The shadows of Gotham City are no place for a child but Damian Wayne (Stuart Allen) is no ordinary child. Now bearing the mantle of Robin, he blazes a headstrong and sometimes reckless trail alongside his father, Batman (Jason O'Mara). While investigating a crime scene, Robin encounters a mysterious figure, Talon (Jeremy Sisto), who leads him on a life-altering course through the depths of Gotham's secret society, known as The Court of Owls. It's a dangerous journey that will force Batman and Robin to face their most dangerous adversary: each other.
'Batman vs. Robin' has a slightly deceptive title, as only a short sequence of this release actually has the two superheroes fighting one another, but the theme of the movie does focus on a parting of the ways between father (Bruce Wayne/Batman) and son (Damian Wayne/Robin), and I'm sure the marketing department over at Warners prefers this title over 'The Court of Owls', which is what this story is really all about.
Unlike most DC animated releases to date, I've actually read Scott Snyder's 'Court of Owls' story in the Batman comic books, which – unlike what we get here – was a solo Batman arc that didn't involve Damian Wayne (I believe there were some crossover stories in which Damian was involved, but he wasn't a main part of Snyder's storyline). Going into this movie, I was a little worried that the addition of the Robin character would ruin the Snyder's strong psychologically themed tale, and while it does feel watered down a bit here, I'm happy to report that it still turns out to be fairly entertaining overall.
The movie is a semi-sequel to the previous DC animated release, Son of Batman, with the main voice actors from that movie returning for this one, including Jason O'Mara as Bruce Wayne/Batman and Stuart Allan as Damian Wayne/Robin. The title opens up with Robin more or less stealing the Batmobile to go do battle with the Dollmaker (voiced by, of all people, Weird Al Yankovic) and to establish that he and Batman/Bruce are still at odds about how to deal with the criminal element. Damian's struggle between his thirst for vengeance and Batman's insistence that justice is more appropriate comes into play when the mysterious owl-like Talon arrives to dispose of the Dollmaker.
Talon (voiced by Jeremy Sisto) is the head of a group of costumed assassins who represent The Court of Owls – a secret society that has existed in Gotham for decades, and want to rule Gotham with more of an 'eye for an eye' mentality than following the moral code that Batman uses. He recruits Damian and tries to lure him into becoming his partner, which leads to the conflict we see between Batman and Robin during the course of the movie.
One of my biggest concerns going into 'Batman vs. Robin' was that this movie would ignore the big psychological challenge that Batman goes through from the Owls, when he's captured by them and goes through a series of hallucinations. While the comic version is definitely stronger than what we see here, this movie doesn't completely abandon that moment, although I do wish it had been explored more/been given a bigger emphasis in this story, as it proved to be a very defining moment for Batman in the comic book arc. 'Batman vs. Robin' never goes quite as 'dark' as Scott Snyder's original storyline did, but there's enough remaining from the original concept that loyal comic fans shouldn't be too upset by the tweaks and changes.
This movie concludes with a pretty nifty battle in the Batcave, during which Batman gets to utter a very Clint Eastwood/Harrison Ford-like line of dialogue, that I'm sure will be every viewer's favorite phrase from this release. It also provides Batman the chance to don one of his alternate 'suits', but I won't spoil the reveal here.
All in all, I enjoyed 'Batman vs. Robin' a little more than I did Son of Batman, and I certainly recommend picking this one up. There's a nice vulnerability to Batman/Bruce Wayne here that hasn't really been present in some of the prior DC releases, and while the Damian Wayne character can still be slightly annoying/grating at times, there is some growth to his character that should be well-served the next time we see him in one of these animated titles.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warners sent us a Limited Edition Gift Set for review, which includes an exclusive Batman figurine (which measures about 4" in height) inside a larger box that also houses the Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The combo pack packaging is identical here to the non-Limited Edition packaging, so the description below is the same no matter which release you pick up. Potential buyers should also be aware that there are a few retailer exclusives with this release. Target is offering the standard combo set inside a steelbook, while Best Buy is offering the Limited Edition Gift set with a digital code for both the DC release Under the Red Hood and a digital version of the Batman #1 comic book (from the 'New 52' reboot).
The dual-layer DVD and 50GB Blu-ray are housed inside an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, with the DVD on the inside left and the Blu-ray on the inside right. An insert containing a code for a digital copy of the movie is also included. A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. The Blu-ray is front-loaded with trailers for Justice League: Throne of Atlantis and Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts. The main menu is a standard Warners one, with the box cover image and menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray is region-free.
As suspected, this latest DC animated Blu-ray suffers the same issues almost all of the releases before it has – primarily noticeable banding in the image. There's some macroblocking/noise going on too, although from my eyes it appeared to be a little less problematic than what I saw in the last couple of DC titles I reviewed. A little more of an issue this time around is jagged edges to some of the animation lines, although those aren't nearly as noticeable/glaring as I've seen on earlier DC releases.
Another thing I noticed – and this clearly lies with the animators themselves – is that 'Batman vs Robin' seems to be a bit less colorful than past DC titles, especially when compared to Son of Batman, of which this release is a sequel. DC also has the habit of intentionally inserting both blurring and a slight haze to many of the action sequences, which I'm assuming they think gives their animation a 'grittier', more 'realistic' feel to it, but just manages to make things look less appealing.
Overall though, there's nothing at issue with this transfer that we haven't seen in every other DC release, so frequent buyers/viewers of these titles should know exactly what to expect. The image is on par and compares favorably with most of the prior 'Batman' releases.
Warners has once again provided a rather strong English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track for one of their animated releases. Although the audio won't blow you away, there's plenty of stuff going on, as the rears are consistently used for ambient noises such as shattering glass, bullets, explosions, and the like – in addition to enhancing the musical soundtrack. There are some nice instances of directionality peppered throughout as well.
Dialogue is clear and primarily up front. There's also a proper and nicely mixed balance here, so any action sequences don't drown out the spoken word or cause the viewer to go searching for the volume button on his/her remote. I didn't notice any noticeable glitches or issues with the track as well. This isn't the most immersive track I've heard, but for a DC animated release, it certainly ranks as one of their better efforts.
In addition to the English lossless track, 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are available in Spanish (Latin), Spanish (Castilian), French, and German. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish (Latin), Spanish (Castilian), German, French, and Korean.
'Batman vs. Robin' may not be as strong as Scott Snyder's 'Court of Owls' comic book story upon which it is based, but it still does a pretty good job in taking that tale and making it part of a father/son story between Bruce and Damian Wayne. Both Batman fans and fans of the DC Comics animated line of home video releases should be pleased with this latest release. Recommended.