This Son of Batman review contains spoilers.
Son of Batman, the latest DC Universe animated movie from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is the story of, well…exactly what you’d expect from that title, really. Based on the Grant Morrison/Andy Kubert story, “Batman and Son” (which sounds like a thoroughly amusing sitcom), Son of Batman takes some necessary liberties with the source material, piles on the violence, and makes some story and character choices that may annoy some viewers.
The fact that Son of Batman is adapted by comic scribe James Robinson with a teleplay by prolific genre author Joe R. Lansdale means it has an impressive fictional pedigree, much like young Damian Wayne (Stuart Allan), himself. Damian is the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul, the head of the League of Assassins. Raised since birth to be the eventual head of the League, Damian is a terrifyingly competent, arrogant little brat, who ends up dumped unceremoniously in Batman’s lap after Deathstroke raids the League’s headquarters and takes out Ra’s.
Son of Batman takes a number of liberties with the source material, but for the sake of a 75 minute movie, they’re understandable. The opening sequence, which features Deathstroke (who looks and sounds quite a bit like Master Ninja era Lee Van Cleef) leading a veritable army of ninjas on the League headquarters is extraordinarily violent, with certainly the highest body count I’ve ever seen in one of these DCU movies. Imagine the climax of Enter the Dragon but with lots more dead bodies, or a version of the old GI Joe cartoon where folks actually get shot and drop dead, and you’ll get an idea of the vibe here.
The problem here is that the violence is rather gleeful, and this sequence is so extended that it begins to feel a little gratuitous. Yes, I realize I’m a guy who spends much of his time writing about superheroes, low-grade action, and giant monster movies complaining about gratuitous violence, but the scene with young Damian blowing guys away with a pistol was a little disconcerting. Of course the film has to establish what a badass he is, and that he doesn’t share his pointy-eared Dad’s compunctions about killing, but surely, watching young Damian stick a sword in Slade Wilson’s eye should have driven that point home.
The pace rarely lets up throughout. This is Batman presented as a late night ’80s cable action movie, with an endless supply of ninjas (and ninja Man-Bats), a scientist forced to work for the bad guys with the lives of his family at stake, several exotic locales, and enough testosterone to break a home run record. A little too much, to tell you the truth. I enjoy Nightwing and Damian’s sibling rivalry (one of their early meetings ends in rather hilarious fashion), but Damian’s repeated jabs at Dick’s sexuality were generally out of line. Damian is many things and many of them aren’t all that nice, but there are plenty of ways to illustrate this without resorting to cheap shots.
The performances are a bit uneven, as well. I found Morena Baccarin’s Talia to be a little flat, as was Thomas Gibson’s Slade Wilson. I haven’t quite warmed to Jason O’Mara’s Batman yet, either, but he deserves more time to grow into the role. David McCallum’s Alfred Pennyworth is a real treat, though…and he gets all the best lines.
Son of Batman starts to fold up a bit by its final act. The aforementioned Ninja Man-Bats, used as a knowing wink to comic book excess and a necessary plot device in Morrison and Kubert’s original story seemed almost incidental by the end of this one, so intent was it on evolving Damian from dangerous little psychopath into Batman’s son and partner. But the animation is slick, with plenty of “this isn’t a kids’ cartoon” edge to it, and it’s never in danger of becoming boring.
In most respects, Son of Batman is superior to the surprisingly irritating and one-note Justice League: War. However, I gave Justice League: War a bit of a pass because it was adapting a rather poor comic book story. Son of Batman, on the other hand, is based on much stronger source material, so it’s occasionally tone-deaf dialogue and questionable story decisions are more difficult to stomach.
When it comes to unbridled bat-action, Son of Batman is almost unmatched. It even delivers some surprising laughs in a few places. As a way to introduce Damian Wayne to a larger audience, though…I’m not sure this is going to open any doors. This still doesn’t feel like a character you’ll want to root for. That may work in the open-ended context of the comics, but in these DC Universe animated films, the title character’s arc should have been a little more defined. Son of Batman isn’t for purists, but is a fun way to waste an hour and change.