Warner Brothers continues their line of gritty, PG-13 animated films with their latest release, Batman vs. Robin. Picking up after the events of 2014’s Son of Batman, this new film finds Bruce Wayne/Batman adapting to fatherhood, having discovered that he has a son, Damian, the offspring of an affair with Talia Ghul. Now living with Wayne and being trained to be the new Robin, Damian is hot headed, rebellious and finding it hard to keep at bay the killer instincts he was trained by his grandfather, Ra’s A Ghul.
If none of this makes sense, you should check out the first film. But, if you’re in the know, or, as it is in my household, your child is, then this is a great way to kick back and enjoy some excellent animation and a great storyline. Batman vs. Robin was directed by Jay Oliva, a veteran of many WB direct to video animated films, and written by J.M DeMatteis. It’s partially based on the comic book Batman: The Court of the Owls, written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion.
The story opens with Robin on his own, having swiped the Batmobile to cruise the streets of Gotham and follow a lead on some missing children. He finds them in an abandoned warehouse. Hundreds of kids locked in cages, being held captive and mutilated by a psycho named the Dollmaker. Despite Batman’s orders to wait, Robin goes anyway. After all, this is one crime that can’t wait. What seems like a simple case of helping kids escape turns into an epic brawl between Batman, Robin, the Dollmaker and children with their arms replaced with saws and razor blades. It’s a haunting and gruesome opening to the film (and proves that this film is worthy of its rating).
The major conflict between the two heroes is that Robin has been trained (by Ra’s A Ghul) to kill criminals, especially ones like the Dollmaker. Batman reprimands Robin and confines him to Wayne Manor. You can guess how that goes over with Damian. Meanwhile, Bruce is romancing a socialite who hopes that their midnight rendezvous can become something a little more substantial. While Batman is distracted, Robin once again gets out and patrols the city. He meets a vigilante called Talon, and he feeds Robins desire to put down the scum of the city. Talon courts Robin to leave Batman and take up with him.
True to form of a great noir movie, there are double and triple crosses throughout Batman Vs. Robin, as well as some deep soul searching by all of the main characters. The title takes its name from a long sequence near the end of Act 2, when Batman actually fights Robin along the rooftops of Gotham. It’s a little disturbing watching a grown man punch and kick a tweener, even if the kid was trained by the League of Assassins and can kick Batman’s ass.
The look of this Batman film falls in line with the previous and also the look of Warner’s Young Justice series. The character design is more realistic than the Bruce Timm stylized characters best known from the 90s Batman: The Animated Series or the blocky Brave and the Bold version that aired on Cartoon Network several years ago. For me, this is much more enjoyable to watch, as it represents a more traditional comic book look. Not that those other styles aren’t great, but for a dark, moody tale like this one, I prefer a touch of realism.
Casting director Andrea Romano has assembled another excellent group of actors. The voice cast includes Jason O’Mara as Batman, Stuart Allan as Robin, Sean Maher as Nightwing, David McCallum as Alfred and Jeremy Sisto as Talon. It was a little offsetting hearing Sisto’s voice as Talon, as he once played the role of Batman in the excellent Justice League: New Frontier animated film.
Overall, Batman vs. Robin is one of heck of an adventure, a film that deals a lot with family and loyalty. The ending is open ended, allowing for another possible sequel somewhere down the line. I certainly wouldn’t mind spending another afternoon outstretched on the couch with my son watching Batman adventures, especially ones as exciting and thought provoking as this one.
The Batman vs. Robin Blu-ray combo pack includes the DVD and a Digital HD version of the film, as well as the following bonus features: “Gotham’s City Secret: The Mythic Court of Owls,” “Talons of the Owl,” audio commentary, a sneak peak at the next WB feature, Justice League: Gods & Monsters, and bonus cartoons from the DC Comics Vault.