Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Batman vs. Robin Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
The shadows of Gotham City are no place for a child, but then Damian Wayne (Stuart Allen) is no ordinary child. Now bearing the mantle of Robin, he blazes a headstrong and sometimes reckless trail alongside his father, Batman (Jason O'Mara). While investigating a crime scene, Robin encounters a mysterious figure, Talon (Jeremy Sisto), who leads him on a life-altering course through the depths of Gotham's secret society, known as The Court of Owls. It's a dangerous journey that will force Batman and Robin to face their most dangerous adversary: each other. Based on the #1 best-selling graphic novel, Batman: The Court of Owls, this action-packed caper is one that fans won’t want to miss!

Film (4 out of 5 stars)
Batman vs. Robin is a direct sequel to Son of Batman (see my review here) and picks up pretty close to where the last film left off. I'm going to assume that you've already seen that movie, but I will try to keep the spoilers to a minimum. Bruce Wayne (Jason O' Mara) continues to patrol Gotham City as Batman and now that Dick Grayson (Sean Maher) has moved on to become Nightwing, Bruce's son Damian (Stuart Allen), is now Robin. Father and son are still struggling to relate to each other as Damian was raised by the leader of The League of Assassins, Ra's Al Ghul and his daughter Talia. Damian has been so indoctrinated by their philosophy that he is having a hard time adopting his father's no killing credo. Their contrasting beliefs are causing friction in the Batcave and neither one of them is too happy.

In fact, the start of the movie begins with Robin stealing the Batmobile in order to lure Batman to an abandoned toy factory where he believes some kidnapped children have been taken by the psychopath The Dollmaker (Weird Al Yankovic). Batman is furious that Robin has disobeyed order yet again, and he tells Robin to wait for him before making a move. Despite being right about his hunch, Robin ignores his father and engages The Dollmaker on his own which almost gets him hurt until a mysterious figure named Talon (Jeremy Sisto) appears to save him. When Batman arrives, he's really upset, especially because of the way the situation ends, and the rift between Robin and him deepens.

It's that rift that Talon tries to widen as he continues to try to drive a wedge between Bruce and Damian by attempting to recruit Damian to join the secretive Court of Owls, an organization that's operated out of the shadows for decades. Bruce is also courted by them, as they believe that he's the perfect candidate to join the rest of their wealthy members, although they have no idea that he's also Batman. The Court of Owls also have their own army of zombie like warriors that are kept in a regenerative loop thanks to the Lazaras pits at their disposal. It's just a matter of time before The Court, Batman, Robin, and Talon will all have to pick a side in their war. For Damian, the battle is for his soul as the conflict between nature vs.nurture will have to be decided once and for all.

My son and I enjoyed this film a lot and it was nice to see that they followed the "Court of Owls" story-line by Scott Snyder, Freg Capullo, and Jonathan Glapion as closely as it does. In Son of Batman, Damian is pretty insufferable, but in this film, the character is more relatable and his struggle more easily understood. Bruce Wayne isn't the perfect father in a lot of ways, a fact that Dick Grayson can vouch for, but he's also a great role model for a boy that is greatly in need of one. It was also good to see Nightwing make an appearance, as he doesn't get a lot of onscreen action which is a shame. Director Jay Oliva and writer J.M. De Matteis keep the action going and the story constantly moving forward. While I still believe that Kevin Conroy is the only Batman, Jason O'Mara does a fine job playing the crimefighter. Sean Maher, Stuart Allen, and yes, even Weird Al Yankovic all do a great job in the roles. While the third act feels a bit rushed, I still really liked this film and continue to look forward to the next DCU movies. 
Video (4 out of 5 stars)
This 1080p transfer is a pretty good one but there are some issues like banding and macroblocking that prevent this film from getting a higher score. These aren't serious issues, but they are noticeable if you are paying attention to them. On the plus side, colors are suitably bright and distinct when given the chance and contrast is spot on. The black levels are nice and dark which is a plus considering that most of this movie takes place at night in Gotham City. 
Audio (5 out of 5 stars)
Batman vs Robin's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix sounds fantastic and it makes up for the niggling issues found in the video quality. You'll really notice how good it is during the many fistfights, gunfights, and more that are peppered throughout the film. Every bone getting crunched and shot fired is thrillingly clear and powerful. The LFE output is front and center and it provides a lot of punch for all of the action. The surround channels do a nice job keeping the action swirling around the room which sounds very cool. This is a very immersive mix and it really adds a lot to this movie.
Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Usually, these releases are pretty bare bones, but I was pleasantly surprised at what was included for this release.
  • Audio Commentary - This commentary includes DC Entertainment's Creative Director of Animation Mike Carlin, director Jay Oliva and producer James Tucker who talk about how this film carries on from Son of Batman, their choices in bringing this story from the comics to the screen, and more.
  • Gotham City's Secret: The Mythic Court of Owls - At 31 minutes long, I was surprised at how in depth this featurette was concerning the Court of Owls. Several people, including comic writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo, "Burning the Midnight Oil" author Phil Cousineau, DC Comics editor Bob Harras, and producer James Tucker talk about the mysterious society and their emergence in the Batman lore. I think in the comic series, they were a more powerful threat than was shown in this film, but I do like the idea of this secret society that's filled with rich assassins who believe that they should rule Gotham City from the shadows.
  • The Talons of the Owls - A fourteen minute look at the Court's assassins who carry out the orders of the Grandmaster. In this case, Talon is the main assassin tasked with destroying Batman. 
  • Sneak Peek: Justice League: Gods & Monsters - This is an eleven minute look at an "Elseworlds" movie where we see a very different Justice League at work. This is a much darker look at the heroes as in this iteration, Superman is the son of General Zod and Batman is an actual vampire. It looked dark and cool, and anything that Bruce Timm is involved in deserves a look. 
  • From the DC Comics Vault - I think these extras are my son's favorites. He loves to get the bonus cartoons and this time they include The Brave and the Bold's "The Color of Revenge," one from my personal favorite series, "Old Wounds" from Batman: The Animated Series, "Obsession" from Superman: The Animated Series, and "Auld Acquaintance" from Young Justice. It's especially nice to see some of these in high definition. I just wish they would remaster the Batman: The Animated Series episodes in high def too.
  • Merrie Melodies: Super-Rabbit - If those cartoons weren't enough for you, we also get a classic Merrie Melodies short starring Bugs Bunny starring as Super Rabbit whose power comes from some vitamin enriched carrots as long as he has them.
Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
Batman vs. Robin is a fun movie and one that has a lot of action and some good character moments. The cast are all great in their roles and the Blu-ray itself offers some good video quality and an excellent 5.1 mix that really delivers the action. The extras are well selected and varied, and I especially liked the bonus cartoons this time. This film is highly recommended!

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