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Batman Year One

  • Title: Batman: Year One
  • Directors: Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery
  • Date: 2011
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, Drama, Animation, Film Noir
  • Cast: Bryan Cranston, Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku, Katee Sackhoff
  • Format: Color, Widescreen Animation
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

The animation in this film is very impressive — it’s difficult to get a gritty, dark look to animation, yet Batman: Year One manages to do so. This film impressively keeps the look of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One from the Batman comic book published by DC Comics. This is also Jim Gordon’s story, and cast in the role of Lt. James Gordon is Bryan Cranston, who does a good job.  The film is also real film noir stuff. Film Noir doesn’t have heroes, it has protagonists. The difference being a hero is frequently perfect (or can be thought of as perfect or trying to obtain perfection. Superman is a hero — invulnerable to anything bar Kryptonite, immortal, and always, always doing the perfect thing without errors or mistakes). A protagonist is much more realistic — Batman, in whatever guise you find him, has always been a protagonist.

Batman: Year One, though, makes Jim Gordon the protagonist. He’s a honest cop, which is dangerous in a town with a dishonest and corrupt police force. He’s just moved to Gotham City, after turning in a dirty cop to Internal Affairs in another city, and not being thanked for his efforts. But Gordon is no perfect angel. He has an affair while his wife is pregnant. He watches and waits as he’s introduced to the corruption in the Gotham PD, but he isn’t anxious to make the same mistakes he did before. And he’s tough.

Batman: Year One, is also the story of Gotham City. A nightmare town, full of danger, violence, graft, corruption, and sex. Catwoman starts off as a hooker. She’s also trying to protect a young girl who’s starting in the trade as well, when Bruce meets her for the first time. Gotham is rough, scary and dark — and it needs the Dark Knight as a protector. This is a city that understands when Batman says, “I am the dark, I am the night, I am Batman.”

Unfortunately, Batman doesn’t get to utter that line, or any other seminal Batman lines of Bruce claiming his identity as his own. Part of the problem is the actor they got for Batman/Bruce (Ben McKenzie) just doesn’t do a very good job. I can’t believe this guy as Batman, he just doesn’t work. Why, oh why, couldn’t they have asked Kevin Conroy back? Or at least Bruce Greenwood? This Batman is too weak, and doesn’t work as Bruce either. A good Batman must also always be able to carry the part of Bruce Wayne, something Christain Bale and Kevin Conroy could do. In this version, Bruce is either WAY over-the-top, or so morose he sounds semi-suicidal. Neither is right for Bruce Wayne, not even a young Bruce Wayne.

Alfred is also practically non-existent in this film. One of the advantages of early Batman stories, is they tend to use Alfred more. And the Alfred and Bruce relationship has always been one of my favorites in the Batman mythos. (The other is Batman and Nightwing. And there’s a similarity between those two relationships. Alfred is very much a father to Bruce — he raised him, and is the only person in the entire DC universe to have any idea what Bruce was like before that fatal night. Bruce, in turn, raised Dick Greyson, and he’s very much a father to the younger man.) There was a missed opportunity, by showing Alfred hardly at all.

But if Alfred is practically non-existent in Batman: Year One, it’s ironic, given the title of the film, that Batman really doesn’t get much screen time. This is Gordon’s story, it’s Gotham’s story, but it sure isn’t Batman’s story — and therefore it misses the boat. I was disappointed, for I did have high hopes. So, yes, the film is good, and the animation is incredible, but it’s not great (as it should be), and that’s to be laid at the feet of a major casting mis-step.

Recommendation: See it at least, it’s worth it for the noir story.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars