The DC Universe Animated Original Movies line has delivered some absolutely terrific comic book adaptations (Jay Oliva’s two-part Batman: The Dark Knight Returns comes to mind), and also some thoroughly mediocre ones (like most of the Superman entries). It’s impressive how much work goes into animating these direct-to-video titles, but a fair share of them have been unfortunately sidetracked by stilted voice acting and weak writing.
Son of Batman, which loosely adapts Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert’s “Batman and Son” arc, is far from the worst of the DCU Animated titles, though that’s probably the highest praise I can give it. While the animation is damn-near flawless, and the voice acting is mostly above average, this tonally dissonant offering ends up taking on more story than it can handle.
Opening in grand fashion, Son of Batman introduces us first not to the Caped Crusader, but to his young son Damian, the result of Batman’s fling with the beautiful, deadly Talia al Ghul. Having been brought up inside the League of Assassins’ remote mountain stronghold, Damian is lethal with a blade, which comes in handy when the stronghold falls under attack from Slade Wilson/Deathstroke, once tapped to succeed Ra’s but now his mortal enemy.
Quickly, it becomes clear that director Ethan Spaulding made Son of Batman for die-hard fans, not the kiddie audiences targeted by most animated comic-book flicks. Blood gratuitously spurts across the screen as Damian sinks his sword into dozens of Deathstroke’s ninjas then picks up a gun and blows several more away. The beautifully animated battle between the League and Slade’s army of ninjas is an impressively epic opening, though its immediate establishing of Damian as a murderous tearaway shocked me a little more than I think writers James Robinson and Joe R. Lansdale intended. Sure, it’s a comic book movie and all, but something about a kid coldly slaughtering dozens of people is decidedly off-putting, especially in this day and age.
The kid’s bloodlust does serve a purpose – though he’s Batman’s son, Damian has a lot to learn about true heroism. When Ra’s and the League fall, Talia ships Damian off to Gotham City, where she hopes that her former lover can protect and guide him. What neither she nor Batman count on, however, is that Damian is less interested in crime fighting than taking revenge on Deathstroke.
All this set-up takes a good chunk of the film’s slight 74-minute runtime, but around the time Damian (clad in Dick Grayson’s old Robin costume) goes out on patrol with Batman, Son of Batman hits its stride. Watching Batman kick ass is always the best part of these animated outings, and bad-ass vocal work from Jason O’Mara (back for more after playing the same character in Justice League: War) just seals the deal.
Damian (Stuart Allan) is a less easy sell – though his acrobatics are visually thrilling, the writers clearly struggled to hand him strong dialogue. As a result, most of his infantile quips fall flat and, even worse, distract from the grim personal journey the character is meant to be undergoing. Damian appears first as an entitled brat, and he never really recovers from that early characterization. Additionally, the clipped runtime doesn’t give him nearly enough time to believably transform from a member of the League of Assassins into a street-ready crimefighter.
As Batman chases down a ‘roid-raging Killer Croc (Fred Tatasciore) and gets on the trail of Dr. Kirk Langstrom (Xander Berkeley), he uncovers a key component of one of Ra’s plots, hijacked by Deathstroke upon his takeover. Soon, Batman and Damian are fighting not only for their lives but for the survival of all human civilization. At times, those stakes feel a little ridiculous (“No human army could stand against those man-bats!” a character essentially says, with total sincerity, at one point).
Aside from O’Mara, David McCallum steals scenes as Alfred, making lines like “A sleepover, oh goody!” a lot funnier than they have any right to be. Thomas Gibson also makes for a fine baddie as the menacing Deathstroke, keeping the character scary even as the plot renders him a bit over-the-top. Voicing Damian, Allan keeps his dialogue lively without leaving much of an impression. That’s better than Morena Baccarin’s Talia, who’s painfully flat most of the time, but even as the lone wrong note in this voice cast, I get the sense she could have been much worse.
As far as plot goes, Son of Batman moves from action piece to action piece with just enough narrative to avoid feeling like a clip reel. Lansdale, responsible for the Hap Collins and Leonard Pine mysteries, scripts the film much like one of those detective novels, with Batman finding just enough of a clue in one location to lead him to the next. It sort of works, and the story only becomes noticeably forced in the hurried third act.
In conclusion, Son of Batman isn’t one of the greatest or most memorable outings for the DCU Animated line, but it can be quite fun at times. It’s a shame that the writers didn’t spend more time developing Damian into a legitimately likable character, but the action sequences are stimulating, and O’Mara makes a strong case for why he should be the go-to pick to voice Batman in the future. Don’t expect anything on the level of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, or even Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and you’ll find Son of Batman to be a perfectly acceptable time-waster.
The Blu-Ray, presented in 1080p high definition, presents the film’s beautiful, detailed animation at its most slick and engrossing. Son of Batman has a distinctive, almost anime-like look to its animation. Your opinion of the film will depend heavily on whether or not you enjoy that style, but the Blu-Ray does a fine job of giving the picture the depth and life it needs to be compelling.
No complaints with the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which puts the emphasis on rich, emotive dialogue (when the actors are up to it). The background sound effects, such as clanging steel and fiery explosions, are well-placed, and nothing in the audio ever distracts from the story unfolding on screen.
As far as special features go, Son of Batman boasts:
- The Fang and the Demon Head: The League of Assassins Featurette (10:10)
- Strange Blood Ties: Damian Wayne Featurette (15:12)
- Designing the Characters with Phil Bourassa Featurette (9:37)
- A Sneak Peek at DC Universe’s Next Animated Movie: Batman: Assault on Arkham (7:29)
- From the DC Comics Vault – 4 Bonus Cartoons
- Digital HD UltraViolet Copy
The Fang and the Demon Head: The League of Assassins delves into the origins of Ra’s al Ghul, the Lazarus Pit, Talia, Man-Bats and the League of Assassins. For those interested in finding out more about the many comic-book stories which set the stage for Son of Batman, this is an informative and well-edited extra that surprisingly manages to make some fascinating points about how Batman and the League of Assassins are perceived in pop culture today.
Similarly, Strange Blood Ties: Damian Wayne takes a deep dive into the character of Damian, exploring his place in the greater Batman universe and how “Batman and Son” writer Grant Morrison approached striking a balance between Damian’s near-feral childhood with the League of Shadows and his interactions with Batman. Interestingly enough, in the comics, Damian grew jealous enough of Dick Grayson to make an attempt on his life and steal the Robin costume. Son of Batman unfortunately doesn’t explore anything as interesting as that – probably a good thing, considering how much trouble the writers had making him likable to begin with.
Designing the Characters with Phil Bourassa, which finds Bourassa giving audio commentary over footage from Son of Batman, explores how Bourassa used costuming to emphasize various character traits and arcs. Damian’s outfits were clearly one of the biggest challenges for Bourassa, and it’s very cool to see the amount of thought that went into them. Bourassa’s statements about how he approached shaping and detailing the characters should definitely be sought out by anyone interested in animation.
Based on the early footage shown here, we should be very excited about Batman: Assault on Arkham. This prequel to the Arkham video games finds Dr. Amanda Waller putting together a Suicide Squad of some of Batman’s biggest rogues to infiltrate Arkham Asylum and snatch something the Riddler stole from her. Batman’s sudden appearance throws a wrench in her plans. According to multiple individuals involved, the film is going to play like a heist film in the vein of The Italian Job. If that wasn’t promising enough, the outfit for Harley Quinn looks great, and early sound bites of Kevin Conroy as Batman, Troy Baker as the Joker and Neal McDonough as Deadshot are just plain awesome. Keep a look out for that title this summer.
The cartoons featured here are:
- Batman Beyond: “Out of the Past”
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold: “The Knights of Tomorrow!”
- Batman: The Animated Series: “Showdown”
- Batman: The Brave and the Bold: “Sidekicks Assemble!”
I’ve never been a big fan of The Brave and the Bold, but Batman Beyond and Batman: The Animated Series are both fantastic. “Showdown” finds Ra’s al Ghul telling a story about one of his past adventures, oddly enough involving Jonah Hex, while “Out of the Past” finds Talia approaching an older Bruce Wayne with a proposition that’s a lot more dangerous than it initially seems. As far as Brave and the Bold goes, “The Knights of Tomorrow!” features Damian Wayne, while the “Sidekicks Assemble!” one finds Robin and other sidekicks taking on Talia and Ra’s al Ghul.
I’m really impressed with the extras on this disc, and nothing in the video or audio quality should stand in the way of you picking up Son of Batman. It may not be the finest film to come out of the DCU Animated line, but thanks to its voice acting and action-packed plot, it’s a highly agreeable way to spend less than an hour and a half.
Neither terrific nor terrible, Son of Batman bears some similarities to a Saturday morning Batman cartoon; it's fast-paced, action-packed, entirely disposable and extremely fun at times.