Batman vs Robin.
It's no small delight that just as I was agonising over what to do for today's post, I discovered that there's a new DC Animated film, and you know how much I love them. Well, I usually love them, bite-sized chunks of well-animated fluff that they are.
I don't really love this one.
Set in the same New 52 continuity as the past few DC films, Batman vs Robin focuses on the father-son relationship between Bruce and Damian Wayne, with Bruce feeling anxious over Damian's assassin-y nature, and Damian feeling stifled. Their issues come to a head when Batman ends up on the wrong side of the Court of Owls, a mysterious cabal of wealthy people who use their army of undead 'talons' to wipe out their opposition. Meanwhile, Damian is approached by big-t Talon, the Court's main (and only living) enforcer, who wants to recruit the boy to become his own apprentice.
Let's run down the reasons why I perhaps didn't enjoy this film as much as other DC animated flicks.
|Wow, you two don't look happy.|
Firstly, the New 52 missed a bloody trick by not having it be the 'Parliament of Owls'. I mean, c'mon guys, that's a no-brainer. C'mon. C'mon.
Secondly, the animation in this film actually isn't that good. Superficially, it's very much like the other New 52 films, but the resemblance is only superficial - clearly a lot less money and effort was thrown at the animation this time, as the colours look washed out; characters and locations often have a weirdly flat, undefined quality about them, as if half of their lines are missing; and everybody looks kind of weirdly misshapen - and worse, they look misshapen in a different way every scene. The animation improves drastically during big fight scenes, but even then, it's not a scratch on other DC Animated films, with no shortage of moments that look like they came straight from Justice League Unlimited.
Thirdly, the characterisation isn't that great either. Like all people of good sense, I attempt not to look directly at the New 52 so as to avoid tragic injury, but unless Batman's character is truly radically different in it (which would be a problem all its own), then he'd absolutely never talk about how a ten year old boy 'doesn't have a heart', imply that not having a loving family makes you inherently more prone to evil, demand a ten year old boy kill him, or any of the other horrific, abusive things he does in this film. Because while Damian is certainly irritating in this film, Batman is an out-and-out child abuser in it, and that's not Batman. Well, it's Batman a little - taking a kid out with you as a crimefighting vigilante is a pretty screwed up thing to do - but Batman's whole schtick is that he's always been a very archetypally maternal character, whose nurturing parental instinct is extremely strong.
|Hey, nice masks.|
Dick doesn't get off much better, as he taunts and mocks Damian, pants over the phone at Kory (c'mon, guys, Dick Grayson is smoother than that), and only once protests Batman's treatment of Damian. He's also apparently the film's go-to guy for injury, as he gets skewered through his arms and legs at one point, and later gets skewered through his shoulders, so I guess his acrobatic vigilante days are over.
Alfred is the best written character in the film, but even he doesn't fully escape the shroud of terrible writing, since I struggle to imagine any Alfred who wouldn't give Bruce a firm dressing down for - well, everything. Literally everything he does. In a well-written film, Alfred would have packed his bags and left halfway through, citing that he couldn't stay and watch what was going on. And if you can't write Alfred Pennyworth well, then by jove, who can you write well?
|Not Nightwing, that's for sure! Did I mention that? They didn't write Nightwing well.|
I'm struggling to put my finger on anything that I did enjoy about this film, and I'm coming up short, but it did manage to hold my interest for seventy-five minutes, so at the very least, I can say with fair certainty that it wasn't boring. The pace is such that the film barely has a chance to become boring, trying as it is to pack a considerable amount of plot (and not nearly as much as it could have - the Court of Owls storyline is meaty enough that you could make three films out of it) into a very small space, so it never lets up, and viewers are violently thrown from one important plot-related scene to another. Which is fine, I can absolutely get behind that kind of breakneck pacing.
All in all, a very frustrating film. I'm generally a big advocate of DC's animated, direct-to-DVD offerings - I think they're far better than their cinematic blockbusters. This, um, this is almost worse than Man of Steel. Probably its only real saving grace is that it's short and well-paced. I don't recommend it.