Batman: Year One DVD Review

Based on one of the most important and influential Batman storyline of all time, Batman: Year One is by far the most adult-orientated of Warner BrosDC Universe Animated Movies. It also is surprisingly one of the most emotionally aloof and dour. This is possibly because the film sticks too religiously to Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s 1987 comic arc – to the point that events feel by turns diluted, rushed and inconsequential.


This said, the major problem of Batman: Year One is a structural one because the animated film does get so much right.

Batman: Year One basically tracks a simultaneous year in the lives of driven billionaire Bruce Wayne (voiced by Benjamin McKenzie) and police officer James Gordon (Bryan Cranston). Both men arrive in Gotham City on the same day with the same goal of fighting crime and rampant corruption in the VERY sordid city. The two men follow vastly different paths to the same goal, although naturally these paths intersect with dramatic consequences. While watching, fans of the live-action movies Batman Begins and The Dark Knight should easily be able to identify what material was lifted from Batman: Year One for those films.

Anyway, despite his tendency towards crazy excess, and his narrational quirks, Frank Miller has always been spot-on when it comes to highlighting the psychological instability that would cause someone to dress up in a mask and cape and go around beating up muggers. By treating events realistically in Batman: Year One, the dangerous absurdity of Bruce Wayne’s actions comes through strongly, and it’s one of the film’s main strengths. It’s interesting and unusual to see Batman still establishing his crime fighting persona here, and how his efforts are often accompanied by panic, doubt and incompetence. This isn’t the coolly confident Dark Knight that people know from the live-action movies, animated series, comics, and, most recently, the Arkham video games.


Of course, the future Commissioner Gordon is as much the star of Batman: Year One as the Caped Crusader himself. And in a way, Gordon is the more likeable and identifiable of the two men. Breaking Bad’s Cranston gives a vocal performance that perfectly suits the character, bringing a kind of weary cynicism to Gordon’s inner monologues. And yes, the audience spends a lot of time inside the mind of Batman and Gordon, listening to their worries. This in turn makes the film quite slow, contemplative and – given the nature of its protagonists – dreary. Don’t look for humour in Batman: Year One. Even Catwoman is a short tempered, scowling whore-turned-thief.

Really, the best way to describe Batman: Year One is that it’s the four-issue comic brought to animated life. For fans of the book, all the iconic panels are there. And Mazzucchelli’s art style has been convincingly translated from the page to the screen.

It’s just that Year One feels like it might actually be too faithful an adaptation. If that makes sense? By sticking closely to the comic’s episodic, diary-like format, the film’s narrative becomes very disjointed. For example there’s a 30 second clip devoted to the day Bruce Wayne punches a tree and bemoans his lack of direction. And that’s it. Then we’re off to another day, two months later. Again, for a scene that’s maybe a minute long. The structure that works on the printed page doesn’t work as successfully here in a 64 minute film. Events are so fragmented it becomes difficult to invest.


In the end then, Batman: Year One is incredibly well made but it needed more cohesion to make the viewers’ experience truly compelling. As it stands we can appreciate the film – and there’s a lot to appreciate about it – but it’s a strangely disengaged, muted experience.

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It’s worth mentioning that the Batman: Year One DVD includes a 20 minute animated Catwoman short, which is slightly linked to the feature film. And this short is, I think, more successful than the movie at satisfying casual viewers who expect conventional comic book action… with a mature edge.

There has been some controversy regarding the Catwoman short, particularly since the following clip was released online to publicise it before the DVD’s release. Long-time fans of the feline femme fatale were disappointed. Just as the Catwoman #1 comic (as part of the high profile DC 52 relaunch) controversially stripped Selina Kyle down to being little more than breasts and an insatiable vag, the clip revealed an apparently over-sexualised Catwoman performing a striptease and flaunting her plunging cleavage.



Well, I’m pleased to report that this “trailer” is misleading, and the Catwoman short is fantastic. It is very sexual, there’s no denying it, and sex is central to the plot, but most importantly the cartoon makers get the character right, despite the exploitation central to her tale here. In the short, Selina (voiced by Eliza Dushku) isn’t just tits and ass, and overbearing “pussy” puns. She’s a sultry woman, sure, but she has her own agenda; her own moral code. And – most importantly – whatever she does, she does with acrobatic flair. As far as I’m concerned the short is a perfect Catwoman adventure, and it features one of the most entertaining extended chase sequences I’ve seen in a long time.

Comments

A Gamer's Wife said…
Thanks for the review; I used to love the Batman animated series as a kid. Will definitely queue it up in Netflix.

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