Warner Bros. Animation has essentially set the standard for adult-oriented, direct-to-home comicbook animation, but even sluggers occasionally strike out. Enter the latest DC adaptation, “Son of Batman,” which practically makes the Dark Knight a sidekick to his precocious 10-year-old son, a kid who has grown up, unbeknownst to his Bat-Donor, under the tutelage of master criminal Ra’s al Ghul and the League of Shadows. As adept as the animation unit usually is at bringing the tone of the comics to the screen, at times this feels like a sitcom premise — a chop-socky “Full House,” or maybe, “Full Cave.”
Batman (again voiced by Jason O’Mara, with the requisite grit and gravel) fathered Damian (Stuart Allan) during a dalliance with Talia (Morena Baccarin), a character usually drawn with the intent of carbonating the hormones of pubescent boys. An accomplished butt-kicker in her own right, Talia also happens to be the daughter of the centuries-old Ra’s (Giancarlo Esposito), making the kid his grandson.
Opening with extended back-to-back action sequences, a raid on Ra’s mountain stronghold convinces Talia, as she tells Damian, “It’s time to meet your father.” Once over the initial shock, Batman takes on the task of trying to more constructively channel the boy’s lethal and antisocial tendencies, while his bad attitude particularly irritates Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler Alfred (David McCallum, a nifty casting choice).
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Aside from being a true prodigy in the area of violence, Damian also possesses mad hacking skills to go along with being a genuine smartass. But he’s still a target for Deathstroke (Thomas Gibson), a former Ra’s lieutenant, leading to an inevitable showdown, with lots of carnage along the way. Oh, and as long as there’s that old Robin costume hanging around …
Never mind the plausibility issues surrounding a 10-year-old lad, however well schooled, wiping the floor not just with random thugs but with trained adult assassins — and shrugging off pretty serious wounds in the process. The more pertinent matter, in terms of enjoying the fracas, is that such fights aren’t all that interesting to watch, a criticism that also applies to the surplus of sword-wielding ninja shenanigans the League brings to the party.
One can understand the impulse to keep returning to new wrinkles on the Batman character, but “Son of Batman” feels like a throwback to the time preceding all the hard work that restored his Dark Knight image — to that stretch in the ’50s and ’60s where the hero was watered down, and the thought was that anything could be rendered cute if you just slapped a “Bat” in front of it.
So assuming “Bat-Brat” turns out to be a success, what’s next? “Bat-Toddler?” The mind bat-boggles.