Friday, April 24, 2015

Batman Vs Robin (2015) Direct-to-DVD animated OVA

Overall verdict: 6/10

The Good: well written dialogue, exceptional action, improved art and animation,  well developed hero's journey for Damien, deliciously over the top villain

The Bad: Awkwardly written romance, contrived and convenient plot resolution, minor animation errors

Damian Wayne was trained to be the greatest assassin in the world. Following is liberation from the League of Assassins, Damian is taken in by his father Bruce Wayne, who is also the legendary Batman. By day, Bruce and Damian work to bond as father and son. While at night, Batman teaches his new Robin to suppress his urge to kill and embrace a non-lethal philosophy of crime fighting. Inexperienced in being a parent, Bruce finds it difficult to trust his bloodthirsty son, and thus keeps him like a prisoner. But a new vigilante prowls the night. A vigilante named Talon who is more than happy to bring out Robin's killer instinct and have him as a partner.  

Ever since the previous instalment in this New Batman Direct-to-video animated universe, I had predicted that the comic book storyline "Court of Owls" would be one day adapted into an animated movie. (Don't believe me, read my review for SON OF BATMAN here). In a way, my wish has been granted. The mysterious Court Of Owls, a secret cadre of the rich and powerful who had been dictating the city's fate from eons ago, does feature in BATMAN VS ROBIN.  Their designs are a direct translation from comics and this movie even translates key scenes of Greg Capullo's (the original artist of the comic) artwork into animation. Sadly that is where the similarities end. 

The greatest crime BATMAN VS ROBIN commits, especially for a fan of the comics such as myself,  is how this movie completely alters the original "Court of Owls" storyline. The original comics, written by critically acclaimed scribe Scott Snyder, was an epic in its own right. 

A massive inter-title crossover that kickstarted DC's New 52 continuity featuring not just Batman and Robin, but Nightwing, Red Hood, Batgirl, Catwoman and even the Teen Titans. Heck, somehow even Jonah Hex was brought into it. The apocalyptic scenario saw Gotham City overrun by reanimated killer Talons each sent on specific assassination missions to wipe out key individuals; among the targets is the Bat family. 

This movie reduces that storyline into another "underworld gang looking to take over" plot combined with the story of a rival vigilante to Batman who tries to return Damian to his old bloodthirsty ways. Yes, the singleminded Talons have been reduced to Batman's dark reflection. A masked Vigilante, like Batman, but willing to kill. 

We do get some development to the Father/Son relationship between Bruce and Damian. We get a glimpse into Damian's inner struggle with conflicting ideologies and his quest to find his own identity. All his life, he has felt used by others for their own ends and now he faces a choice between potential fathers.  

Damian is the main character here with all other characters relegated to a supporting role, including Batman. Stuart Allen reprises his role of Damian, bringing a realistic and believable "mature beyond his years" kid voice to the character. His level of emoting has improved somewhat from SON OF BATMAN, reflecting Damian's humanisation and rejection of his assassin past. 

The other voices tend to border on mediocre; a fault most likely lying in the actors since voice director Andrea Romano has produced top notch work so far. Jason O'Mara returns as Batman/Bruce Wayne but uses the exact same voice for both personas. A stark difference to other Batman voice actors, particularly Kevin Conroy (who in a nice bit of fan service, voices Bruce Wayne's father) who uses distinct tones and inflections to distinguish Batman and Bruce Wayne as the mask and the true identity. Jeremy Sisto (who also voiced a previous incarnation of Batman from JUSTICE LEAGUE THE NEW FRONTIER) is the deep toned Talon but.......little else. Whether angry, frustrated, confident or wavering, Talon sounds exactly the same. 

TheAnswerStudio brings their anime styled look to this movie as well as the previous SON OF BATMAN. Compared to their last effort, detail in the artwork has gone up a notch; gradient shadows, those dynamic lighting effects, and reflective sheen on metal objects truly add to the visual spectacle. Sadly, like so many of its contemporaries, this movie falls victim to the same trappings that typical Japanese anime fall into. It looks beautiful but the smoothness of the animation suffers; the frame rate looks jerky, hand to hand combat is given the illusion of movement through motion blur, and in certain scenes involving many characters on screen the level of detail drops.

Our storyline tends to be all over the place. You never get a clue on what our villains' motivations were, how much of a threat their organisation is to Gotham, or even why Nightwing seems to have some unsaid grudge against Damian. This was expanded upon in the comics, but truncated and lost here in this movie. The writers tried to play with a mystery element here but the twists could be seen coming ten minutes into the show. 

What results is a predictable watered down version of an exceptional comic book. On its own, BATMAN VS ROBIN is decently entertaining with a good deal of action, decent character development for Robin, and visual eye candy in the artwork. Sure it is a far cry from Greg Capullo's stunning comic panels but it holds its own among anime movies of 2015.  However, among Warner Premiere's catalogue of Direct-to-video animated movies, this one ranks in the lower tiers thanks to its rushed nature, simplified story, disappointing acting and choppy Japanese anime style animation. 
*****************************Review End***************************

Entertainment: B+
Art: A
Animation: B-
Story: C+
Voice Acting (English): B- 
Characters: B+
Music: B-
Replay value: A-
"Brains": D-

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