Superhero Sundays: Batman vs Robin (2015)
Batman vs Robin5.5
Batman vs Talon6.5
Batman vs Owl Court6
Matthew Turner | On 05, Sep 2021
Director: Jay Oliva
Cast: Jason O’Mara, Stuart Allan, Sean Maher, Jeremy Sisto, David McCallum, Grey DeLisle, Kevin Conroy, Robin Atkin Downes, Troy Baker, “Weird Al” Yankovic
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through animated superhero cartoons. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Directed by DC animation veteran Jay Oliva, 2015’s Batman vs Robin is the 22nd film in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series and the fifth film in the DC Animated Movie Universe series, a sub-set of movies based on DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch. It’s also the second in a series of New 52 Batman movies, serving as a direct sequel to Son of Batman (2014) and preceding Batman: Bad Blood (2016) and Batman: Hush (2019). Comics-wise, it’s based on the Batman: The Court of Owls story arc written by Scott Snyder and illustrated by Greg Capullo and Jonathan Glapion.
Picking up more or less exactly where Son of Batman left off, the plot finds Bruce (Jason O’Mara) still training his son Damian Wayne (Stuart Allan), who has become the new Robin. Though trying hard to adhere to Batman’s rule of “justice, not vengeance”, former trained assassin Damian still struggles against Batman’s strict no-killing rule, especially when he comes across some unspeakable horrors committed by the Dollmaker (“Weird Al” Yankovic, taking a rare non-comedy role).
Things get worse for the Caped Crusader when Damian is targeted for recruitment by Batman-like vigilante Talon (Jeremy Sisto), a member of a secret society called The Court of Owls, dedicated to eradicating crime from Gotham City, by any means necessary. Meanwhile, the society’s mysterious leader, the Grandmaster (Robin Atkin Downes), captures Bruce Wayne and tries to tempt him with a proposition over the future of Gotham.
It would be decidedly remiss of Batman vs Robin not to deliver a decent fight scene between Batman and Robin, and director Oliva doesn’t disappoint in that department. The fights are generally impressive throughout, and have an air of realism about them – for one thing, there’s much more blood and bleeding than you usually find in comic book movies.
That realistic approach also extends to an exciting car chase, which feels deliberately shot to evoke live-action, rather than leaning into animation-enabled fantasy moments. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have plenty of other fantasy elements – indeed, the main villains are an army of undead owl ninjas, although you strongly suspect that they’re only undead to allow Batman, Robin and a guest-starring Nightwing (Sean Maher) to actually kill them. (The no-kill rule doesn’t count if they’re dead already.)
The animation is nicely handled throughout. Oliva is particularly good at establishing a creepy atmosphere, and some aspects of the film (the Dollmaker, his scary army of doll-children, the undead owl ninjas) wouldn’t be out of place in a horror movie. However, one complaint still remains, and that is that the character design on Bruce is all wrong – he’s still short and stocky with a weird-shaped head. Frankly, if there were a police line-up of potential Bruce Waynes, he’d be picked last, every time.
The performances are as great as ever, thanks to the sterling work of voice director supremo Andrea Romano, who this time gives herself double cameo, as “Jill” and the Batcomputer. O’Mara, Allan, Maher and David McCallum (a rather splendid Alfred) all reprise their roles from Son of Batman, but Jeremy Sisto puts in a distinctive turn as Talon and there’s strong support from Grey DeLisle as Batman’s girlfriend, the intriguingly drawn Samantha Vannaver. Also of note is the fact that the cast includes three previous Batman voice actors, including The One True Bat-voice Kevin Conroy (playing Thomas Wayne), Troy Baker (as a Court of Owls Lieutenant) and Sisto.
If there’s a problem, it’s only that the producers of the New 52 movies continue to insist on including little moments that just feel inappropriate to the stories they’re telling. Here we have a surprisingly graphic – and upsetting – close-up of Thomas Wayne’s dead face (yes, Batman sees his parents die again, and this single shot is probably the reason the film is a 15), Dick Grayson making sexy phone chat with his offscreen girlfriend (Starfire), a fair amount of nudity (naked owl ninja clones in tubes, Samantha slinking around with not much on) and Batman calling an army of undead ninja owl warriors “sons of bitches”.
It’s also fair to say that there’s not as much comedy this time round, certainly compared to both Son of Batman and Batman: Bad Blood. You do get a couple of great Bat-facts, though, such as the confession that he’s a bit of a movie buff, loves buttered popcorn (even though he knows it’s bad for him) and has read the complete works of Charles Dickens. Oh, and stick around for the action-packed finale, for a borderline gratuitous appearance by an unexpected bit of Bat-kit.