The next report card is for the latest installment of the animated films based on DC Comics franchises, entitled Batman vs. Robin.
Batman vs. Robin—directed by Jay Oliva; written by J.M. DeMatteis (written by), Bob Kane (characters), Grant Morrison (comic book), Scott Snyder (comic book); starring Jason O'Mara (Bruce Wayne / Batman), Stuart Allan (Damian Wayne / Robin), David McCallum (Alfred Pennyworth), Sean Maher (Dick Grayson / Nightwing), Grey Griffin (Samantha), Kevin Conroy (Thomas Wayne), Robin Atkin Downes (Grandmaster), Peter Onorati (Draco) and Weird Al Yankovic (Dollmaker).
These short animated films are tough on character, as it's hard to get a full arc for everyone in such a small amount of time. Fans of the comics will love the spirit of the characters portrayed in this movie, though, as Bruce Wayne is represented extremely well and his supporting cast follow their roles to a T. You get glimpses into the difference between the lighthearted Nightwing and the much darker and troubled Robin. Alfred gets a few lines to show his attitude as well as his fatherly side. The Court of Owls is still a relatively new concept, but from my perspective, this showcases their creepy cult with the regal nature that it deserves.
The voice acting in this film is among the best that DC has had. While I still think Kevin Conroy is the voice of Batman and that likely will never change, Jason O'Mara has really come into the part and is doing very well. Stuart Allan shouldn't be forgotten, either. Child actors that aren't annoying are hard to find and it isn't just a case where I believe him as Damian Wayne due to the sound of his voice, but I also think his delivery is much more mature than most kids would be able to pull off. David McCallum is as good of an Alfred as you can get and I would love to hear him return in future adaptations. While I prefer Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing, Sean Maher is no slouch, either.
I'll admit, it was a bit odd hearing Weird Al Yankovic as the psychotic Dollmaker, but in a good way. I was always a fan of his music when I was a kid and the idea behind this tickled me in a stupid nostalgic way similar to how weird it was to see Robin Williams in his first serious film after getting used to the goofball.
VISUALS (FX, MAKEUP, COSTUMES, SETS): A+
This is the best looking animated film that DC has made to date. For that matter, it's the best animated thing DC has made period, including all of the television shows. The character models are not distorted in any way (whereas the Bruce Timm series had huge torsos on tiny stick legs and several different films have characters with swollen lips). On top of this, each suit looks functional instead of just like spandex.
MUSIC & SOUND: B+
The downside to the music for this is that it's not memorable and I wouldn't be going on the hunt to find the soundtrack anywhere. The upside is that it blends in so well with what you're seeing that you might not even notice it. The best movie scores are the ones that enhance the visuals but don't distract from it and you want to listen to them afterward. This accomplishes the former, but not the latter, so that's why it is docked some points from being an A+.
The sound is top notch. The only time in the entire film that I consciously thought about the sound in a negative way was their choice of what it sounds to put a sandwich down on a plate. Maybe Bruce was eating something with a ton of mayonnaise or something, but I don't remember the last time that I ate a sandwich that made that much of a squish. Other than that, you can't ask for much more than the sound design of this film, particularly considering how everything has to come from scratch and there are no ambient noises to use.
TONE (ACTION, ROMANCE, COMEDY): B–
ACTION: Hard-hitting action that doesn't shy away from the blood and gives you an impression that each punch actually hurts instead of just shrugging it off is a big plus in my book. Every fight sequence is interesting to watch in different ways. There's also a proper balance so there isn't too much action to make the film devoid of plot, but also not so little so as to make us wish the superhero genre wasn't just a melodrama.
COMEDY: Unfortunately, there isn't much comedy in this. Granted, the source material is dark enough that there's not a lot to joke around about, but it would have been nice to pepper in a couple more jokes here and there. At least it's Dick Grayson who gets the majority of the chuckles, seeing as how he's always been the most comedic of the family.
ROMANCE: Bruce Wayne has two types of romantic endeavors: the few women he legitimately loves (Selina Kyle, Talia al Ghul, Vicki Vale in some adaptations) and the slew of models he beds. Samantha in this film is more of the latter and she's used more for an extra part of the plot than for any romantic side quests. While that's good for the film's pacing, it does mean that some points are docked for not having a legitimate love interest for any of the characters in a romantic sense. The true love story of the movie is between father and son, but there are still unresolved issues with that by the end.
FINAL GRADE: A
This was one of my favorite entries in the DC animated movie franchise. If you're a Batman fan, you would definitely be fond of this and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to you, particularly if you happen to be interested in more than just the mainstream live action movies. While fans of the comics may nitpick that this takes liberties with Scott Snyder's storyline and tweaks aspects of the Court of Owls, I'm not the type to have that bother me as much as others. Once you put that aside, this will be very enjoyable and a great thing to pop on when you're in the mood for some superhero action but don't want to invest three hours for something more intricate.