In a year that saw the release of some very dark animated Batman films geared toward the older crowd, namely Bad Blood and The Killing Joke (both of which I enjoyed immensely), Batman Unlimited: Mechs vs. Mutants aims to satisfy kids. After all, every age group needs a Caped Crusader they can root for. But the real issue is, does it do it well?
Long before Warner Bros. brought us PG-13 and even R-rated animated Batman offerings, they succeeded at entertaining all age groups with TV shows such as Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. Each of those were able to tell sophisticated stories while not overstepping the boundaries of standards and practices.
The direct-to-video Batman Unlimited series of films debuted in 2015 with its first two entries being Animal Instincts and Monster Mayhem. Spun from a toy line, these tales placed Batman and his closest allies in sticky situations that many older viewers scoffed at – but many kids probably loved it. And that was the point from the start. Yes, watching Batman riding a cybernetic T-Rex that shoots lasers was quite absurd, but I found those two movies to be enjoyable for what they were.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Mechs vs. Mutants.
This particular film could best be described as “Pacific Rim with Batman,” only there isn’t much of a story. In fact, it felt like an almost non-stop slugfest from start to finish. I understand that kids want to see action, but it’s those little character moments that stick with us no matter what age we are. To be quite honest, there’s nothing memorable on that front.
On the positive side, Batman himself fires on all cylinders as Roger Craig Smith once again returns to lend his pipes to The Dark Knight. Ever since he debuted as the character in the video game Batman: Arkham Origins, he always felt like a natural fit and is possibly one of the best voice actors to ever inhabit the role.
Fans will likely be excited to know that Will Friedle, who voiced Terry McGinnis in Batman Beyond, reprises his role of Nightwing, but he takes a backseat to the likes of Green Arrow, The Flash, and Robin.
Yes, you read that last sentence correctly; Red Robin/Tim Drake is out and Robin/Damian Wayne is in. It makes sense because Damian currently dons the Robin costume in the comics, but his characterization feels anything but right. The mature line of animated films released over the past few years nailed it: He’s arrogant, entitled, highly intelligent, and absolutely deadly. You know, everything you would expect from someone raised by the League of Assassins.
This Damian, unfortunately, is none of those things. While he grows into the role of junior detective, he seems very unsure of himself and makes rookie mistakes. In fact, one of the first things you see involving him is when he takes a dive off a roof, much to the amusement of The Joker. The way his “voice” is written is more akin to Tim Drake in The New Batman Adventures and it just didn’t feel proper. What’s possibly even worse is that the father-son relationship between him and Batman is pretty much glossed over.
The villains that are utilized are a mixed bag. As Penguin manipulates a morally ambiguous Mr. Freeze into taking over Gotham City and, well, freezing it, they employ the likes of Bane, Killer Croc, Clayface, and Chemo, each of whom are inflated to Kaiju-like proportions. No doubt selected because of their brutish nature, it’s up to Batman and Green Arrow to don giant mech suits to combat these baddies, hence my earlier Pacific Rim reference. Just don’t count on the fight scenes to be too exciting.
Quite frankly, the most entertaining moments to come from villains were by way of cameos. When Penguin and Mr. Freeze stroll through Arkham Asylum near the beginning of the film to assemble their crew, we’re given brief glimpses at the aforementioned Joker, Two-Face, and Hush, who makes his surprise debut in animation. I will continue to hold out hope the storyline that bears Hush’s namesake one day gets adapted to a PG-13 animated movie.
The animation itself can be a bit spotty at times, but I think the visuals are quite robust and I do like how the Unlimited series has established its own tone. The fact that Gotham City’s look is a wonderful homage to Batman Beyond has put a smile on my face since the opening minutes of the movie that began this series.
Overall, I think Batman Unlimited: Mechs vs. Mutants should be rented before buying for those looking to gauge if their children will truly be into it. If you absolutely need it to complete your Batman home video collection, I won’t stop you. Just know that if you are reading this, you likely aren’t the target demographic.
While Batman Unlimited: Mechs vs. Mutants may delight kids, older viewers may see it as little more than a toy commercial.