Well this is a first for me! I always knew I was going to review all 3 of DC’s animated movies that come out this year but I never expected to be doing this! I am virtually reviewing an iTunes exclusive! I am saying that because at the time of writing this review I couldn’t find any other way of seeing this movie if you live in the UK. It is possible to import this film from the States where it was released 10 days ago as of the publication of this review, but if you are want to do that you need then you will need a multi region DVD or Blu Ray player because it is not a region free. I was kind of looking forward to Batman Versus Robin it’s designed to be a direct sequel to last year’s Son of Batman and tie into the new DC animated universe. (I have already given my thoughts on what I think of this new universe based on the New 52 comic line in my Justice League Throne of Atlantis review, so if you want to get my full thoughts on that one you are better off checking out that review). However, I was more excited about this one as I did actually like Son of Batman which came out last year. It wasn’t a perfect movie and on a lot of levels it was at best a pretty good movie, though it was just slightly off being great like some of the other DC animated films have been. I was hoping they could really work around this and take what was good with Son of Batman and really emphasise that for this film and hope that this would give hope for the DC animated movies to continue into next year.
The plot is that Bruce’s son Damian Wayne, voiced by Stuart Allan is still living and training with his father Bruce Wayne aka Batman, voiced by Jason O’Mara after the events of Son of Batman in which he assumed the role of Robin. It all comes to a head, however, when during a fight against a villain called the Doll Maker, voiced by “Weird Al” Yankovic. The Doll Maker is killed by a mysterious man in an owl mask ,voiced by Jeremy Sisto, and Damian is placed under close surveillance. Damian is feeling constantly frustrated by this, not helped by the fact that he is not allowed to be known by the public as Bruce Wayne’s son at this point for fear of the press. The trouble is brewing even further now that Batman has become aware of a secret organisation called “The Court of Owls”, made up of high ranking members of Gotham Society secretly running the show and they have Batman in their sights. The plot line itself is mainly based on the Scott Snyder story “The Court of Owls” which was one of the first Batman stories to be featured in the New 52 and one of the criticisms with the new DC Animated Universe being based on the New 52 was that these stories weren’t iconic so they don’t have a large fan base that wanted to see film versions of these compared to the other movies which are based on classic comics. This storyline on the other hand is already being hailed as a new classic and I would actually recommend reading the comic version prior to seeing the film as it does help in recognising some of the references, however, it is not essential. While it is mainly based on the “Court of Owls” it does actually throw in a lot of elements of other Batman story lines that were going on at the time. There is definitely a few elements of the Batman and Robin storyline “Born to Kill” which in my opinion would potentially have made a better adaptation for the second film featuring Damian Wayne, and it also features some elements of what was going on in Nightwing’s Comic series at the time, but in a slightly different way which I will get into!
This films biggest strength is its characters which I thought was definitely lacking in the two most recent Justice League movies. This Batman movie definitely seems to get that done and at times it is stronger than Son of Batman but at times it is slightly weaker, possibly down to the fact that the cast has shrunk since that movie. It also means that there are not too main characters to worry about. Damian is definitely improving as a character and since he has kind of become the main character of these last two films that is definitely a good thing! He gets slightly more development in this film than he did in Son of Batman and that’s a good thing because I think he develops a lot more than most of the Robin’s have in a shorter space of time, at least in the comics continuity. So it was good to see some of that development go into the film screening as I felt there was a slight lack of development in his character in Son of Batman. I also think Batman is done pretty good in this film especially considering he is allowed to have a lot more focus and the great thing about this films is it is actually a Batman and Robin movie, unlike the last film which I felt focussed too much on Robin and didn’t allow it to be a Batman story. This film has this issue, but it is not over-bearing. When the plot does focus on Batman it is pretty good especially when we are seeing some of Bruce Wayne’s grief after losing his parents in the flash back sequences, emphasising the personal element that the Court of Owls play on Bruce Wayne’s life. Now the comic went slightly more into detail with this, but obviously this movie is only 80 minutes long and doesn’t have the time to do so like a comic story line with 12 issues did.
This film’s biggest strength and weakness is its villains. The Court of Owls are really good modern Batman villains, they are essentially Gotham’s version of The Illuminati, if you believe in that stuff. In fact the whole reason that Scott Snyder chose Owls was down to the whole illuminati mythology reference. We don’t get that much information into them, granted the comic kept them mysterious and we didn’t learn all that much about them, but we were given a lot more detail than this and it leaves them feeling slightly under-developed. That can not be said for the Head Assassin for the Court of Owls, Talon, who is played by Jeremy Sisto of Law and Order fame. He is really well cast in this role, which I will expand on later, but despite the fact that he is written excellently, is given great characterisation and is well played, his role is really confusing. I mentioned before, there are elements of Nightwings Comic series in this film, which makes sense, Nightwings comic series was tying into the Court of Owls storyline going on in the Batman comics. But Talon, has now essentially has been turned into a combination of Calvin Rose from the Talon comic and Nightwings first villain in his series. This won’t bother people who haven’t read the comics but if you have, it will become quite confusing and it will also be kind of annoying to comic fans because Nightwings role has been greatly decreased for this film, which is a shame because he played a large part in the original story line and it’s rather disappointing! There is even a throw away line toward the end of the film that implies that Nightwing has a connection to the Court of Owls, which, yes you will understand if you have read the comic, but there is nothing in the film to suggest that Nightwing knows anything about it. Also the villain’s plan really doesn’t make much sense, we don’t learn all that much about what exactly the Court of Owls want and whatever they were planning is abandoned in the end for a whole army of Talons having a fight with Batman in Wayne Manor, which leads to the most awesome line of the entire movie by the way. Talon and Damian Wayne’s connection is pretty good and we know that Talon’s intention is to recruit Damian because he sees a lot of himself in him (which basically makes him a clone of the villain from the Born To Kill Storyline), but other than that we have absolutely no idea what he wants. It’s so confusing and it’s a shame because these were strong villains and I was expecting them to have an excellent villain plot, which would lead to a really great climax. The comics managed it and I don’t understand why this film couldn’t! There is also the fact that this film is called Batman Vs Robin, despite the fact it borrows very little from the Grant Morrison story line from when he was writing Batman. But I think that people who saw the trailers for this film weren’t exactly expecting it, so it hardly feels like too much of a let down. I will say though, I did enjoy this film’s ending, the climax, despite its confusion, was very good and the ending actually, while bittersweet, was on a lot of levels satisfying and I think will allow the DC Animated staff to go into interesting directions with future Batman films, if they actually decide to continue doing this Animated Universe. The only reason I wouldn’t recommend this to a non-comic reader, despite the fact that they may not get a few of the references, is that this is not a typically child friendly version of Batman. Granted it’s not as inappropriate for kids as Assault on Arkham, but this is actually quite a mature story on a lot of levels, so this is not for your kids. Overall my thoughts on the plot was, it was pretty damm good, but once again needed a bit more polish. It was better than Son of Batman but it still doesn’t reach the levels of greatness that some of the previous DC Animated films reached. The villains are pretty good but they needed to be much more fleshed out and it did have some slight pacing issues, but other than that I would actually say that the plot for this is probably better than this years Justice League Throne of Atlantis and last years Son of Batman. It understands where its focus should be and in terms of a character piece, it is pretty good, it just needed something slightly more there and it would have been great,.
In terms of acting it’s actually got some excellent performances. Stuart Allan, once again, is perfectly cast as Damian Wayne and if DC Animated want to keep making these films I’m hoping he will reprise his role. Jason O’Mara is really coming into his own as Batman. I’m not sure that the writers know exactly what to do with him in the Justice League films because he is doing a lot better performances in the Batman movies and this time we get to see a lot more or his range because he also has to play Bruce Wayne a lot more in this film as well as Batman and he does work in this role. I am definitely warming to him more and more as the new voice of Batman though he still hasn’t beaten Kevin Conroy for best Batman. Jeremy Sisto is perfectly cast as Talon and honestly I didn’t initially recognise his voice in that role, while his character may not have been written close to the comics and is slightly confused in what the writers were intending to do with him, he does play this role very well and has excellent chemistry with Stuart Allan, much like Jason O’Mara does. Another actor who does and excellent role although you won’t recognise his voice is “Weird Al” Yankovic as the Dollmaker. Seriously he plays this role really creepily and delivers it brilliantly and I really couldn’t tell it was him until I saw his name in the closing credits. David McCallum is pretty good as Alfred Pennyworth and I enjoyed Sean Maher’s role as Nightwing, although I wish he would have had more to do in this film, especially considering that Nightwing plays a pretty pivotal role in the comic!!! Ok, Ok, I’ll stop comparing this to the comic for a bit!! The only other roles to talk about are Grey Griffin doing a pretty good portrayal of new character Samantha and I did like Griffin Gluck as a young Bruce Wayne, though he also apparently played the young version of Talon in flashback and that’s slightly weird because they don’t really sound alike which is normally a good thing, but it makes me wonder if the writers are trying to make a statement that the heroes are similar to the villain, why would you try and make them sound like two different people, yet have the same voice actor! I am thinking too much into this!!! Some of the voice actors are even slightly interesting for DC fans, like having long time voice director of these films Andreano Romana, played the bat computers voice, but the best one and also the most frustrating one is Kevin Conroy as Bruce’s father. I don’t get it! If DC still has Kevin Conroy on call, why can’t they have him back permanently as Batman! I liked Jason O’Mara in this film, but he is no substitute for Kevin. He simply is the best actor to play this role and I am glad he is reprising his role for Batman Arkham Knight. But having him in a role in a Batman film where he is not Batman is just so frustrating. Once again he is excellent in the role and if DC plans to do an Earth 2 movie I could see Kevin Conroy being cast in that film as their version of Batman, and seriously DC that comic series is excellent! Make that happen!! What’s great about this film is there is no duds in the casting this time, compared to the two Justice League movies that have come out in the last couple of years and that is definitely a good thing. This was one really strong cast and probably one of the reasons I enjoyed this movie more than most of the DC Animated movies that have come out in recent memory, despite the fact that this probably had quite few of the flaws that more recent DC Animated movies have had. It’s one strong cast and I am hoping that if DC plans to continue with these movies that many of them will be reprising their roles.
As for the animation, there is not really much more I can discuss on this one because it’s the exact same animators and animation style that was in the previously reviewed Justice League Throne of Atlantis, which means, once again, it’s based on Jim Lee’s art, which is where the idea of keep focusing on his art style for these films is really falling down. While the animation art style are really good and really works he wasn’t making the art for any other Batman comics at the time and while they do integrate Greg Capullo’s design for the Talon and the Court of Owls brilliantly they kind of feel a bit out of place when mixed in with the way Jim Lee draws. I have nothing against this animation and I know its meant to tie in all these films into a shared universe, but I”m not sure it’s really working. Apart from Jason O’Mara being cast in the role of Batman I really don’t feel like this film takes place in the same universe as Justice League War and Justice League Throne of Atlantis. Maybe it will get better in the future films, but I’m just not seeing it at this point. There is absolutely nothing inheritently wrong with the animation and it’s still pretty damm good by DC standards.
As for the action sequences and the fight scenes they are excellent. Once again DC Animated does excellent fight scenes and I think these animators are very good at doing the fight scenes with Batman’s cast of characters better than the Justice League ones. I don’t know, I’m not sure they know how to do action sequences with super powers as well as they do with Batman’s pure hand to hand combat. The fight scenes between Batman and the Talons are brilliant, there is an excellent car chase in the middle of the film and props to the guy who re-created the Maze that the Court of Owls set up in the Batman comic that drove the character mad because it’s re-created brilliantly in this film. Though I wish they’d actually turned the screen upside down or sideways like the comic does to visually give the evidence of madness. The great thing about using animation for your action sequences is that the camera can be panned back and follow the fight perfectly without endangering any actors and DC animation department takes full advantage of this. The action sequences also have tons of awesome set pieces especially with Batman in a Mech suit, which everyone who has read the comic would have seen coming, but it is awesome and it is proof enough that this is where a lot of the DC films strengths are, especially now that we are starting to notice some plot issues.
The big question now is, ‘is this a good adaptation of the comic?’ Yes!! On quite a few levels this is a pretty decent adaptation of the comic even though DC’s animated films can only go on for about an hour and ten minutes so they didn’t have time to get out half the details with this comic. Would I recommend this to non comic readers? Yes I would, but I would recommend them other DC animated films first before this one and if they wanted to see this one I would also recommend that they see last years Son of Batman first because this film assumes you have seen that film. Comic fans I would definitely recommend they see this one especially if they like the Court of Owls and Born to Kill. I would also recommend if you want to see this film try possibly read the comics beforehand to give you full grasp of the source material for comparison, though that is not essential. My advice would be to pick up
Batman Volume 1: The Court of Owls,
Nightwing Volume 1: Traps and Trapezes,
Batman Volume 2: The City of Owls and
Nightwing Volume 2: Night of Owls
and read them in that order. You can pick up a graphic novel trade of all of the stories from the Night of Owls crossover event, but I wouldn’t recommend it because half the stories are really not relevant to the whole plot and if you read all of those you will get the basic gist. However, I will say that compared to the previous 4 DC animated films this one is the best of them. I even think the writers and directors have sat down and tried to listen to a lot of the criticism they have received and make a better film as a result, which means, if they do plan to continue to move on with these films they probably will be even better next year, though at the time of this reviews publication no future films have been announced.
The characters are really great, the story line is good though it does have a few holes and hiccups especially in regard to the villains plan and the ending leaves it open to a few Batman story lines to be adapted in the future. Most of my criticisms boil down to the fact that its just not a perfect adaptation of the comic, but even I knew that wasn’t really possible and for what its worth it’s actually a pretty good film. I would check it out if you can, but as I mentioned the way of really seeing it legally is by purchasing it on ITunes. At the time of writing this review there are no plans for DVD or Blu Ray release in this country, though I would expect to see one in the near future. Though I will say if you do purchase the Itunes version it contains some extra interviews with the staff behind the next DC animated movie Justice League: Gods and Monsters which are worth checking out cause it will get you hyped for the next film which I will hopefully review as soon as it’s released.
Well guys, what are your thoughts on Batman Versus Robin or any of the DC Animated movies. Please leave us a comment, and if you want to have your own reviews or content put up send me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and if you want more details about writing your own review, go to new how to submit content section.
Also if you would like to leave a comment on todays question please feel free to do so. This time I am asking:
“Which Batman villain would you like to see in future films, both animated and live action?” Also, “who would you cast as that villain?”
So that was DC’s film for this month that I have reviewed. Not it’s time to move on to Marvel! On 1st May I am reviewing one of the biggest releases of the year and one of my most anticipated movies to see this year, that’s right, The Age of Ultron is upon us.
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