thomas Wayne in this movie), it’s something that is sorely missing from the current DC animated universe.

Others have complained about Stuart Allen as Damian, but I didn’t mind him as much. He has the whiny aspects of the character in his performance, but on the whole there could’ve been a lot more emotion from the cast. For those who loved the exchanges between Bruce Greenwood’s Batman and Jensen Ackles’ Red Hood in Under the Red Hood, the tension and emotion here is far from what it is in that movie.

Yet despite its shortcomings, Batman vs. Robin does deliver some of the most engaging and sharply executed fight sequences in the last decade of DC animated movies. The action is brutal, bloody, hard-hitting and undeniably entertaining from start to finish. And for those who have read Snyder’s run in the comics, that giant robot Batman uses to fight the Court’s minions does show up here in all its glory.

And as a quick side note, the movie does contain a truly excellent intro sequence involving the psychotic villain Dollmaker. Aside from the fact that Weird Al voices this character, this scene is wickedly disturbing and establishes the movie’s grittiness.

While not without its faults, the latest installment in the DC animated universe is definitely worth a watch, particularly for New 52 readers. Batman vs. Robin offers fans a deeper look at the fractured relationship between Bruce and Damian while providing fantastic animation and energetic action sequences. If only it had done a better job with the Court of Owls.

Grade: C+
 

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