By Chaz Lipp
A sequel to Son of Batman (2014), the brand new Batman vs Robin is a dark, mature, action ride that makes for another strong DC Entertainment comic book adaptation. Released via Warner Bros. Home Entertainment, it’s available to own on Blu-ray Combo Pack, DVD, and Digital HD on April 14 (with a Blu-ray Deluxe Edition that includes a Batman figurine). Batman vs Robin continues developing the cantankerous relationship between Bruce Wayne (Jason O’Mara) and his preadolescent son Damien, who has assumed the role of Robin (Stuart Allen). The 80-minute feature film does, however, function quite effectively as a standalone. There’s enough exposition (usually subtle, at that) in J.M. DeMatteis’ terse screenplay to convey everything the uninitiated needs to know.
What makes Batman vs Robin so satisfying is that it keeps the action lean and mean. Not for nothing is this thing rated PG-13. We open with a memorably skin-crawling appearance by The Dollmaker (voiced by none other than “Weird Al” Yankovic), who has captured children and imprisoned them for what he believes to be their own benefit. Here all of the film’s themes are succinctly introduced as Damien, in full Robin guise, ventures into the Dollmaker’s dungeon lair to free the captured (and now deeply, violently disturbed) children singlehandedly. Damien is a child himself, but having been foisted into the world of crime-fighting at a tender age, he feels the need to prove his worth to his father. No easy task. Batman arrives on the scene, but not before Robin is led astray – at least in part – by a mysterious figure from the Court of Owls.
So begins Damien’s struggle between siding with his tough, outwardly-unsentimental and cold father and the more sinister paternal figures presented by Court of Owls (this portion of the plot comes from DC Comics’ Batman: Court of Owls comic book arc). The Court believes in no mercy for the wicked villains it seeks to remove from society. Batman implores that his son live by his code, which allows the justice system to prevail. His vigilantism only goes so far in terms of punishing criminals. Add in the long shadow cast by the original Robin, Dick Grayson – aka Nightwing (Sean Maher), in which Damien is forced to live. In fact, the no-holds-barred sparring match between Robin and Nightwing is among Batman vs Robin’s action highpoints. The ethical quandary that Damien (grandson of super-baddie Ra’s ah Ghul; see Son of Batman), finds himself in as the Court of Owls attempts to manipulate and corrupt him serves as the heart of this full-throttle animated adventure.
Excellent audio/visual specs make Warner Bros. Blu-ray of Batman vs Robin a great viewing experience. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround mix offers powerful, room-filling audio that emphasizes the resonance of every kick and punch. Frederik Wiedmann’s score sounds awesome, rising above the expertly-balanced action din.
A slew of special features are exclusive to the Blu-ray, beginning with an audio commentary track by director Jay Oliva, producer James Tucker, and DC’s Creative Director of Animation Mike Carlin. The half-hour featurette “Gotham City’s Secret: The Mythic Court of Owls” goes into the secretive villainous organization’s backstory. “The Talons of the Owls” is a shorter piece (14 minutes) that continues delving into the Court, looking more closely about the hitmen within the organization. We also get four bonus episodes from the DC Comics Vault, the best being the oldest: the Robin and Nightwing-based “Old Wounds” from Batman: The Animated Series. For good measure, we also get the old Merrie Melodies cartoon “Super-Rabbit,” featuring Bugs Bunny. A sneak peak at the upcoming Justice League: Gods & Monsters is more than a mere trailer, it’s an 11-minute featurette.
Batman vs Robin boasts top-notch production values, exciting action sequences, solid voice work, and emotionally-involving storytelling. Add in some neat extras and (with the Deluxe Edition) a hip Batman figure and the result is a must-own for fans of DC Animation.
Batman vs Robin Images: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment/DC Entertainment