Most of the DC Universe Animated Movies are rated PG-13. This often allows them to deal with more mature themes, rather than trying to make it “for kids.” Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons is rated R. That means that in addition to those mature themes, we also get a lot of blood—and two f-bombs.
The movie is actually assembled from a 12-part web series that aired on CW Seed earlier this year. I must admit, I’m impressed by how seamlessly it fits together into a continuous, movie narrative. They did the same thing with Vixen a few years ago, and you could usually tell where the episode breaks were—not to mention the rather jarring switch between season 1 and season 2. With Deathstroke, I never would have known it was an episodic series if I hadn’t looked it up.
Deathstroke has generally been painted as a villain in the DC Universe. Now that he has his own movie, he’s been recast as a dark antihero. As our film opens, Slade Wilson (voiced by Michael Chiklis) is living a double life. He’s a devoted family man with a wife, and a son whom he reads to nightly, even while he’s away on business trips; however, what his family doesn’t know is that, on those business trips, he puts on a red-and-black mask and becomes Deathstroke: an elite supersoldier and ruthless mercenary. He kills whole rooms full of people without a second thought (as long as they’re bad people) and topples whole governments (as long as they’re bad governments). He’s strong, he’s fast, and he has an accelerated healing factor that makes him virtually invincible.
Then, Jackal, another ruthless mercenary, decides to bring Slade’s family into Deathstroke’s business. His wife Adeline can take care of herself. Their young son, Joseph, not so much. So, Jackal tries to use Joseph as leverage to get Slade to join H.I.V.E. Deathstroke ultimately saves the day, but his wife leaves him, and his son is permanently injured.
Fast forward ten years. H.I.V.E. has been rebuilt from the ashes Deathstroke left of them. They no longer have need of Slade Wilson, as they have someone even better. It seems they’ve recruited Joseph to their team. Even more powerful than his father, with mental powers that practically make him a god, he’s been nicknamed Jericho and is the key to destroying the world and rebuilding it in H.I.V.E.’s image. Now, Deathstroke and Adeline are the only ones who can stop them. They may hate each other, but they still work well together.
This movie presents a new twist practically every ten minutes. I assume they’re mostly supposed to be episode cliffhangers. Who’s good and who’s bad? Who’s worth saving, and who needs to be killed? What’s the deep, underlying reason why this character betrayed that character, who then went on to betray another character? After a while, it can get a little convoluted.
The other problem with this movie is that it’s hard to like or identify with any of the characters. Not only does Slade kill a truly staggering number of people, generally with a whole lot of blood, he also always seems to make the wrong decision in any situation. His ex-wife Adeline hates him, and justifiably so, but the way she berates him is relentless and near-constant throughout all of her scenes—even when the situation is partly her fault, as well.
The only really likable character is Wintergreen, former MI-6 operative and Slade’s faithful friend, who’s always willing to help him out of a jam. He’s a fun and refreshing character amid the darkness and violence that saturate this film. I would watch the crap out of a standalone Wintergreen movie.
This film can get pretty heavy, but it doesn’t really go as deep as a lot of the other animated DC films. I feel like more time is spent trying to make the characters look like badasses than actually trying to tell a worthwhile story. Furthermore, Deathstroke works better as a villain. I don’t think he was meant to carry his own film.
Still, there’s a lot of great action in this film and some twists and turns that will definitely keep you on your toes. I can see this being a very entertaining movie for some. It’s just not quite to my taste.
Creative Team: Sung Jin Ahn (director), J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Michael Chiklis (Deathstroke), Sasha Alexander (Adeline), Faye Mata (H.I.V.E. Queen), Griffin Puatu (Joseph/Jericho), Panta Mosleh (Lady Shiva), Chris Jai Alex (Jackal), and Colin Salmon (Wintergreen)
Distributed By: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment
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