Every time the DC/Warner Bros. animated film collaboration announces a new title in their release slate, comic book fans descend upon their favorite blogs looking for scraps of information with the ravenous hunger of a pack of freshly turned zombies in search of their first mouthful of brains. With their successful run of animated features, DC/Warner Bros. could easily just sit back and keep doing what has been working for them; producing one-off titles based on beloved comic book releases. Fortunately, the shot-callers at DC/Warner Bros. decided to experiment with a new approach (taking a page from Marvel’s book), adding continuity to their films. Their new undertaking kicked off with Justice League: War, a New 52 based title which directly lead into Justice League: Throne of Atlantis. Then, Batman: Assault on Arkham started a new animated film continuity that occurs within the glorious Batman: Arkham Asylum video game universe. Finally, DC/Warner Bros. latest release, Batman vs. Robin is the continuation of the Batman and Robin story that began in last year’s Son of Batman.
Batman vs. Robin is a shining example of how maintaining continuity between titles adds a new layer of depth to DC’s/Warner Bros. animated releases. Having characters and their relationships bleed over into each movie allows latter titles to pick up right where the previous films left off, which is a valuable asset when most of the DC/Warner Bros. animated films come in at a svelte 70-minute running time. Son of Batman introduced us to this series iteration of Bruce Wayne/Batman, Robin/Damien Wayne, Nightwing/Dick Grayson and Alfred, and established their personalities and relationship dynamics. Son of Batman trimmed the narrative fat out of Batman vs Robin, allowing the film to skip redundant exposition and dive right into the new story.
Batman vs. Robin is darker than the midnight shadows in which Batman prowls. The film begins with Robin (disobeying Batman’s orders) in full blood-hound mode, tracking down a child murderer (not just a kidnapper, he MUTILATES CHILDREN). The investigation culminates in a scene where Batman punches deformed children in the face followed by a psychotic murderer getting his beating heart ripped from his chest, Temple of Doom style. The film offers viewers the first cinematic depiction of The Court of Owls, one of Batman’s newer underworld adversaries. The court is undertaking their own version of a Gotham reclamation project and plot to simultaneously recruit the philanthropic Bruce Wayne while eradicating the troublesome Batman. The court leverages Robin’s frustration with Batman in order to keep The Dark Knight distracted as their supernatural assassins close in on him.
Despite its harsh edge, Batman vs. Robin aims to tell a touching story while also offering a bit of humor. There is something inherently funny about the way that an apex level badass such as Batman can’t keep a 10-year old in check. The heart of the film centers on the relationship between mentor and protégé, father and son. Batman is in control of every aspect of his life but in order to win Damien over, he has to loosen the reigns and give his son a chance to adapt to the world in his own way. The film wants us to understand that as much as we try and “give” children, the relationship remains unbalanced unless the child feels they have opportunities to give something back in return.
Batman vs. Robin is a wild Batman tale infused with a bit of heart. The well choreographed fight sequences helps the solid if unspectacular animation amount to something greater than the sum of its parts. It is a joy to see multiple types of Batman stories in these animated films and I’m particularly excited to see how this darker interpretation of Batman’s story continues to unfold. It’s disappointing that the live-action movies don’t take a hint from these films and release multiple styles of Batman movies with multiple actors, but that’s another story for another day. For now, I am content to get my regular animated Batman trifecta with the Justice League, Arkham and Batman and Robin movies.