Does this adaptation of Frank Miller's Batman epic work well in animated format? Find out as Zechs takes a look at the latest DC Animated movie.
Credits & Solicit Info:
Directed by: Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery
Written by: Tab Murphy
Bryan Cranston as Lt. Jim Gordon
Benjamin McKenzie as Bruce Wayne/Batman
Jon Polito as Commissioner Gillian B. Loeb
Katee Sackhoff as Detective Sarah Essen
Alex Rocco as Carmine "The Roman" Falcone
Stephen Root as Brendon
Grey DeLisle as Barbara Gordon
Fred Tatasciore as Detective Arnold Flask
Eliza Dushku as Selina Kyle/Catwoman
Robin Atkin Downes as Harvey Dent
Liliana Mumy as Holly Robinson
Jeff Bennett as Alfred Pennyworth
Keith Ferguson as Jefferson Skeevers
Batman: Year One highlights the first year of Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon's careers dealing with crime in the corrupt city of Gotham. The year isn't pretty as both of their journeys run onto a collision course with each other. Meanwhile, the city itself begins to change at the actions of these two men.
First let's get into what I didn't like about this film: Benjamin McKenzie as Batman. Those who criticize William Baldwin in Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010) will go to town on McKenzie. His Bruce Wayne is like a monotone robot with no emotions. It feels like McKenzie is reading from the script as he's voicing the character. There is no emotion or impact to any of his lines.
Though it's his Batman voice that's even worse. It hardly strikes fear into the heart of any criminal. It's not as bad as Christian Bale's Batman voice in The Dark Knight (2008), but at least he tried to be threatening. There's no menace at all in McKenzie's voice. Instead it sounds like an amateur is doing a voice impression of Batman and you can't help but laugh at it. McKenzie's take on the voice was that bad. I understand that he's a secondary character and this story is about Gordon, but they could have found a better voice actor for Batman.
The other complaint I have with the film is that it's too short. It clocks in at just over an hour and I feel the film could have been longer. It's a problem I've been noticing more with DC Animated films. I want more, but I just barely get over an hour. This time around I feel like some details of both Jim and Bruce's stories get left out and they could have been added them to have more impact on the story. The best example is Batman's first appearance going after a group of vandals. We should have seen Batman in action on his first night of crime-fighting instead of just the end of it. I haven't read the story this movie is based on in a while, but I figure that the filmmakers could have tweaked some parts of the story to make the movie better.
Other subplot elements just feel wasted, with characters disappearing and reappearing at various points of the film. For example, the Roman is bested by Batman and then demands the vigilante be executed. We get no follow up other than some cops having a chuckle at the Roman's frustration. Give us something more than just minor comic relief! If this guy is supposed to be THE criminal figure in Gotham why aren't we seeing him show off some of that muscle? Again a missed opportunity to expand.
And there are other characters that are wasted throughout the film. The biggest being Selina Kyle. It's a role that Eliza Dushku does well (as shown in the Catwoman short movie I reviewed this past week), but really it's a blink or miss it role. Other than her attack on the Roman, her appearance here feels pointless and adds a third subplot that really goes nowhere. Her final appearance in the film is being still peeved at having been labelled an accomplice of Batman and nothing more notable. Though hilarous, I just feel the whole subplot at being utterly random.
So I've listed a lot of bad things. So what's good? Everything else! Everyone else in the film is cast perfectly. Bryan Cranston voices Jim Gordon. Cranston's acting shows just how desperate Jim can be and yet also highlights the ugliness of Gotham even at the very beginning. Jon Polito was born to be Commissioner Loeb and does a really nice job as the corrupt Commish. All the other bit players fit their roles too. I'm a bit taken back that I didn't recognize Stephen Root as S.W.A.T. Leader Brendon. So kudos to him for hiding his voice that well.
The animation is just spectacular and does well capturing the events and style of Frank Miller's world from the story. I don't find the same problems I found with the Catwoman short at all. The animation looks crisp from the start to the end. Nothing at all feels cheap or pulls me out of my enjoyment of the movie. You can tell a lot of work went into making sure everything was translated from the book to film. A lot of love for this story was put into this project. You can see it everywhere. The atmosphere feels ripped from the pages.
All and all, this isn't the best or worst of the DC Animated films. It could have been better if they casted a better actor to voice Batman or padded the movie out some more. What we get here just leaves me wanting more and I'm glad that when they adapt The Dark Knight Returns next year, the only downside will be the long wait between both parts. Otherwise, this film is worth a look. Enjoy the positives I've mentioned about this film and overlook the negatives. It isn't perfection akin to Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010), but it isn't bad like Batman/Superman: Public Enemies (2009) or Batman/Superman: Apocalypse (2010). I'd list it somewhere in the middle like Batman: Gotham Knight (2008), but it borders on the upper tier of good Batman films just for Cranston's portrayal as Jim Gordon alone.
Still, I really hope the creators behind this film have learned their lessons here. And when they adapt The Dark Knight Returns in 2012, the flaws won't be present and everything is perfectly honed so we get the ultimate Batman movie (just as The Dark Knight Returns is the supposed "ultimate Batman tale"). As for Batman: Year One (2011), it was a mixed bag, but good enough to watch and indulge in the another side of the Batverse via Jim Gordon's point of view. Plus if you're a fan of the actual story, I think you'll enjoy it more than I did.
3 out of 5
Review by: Zechs
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