Son of Batman is the latest DC animated feature and follows on tangentially from the last outing Justice League: War, by which I mean it shares one actor and the same art style. By all accounts this is part of the new shared universe that DC is trying to build with its animated movies but seen as how the next will be set in the Arkham Asylum universe, acting as a prequel to the games, let’s not read too much into this. In fact the movie stands well enough on its own and personally stands better as a random Batman movie than as part of this new universe for much the same reason as the idea of Damian does in the comics. Now normally I would apply the same rules to this review as to the last and focus only on the movie at hand instead of blathering on about reams and reams of back issues and annuals but I think this one is relevant and prevalent of much bigger issues in the new 52.
For those who don’t know the whole “new 52” thing was DC’s idea to reinvent their whole line. Every hero and villain was taken back and launched fresh with the idea being that the likes of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and so forth have been operating for a maximum of five years. Now this was fine for DC’s less popular lines as they could be wiped away without too much worry. However the Green Lantern books had just undergone a massive, very popular, storyline that reworked a lot of what we knew about the Lanterns and Batman is well Batman so both of those lines were untouched for fear of disturbing the pair of golden geese. Brining that back to this movie, this means that Batman who has been around for five years tops at this point now has a twelve year old son born by one of his enemies. These kind of temporal and logical inconsistencies are still being ironed out in the comics but it shall be interesting to see what is done in the movies in future if anything.
Anyway back to the review and as you now know unless you haven’t read the title of the film or this piece, Batman has a son born to him by Talia Al Ghul daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul head of the league of assassins. We are introduced to these two and the titular character in the first few minutes when we open upon a scene from Naruto; as countless copy and pasted ninjas practice in the yard. Within moments they are under attack where upon they must fend off helicopter riding gun wielding fighters with swords and bow and arrows. This is not an exaggeration and there is even a mounted Gatling arrow launcher in one of the yards towers that must be hand cranked. This goes about as well as could be expected for the league of assassins with the only real exceptions being Talia who manages to take down one ‘copter with an arrow through the foot well and her son who decides against retreat to fight back. Before too long however Ra’s is dead and Slade Wilson, quite a different character from Wade Wilson, is gloating and Talia is fleeing to find Damien’s father in hopes that he can protect the boy while she clearly plans to return and avenge her father.
We then cut to Gotham city with a clean shot of the city across the water complete with what I assume to police Zeppelins hovering overhead. I’m not sure if this was done to evoke the old animated series or not but all it did was remind me of a much better Batman, it also just seems at odds with the period they seem to be trying to establish making the whole thing stick out all the more. In Gotham we find Killer Croc looting a lab before being interrupted by Batman who seems to assume that the viewer has never met Killer Croc before probably due to him currently not having appeared in any of the live action movies. This gives the dialogue in this scene more of a flavour of exposition than banter or quips. Now I’m not saying that people should already know who Killer Croc is or his background in the comics it’s just that much of Killer Croc is quite self-evident and the dialogue could have done with a tidy up to let the scene, which looks quite good, flow a lot better. The two fight, Batman wins surprise surprise and then Batman meets Talia who escorts him aboard her private yacht to introduce him to Damien. This goes a bit better in terms of exposition and is quite short and before too long we are on with the bulk of the movie with Batman trying to protect the boy, Talia going back to fight Deathstroke aka Slade Wilson and Damien wanting to go and help his mother whilst trying to come to grips with the more “gentle” methods of the Batman. This last one sticks out the worst partly due to pairing the grumpy, dark Batman with the grumpy dark Robin but also partly because of the questionable distinction between killing and leaving people to die. This seemed as strange as seeing the daughter of Ra’s and competitor for the head of the league of assassins wearing a skin tight cat suit zipped quite so low. However these are slightly petty complaints when put against the altogether average feel of the movie.
Don’t get me wrong this is a far better outing than Justice League: War with a more uniform and decent enough art style as well as a better grasp on each of the characters, the highlight being both Alfred Pennyworth, the loyal friend and butler of Batman and Damien the young new heir to the Wayne fortune who clash nicely. People may struggle with the Langstrom plot if they are unaware of the Man-Bat past but I think this confusion won’t ruin the movie for them though I reckon they will be aware that they are missing out on part of the story at this point and considering the whole thing comes in under the hour and half mark feel that a bit of backstory wouldn’t have gone amiss if they hope this movie will reach out beyond the comic book reading market.
Speaking of the comics I feel the movie misses a trick by pairing the young Damien with his father instead of the Batman and Robin we got in the comics. You see at the time, in the comics, Bruce was lost in time, don’t ask, and Dick Grayson had stepped in to fill the role creating a nice inversion of the classic Batman and Robin set up. The role of Robin was created to lighten the character of Batman both inside the comics and outside and yet we now had a fairly light well-adjusted Batman but a violent unhinged Robin by his side. As shown in this movie the pairing of grim dark knight and grim dark sidekick are not, at least personally, the best. Without a nice counter point I don’t feel like we got to see each character at their best and we just left with a dark mood that flows into the rest of the movie, mingling with the blood and mutilation. Now aside from the afore mentioned Alfred sections and the brief appearance of Dick Grayson the movie is without much fun which I feel is essential for a comic book movie and while not the darkest or most adult comic book movie going at the moment means that it would probably not be best for anyone too young and yet lacking the real bite to mark this as a must see for those looking for a mature serious story.