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SON OF BATMAN
(*)
Reviewer:   Jim "JR" Rutkowski
Directed by:
Ethan Spaulding
Written by:
Screenplay by Joe R. Lansdale from a story by James Robinson. Based on the character created by Bob Kane and others.
Starring the Voices of:
Jason O'Mara, Stuart Allan, Thomas Gibson
Length:   74 minutes
Released:   051414-direct to dvd
Rating:
Rated PG13 for stylized violence including bloody images, and some suggestive material.
"Yeah-its kinda is that bad."

Son of Batman doesn't work. Maybe for a moment or two. The animated action is particularly fierce and exciting...when, that is, the lightning quick fisticuffs and superheroics aren't actively contributing to the mounting collection of gaping plot holes and all too convenient developments that threaten suspension of disbelief. (Yes, even in an animated comic book adaptation.) But the film as a whole? Perhaps the most disappointing DCU Animated Original Movies to date. And not for a lack of effort. Visually, Son of Batman makes an impression. As written, though, it's a mess. The script limps along from explosive dust-up to dust-up, suffers with hit or miss dialogue and even more hit or miss voice performances, neglects character development in favor of debilitating story acceleration and grand leaps in logic, bears little resemblance to Grant Morrison's already divisive "Batman and Son" arc (2006) and doesn't really feel like anything other than a string of decent ideas in need of serious polish. At best, it plays like a rickety, 74-minute wooden roller coaster that lost twenty or thirty minutes of solid, much-needed dramatic material on the tracks. At its worst, it leaves one to wonder if the plan to create a semi-cohesive DC animated universe is already showing signs of mismanagement.

Hidden atop a secret mountain lies the stronghold of the League of Shadows and its deadly leader, Ra's al Ghul (Giancarlo Esposito). Together with his equally dangerous daughter Talia (Morena Baccarin), he oversees a trained army of assassins with plans for global domination. But when an uprising from within the league threatens to shift the balance of power, Talia and her young son, Damian (Stuart Allan), flee to Gotham City. With assassins on their trail, Talia seeks the protection of Batman (Jason O'Mara), who soon learns he's the boy's father. With his son in tow, Batman wages war against Deathstroke (Thomas Gibson), all while teaching his headstrong boy that a hero can't fight crime by becoming a criminal. With help from Gotham's finest, including Commissioner Gordon (Bruce Thomas) and Nightwing (Sean Maher), Batman has to walk a fine line between raising his son and training the next Robin.

Where to start, where to start? Writers James Robinson and Joe R. Lansdale have constructed a strangely disjointed script loaded with climactic encounters, most of which are detached from the narrative in one way or another. Batman's reaction to a son he never knew existed is laughably matter-of-fact. (As are most of his irritatingly two-dimensional interactions. Not that anyone should blame O'Mara. He at least nails the vocal performance.) Damian's evolutionary progression amounts to Point A (I wanna be like pap) and Point B (nah, I wanna be like dad), with no interesting transition from one to the next. Damian and Nightwing's sibling rivalry is horribly shortchanged, to the extent that Batman's penchant for grade-school sidekicks is more of an in-joke than anything else. (Upon seeing a disturbingly young boy don a Robin costume and join Batman on a roof, Commissioner Gordon quips "another one?" and doesn't give it a second thought.) Killer Croc is used as filler. Ra's al Ghul is wasted. Talia is flat and too simplistic. Deathstroke is a joke. (It doesn't help that Gibson is woefully miscast in the role.) The League of Assassins goes down awfully easy. The Man-Bat ninjas are unintentionally funny rather than frightening, and the subplot with Dr. Kirk Langstrom (Xander Berkeley) and his kidnapped family is tiresome and forced. On and on and on. Decisions are often made for little to no reason. Motivations flip on a dime. Events unfold as the director, writers and animators crash against their limitations (the runtime most of all), not as the plot or characters organically demand.

Then there's Damian as an antihero: a small, slender boy meant to be a surprisingly fearsome, highly trained warrior due to his speed, agility and prowess. When the writers and animators stick to those rules, Bruce Jr. delivers. When they don't, brace yourself for impact. Early in the movie, Damian suddenly develops what can only be described as super-human strength, knocking fully grown men across rooms and out of windows with nothing more than a kick. (The baddies don't stumble or trip in these instances. Damian doesn't take advantage by continually knocking them off balance. He just takes a swing and watches as 300-pounds of muscle launches backwards.) It isn't cool, thematically arresting or really all that thrilling. Just a bit silly, and that's a shame. Damian looks the part, the action grants him plenty of opportunities to stand out in a unique way, and Allan doesn't drop the ball, young as he is. The writers and animators could've pulled it off. But somewhere between the script's strained connective tissue and other wildly erratic inconsistencies, Damian doesn't quite make sense in the story as conceived or presented, and it spills over and affects the entire movie. Limited time with Batman only exacerbates each issue, leaving no room for complexity, meaty conflict or anything that might showcase familiar heroes and villains in a new, fascinating light.

If it sounds like I'm being harsh on Son of Batman it's because it's a tough concept to run with and an even tougher adaptation to crack. Of all the Batman stories available, why this one? Why now? Of all the Robins to feature in the "New 52" animated universe, why Damian? I'm sure Warner's finest could come up with good answers to such questions, but I'm not entirely sure the team on tap would be able to offer any satisfying explanations. When making a standalone film, have at it. Experiment. Play. Give me something I haven't seen before. But such liberties are more costly when crafting a smaller piece in a greater DCU whole. Son of Batman requires more justification for being and purpose in being than it provides. It's an animated dose of Big Dumb Fun, IF you're inclined to be more forgiving. But the DCU animated movie series deserves better. Batman deserves better. Hell, Damian deserves better, and there's an entire cross-section of comic book fandom that loathes the kid. I have no doubt a number of you will shrug your shoulders, shake your heads and spout "it's not that bad!" And more power to you. Embrace it and enjoy it if it's your cup o' Gotham. All I can respond with is, "Yeah, yeah it kinda is that bad."

Looking for a top-shelf animated Batman movie with plenty of Robin/Nightwing drama? Batman: Under the Red Hood tops Son of Batman in every regard..


SON OF BATMAN   2014 Warner Premiere Home Video
All Rights Reserved

Review 2014 Alternate Reality, Inc.

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