Batman and Superman: Battle of the Super Sons (4K UHD Review)
Release Date(s)2022 (October 18, 2022)
Studio(s)Warner Bros. Animation/DC Entertainment (Warner Home Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: B+
Batman and Superman: Battle of the Super Sons offers two different firsts for the DC Animated Universe: it provides the long-overdue introduction of Jonathan Kent and Damien Wayne into the DCAU fold, and it’s also full 3D CG animation, rather than being a combination of hand-drawn 2D and 3D elements. Of course, technology is nothing more than a tool, so that only really matters if it serves the story. The good news is that Battle of the Super Sons is a worthy addition to the DCAU, and the 3D animation afforded the opportunity for director Matt Peters to find creative visual means to support the core themes of the story.
The screenplay by Jeremy Adams opens with a brief recap of Superman’s origins, but extends that to the point where Clark Kent and Lois Lane end up married and raise a family. The main story begins with their son Jonathan (Jack Dylan Grazer) beginning to manifest his own superpowers on his 11th birthday. As he struggles to understand who he is and what he could end up becoming, a malevolent alien force ends up taking Superman, Batman, and the rest of the Justice League out of the picture. As a result, Jonathan is forced to team up with Damien Wayne (Jack Griffo), the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul, who has very different ambitions of his own. Despite the fact that these Super Sons don’t see eye-to-eye, they have to work together to save not just their own families, but the entire world as well.
That’s a lot to cover in just 79 minutes, opening and closing credits included, so Battle of the Super Sons handles a lot of the material elliptically. While Jonathan Kent’s backstory is actually shown during the pre-credit sequence, Damien Wayne’s own complicated origins are reduced to a line or two of dialogue. That’s true of the film as a whole, which takes place in a fully functioning DC universe, but leaves most of it as unexplained background texture. There are appearances by the Justice League, Green Arrow, Teen Titans, President Luthor, the Watchtower, Krypto, and more, but Peters and Adams generally trust viewers either to already know what’s going on, or figure it out on their own. The coming-of-age drama for both Jonathan and Damien is the heart of the film, and it never loses that focus no matter what’s going on around them.
The actual narrative is relatively predictable, but it still works well enough to support the growth of the two main characters. The villain was chosen as a way to create a plausible reason why Jonathan and Damien end up working on their own to save the world, but even that choice pays off thematically at the conclusion. It also provides a possible opening for future adventures of the Super Sons, one that involves a relatively recent addition to the Batman canon. Hopefully that’s true, because Grazer and Griffo both do a nice job of bringing these characters to life, and it would be interesting to see what they do with the roles going forward. Battle of the Super Sons may have minor flaws, but it’s a solid entry in the DCAU, and a creative use of digital technology to stretch the boundaries of what can be done on the limited budgets of direct-to-video productions.
Batman and Superman: Battle of the Super Sons was rendered digitally in full 3D at 1.78:1, and while there’s no information available regarding the resolutions involved, it was doubtless finished as a 2K Digital Intermediate. For this Ultra HD version, the 2K DI has been upscaled to 4K and graded for High Dynamic Range (only HDR10 is included on the disc). Compared to the Blu-ray, there isn’t necessarily any real increase in fine detail, and yet things still tend to look slightly crisper here. That’s probably partly due to the lower levels of compression, which helps everything look cleaner, and generally artifact-free. The HDR grade pushes the contrast range slightly, especially on the brighter side of the spectrum, with highlights that pop just a bit more than they do on the Blu-ray. The colors seem more precise as well, within the limitations of the design work for the film. There’s a hazy, muted quality to some of it that may be inspired by the look of Geoffrey Unsworth’s cinematography on Superman: The Movie, but there are plenty of points where the brighter colors do shine through.
Speaking of the design work, keep in mind that while Battle of the Super Sons is full 3D digital animation, it’s been produced to mimic the appearance of hand-drawn animation. Many of the environments clearly look 3D, but the character animation has been shaded to give it a flatter look than that. There are also some deliberate limitations to the frame rate, similar to what was done for Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. That’s not a flaw, but rather a conscious choice. (Also, while it’s true that this is a full 3D digital production, there are still a few hand-drawn and animated elements included at times.)
Primary audio is offered in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. It’s an energetic and potent mix, with plenty of deep bass, and a real sense of slam during the action scenes. The surrounds are lively as well, both with environmental sounds and directionalized effects. The music was composed by the trifecta of Kristopher Carter, Michael McCuistion, and Lolita Ritmanis, all of whom were part of the late great Shirley Walker’s team on Batman: The Animated Series, and they’ve been active members of the DCAU ever since. While their main theme strays a bit too close to Walker’s Superman theme, on the whole, it's one of the best scores for any direct-to-video DCAU titles so far. Additional audio choices include French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital, with optional English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.
The Warner Bros. 4K Ultra HD release of Batman and Superman: Battle of the Super Sons is a 2-Disc set that includes a Blu-ray copy of the film, a slipcover, and a Digital Code on a paper insert. The extras are available on the Blu-ray only, all of them in HD:
- Rival Sons: Jonathan and Damien (14:41)
- From the DC Vault: The Demon’s Quest, Part One (22:22)
- From the DC Vault: The Demon’s Quest, Part Two (22:18)
Rival Sons is an overview of the production, featuring interviews with Matt Peters, Jeremy Adams, producers Jim Krieg and Rick Morales, DC animation creative director Mike Carlin, and clinical psychologist Drea Letamendi. They examine the nature of the characters, the story, and the decision to go with full computer animation. It’s slickly produced, but far too brief to do justice to a film that deserved a bit more attention. The Demon’s Quest is the two-part episode of Batman: The Animated Series that developed the character of Ra’s al Ghul after his brief appearance at the conclusion of Out of Balance. It’s included here since it also developed the relationship between Talia al Ghul and Batman/Bruce Wayne. The Demon’s Quest is Batman: TAS at its absolute finest: a rip-roaring adventure that takes Batman out of Gotham City and into some globetrotting Indiana Jones-style antics, but one that establishes crucial lore at the same time. The really good news is that unlike some of the older DCAU releases that included episodes from the various DC television series, both episodes here are the remastered versions.
It's not an extensive collection of extras, but The Demon’s Quest deserves an A+ all on its own. Of course, if you already own the excellent Warner Archive release of Batman: TAS, then it’s completely redundant here, so the value to you will depend on that fact. The score above reflects the inherent quality of the extras, not necessarily their utility to anyone personally. In any event, Batman and Superman: Battle of the Super Sons is a promising debut for two important DC characters, and a glimpse of what the future may hold for animation in the DCAU.
- Stephen Bjork
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