I am really enjoying the diversity of DC Animated films coming from WB Animation, with the conclusion of their New 52 Animated Universe with Justice League Dark: Apokolips War they have really started to stretch out with stand alone stories Superman: Red Son and Wonder Woman: Bloodlines. But the most intriguing story so far has to be this, Deathstroke: Knights and Dragons whilst the character of Slade Wilson is a fan favourite it is interesting, they have gone for such an anti-hero who lives in a very grey area of morality. What was once a planned web-series has now been combined into a full feature length release.
The mature tone of the stand-alone stories from WB Animation releases is very much something of a refreshing style for more grown up DC Fans, and this is certainly not a story for a younger audience in what is perhaps the bloodiest and most violent DC animated film so far. Visually the art style does take some getting used to compared to previous titles, knowing it was originally planned as a series of web shorts, that never really leaves you as you watch it but I actually grew to like it by the end.
The story serves as both a Deathstroke stand-alone story but also an origin story for the character and the DC universe around him with associated characters introduced as well as his family. We being where it all really began for Slade Wilson, who volunteers for a secret Army program which turned out to be a medical program designed to create an augmented super soldier. Believing it was a failure, Slade went home with his wife Adeline and soon they have a child, Joseph where his family believe him to be a successful business man travelling the world making deals when in reality, the army’s experiment worked and that for the last ten years, Slade Wilson has been working as a mercenary for hire in Deathstroke. It is his secret life as Deathstroke that brings this story together, his lying to his family and the reality of what being a super soldier merc brings Slade’s world crashing down as the organisation H.I.V.E. try to recruit him but pay a price for his refusal as Slade easily takes down their operatives and defeats their leader ‘The Jackal’. Believing it all over, Slade returns to his family.
I actually quite like where the story from here, as ten years have passed and Slade is still living the lie and secretly still takes jobs as Deathstroke, dishing out death and justice according to his own morality code to extreme levels of violence and it is this code that makes Slade Wilson such an iconic antihero. He will kill many to complete his mission and used extreme tactics to take people out but we see him remove a dictator by installing a General instead but makes sure he knows if he does anything against the people, it will be his head taken next but also remembers to get paid for the work. We also see him take down a child slavery syndicate so it does blur the lines of hero and villain which makes Deathstroke such a brilliant character to see get his own outing in an animated film.
The story is pretty much about Slade having to face and deal with his past mistakes, H.I.V.E return ten years later and take his son Joseph who during the rescue, has his throat cut leading to his wife Adeline discovering the secret life Slade has been living as Deathstroke and it breaks up the family. We also learn that Slade also had an affair which led to another child he did not know about, a daughter who inherited his super soldier abilities of heightened strength, stamina and healing ability and Joseph, well he also gained abilities but on a very different level. The return of H.I.V.E and an enemy Slade believed he had killed forces him to confront his past, and try to save his family no matter the cost.
The animation is fluid throughout with tremendously brutal fight scenes and nice moments when the dialogue takes over from the action. Michael Chiklis voices Slade Wilson superbly, really embodying the dual nature of Slade but sadly the rest of the voice cast is a little weak at times, with more than a little wooden performance but not enough to spoil the story telling but just not enough to equal other recent animated DC films. The comic book visual style as I said takes some getting used to but it works and the film delivers enough of a good watch to make it worth sitting through the 87-minute run time. My main complaint is more in the quality of this as a Blu-Ray release as the menu is so basic with the lovely box art serving as the non-animated background and a DVD level of moving between standard disc menus. There is a single special feature of ‘Deathstroke: One Man Death Machine” which looks at the character In the comic books but then also has the producers from Arrow along with Manu Bennett who played the character in the ArrowVerse which just leaves you feeling this was simply taken from the Season 2 of Arrow boxset rather then created just for this animated release.
If you are a fan of DC animated films and of the character Deathstroke, Knights and Dragons delivers enough to make this a worthwhile purchase but it does lack in the overall presentation that previous WB Animated titles have had recently as well as no preview for what is next on the release list. As a fan of the character, this gave me what I hoped for but I am not sure the conscious effort to make him feel like more of a hero than a villain was really achieved, and I am kind of glad it did not!
Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons is out NOW on digital download and arrives August 17th on Blu-Ray and DVD.