Friday, May 2, 2014

Son of Batman Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
The world is turned upside down when Batman – one of the world’s greatest Super Heroes – discovers he is a father in the newest DC Universe Original Animated Movie, Son of Batman. Hidden atop a secret mountain stronghold lies the League of Shadows and its fearless leader, Ra’s al Ghul. Together with his equally dangerous daughter Talia, he oversees a trained army of assassins with plans for global domination. But an uprising from within the league now threatens to shift the balance of power and sends Talia and her young son, Damian, fleeing to Gotham City. With assassins on their trail, Talia seeks the protection of Batman, who, unbeknownst to him, is the boy’s father. With his son in tow, Batman wages war against the villain Deathstroke and the League of Shadows, all while teaching his headstrong boy that one can’t fight crime by becoming a criminal. With help from Gotham’s finest, including Commissioner Gordon and Nightwing, Batman will soon discover that his son and most trusted ally are one and the same!

Film (4 out of 5 stars)
After watching this film, it struck me that while Marvel is dominating DC in the live action movie arena, it's the opposite when it comes to animated films. While Marvel takes shortcuts by alternatively releasing motion comic movies or low budget one-off team ups, DC has been consistently been putting out high quality feature animated movies ever since Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm. Perhaps it's because a lot of people steering these DC movies have been around since the fantastic "Batman: The Animated Series" and are still making sure that the same kind of quality is added to each project.

Son of Batman continues that tradition with it's focused story and excellent animation. While the past animated Batman movie have mostly been focused on older stories, with Son of Batman, we get a more recent one as this tale is based on the "Batman and Son" story arc by Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert. The film follows the comic fairly closely overall but there's been a few tweaks in the transition. The movie starts with an attack on Ra's al Ghul (Giancarlo Esposito)'s League of Assassin's base by his former protege Deathstroke (a horribly miscast Thomas Gibson). Hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned, Ra's orders his daughter Talia (Morena Baccarin) and his grandson Damian (Stuart Allen) to escape before his is seemingly killed.

Talia takes Damian to Gotham City to see his father, Bruce Wayne (Jason O'Mara) so that he could protect their son while Talia attempts to avenge her father. The fact that he has a son is a surprise to Bruce but he still takes the boy in because he remembers all too well his own days as an orphan. It's not long before Bruce and Alfred (David McCallum) realize that Damian is very dangerous thanks to being trained by the League of Assassins his entire life. Damian knows it too and that knowledge has made him arrogant and dismissive of everyone else, including Nightwing (Sean Maher), a decision that will later embarrass the boy when Nightwing overcomes him and captures him.

Knowing that the boy is too unpredictable to be left to his own devices, Bruce takes Damian out on patrol with the boy becoming the Robin to his Batman. Bruce tries to instill in his son the idea of justice that doesn't end in death for anyone. Damian has been raised to be bloodthirsty and it goes against his nature and his training to spare lives while fighting crime. Father and son are on opposite ends of the spectrum and it's a question of whether or not Damian will continue to be unmerciful or if he will follow in his father's footsteps to never take a life. Thanks to Deathstroke's plan to use Kirk Langstrom (Xander Berkeley)'s mutagens to create man-bat ninjas, it's a decision that Damian will be forced to make quickly.

As a huge fan of Batman, I've enjoyed all of the various movies that have come out thought that they all have been done well. For me, there's only one voice actor that should play Batman and that's Kevin Conroy, but for some reason they keep bringing in other people depending on the project. In some cases, Conroy is brought back but in others, they bring in other talented people to try to match his awesomeness. Jason O'Mara does a fine job as both Bruce Wayne and Batman (because they really are two different roles if you are doing it right). He's an inspired choice and a good fit in Conroy's absence.

The other roles are also performed very well too. Dee Bradley Baker channels Mark Hamill's demented performance as the Joker, Giancarlo Esposito does a nice turn as Ra's al Ghul (even though I couldn't get David Warner's voice out of my head), and Morena Baccarin provides an excellent Talia al Ghul. The rest of the supporting roles including Sean Maher as Nightwing, Stuart Allen as Damian, and Xander Berkeley as Kirk Langstrom are done well, but the one person that should have been recast is Thomas Gibson as Deathstroke. I liked him in "Dharma and Greg," but in this he is simply terrible as the world's greatest assassin.

The movie is a lot bloodier than I thought it would be and it definitely earns its PG-13 rating. I for one, have no problem with DC releasing more mature versions of their animated movies, but I do want to caution parents that Son of Batman isn't "Batman: The Animated Series." My son really wanted to see this and I'm glad that I decided to watch it first because he isn't quite ready for this movie at age six. I'd say kids ten and up shouldn't have a problem with seeing ninjas getting sliced and diced with spurts of blood, but any kids younger than that might not be ready for that yet. I really like the story and I'd like to see the continuation of it that follows the comics where it becomes Dick Grayson as Batman with Damian as Robin while Bruce Wayne is lost in time. At least, I hope we get some more movies with Nightwing and some of the other members of the Bat-family. If the movies continue to be this entertaining, I'll be happy to keep watching as many as DC wants to put out!
Video (4 out of 5 stars)
This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer is very good as most of DC's animated efforts usually are. There's a lot of sharp detail in this presentation with the animated lines looking crisp and distinct. This film has a dark palette so there's not a ton of color on display but what is here looks good and accurate. There's a few issues of color banding and haloing, but they're minimal and don't really distract from the rest of the transfer. Black levels are nice and dark as they should be for a film set in Gotham City and starring Batman. Despite the few issues, this is a fine presentation on Blu-ray.
Audio (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)
Son of Batman's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix fares slightly better than its video quality with a solid but not perfect audio track. The front channel delivers clear and clean sounding vocals while the rear channels provide some low key ambiance. Their directionality is accurate but I wished that it was more active and had more of a presence that it did which is how I felt about the LFE channel too. Maybe my expectations were too high because this is a Batman movie, but overall, I liked this audio mix and would have rated it higher if those issues had been tweaked a little more.
Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)
These extras pretty much follow the usual WB/DC formula for these kind of releases which means that while they're interesting, you don't get very many of them. I really wish we could get more in depth extras but that's not the industry standard for these kind of releases.

Son of Batman contains the following extras:
  • A Sneak Peek at DCU Batman: Assault On Arkham - If you've played the video-games Arkham Asylum or Arkham City, then you know what to expect in this adaption. I can't wait to see how much of the game is brought to life in this upcoming movie.
  • From the DC Comics Vault: Four Bonus Cartoons - It's a mix of cartoons from different show this time including: a “Batman Beyond” episode titled “Out of the Past,” two episodes from “Batman: the Brave and the Bold” (“The Knights of Tomorrow!” and “Sidekicks Assemble!”), and one from my favorite Batman series, “Batman: The Animated Series” (“Showdown”).
  • Designing The Characters With Phil Bourassa - We hear from Son of Batman's lead character designer who talks about what his job entails for these movies. 
  • The Fang and the Demon Head: The League of Assassins - A featurette devoted to providing an overview of The League of Assassins and other comic characters that inhabit that world, including Ra’s al Ghul and his daughter Talia.
  • Strange Blood Ties: Damian Wayne- A featurette about the character of Damian Wayne
  • DVD copy of the film
  • Digital HD copy of the film
Summary (4 out of 5 stars)
Warners and DC Comics have delivered another fun Batman movie for fans as they continue to tap into various story arcs that jump around a lot. That strategy is probably very smart as they've made so many different movies about different points of Batman's history that there's something for everyone at this point. I like that their also making more adult themed animated movies, but just make sure that you watch them before you show it to your kids as this one is definitely PG-13. This Blu-ray offers a very nice presentation with it's very good video and audio quality as well as the extras that are also good but a little short. This is highly recommended for all Batman fans!

Order your copy today!

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