Deathstroke’s Solo Origin

First created in the 1980s in the pages of DC Comics, popular super-villain Deathstroke receives his first solo movie in the traditionally animated Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons.

Already a star on the small screen through Arrow and Titans, the relentless killer may someday get his own big-screen adventure. Emmy and Golden Globe Award winner Michael Chiklis (The Shield) voices the deadly character. Assassin and mercenary for hire, Deathstroke’s popularity has exploded in the last decade as one of DC’s most reliable and feared villains on the screen.

Knights & Dragons unveils the character’s tragic backstory and origins, introducing characters like Wintergreen and Joseph Wilson to wider audiences. Experimented on by the army, Slade Wilson becomes a nigh unstoppable killing machine code-named Deathstroke the Terminator. He doesn’t tell his family of his secret life as a highly trained assassin. Plagued by his arch-enemies, the Jackal and the villainous H.I.V.E. (think DC’s version of Cobra) have it out for Deathstroke’s family when he crosses the terrorist group.

Every year in August WB Animation typically releases one “hard” R-rated adventure set in the DC universe. Years past have seen such animated classics as Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay come out under this rubric. Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons quickly fills its quota with enough bloody violence and foul language for five movies, not to mention a little sex along the way. It is definitely not intended for children.

Deathstroke’s popularity has exploded in the last decade as one of DC’s most reliable and feared villains on the screen

Since Deathstroke first came up as a super-villain, comic book properties have a habit of turning popular villains like the fearsome mercenary into anti-heroes. That is the tact applied by the film, developing Slade Wilson as a conflicted assassin with a moral code of sorts and a real family man, at least in the beginning. He’s a paid killer still trying to go home to his wife and kid when the unimaginable happens – his ruthless enemies target his family. It somewhat re-works the character’s origin for development and marketing purposes. Fleshing out Deathstroke’s wife Adeline’s role in his sordid adventures, she becomes a primary supporting character.

Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons is largely divorced from the rest of the DC universe. It is basically a standalone movie for Deathstroke with his family members and a few of his personal enemies involved. Appearances by Lady Shiva and Bronze Tiger are nice, but this backstory is entirely devoid of connections to Deathstroke’s broader skirmishes with superheroes. There are costumed characters running around and some have powers, but the plot outline is high-octane action ripped from a 1980s action movie. It only partially feels like a cape flick. The action and fights are brutally extreme in nature.

One gets an impression the screenplay was originally written for Hollywood’s attempt at streamlining Deathstroke for mass audiences. Signs include a slickly written female lead and minor supporting characters receiving more development than they’ve had for decades in the comics. There’s an unusual amount of relationship and family drama for a character that runs around carrying two swords and a gun. The full origin neatly lays out the complicated feud with H.I.V.E. and their secretive leader.

Strictly made for adults, Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons delivers bloody action and a whole mess of screwed-up family issues for the master assassin. Going overboard trying to humanize Slade Wilson through his children, the movie runs long despite a few decent twists. The movie isn’t up to par with WB Animation’s best work. While it is cool seeing Deathstroke receive his own movie, consider this a first attempt that misses the target.

Video

The elephant in the room here is that Warner passed on releasing Knights & Dragons on UHD in 4K resolution, unlike most of their recent animated DC output. Maybe that is for the best, as the native 1080P animation gets a solid Blu-ray presentation without any bells & whistles. The 1.78:1 video showcases its consistent picture quality, perfect black levels and excellent clarity.

In some ways the flat, two-dimensional animation looks more refined than earlier DC films with stronger character designs and better key frame-rates. Nicely drawn with strict line work, fluidity is hit or miss. The action scenes have somewhat stiff movement, though detail is on the high side for direct-to-video production.

The main feature runs 87 minutes, encoded in sub-par AVC bitrates on a BD-25. Shading and banding vary in density and intensity. It’s not a flawless encode but the well-made animation does its best minimizing light-centric banding effects. Otherwise Warner perfectly translates the source material onto Blu-ray in a clean and vibrant presentation.

Audio

5.1 DTS-HD MA nicely captures Deathstroke’s action-packed world. When not slicing opponents, a hail of bullets penetrates the deep soundstage with clean separation across channels. The densely active mix offers accurate and intelligible dialogue primarily anchored upfront with light immersion coming from the rear speakers.

Dynamic, loud and with substantial bass, the solid audio design produces a nice complement to the heavy fighting on screen. It doesn’t offer quite the integration and detail heard in Hollywood’s biggest action blockbusters but gets the job done with gusto.

Warner packs eleven different subtitle options on the BD, including English SDH and most European languages. They play in a white font. French, German and Spanish dubs in 5.1 Dolby Digital are options.

Extras

Warner includes a Blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy in this combo pack. First pressings include a slipcover. It should be noted that Warner is fond of stripping these kind of physical features on repressings.

The included Movies Anywhere (MA) digital copy redeems in HDX quality.

The bonus features are on the light side for an animated DC movie. One featurette, focused almost entirely on Deathstroke’s past in the comics and television, is it. No bonus goodies are included like Deathstroke-related cartoon appearances.

Deathstroke: One-Man Death Machine featurette (13:44 in HD) – A choice overview of the mercenary anti-hero as a character and only mildly related to Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons itself. Featured guest interviews include his comic book creators, writer Marv Wolfman and superstar artist George Perez, actor Manu Bennett who portrayed Slade Wilson on Arrow, Michael Chiklis and others. A fairly nice and well-done snapshot on the character across various mediums.

Superman: Man of Tomorrow Trailer (01:41 in HD) – Plays before the main menu.

Trailers (03:24 in HD) – Superman: Red Son and Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpion’s Revenge

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Deathstroke: Knights & Dragons
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Deathstroke’s first solo movie earns its R-rating with visceral and bloody action, exploring the internal conflict in the killer as he attempts to save his son.

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