[Editor’s Note: This review may contain spoilers]
Directed By: Ethan Spaulding
Written By: James Robinson and Joe R. Lansdale
Starring: Jason O’Mara, Stuart Allan, Morena Baccarin, Thomas Gibson, Fred Tatasciore, David McCallum, Dee Bradley Baker, Sean Maher, Kari Walhlgren, Bruce Thomas, Giancarlo Esposito, Xander Berkely
Original Release Date: May 6, 2014
After the assassination of Ra’s al Ghul at the hands of former protégé Deathstroke, his beautiful daughter Talia entrusts to Batman the son he never knew he had: Damian, a highly skilled, arrogant ninja assassin in the body of a ten-year-old boy. Casting him into the role of Robin, the Dark Knight wrestles with fatherhood as they try to expose Deathstroke’s overall agenda and quell his son’s bloodthirsty instincts.
Though a loose adaptation, the screenplay focuses on the core of Grant Morrison’s original story, which is an examination of the relationship between father and son and extends into the difference of upbringing. As always, casting director Andrea Romano makes brilliant choices as the voicework perfectly embodies the personalities of their respective characters and enhances said scenes. Some of the strongest comic-inspired sequences in this film are the square-offs between Bruce and Damian struggling to find common ground. Jason O’Mara and Stuart Allan have great onscreen chemistry as a father and son with the same emotional scars, but different ethics and methods.
The tone that child actor Stuart Allan applies to his role of Damian is one of superiority, arrogance, and entitlement. In regards to his character, the screenplay perfectly captures both his good points and his bad, such as a sense of entitlement in need of a dose of humility. The aforementioned good points shine through via the conveyance of his desire to work with the Batman by accepting the role of Robin, all the while simultaneously showing up his predecessor, Dick Grayson.
On the other side of this new dynamic duo, Batman feels that the Robin identity is the only tool he has to both guide his son and restore his humanity. O’Mara carries the role of Batman with a strong, raspy voice that is steady and patient at some points, while cold and calculating at others. It is through his portrayal that the unspoken motives of Bruce Wayne are conveyed to the audience. Morena Baccarin is the perfect femme fatale. As beautiful and alluring as Talia’s design is, Morena’s dual performance is seductive in its subtlety when in the presence of Batman, while militant but maternal regarding her son. She is depicted as a mix of the unrequited love of Bruce Wayne, yet still a dangerous temptation given her underlying desires. The scene on her yacht between her and Bruce is high in its sexual content for the average 13-year-old viewer; it is storyboarded as a combination of a seductive dance and a poker game.
Deathstroke’s role as the main villain should feel like he was shoehorned in, but the writers’ treatment gives him a grounded background and motive that parallels Damian’s, them both being former disciples of Ra’s al Ghul. Thomas Gibson counters O’Mara’s delivery with a stone-cold tone as Slade Wilson that is clear in purpose and rarely emotional.
The animated style is concurrent with the aesthetic established in Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. This decision further cements the notion that this it is an interconnected continuity. It is crisp and fluid in the same vein as anime and never falters in its quality. Taking their lead from the New 52 designs, the costumes dispense with spandex and trunks and adopt a feel of them being functional body armor. The best example is Robin’s suit. Inspired by Frank Quitely’s design in the comic, it works in the sense that Damian takes aspects of the yellow cape and red tunic and combines it with elements from his ninja armor, complete with a black hood and scalloped gauntlets. Its darker tone also distinguishes him further from Dick Grayson’s lighthearted, wisecracking personality conveyed through the suit’s color scheme. The fight sequences are exceptional and fast paced with an emphasis on mixed martial arts. The result is a fighting style that looks fresh and action-packed and suits Batman’s world as well as his cape.
The Kirk Langstrom subplot greatly underuses the character, which is a Jekyll/Hyde addiction to his own Man-Bat formula. Although a significant plot point, the rocky relationship with his family almost parallels the current situation Bruce has with his own and should have been addressed. Giving Kirk a last-minute payback sequence in the final battle wasn’t enough and leaves the audience wondering how he resolves the emotional issues with his wife and daughter.
Another underused character is that of the Wayne family butler, Alfred. David McCallum, in the role of Alfred Pennyworth, provides a performance that delivers the signature sarcasm and dry wit established by the late Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. in his voicework on 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series. Although this is a strong positive, the negative is that he is not used enough in the plot. The same can be said of Dick Grayson, who is only there to show the continuity of the Robin legacy. The fight between Nightwing and Damian is only conveyed through a series of stills during the credit reel.
The only complaint about O’Mara is that his Batman and Bruce Wayne voices are not distinct enough. In all fairness, we only see him as Bruce Wayne in public in only one scene at Wayne Enterprises. Not everything can be fit into the small time span of an animated feature, but some small aspects like this are necessary.
Son of Batman is a strong introduction to a new legacy of Batman animated features with a stellar cast, brilliant design, and smart writing. While not everything works, those drawbacks do not ruin the film for anyone looking for their dose of Batman, or Damian, or any of the characters in the movie.