With “Batman V. Superman” looming in the live-action future, there’s nothing even particularly subtle about titling Warner Bros. Animation’s latest Blu-Ray release “Batman Vs. Robin.” Still, beyond the obvious marketing benefits, the movie more than holds up, offering another deep dive into Dark Knight lore, this time through the prism of Batman’s out-of-wedlock son Damian, who was raised by the master villain Ra’s Al Ghul. Much more satisfying than last year’s “Son of Batman,” this one contemplates the limits of vigilante justice, forcing the headstrong kid — being trained as Robin — to choose between his father’s tutelage and a darker path.
That choice comes in the form of a completely ruthless figure, Talon (voiced by Jeremy Sisto), who — operating on behalf of the mysterious Court of Owls — seeks to recruit the boy to their cause. The goal, he explains, is to “eradicate crime and criminals once and for all” with no rules, limits or any of the other do-gooder influences and restrictions that Batman (once again Jason O’Mara) imposes.
Dark, eerie and more than violent enough to earn its PG-13 rating, beyond vague echoes of “Batman Begins” the story not only charts the battle for the soul of Damian (Stuart Allan) but also revisits Batman’s origins in a manner that also dovetails rather synergistically with the Fox series “Gotham.” Robin’s stupidity, meanwhile, serves a purpose, leading him into a situation that requires a last-act rescue by Batman and the original Robin, Nightwing (Sean Maher), culminating in a frenzied assault on the Batcave that even brings Alfred (David McCallum) into serving up more than just tea.
Inevitably, these animated features contain almost as much grunting as dialogue, but after releasing a few subpar projects this represents a laudable return to form for Warner Bros., whose direct-to-DVD animation — peaking with the two-part “The Dark Knight Returns” — has generally been a cut above. That encompasses everything from the topnotch casting to the quality of the animation, which remains a natural vehicle for bringing these characters to the screen in a frequent and cost-efficient manner.
Directed by Jay Oliva and written by J.M. DeMatteis, “Batman Vs. Robin” is actually somewhat misnamed, given the arc of the story. That said, DC Entertainment can be forgiven for indulging in a bit of license when these animated movies deliver on their promise for those well-versed in the less-traveled reaches of the DC universe. Besides, when it comes to marketing such products, fate tends to favor the brave and the bold.