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ANIMATED FEATURE REVIEW

Son of Batman
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Release Date: May 6th, 2014

Synopsis: Hidden atop a secret mountain stronghold lies the League of Shadows and its fearless leader, Ra’s al Ghul. Together with his equally dangerous daughter Talia, he oversees a trained army of assassins with plans for global domination. But an uprising from within the league now threatens to shift the balance of power and sends Talia and her young son, Damian, fleeing to Gotham City. With assassins on their trail, Talia seeks the protection of Batman, who, unbeknownst to him, is the boy’s father. With his son in tow, Batman wages war against the villain Deathstroke and the League of Shadows, all while teaching his headstrong boy that one can’t fight crime by becoming a criminal. With help from Gotham’s finest, including Commissioner Gordon and Nightwing, Batman will soon discover that his son and most trusted ally are one and the same!

The voice cast for Son of Batman features Jason O’Mara as Batman/Bruce Wayne; Stuart Allan as Damian; Morena Baccarin as Talia, Damian’s mother and Batman’s lover; Giancarlo Esposito as Ra’s Al Ghul, leader of the League of Assassins and one of Batman’s most dangerous foes; David McCallum as Alfred Pennyworth; Xander Berkeley as Kirk Langstrom; and Thomas Gibson as the deadly assassin Deathstroke. Son of Batman is directed by Ethan Spaulding, from a screenplay by Joe R. Lansdale adapting a story by James Robinson. Son of Batman is inspired by the acclaimed Batman storyline “Batman and Son,” written by Grant Morrison.


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Son of Batman Feature Review
By James Harvey

To be upfront about it, I have a pretty huge soft-spot for Batman. I’m pretty forgiving when it comes his assorted comics and cartoons, and I’ll give nearly anything plastered with his pointy ears a shot. I’ve read some clearly awful Batman comics (anyone remember Larry Hama’s short run on Batman in the early 2000s?), but it doesn’t matter – it was still Batman. I guess I'm a pretty big apologist for the character at the end of the day. Thankfully the ratio between good and awful Batman material leans pretty heavily on the positive end of things. Son of Batman, the latest DC Universe Animated Original Movie, falls somewhere in the middle – it’s not perfect, but it’s still enjoyable to an extent. It has a few problems, some which fans might not be able to ignore.

Son of Batman presents a very straightforward story – Batman meeting his son and trying to keep him safe from those out to kill him – and ends up somehow losing itself along the way. The premise is a pretty awesome one, and evident by the comic book source material that spawned it. Batman caring for and trying to control a murderous, crazed little assassin, who also happens to be his son, is a great idea which ended up creating some of the best Batman comics in years. Here, the creative teams attempts to streamline and freshen things up, but instead robs the story of its charm and ends up creating something that feels hollow and inconsequential. There will be those who enjoy it, as the flawed story is somewhat saved by excellent animation and confident directing, but the story stumbles under its own uneven pace, eventually puttering to an unsatisfying conclusion.

While the film does have some great strengths, like the aforementioned great animation and character design coupled with a nice score and top-notch voice talent, things never quite gel. Son of Batman moves from one set piece to next, clearly moving the plot along, but nothing ever really feels organic. Nearly everything that happens feels more like to need to push the characters along rather than letting the story do the work. In fact, it can be argued that Batman himself is pretty inconsequential to the film's plot. If Damian was never brought back to Gotham to meet his father, on his mother Talia's insistence, the movie could have still barreled toward roughly the same finale. And it's a shame too because, despite this film never really clicking, it has quite a bit going for it. And the world building here is actually fairly interesting. But the good material isn't able to withstand some of the more questionable aspects.

The film seems to suffer from more than a few questionable moments, where things either don't add up or just simply don't make any sense (even in the fictitious world established by the film). One instance is how the movie makes a big deal out of Damian fighting Ubu, and almost killing him, which eventually leads to a speech by Batman about how killing is wrong. But ... we've already seen Damian gunning down people in the film’s opening minutes, which kinda renders all of those dramatics pointless. Ubu, by the way, ends up betraying Ra’s Al Ghul and spends his off-time as some type of big shot thug in Gotham. It’s … weird.

Easily the biggest, bizarrest moment in Son of Batman (for me) was how Batman just casually dismisses off his drug-laden "romantic" encounter with Talia. He starts off genuinely upset about the situation, as he should be since it didn’t seem to be 100% consensual, but then shrugs it off as if it was nothing. That scene played off a bit weird to me, and it even felt a bit uncomfortable to see something so potentially serious be taken so lightly. Why not just play the encounter as consensual for the movie - the incident in the source material is more complicated, but it can be streamlined here for Son of Batman since it seems to be of little relevance - and leave it at that? It’s less dirty than Talia manipulating and drugging Batman into doing something seemingly against his will.

There are other things too, but those two instances really stuck with me. Some of the material does end up working out pretty successfully, though. Damian’s interactions with the cast is pretty great, such as his antagonistic relationship with Dick Grayson. It worked so well in the original comics and is brought to life quite nicely here in Son of Batman (it’d be great to see a Nightwing/Damian team-up DTV just based on their few short scenes here alone). Batman is presented as a cool, calm authority figure, distancing the character from his jerk-ish behavior and presenting him as more of a level-headed individual trying to get to the bottom of this startling situation.

Sadly, things usually tend to slide downhill after the film's stronger moments. Deathstroke has a few intimidating scenes, but his inconsistent portrayal leaves him a bit of a muddled mess. His addition to the cast feels somewhat out-of-place, almost as if his revised backstory was constructed for the sole reason of getting him in the movie. And the less said about Ra’s Al Ghul and the League of Assassin’s treatment the better. And Talia is reduced to an extremely unlikable damsel-in-distress. The film does a fine just as presenting the good guys in a great, heroic light, but their enemies are made as so one-dimensional that is becomes hard to even care for the film's outcome. Motivations don’t seem natural, just telegraphed as what has to happen to move things along. And sadly, a neat subplot with Kirk Langstrom and the Man-Bats gets lost in the shuffle and ends up not having any real impact whatsoever on the film’s overall story.

After that, it’s mostly minor things here and there, such as the apparent ineffectiveness of the League, the uneven power levels of some of the characters, and some pretty lame deaths of two major characters. The story is going to get from point A to point B regardless, but little hiccups like these do tend to pull a viewer out of the story and makes everything feel pretty artificial and unimportant. The violence also feels excessive, at times bordering on self-parody. At one point Damian endures a pretty major injury to one of his arms, which the scripts actually notes as a big deal, but then promptly forgets about it in the very next scene. Perhaps the film was rushed, who knows, but there seems to be more than a few problems that could be fixed with a few simple revisions or even bits of dialogues to straighten things out.

There are a few things worth noting, such as the excellent score work by Frederick Weidmann, which should come as a surprise to absolutely no one. Jason O'Mara is excellent as Batman, definitely showing improvement from his first outing as the character in Justice League: War, providing a strong, layered performance. Stuart Allen nicely brings Damian to life, maybe not exactly how I'd imagine but he ends up creating an excellent rendition of the pint-sized fire-cracker. Honestly, outside of the two leads, the remaining voice cast fails to really leave any impression. Thomas Gibson is adequate, though the film's uneven portrayal of Deathstroke definitely hinders his performance. On the other end of the spectrum, Morena Baccarin is surprisingly flat as Talia Al Ghul and Giancarlo Esposito is forgettable as Ra's Al Ghul. Sean Maher's brief cameo as Nightwing is notable and pretty fun.

It’s not the strongest entry in the line and, really, is a rather two-dimensional adaptation of a rather complex comic book storyline. All the characters are brought down to their extreme bases with little additional motivation and dimension.

Son of Batman will likely go down as one of the weakest entries in the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line due to a hollow script and questionable character work. This film has plenty of neat ideas, and executes a couple of them nicely, but it can't overcome the many mistakes it also makes. Whatever the reason for the film's shortcomings, it just can't pull it together to create a satisfying movie. Son of Batman is worth a watch or two, especially if you're looking to simply pique your curiosity, but it won't be able to gain the popularity and acclaim of previous Batman movies under the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line.

[ Continue on to the Son of Batman Blu-ray review ]

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