Another in the long line of pseudo-edgy animation, DC’s Son of Batman (from hereon out SoB), a loose adaptation of Grant Morrison’s Batman and Son, feels like the sort of disjointed mess you get when there’s one too many cook in the kitchen. Striving for the dark edge of what I guess people expect from a ‘Batman’ movie while still maintaining that Saturday morning toon sheen, the film feels mass produced to appeal to all (give the adults – gore; the kids – a spunky child sidekick.); however in the effort to appease everyone, SoB in fact caters to none. Hit the jump for the full review.
Who the hell is the crap for anyways? Within the first ten minutes, about as much animated blood is spilled as that new 300 film. Machine guns mow down dozens of ninjas, animated blood squibs flowing everywhere. Ninjas retaliate by slashing enemies across their bellies, more red stuff spilling forth. The whole opening scene climaxes with a little child gouging a man’s eye out. Ooh how daring – as if the very act of excessive violence makes something ‘kewl’ by default, its perceived adult content merely a mask to hide how incredibly juvenile it is underneath all the red. You want to be ‘adult’? – How about dealing with the consequences of such actions? What the hell are the ramifications of a child witnessing his grandfather being burnt alive or shooting anonymous goons to death in retaliation? SoB has no time for such quandaries. It’s all base impulse made to inspire easily manipulated adults or worse children to cheer these acts of brutality. It’s the type of film that desperately wants you to take it seriously while at the same time tapping you on the shoulder, reminding ‘Hey it’s just a cartoon, man.’ So you watch horribly dark and terrible things happen – because that’s adult, I guess. And then all these actions have absolutely no consequence five seconds later – because it’s a goddamn cartoon, remember.
What constitutes a plot involves Batman learning he’s fathered a child with Talia Al Ghul: a rambunctious, sadistic twelve-year-old boy named (not particularly ironically) Damian. Damian’s been raised by Ra’s Al Ghul and trained by the League of Assassins – but when a surprise attack leaves Ra’s burnt to a crisp and the League in ruins, he’s whisked off by his mother and taken to hide out in the Batcave with his real pa.
There are some endlessly contrived stabs at comedy here with Damian wanting to ride the Batmobile and Batman playing overprotective father, forbidding it. Get it? — it’s just like all those other ‘overprotective dad and son movie interactions’ you’ve seen three thousand times before. Except here it’s Batman. How novel! To be fair, as voiced by Jason O’ Mara in sleepy monotone delivery, it’s hard to tell how Batman ever feels about his newly discovered son… or anything for that matter. The performance is almost a ‘Rorschach Test’ of emotions, O’ Mara snarling each line in the same exact deaden way – testing the audience to project some semblance of feeling onto the character. It’s no surprise poor Damian’s so incredibly fucked up – his surrogate father’s a mass-murdering assassin, his mom dresses more seductively than Norma Bates (**Talia’s animated breasts are almost as large as her animated head**), and his real dad’s an emotionless sociopathic zombie. When Talia and Batman argue towards the end of the film about who should gain custody of their son, I half prayed Damian would pull a ‘North’ and ditch these two and go live in Antarctica or something. Anything would be better than these two degenerates.
The sad part is there could be an interesting story here. Batman’s a character who has never quite moved on from the traumatic events of his youth. What would happen when he’s forced to care for a child himself? Can he help his own flesh and blood overcome similar traumatic experiences? The film doesn’t give a shit – and what’s worse it thinks Batman (a dude who dresses up in a Bat costume and beats people up and has the deadest eyes in the world) is a legitimate role model for Damian. The film posits if only Damian were more like his dad and less like Ra’s Al Ghul then everything would be just dandy for the kiddo. So per the Batman philosophy, Damian goes from a kid who shoots anonymous people in cold blood to a kid who beats a villain senseless and then leaves him to get blown up and drowned – but hey, he didn’t murder the man himself… so progress! Yay! What an arc!
Is this the template now for animated films? Sure the older Batman animated films were dark – but they explored adult themes like Batman’s psyche and his inability to grow and cope with trauma. Even more so – the films were just good pulp fun. They didn’t wallow in the muck. Batman may be a dark and brooding character; but he was always striving to better himself and by proxy the world around him. These are characteristics to aspire to — not the self-congratulatory ability to keep yourself from killing another human being.
Violence doesn’t inherently make something adult. Content and context do. SoB can’t even begin to understand the difference between the two. Avoid this trash at all cost and just re-watch Mask of the Phantasm instead.
Son of Batman is available via digital download tomorrow. It hits Blu-ray and DVD May 6th.