This animated feature doesn't draw any strong parallels to Grant Morrison's "Batman vs. Robin" storyline (at least none that I recognized) and it instead takes some major inspiration from Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's "Court of Owls" and Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's "Born to Kill." Both are pretty excellent stories ("Born to Kill" is without question one of my favorite New 52 arcs), so it's understandable to go into this movie with some pretty high expectations, even if you weren't a fan of some of the recent animated features. Thankfully, there's a solid creative team behind this movie and it really does show.
The story here is solid. Unlike some of the other movies, it doesn't feel like it's rushing through character-driven scenes in order to get to the explosive conclusion. Sure, the action is probably the part that'll really win you over and I'll admit Batman's stubborn attitude can make him frustrating instead of simply seeming unaware about how to properly balance being a father and a hero, but this movie did a good job handling both character and story progress. It really did stand apart from the source material in a creative way, too. It's really cool that Talon is basically Ducard and that brought more way more emotion to the story. Aside from Batman: Assault on Arkham, the latest DC animated movies haven't done a great job selling their villains. Ocean Master and Black Manta didn't receive nearly enough focus; Deathstroke's story felt uninspired and seeing him lose to Damian in an extended fight is tough to swallow; Darkseid was basically there for one big boss battle. That really isn't the case here and they make sure Talon is there for plenty of kick-ass action while also playing a substantial role in the narrative. The twists probably won't drop your jaw, but it all plays out in an entertaining way and there's a legitimately heartwarming moment in the end -- one which is well-earned. It's brief and predictable yet still totally effective. There's no shame in admitting it'll potentially make you tear up. As the overall narrative moves forward, it never loses sight of making sure to focus on its primary theme: the bond between a mentor and their protege. Even during the opening conflict, this theme is front and center... in a very twisted way, though.
There's some great melee combat and fun madness in here, but I do have a criticism: the handling of Damian's capabilities in fights. I don't mind making him formidable -- he should be -- but it'll take some serious plot devices for him to give some iconic characters trouble, and the way he took advantage of them didn't really feel justified. I know it's made clear he'd lose against Bruce in an all-out fight, but the fact he's giving him that much trouble without any other factors playing a role is a little baffling. I can't help but feel like Grayson fans will also feel disappointed. It would have been cool if that brawl concluded the same way as Damian's first violent fight with Tim; that way it isn't downplaying Grayson and still gives Damian credit. I also wish Damian's impressive intellect played a bigger role.
As for the performances, I have to say Jason O'Mara has grown on me. I won't say he's my favorite Batman, but I do believe he's come a long way since Justice League: War. Even when enraged or upset, he gives Bruce a more controlled tone, and I think that's fitting for such a brilliant character. Stuart Allan's perfectly fine as Damian and Jeremy Sisto delivers as Talon, yet the real treat is Kevin Conroy returning to the Wayne family. He doesn't have many lines, but making him voice Bruce's father, Thomas, was a nice dose of fan service. I know we've seen the death of Bruce's parents a gazillion times now, but it's appropriate for this story. Thankfully, it doesn't drag out the scene of his parents being gunned down and instead focuses primarily on the follow-up.
I know some of you weren't the biggest fans of Son of Batman and Justice League: Throne of Atlantis. Those experiences may have you feeling uninterested in this latest feature and honestly, I wouldn't blame you for feeling that way. I didn't love those two features, either. However, I'm here to tell you that you really shouldn't let those two movies prevent you from watching this one. Batman vs. Robin is pretty awesome and it's definitely worthy of a purchase. While those previous movies disappointed because of lackluster villains or very generic story beats, this one thrives because it has a solid balance of character insight, a fleshed-out bad guy, and excellent action sequences. Batman: Assault on Arkham is still my favorite post-Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox animated movie, but this one absolutely takes second place. Even if you're not a fan of the story, the action is pretty much guaranteed to win you over. (Unless you hate Damian, that is.) Here's hoping the next Batman movie -- you know, if we do get another one -- is every bit as good as this one. And if we do get one, I'm still hoping for "Hush" or maybe even "Knightfall" as a two-parter. A man can dream, yeah?
Oh, and just so you know, there unfortunately isn't a credits scene. Bummer, right? But hey, at least Justice League: Gods and Monsters looks cool. Bruce Timm for the win!