Long before Deadpool, Harley Quinn and scores of other villains who evolved into anti-heroes was Slade Wilson aka Deathstroke the Terminator. Deathstroke is an incredibly nuanced and complex character. Deathstroke’s animated history has been inconsistent. With Deathstroke: Knights and Dragons, Warner Bros. Animation and DC hope to finally do right by their complicated mercenary.
Originally released as a series on CW Seed, Knights and Dragons gets to the core of what’s important to Slade — family — whether he wants to admit it or not. Given his close connection to the Teen Titans, it almost seems weird to tell an origin and current day Deathstroke story without their involvement at all.
Longtime comic writer J.M. DeMatteis (Justice League Dark, Batman vs. Robin) opts to create an original origin story for Slade while still borrowing key character blueprints from Teen Titans’ iconic creative team of Marv Wolfman and George Perez.
Slade (Michael Chiklis, Gotham) is a an ex-soldier who took part in a military experiment that left him with rapid healing and enhanced senses. After there were no more wars to fight, Slade got married to Adeline (Sasha Alexander) and they had a son, Joseph.
Adeline’s happy marriage comes crashing down when the terrorist The Jackal (Chris Jai Alex) comes looking for Deathstroke and kidnaps Joseph. I feel bad for Grant Wilson, Slade and Adeline’s older son who keeps getting ignored in these adaptations of The Judas Contract.
DeMatteis captures most of the core elements, but leaves out a major one where Adeline shoots Slade’s eye out for nearly getting their son killed. It’s a strong statement on the end of their marriage and gives Adeline some overdue payback after being lied to so consistently by her husband.
From there, the story advances a decade as Slade is continuing on taking out bad guys for big paydays. This leads to a disappointing showdown with Bronze Tiger, another great DC character that gets boiled down to a generic grunting villain way too often in various adaptations. Lady Shiva (Panta Mosleh) is also treated like a disposable easily defeated villain as well despite her elite status in the DC Comics universe as a fighter capable of beating Batman.
Eventually Slade confronts Jade (Faye Mata), a young woman with a connection Slade isn’t expecting and the son he left behind for his own good. DeMatteis does makes a big departure from one character’s abilities to the point it may as well have just been a different character entirely.
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After navigating through Slade’s condensed and rearranged origin, DeMatteis spins a pretty engaging story worth of Deathstroke that longtime and modern fans will appreciate. Chiklis, Alexander and Alex headline a solid voice cast with my favorite being Colin Salmon (Arrow) as Slade’s best friend Wintergreen.
The animation style is unique with dot matrix style backgrounds and effects similar to how comic books were colored in the 70s and 80s.
As has been the case for too many DC Warner Bros. Animation films, the action falls into overly indulgent gore. Limbs get dismembered with ease while bodies get filleted and decapitations are common.
Deathstroke isn’t a character where Director Sung Jin Ahn needed to worry about the restraints of a PG film. Still, there’s a difference between working without any limits and doing anything just because you can. It’s weird that Knights and Dragons is every bit as graphically violent as Mortal Kombat: Scorpion’s Revenge.
With a skilled assassin of Slade’s reputation, he tends to take the noisiest, least subtle approach, which takes the fun out of him being more of a silent killer and brilliant strategist. The carnage has a nasty habit of making the action look a bit too ludicrous instead of cool.
Ultimately that lack of restraint ends up hurting Knights and Dragons far more than it helps. For a film about Deathstroke, a touch of subtlety goes a long way. For fans of the character, Deathstroke: Knights and Dragons should suffice while others looking for an excellent take check out the live action Titans Season Two.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Animation