When it comes to the feud between Marvel and DC film adaptions, I think we can all agree Marvel at this point may be winning the battles on the big screen, but when it comes to the animated films DC has been delivering hit after hit. Perhaps it’s because the landscape in animation is virtually unlimited and comes with a significantly smaller price tag to deliver. With the new animated release from Warner Brothers we get a new Batman film that goes where we haven’t seen the caped crusader go, and that is into the shoes of fatherhood. Before you get to thrown by the idea, this isn’t a costume hero version of Three Men and a Baby, but instead something much darker and well deserving of its PG-13 rating.
The League of Assassins are in the middle of training when we first meet Damien (voiced by Stuart Allen); he’s the grandchild of the leader of the league as well as a long standing foe to Batman Ra’s al Ghul. Damien hasn’t simply lived the life of luxury, but instead has lived a life training to be a deadly assassin. I’d love to see this kid in public school dealing with school yard bullies, but this isn’t that story. His mother, Talia al Ghul (voiced by Morena Baccarin) is firm but loving, and her true nature comes through as the temple is attacked by an army of armed ninjas. The battle is intense, and despite all the training by the League of Assassins, they are simply no match for the firepower that is unleashed. Damien isn’t one to run and hide; he doesn’t hesitate to pick up a weapon and fight. Leading this hostile takeover is Deathstroke (voiced by Thomas Gibson); he’s filled with rage and wants to rule the league and kills Ra’s al Ghul in the process.
Talia brings her son to Gotham City so Damien can meet his father, a certain Dark Knight you may be familiar with. Sure as Batman/Bruce Wayne (voiced by Jason O’Mara) gets to know his son, I couldn’t help but expect some zany hijinks to occur, but I was happy to see that the film kept up its straight face and continued to deliver this vigilante story.
A missing scientist who was working on an experiment for Ra’s al Ghul also plays heavily into the storyline. Just what is this scientist up to? Well, without giving too much away, I’ll just mention that man-bats are involved. It’s this kind of fun that makes animation work so well at times considering we allow so much more leeway with animation when it comes to monsters than we do with live-action effects.
This isn’t a Batman film; sure, he’s there and he has plenty of action, but this is really the story about Damien and his journey to discover who he is, not just through blood vengeance but learning about his father. Batman struggles to keep Damien under control as he is constantly on the hunt to find those responsible for taking his grandfather’s life. As we all know Batman takes issue with the prospect of killing, so this adds some interesting father/son lesson teaching banter that is thankfully the other direction from your standard Hallmark moment getting-to-know-you chitchat.
The playful banter between Nightwing/Dick Grayson (Sean Maher) and Damien is also fun to watch. One of my favorite bits in the film is subtle but follows the aftermath of a fight between Nightwing and Damien; this is a match that just seems like it would have been brutal, and in the closing credits thankfully we are awarded glimpses at this fight.
I couldn’t help but be a little excited to see that Joe R. Lansdale was credited with the screenplay for the film. His work in literary form as well as in the DC universe is expansive to say the least, and I believe it’s his writing that helps make the dynamic between Batman and Damien work so well here.
Though the film runs only 74 minutes, it makes every minute count, giving us plenty of action and a solid story that reminds everyone, comics are not just for kids. The violence here isn’t too graphic, though some parents should be a little hesitant depending on the age of their kids.
Son of Batman is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at an average of 26mbps. This is a very dark film with very little color that comes through. Though there isn’t much here to show off in the color palette department, the black and grays have plenty of definition.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a solid one to say the least. Every punch, kick, and slice is heard clearly and works well. What I do have to complain about, though, is the voice acting; the dialog is clear, but it just fell flat for me. Perhaps all the blame can be on the performance, but even when there is screaming and yelling it just didn’t carry well for me. But when it comes to the Foley mix everything seems to work just fine ,and the range of the surround is put to good use.
OK, I just want to say this Blu-ray is packed with extras that are bound to make fans at least smile a little bit, regardless of how they may feel about the film.
The Fang and the Demonhead: The League of Assassins (10:10) Here we get to see the producers and the original writer of Son of Batman, Grant Morrison discuss Ra’s al Ghul and his League of Assassins. Fans of the comic may appreciate this more than the casual viewer, but the insight, though brief, is informative.
Strange Blood Ties: Damien Wayne (15:12) Again we have the producers and writer discussing why they decided to introduce Damien into the comic world and his importance to the Batman mythology.
Designing The Characters: With Phil Bourassa (9:37) A conversation with the character designer as he goes through his decision making process with creating the designs of the characters and world of Son of Batman.
A Sneak Peek at Batman: Assault on Arkham (7:29) This is somewhat of an extended look at the upcoming animated release of the animated film that takes place two years before the events in the first Batman Arkham Asylum video game.
Then there are four episodes from various Batman animated series.
Batman Beyond “Out of the Past” (21:02)
Batman Brave and the Bold “The Knights of Tomorrow” (23:04)
Batman: The Animated Series “Showdown” (21:12)
Batman Brave and the Bold “Sidekicks Assemble” (22:50)
Some fans who are in love with the original source material may grumble quite a bit about some of the changes made here, but those who have not been exposed to the comics should come away having a good time. This is one of those films where if you’re a fan or perhaps your little one is a fan, this is worth the cash you’ll be throwing down to take this home. The added episodes just help give you more bang for your buck.