THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"BATMAN VS. ROBIN"
Own it on Blu-ray™ Combo, DVD & Digital HD April 14
The DC Universe gets a big boost with Batman Vs. Robin, the latest in a series of made-for-DVD animated adventures featuring some of the company's best-loved characters. Bolstered by a compelling story that features one of the most intriguing elements in Batman mythology, the film, which comes to Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital HD on April 14, ranks among the best in the series so far.
The plot picks up where the last installment, Son of Batman, left off. Bruce Wayne (voiced by Jason O'Mara) now has his son, Damian (Stuart Allen), living with him and working as Robin. Damian is pushing boundaries, sneaking out of Wayne Mansion at night, and coming perilously close to killing bad guys. He resents his father's attempts to rein him in. The situation comes to a head when a shadow organization called the Court of Owls – which is dedicated to violently eradicating criminals in Gotham – targets Damian for inclusion in their group. Batman gets wind of what's happening and sets out to prevent it, only to discover that his young charge is seriously considering the invite.
The Court of Owls has always been one of the best concepts ever introduced into the world of Batman. Comprised of Gotham's wealthiest and most politically-connected individuals, it operates in secret to make sure the balance of power continues to favor its members. Batman vs. Robin, partially based on the Scott Snyder/Greg Capullo story arc entitled Batman: The Court of Owls, makes great use of the concept, allowing it to drive a wedge between the philosophies of Damian (who has been bred to seek vengeance) and Batman (who thinks they need to be better than their enemies). The movie gets a lot of drama out of this set-up, and the screenplay by J.M. DeMatteis doesn't water down the darker elements.
Batman vs. Robin is very nicely animated, with a visual style that reflects the mature subject matter of the plot. The action scenes are impressively elaborate; it's astonishing how similar they can look/feel to their live-action counterparts. You even get a cameo from “Weird Al” Yankovic, who plays the villain known as the Dollmaker in the movie's prologue. The primary flaw here – and it's not a small one – is the weak voice work used for Robin. Stuart Allen has too much of a chirpy, happy-kid voice to be credible as 10-year-old trained to be a ruthless assassin. His attempts at sounding tough are not convincing. (In fairness to the young actor, few, if any, kids could pull off such a task.) The film as a whole would have been stronger with a slightly older actor playing this part.
Beyond that, though, Batman vs. Robin is terrific entertainment for fans of the DC animated series.
A solid assortment of bonus materials can be found on the Blu-Ray, starting off with audio commentary from DC Entertainment's Creative Director of Animation Mike Carlin, director Oliva, and producer James Tucker.
“Gotham City's Secret: The Mythic Court of Owls” and “The Talons of the Owls” are segments (the former 30 minutes, the latter 15) that provide extensive background on the secret society and its place in Batman lore. Various experts and DC officials appear to give a more complete perspective on the origin and meaning of the Court. You'll also find an 11-minute sneak peak at the upcoming Justice League: Gods and Monsters, which promises to be a darker, grittier take on the League than we've seen in these films thus far.
The disc rounds out with “From the DC Comics Vault,” which is four episodes from DC animated shows: Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, and Young Justice. A vintage Bugs Bunny cartoon, Super-Rabbit, is here as well.
Batman vs. Robin is an all-around quality package, one that comes highly recommended for fans of animated superhero fare.
( 1/2 out of four)
Batman vs. Robin is rated PG-13 for intense action and violence, suggestive images and thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes.
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