When I learned of Piotrek’s bold plans to see and review of Batman v Superman next week, I decided to save the face of the Dark Knight and give you a review of Batman vs. Robin first :). Wait, wait; Batman vs. Robin? You sure you got the title right? The answer is yes. Batman vs. Robin is a pretty recent addition to a long series of animated movies set in DC universe. And contrary to the popular opinion of translating DC universe to the screen (with the exception of Nolan trilogy, of course), there are some veritable golden nuggets in this pile –like the famous Batman: Under the Red Hood, and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, which I very much want to see. The animated movies are more or less faithful to comic books – though more often than not that faithfulness is rather questionable – and they are decidedly not children-friendly. The creepiness factor is high, the style of the animation is quite close to the comic books, i.e. dark and gritty, and the main themes are pretty serious, from child abuse to betrayal and murder.
Batman vs. Robin loosely recounts the events of the comic Night of the Owls. We learn about a secret cabal, the nefarious Court of Owls, which had been ruling Gotham for centuries and, upon seeing Batman’s rising influence, decided to finally take the him out of the equation. They perceive the Dark Knight as a threat, a very inconvenient obstacle to their plans: they want to destroy Gotham and to rebuild it according to their own wishes and needs, ruling the city through murder and corruption. To achieve that goal they raise an undead army of Talons – very well trained, almost immortal warriors who are fanatically loyal to them. When Bruce Wayne was young, he suspected the Court of Owls of ordering the murder of his parents. His search didn’t yield any results back then, but the suspicion remained. And so obviously, when he realizes the identity of his foe, Batman decides to fight the Court of Owls. The main story arc nicely depicts the rising tension and the resulting fight between Talons and Batman’s family. But the main theme of the movie is different: it’s the strained relation between father and son. Wait, what?!
Well, Batman vs. Robin depicts the events following the plot of the previous movie, Son of Batman, and the general direction of comic books. So yes, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Batman has a son. The son’s mother is Talia al Ghul, and if that wouldn’t be enough for traumatic childhood, his bloodthirsty family named the boy Damian. Do I need to say more? Damian’s a very problematic child indeed, raised by his terrifying grandpa and mom in a total disregard to good and evil, with an aim to make him the best assassin in the world. In the opening scenes of Batman vs. Robin we encounter dressed in the costume of Robin, when, disobeying Batman, he steals Batmobile and goes on a dangerous mission in search for missing children. The division between the father and the son grows as Damian/Robin encounters another vigilante, one that has nothing against killing. The vigilante is Talon – a warrior from the secret organization of Gotham’s wealthiest and most influential, called the Court of Owls. The fight for Damian’s soul begins, not only between Talon and Batman, or Nightwing and Robin, but mostly between Damian and Bruce.
A bit of paternal/filial love 🙂
I admit freely: in the never-ending war between Marvel and DC count me on Marvel’s side. I’m a fan. As for DC, well. I really like Batman, but apart from his character the DC universe doesn’t appeal to me. I’m saying no to Flash, no to Superman, double no to Green Arrow. And NO to The New 52! But the Dark Knight is the noble exception to that rule (and the continuity before and after The New 52 clearly indicates that even market-oriented moguls of DC thought so too :P). So I was very positively surprised with Batman vs. Robin movie. The title is misleading, true, the story arc is set in the part of Batman’s life that’s probably much less known and a bit obscure, but the movie was a lot of fun.
The story is good, and it definitely helps that the main, action-oriented story arc (Batman vs. the Court of Owls) gets a big psychological boost in the form of the generational conflict (Bruce vs. Damian). The action scenes, especially fights, are great, the animation is fluid and fast-paced, the voice work laudable, and even the music is pretty cool. The story arc is interesting, not the strongest suit of the movie, but gripping enough and not overly formulaic. The ending adds a bit of well-deserved poignancy.
I also really liked the villain – Talon; IMO Batman has the best luck when it comes to villains, really :). They are scary, believable, realistic, and multi-dimensional. Not all of them, of course, but surprisingly many. From Joker through Bane to Ra’s al Ghul, Batman’s almost like Spidey on that account ;). Talon might not be in league with the biggest and baddest of them, but he still is a strong character, and his backstory as well as his intended future help to show him as a full person behind that owl mask.
I didn’t mind the deviations from the comic books; frankly, I wasn’t even aware of most of them. The only thing that I found a bit annoying was the portrayal of Nightwing. Dick Grayson deserved something better; from a guy who at some point took on the cape of Dark Crusader we would expect more than serving as a punching bag for the boy. And the Court of Owls master was a bit of disappointment too – a bit too transparent, that one, and ultimately a bit too easy to defeat.
Oh, a fair warning (although if you got as far in the review as here, you probably already figured it out ): it helps a lot if you know the Batman’s story beyond the Nolan’s trilogy. If not, the movie may be quite confusing, right from the opening scene.
Batman vs. Robin is dark, gritty, suspenseful, digging deep into the twisted psyche of the Dark Knight and his son, and full of great action scenes. All in all, a very enjoyable ride.