We’ve reached the end of 2014, a year when the Dark Knight was celebrated for the many wondrous tales woven about him over the years.
For this site, the celebration towards the Caped Crusader began with my review of “Batman: Under The Red Hood”, so it’s only fitting that this film helps bookend the year. Join me as we weave through that tale of…
Originally released on April 22, 2014, this film is loosely based off the 2006 story arc called “Batman & Son”, written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Andy Kubert. How does this flick handle the introduction of the fifth official Robin? Let’s take a look.
We open at the secret headquarters of the League of Assassins where the hundreds-year-old leader Ra’s al Ghul (voiced by Giancarlo Esposito) is overlooking his ninja army’s training. Alongside him is his grandson Damian (voiced by Stuart Allan) who will eventually inherit his strong fighting force.
Suddenly, they find themselves under attack as a large group of armed ninjas burst in and open fire. Ra’s is forced to fend off some of the attackers that had already sneaked their way inside while even more intruders arrive via helicopters and blast away at his army.
After getting her son to nearby safety, Talia al Ghul (voiced by Morena Baccarin) joins the fight as she fends off the enemy ninjas on the ground and shoots down as many enemy choppers as she can. Ultimately, Damian enters the fray himself as an enemy ninja is slayed before him, allowing the young fighting machine to pick up a handgun and shoot away at the opposing attackers.
Inside his fortress, Ra’s is forced to continually fend off against the enemy ninjas before he’s confronted by his former protégé, Slade Wilson a.k.a. Deathstroke The Terminator (voiced by Thomas Gibson). His clan retreats as the disgraced student clashes swords with his erstwhile teacher.
After a brief tussle, Deathstroke runs out into the main hallway. Ra’s al Ghul initially goes after him, but discovers that his former student had it planned out since a helicopter fires a small series of missiles into the main hallway, causing it to get engulfed in a fiery explosion. Slade is able to leap away from the growing fireball, but Ra’s ends up getting caught in the inferno and ends up with serious burns as he falls over the railing and hits the ground.
Just as Deathstroke is ready to deliver the kill shot, Damian comes to the rescue. They fight for a while before a collapsed balcony allows the young warrior to jab Slade’s right eye out. A wounded Deathstroke is forced to retreat as he and his ninja clan make their escape.
Afterwards, Damian and Talia find out that Ra’s tried to crawl his way to the Lazarus Pit in order to heal himself. Unfortunately, his badly-wounded body gave out inches from the life-restoring waters and ends up dying. With no time for grievances, Talia takes her son away from the damaged headquarters as they make their leave towards Gotham City for not only protection, but to also allow Damian to meet his “father”.
Following the title card, we then shift over to Gotham City where Batman (voiced by Jason O’Mara) has confronted Waylon Jones a.k.a. Killer Croc (voiced by Fred Tatasciore), who’s been stealing certain drugs. The two of them proceed to fight as the Dark Knight gets himself into a steep challenge, due to Croc’s pumped up body (and newly-formed tail) coming from the stolen stimulants.
The brawl ultimately makes its way down to a storage area where the reptilian foe starts to gain the upper hand on the Caped Crusader. Fortunately for Batman, the scuffle is brought to an end as Talia knocks out Killer Croc with an electric shot.
Later aboard her private boat, Talia helps Batman remember a past meeting where she spiked his drink, resulting in a passionate fling (albeit through her control). After telling him about the death of her father and about Deathstroke’s intent on taking control of the League of Assassins due to him getting passed over for Batman, Talia shows the Dark Knight the fruit that resulted from their “shared moonlight”. It turns out that Damian is his son.
After leaving her son in his care, Talia departs as Batman takes Damian back to the Bat Cave via the Batmobile, contacting his famed butler about the startling news.
We then cut to a laboratory where the original Man-Bat himself, Dr. Kirk Langstrom (voiced by Xander Berkeley), is working on an experiment when his daughter Rebecca Langstrom (voiced by Kari Wahlgren) tells him to come join her and his wife for dinner. He initially refuses since he feels he’s getting close to a breakthrough as she gives up and walks away before he ultimately decides to take a break. Before he can catch up to his daughter however, he’s suddenly ambushed by a ninja.
We then cut to the Bat Cave as Batman and Damian are arriving. After meeting the family butler himself Alfred Pennyworth (voiced by David McCallum, reprising his role from “Batman: Gotham Knight”), Damian then checks out the rest of the fabled cave, coming across a display case holding a Robin costume before he’s escorted to his personal bedroom.
Back with Dr. Kirk Langstrom, he finds himself, his daughter and his wife Francine (voiced by Diane Michelle) tied up and at the mercy of Deathstroke, his muscle-bound servant Ubu (voiced by Bruce Thomas) and his group of ninjas. Slade tells him that with Ra’s al Ghul permanently out of the picture, he’s the one whom his experiments will be benefiting. In the meantime, Kirk’s wife and daughter will be enslaved while he continues his work for his new master.
We then cut to Wayne Manor the next morning where Bruce is about to head out to work. He and Alfred look out into the backyard to see Damian practicing his sword skills as the young warrior slices up the various pieces of shrubbery.
Over at Slade’s hideout in another part of the world, Deathstroke has Dr. Langstrom working on recreating the Man-Bat formula for him while his family is locked up in a holding cell.
We then cut to Wayne Enterprises in Gotham City as Bruce is with his associates discussing company business. Just as he receives a text message from Alfred telling him that Damian has gone missing, Bruce and his associates are shocked to discover that the young lad is right in his main office.
After excusing his fellow workers, Bruce learns from his son about a crucial contact of Deathstroke’s: Ubu. He’s Slade’s right-hand man and a former follower of Ra’s al Ghul who stays in Gotham in-between missions for personal pleasures. Despite the useful information, Bruce doesn’t want Damian to go off on his vengeful quest and has Alfred take the young lad back to the manor.
Back across the world, Talia has arrived with a group of L.O.A. ninjas as they look to reclaim their former master’s sanctuary.
However, a motion sensor alarm gives away their stealth attack as Talia’s forces are easily dealt with. She manages to hold her own for a short while, but is ultimately defeated as Deathstroke sneaks up behind her and knocks her unconscious, taking her as his prisoner.
We then cut back to Gotham City as Batman visits Arkham Asylum alongside Commisioner James Gordon (also voiced by Bruce Thomas) in order to get answers. Upon their arrival, they see that Killer Croc is having a massive withdrawal from the mutagens that he was getting from Langstrom and that his scales are falling apart. Batman wants to know where Kirk’s lab is located, so that Croc can get some proper medication.
Upon getting his answers, the Dark Knight heads out to Langstrom’s home to do some investigating. His detective sleuthing ultimately helps him discover a lower level storage area, housing various creatures. However, one of those monstrosities turned out to be a Man-Ape as it proceeds to break free and attack the Caped Crusader.
After a brief scuffle, Batman manages to score a decisive hit by using his tazer to send a huge jolt of electricity into the freakish creature.
However, the Man-Ape still has some fight left as it grabs Batman, smashes through a wall and starts plummeting towards the ground. Fortunately, the Dark Knight uses a grappling hook to escape the creature’s clutches, allowing it to fall towards its demise. Shortly afterwards, Batman sees a drone approaching the area. He gets away just before it crashes into Langstrom’s home and explodes. Thanks to some mini-bombs, he uses a pair of nearby water towers to douse the flames before he recovers a key piece of evidence.
We then cut to another part of the city where Ubu is playing host to two scantily-clad women for a night of hanky-panky. However, he starts getting suspicious of intruders when one of them discovers that the balcony door is open. After a brief investigation, he’s unable to find anything.
Just then, Damian crashes through the skylight window to begin his duel to the death. The two women make a run for it as Ubu brandishes a pair of metal claws from a secret compartment. Thus, the two figures find themselves locked in combat against each other.
Eventually, Damian is forced to chase Ubu who makes his way down to the streets. Even as they go across heavy traffic, the two of them continue their fight before the young Wayne manages to knock the muscle-bound behemoth down.
Just before he can deliver the death blow, he’s knocked back by the arrival of Dick Grayson a.k.a. the first Robin a.k.a. Nightwing (voiced by Sean Maher of Firefly/Serenity fame).
As Batman heads out from his crime scene via the Batmobile, a cut-up Nightwing contacts him to let him know about his run-in as the recent brawl ended up with Damian tied up and hanging in defeat.
After Batman picks them up and brings them back to the Bat Cave, Alfred gives Dick some medical attention before Damian checks out his old Robin costume again where a quick banter ensues.
Meanwhile, Batman learns from Commissioner Gordon that Ubu is in custody and is recovering at a hospital but is in no position to talk due to him being currently unconscious. After Damian approaches him and says “he doesn’t deserve to breathe”, the Dark Knight finally snaps and berates his son for having a reckless, bloodthirsty approach and for almost giving into the blood-lust entirely.
After Batman shows him his evidence, Damian recognizes it as a League of Assassins star. Figuring that Langstrom has a connection between Ra’s al Ghul and Deathstroke, Damian offers to help despite practically giving away his cover. Batman accepts, but only if he “stays close”.
From there, we cut to Batman responding to the Bat-Signal, but with Damian by his side as Robin. Upon their arrival, Gordon tells them that they’ve searched Ubu’s place but only found a single piece of paper with a phone number written on it. On the opposite side, they find out exactly where they need to go.
As such, they arrive at the deserted fairgrounds adjacent to the abandoned Gotham Coliseum. After sneaking into the stadium and getting past Deathstroke’s ninjas, they manage to find where Dr. Kirk Langstrom is being held. He tells the Dynamic Duo that Slade has his family and will kill them if he doesn’t comply to his task, but he doesn’t know where they are.
In trying to force the location out of Kirk, Robin recklessly tosses the doctor across the table and through a door. This gets the attention of some ninjas as the Dynamic Duo is forced into a fight. After taking out the initial group, more ninjas arrive prompting our heroes to run away. During the chaos, Kirk manages to flee from his captors.
Batman and Robin make their way onto the field when they notice something on the roof. It turns out to be an army of Man-Bats who wake up and begin their assault. The tussle makes its way towards the upper parts of the stadium before our heroes manage to escape with Batman throwing an explosive Batarang onto the roof, getting outside with Robin via grappling hook and luring the Man-Bats towards the designated spot before detonating the device and sending large chucks of the ceiling down on top of the creatures.
After catching up to Dr. Langstrom, Batman blindfolds him and brings him to the Bat Cave in order to find out about Deathstroke’s plan. Kirk tells him, Robin and Nightwing that Ra’s originally had him splice animal DNA with humans via specialized mutagens in order to create the ultimate warriors, but now Deathstroke has taken over this plan. Despite not knowing where his family was being held, he remembers his daughter telling him (in the lone time that Slade allowed him to speak to his kin) that she saw a pair of mountain peaks that “looked like cat ears” from the holding cell. Robin instantly recognizes this as Ra’s former compound, Interlaken. As such, Batman gives Kirk the necessary lab tools and ingredients to make a proper antidote.
We cut back to Interlaken where a blooded and bruised Talia is bound up in a holding cell. Deathstroke arrives to tell her that he’s found out where Damian was taken to and he’s discovered his familial connection to her and Batman. He doesn’t get any further information from her, but expects them to seek him out.
Later, Batman and Robin arrive at the now-abandoned Interlaken. Batman discovers a holding cell with dried up pools of blood, indicating that this is where Talia was tortured as he spares Damian of the grisly site. The Dark Knight ultimately discovers a false wall, revealing the cell where Kirk’s family is being held. Upon breaking them out, Rebecca gives a device to Robin and whispers to him that their lives would be spared if she gave it to him and that he doesn’t tell Batman about it.
As Batman leads the two ladies to a landing pad in order to contact Interpol for an aerial rescue, Robin stays behind to look at what he was given. It turns out to be a message from Deathstroke who shows him where he’s holding his mom. Robin is given two days to reach him before he takes Talia’s life.
We then cut to Wayne Towers in London where Bruce has contacted the Bat Cave. Nightwing tells him that Kirk has been churning out massive amounts of the Man-Bat antidote ever since he was told that his family is now safe. Bruce then tells him that he believes Deathstroke has Talia as evidenced by her bloodied cell, but doesn’t know where she is. Nightwing tells him that one of Ra’s former oil rigs has been put back online a few weeks ago. When told that it’s located fifty miles off the coast of the Outer Hebrides (a northwest island that’s part of Scotland), Bruce discovers that Damian is gone and took his Robin costume with him, letting them know that he’s headed off there to hunt down Deathstroke.
We then cut to the oil rig where Robin literally swam his way towards (presumably from the Outer Hebrides, it’s not clear). After sneaking on board and taking out a few ninjas along the way, he follows Deathstroke down an elevator shaft that leads into an undersea base. From there, Robin makes his way down to an undersea cave where a huge legion of Man-Bats hang high above another Lazarus Pit (which is what the oil rig is being used to dig up).
Just then, Deathstroke appears holding onto Damian’s limping and badly-injured mother. Robin draws his recently-acquired handgun at Slade, but he also has a gun aimed right at Talia’s head. With no way to get off an effective shot, Robin tosses his gun down.
With the Boy Wonder unarmed, Slade prepares to make his kill shot. However, Talia gets herself into the line of fire and takes the shot for her son. While she lies mortally wounded, Robin is forced to take cover as Deathstroke continues his confident assault, shooting away whatever piece of stalagmite that’s protecting Damian.
Just when Deathstroke finally has his opportunity to finish off Damian, Batman arrives and uses a Batarang to knock the gun away. Slade tries sending his Man-Bats after them, but the Dark Knight easily disposes of them with three Batarangs that emit a sonic frequency which forces them out of the cave and into the elevator shaft. From there, Batman heads into a fist-fight and promptly beats up the assassin.
Afterwards, Batman and Robin focus their attention towards the gravely-injured Talia. They suddenly notice Deathstroke slipping away, to which Damian gives chase after him. Meanwhile, Batman places Talia into the Lazarus Pit in order to heal her fatal wounds.
Meanwhile, the Man-Bats’ overcrowding in the elevator shaft causes the casing to shatter and allow the ocean water to start pouring in. Even with that, some of the creatures manage to get to the surface. Fortunately, Nightwing arrives in the Batwing as Dr. Langstrom is also aboard as he fires his antidote at the Man-Bats, causing them to change back into humans.
Back beneath the undersea base, Robin reaches the bowls of the main operation before his final battle with Deathstroke begins.
Things don’t go well for Damian at first, as Deathstroke pins him to the side of an escape pod with two separate blades. He proves his metal by ripping his right arm through the knife before pulling the sword out of his left.
After Robin scores a hit by tossing a Batarang into the side of Slade’s head, the two of them proceed to clash blades with each other.
Back at the Lazarus Pit, Talia emerges from the mystic waters completely healed. After Batman manages to calm her from the pit’s immediate side effect of madness, they share an embrace before the rumbling of the ocean waters start to reach their area. As such, they proceed to head after Robin and Deathstroke.
Back at the battle, the two combatants continue their clash. The fight ultimately ends when Robin discovers a pipe containing the Lazarus Pit’s waters with a viewing glass on it. He lures Deathstroke into charging towards him before jumping out of the way. Slade’s sword-strike shatters the glass and floods him with enough force to knock him down to a lower walk-way. Lying defeated, he demands to be killed. Fortunately, Robin spares his life and proclaims that he’s his “father’s son too”. After reuniting with his parents, they get into an escape pod and reach the surface where the Batwing picks up the capsule, taking them to safety.
Later, Batman and Talia discuss on whom Damian should go with since he’ll be needed as Gotham protector while she wants to rebuild the League of Assassins. In the end, Talia lets her son stay put with Bruce.
And so, the film ends with Batman and Robin watching Talia and her fellow ninjas sail off into the distance.
For those who stick around during the end credits, they’re rewarded with images of what happened in Damian’s fight with Nightwing following the Ubu encounter.
Normally, I would have the differences between source material & film away from my character analysis. However, character additions and motivations have changed significantly from comic book to small screen, so I’m going to combine them for this review. First, we kick things off with Talia al Ghul. In the original story, she’s the main antagonist. She initially holds Francine hostage and forces Dr. Kirk Langstrom into using his Man-Bat serum to build her own Man-Bat army. Once she acquires the formula and lets them go, she kidnaps the British Prime Minister’s wife and puts her plans into motion while she dumps Damian onto Batman as a means to keep him busy. Here, she appears to be much more caring for her son. She gives Batman their son in order to protect him from harm and tries to stop the main threat herself, but ends up as a damsel in distress until the final fight. I prefer the film’s version of her since she’s much more likable here in that she cares about Damian to where she tries to stop Deathstroke and reclaim their home. While she’s a believer in her father’s goals, she never took me as someone who would go to his psychotic lengths when it comes to restoring the planet’s nature by wiping out humans. Morena Baccarin does a decent with the role, but she doesn’t have much to work with due to her character being imprisoned throughout the second half of the film.
Like mother, like son, Robin #5 has some characteristic differences in transition from comic panels to small screen. In the source material, Damian was very brash, childish and almost psychotic. After Talia dumps him off to Batman, he locks Alfred in his room via tearing out the keypad lock, sneaks out & decapitates a criminal who’s holding the mayor hostage after stealing back his own sword, fights & beats up the then-current Robin (we’ll get to that in a bit) and snatches up the Robin costume that once belonged to Jason Todd (a.k.a. Robin #2) to use as his own. He’s made much more likable in the film adaptation where even though he has vengeance on his mind, he seems to display more control over himself before he’s even christened as Robin. The most mischief he ever does prior to becoming his father’s crime-fighting partner is using the Wayne Family sword to practice his skills on the backyard bushes, sneaks into his father’s top floor office and slinks out to go fight Ubu. His ending is also vastly different from the panels. In the source material, he helps his father stop his mother from using her Man-Bat army from seizing control of the Gibraltar Garrison. In the end, the British Royal Navy sends a missile to blow up Talia’s submarine. The original story ends with her disappearing along with Damian following the explosion. Anyone who has the source material knows that there’s also an additional story involving the Joker, which is set up in Part 1. The trade shows the follow up story (or stories if you own the expanded edition), but I can’t really comment any further on it since I only have the original story in individual issues, so I’ll end this particular subject. In terms of his voice actor, Stuart Allen actually does a fairly good job. For someone who’s been acting since he was five, he brings a confident presence to his role. He holds every scene that his character is in like a young professional and is able to handle Damian’s emotions really well.
One of the major differences from panels to screen is that Nightwing represents the established hero here. In the original story, we had Tim Drake already established for this tale as Robin. Also, when Robin #3 is forced into fighting Damian, they throw down in the Bat Cave before the young Wayne decks him with spiked brass knuckles off the top of a giant T-Rex model and crashes into the display case housing Jason Todd’s Robin outfit. Here, Nightwing comes in halfway through the film to prevent Damian from killing Ubu and gets into a fierce fight before subduing him. Since he wasn’t in the source material, they also justify his presence with helping Langstrom get his antidote primed. There’s not much in the way of characterization for him, since he’s not the main focus. For what it is, Sean Maher does what he can with the role.
As mentioned before, Deathstroke is the main villain in this piece as Talia is replaced by him and bumped down to semi-hero status. Slade takes over the Man-Bat plan from before due to being rejected as the successor to Ra’s al Ghul (who, like Killer Croc, was not in the original story) after his former master discovers Batman. It’s fairly plausible since he’s a skillful fighter and he likes having grand plans (“Judas Contract” anyone?). It is a bit stupid on how he’s defeated, just by charging right into the container. With this being a very deadly assassin and a bit of a schemer, it’s kind of a lame way for him to go out. Thomas Gibson does a fairly decent job with the role, since it’s probably because I’m used to Ron Perlman’s stellar voicing starting from the ’03 Teen Titans series growing up. Gibson does have his moments of confident villainy, but something of a semi-lame outcome.
Finally, the Caped Crusader himself. Basically, he finds out about his son and ultimately raises him as a Robin in order to connect with him and curb anything violent tendencies he may have. Not too much to say in terms of difference from the source material (since I would scold someone who viciously beat up my current crime-fighting partner and feel violated about being drugged into a rape, even though in the film he agrees with Talia in that it “wasn’t all bad”), but all I’ve left to say about him is this. Jason O’Mara is definitely starting to grow on me as a solid Batman. While Kevin Conroy will always be THE Animated Batman voice, O’Mara here is feeling more and more confident with the role showing the voice ranges that one would need with the Dark Knight.
The action scenes do their job, with swordplay that shows skills clashing of blades to fist-on-fist combat that brings on the struggle. Nothing too flashy about them, since they’re just competent.
Overall, the film is satisfactory. While not overly great, it’s entertaining enough to watch. The animation is mostly OK, the characters are compelling enough, the voice acting is really good to suit the story and it’s actually nice to see the newer Robin in action. Not the best but not the worst either, it’s worth a watch if you’re interested on seeing Damian in action.
Next Time: We stay with the Dark Knight, but we’re go into the realms of a highly successful video game. Time to recruit some villains and break into the famed mad house next time in “Batman: Assault On Arkham”.
Batman (created by by Bob Kane and Bill Finger) is owned by DC Comics.