Most parents think their children are extraordinary but when Bruce Wayne says that there may not be another ten year old boy in the world quite like his own child Damian (whom we first met in Son of Batman along with the caped crusader), it's less a statement of paternal pride than it is of defeat.
Sudden fatherhood hasn’t exactly been easy for the two dueling alpha Waynes, which we're quick to gather in the latest DC Comics animated feature, Batman vs. Robin.
For although he'd been entrusted to keep the boy safe from those who’d murdered his grandfather Ra's Al Ghul by Damian's mother Thalia in Son, Bruce Wayne finds that his experiences with his former goodhearted (and now grown) ward Dick Grayson haven't adequately prepared him to handle a boy with Damian's anger, energy, and determination.
Instead of typical tween rebellion, as a former member of the League of Assassins headed up by the now deceased Ra's Al Ghul, Damian's favorite way to deal with his angst is by stealing the Batmobile for a night of vigilante justice that comes perilously close to crossing the line into murder. Obviously, crashing a wild party is one thing but hitting the streets with a mission for vengeance is something very different indeed.
Distracted by his new blonde-haired, blue-blooded girlfriend Samantha Vanaver, Wayne struggles to juggle not only his dual identities as the old money playboy as well as Gotham City's Dark Knight but also his relationship with his own son.
And things grow much more complicated when – in a last ditch effort to discipline the boy and keep him in line – Bruce Wayne decides to turn Damian into the new Robin.
Relying on the old Robin (now Nightwing) – Dick Grayson – to train and prepare his son, the men at Wayne Manor are soon usurped by a mysterious new player on the scene who's been tasked with recruiting both Wayne junior and senior into a secret society of elite Gothamites called the Court of Owls.
What results is a straight-to-disc feature that’s vastly superior to DC's previous production.
Ramping up the action and plotline with each successive act, the sequel does a particularly good job of better establishing Grayson's Nightwing for what I can only hope will be the character's own WB Animation and DC Comics original movie in the future.
However, because it attempts to cover so much ground, savvy viewers will be able to spot most of Robin’s double-crossing plot twists coming from a mile away.
Falling back on Batman's roots as an existential Dickensian archetype, Batman vs. Robin pays direct homage to Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist wherein, upon learning that his son has begun reading the book, "movie buff" Bruce Wayne asks Alfred to fire up the 1948 David Lean adaptation of Twist in the manor's screening room.
Far more sexually suggestive than other DC Comics films (which makes this unrated title perhaps best suited to a PG-13 audience), the implied backlit nudity is still less jarring than the new overreliance of the series to focus on "animal/human" hybrids that threaten to turn the films into B-level monster movies.
Though not as well-executed as Batman: Year One or the stellar Wonder Woman, Batman vs. Robin nonetheless shows some promising potential with a dramatic and well earned conclusion that makes us eager for another installment. Likewise, the decision to add more layers to Wayne's own backstory with the suggestion that old money Gotham's elite society just might have played a part in the death of his parents helps elevate the picture from its slightly predictable nature.
Despite the fact that the relationship between junior and senior Wayne seems pretty protracted, in their own right, the film’s characters (and Grayson in particular) nonetheless feel distinctly unique, which is quite a feat indeed for the animated realm.
Bolstered by exciting action scenes including a pulse quickening car chase, though Batman ends slightly abruptly, the gorgeous new Blu-ray gift set is loaded with bonus material including four shorts from the WB animated series archives, behind the scenes footage and a limited edition Batman figurine so you can stage your own battles... Damian’s stolen Batmobile not included.
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