Friday, May 9, 2014

Son of Batman

After the train wreck of Justice League: War, which to be fair should be laid at the feet of the source material rather than the adaptation itself, I wasn't sure what to expect with DC Animation's latest home video release and yet another adaptation of an existing comic storyline. Now I think DC should let James Robinson adapt all of Grant Morrison's work (and not just what DC decides to make into surprisingly good movies).

Based loosely on Morrison's Batman and Son storyline which introduced Damian Wayne (Stuart Allan) into the DCU, Robinson takes quite a few liberties with the storyline (almost entirely for the better), most notably introducing Deathstroke (Thomas Gibson) into the story as the catalyst whose attack on Ra's al Ghul (Giancarlo Esposito) and attempt to wrest control of The League of Assassins causes Talia (Morena Baccarin) to put her son in Batman's (Jason O'Mara) hands.

One of the biggest problems with Morrison's story were the actions of Talia, including introducing Batman to his son when it served no real purpose. Here the motives of the daughter of The Demon's Head are streamlined and much easier to understand while also keeping the Dennis O'Neil classic version of a woman caught in the middle of two men she loves without ever becoming a true villain herself (rather the Morrison's slow devolution of the character into nothing more than another deranged member of Batman's rogues gallery).

Tim Drake, who plays a major role in Morrison's tale, doesn't appear in the movie, but we do get Nightwing (Sean Maher) as a former Robin somewhat removed from the situation who can offer a different perspective on the situation. Drake's absence removes one of the comic's biggest conflicts between the present and future Robins, but the choice to use Nightwing instead works for the version of the story Robinson's script needs. We also get the army of Man-Bats, but thankfully Morrison's over-complicated clone angle has been completely scrapped in favor of Mike Barr's story about the son of Batman's origins.

Bloody, action-packed, and with a body count that may make The Expendables blush, Son of Batman certainly earns its PG-13 rating. When your main character is a somewhat psychotic 12 year-old master assassin with revenge fantasies, however, you do expect the film to be considerably darker than the Super-Friends. And to be fair, Robinson's script has a nice mix of humor and strong moral lessons to help balance Damian's ruthlessness walking the thin-line the character spent most his existence traversing.

The choice to put Batman in his New 52 costume bugged me a bit at the beginning of the film, but character designer Phil Bourassa makes good use of the costume (even allowing light to bring back a bit of the blue to the cape in cowl in certain scenes so were not stuck with such a dull color palette). Overall I was quite impressed with Baurassa's work, especially his small tweaks to Damian's costume, and the art and character design of the film (which earns it's own featurette) is certainly one of the movie's biggest strengths. The only designs which I had much of an issue with were those of Killer Croc and Ra's al Ghul, both of whom have relatively small roles in the movie.

In terms of voice casting Stuart Allan steals the film navigating Damian's excitement, rage, and blunt humor with ease. O'Mara isn't a bad, but his gravely-voiced Batman isn't anything we haven't heard before. Baccarin proves to be a solid choice for Talia, and Gibson delivers a typical bad guy voice for Deathstroke. The choice to make the super-villain a former member of the League rather than metahuman super-soldier turned killer makes his inclusion in the movie make much more sense. The reveal of how Deathstroke lost an eye may be a bit too cute for some, but it certainly underscores just how dangerous an adversary young Damian is and why the son of Batman, and grandson of Ra's al Ghul, is not to be taken lightly even by someone as dangerous as Deathstroke.

Along with the examination of the character design, the Blu-ray also includes DVD and Ultraviolet digital copies of the movie along with featurettes with interviews from Mike Carlin, Morrison, and Alan Kistler discussing Batman's relationships with Ra's al Gul, Talia and The League of Assassins, and the origins of Damian Wayne from Son of the Demon to Batman and Son and through the character's later development and death. Also included are the trailer and Sneak Peak of the next DC Animated feature Batman: Assault on Arkham (which I'm not sold on), and episodes from Batman: The Animated Series ("Showdown"), Batman Beyond ("Out of the Past") and Batman: The Brave and the Bold ("The Knights of Tomorrow!," and "Sidekicks Assemble").

[Warner Home Video, $24.98]

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