The title of DC’s latest animated film is catchy, but it’s also a bait and switch. Sure, Robin briefly toys with the idea of aligning himself against Batman, but he’s not the enemy here. That honor instead goes to Talon, the head assassin of the Court of Owls. The film also serves as a superior sequel to previous entry Son of Batman.
If you haven’t kept up on recent Bat history, the Court of Owls was revealed in 2011 in an instant classic comic book run by writer Scott Snyder and artist Greg Capullo. The Court is a secret criminal society that has existed in Gotham since Colonial times, so secret that they never appeared until over 70 years into Batman’s comic book existence. Their owl iconography neatly ties into the natural order of owl vs. bat that finds bats decidedly on the prey side of the equation. Gotham’s elite residents secretly pull the strings on all manner of criminal activity via their Court, tasking undead assassins as their muscle. The current prime Talon proves to be more than a match for Batman in hand-to-hand combat, making for some thrilling fight sequences.
The new film as written by veteran comic-book scribe J.M. DeMatteis is a fairly faithful retelling of the comics origin story, hitting most major points but offering just enough variance to keep things interesting for those familiar with the source. As in Son of Batman, Robin is Damian Wayne, Batman’s biological son as well as the grandson of Bat baddie Ra’s Al Ghul. Damian skews a bit younger than the typical Robin, with an uncontrolled temper to match, making for a fresh perspective on the classic relationship as Bats spends just as much time trying to rein in his impressionable child as he does training him in the ways of superheroes. Robin ends up in the middle of the escalating conflict between Batman and Talon, ultimately forced to choose whether to follow his father’s no-kill philosophy or succumb to the tantalizing murderous rage of Talon and his Court.
The film is dark, both in look and in tone. At times it’s hard to see what’s going on in the early stages, but while that murkiness eventually dissipates the darkly violent nature does not. Although it’s a cartoon, this is definitely not for kids as it features more than enough adult themes and gruesome gore to push the envelope of its PG-13 rating. The Blu-ray image quality is superb throughout, aside from the early darkness, while the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack features impressively enveloping audio that delivers the brutality of every punch and kick.
The voice cast is surprisingly underwhelming for this outing, with the classic voice of the Bat Kevin Conroy here relegated to a bit part as Batfather Thomas Wayne, paving the way for recent star Jason O’Mara to once again assume the cowl. The only spark of casting inspiration arrives in the form of Weird Al Yankovic as the maniacal voice of deranged killer The Dollmaker, a welcome turn for him.
Blu-ray exclusive bonus features include two extended and overly informative featurettes about the history of the Court of Owls and the Talons of the Owls, as well as an audio commentary track for the film and four bonus cartoons from the DC vaults. The package is rounded out with an exclusive sneak peak at the next DC animated film, Justice League: Gods & Monsters. Those opting for the deluxe version as pictured also get a Blu-ray exclusive Batman figurine, a nice enough piece but nothing special enough to warrant the upgrade over the basic package.