Following on the heels of the disappointing Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, Batman vs. Robin is the second film in Round 2 of the shared DC Animated Universe, and a direct sequel to last year’s Son of Batman. The movie continues the strained father/son relationship of Bruce and Damian Wayne, while incorporating the critically acclaimed Court of Owls storyline from the comics written by Scott Snyder. The shared DC Animated Universe has been bumpy recently, but Batman vs. Robin sets the continuity on to slightly more solid ground and at the very least, tells an excellent Batman story.
What Batman vs. Robin does extremely well, is to take the events of Son of Batman and expertly weave in the Court of Owls into a whole new story that fits seamlessly, like it was part of their story in the comics all along. Stuart Allan returns as Damian Wayne/Robin and is given a chilling opening sequence with a seriously twisted re-imagining of The Dollmaker (voiced by Weird Al Yankovic). This chain of events sets up the intense moral conflict of a boy raised to be a killer and his father who will never take a life. Allan, for the most part, once again does an impressive job making Damian interesting and multi-dimensional, rather than petulant and annoying, as is always a potential with a child character like Damian.
Jason O’Mara also returns to reprise his role of Bruce Wayne/Batman for the third time in the shared DC Animated Universe and seems to be nicely settling into the role. It’s good to finally have some familiarity and continuity with the animated Batman, as it’s extremely hard to get used to a new voice in such an iconic role. I will tell you that viewers who listen closely will hear fan favorite Kevin Conroy cameo in a role that I won’t spoil here.
Robin is torn between his instincts taught by the League of Assassins and his admiration for his father. Enter the Court of Owls and their mysterious lead enforcer Talon (Jeremy Sisto) at the worst possible time, and the Waynes find themselves fighting for Gotham, each other (hence the title), and their very souls.
Fans of Snyder’s Court of Owls arc will enjoy seeing most of the major beats incorporated here and even a few unexpected twists that diverge from the source material. The talons are still nearly unstoppable, resurrected warrior zombies and provide fodder for some well choreographed action scenes. Batman vs. Robin also cherry-picks some great moments of Robin lore from Grant Morrison and Peter Tomasi’s individual runs on the Batman and Robin comic. Fans of Damian will enjoy seeing some great easter eggs about the character’s future (as told in the comics) that are teased throughout.
The adult themes, that have become a staple of recent DC Animated films, also continue with Batman getting extremely beat up and bloody, characters use colorful language, and even some sexy time between consenting adults.
Batman vs. Robin does have some slow stretches, and not all of the story is written well or works quite right. Talon’s motivations don’t always make the best logical sense, and the Talon soldiers themselves aren’t given enough of their back story and build up to be as truly terrifying as they should. Although when all is said and done, Batman vs. Robin is much more sure of itself than its predecessor, and also finds more intelligent ways of adapting its source material when compared to the last film, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis.
The character designs, animation, and Blu-Ray video presentation are gorgeously pristine per usual. There’s also an audio commentary featuring Creative Director of Animation Mike Carlin, director Jay Oliva and producer James Tuck. Some interesting stuff there that gets into the nitty-gritty of the DC Animated Universe, including where this story falls in the timeline as it relates to other films, what’s changed since Son of Batman, and plenty more.
The most lengthy special feature is the 31-minute Gotham City’s Secret: The Mythic Court of Owls. Even though Scott Snyder only created the Court of Owls a couple of years ago and they’ve only been featured in a handful of stories, this feature goes incredibly deep. Snyder and artist Greg Capullo talk about the conception and design of the villains, along with a few less notable people involved with the DC comics and the Blu-Ray.
Batman vs. Robin also gives the first insight and look at the next DC Universe Animated feature, Justice League: Gods & Monsters. This is going to be a weird one that will be an “Elseworlds” tale, in other words: fantastical story with the Justice League that doesn’t take place within this DCAU continuity. It will feature a vampire Batman (Red Rain Batman?), a Superman that is General Zod’s son and a very different Wonder Woman – together accused of murder and terrorism by the world at large. It looks even stranger than it sounds, but the fact that Bruce Timm is behind it has me already on board.
Lastly there’s the always fun additions of From the DC Comics Vault, providing classic episodes from DC’s animated past that relate to the Blu-Ray’s feature film. Batman vs. Robin includes:
- The Color of Revenge! from Batman: The Brave and the Bold – an excellent, extremely fun Damian Wayne tale that features his first ever appearance outside of the comics.
- Old Wounds from Batman: The Animated Series – one of the best later series episodes of B:TAS that centers on Nightwing telling young Robin/Tim Drake why he left Batman’s side to go solo.
- Obsession from Superman: The Animated Series – an episode featuring the villain Toyman, which doesn’t really connect with this film in any major way other than a very small portion of Batman vs. Robin‘s opening sequence
- Auld Acquaintance from Young Justice – a pivotal episode in this cult (and personal) favorite series that features some fine moments from its Robin/Tim Drake.
One last little tacked on special feature is an 8-minute short titled Merrie Melodies: Super-Rabbit, which as you might have guessed is a classic WB cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny dressed up in Superman clothes and hijinks ensue.
Batman vs. Robin is a solid return to form for Warner Bros.’ extremely popular DC Animated Universe line. Not only does it continue the Son of Batman character arcs, but it does a surprisingly good job of weaving in the Court of Owls story line from Scott Snyder’s run in comics. The action, animation and choreography are as great as you would come to expect from these films, and the special features give enough interesting content to extended your enjoyment of the release.
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