Usually when a sequel tries to do the exact thing its predecessor does, it gets panned for it. What happens however if the predecessor was bad? If the sequel manages to fix the wrongs with the previous film and right most of the issues that plagued the original? Does that immediately forgive the sequel for retreading similar territory? While watching Batman vs Robin these were the questions swarming my head. After the previous film involving Damian Wayne and Batman, it kind of looked like all was lost with the character in this DC animated universe. With one sequel, can the right the wrongs of the previous by doing roughly the same thing but better? I mean it’s a tough question to answer, especially with numerous sequels telling us that the answer must be no. Though this one could very well beat those odds.
Batman vs Robin takes the tried and true formula of Damian Wayne and Batman clashing with ideologies like the last film. Instead of the bland and one dimensional goal of whether killing is right or not, this film dares to ask the question of who is Damian Wayne. Is he the assassin Ra’s and Talia wanted or is he the son of Bruce Wayne? Rather than asking a simple question, it travels down the same path delving further behind what the question of killing means to Damian. To go along with this struggle we are introduced to the Court of Owls and Talon, a street punk turned assassin by the Court who plays as a foil to Damian. We have Damian being forced to decide between blood or similar bonds, and which role model better suits him. While Batman tries to hunt down the Court of Owls themselves, Damian will go off gallivanting with Talon in order to find out what he wants from his life. I think this is probably the smartest move to make going into this sequel. Damian is still the wet blanket he always was, but here we see a sense of humanity behind him rather than just the monster and pompous protégé. This plotline allows us to understand why he is who he is more than purely the superficial choice of killing. It asks a deeper question and one that takes all his relationships to truly define, whether it be Talon and the choice to kill and do what is “right”, Batman and the ability to trust one another, or Dick Grayson as the son Batman had before Damian. Even Alfred for some moments effectively shows some compassion for Damian and offers some sage advice to Bruce.
What we have here is a story that allows everyone to shine. It allows characters to have their moments, allows them to bounce off each other and develop depth. What was wrong and one note in the original, Bruce and Damian’s relationship, instead is the primary focus of this film with both of their personalities and ideologies clashing as full force. This is a question about trust, a question about moving past being strangers who are merely related and about understanding that both of them have failed to make their relationship work. It offers great scenes for both Bruce and Damian, one perfect hallucination for Bruce and some great experience with Talon and fighting Batman for Damian to begin to realize what he wants to be. He is a boy confused about who he is since so many people are trying to impose their will on him all throughout his life. Offering us a gateway into the psyches of both characters allows us to see the flaws in their relationship on a deeper level, making it all the more satisfying if it resolves or not.
The film cuts out a lot of the humour found in the previous film and opts for a darker feeling tone due to Talon’s close relation to Damian. It starts off with a short stint against the Dollmaker, who takes children and turns them into unfeeling dolls. Sounds similar to a certain psychopathic child? There is a lot of this story tying back to the characters and the tone resonates so well with the delving deeper into the psyche of not only our two main characters but also the darkness lurking behind the Court of Owls and Talon. If it had stuck the more humorous tone of the previous film, the film would probably feel a bit too tonally uneven to really sell you on the problems of its main cast.
The plot with the Court of Owls is actually interesting and rather than having it go off on its own tangent apart from the core element of the film, Batman and Robin, it entrenches them in it. We see Bruce’s belief in the Court as a child, the Court is trying to destroy the Batman in order to have the city be under their own control. The simple aesthetic of the rich wearing white owl masks is a bit chilling, and this only ramps up with the inclusion of Talon into that fold. Talon offers himself as a soldier for the Court, and sees himself as trying to help Damian finally be free from Batman. The same freedom he believes he has himself, but he will always be caged by everyone else and stuck in the past. Talon as a villain adds more dimension to the protagonists of the film, as he forces them to deal with him not only as a physical threat but also a mental one where he tries to tear the two apart. A villain that is proactive to the story rather than merely doing his own thing on the side and that works to really flesh out everything. A hero is only as good as their villain.
The action sequences were far better done in this one than in the previous film, mostly because it was a lot of one on one fighting until the grand finale. The animation became less detailed and more fluid, but that allows the action to feel freer and less scripted. Batman facing off against other talons of the Court was a great opener to us seeing how the Court fights. The fight was three on one and it showed with an overwhelming force tearing away at Bruce and pushing him to his breaking point. It gives us a cool fight sequence but also shows us the strength the Court possesses. The finale is probably the best culmination of everything the movie was building up to with a confrontation against a league of talons in the batcave. This allowed Alfred and Dick to be in the fight and watching each of the cast members get their chance to shine was terrific to see and something the previous movie lacked. They made the inclusion of a supporting cast more important to the story, as they act as a support line for both Batman trying to become a father and Damian trying to find out who he can trust.
Everything in this movie just felt better to me. The animation, while still a bit cheap, managed to be fast moving and fun. The characters were made infinitely more engaging and lastly the plot tied into the main struggles of our cast to really make this feel like a “Batman vs Robin” not only in fighting but also in ideology. A versus film delivering on its namesake…huh, would you look at that? As a sequel retreading similar ground of Batman and Damian trying to understand each other, it managed to take all the problems with the original and turn them into something good. It made Damian a likeable and relatable character and actually made two father figures who were in their own right characters instead of spouting the same phrase over and over again. In the end it retreaded old ground swimmingly and made the same plotline feel even fresher than the first time.
Sequels can redo something bad and make it better, but it does ask the question of how much can you give it for doing the exact same thing? Batman vs Robin delves deeper through the challenges Damian and Bruce faced in the first film, yet all of this has already been done in this trilogy. One could say it’s because Damian barely moved from where he was in the first film, but that doesn’t deny the fact that this film just rehashes the first film’s main dilemma. So how much can you say is just this film owing a bit of what it is to the horrible first film being as bad as it was that it doesn’t feel really rehashed because that is accepting that the first film did something right with Damian as a character. I feel that even with the familiar story in regards to the main characters, how it executes it and the poor performance of the previous film helps to not feel like it’s a detriment to Batman vs Robin. This is a rare exception to the rule, but I would say if a sequel does the same thing but far better than it deserves the kudos for doing that.
It really takes you aback when something genuinely surprising falls right into your lap that asks you a question you haven’t pondered about in a certain way. Demolishing preconceived notions of repetition being a bad thing in a series is quite impressive I think. I honestly didn’t think an animated Batman movie would make me ponder about my perception of sequels. It’s a weird world we live in.
So have you seen Batman vs Robin? What do you think about sequels that retread old material? Feel free to leave a comment down below and don’t forget to have yourself an awesome day!