Warner Bros. (2014), Warner Home Video (May 6, 2014), 1 Blu-ray + 1 DVD, 74 mins, 16:9 ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio, Rated PG-13, Retail: $24.98
The daughter of Batman’s most dangerous enemy presents him with a previously unknown scion of the Wayne family. Young Damian is headstrong and arrogant, not to mention extremely dangerous, but just maybe he can still be trained under the moral guidance of Batman. That moral code is put to the test when Damian goes after his grandfather’s killer: Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke.
The Sweatbox Review:
Grant Morrison, a comic book writer from Scotland, has a legion of fans that herald him as a “comic god,” brilliant in his long-term plotting and mystifyingly original ideas. On the other hand, there is also a large group of comic book enthusiasts who consider him to be a very poor writer, someone whose scripts are scatter-brained and hard to follow, too complicated for their own good, and in need of a strong editor. Personally, I think both factions have a point. Both groups, however, can probably agree on one thing: Morrison created one of the most interesting characters that DC Comics had seen for a long time when he introduced Damian Wayne in 2006.
The idea of Batman having a son with Talia, the daughter of his enemy Ra’s al Ghul, had been first put forth in an out-of-continuity story in 1987, with versions of that character appearing in a few other non-canonical stories, notably Kingdom Come; but it was Morrison who christened him “Damian Wayne” and brought him fully into the ongoing comic continuity. Damian was controversial, arguably in all the best ways. His questionable origins and disagreeable personality made him easy to dislike, but he could not be ignored. Over the next few years, he evolved into the latest Robin, serving fascinating turns as a sidekick to two different Batmans (Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, when Bruce was thought dead). Morrison’s very first story with Damian is the basis of the DC Animated Universe Movie Son Of Batman.
Those looking for a straight adaptation will be left somewhere between disappointed and teeth-gnashing, but the basics are there. The story has been somewhat reconceived by James Robinson and screenwriter Joe R. Lansdale, to include Slade Wilson, the assassin known as Deathstroke. It is Deathstroke who sets the plot in motion with a siege on Ra’s al Ghul’s mountain stronghold. Deathstroke wants to take over al Ghul’s League Of Shadows, after leaving the group when al Ghul refused to name him his successor. The siege, containing some of the most bloody and ridiculous action to ever appear in a DCAU movie (even Jedi weren’t that good with their swords!), ends with Deathstroke striking down Ra’s and then in battle with Damian, who has been raised at the compound by his mother, grandfather, and their assassins.
After Deathstroke is chased off, Talia decides that Damian should be introduced to his father. In the comics, Talia had further motivations for doing so, but if she has another agenda in the movie, there is no sign of it. The comics’ Talia was a schemer, someone who worked alternately for and against both her father and Batman, depending on her current whim. Unfortunately, the Talia of the movie serves to mostly be a sex object, an abused hostage, and worse— a combination of both at the same time.
But moving on… Talia and Damian arrive in Gotham just when Batman is investigating some laboratory thefts. He runs into Killer Croc, now further mutated with a tail. After helping Batman escape Croc’s bite (okay, Talia did good there, at least), Talia introduces Batman to the son he never knew he had. The implication given here is that Batman and Talia had some intimate time together after Batman had been drugged, which makes it all pretty icky when you think about it at all.
Batman accepts the boy, and brings him back to the Batcave, where Alfred deals with the boy’s insolence. Despite Bruce’s instructions, Damian later leaves the house to go after Deathstroke. Not only is Bruce concerned about the boy’s safety, he also is trying to teach the lad that killing is wrong, even in revenge— which goes against everything the League Of Shadows taught him. By happy coincidence for our story, Deathstroke is actually in Gotham City, where he has just kidnapped Kirk Langstrom and his family. Langstrom had been working for Ra’s al Ghul to concoct a new version of his Man-Bat formula, and now Wilson wants it for his own use. Damian tries to track down Deathstroke through his assistant Ubu, but is prevented from killing him by the arrival of Nightwing, the former Robin. From there, it will be up to Batman, his original Robin, and a new Robin to find the Langstroms, save Talia (who blunders into being captured), and defeat Deathstroke and his ninja Man-Bats.
It’s another exciting outing in the DC Animated Universe, but it somehow feels hollower than it should. There are just so many grim people here. Smiles are few and far between, with only Alfred’s drollness, some forced father-son banter, and too few quips from Nightwing to keep things from being absolutely wooden. With all the drama inherent in the movie’s premise, it simply falls flatter than it should. Maybe the extreme seriousness of tone helps us to buy into the – let’s face it – ridiculous notion of a ten-year old master assassin, but some more emotion would have been nice. Or perhaps I should same more emotions; the movie is certainly loaded with anger, rage, and conflict, but it seems that there should have been room for more than just that. Bruce is the kid’s father, so at least one shared smile might have been good to see.
The movie makes the point that Bruce would be a better parent than Talia and the League Of Shadows, but it’s hardly a slam dunk. The Batman presented here is humourless, practically unloving, and nearly as violent and vindictive as those he opposes. He doesn’t really occupy much of a moral high ground (other than the no-killing code) or seem like a particularly great role model.
And then there are the missteps previously mentioned: the misogynous nature of Talia’s treatment in the story (a less revealing outfit, particularly when in bondage as a prisoner, would have gone a long way towards improving the taste of the movie), and the quite absurd (not to mention incredibly bloody) action. As if the audience is not already been asked to accept a lot with the notion of a small boy aiding Batman, it is also asked to accept such things as bullet-deflecting swordplay, an arrow-shooting Gatling gun, and the young Robin continuing to fight right after having both forearms impaled. It’s all a little much.
These DCAU films are, more and more, becoming overly violent and immature to the point of being stupid. I realize they are being aimed largely at fourteen year olds, but that shouldn’t mean you have to sacrifice good taste or decent storytelling. I initially thought this was a decent movie, but the more I think about it, the more I dislike it. I realize now that I liked it mostly for its original premise, which came from the comics; but what the movie delivers instead is a new story loaded with blood, rushed characterization, poor treatment of the one female character, and only lip service to any real human emotion. It’s really a shame, because behind all the movie’s negatives there is a fascinating and heartfelt story to be told here; but if you’d like to see that story, then you’re probably better off reading the comics.
Is This Thing Loaded?
The Ultraviolet promo that plays immediately isn’t anything special, but the Trailer for Batman: Assault On Arkham (really a Suicide Squad movie) looks pretty decent.
After that, we get a couple of good featurettes that discuss characters from the movie, focusing on their comic book origins. First up is The Fang And The Demon Head: The League Of Assassins (10:10), which gives us some DC Comics folk, including Batman And Son writer Grant Morrison, and a comics historian talking about Ra’s al Ghul and his plans for global conquest. His daughter Talia comes up as well, and she also gets mention in Strange Blood Ties: Damian Wayne (15:12), which surprisingly not only dishes on Damian’s first comic book story but also gives up the ending of his final one. Aside from the spoilers, these are good primers on the comics counterparts to the characters featured in the movie.
Designing The Characters With Phil Bourassa (9:37) is the only real extra to delve into the movie itself, and it is a nice peek at the design process. Too bad that we didn’t get interviews with the writers or the director.
Ironically, we get all that and more in the Sneak Peek at DCU Batman: Assault On Arkham (7:29). This is a great promo, with a nice combination of finished animation and production art, with comments from the voice cast, writer, and director.
From The DC Comics Vault includes episodes from various past TV shows, each pertaining somewhat to the main feature. Out Of The Past from Batman Beyond is a neat episode with Ra’s al Ghul and Talia; Damian is shown as the future son of Batman and Catwoman in the Batman: The Brave And The Bold episode The Knights Of Tomorrow; the same series also gave us Sidekicks Assemble, starring basically the Teen Titans versus Ra’s al Ghul; and the classic Ra’s story co-starring Jonah Hex, Showdown, is presented once again from Batman: The Animated Series.
Trailers from the menu include those for DCU Justice League: War, Beware The Batman, Teen Titans Go!, Scooby-Doo: Frankencreepy, and one for DC Collectibles.
The DVD in this set has just the trailers and the Sneak Peek.
This set contains both a Blu-ray and DVD version of the movie, each housed on one side of a typical Blu-ray case. An insert is present for the Ultraviolet digital version. The cover slip is embossed, with a couple of easily removed stickers, one proclaiming the graphic novel origins of the story.
Note that there are also single DVD and two-disc DVD versions out there.
Ink And Paint:
As per usual, the visuals of this DC Animated Universe movie are presented well in high definition. No significant banding was noticed on my 8-foot screen, and the picture never failed to remain steady, without any breaking up. Extremely minor aliasing is there is you look hard enough, but this is close to perfection. I only wish the directors of these things would go easier on the “diffuse lighting” affects, which softens some scenes.
Plenty of action means plenty of sound effects, with a surplus of explosions, gunfire, punches, swiping swords, grunts, and screams. The soundtrack has good energy, though most of it remains in front. Still, it’s so bombastic, I don’t know if you’ll miss the back surrounds too much.
Aside from the English DTS-HD Master Audio, there are also soundtrack options in French, German, Portuguese, and two flavors of Spanish. Subtitles are available in English (for the deaf and hard of hearing), French, German, Spanish (Castellano, with Latino only in the special features), and Portuguese.
The included DVD has audio tracks for English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Thai; and subtitles for English, French, Portuguese, Thai, Chinese, and Korean.
There is a lot to enjoy in this action-packed adventure, which has a bold premise and features a potentially intriguing new character. The animation is great, and the fights intense, but as is often the case with these DCAU films, one has to question who the target audience is. Great questions are raised, but the answers are not satisfactory. Blood and innuendo abound, but are presented immaturely, with the action often becoming too unbelievable. The movie’s only female character is subjected to indignities and treated with the type of handling that suggests an unenlightened mind. As much as parts of me enjoyed the movie as a whole, I remained troubled by how it was presented. Like much of the current mainstream comic industry, there is too much playing to the basest of interests. The movie’s script wasn’t even all that bad, but the movie’s execution is disappointing, and not as strong as the comic material it was based on.
The Blu-ray, however, does at least give the movie its best possible presentation, as well as good bonus content. The movie itself, however, seems suitable mostly to a narrow demographic. For those undemanding fourteen-year-old boys, and adults who are emotionally stunted, the disc is a winner. For anyone else, your appreciation may be muted.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?