Batman Vs. Robin
Produced by James Tucker
Directed by Jay Oliva
Written by J.M. Dematteis
Featuring Jason O'Mara, Stuart Allen, Sean Maher, Jeremy Sisto, "Weird Al" Yankovic, David McCallum, Grey DeLisle, Kevin Conroy
'Rama Rating: 4 out of 10
Batman vs. Robin will certainly have to struggle to validate its existence next to other Batman stories. The movie jerks the audience in and out of rhythm by running back and forth between violent tones and ones of sentiment. However, it only has the ability to do one of those things well at all. The film’s creators don’t seem to know who is the audience is for this film and only successfully pulls off the action beats.
First, let’s try to nail down who this movie is for. The PG-13 rating would suggest that it’s for an older, more mature, audience. One would have to agree since there might be too much blood and violence for a 12 year-olds sleepover. So Batman vs. Robin (one fight comic fans never argued over) is a darker take on the Batman mythos. It should hail closer to The Dark Knight Returns or Year One animated movies. However, all the buckets of red ink don’t seem to hold any real consequence to any of the characters. Sure, it’s superhero violence- the sort of injury that would land a person in the hospital just roles off these heroes back. Of course Batman, Nightwing and the whole bunch can hold their own, but there are no stakes to the fights when the body count doesn’t matter. So maybe it’s more of a horror film? The Jason Vorhees-like version of the Dollmaker (voiced by “Weird” Al Yankovic) would certainly suggest that. Also, there are all of those sexual notes that would land it outside of lil’ Timmy’s reach. At one point, Dick Grayson is talking to a lady on the phone about that little number with the red lace and thong. That’s fine, but if this movie is for the more mature Batman fan, then why is it written like so much bad anime?
To put it mildly, Batman vs. Robin was incredibly exposition-heavy. That isn’t to say that there was too much back story. It’s comic book fiction and there is some world-building to establish. However, it was the way that the script went about sharing these details. So much information was spewed by a character stating their thoughts and emotions to anyone present enough to hear them. It is especially strange for a character like Batman to be so forthcoming with every thought that races past his mind. Comic books have the wonderful story device of thought bubbles but in a film one must show, not just tell. It makes the whole affair seem juvenile. It’s strange that the creators felt the need to spell everything out for the audience to keep up with the plot. The audio of this movie would make one think they are watching a Saturday morning cartoon until they opened their eyes and watched the massacre of Talon slaughtering the entire Court of Owls in dynamic detail.
On a more positive note, the choreography for the action sequences was stellar. It’s clear that a lot of thought went into each character own fighting style as well as visual interesting ways for them to execute movies. For a movie that is seventy five percent fisticuffs, that is important. There was always something unique happening in the fight sequence, whether it be a special move or how the setting was utilized, that kept the eye very much engaged.
Fans of the Batman comics will also enjoy spotting the story elements lifted from the page. The movie is mainly a highbred of Batman: Court of Owls, Batman and Robin: Born to Kill, the Talon series, and pretty much everything Jason Todd said before Death in the Family subbing in for all Damian Wayne’s lines.
Speaking of lines, the voice acting for the film was very hit or miss. Yankovic was engaging in his twisted, childlike, version of Dollmaker. There was certainly something sinister behind the cartoony delivery. Sean Maher makes a convincing Nightwing and can sell the more relaxed tone that the character has around Wayne Manor. Jeremy Sisto’s Talon was inescapably familiar to James Spader. It was an interesting choice but not one that seemed to pay off for where the character was headed. It’s Jason O’Mara’s Batman that was a letdown. It can be very difficult to pin point the emotion behind Batman’s voice but unfortunately that translates to a very bland delivery in this movie.
This animated version of Batman and Robin does not seem to slowing down. DC Animation seems set with this interpretation of the characters. It’s a shame since they were building a library with so many interesting and varying takes on their catalogue of heroes and stories. Maybe Batman vs. Robin will find its audience the same way that Chinese Chopsocky films did or the ‘blood and babes’ anime that clutters bins at conventions. It can be visually entertaining but there isn’t anything behind that. There is too much violence for the kids but not enough substance for the adults. Batman vs. Robin is a subpar entry into the DC Animated catalogue, but like Damian Wayne, it was capable of so much more.