More a mash-up of two of the most highly regarded Batman stories in the last 20 years than its title implies, “Batman vs. Robin” stands alongside the better efforts of Warner Bros. / DC’s direct-to-video animated endeavors.
While I’d argue that Grant Morrison’s “Batman vs. Robin” and Scott Snyder’s “Court of Owls” comic stories warrant their own movies, screenwriter J.M. DeMatteis (one of the creators behind the brilliant ‘Justice League International’ comics during the late 80s) does a commendable job tying those stories into a cohesive story.
Bruce Wayne/Batman (Jason O’Mara) is still getting used to the newest addition to his Bat family — his recently discovered son Damian (Stuart Allan). Unlike his other young protégés (read: Robins), Damian was raised by The League of Assassins and his more violent tendencies frequently puts him at odd with Batman’s philosophy of ‘justice, not vengeance.’
The two also clash over Bruce’s reservations over introducing his newly found son, not even to his girlfriend Samantha (Grey Griffin). The combination of these factors gradually lead to Damian feeling trapped within the walls of Wayne Manor when not out on assignment. Batman and Robin’s bond is further tested by the arrival of Talon (Jeremy Sisto), a vigilante willing to go to greater extremes than Batman and wants Robin to be his new partner. As Robin considers the offer, Batman learns that a childhood legend of the clandestine Court of Owls and their assassins – the Talons – may be real and could be hatching a plot to eliminate him.
The film is steered by the assured hands of direct-to-video master helmer, Jay Olivia (“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1”, “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2”, “Justice League: War”, “Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox”) – who along with another crackerjack direct-to-video creator, Ethan Spaulding, is keeping the flag flying at full mast in the DC animated universe. As anyone who’s familiar with Olivia’s prior action/animated classics would expect, “Batman vs. Robin” skews a bit violent — get used to a lot of gratuitous blood sprays — but the man also knows how to stage fluid, easy-to-follow, and extremely realistic action scenes even with multiple combatants. Like the comics, the Talons prove an actual threat to Batman. Olivia even works in a newer Bat accessory in a pivotal fan-pleasing scene.
There are just a few minor problems that hold the movie back from being in the top tier of Warner Bros. / DC’s Home Entertainment productions. My biggest gripe is the shoddy treatment of Nightwing (Sean Maher), who is constantly made to look inferior to both Damian and the Owls in combat. Granted the film isn’t called Nightwing vs. Robin, but making the original Robin more competent would make everyone else look like elite fighters as opposed to Nightwing being the weak link. As a nice nod to Morrison’s storyline where Nightwing assumes the role of Batman and teams with Damian, DeMatties and Oliva give them a few scenes to play up on their relationship.
Additionally, DeMatties and Oliva initially set up a good mystery about the Court’s leader, but the payoff is a bit too Scooby Doo- esque as the evil top dog is the only other major character introduced. Talon’s character model is also too fashion-savvy to be in sync with Sisto’s outstanding voice work.
“Batman vs. Robin” is sure to entertain you regardless of whether you’re an old-school Batman follower, an ardent fan who’s up-to-date with all the latest development in the caped crusader’s comic arcs, a causal follower of a few highly interesting comic issues (more of the graphic novel kind), just someone who’s kept abreast with Batman’s celluloid renditions, or just a thrill-seeking fan of action movies.
7 out of 10 stars