Directed by Jay Oliva.
2015. Rated PG-13, 76 minutes.
Robin Atkins Downes
"Weird Al" Yankovic
The latest threat to Gotham is the Court of Owls, a group of the city's wealthiest men who have been running things in secret for centuries. They are so covert, most people think they are just a myth. Their latest plan involves reanimating long dead warriors to use as assassins against criminals and anyone else who stands between them and total domination. They do have at least one assassin who is not one of the undead, Talon (Sisto). Not only is he a formidable opponent for Batman (O'Mara), but he's trying to recruit Robin (Allan) to be his future replacement. This is a tempting prospect to the young Robin because he was trained by his grandfather, Ra's al Ghul and The League of Shadows to be a killing machine. On top of this, he shares a very strained relationship with The Caped Crusader. As we learned from Son of Batman, the film preceding this one, Robin is really Damian, the son Bruce Wayne never knew he had.
Batman vs. Robin builds upon its predecessor by giving us a really uneasy co-existence between a father and son who seem to want to make it work, but they don't really know one another. On top of that, they have differing ideologies. What Damian believes is what Bruce has very purposely opposed. It's also all that Damian knows. Their differences can be summed up in the mantra of the father with which the son struggles mightily: justice, not vengeance. When we add Damian's arrogance and brashness to the mix, the two make a volatile and compelling pair. With Damian's views being constantly under attack, it's only natural he fight back. It's even more of an inevitably when the attack comes from two different sources. That is precisely the case when Nightwing (Maher), who himself was once Robin, is injected into the proceedings. Nightwing basically just reiterates everything Batman said, on top of waging a very aggressive competition with the youngster.
All of this stuff about the story is great, but let's face it, a Batman movie would be nothing without action. It is wonderfully choreographed, I guess that's the right term for an animated flick, shot, and is often flat out brutal. At one point, Talon, literally snatches the beating heart from someone's chest. And lots more people die by his hand. Batman is not immune as he takes a couple beatings in this film, mostly from the endless horde of zombies sent after him by the Court of Owls. He literally takes off running for his life. Twice. As fun as it is in that department, it's also a bit bothersome. It all involves the depiction of Robin. He's a rather small ten year old boy. I understand that he's a trained killer who has been at it since birth, but he's still a ten year old boy. It's a little much when the force attributed to his blows is equal or greater than that of any grown man in the movie.
Robin's fistfights with adults become a little more problematic from an ethical standpoint when he's taking on one particular opponent: Batman. Until this altercation takes place, everything involving Robin can be dismissed as superhero cartoon stuff. This isn't so easy to do when the boy is facing off against his father. This is no one-sided affair where The Dark Knight is beating the kid to a pulp. And he even tries to restrain from hitting the boy by utilizing only defensive tactics for much of the fight. However, it's still a bit troubling seeing our hero kick a small child square in the chest and send him flying across a rooftop. I shouldn't take it so seriously. I get it. It's just still a little much. My solution is the one I would have applied to this situation back in the first movie. Make Damian a teenager of about 15 or 16. At that age, he could have the size and strength to be a legitimate threat to the people he's fighting, including Batman. This makes it a bit more palatable to see Batman strike back with force and more believable when Robin is knocking people out. It would also fix the same problem with the narrative portrayal of Robin. Again, I get how he grew up, but he still seems way too mature for his age. This includes where the movie ends. It's a fine place to end the story, just hard to reconcile with the image we're given of Robin.
This is the portion of the review where I have to give my usual warning to parents thinking they're going to show their kids a nice superhero cartoon. This movie easily earns its PG-13 rating with lots of on-screen death, including a fair amount of blood, some choice language, and even a rather mature bedroom scene. To be honest, it's really not that far from an R. A number of the Batman animated movies fall into this category and I keep mentioning it. I do so not because it bothers me. Obviously, it's not that big a deal to me since I keep watching them. My issue is that they are continuously marketed as children's films and sit defiantly next to far lighter fare on store shelves. I imagine the unsuspecting mom that grabs this for their kids and lets them watch thinking it's harmless. I then picture her being mortified as she wanders by the TV and sees Talon slaughtering a room full of people or hears Batman tell Alfred (McCallum) to "Open the damn door!"
My misgivings about the film's marketing or Robin's age and appearance notwithstanding, Batman vs. Robin is one of the better animated Batman flicks out there. It improves upon its predecessor and makes the relationship started in that movie a more fascinating one. The rest of the story is also an involving one as the bad guy's parallels that of the hero quite nicely. On the acting side, the voice is once again quite good. Jason O'Mara is growing on me as Batman. Though I will say I'm a bit upset with the ultimate tease this film pulled on me. It gives Kevin Conroy, easily the best ever of the men who have voiced the character in animated form, a mere cameo as Bruce's dad during the obligatory flashback scene. It was somewhat made up for by the fact that one of the minor baddies is voiced by none other than "Weird Al" Yankovic. Google the name, youngsters. Better yet, look him up on YouTube. Stuart Allen, as Damian is the real star of the show, though. From a visual standpoint, the look of it is up to par with what we've come to expect from DC Animated so it's another really solid effort. It also gives us plenty of action to keep our shallower side sated. It's just not a kiddie flick.