Son of Batman has action, it has fan-favorite character cameos, but it will be best enjoyed if expectations are tempered, and if one ill-voiced boy can be endured.
In Son of Batman, the Caped Crusader (Jason O'Mara) discovers that his nemesis Ra's al Ghul (Giancarlo Esposito) and former lover Talia al Ghul (Morena Baccarin) have been hiding a secret: after a night of passion, Bruce Wayne and Talia had a son. Raised to be the future commander of The League of Assassins, young Damian Wayne (Stuart Allan) is a killer in a young boy's body.
However, when the Ra's other protegé, Deathstroke (Thomas Gibson), attacks The League, Talia decides to hide Damian in the safest place possible: with his father. Under Batman's guidance, Damian finds Ra's training being challenged; but a thirst for vengeance against Deathstroke and a life of being a trained killer pushes Damian into the streets of Gotham City looking for his own twisted version of "justice." Can the Son of Batman be saved from himself before Deathstroke hatches a plan to create an army of super-assassins?
The third film in DC Entertainment's shared animation universe based on the "New 52," Son of Batman is pretty much consistent with its predecessors (Flashpoint Paradox and Justice League: War) in terms of overall style - for better or worse. Where Son of Batman falls short, however, is in accomplishing its principal task: successfully introducing the character of Damian Wayne into the animated universe.
Director Ethan Spaulding (Avatar: The Last Airbender) steps in for his first DC animated feature - taking over for DCE mainstay Jay Oliva, who has directed the company's most recent (and generally liked) animated work, such as The Dark Knight Returns, Flashpoint Paradox, Justice League: War and some of the best episodes of Young Justice. If that introduction doesn't spell it out for you: Spaulding's freshman pains are all the more noticeable with Oliva absent. (But don't worry, Jay is busy working on the upcoming Assault on Arkham animated flick!)
Action and fight sequences are probably the most glaring issue, thanks to rough animation that seems well below the DCE standard. The film is once again presented in the anime style of previous "New 52" animated features - in this particularly unpolished case, Son of Batman looks like something closer to a Last Airbender TV episode than an animated feature designed for full HD Blu-ray. More than that, the shots and angles of the film are often peculiar, the editing is jerky and awkward, and the movie can't really manage the fluidity and immersiveness that makes an animated world feel real. If there's a choice between DVD and Blu-ray, don't pay extra for this one.
The story by League of Extraordinary Gentlemen writer James Robinson and screenplay by Joe R. Lansdale (writer of the "Jonah Hex" DC animated short) manage to do a satisfactory job in adapting comic book writer Grant Morrison and artist Andy Kubert's "Batman and Son" comic book storyline into a thrilling concept for animated film. There's an impressive selection of side characters (Talia, Ra's, Deathstroke, Man-Bat, Killer Croc, Nightwing); an interesting theme at work (Batman's values, as reflected through his son); interesting scenes of character interaction and even some pretty good action.
Unfortunately, the lack of good visuals and some bad voice work (more on that later) make it hard to fully appreciate the finer points of some well-written scenes. The narrative is also strangely distant from its central character: Batman. The majority of the best scenes in the film occur between Damian and supporting players like Deathstroke, Alfred and Nightwing - but his interactions with Bruce/Batman seem strangely cold, and rarely capitalize on the opportunity to provide insight into the Dark Knight from a new angle (having to examine himself as an example to his son). There are some moments of interest and humor as Damian is brought into Bruce's world, but the big super-soldier terrorist plot overshadows the richer core of this story. It's not a deal-breaker (because who doesn't love action?) but it is a case of missed opportunity.
Jason O'Mara reprises his Justice League: War role as Batman, and in my opinion, he's earned the spot as a suitable understudy for Kevin Conroy (who is also currently working on Assault on Arkham). The crucial failing in casting is Stuart Allan as Damian, a role the young actor just can't bring the right gravitas or wit to. Damian comes off as a bratty kid in all the wrong kind of ways, and if the Son of Batman is off-putting, then the Son of Batman movie is going to suffer heavily for it (and does).
It's no secret that Damian Wayne wasn't an immediate slam-dunk with comic fans when first introduced, but the character has since earned a strong following and should therefore be easy to sell. This film just misses the mark. The supporting cast is ironically stacked with talent by comparison: Thomas Gibson (Criminal Minds) is solid as Deathstroke; Xander Berkeley (The Mentalist) is fine as Kirk Langstrom; Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad) is good as Ra's al Ghul; Sean Maher (Arrow) is great as Nightwing - but Morena Baccarin (Homeland) can't maintain an accent as Talia. That lineup makes Allan's miscasting that much more apparent.
All in all, Son of Batman is a letdown as an introduction to an important newer character from Batman lore. The film has good elements, but is deficient in the two most crucial areas: the characters of Batman and Damian. Son of Batman has action, it has fan-favorite character cameos, but it will be best enjoyed if expectations are tempered, and if one ill-voiced boy can be endured.
Son of Batman Trailer
Assualt on Arkham Preview
Son of Batmanis availabile on DVD/Blu-ray and Digital Download on May 6th. It is 74 minutes long and is Rated PG-13 for stylized violence including bloody images, and some suggestive material.
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