Synopsis: Batman is having a little trouble with his new Robin. Namely, it's his son, and he was raised by his assassin mother to use deadly force at any threat. Robin's had to rein himself in, but now finds himself tempted by the arrival of a mysterious assassin garbed in the guise of an owl, who wants to take the young boy as his own partner. Batman finds that the owl man is one of many working for a secret society in Gotham who want Bruce Wayne as a member, and have a hard time saying no. Can the Dark Knight keep both his son and his city from slipping away into the darkness the owls dwell in?
DC and Warner Brothers have become excellent at multitasking. How else could they figure out a way of missing the point of two recent Batman storylines at the same time?
This movie is ostensibly a combination of Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's "Court of Owls" storyline from the pages of Batman and Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason's "Born to Kill" storyline from the pages of Batman & Robin. I've read and own copies of both storylines, and find them to be outstanding work, especially early on in the "New 52" when solid work was pretty rare. The former had a lot of psychological horror elements and dealt with Bruce's insecurities over whether he knew Gotham as well as he'd told himself and the latter was about the father-son relationship between Bruce and Damian and Bruce's struggle with having his partner be his son and dealing with his son's upbringing while Damian finds all the secrets Bruce keeps from him keep them at arm's length.
"At least, that's what I put on my tax forms."
Essentially, in the Court of Owls storyline, Batman comes face to face with this clandestine secret society in Gotham that had been manipulating events in the city since shortly after its very inception. He has a run in with them because as Bruce Wayne he's been planning a grand renovation of parts of the town, which would destroy many of the Court's hidden lairs and meeting areas. While the Court had mostly been inactive for years, this spurs them to clean house in a city they felt was betraying its roots with progress, so they send out their assassins, called the Talons, to kill prominent figures in Gotham's government and politics. Batman himself is captured in his fight with the Court, subjected to several days of what amounts to torture, barely escapes, and has to defend Wayne Manor and the Batcave from their onslaught, eventually turning the tables on them. This is where the bulk of this movie is taken from, or at least the frame work of the plot.
"That's right, we'll have holographic buildings!"
Tomasi's Born to Kill story sees Bruce approached by an assassin named "Nobody", Morgan Ducard, the son of a man he once trained with in man hunting. Morgan holds a grudge against Bruce for showing him up in front of his father and refusing to take on the father and son's deadly methods. Having been disowned by his father, he plans to tempt Damian into his lifestyle, meting out deadly force to criminals, crossing the line Batman will not. Ultimately, while Damian takes to Morgan's more proactive stance, he can't bring himself to betray his father. He ultimately kills "Nobody" in fear that he might lose his father, which upsets Bruce, but they ultimately come to terms with it.
So here in this movie, the part of "Nobody" is taken by the most prominent of the Talon assassins (unnamed, but I guess he's just 'Talon"), and the Court doesn't seem to know that Bruce Wayne is Batman until Damian reveals his identity to them. In the comics, the Court seems to know who Batman really is fairly early in the story, taunting him with his fears about his parents' deaths (though they seem to do that here without even knowing who he is). The movie makes the Court's business with Wayne simply wanting one more prominent member of Gotham's elite in their pocket, and it has nothing to do with Wayne messing with their legacy with his new city plans. There's a real sense of disconnection from Bruce's plans for the city, which are included here (though simplified) and the Court's disdain for them. They invent this woman character, the leader of the Court, who becomes Bruce's girlfriend in an attempt to woo him into their group, and she's the secret lover of Talon, who is trying to work Damian with his reasoning.
"You can have- uff! - both of them!"
But hey, why ruin one story when you can ruin two?
Looking at the movie on its own yields no brighter a picture. There's a complete disconnect between what the Court of Owls is cooking up and what Talon wants for Damian. They try going for the angle that the Talon sees Damian as being like him, a kid from the wrong side of the tracks, an outcast without a real father, and wants to mold him, geniunely having some kind of affection for the boy. He even ends up betraying the Court because the group is more interested in using the revelation that Bruce Wayne is Batman to remove him as a threat and use Damian as a hostage than they are in shaping Damian's destiny. They try to tie those two plot points, the Court and Bruce/Talon and Damian, but they don't really spend enough time with either and the connection feels forced in service of action scenes rather than story.
Another element crow-barred into the narrative is the presence of Nightwing, Dick Grayson. He's the original Robin, so I'm sure the intent was to have his past experience working alongside Batman contrast against Damian's very different experience as Batman's partner, since he's his son and the relationship is strange since he spent most of his life raised by his assassin mother, whereas the adopted Dick is more loyal to Bruce. That is obviously the intent, but there's no real place for Dick in the plot. He kind of just stands by doing nothing, not really contributing to either Bruce or Damian's struggle to understand each other, and just being an exhibit.
Nightwing wasn't in the "Born to Kill" arc of the comics, but he was in "Court of Owls", tied into the Talon of the Court. In fact, Dick Grayson was intended to be the next Talon of the Court, because the Court had been using Haley's Circus to recruit new assassins, and had their eye on him as a child. But when his parents were killed and he was taken in by Bruce Wayne, he was out of their reach as a prospect. The main Talon assassin that attacks Bruce in the first part of the arc is actually a Grayson. But in this movie, Dick is just there to show that there was one other Robin before Damian (I guess Jason and Tim don't rate anymore in these new movies). If they had to remove that aspect for time and to concentrate on Bruce's relationship with Damian, that would be one thing, but to excise all traces of it for this movie makes Nightwing into some dancing wooden puppet, mostly there for action scenes. And even in those he checks out pretty early.
They also removed a great deal of the psychological aspects of the "Court of Owls" storyline, that paranoia in Bruce, his days spent in the Court's maze (now reduced to a couple of minutes), roaming the corridors, looking for a way out, constantly being drugged, the Court's mind games all around him, pictures of previous victims at various stages of madness from their own time in the labyrinth, actors who are lookalikes of his parents who tell him they've been trapped for all these years. Then the Court plunges in the final knife, their current lead assassin, who Bruce manages to take out, out of sheer willpower, as he barely escapes the lair. The descending figures of the Court's revived assassins as they jump out into the city to kill, their descent into the Batcave from the roof of Wayne Manor. This movie has almost none of that. The Court is just an excuse to have some generic secret society and they only play lip service to Scott Snyder's great writing and Greg Capullo's visuals.
"Now we will send our multi-colored team of ghosts to get you! Chomp those pellets, Batman."
It may just seem like I'm griping about the movie's failure to adapt the storylines well, but with so little to offer of its own, what more can I do? It certainly isn't helped by incredibly bland, stilted deliveries by the main cast. They have got to stop using Jason O'Mara as Batman. The man has zero presence and has no place in this role or any other iconic character, and young Stuart Allen is being misdirected in his performance as Damian. They should have been trying to get him to go for more of an aristocratic, biting edge instead of just a typical snot-nosed brat. Grey DeLisle-Griffin is wasted as the woman behind the "Grandmaster", as is Kevin Conroy in a bit part as Thomas Wayne. It's a weird movie when "Weird Al" Yankovic gives the most convincing performance.
Maybe this movie isn't as insulting as, say, Son of Batman, which is badly written and essentially rape apologia (and has this odd worship of Damian, who single-handedly defeats Deathstroke the Terminator), but this movie ruins better source material, and doesn't do much better on its own, either. Other than a few winks to Snyder's "Court of Owls" storyline, there really isn't anything here worth shelling out money for.
Wait, that's not true: the Blu-Ray has some "bonus cartoons". Maybe those are worth watching. But as I won't be purchasing this, I'll just go read my Batman trades of the storylines this mangles.
1 out of 5 (Expensive drink coaster)
"Make him watch Batman vs Robin!" "Dude, Frank. No, man. That's too cruel."