The Demon's Head, Ra's Al Ghul is dead, betrayed by his former pupil, Slade Wilson aka Deathstrokem, who has taken over the League of Assassins. Ra's daughter, Talia, is now on the run and forced to go to the last place she wanted to for help: her enemy/former love the Batman. In tow with her is a revelation that'll startle even the Dark Knight: Talia is harboring their son Damian, the heir apparent to the Demon.
Loosely based on the introduction arc to Grant Morrison's run (Batman #655-658), Son of Batman is the latest offering of a shared animated movie universe that Warner Bros is trying out that started in the Justice League: War (though in truth it began with Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox). Those expecting a direct adaptation to the Morrison story will have to look elsewhere. Aside from a scant few plot points, the movie tries to do it's own thing.
Therein lies the biggest problem the movie has. In the past (even in Justice League: War), the animated movies, when adapting previous comic stories, did a straight up adaptation and changed very little. The only one amongst them that didn't was Justice League: Doom, which very loosely adapted the classic “Tower of Babel" storyline in Justice League comics. In much the same way, Son of Batman is very much like that movie in the same regard. It only borrows the main plot point of the comic story (Damian and League of Man-Bat Assassins), then does it's own thing by adding Deathstroke and Nightwing to the mix while dropping the Talia angle the comic had (for the most part).
To that end, the movie feels kind of souless on the villain end. You don't really get any motive for Deathstroke, other than he's jealous that Ra's chose Batman and later Damian over him. In fact, I'd say this is probably the worst adaptation from comics to screen that the character Slade Wilson has EVER HAD. This isn't the Deathstroke we're used too, instead this role could have easily been filled by Bane. One guesses whomever lorded over this movie tried to capitalize on the character's popularity in videogame Batman: Arkham Origins and TV series Arrow.
If that's the case, then it just goes to expose a problem that needs to be better addressed. STOP USING THE CHARACTER. You're using him too much and people will get bored with him.
This Deathstroke is quite the opposite of previous adapations and I kind of winced then chuckled at the fact Damian caused him to lose an eye or what happens to him later on. Never once did I fell this movie nailed the character; instead, I kept thinking to myself: “why didn't they just use Bane?” I mean, he is a Batman villain after all, more so than Deathstroke.
So for those looking for a Deathstroke in line with Manu Bennett's brilliant performance on Arrow or Ron Perlman's, you're going to be as disappointed as I was at the waste of a good villain. Slade's voice actor in this movie, Thomas Gibson, just doesn't feel at all threatening. He's just there with this stilted dialogue. Maybe a better actor could have been chosen instead of the role just being wasted.
Speaking of waste, there's the all too brief appearance of Ra's Al Ghul in this film as well. I mean come on. You got freaking Giancarlo Esposito voicing him and I kind wanted to see his version of Ra's more than this pathetic attempt at Deathstroke. You want an antagonist to be threatening and I felt more of that with Esposito's all too brief time as Ra's than any moment that lingered with Gibson's Deathstroke.
The same goes to Deathstroke's League of Assassin henchmen who looked like they got ripped out of the anime Naruto with their outfits and laughable antics as they try to kill Damian and Talia. Really, the only time they get actually interesting is when they become the League of Man-Bat Assassins. Other than that they're equally as bad as the main antagonist.
It's sad, really, because the rest of the movie is kind of good. When I first heard Stuart Allen's performance of Damian in the trailer, I was kind of weary. Thankfully, the movie perfectly captured the snotty brat as he was in the original comic. Add the dynamic the character brings to Jason O'Mara's Batman, and the movie works quite well.
I get also why Dick Grayson/Nightwing (played by a cocky, yet smooth, Sean Maher) was included in this movie and not the Robin at the time, Tim Drake. If this movie continues on and eventually goes further into Morrison's work, then we might get Dick Grayson is in this movie more. In that regard, it makes what happens later on all the more impactful (that is if they continue on this path, “adapting” Morrison's work). The only thing that made me scratch my head was the fact that they chose a more Young Justice-type design for the former Robin in this movie rather than give him his “New 52” costume. Plus, I'll admit it: at the end of the movie (which has another bonus scene), I laughed hard at the outcome of the Damian/Nightwing fight.
Then there's Talia, who's played perfectly by Morena Baccarin. I'm kind of surprised at the direction the movie goes with the character compared to the original comic, and it works. But, I just kind of wish they took more from the comic. Still, Baccarin just gets the character. I just wish there was more for the character to play with than the “damsel in distress” though. Yes, the arc in the comics made Talia more evil, but hey, if we're looking for a poorly set-up female antagonist and again get a shoe-horned in Deathstroke, I'd take the former.
As for O'Mara's Batman, I'm kind of stand-offish. Given, at times, he does channel a bit of Christian Bale's Batman and sometimes you can hardly understand what the hell he's saying. Likewise, I'm a bit baffled at why the movie has his Batman be more extreme then we're used too. There's a part in the movie where he battles Killer Croc (voiced by Fred Tatasciore) ,and he kind of rips the tail off the villain. I mean what the hell? But back to O'Mara. I just don't think he's an actor whose voice is good for the role. Bruce Greenwood, Peter Weller, and William Baldwin were excellent actors who I kind of liked in the role besides the obvious one, Kevin Conroy, whose nailed the role for the past twenty years. I kind of wish they find someone who gets that; like Diedrich Bader in Batman: Brave & the Bold or currently Anthony Ruivivar in Beware the Batman.
It's here where the movie does push the violence envelope a bit more than we're used too. Again, I was kind of surprised at the whole sequence when Damian stabs Deathstroke's eye. Likewise at the movie showing various ninjas getting mowed down by Talia and her arrow-gattling gun (okay I laughed and enjoyed it in all its corny glory). Still, the violence kind of surprised me and it also kind of worries me that Warner Bros see's this only for one type of audience.
The animation for the movie isn't bad, but again, I'm just not a fan of this movie's version of Deathstroke which is a bastardized version of his Arkham Origins costume and the design they give the League of Assassins in this (Editor's note: we get it, Zechs. You don't like Deathstroke). Which is again a shame because this is freaking Deathstroke, why cheapen one of the big villains' they've had on television. You're only discrediting what previous adaptations have done masterfully with the character.
Again, that's this movie's greatest problem. If you can stomach the lame version of Deathstroke, you can enjoy this film. But, if you're like me. You'll cringe at how bad they failed at the movie's antagonist yet got so right the relationship between Damian and the Bat Family of Bruce, Dick, and Alfred. This is a shame because there could have been a good movie here. Along with not being a fan of O'Mara's Batman, I kind of wish we had more Maher's Nightwing, who was a breath of fresh air. This could have been a far better movie. I had some hopes that this could have been more like Batman: Under the Red Hood (which is still the best animated Batman adaptation on a comic there is).
Instead, you'll find yourself fast forwarding, and then realize after fifteen minutes of watching that you've skipped most of the movie. I hate to say this, but Warner Bros Animation really dropped the ball with this one. If this is the future of “comic adaptations” of stories, then we're in for a bleak period of animated films. Thee animated product is just doing “easy” cash-in's and not trying out anything bold or going with what fan's truly want.. *ahem * WE STILL WANT A FREAKING ANIMATED GREEN LANTERN: SINESTRO CORPS WAR!!!! IS IT THAT HARD WARNER BROS ANIMATION?! REALLY?!
2 out of 5