So one of the most important mantles in DC comics is the role of Robin, Batman’s sidekick and partner. There have been many different Robins, though only four/five in the mainline comics. Of them, the current Robin, Damien Wayne, has gotten the shaft a lot in other media (especially in the Injustice series). His biggest roles outside of the comics have been anything but flattering and have given him a lot of hate from non-comic book fans. Another source of hate for the character comes from his portrayal in today’s subject, 2014’s Son of Batman.
After a scuffle with Killer Croc, Batman (voiced by Jason O’Mara) is approached by Talia al Ghul (voiced by Morena Baccarin), daughter to Ra’s al Ghul, leader of the League of Assassins and adversary of the Dark Knight. Ra’s is dead (for real this time), killed by his former pupil Deathstroke (voiced by Thomas Gibson). With this threat, Talia reveals to Bruce that he is a father, having sired with Talia the child Damien (voiced by Stuart Allen), who was “raised” and trained by the League. Now with his father, Damien wants to avenge his grandfather against Bruce’s personal code. Taking his son under his wing, Batman and his new Robin must investigate in order to find Deathstroke and learn what he is planning, while hopefully giving Damien some needed morality.
Before we get to the film’s main area of issue, let’s acknowledge the animation, which is good. The film’s art style is very aesthetically pleasing, with competent character designs. Additionally, the fight choreography is very dynamic and a bit violent, mostly during the first and last fights of the film between Deathstroke and the League. I also liked the film’s music and voice acting is good enough, but neither really stand out in any special way. Morena Baccarin is a wonderful actress and has experience in the comic book film industry, but she doesn’t really appear much at all, aside from serving as the motivation of the heroes. Jason O’Mara, while not Kevin Conroy, does a fine enough job and Sean Maher as Nightwing is one of the best versions of Nightwing I’ve heard. Thomas Gibson as Deathstroke is ok, but pales in comparison to Ron Perlman.
Issues only really begin to arise with the story. On the surface, the story seems average. The plot beats that should be there are present and accounted for (father and son meeting, clashing over ideals, son learning from father and having a heart to heart, etc.). However there are three issues with the story itself. First, Deathstroke’s plan to create ultimate assassins by turning them into half-bat monsters, courtesy of Kirk Langstrom (better known as Man-Bat) is stupid for what should be obvious reasons. Second is the relationship between Batman and Talia. A complicated relationship in all continuities is torpedoed very quickly without the film realizing it. To the filmmakers, all romantic hints between the two do not work when one of them (Talia) unrepentantly admits to drugging Batman and sexually assaulting him. Ugh.
The third ties into the area where this film really messes up: adaptation, especially for Damien. But first, we have our villain: Deathstroke. And I am being very generous in calling him that, as he is the character in appearance and weapons only. His backstory does not match up, nor does his behavior throughout the film, which is more in line with a disowned cowardly heir who suffers from abandonment issues rather than the top tier mercenary who at his best can take on the Justice League through strategy, planning, and skill alone. Honestly the film should have used someone else for the role rather than Deathstroke if they were not going to use his actual character!
Finally we get to the biggest issue with the film: the title character himself, Damien Wayne. Despite everything, I strangely don’t hate Damien in this film. He is undoubtedly a jerk and is arrogant as hell. However, neither is a deal breaker for me, since I see what the writers were trying to do with him: make him flawed in order for him to grow into a better person worth liking. Aside from his arrogance, he is also very battle-hungry and violent, traits that result in fighting a large group of alerted guards during a stealth mission along with scaring a key witness to the point where he runs off, or making some potentially major mistakes that are only barely avoided. In the third act, he even falls for an obvious trap using Talia as bait. Truly they have a solid start to a character arc here, which is where the main problem appears.
Damien does not have this arc in the film. The skeleton of the arc is present, but the arc itself is not. Damien never gets a proper development scene or a moment of realization about himself. The writers seem to have some difficulty with having him go through any hardship whatsoever, as he’s able to do virtually anything the writers need him to do, from being able to win against Deathstroke, swimming to an offshore ‘oil’ rig from land, to being able to defeat and hospitalize a man who could probably crush his head with his bare hands. In the whole film, he loses only one fight, and that fight is mostly offscreen. As a whole, Damien seems to be too perfect. Any hardship he should face is either non-existent or too little to have any effect on the plot, character or audience.
Son of Batman is at best average, and to many at worst, infuriating. The technical aspects are good enough, but the film drops the ball on the story and characters, which makes the end result feel like a skeleton of a plot. Damien himself is a character undone by the writers overpowering him to absurd levels and denying him any real onscreen loss or failure. The film could very easily have been improved with simple fixes and expanding its runtime, but instead, we have a film that is at least short. This movie is disappointing to watch, especially if you’re a fan of the comics, Deathstroke, Nightwing, or just a Batman fan in general.