What's the easiest criticism you can throw at DC Entertainment's new animated films? Simple: They're too grim and gritty. Heroes kill and maim enemies. Villains casually swear to be shocking. Superman is less about forgiveness and more about shoving tridents down people's throats. It's basically the 90s in comics all over again, when creators thought "maturity" equalled sex and violence. That doesn't mean sex and violence in comics (or films) is bad - it's that maturity comes from how you approach them.
Batman Vs. Robin is a great example. And to be clear - Batman Vs. Robin is a good movie. In fact, it's the best animated film to come out of DC Entertainment's new continuity. It offers a solid premise, strong character developments, fantastic fight sequences, and makes one hopeful for the upcoming sequels. But even then, Batman Vs. Robin is a movie that needs to prove how edgy it is - like if there was less gore or swear words we'd flip off the TV and leave for Marvel.
The end result is that while Batman Vs. Robin is fun, it really just wants to show off its big boy pants. And that's a real shame - it's a disservice to what Batman Vs. Robin does right, and a distraction from actually having an adult conversation about the series moving forward.
After the events of Son of Batman, Bruce Wayne has accepted his son Damian as sidekick and ward. But Damian is proving to be an especially challenging ward - his League of Assassins training constantly clashes with Batman's "justice, not vengeance" philosophy. That conflict boils to the surface when the Court of Owls - a secret society of Gotham's most wealthy citizens - returns to restore the city's old glory. But because caped vigilantes aren't part of the Court's vision, its top assassin recruits Robin and turns him against Batman - something that isn't hard with their strange family dynamic.
Let's get this much out of the way: If you were a comic book fan who hated Damian, this film probably won't endear you to him. He's brash, annoying, and constantly acts out because "ten year olds, am I right"? But if you can get past that, Batman Vs. Robin offers some surprisingly solid character developments. Being raised by Batman is no easy thing after all, given his tough love parenting style. That leaves Damian never getting praised for doing the right thing and always getting punished for stepping out of line. The end result is a Robin who's sympathetic, yet easily manipulated by the Court's evil Talon. That's conflict gold right there - and lends the inevitable Batman/Robin battle a surprising amount of weight.
If you're familiar with Batman comics, you probably know this premise is a mash-up of Grant Morrison's Batman Vs. Robin and Scott Snyder's Court of Owls. But the film references an impressive number of popular storylines - including Night of the Owls and the futuristic "Batman In Bethlehem". It's a lot to unpack into a single film - you've got Batman and Robin's family struggle, Gotham's maniacal secret society, undead assassins, and a possible future where Damian's Batman is a complete monster.