Ror Reviews: Batman Year One
For the most part DC haven't put a foot wrong with their animated efforts. Does this take on Frank Miller's classic origin story continue the trend? Click for my take..
DC have set the benchmark for animated features for years now. All of their releases have been at the very least watchable with most rising to the excellence mark. They have been criticized for focusing too much on Batman and Superman however, Batman especially. It is a legit concern as DC have so many other great characters worth exploring in animation but to be honest, when the quality is as good as it has been and when DC choose to adapt bonafide classics like Frank Miller's Year One as far as I'm concerned they can make their next 10 features Batman centric.
I'm sure you can gather from that that I liked this latest flick, Batman Year One. Hell I loved it. I was already a fan of the comic and this has to be one of the most faithful adaptations..live action or animated..I have seen. It really doesn't miss a beat from Frank Miller's story. Granted it has been a while since I read it but aside from a couple of characters losing out on a bit of screen time I really couldn't think of one thing they changed or left out. Of course that is only one aspect, after all a movie can be very faithful and still suck but thankfully every other aspect (a few niggles aside) is up to scratch too.
If you are unfamiliar with the plot it deals with the early days of both Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon as they start down the paths that will lead them to become two of Gotham's most fearless protectors. Wayne returns after 12 years of honing his mind and body to exact justice on criminality, the memories of his murdered parents driving him on. But he still feels something is missing and that he is not completely ready. Of course when he is inspired to become The Batman that all changes. Meanwhile Jim Gordon arrives as the new GCPD Lieutenant with his pregnant wife in tow. He is disgusted by the corruption he finds in the police force and after initially trying to turn a blind eye he is forced to take action. Both men on different sides of the law find that they have much more in common than either realized and the foundations of a friendship that will shape them both are laid.
There are appearances from Catwoman, Harvey Dent, Sarah Essen, Carmine Falcone and more but basically this is Batman and Gordon's show and it's all the better for it. Indeed if anything it's Gordon that gets the lions share of the story. The plot dealing with not only his professional struggles but an affair with Detective Essen. This is dark and gritty stuff where even the heroes are shown to be fallible and capable of making huge mistakes. Bringing Gordon to life is the ever awesome Bryan Cranston (Drive, Breaking Bad). They couldn't have picked a better actor, in fact if and when Gary Oldman steps away from the role in live action I think Cranston would be a fine replacement. He gives Gordon the perfect amount of dignity and resolve without ever really letting his emotions get the better of him. Similarly Ben McKenzie (Southland) voices Batman/Bruce with very little emotion. Although his take is less effective. He gives Batman a kind of monotonous, drawl. When it works it can be quite effective and even creepy, but at times he also sounds like WWE's Cody Rhodes (Google it). It takes a while to get used to but by the end I think it works as an original take on the character. Both are supported well by the likes of Eliza Dushku, Katee Sackoff and Jon Polito. The main reason for the lack of any explosive emotion is that most of the dialog is not directed at the other characters. They vocalize their situations internally so there isn't really any cause for so much as a raised voice. This is faithful to Miller's comic but doesn't work quite so well here. At least not in the last act when you really want to see some more verbal confrontations. But what we are not lacking are physical confrontations. We get to see a very violent and capable side to Gordon here. "It's been a while since I've taken down a Green Beret" he muses, tossing his opponent a baseball bat. "Still, he deserves a handicap". And Batman of course takes down a lot of foes. Broken bones, knife wounds, guns, blood..it's violent stuff and like many of DC's animated fare pushes the limits of it's PG13 rating.
Superb animation and great voice acting highlight an adult story about corruption and vengeance very much at home in the live action world of Christopher Nolan's Batman universe. Those hoping for a more fantasy driven take on The Caped Crusader might be disappointed but fans of Miller's original should be very happy. Great stuff.
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