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January 6, 2020
Deathstroke
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CW Seed

Blu-Ray Review
Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons The Movie

In Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons, Slade Wilson has been able to live two separate lives: Deathstroke, a mercenary-for-hire who only takes up just causes, and Slade Wilson, a dedicated father and businessman. But the terrorist organization H.I.V.E. reveals the truth after he refuses to work for them. In the aftermath, he is estranged from his former family but they are forced to reunite years later after past sins coalesce into a newly revived H.I.V.E. bent on using Deathstroke's psychic son Joseph, codenamed Jericho, to take over the world. A superb cast, unique animation style, drama, action and violence galore, Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons explores the themes of broken families, truth and lies, and heroes and monsters.

While the through line of the movie is the global threat posed by H.I.V.E., the true core of the movie is about family and asks the question of can a family marred by lies and deception ever be whole again and can a monster really do good? Slade Wilson took part in a super soldier program for the U.S. military and was discharged after it failed to yield any results but it did and he kept it a secret from everyone, even his wife Adeline. Then he lies to her about being a traveling businessman for years and also along the way cheating on her with a one night stand she she finds out about. Somehow, H.I.V.E. finds out who Deathstroke is and kidnaps his son Joseph to try and force him to join their ranks then a top operative named the Jackal spills all of Slade's secrets to Adeline. Deathstroke saves his son but Joseph doesn't come out of it unscathed. He's left mute for years and sent off to an international private school supposedly for his own safety. Alone and isolated, he has his own secret: he developed telepathic powers as a result of his father's augmented genetics. That is until he reaches out and finds a half-sister named Rose from Deathstroke's affair, a daughter he didn't even know about. A daughter who was found by Jackal, trained, and is now a H.I.V.E. agent. She, herself, grapples with what she has is true love for a brother or is she just manipulating him to use like a tool. All the while, Slade in a way deludes himself into thinking he's a valiant hero who fights for what's right like the knight in Joseph's favorite childhood story, Knights & Dragons when he's really just another monster like the dragons, swooping into people's lives and causing nothing but grief and destruction for money.

The screenwriter for Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons is J.M. DeMatteis, a stellar mind with decades-long ties to the worlds of DC Comics and DC animation. DeMatteis weaved a lot of 1980s movie action and drama into a really cerebral and personal story filled with so many lies and contradictions, the audience is left to wonder what was real... if anything. Did Slade really love his wife and son to risk his life to save them from H.I.V.E. or did he were they just props in his fantasy? Was his many kills justified or was it all just to satiate his murderous instinct? DeMatteis got me thinking if the family was Slade's real mask to appear human but the real Slade all along is Deathstroke. The setting laid down by DeMatteis is only augmented by the unique and gritty art style by the design team like character designer Chris George and director Sung Jin Ahn. Even the fight choreography differs from past DC animated titles. Some scenes were stiff like the final battle in the H.I.V.E. jet but for the most part, the action scenes wows in that they come from unconventional angles and more audacious than usual. In addition, the 'pop art' stylized animation was by Titmouse (with additional services by REVE Animation) rather than a conventional overseas studio in Asia who are the primaries for DC animation.

Michael Chiklis voices Slade/Deathstroke and nails down that gruff, world weary merc. Sasha Alexander voices his ex-wife Adeline Kane who I thought stole the show having to do the bulk of the dramatic and poignant acting as well as the tonal shift to when she regains her balance in the second half of the movie. The rest of the cast weren't outright fantastic nor terrible but they also didn't have the same kind of focus that Slade and Adeline had. Each had their moments to shine like Faye Mata's Rose having a breakdown when Jackal points out she's been using Joseph for her own gain as well or Colin Salmon getting in a lot of cheeky quips as Wintergreen.

Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons does play around with Deathstroke and his comic roots a little. While the main story is more or less pulled from Marv Wolfman and George Perez's original take in the comics – a guinea pig for a super serum during his military stint, cheating on Adeline, becoming a mercenary-for-hire – there's some neat nods in there. Even some New 52 material like Adeline and Slade having served in the Team 7 unit. Making Team 7 a part of the Green Berets was a nice touch. The country Deathstroke starts out in was San Miguel. It's a Central American country from the comics. Notably in New Titans #70, Deathstroke was hired by the government to protect a revolutionary. And it dates back to a 1940 Hit Comics, where it was a neutral port during World War II. But there definitely some changes made: Grant Wilson is omitted from this canon, Joseph's power set is expanded from body possession to full on telepathy, and I don't think we ever learn how Slade lost his eye. For an R rated movie, I was surprised they didn't adapt the classic 'Adeline shoots his eye out' scene. I did have some minor issues with the changes. H.I.V.E. came off more a bit too much of an amalgamation with the League of Assassins because of some elements like the inclusion of Bronze Tiger and Lady Shiva. I felt both were really watered down and were only their characters in name. The main antagonist Jackal had an awesome fight sequence against Adeline early on, but by the end, he was a total bore and too over powered. His comeuppance didn't even really make sense either, something dramatic simply had to happen to set up the opening and last shot of Deathstroke.

The Blu-ray's only bonus feature was a featurette called "Deathstroke: One-Man Death Machine" but it provided a decent look at the character's overall history in comics and live action, a dissection of the character and talking head commentary. But I would say it was lacking a decent look at his history in animation, a definite white elephant in the room as I watched it. Another odd touch was that the physical release lacked a 4K version whereas the digital released seemed to be 4K.

Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons is a thought provoking personal and intimate story with a vivid animated style and off kilter action choreography. While Deathstroke and Adeline anchored the cast, the movie suffers from lop-sided development of the other characters and a rushed ending as well, the overall sense that a solo movie about Deathstroke could be done is proven and Knights & Dragons is proof positive there is potential for more stories. Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons is a recommended purchase. He's watching.

Rating
Main Feature: 3 out of 5
Special Features: 3 out of 5
Overall Rating: 3 out of 5