[Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers.]
Directed By: Sam Liu & Lauren Montgomery
Written By: Tab Murphy
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie & Eliza Dushku
Original Release Date: October 18, 2011
The film adapts Frank Miller’s retelling of Batman’s first year in Gotham as it parallels James Gordon’s first year in the GCPD.
I really like the simplicity of the story. There’s something cathartic about Batman and Gordon fighting corruption in politics, business and law enforcement. The film actually feels more timely and important now than it did back in 2011. The morality of the two characters is what makes the book and the film work.
This is ultimately Gordon’s story, which is nice. That character is usually shoved into the background so it’s nice when stories give him attention. He’s an interesting character even when he makes mistakes.
The animation portrays time well. An entire year is shown throughout the film and I buy that. There is strong animation all throughout. The characters all look fantastic, and while the backgrounds don’t blow me away, they still look really good. The film looks great.
The voice cast is pretty much perfect. Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie and Eliza Dushku play their respective parts wonderfully. Being a Buffy fan, Dushku’s involvement is the most exciting aspect of the film; I love her a lot and she does great with little screen time. It is fun to see McKenzie’s take on Batman given he’s playing Gordon on Gotham. He is legitimately intimidating. It’s probably one of the more intense Batman voices that doesn’t go over the top, and it’s one of my favorites. Cranston is fantastic, but what did you expect? It’s Bryan Cranston; he made a floating head compelling in Power Rangers and stole the show in a Godzilla movie despite only being on screen for 10 minutes.
I am not a fan of how Frank Miller writes women, and because the film follows the book so closely, it effects the film as well. There are three main female characters and they all revolve around sex. Barbara is just pregnant; that’s her importance. This is even pointed out in dialogue by another character. Sarah Essen is just a mistress who gets shipped off when things get too complicated. She at least gets to be an intelligent detective and could be interesting, but the film doesn’t have any time for her. The film has a weird perception of women as well. Several lines are just odd. There’s a moment in which Bruce thinks to himself that Essen can walk in heels which impresses him because most women can’t walk in heels, according to Bruce. Why would Batman be thinking about that? What does that even mean? She knows how to walk in heels. Why is that impressive to Batman? That’s a nitpick, sure, but it’s how Miller writes.
Catwoman is a waste. I hate that she’s a prostitute. I have nothing against sex workers but it’s an unnecessary element that’s featured in almost all of Miller’s work. It’s almost impossible for him not to include this bit. And to make it worse, Catwoman adds nothing to this film. I love Dushku’s performance, but the character is so pointless. I like the idea of Selina being a part of Bruce’s first year as a vigilante but that’s not really done here. I also don’t like the idea that she’s “inspired” by Batman to put on a costume. She’s a cat burglar; it’s not much of a stretch. And while we’re on the subject, why hasn’t Dushku played this character again with better material for her? It’s been six years and I’m still waiting.
Bruce’s narration is awkward. The film has the exact same problem Batman: The Killing Joke has, which is that some of the narration and dialogue works well on page, but when it’s read out loud it just sounds weird. It never sounds natural; McKenzie is trying his best but there are a lot of places that fall flat due to the dialogue not translating.
This film is okay. It’s a pretty good translation of Miller’s work. What works in the book, works in the film, and what doesn’t work in the book, doesn’t work in the film. I wish they had changed some things, especially with Catwoman. If she was going to be in the film, she needed a bigger role, and Dushku certainly deserves more than 15 lines and a short film that’s even more of a perv than Miller somehow. But the material with Gordon and Batman does work. The film contains two of my favorite Batman moments on film. The first is the “none of you are safe” speech and the second is the “pain” speech he gives to the dealer. Those scenes are amazing. The film is both well acted and well animated. It’s solid and worth renting.