MOVIE: Batman vs. Robin
DIRECTOR: Jay Oliva
Damian Wayne has established himself as Robin, but he and Batman continue to clash over the latter’s rule of not killing criminals. But when he becomes the recruiting target of a criminal secret society called the Court of Owls, the Dynamic Duo face their greatest challenge yet…each other!
Never have I watched a DC animated film and said ‘What?’ every few moments before this one, because Batman vs. Robin in my is view one of their worst offerings (it is just as bad if not worse than Son of Batman and Justice League: War) in recent years.
When I first heard the title of this film, I was pretty excited about it because I thought it was going to follow the Peter Tomasi’s story of the Dynamic Duo vs. Nobody (who is Morgan Ducard, son of legendary Assassin Henry Ducard), who tries to recruit Damian to his side because he believes Batman is holding the youngster back from what he should truly be (also Morgan wants to punish Bruce Wayne for turning Batman into a world-wide symbol with Batman Incorporated).
But no, they then decided to make this story about the Court of Owls (another Bat-story from the New 52 that I really enjoyed) and I thought, okay, so what are they going to do considering that the title is Batman vs. Robin and not ‘Night of the Owls’. Well…they simply put both stories into a blender and served us what came out, which might not be that bad if what we received wasn’t a complete convoluted mess.
I don’t know where to begin, because nothing in this movie makes any sense (which I feel is down to the fact that I read the comics that this movie is based on and did not go into this with a blank slate). From the fact that Batman is actually a supporting character in this film, with Robin being the main star (with a story where their roles were actually reversed…with the Dark Knight being the focus of it) as we see the Court’s Talon attempting to recruit the new Boy Wonder.
Now I have to come out and say that I am a fan of Damian Wayne, at least in how the comics have portrayed him. At first I found him annoying, but over Peter Tomasi’s run on Batman and Robin as well as Grant Morrison’s run on Batman Incorporated (spoiler! Up until Damian’s death), I grew to really like him as a character and thought that he was an excellent addition to the Bat-Family and it also showed us another side of Bruce, that being him as a Father (which is different to him being a guardian/mentor to Dick, Jason and Tim).
But this animated version of Damian is nothing like that (with him being an entitled little brat with a chip on his shoulder) and I think that is because these films have to skip over so much of his back story (which I guess is a given, considering the length a film has) that at the end as Damian and Bruce become Father and Son properly, none of it feels organic or earned. Plus Robin here is way to overpowered (just like in Son of Batman, where he defeats Deathstroke) as he beats not only the Talon and Nightwing (despite it not being this way in the last film), but also Batman (yeah…I know right).
Batman himself is not treated any better as he is sidelined in his own feature, because the ‘Court of Owls’ story (in my view) was one that gave us a Bruce Wayne who had become a little over-confident in his mission (he could defeat all of his Rogues gallery while they were trying to break out of Arkham…yeah he is Batman), to the point where he believed that he knew Gotham best and it would always stay that way. But then the Court appears and shatters the world that Bruce thought he knew, and that gave us some new character growth for the Dark Knight (as well as a question about his immediate family).
But in this film the Court are nothing more than a plot device for the primary villain to have, since they did next to nothing throughout the film. Oh, except for the part where they run Bruce Wayne’s car off the road…while wearing their masks in public! What I knew of the Court’s members (from the comics) was that they never got they hands dirty, they always left that kind of work to the Talon.
And now I reach the villain of this story…’the Talon’, who in the comics was actually Dick Grayson’s hundred year old ancestor (which brought up an interesting plot about what Dick’s destiny was supposed to be before his parents were murdered and he came to be in Bruce‘s care and tutelage). But in this story he is actually three characters in one, the first being ‘the Talon (ageless assassin of the Court of Owls), the second being Morgan ‘Nobody’ Ducard (the assassin who wants to recruit Damian) and thirdly Lincoln March (the supposed lost brother of Bruce Wayne and who is also Owlman…who also destroys the current Court to prove that he is better than his brother).
Now any one of these characters would have been interesting on their own, but this film has the villain made up of each of these three people to a point (with the second and third taking up the most for this character) where it makes him a completely unbalanced character, with his reasons for doing things being thrown completely out of the window.
Oh and I have to mention Dick Grayson, is he bipolar when it comes to Damian? Since his appearance in Son of Batman, Nightwing has had a sort adversarial relationship with the new Robin (which is more in line with New 52’s Tim Drake, since Dick and Damian acted more like respected brothers to each other in the comics, due to them being Batman and Robin for a time). But then one fight later and Dick is all about helping Damian and telling Bruce to trust him, which left me again saying…what? (I guess all it takes to change an opinion is a blow to the head).
What can I say about this film that is good? Oh, the animation is alright, once again like Throne of Atlantis and the previous films before it (though I noticed what looked like a mistake when Bruce puts on the Cowl and instead of there being just one gap…for his mouth and chin, there are two, before one magically disappears) and the action and fight scenes are well done and exciting to watch. They manage to copy a few good scenes from the stories that they have adapted, but again without the proper context and narrative, they don‘t have the same feeling to them. But there was one scene in the film that I feel should be mention, for it is one that I really liked. It was when Bruce and Damian bonded while discussing Charles Dickens, leading the pair to go and watch a movie together, and for me that was the only real time the two characters looked like they were becoming closer as Father and Son.
Overall this film would probably have been better had I not read the source material it was based on, but unfortunately for this film…I did. I know that it is impossible to fit an entire comic story into a film, but is it possible to change some parts while not changing what the story is ultimately about. But this film made me feel as if DC had taken a cube and tried to fit it through a circular hole, before then grabbing a hammer and smacking it through which created the mess that is Batman vs. Robin.
Now DC animation used to be really good at adapting their comics to animated films and respecting the source material. But with their last four efforts (part of their animated New 52 universe), I cannot see that same kind of quality that we had before and I can’t say that I am looking forward to their next release in this series now (I am hoping that will change though).