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Son of Batman Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet Review

Son of Batman (2014) Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Son of Batman

Video Premiere: May 6, 2014 / Running Time: 74 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Ethan Spaulding / Writers: James Robinson (story), Joe R. Lansdale (teleplay)

Voice Cast: Jason O'Mara (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Stuart Allan (Damian Wayne), Thomas Gibson (Deathstroke/Slade Wilson), Morena Baccarin (Talia al Ghul), Dee Bradley Baker (Man-Bats, Joker), Xander Berkeley (Dr. Kirk Langstrom), Giancarlo Esposito (Ra's al Ghul), Sean Maher (Nightwing/Dick Grayson), David McCallum (Alfred Pennyworth), Diane Michelle (Francine Langstrom, Call Girl #2), Andrea Romano (Suit #2), Fred Tatasciore (Killer Croc/Waylon Jones, Dusan al Ghul), Bruce Thomas (Commissioner Gordon, Ubu), Kari Wahlgren (Rebecca Langstrom, Call Girl #1)

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
BD: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, German, Spanish, Portuguese), Dolby Surround 2.0 (Castilian)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai)
Blu-ray Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, German, Castilian, Portuguese,
DVD Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Chinese, Korean, Portuguese, Thai
Most Extras Subtitled in All Plus Spanish; Not Closed Captioned
Two single-sided, single-layered discs (1 BD-25 & 1 DVD-5)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Suggested Retail Price: $24.98
Also available as standalone DVD ($19.99 SRP), Two-Disc Special Edition DVD ($24.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

Buy Son of Batman from Amazon: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD UltraViolet 2-Disc DVD 1-Disc DVD Instant Video

DC Comics has been something of a mixed bag in the superhero film game. No other trilogy made as much impact at the box office as Christopher Nolan's acclaimed Dark Knight saga. Beyond that series, though, DC has endured flops (Jonah Hex, Green Lantern) and underperformers (Superman Returns). The jury is still out on Man of Steel; it was Warner Bros. Pictures' top earner last year,
but people didn't quite love it, although huge things are expected of its follow-up, a 2016 sequel that will also feature Batman.

Less open to debate is the success of the DC Universe Original Movies. Starting with 2007's Superman: Doomsday, the company has released multiple PG-13 animated movies direct to video every year. They wouldn't be doing that if there wasn't an audience supporting and appreciating this enterprise, which occasionally seems timed to the live-action films.

Son of Batman, the 20th of its kind, represents my introduction to the line, less due to disinterest than to not being offered any of the others for review. Though it's obviously not intended to serve as your introduction to all things Batman, you can enter this film, as I did, with limited knowledge of the comic books and the assorted television cartoon incarnations. You'll have no trouble following along and shouldn't feel like you're missing out on critical backstory.

Slade Wilson, a.k.a. Deathstroke, attacks his old nemesis Ra's al Ghul in the opening of "Son of Batman." Precocious Damian Wayne pulls up some of the data he hacked out of his father's computer.

The film opens at the remote mountain training facility of Ra's al Ghul (that's Liam Neeson's character, if like me you're approaching this from Nolan's series, even though you know you shouldn't). A large siege occurs before the eyes of Ra's' young grandchild, Damian, and Damian's mother Talia. It is led by Ra's' old nemesis, the spiteful Slade Wilson, soon to be known as Deathstroke. The attack leaves Ra's too dead for the resurrective powers of the Lazarus Pit.

Following that, Talia brings her illegitimate son to meet his father: Bruce Wayne. Trained by the League of Assassins and therefore as far from defenseless as a young boy can be, the bratty and precocious Damian makes himself at home in the Batcave. Meanwhile, Deathstroke and his associates crash the home laboratory of Dr. Kirk Langstrom, who has been working for Ra's al Ghul on a project called "Operation Airstrike." Identifying himself as Ra's' successor, Deathstroke holds Langstrom's wife and punk teen daughter hostage while placing demands on the overworked scientist who dabbles in "mutagens."

The chip on his shoulder the product of being "groomed to lead humanity", Damian dips his toe in the heroics game, setting his eyes on the suit of Robin he's repeatedly ridiculed. He gets his chance to accompany Batman on adventure when Deathstroke threatens Talia.

Father and son share a moment on the streets of Gotham City in "Son of Batman."

In America, adult animation is so rare that this DC franchise takes some getting used to.
The PG-13 rating renders this acceptable for roughly ages 11 and up. I have no doubt that younger viewers contribute to the line's success. But it's definitely edgier than just about all animated television and movies being made today in the US. In some ways, it's even edgier than the live-action films (though perhaps not as dark).

Son of Batman is violent, with even Damian both giving and taking bloody abuse. It's also sexual; Talia is super busty, nearly spilling out of her dresses. There's also a scene with two prostitutes preparing to get naked with Deathstroke's goon Ubu. It's surprising to hear Batman referred to as a "sperm donor" and Robin mentioning how he's been told to use protection. You don't expect that type of edge from heroes as old and lucrative as Batman, but I don't have a problem with it. Using kid gloves on iconic personalities can easily render them dated and dull. It's not as if the studio is misrepresenting these as Saturday morning cartoons with their dark cover imagery and PG-13 ratings.

I'd object to this treatment if it was being edgy for edgy's sake, but in Son of Batman, at least, it's not. This film is surprisingly smart, engaging, and enjoyable. It's action-packed but the action remains interesting and always grounded in story and characters, an imperative quality many popular genre movies forget.

The animation is sort of limited 2D, comparable to anime and whatever modern TV cartoons aren't three-dimensional. There's a minimum of CGI, only noticeable on one aircraft seen in passing.

Well-paced and agreeably brisk, the film only uses as many characters as it should, not overcomplicating the narrative or feeling compelled to work through the giant canon of personalities available. Half-hour episodes become tedious when adhering to formula and rotating through villains. Crediting its story to comics veteran and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie scribe James Robinson and its teleplay to author and martial arts expert Joe Lansdale, the lean writing here gets us plenty acclimated to characters, yet it also has room for brief appearances by the likes of Commissioner Gordon, the real Robin, and Killer Croc along with visits to Arkham Asylum and the Gotham Coliseum. There are also enough cinematic touches to the direction by Ethan Spaulding ("Avatar: The Last Airbender", "The Simpsons") to render this substantial and fulfilling despite end credits beginning just barely past the one-hour mark.

Talia al Ghul can defend herself with an arsenal that includes two weapons of mass distraction. Dr. Kirk Langstrom and family get some hostile, unexpected visitors.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Blu-ray's 1.78:1 picture is just as flawless as it ought to be. Some may find the animation style leaves something to be desired, while others may appreciate that we're not getting homogeneous three-dimensional computer-animation like the cover art seems to suggest. The visuals are colorful, spotless, and razor-sharp.

Even better is the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio, which delivers cinema-quality sound with its mix of tasteful effects, winning atmosphere, crisp dialogue, and suitable score.

Experts and producers like DC Entertainment's creative director of animation Mike Carlin, reflect upon the League of Assassins. Old comic book artwork helps explore the history of Damian Wayne and his father in "Strange Blood Ties."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with "The Fang and the Demon Head: The League of Assassins" (10:10), a featurette that gathers thoughts from comic book creators and historians about some of the featured characters, their personalities and callings. Comic book panels complement the comments.

"Strange Blood Ties: Damian Wayne" (15:12) offers the same welcome perspective on the film's titular character, comparing him to Batman and discussing specific issues.

DC Comics isn't closed to being done with Batman, as story reels in a sneak peek of "Assault on Arkham" illustrate. Phil Bourassa explains why Talia al Ghul looks as she does. Her eyes are up there!

An extended sneak peek previews the DCU series' next film, Batman: Assault on Arkham (7:29). Makers and voice actors describe the movie,
Batman T-Shirts! Batman Gear
name some characters it will feature, and explain where it fits in with the video games, while clips and story reel images tease it. It's a little unfortunate we don't get similar behind-the-scenes treatment for the disc's featured film.

"Designing the Characters with Phil Bourassa" (9:37) places audio commentary from the lead character designer over film clips, concept art, script excerpts, and inspirational comic book renderings, lending insight into his creative process and why the characters look like they do here.

Under From the DC Comics Vault, we encounter an awesome idea: four complete relevant episodes from three different Batman animated TV series of the past quarter-century.

The Lazarus Pit makes old Bruce Wayne a little younger and stronger in the 2000 "Batman Beyond" episode "Out of the Past." "We could be heroes", think young sidekicks in the "The Brave and the Bold" episode "Sidekicks Assemble!"

From "Batman Beyond", "Out of the Past" (21:02; originally aired October 21, 2000) sees a rejuvenated Talia al Ghul persuading the aged Bruce Wayne to take a dip in the Lazarus Pit, a plan that isn't what it seems.

Two episodes of "Batman: The Brave and the Bold" are included. In "The Knights of Tomorrow!" (23:04; originally aired November 19, 2010), Damian is born to Batman and Catwoman and gets his chance to grow up and become Robin after the Joker and his son wreak havoc...in Alfred's fan fiction. "Sidekicks Assemble!" (22:50; originally aired January 22, 2010) has Damian/Robin and other young sidekicks grow up into a formidable team of heroes and are assigned to take on the al Ghuls on their first official mission, with Batman overlooking from close distance.

Long before being associated with box office failure, disfigured Confederate soldier Jonah Hex goes looking for Arkady Duvall in the 1995 "Batman: The Animated Series" episode "Showdown." Where have I seen this image before? The Son of Batman" menu earns no points for creativity.

In between those, "Batman: The Animated Series" is represented by "Showdown" (21:12; originally aired September 12, 1995), the set's oldest and least relevant episode,

in which an audiotape takes Batman and Robin back to 1883 when Jonah Hex goes looking for a man named Duvall to serve him some justice.

Each episode is presented in standard definition, the only things on the disc treated that way.

The combo pack's second disc is presumably the 1-disc DVD edition sold separately and as the first platter in the DVD Two-Disc Special Edition. Thus, it only contains the 7-minute Assault on Arkham sneak peek. Judging from the packaging, "Strange Blood Ties" and "Designing the Characters" are altogether exclusive to Blu-ray for some reason (certainly not space or technology).

The discs open with an UltraViolet promo and an ad for Batman: Assault on Arkham. These aren't accessible by menu, but Trailers sections hold additional previews for Justice League: War, "Beware the Batman": Shadows of Gotham, "Teen Titans Go!": Season 1, Scooby-Doo! Frankencreepy and DC Collectibles.

The simple menu attaches some score to the cover art image. The Blu-ray doesn't accommodate bookmarking, but does resume unfinished playback like a DVD.

The two discs and an insert holding your Digital HD UltraViolet code are held in an eco-friendly keepcase that is topped by a slipcover whose front is extensively embossed.

Like father, like son: Damian's Robin cave flaps in the wind just like Batman's does.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Son of Batman provided me with a satisfying introduction to the DC Universe Animated Original Movies. This sharply-written, always-interesting teen-and-adult-oriented production does right where many action movies and superhero cartoons falter.

The Blu-ray combo pack's value is upped by a demo-worthy feature presentation and a hearty serving of bonus features highlighted by the pertinent samplings of past Batman TV series.

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Reviewed May 3, 2014.



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