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‘Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons’ (review)

Produced by Sam Register,
Greg Berlanti, Sarah Schechter
Written by J. M. DeMatteis
Directed by Sung Jin Ahn

 

Michael Chiklis stars as Deathstroke/Slade Wilson in the latest DC Animated movie. Originally appearing on CW Seed in a serialized form, this standalone movie is not aligned with any other DC animated films. The title comes from a book Knights & Dragons that the philandering Wilson reads to his son Joseph over the phone as bedtime stories while he is “closing accounts in exotic locales” covering his vigilante missions.

His wife Adeline played by Sasha Alexander recalls his previous indiscretions, but those familiar with the character will appreciate his duality. One of the most popular villains in the DC Universe, Deathstroke toes the line between good and evil. He’s a mercenary, business man and suffers a great deal.

In less than 5 minutes into the movie, Deathstroke is suited up in his balaclava, and the action and fight scenes are great! Similar to live action Arrowverse fight scenes, these are well directed. Lots of blood and butts from the jump, too. Really earning the R rating. Lots of blood, lots of moments that will make you skittish!

Stylistically, more of what you have come to expect from the stellar animators DC sticks on these projects. Some fun actions and comic book tropes popping up as effects, seen on Into The Spider-Verse stylistically are being added to the language of modern animation. But not too much, just the right amount.

This story by J. M. DeMatteis is an more modern take on the Marv Wolfman and George Perez origin of Deathstroke, inserting some new tricks along the way. He’s a metahuman soldier, volunteering for a military drug trial without being told the effects.

Through a series of flashbacks, we see that he and Adeline are a young military family, and she’s an elite soldier herself. All of the major characters appear from his comic book origin, fellow agent Wintergreen, a friend, and The Jackal, an enemy that attacks this couple of two deadly killers.

The dangerous kidnapping leads to Adeline’s realization she has been betrayed, and Deathstroke seeks revenge. We get more DC baddies with Bronze Tiger and Lady Shiva, among the H.I.V.E. operatives responsible.

This is a spoiler-free review, but things escalate as the family grows older and father and son grow apart. In fact, what is blown out an expanded is the entire family dynamic. Chiklis betrayal to his wife as a secret assassin sets off the domino effect.

The movie cut comes in a 87 minutes, with lots of action throughout. Chiklis is no stranger to voice over for animation and is a fan of comic books. The Thing actor is a strong presence for the deadly DC villain, backed up by a stellar cast.

The story of Knights & Dragons features a bedtime storybook of the same name that acts as a backdrop and loosely parallels the events of the story. I appreciate this element from DeMatteis to ground the story in a comic book format.

I feel that the fact that DC is either starting a new continuity or releasing stand-alone stories is the right move. In general, the Elseworlds versions of these movies have tended to be better than post-Flashpoint era continuity, and different actors are given the opportunity to voice the characters.

The Deathstroke movie can or cannot exist in concert with other movies but leaving continuity at the curbside may open up the audience a bit. It bears repeating, one of DC’s strong suit versus Marvel is this flexibility.

Not everything is successful on this model (see DC Live Action movies), but in animation with shows like Harley Quinn, different TV show ‘universes’, and of course the artist formerly known as DC Animated Universe, variety in creators and storytelling is a strength.

I really enjoyed this version of Deathstroke, time will tell if this gets a sequel or if CW Seed moves on from here.

Last year’s Constantine: City of Demons also got the CW to digital release treatment from the episodes, and with so many things being shifted at Warner and DC, between DC Universe, CW and HBO Max, a departmental consolidation may be in our future. Until then, the next animated movie from this studio will be another standalone, Superman: Man of Tomorrow next month.

Tune in to Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons for some bloody sword violence and a compelling update to the familiar origin stories from the original comic books.

Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons is now available on Digital HD
and arrives on DVD & Blu-ray on August 18th

 

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