You can never be sure what you are in store for when watching DC’s direct to DVD movies. Sometimes you get absolute trash like Batman/Superman: Apocalypse and other times you get something quite decent, like Batman vs Robin. The trend recently with DC has been to put out these relatively loose adaptations of their comics from the New 52 lineup, this time we see that is in the form of Scott Snyder’s Court of Owls Batman storyline. The primary deviation from the comic is the focus being shifted from the secret society conspiracy angle to be more about the rocky father/son relationship between Bruce and Damian, in attempt to give the movie a relatively simple and fairly easily digestible thematic direction to pursue that it can resolve within its 80 minutes running time.
In the past these direct story adaptations have been a bit overambitious in the scope they’ve been trying to reach. They almost always seem to run out of time so the conclusion is usually a bit rushed, so it’s refreshing to see Batman vs Robin managing, for the most part, to tell a very straightforward story coherently in a timely manner and balancing the story with the action in a satisfying way, though admittedly the climax is a bit clumsy.
The problem with the climax, and third act for that matter, is twofold. First of all, the movie doesn’t quite manage to sell you on the idea that Talon, the main enforcer of the Court of Owls and the guy who throughout the story attempts to push Damian into embracing his more homicidal side when it comes to crime fighting and join the Court of Owls, is strong enough character to be a compelling final boss. He’s got a decent enough backstory to get you interested in him but ultimately he lacks that magnetic charisma that you want to see in the big villain, so when he leads the attack against the Wayne Mansion, it’s not as intense as it could have been, nor is his defeat that exciting. The other issue is Talon and his relationship with Damian, which plays into the big plot twist that leads to the big confrontation between the Court’s army and Batman. The idea is suppose to be that Talon basically sees himself as a young child in Damian, so he finds himself wanting to be the type of mentor figure for Damian that he himself never had, i.e. symbolically saving himself. Talon’s attachment to Damian comes into conflict when the Court decides that instead of recruiting Damian to their cause, they will instead kill him, as they have deduced Batman’s secret identity and have no further use for Damian anymore, prompting Talon to betray his masters and killing them instead. And because he’s a bit nutty and the movie would be a bit anticlimactic if it ended there, Talon then decides to still go ahead with the plan to kill Batman,because you see, in his own twisted way, this is him wanting to set Damian free from Batman’s influence, so that he could then offer Damian the opportunity to join him.
In practice, the movie comes very close pulling this all off in a way that makes sense is and would give Talon enough gravitas as a rival mentor to make the climactic fight between him and Batman over Damian’s fate be compelling, but the fact is that you just don’t see Damian and Talon interacting enough for all of feel entirely organic. It ends feeling a bit rushed, like it could have used maybe five, ten more minutes of screen time developing Talon’s affection towards Damian for it to feel more genuine. It’s not a major issue, but it does take a little bit of the edge from the otherwise excellent climax.
Beyond that, as I said, the movie is pretty okay. Batman vs Robin might not be the new Mask of the Phantasm or Return of the Joker, but it’ll do. There’s plenty of good action, especially Talon’s attack on the Wayne Mansion, and visually the movie looks very pleasing to the eye. I especially enjoyed seeing Nightwing get some screen time and take part in the action in this. The Bat-family usually doesn’t get used that much usage in movies, due to the number of members and effort it would require to introduce and use them all without rendering them as just pretty background fodder, so it’s always a treat when it’s just not Batman and Robin getting featured and other people also get their small window to shine.