Friday, May 8, 2015

Batman vs. Robin review

    Batman vs. Robin is an adaptation of the "Night of the Owls" story arc by Scott Snyder. It is not a straight adaptation, picking and choosing elements while also incorporating elements from other stories as well as Grant Morrison's highly successful Batman run.

    The movie is little more than an hour long so this is an extremely condensed adaptation, removing all side-characters but Nightwing and Alfred while inventing a couple of new ones. Fans of the original storyline will be disappointed to not see the full assault on Batman realized but I, actually, think Batman vs. Robin improves on the story in some ways. It removes some of the original story's fat and explains why Batman hasn't discovered the Court of Owls in a decade or more of detective work in Gotham City (answer: the Court of Owls has only recently returned to Gotham City rather than having been there the entire time under Batman's nose).

The Court of Owls is a well-realized secret society.
    The premise is Batman and Damien are not getting along. The new Robin is used to being treated as both a Prince who gets everything he wants as well as an adult. Batman, by contrast, treats him as a soldier expected to obey his every command and a boy in equal parts. Despite the assumption Batman would be the best father in the world, he offends Damien at every point and is suspicious the boy has been brainwashed too thoroughly by Ra's Al Ghul to be out in the field. This comes to a head when the Dollmaker, a villain who abuses children horribly, ends up dead and Batman's first suspicion is his son did it.

    For shame, Bruce.

    Much of the story follows the age-old story of a vigilante who kills showing up in Gotham to tempt either Bruce or one of his proteges into crossing the "no kill" line. In this case, it is Talon, who is the Court of Owls Master Assassin. The Court of Owls is, basically, an Owl-themed Illuminati or Hellfire club which has ambitions to take over Gotham from behind the scenes. Once very powerful in the city, they were driven out by an internal struggle and want to return. Talon admires Damien Wayne and sees much of himself in the boy. He offers Damien freedom and the respect he thinks he deserves at the mere price of helping him take over the city.

Talon's corruption of Damien (or attempts thereof) is one of the best parts of the movie.
    This is actually a pretty good plot. I know, color me shocked. For the longest time, I've been harping on the DC animated movies being complete failures. However, Talon works very much as the "cool older brother" which most kids from adolescence to their teenage years would prefer to their actual parents. It reminded me, of all things, the corruption of Danny in the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie. Like most street gangs and many drug dealers, they prey on the impressionable by giving them what they want but not what they need.

    The conflict between Damien and Bruce feels surprisingly organic, even if the comic book version of Bruce handles his son much better. This version of Bruce is more withdrawn and resentful of his situation, not yet a master of dealing with children. Damien is an entitled brat but he actually has some decent points.

    Bruce doesn't want to let Damien out to fight crime, for instance, but it's hard to argue this is a good idea when the young lad stops a rape-in-progress. Which, really DC, you didn't need to go there. It's ridiculous Damien can fight Batman like he's a miniature-sized adult but I'm just going to pretend he has super-strength for his size due to ninja alchemy or something. I can believe in glowing green rings from blue elves and super-speed, I can believe in this.

   Both sides have points and it's about the two coming to an understanding.

The actual fight between Batman and Robin is a short one but visually stunning.
    Truncated as their arc is, the Court of Owls is handled well too. We get a sense of who they are, what their motivations are, and what sort of threat they pose to Batman. Talon is almost to Batman's level, if not quite, and the zombie ninjas aren't to Batman's level at all but they're pretty powerful in their own right. Thus, when we have three of the zombie ninjas attack Batman and come close to defeating him, it doesn't feel cheap. I buy they're undead martial-arts masters who don't feel pain and that's a threat to our hero. Plus, Grey Delisle does a showing as Bruce's girlfriend with an agenda and I tend to like anything she shows up in.

    I'd also be remiss if I didn't say the big appeal of this movie is the fight sequences. Since Batman is fighting against zombie ninjas, he doesn't have to hold back the same way he does against living opponents. This allows the Dark Knight to really cut loose. Likewise, Damien displays a staggering amount of Yoda-in-Attack of the Clones-esque moves, jumping around in a dizzying display of acrobatic martial arts. The animation is fluid and well-done, really letting the fight sequences shine.

Damien must choose: the father he wants or the father he needs.
    There is a small sense that this movie doesn't quite know if it wants to make a program for all-ages or adults, however. Along with the aforementioned rape threat during a mugging, only implied but clearly enough, there's also children driven to madness by a psychopath as well as Batman swearing at one point. Another scene has a man's heart ripped from his body like Talon was frigging Kano from Mortal Kombat. It's nothing which moves the movie beyond PG-level but it was surprising.

    In conclusion, I actually recommend this movie to fans of Batman. It's not the perfect Batman movie but is really-really good. I didn't even miss Kevin Conroy as the Dark Knight, which I never expected to say. The action is good, the conflict believable, the villains competent, and the animation excellent. I can't think of anything to complain about which wouldn't be nitpicking and that's praiseworthy by itself.


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