Ever since DC kicked off their animated movie series with 2007’s Superman: Doomsday, some fans have wished these films were more R-rated than PG-13, especially when Batman’s involved. But while that’s still not the case with Batman Vs Robin — which is available from Warner Home Video as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, a limited edition Blu-ray/DVD combo pack that includes a 4.5-inch tall statue of the Caped Crusader, and DVD — this does join last year’s Batman: Assault On Arkham and 2008’s Batman: Gotham Knight in being one of the darker of the Dark Knight’s animated adventures.
Based on Batman: The Court Of Owls by writer Scott Snyder (Batman: Death Of The Family) and artists Greg Capullo (Batman: Zero City) and Jonathan Glapion (Batgirl: Death Of The Family), but also set up as a sequel to last year’s Son Of Batman movie, Batman Vs Robin has the Dark Knight facing down a secret society, while also trying to reign in his son and sidekick, Damien. But while the presence of a bad guy wearing a doll mask and another in an owl costume could’ve very easily led to something silly — like, for instance, the upcoming, animal themed Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts — the move actually embraces the dark source material in some interesting ways. None of which I’ll spoil, but if you’re someone who never thought you’d heart Batman utter a curse word in one of these things….
Batman Vs Robin is also a relatively faithful adaptation of the original comic. And while, like so many of the DC Universe Animated Movies, this film’s eighty-minute run time does feel twenty-to-thirty minutes too short, which renders this a bit shallower than the comic that inspired it, it mostly works here, especially if you’ve read the book and already know the subtleties and subtext. So much so that I hope they continue this series and adapt the Death In The Family comic in the same style and with the same voice cast at some point (though not as much as I hope they finally do the Killing Joke movie they’ve been talking about for years).
Aiding in the storytelling is a solid voice cast, with Jason O’Mara (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Stuart Allen (Damian Wayne/Robin), Firefly’s Sean Mahar (Dick Grayson/Nightwing), and NCIS’ David McCallum (Alfred) all reprising their roles from Son Of Batman. But as good as this cast may be, it’s hard to shake the idea that this would’ve been better if it was Kevin Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series) doing the voice of Batman. Especially since he briefly turns up as the voice of Bruce Wayne’s father in a flashback. It’s kind of like having David Lee Roth guesting on a Van Hagar album.
As for the visuals, Batman Vs Robin has the same anime-influenced art style as the last couple Batman movies. But, like them, there are times when this movie’s art style is a bit too soft and fuzzy around the edges, even when watched on Blu-ray.
All of which adds up to a solid movie, though clearly not one of the best, even for Batman. While seeing Batman and Robin go mano a mano, both physically and verbally, is engaging, some of this movie drags. Though it also doesn’t help that, like in the comic on which its based, Damien is an unlikeable arrogant brat.
As for the Batman Vs Robin Blu-rays and DVD, like previous DC Universe animated movies, it comes with a number of interesting extras…but not as many as they should.
That goes double for the DVD, which only has “A Sneak Peek At DC Universe’s Next Animated Movie: Justice League: Gods And Monsters.” As is the case with similar featurettes on these collections, this one spends a decent amount of time (eleven minutes) with the filmmakers talking about the comic that inspired this movie, and what went into the animation. Though it oddly eschews anything about the cast.
As for the Blu-ray versions of Batman Vs Robin, while they also include the “Sneak Peek,” they also offer a lot more, starting with a running commentary by director Jay Oliva, supervising producer James Tucker, and DC Entertainment creative director Mike Carlin. But while this benefits from having all three in the same room at the same time, which fosters interaction, by not having any of the cast involved, this ends up being a bit too technical and film school-ish.
Next on the Batman Vs Robin Blu-rays are “Gotham City’s Secret: The Mythic Court Of Owls,” which spends half an hour exploring the movie’s secret society, and “The Talons Of The Owls,” a fifteen minute long featurette on the bad guys. Both not only go back to the comics, and include interviews with Snyder and Capullo as well as Tucker and, in “Mythic,” DC editor Bob Harras, but they also, rather interestingly, include insight from Phil Cousineau, a writer (Soul: An Archaeology: Readings From Socrates To Ray Charles), documentary filmmaker, and lecturer who puts elements of this story, the society, and the bad guys into historical and political context.
Further historical context is provided, sort of, by the inclusion of four old cartoons: “Old Wounds” from Batman: The Animated Series; “The Color of Revenge” from Batman: The Brave And The Bold; “Obsession” from Superman: The Animated Series; and “Auld Acquaintance” from Young Justice. And while none are directly connected to the tale told in Batman Vs Robin, they were clearly not chosen at random, as they have some thematic similarities.
Though, having said that, watching the Batman: The Animated Series episode on Batman Vs Robin really made me wish that classic ’toon was available on Blu-ray (though it will clearly need to be remastered into high def first).
Continuing on, Batman Vs Robin also has “Super Rabbit,” a Bugs Bunny cartoon from 1943. And while it really should’ve been on one of the Superman movie Blu-rays, it’s still lots of fun.
The Batman Vs Robin Blu-ray also includes trailers for the aforementioned Son Of Batman, a new LEGO/DC movie called Justice League Vs Bizarro League, and a rather…interesting, yeah let’s go with “interesting” mash-up movie called The Flintstone And WWF: Stone Age Smackdown. But not, annoyingly, the one for Batman Vs Robin.
This, unfortunately, is just one of the things glaringly absent from the Blu-rays and DVD of Batman Vs Robin. While the aforementioned “Sneak Peak” for Justice League: Gods And Monsters serves as a look at how that movie is being made, they didn’t include the “Sneak Peak” for Batman Vs Robin, nor any similar kind of making-of featurette.
It’s also rather glaring that there’s no appearances on the Blu-rays and DVD of Batman Vs Robin from the movie’s voice cast, despite having such stars as Mahar, McCallum, “Weird Al” Yankovic as The Dollmaker, and Suburgatory’s Jeremy Sisto as Talon.
Despite these shortcomings, though, the Blu-rays and DVD of Batman Vs Robin — like the movie it presents — is still solid, but not the best Warners has ever assembled. Still, for fans of the Bat, and the comic that inspired this movie, this is still a welcome step onto the dark side.