I have always enjoyed the DCAU movies for a lot of different reasons: the fact we get to see famous arcs brought to life, they offer cool adaptations on existing characters, the usually spot on voice direction of Andrea Romano. All of these are hallmarks of the great work that the studio puts our three to four times a year, which is why I was excited for Batman vs. Robin, a combination of two of the most recent “best” arcs that Batman has been a part of. Batman vs. Robin chooses to adapt part of the original Batman vs Robin arc of Grant Morrison’s run as well as the main body and conflict of the film which is centered on Scott Snyder’s excellent Court of Owls arc. Jason Mara makes his return as Bruce and is forced to confront the terror of the night his parents were murdered while being forced to deal with his son’s, Damian, ever increasing rebellion. Although we are given very excellent source material a lot of the broader points of the story have managed to be readapted or altered in order to suit the needs of the film.
First things first this is only Batman vs Robin in name only as the crux of the plot is centered on Snyder’s Court of the Owls arc and how this story effects Bruce as a person. Where the original Batman vs Robin is a story of Damian coming to terms with being Dick’s partner and finding the will to rebel against his mother, the movie is very much centered on Bruce and his failings as a parent. Jason Mara continues to do great work as Bruce as he is treating Damian much more like his ward than his son, but the insertion of Damian into the Court of Owls feels very out of place. Damian’s need to fit in and find purpose in life works great in the broader sense of who this specific Damian is: arrogant, overpowering, and yet unsure of himself in comparison the our only other known Robin, Dick Grayson. However his use as a sidekick or protege to our main villain, The Talon feels very much like a retread of last years Son of Batman. By now we can clearly see Damian is hesitant to fall back into the ways of the assassin, so there should not be so much of a draw for him to fall under the wing of a man he sees literally rip out a guys heart as an introduction.
Speaking of the court themselves there are plenty of changes to the overall narrative of the Court of Owls arc. Certain big moments remain, the labyrinth is still a terrifying part if over all to quickly and Bruce’s fight with all of the Talons is a truly impressive sight to behold, but a lot of the greater narrative moments are missing. Lincoln March is not even seen within the piece instead being replaced by a new character, Samantha Vanaver, as well as our Talon no longer having the same connection to our hero as he does in the original story. I largely understand and appreciate those changes considering that that story would have been incredibly confusing if all of Snyder’s big plot twists had been included, but in the end the Court we see is incredibly less threatening than that of the comic.
One of the big themes of the original arc is that Bruce is largely put out of his element in facing The Court as they have preceded Batman and as they say, “they will be around long after he is gone.” At no point during the films run time did I ever feel Bruce was outmatched or outwitted by The Court, as I knew sooner or later he would come out victorious. Take for example the Labyrinth scene, in the comic we are shown Bruce slowly losing his mind over the course of a few days, however in the film it happens in the span of a few minutes and quickly is forgotten about. Even the Talons, who are supposed to be Batman’s equal or superior in so many ways basically become cannon fodder, with even our main Talon who is excellent voiced by Jeremy Sisto, feeling underwhelming. It feels as if the movie needed about twenty more minutes to be able to explore the actual threat of The Court rather than us just imagining it based on reputation.
The real bright spot of this entire affair is the action as we get plenty of great action scenes from the opening Dollmaker fight all the way up to the final raid on the Batcave. The staging in all of the sequences are fantastic and pretty visceral especially in Nightwing’s as he nearly gets drawn and quartered by Talons at one point in the film. I do love the graphic nature of the fights that we have been getting, especially in the Batman films as it is sometimes lost the amount of pain that Bruce inflicts on those he goes toe to toe with. Seeing bones break and limbs impaled adds to the threat level of the Talons and make all of the action much more enjoyable overall.
Overall I would say Batman vs Robin is a fairly average film, but still a step up over some of the more recent DCAU experiences.
Final Grade C
+Great action sequences
+Excellent voice direction
+Fun angle on the Talon even if it is not from the comic
-Not a truly faithful adaptation of Court of Owls
-Damian’s arc is definitely a retread
-Feels extremely short considering the depth of the source material
-I’m a sucker for when Alfred gets to fight, extra points for a shotgun.
-The end of the movie felt a lot out of place considering Damian’s core arc throughout the film. Why would Bruce just let him leave?
-In this universe Dick and Starfire are together, also we got no mention of any other member of the Bat family, really bizarre.