Superhero Sundays: Son of Batman (2014)
Matthew Turner | On 01, Aug 2021
Director: Ethan Spaulding
Cast: Jason O’Mara, Stuart Allan, Sean Maher, Morena Baccarin, Thomas Gibson, Giancarlo Esposito, David McCallum, Xander Berkeley, Fred Tatasciore, Dee Bradley Baker
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 Ethan Spaulding, 2014’s Son of Batman is the 19th film in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series and the third film in the DC Animated Movie Universe series, a subset of films based on DC Comics’ New 52 relaunch. It’s also the first in a series of New 52 Batman movies that includes Batman vs Robin (2015), Batman: Bad Blood (2016) and Batman: Hush (2019). To that end, it’s based on an adaptation of Grant Morrison and Andy Kubert’s 2006 Batman and Son storyline in the comics, so Batman purists can rest assured that the Caped Crusader having a son is very much canon at this point.
The plot begins at the mountain headquarters of the League of Assassins, where Ra’s al Ghul (Giancarlo Esposito) is grooming his young grandson, Damian (Stuart Allan) – the son of his daughter Talia al Ghul (Morena Baccarin) – to be his eventual successor. However, when Ra’s is attacked and fatally wounded by Slade Wilson / Deathstroke (Thomas Gibson), Talia takes Damian to Gotham City to stay with his father, which is how Batman (Jason O’Mara) finds out he has a son.
Hot-headed and highly aggressive, Damian is determined to enact violent revenge on Deathstroke for killing his grandfather, so Batman makes him become the new Robin in order to try and teach him some discipline. Meanwhile, Deathstroke captures Dr Kirk Langstrom (Xander Berkeley) and forces him to create an army of Man-Bats, intending to train them as winged assassins.
Essentially, this is a New Robin origins story, something that’s amusingly highlighted by Commissioner Gordron (Bruce Thomas), who wryly remarks, “Another one?” when he first meets Damian in costume. However, the script chooses to breeze right past the decidedly dodgy bit where Talia basically admits she roofied Batman to get him into bed – “It made you romantic”, she says. “It made me do what you wanted”, he replies. Hmmm. Yeah, that’s not okay, Talia.
The animation is decent throughout, striking a nice balance between the familiar comic book designs and the anime-inspired style favoured by a number of other DC animated movies. The character design work is excellent too – Bruce Wayne barely appears out of costume, so his weirdly stocky head doesn’t irritate as much here as it does in the subsequent movies.
The action scenes are impressive and it’s clear that some thought has gone into the different fighting styles for each character – Damian, in particular has a great fight move where he basically runs up Deathstroke’s sword and kicks him in the face. There’s also a fun streak of comic book violence (hence the 15 certificate), with the writers cheekily giving Killer Croc (seasoned growly voice actor Fred Tatasciore) a new tail, just so Batman can rip it off him later.
The script is slightly above average by DC animation standards, with some good one-liners and a smart compromise on swearing, whereby characters are cut off just in time, eg. Nightwing (Sean Maher) telling Damian, “You need to go fu-”, or Jim Gordon moderating his language when talking about “a phone se- a phone chat line” when a number is found in a goon’s hideout.
On top of that, the film has a number of nice touches, from the new Batmobile design (it looks like a classic race car with stylish red bits) to the odd choice of supervillain’s lair (on an oil rig off the Scottish coast, for some reason) to a cheeky spot of Warner Brothers animation crossover, when Damian watches Daffy Duck cartoons on TV. (They appear to be specially drawn for the film, which is pretty cool.)
The voice cast are, of course, excellent, but that’s only to be expected when industry legend Andrea Romano is on board as voice director (she also continues her Hitchcock-style cameo tradition as Suit #2). Allan is superb as Damian, making him just the right amount of annoying, while Morena Baccarin nails the various different aspects of Talia (badass one moment, seductive the next, etc) and O’Mara does a decent enough job of stepping into regular Bat-voice actor Kevin Conroy’s shoes.
However, Romano’s real stroke of genius this time round is casting David McCallum as Alfred, as he gets all the good lines and steals pretty much every scene he’s in. Indeed, it’s almost worth watching the entire film just for his delivery of the line “I myself am rooting for the shrubbery”, when Damian is practicing his swordplay by chopping down the Wayne Manor topiary.