Last week, I had some Papa Gino’s pizza. It was a large, with extra cheese.
(This is going to become relevant in a second, I promise.)
I wasn’t too excited about it, honestly. My most recent experiences with Papa Gino’s were overpriced and unappreciated. I was still trying to be hopeful, mind you. I’ve have had good experiences with Papa Gino’s before, so maybe this one would turn out okay, right? Wrong! I couldn’t pin it down… The cheese seemed okay, and the rest up to par. So what had gone wrong?
(I swear the relevancy to Batman is coming. Hang on!)
Then I figured it out. There was no glue keeping this pizza together. (Not literal glue. That would be gross!) Some sort of thing that made this pizza pop in some meaningful way, just wasn’t there. Nothing really grabbed me. Everything just a blur of “pizza.” I couldn’t really taste the sauce or “extra” cheese, or even the decent crust. It all sort of blurred into one single flavor. Since my grandmother paid for it, because family was over, at least I didn’t waste my money. But, sadly, that’s probably one of the best things I can say about this ho-hum pizza.
Just like with the Papa Gino’s pizza, it was hard at first to pin down exactly why this movie didn’t work for me. Jason O’Mara as Batman was fine (and, in some cases, pretty good). Stuart Allen as Damian was excellent. Thomas Gibson as Deathstroke was impeccable, and really the stand out for me. The animation was decent, but not outstanding (no, I haven’t seen Justice League: War and have no plans to). There is some lackluster voice work from Moren Baccarin (Talia) and Xander Berkley (Kirk Langstrom) at times as well.
In essence: this movie is subpar as hell.
I didn’t want to admit it. After the credits rolled, my mind reeled (no pun intended) with thoughts:
“That’s it? That’s how they ended it? Well… it was okay, right?
And then I watched it again for the purposes of this review with an even more critical eye:
I feel some vague sense of regret, and a very distant hope, that somehow I must be wrong about this movie. If you think I am, then I encourage you to convince me otherwise. As it is, there are just too many qualms for me to recommend it, even to Bat-fans.
For those who don’t know, the basic plot is that Batman finds out he has a son, and that he’s got to take care of him while Talia deals with inner power struggles within the League of Assassins. These two threads weave as the movie goes on, ending in some pretty cool fight scenes, but finishes lackluster. The biggest problem is the premise:
Batman has a son.
By itself, it isn’t a bad idea, but the way it’s handled matters a great deal.
When Talia confronts Batman about his son, he just asks her once (not twice) if she’s positive, (she says she is) that’s it! No DNA tests. No interplay between him and Damian. (Even a minor scene establishing his origin would’ve been nice, over the small talk.) No questioning of Talia. Nada!
Talia herself is a bit of a problem too for me. She kicks ass in the first part of the movie, but seems to “forget her training” too easily at key plot junctures. (And unnecessary cleavage, lots of unnecessary cleavage.)
Another issue with Talia and part of her story is that she never raped Batman. They try to weasel out of this with Batman admitting it wasn’t “all bad”, but that’s just ignoring the elephant in the room. And look, Morrison himself confirms that he himself confused the plot details of the 1987 graphic novel Son of the Demon. Talia didn’t drug Bruce. Neither did she put chemicals in his drink. Ergo, no rape.
A variety of minor annoyances plague the film as well:
- At one point in the film Batman takes Killer Croc, head on. Not only that but he also throws Batarangs at Croc, which is laughable. And then, later in the movie, he goes after another huge foe, again head on. This isn’t early in his career, and that has been established through the fact that Dick Grayson is already Nightwing, so it just makes Batman look stupid.
- Nightwing is unnecessary for the plot (one of many). Were Tim Drake in the film, there could be opportunities for some on-screen jealousy in Batman’s new affections, but Nightwing, being indepenent, makes it not the same. Dick has moved on. He is Nightwing now, not the “Boy Wonder”.
- Inheritance is a major theme, but isn’t fully explored, despite Damian being “the future” according to Talia. Damian obviously has a lot to gain from Bruce and Talia vis-à-vis Wayne Industries and League of Assassins, but specificity is never gone into. Damian just makes a snide remark about the Wayne Industries, without any context. It’s a great plot point that goes unexplored to the viewer’s detriment.
- Why Damian becomes Robin is never explained, or warranted. Damian spends about two thirds of the time decrying the side kick attire. He says its “effeminate,” that it’s unnecessary, yet later on in the movie, after Bruce finally steps up and scolds him and tells him to follow his lead, Damian caves. Why? Is it because Damian wants to impress Bruce?
- Talia, a covert, tactical assassin, in the last half of the film becomes a damsel in distress. Why? Because she gets caught, which subsequently removes her from most of the film. It isn’t clear what her motives are, if not a convenient deus ex machina to give Damian an excuse to hang around at the end and give us another action scene or two.
I could go on and on…
Some have complained about the level of violence as well (which I don’t think either way is a misguided attempt to be “edgy”), but these concerns are not founded on what the film presents. There is no show of severed bones, wanton decapitations, random acts of extreme violence, and there’s only mild swearing, with “thematic elements” here and there (prostitution, alcohol, etc). None of this seems edgy, or out of the ordinary.
Can nothing redeem this P.O.S. S.O.B. D.C.A.U?
Most of the fight scenes are solid, especially the finale and scenes featuring Damian.
Stuart Allen steals the show for having a well-rounded character. He’s got a good voice and is just likable enough to be a good balance with what is presented here. (Minor note: In the comics Damian is pretty much a straight up asshole. Here he’s more of a condescending and arrogant jerk. And I liked that about the movie even if he is still a bit of a jerk. In fact, if you listen to Slade’s description of him in some of the last scenes of the movie I think you’ll find them fairly accurate.)
Alfred was one of my favorites. Almost every line delivered by David McCallum was a great, especially when dealing with Damian. It’s pitch-perfect, sardonic, but loyal and well-meaning.
Lastly, two conversations stand out.
The first is between Damian and Bruce. Damian clearly has never had much life experience, yet he must lead humanity (albeit to some amoral, nefarious end). The conversation raises some intriguing quandaries. The League of Shadows was meant to deprogram Damian from outside influence, but how one can change the world without ever coming into contact with it presents a curious problem for the league. Yet his 50/50 immersion into the world of crime and mainstream society provides a unique blend that makes him into a likable sociopath, with many lines attesting to this all over the film.
One thing that definitively distinguishes Batman from the League is that he doesn’t kill. But Batman’s justification to Damian about why he doesn’t take lives is beyond inane. Damian confesses that he wants to kill someone early on, but Bruce simply says that that’s not the way they do things. His way is better. But why? Were a thug to come back at Damian, there would be no hesitation, just instant death, and then where would the moral be?
But it’s the second conversation that really gets me. After nearly wasting a bad guy, Bruce says to Damian that his brand of justice is superior because it’s right, not because it’s easy. But this seems awfully vague, especially when no one else reciprocates against the Batman’s “gentile” methods of law enforcement.
Batman says at this juncture, to my dismay:
“You can’t fight crime by becoming a criminal.”
But is this accurate? Batman is a criminal. Commissioner Gordon may implicitly and explicitly condone his actions, but he is still a vigilante. Batman isn’t working directly under the command of anyone. Though he works with Jim Gordon and the GCPD on occasion, he doesn’t necessarily work for them in any real capacity. (Proving this further is the fact that he sometimes assaults police officers that he thinks are crooked.) Even if you want to argue that Batman’s fidelity to Gordon expiates the guilt of his past crimes during “year one,” the argument is flimsy at best.
Unfortunately, from start to finish, much like Papa Gino’s Pizza, the movie is half-baked. Even a good premise and stalwart acting performances from most of the cast can’t justify the plot holes, lack of continuity with DC, and moral philosophy.
There are little moments that have their good parts, but honestly even ninja Man-Bats can’t save this movie from my awful pizza metaphors. But really, it deserves them, I swear.