Review: Batman: Year One
PLOT: A young Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham after 12 years of training abroad, ready to begin fighting crime as a masked vigilante. At the same time, a young James Gordon arrives in Gotham with his pregnant wife, charged with the impossible task of cleaning up the city’s corrupt police department. Soon both men discover that getting started in their new careers may be harder than originally thought and trusting each other may be their only option.
REVIEW: Though Frank Miller has received some critical backlash for his more recent explorations of the Caped Crusader with “All Star Batman and Robin” and “The Dark Knight Strikes Again,” his 1987 arc “Batman: Year One” remains the seminal telling of Batman’s origin story. And what better way to pay tribute to one of the best comic books ever than by being incredibly faithful to it?
That’s exactly what Warner Animation Studios has done with their cinematic adaptation BATMAN: YEAR ONE. The movie is literally the comic come to life, nearly verbatim. I can’t really remember anything that’s been changed or omitted from Miller’s original story. The major plot points and emotional elements are there, the characters are completely intact, and David Mazzucchelli’s straightforward, loosely stylized artwork is preserved in impressive fluid motion.
Pretty much the only variable thus left to chance were the voice actors who were tasked with the tough job of convincingly reciting Miller’s heavy prose. While “Breaking Bad” star Bryan Cranston is brilliant casting as the voice of young James Gordon, Ben McKenzie (“The OC”) had me worried as Bruce Wayne. (Especially as a Kevin Conroy purist.) It took a little getting used to, but after a while it clicked for me, especially as this Bruce Wayne/Batman is a much different character than we’re used to seeing in most other animated forms. And McKenzie’s gruff Dark Knight voice works as well, perhaps even a little less silly than Christian Bale’s. Also successfully behind the mic are “Battlestar Galactica’s” Katee Sackhoff as Gordon’s partner Essen and fanboy fave Eliza Dushku as Selina Kyle/Catwoman, whose character I still find a little extraneous to this story.
On one hand it’s great to see Miller’s work done justice and the movie is both exciting and entertaining because of it. But if you’ve read the original series, then there’s not too much in the way of surprises as you’ll know exactly what’s is going to happen. As a film on its own, BATMAN: YEAR ONE walks a fine line for notoriously picky fanboys, somewhere between “Too faithful!” and “How dare you change a word of my favorite comic!” I can’t really suggest an easy fix to that problem, or if it’s really even an issue, but it was definitely something that crossed my mind as I was watching it.
Another aspect worth mentioning is that this is really a movie as much about James Gordon as it is about Bruce Wayne and his title persona, which is definitely reflective of the source material, but might be surprising to casual fans. Thankfully, Gordon is a gripping character in this movie. In fact, I think his scenes cleaning up the dirty Gotham cops, by cunning and by force, are probably more interesting and got a bigger reaction than most of the Batman stuff. That could be from Miller’s treatment of the character as well as the fact that Gordon is typically unexplored compared to the Caped Crusader.
BATMAN: YEAR ONE is also fairly violent and hardcore for an animated film like this. The fights are dirty, with plenty of blood, broken bones and characters stripped naked—definitely earning its PG-13 rating. All 5,000 fans that turned out for the Comic-Con screening were clearly engrossed, with every big moment or gruesome injury getting an audible reaction. When Gordon has that one moment of poor judgment (you know what I’m talking about if you’ve read the graphic novel) it sounded like people were losing their minds in the crowd.
One last interesting thing gleaned from watching the movie was just how much Christopher Nolan mined it for BATMAN BEGINS. It’s been probably at least a decade since I read “Batman: Year One” and I had forgotten a lot of the little moments and character shadings that clearly influenced the MEMENTO director’s successful reboot. A lot of that film series’ success is clearly built upon the foundation of Miller and his original story, so it’s hard not to recommend this faithful adaptation for any Batman fan.
BATMAN: YEAR ONE is released on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital Download on October 18, 2011. (Same day as the “Batman: Arkham City” video game!)
|Extra Tidbit:||At the panel, Bruce Timm announced they're also working on turning Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS in to a PG-13 animated movie for a two-part release in 2012.|