Beware the Court of Owls, that watches all the time,
Ruling Gotham from a shadowed perch, behind granite and lime.
They watch you at your hearth, they watch you in your bed.
Speak not a whispered word about them, or they’ll send the Talon for your head.
Just creepy. When I first read that nursery rhyme as Thomas Wayne tucked in a young Bruce for bed in Scott Snyder’s Batman: Court Of Owls, I was fascinated by this haunting and mysterious organization known as the Court Of Owls. An organization that has existed in urban legend for centuries in Gotham, dating all the way back to the early 1600s. This organization, with their spooky white owl mask that stare right though the soul had pushed Batman almost to the brink of insanity during the classic maze issue. It is very rare that we see our Caped Crusader pushed to such an extreme that I almost questioned his chances of surviving. The entire comic series felt fresh and captivating. The Court Of Owls had this creepy and mysterious quality that really impressed me.
Which was more than enough reason for me to be excited to check out DC Universe Animated Original Movies latest movie, Batman vs. Robin. A sequel to Son Of Batman and a loose adaptation of the classic comic series. It’s almost as if director Jay Oliva took all the key story pieces from the comic and mixed them all in a hat and through them up in the air and let the pieces fall where they may. Perhaps it worked well for the film and serves more as a sequel than that of a true comic adaptation as we saw in the masterpieces, Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns.
The film opens up with plenty of promise as we watch a great sign for any great Batman tale… a speeding Batmobile on a cold and snowy winter night. Batman is rushing to Robin, who is out and about solo hunting down a doll face psychopath who has taken a bunch of children prisoner in an out-of-town abandoned doll warehouse. Damian Wayne (Stuart Allan) has only slightly matured since we last saw him in Son Of Batman. He is still a hot head, but has shown progress by choosing to no longer kill in an effort to gain his father’s approval. Parenting can be so hard for a super hero who is tasked with raising a ten-year old who was born into the world of Ra’s al Ghul and The League Of Shadows.
Shortly there after, we are introduced to Talon, the main Court Of Owls assassin who does all the dirty work for the order. He has chosen to reveal himself to Robin in an effort to lure him away from the Batman and to join him and the Owls to bring true justice by death to Gotham. Given that Damian and Bruce are still at odds at Wayne Manor, this may be a lot easier than Talon thought.
Meanwhile across town at the Gotham Museum, Batman is also getting introduced to the Court Of Owls. A very brutal and bloody introduction. Again, it is rare to see The Dark Knight take such a beating courtesy of the Owl assassins. An enemy that is almost immortal with the ability to regenerate most injuries. Several times I just shook my head as I watched Batman pushed to a bloody mess that would surely have retired or even killed most men. DC Universe Animated Original Movies have never been a stranger to blood and gore. However, the blood has been toned down quite a bit from Son Of Batman.
To shake things up even more, the Court has taken an interest in recruiting Bruce Wayne. Not by usual invitation either. The Court Of Owls is above any upscale and high society R.S.V.P. Instead, they simply send out their Court Of Owls assassins to flip Bruce’s high dollar sports car off the highway and throw a bag over his head. As always, I will never spoil any key plot points for you all. The majority of the film’s plot takes shape around Talon recruiting Damian to join him,Damian coming to terms of accepting both Batman and Bruce as his leader and father, Batman hunting down the Court Of Owls and uncovering their possible involvement in the death of his parents, and Talon making a choice between his loyalty to the order and his attachment to young Damian.
Voice acting and animation are as strong as ever. Pretty much a staple for any animated DC film these days. The entire cast is mostly spot on. Jason O’Mara again truly stole the show as The Dark Knight. He is really coming into his own and stepping outside the shadow of Batman voice legend, Kevin Conroy. Speaking of Kevin Conroy, he did an interesting and solid job as Thomas Wayne. Always a bit weird for me to hear that voice come out the mouth of anyone that is not Batman/Bruce Wayne though.
If there was one slight blemish, I think it would be Jeremy Sisto as Talon. Not that he did a bad job, it is simply that the Talon in the comic series always came across more undead and seasoned to me. Almost like a four hundred year old vampire without the cheesy Stuart Townsend accent from Anne Rice’s Queen Of The Damned, or even Bane’s gritty voice from Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. Sisto’s take on Talon just felt a bit too sophisticated and modern for me. Doesn’t take anything away from the performance and film, just a noted observation.
With a run time of only 72 minutes, I understand it is hard to have everything from the comic series in the film. That said, they left some really cool moments from the comic out. There was no early 1600’s Gotham flashbacks. There was no timed and cold-blooded attacks by the Court on the entire city of Gotham’s most influential residents. One of the most powerful moments from the comics — the maze — was a quick fly by in the film.
In addition, many key story arc moments were mixed all around the film. Most notably, the attack on Wayne Manor, which was used for the films climatic ending. Which is fine for a movie, since many thought that was one of the coolest parts of the comic. It worked, so no complaints there.
What didn’t work for me was Damian being forced into the story. I like Damian, I really do, but The Court Of Owls comic series is an amazing and strong story on its own. I think this would have worked better if director Jay Olivia turned this into a 2 part volume edition similar to The Dark Knight Returns Part One and Part Two, and not a short stand alone sequel. Would have been nice if they could have taken their time and not cut all the cool comic moments out.
2014’s Son Of Batman was a solid film, but was honestly my least favorite in the DC Animated library. The sequel is more of continuation of that story line and not a true adaptation to The Court Of Owls comic story line. Ultimately it works and is a better film than it’s predecessor.
I give Batman vs Robin a solid and entertaining 3 out of 4 Throwing Ninja Stars. It arrives on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD, Tuesday, April 14th.