Call it a pet peeve, but I usually hate the idea of kids as action heroes (or villains, for that matter). You know, those brooding pre-teens who, through years of non-stop training and rigorous discipline, can somehow hang with---or even beat---towering, trained adults with four times their body weight. I know, Son of Batman (2014) is "just a cartoon" (and one based on a comic book, no less!), but something about seeing a scrawny ten year-old in the sword-swinging spotlight just seems kind of...ridiculous. Laughable, even. There's even a climactic fight during which [SPOILER ALERT] our half-pint hero, Damian Wayne, gets stabbed in both forearms with enough force to pin him to a stone wall. Damian not only stays alive, but swiftly performs gymnastic dodges and counters with no visible side effects. [END SPOILER] Again, this is "just a cartoon", but moments like these make Live Free or Die Hard look like the original in comparison.
Luckily, most of this DC Universe original movie rises above these occasional lapses into absurdity...and, if you're not careful, you might even end up rooting for the little guy. He's certainly got formidable genes in his favor: early on, Damian is revealed to be the son of Batman, mothered by Ra's al Ghul's daughter Talia and raised in secret to become a ruthless warrior. At the tender age of ten (give or take a few months), his skills are enough to impress even the Dark Knight, who takes Talia at her word that he is, indeed, Damien's pappy. Not surprisingly, the bulk of Son of Batman focuses on the relationship between father and son, not to mention the youngster's friction with Nightwing and even kindly ol' Alfred. Damian is all too eager to finish his opponents (an approach that Batman can't get behind, obviously), and his shoot-first behavior stands in stark contrast with the Dark Knight's methodical, strategy-based style of working. If both were twenty years older and substantially less wealthy, you'd have all the makings of a buddy cop flick.
Based on Grant Morrison's four-issue "Batman and Son" story arc, this 75-minute animated feature also includes familiar figures like Ra's al Ghul, Deathstroke, Dr. Kirk Langstrom and others. It's an entertaining production that, despite a few pacing issues during the first half, settles into a groove that fans should enjoy. I'll also admit that it took time for me to warm up to some of the voice actors: returning roles were fine enough (Jason O'Mara as Batman, David McCallum as Alfred) and some newcomers seemed like a good fit (Firefly alumni Sean Maher as Nightwing and Morena Baccarin as Talia), but others felt a little generic (Xander Berkeley as Dr. Langstrom, Bruce Thomas as Commissioner Gordon); not to the point of confusion, but they just lacked the right...well, character. The animation itself seemed a little stiff as well, especially during the film's opening daytime fight sequence...but then again, Batman never felt right during the day.
As a whole, though, Son of Batman is an entertaining movie that die-hards and newcomers alike should enjoy. For obvious reasons (and despite the presence of a ten year-old central figure), it definitely leans towards a hard PG-13 rating for a handful of bloody encounters. Though it's got less staying power than other DCU Batman productions like Under the Red Hood, Year One and The Dark Knight Returns, it's still unquestionably worth a few spins. Warner Bros.' combo pack impresses from a technical standpoint, while the included extras offer a decent amount of support too.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer of Son of Batman looks good with mild reservations. First, the positive: the stylized color palette holds up nicely and pops without bleeding; additionally, image detail is crisp and black levels are fairly consistent. This adaptation is on par with most of Warner Bros.' direct-to-video animated fare, and most scenes easily surpass their 480p counterparts in a direct comparison. Yet a number of small digital issues creep in on occasion, from sporadic amounts of noise to minor aliasing issues and compression artifacts. These aren't overly distracting problems at all (let alone deal-breakers), but Son of Batman should've been a shoe-in for visual perfection. This image doesn't consistently reach those heights, although most will consider it perfectly acceptable.
DISCLAIMER: The screen captures featured in this review are strictly decorative and do not represent Blu-ray's native 1080p image resolution.
In most regards, however, Warner's robust DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is ever-so-slightly more consistent. Son of Batman contains a good balance of action mixed in with the drama, so the appropriate delegation of surround channels, directional effects and LFE helps to enforce every ounce of weight. Gunfire and fistfights have plenty of punch, music cues sound full and rich, and dialogue is uniformly crisp and easy to understand. I'd have appreciated even more punch on several occasions, but what's here does the job quite well and fans should appreciate the effort. Spanish, French and German Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes are also included, as well as English (SDH), Spanish, French and German subtitles.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The menu interface is presented in Warner's typical no-frills style, though a few annoying commercials and warnings must be dealt with beforehand. This two-disc release is housed in a multi-hub eco case with an Ultraviolet Digital Copy
redemption sheet and a matching embossed slipcover. The Blu-Ray appears to be unlocked for region-free playback.
The main attraction is a trio of Featurettes
that touch upon origins, production and other topics. "The Fan and the Demon Head: The League of Assassins" (10 minutes) looks at Ra's al Ghul's global network, "Strange Blood Ties: Damian Wayne" (15 minutes) glimpses at the history of Batman's son, while "Designing the Characters with Phil Bourassa" (10 minutes) is a more traditional look at this production's art style. On a slightly related note, we also get a Sneak Peek
of the upcoming "Batman: Assault on Arkham" animated feature coming later this summer. The bulk of these featurettes include key cast and crew member input, as well as other contributors like Batman and Son
writer Grant Morrison.
As expected, a handful of loosely related "From the Vault" Batman animated episodes is also included; in fact, we get four this time around. These vintage episodes include "Out of the Past" (Batman Beyond, c. 2000), "The Knights of Tonmorrow!" (The Brave and The Bold, 2010), "Showdown" (The Animated Series, 1995), and "Sidekicks Assemble!" (The Brave and the Bold, 2010). Some of these episodes (particularly from Beyond and TAS) are in particularly rough shape, full of jagged edges, aliasing and artifacts...but hey, they're still worth a look. All told, there's over 2 1/2 hours of extras on board, albeit loosely related to the main feature itself. Optional subtitles are included where applicable.
Son of Batman is perfectly accessible entertainment, but new fans expecting a film appropriate for younger audiences should proceed with caution. The film does have a few pacing issues early on, although it picks up steam nicely during the second half...and as for any other lingering complaints (character designs, voice acting), your mileage may vary. Warner Bros.' combo pack serves up a robust A/V presentation and a few decent supplements, though many are just thematically linked to the main feature. Recommended for fans who enjoyed the studio's previous DCU productions.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.