All-Star Superman

  • Title:  All-Star Superman
  • Director:  Sam Liu
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2011
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy, Drama, Animation
  • Cast:  James Denton, Christina Hendricks, Anthony La Pagulia, Edward Asner, Alexis Denisoff, John Dimaggio, Robin Atkins Downes
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format: R1, Blu-Ray

“Lex Luthor, you’re under arrest for attempted murder and crimes against humanity!” – SWAT Captain

All-Star Superman opens with a group of scientists in a spaceship that’s about to crash into the Sun, in no small part due to evil goings-on by Lex Luthor. Superman flies near the Sun and rescues the scientists but soon finds out that he suffered and overdose of solar radiation and he’s dying. Essentially, the theme of the story is Superman with cancer. You would think that would be depressing, but this animated film has a wonderful tone to it. The story is very episodic, but in a very real sense we’re seeing Superman actually fulfilling the items on his bucket list.

Superman, tells Lois Lane he’s Clark Kent – something she barely believes, and brings her to his fortress of solitude. There he gives her a serum that gives her his powers for a day, and the two have a romantic day playing superheroes together. They even stop a fight between Samson and Atlas and intelligent dinosaurs from the center of the Earth. When Superman brings the creatures back where they belong, he’s goaded into a fight with Samson and Atlas. However, he ends-up besting them with his intelligence solving the Riddle of the Ultra Sphinx. The riddle is what happens when “the irresistible force meets an immovable object”, Superman answers, “They surrender”, and rescues Lois. He then bests Samson and Atlas in arm wrestling.

Meanwhile, the Daily Planet has exposed Luthor’s water crisis scheme, and Luthor’s been charged by the International Court of Justice. Not only is Luthor found guilty he’s sentenced to die in the electric chair even though it’s been banned for years.

Clark goes to interview Luthor in prison, and Luthor states he likes Clark Kent but he hates Superman – and he’s happy that even though he will die, Superman will die first. The Parasite escapes during Luthor and Kent’s discussion and starts a riot in the prison, killing guards and prisoners alike. Luthor escapes.

Superman, in his fortress with her, tells Lois he’s dying. Lois insists he will figure out an answer.

Superman takes the bottle city of Kandor to a planet that they can safely colonize. Two months later he returns to Earth.

Two Kryptonians show up and prove to be spoiled, superior, colonials bent on cultural imperialism. Superman discovers, however, they have been poisoned by Kryptonite. In the end, they are sent to the Phantom Zone.

Superman even goes to his father’s grave, leaving a Kryptonian flower there. He says hi to his mother, Martha Kent, but doesn’t stay long.

Lex Luthor is “executed” but he doesn’t die – he’s stolen some of Superman’s serum to give himself super powers for 24 hours.

Superman records his final journal entry in the Fortress of Solitude.

Luthor’s next stratagem arrives – Solaris a living, intelligent sun eater who will poison the sun and turn it blue. Luthor thinks he’s gotten Solaris to turn the Earth’s Sun red, which will leave Superman helpless – but Solaris betrays even Luthor and poisons the Sun to turn it blue.  There’s a classic fight scene.  Superman has his pet sun-eater attack Solaris, but Solaris rips it to shreds. Superman then faces the super-powered Luthor, including firing a gravity gun at him. The gun eventually speeds up Luthor’s personal time, so just as Luthor is beginning to see the real meaning of things, and that everything is connected, he collapses because he’s burned through the serum.

But Superman is also dying. As his face cracks with light, he kisses Lois then flies off to the Sun to “fix it” and reverse the poisoning done by Solaris. The film ends with Lois sitting in a park. Jimmy Olsen drops by and asks her if she’s “going to the memorial”. Lois says no because she knows that Superman isn’t dead, he’s fixing the Sun and he will be back.

All-Star Superman has a wonderful 50s/early 60s quality to it. It has innocence and sweetness without being saccharin. The story is episodic, but underlining the individual bits is the very real threat that Superman is dying, essentially from cancer, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. You’d think that would be depressing, but Superman takes the news in stride and does take the time to do the things he wants or needs to do. It’s even Clark Kent who writes the “Superman Dead” newspaper story then collapses at his desk. The animation style also has a wonderful retro look to it that works wonderfully with the story.

There are some lovely special features as well, including interviews with Grant Morrison who wrote the original graphic novel. Overall, it’s an enjoyable and feel-good Superman story that doesn’t get bogged down in just fight sequences but shows the audience a human side to the Man of Steel.

Recommendation: See it, especially if you’re a fan of Superman or Classic DC Comics
Rating: 4 Stars
Next Film: Hot Fuzz

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Justice League Gods and Monsters

  • Title:  Justice League Gods and Monsters
  • Director: Sam Liu
  • Date:  2015
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Fantasy, Action, Animation
  • Cast:  Benjamin Bratt, Michael C. Hall, Tamara Taylor, Jason Isaacs, Richard Chamberlain, Penny Johnson Jerald, Carl Lumbly
  • Format:  Widscreen, Color, Animation
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray

“At least fifty dead in the embassy massacre, and not just dead – dismembered, burnt alive, sucked of their blood, a virtual house of horrors. Granted the victims were part of a terrorist organization… but what about our terrorist organization? What about the Justice League? It’s not like we haven’t been warned.” – Female Newscaster
“What the government has sanctioned is more than a Super-SWAT Team, it’s a weapon of absolute power. We all know where that leads.” – Lex Luthor

“We’re being framed! Someone’s actively trying to frame the Justice League? Who would have the balls?” – Superman

Gods and Monsters is an alternative universe story, DC calls these types of stories – “Elseworlds”, and before that “Imaginary Stories” (to distinguish them from the main continuity) as pointed out on one of the special features that accompany the film. This tale gives us three very different versions of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman. The film starts with Superman’s new origin story. In Gods and Monsters Superman’s father isn’t Jor-El but Zod. This is shown in the opening scene where Zod pokes his finger into a genetic device that will develop into a baby in the spaceship that’s sent to Earth. Once the ship lands, he’s rescued by a migrant laborer couple rather than the Kents. This Superman is very different – he’s brash, arrogant, and even rude. He also knows very little about his genetic parents or Krypton, because Luther stole his baby spaceship and everything inside.

In the film’s present, Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman are on a US-sanctioned mission to destroy a terrorist cell. Steve Trevor is marginally in charge of the mission, but they neither listen to him nor do they wait for Trevor and his troops to arrive before totally trashing the cell and everyone in it. This shows the violence of this alternative Justice League, and their willingness to let the end justify the means.

However, before long, a series of scientists – many who were known as “Luther’s Whiz Kids” are getting killed in horrible ways – and the crime scenes are designed to look like the Justice League is guilty. But since we see the robots committing the crimes from the beginning the audience knows that this Justice League, as twisted as the are, aren’t responsible. Though, like all mysteries – who is responsible isn’t revealed until the end.

While telling the mystery story we also see flashbacks explaining the origins of Batman and Wonder Woman. Batman is Kirk Langstrom, who attended university with Will Magnus, and Tina. Kirk was suffering from some form of cancer or blood disease (it isn’t spelled out exactly what) and is experimenting with bats. He ends up becoming Batman, a vampire.

Wonder Woman isn’t from Paradise Island, but New Genesis. Bekka was to marry the son of Darkseid, Orion, whom she had actually fallen for – despite the fact that the marriage was arranged and she was actually a bride-price to stop an eons-long war between New Genesis and Apokolips. Just after the wedding, however, her Grandfather, known as High Father (Richard Chamberlain), and his troops break up the wedding by killing everyone they can, including Bekka’s very new husband. Angered at both the carnage and the death of her consort, Bekka turns her back on High Father, and New Genesis, and makes her way to Earth via Motherbox (boom tube – basically a type of very long distance teleport).

The rest of the story involves the attacks on the scientists, the Justice League finding out about the attacks – and various people calling for sanctions against the League, including Amanda Waller, who had been their government liaison and handler.

Superman decides to challenge Luther as well (Luther is still his arch enemy) – from Luther he finds out the truth of his origins. However, this Luther, though initially overly cautious (thus his refusal to share the information from Krypton with Superman), is won over by his use of Kryptonian technology to study the universe.

Gods and Monsters is a surprisingly violent story – fifty people are killed in close to the opening scene (after the background scenes on Krypton), the scientists – Victor Fries (now a climatologist), Silas Stone, Ray Palmer, etc. are first killed one by one, but then there’s a bloodbath to kill any scientist who had opposed the Justice League. At times, it seems both Batman and Superman have real blind spots when it comes to protecting themselves when solidly framed. Batman, though a vampire and having a completely different back story, does have good investigation skills – but not good enough to see what’s going on until it’s almost too late. Superman, upon realizing they are being framed is incredulous, as in, “Who dare be dumb enough to frame us?” Still, as in all good mysteries – the League does figure it out and with some surprising help, is exonerated.

The Blu-Ray includes a documentary on DC’s history of Alternative Universe, “imaginary stories, and “Elseworlds” stories, starting with the example of, Gotham by Gaslight. The Blu-Ray also includes a documentary on Jack Kirby, New Genesis and Apokolips. And finally there’s a making-of documentary that’s excellent. Just the comics history and information in the documentaries make the Blu-Ray worth having.

Overall, I enjoyed this film, though it was very dark. Still, it was a good, alternative take on the big three DC Heroes.

Recommendation: See it
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film: When Harry Met Sally

Superman Batman Public Enemies

  • Title: Superman Batman Public Enemies
  • Director: Sam Liu
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2009
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Animation, Action, Drama
  • Cast: Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, Clancy Brown, CCH Pounder, LeVar Burton
  • Format: Color Animation, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“Luther did the one thing nobody was expecting. He made things boring again. And boring’s good, isn’t it? The economy’s back to normal, crime’s down, there are no wars or anything.”— Power Girl

“You mean those so-called super heroes?”— Lex Luthor

“They do work for you now, most of them anyway.” — Amanda Waller
“That’s to keep them from working against me. I’m not going to put the fate of this planet in the hands of… of freaks and monsters.” — Lex Luthor

“It doesn’t matter what any of us think, Luthor’s the president and what he says goes.” — Capt. Atom


“You’re not going to tell me you killed him for your country, are you?”— Batman

“Some of us still believe in putting our country first.”— Maj. Force
“Sorry, but I don’t see any patriotism here. All I see is a psycho who latched onto an excuse to kill people and who’s so stupid he doesn’t realize he’s being used by Luthor.”— Batman

This is the second time I’ve watched this film, and it does stand up to re-watching, something that’s difficult for animated films to do. The two Superman Batman animated films are based on a series of Superman Batman Graphic Novels. This film in particular is based on the graphic novel of the same name, which I loved, and I think it’s one of the best in an excellent series of books.

The film opens with a voice-over and video montage of economic collapse. Companies are laying off workers, people are demanding jobs in protests, people are getting evicted and living in tent cities, there are audio clips of politicians telling people to “tighten their belts”, there’s a corresponding rise in crime, and martial law is imposed. Into this walks Lex Luthor, campaigning for the presidency on a “third party” ticket. He wins.

And in his first speech, he attacks super heroes, while introducing the country to his own hand-picked super hero force: Power Girl, Captain Atom, Major Force, Black Lightning, and some other female hero (who’s neither recognizable nor important to the plot). They’re stooges, essentially, even Power Girl, who should know better than to trust Luthor.

Luthor then, privately, discusses the private threat he hasn’t yet revealed to the public – a meteor of pure Kryptonite is heading straight for Earth, and will hit the planet in seven days. Luthor’s plan?  Destroy it with nuclear missiles, of course. Amanda Waller, and later even Luthor’s own general ask Luthor to consider a back-up plan, but he ignores their advice, swearing he’s made the calculations himself and he knows he will succeed.

Batman and Superman are together in the Batcave below Wayne Manor when Luthor announces he wants a meeting with Superman to “bury the hatchet”. Both Bruce and Clark know it’s probably a trap, but they go anyway.  At the meeting, Luthor threatens Superman, then unleases Metallo – a Krypton-powered metal man whose very presence hurts the Man of Steel. Metallo and Superman fight. Batman arrives to rescue Superman, and is nearly strangled. Superman rescues Batman but gets shot with a Kryptonite bullet. Batman blows Metallo to smithereens, but Superman warns he’ll re-form. Batman and Superman are covered in the dirt, ash, and rock from the explosion. But before Batman can remove the Kryptonite bullet from Superman, he realizes that Metallo is after them again. Batman sets off another explosion, and he and Superman escape through the sewers.  The explosions catches them, though. Clark sees Bruce lying face down in the water, “Bruce! It’s not ending here… I won’t let it!” he gasps, and moves to his friend’s side, and pulls him out of the water. Bruce coughs up the water, somewhat recovered, and the two limp their way through the sewers to the Batcave. Bruce has Clark pull down the electric fence covering the opening. They are met by a startled but unflappable, Alfred.

Though Clark and Bruce are both weak and injured, they soon recover. Alfred is shown sealing away the Kryptonite bullet in a lead box. Alfred also returns Superman’s washed uniform shirt and cape.

As the two heroes recover in Bruce’s inner sanctum of the Batcave, Luthor gives a presidential address. He blames Superman for the death of John Corbin (Metallo), and shows an edited videotape of Superman attacking himself and Corbin “for no reason”, before showing Corbin’s burnt body. Then Luthor supplies an answer for anyone doubting that Superman could do something so evil — the approaching meteor is Kryptonite (true) and driving Superman mad (not true). Luthor closes his presidential speech by announcing a one billion dollar bounty on Superman’s head.

Batman and Superman attempt to investigate, but they are attacked – first by Banshee, then by a group of ice villians (Mr. Freeze, Captain Cold, Killer Frost, etc), then by Soloman Grundy and Mongo, then Sheba, then Night-Shade and Grog. Before long Superman and Batman are seemingly surrounded by every DC villain that could fit on the screen.

Captain Atom arrives with his team and a Federal Warrant for Superman’s arrest. But Superman and Batman fight Luther’s heroes and defeat them, then Superman escapes with Power Girl, his cousin, Kara. Captain Atom and his group follow Superman and Batman, after receiving orders from Luthor to “do your job” and eliminate Superman. During that fight, Batman shows his skills not only at fighting, but at psychological manipulation, not only goading Major Force by calling him a psychotic murderer, but doing so in front of Captain Atom who hears every word, and takes it to heart.

Kara, however, has realized that her cousin is right and Lex Luthor is wrong, and attacks Major Force to defend Batman. Despite everyone yelling at her, she breaks Force’s containment field causing a radiation leak. Black Lightening and Captain Atom co-operate to contain Major Force. In the resulting explosion, Force is dead, and Atom appears dead. Kara, that is, Power Girl, decides to stay with her cousin.

Meanwhile, Luthor’s launched his nuclear missiles at the meteor. It doesn’t work. The meteor is still on course for the planet. Luther appears weak and sick. Power Girl takes Superman and Batman to Luthor’s hideout, but they are met by Hawkman and Captain Marvel who attempt to take the two out. When Superman knocks out Captain Marvel, and Billy Batson is left in a crater, a concerned Batman goes to check out the young teen to see if he’s OK. Batman asks the injured child to say something. Billy answers, “Shazam!” and becomes Marvel again. But, the two, with Power Girl’s help manage to convince Hawkman and Marvel to not listen to Luthor.

Meanwhile, Luthor claims the first attempt to destroy the meteor was a “fact finding” mission, but he can now put his plan into action. Not even the public is convinced by this, as rioting and looting breaks out.

Amanda Waller, shocked by Luthor’s inaction, discovers he’s taking steroids and liquid Kryptonite injections. Luthor tells Amanda he will let the meteor hit, so he can be in charge of the world that rises from the ashes. Dressed as Hawkman and Captain Marvel, Batman and Superman arrive. Luthor destroys all the information on the meteor, but Amanda gives them a back-up on a thumb drive. She also asks a general to arrest Luthor. Luthor, however, escapes, and takes more Liquid Kryptonite, before climbing into a robotic super suit.

Superman and Batman travel to Japan, to meet Hiro — the Toyman. Power Girl has arrived before them and acts as lookout to avoid the teen billionaire genius.

Toyman shows the two heroes a giant Superman/Batman Robot, he mentions it has manual controls, but he can control it from a nearby computer console. The Lex-bot arrives, takes out Power Girl, using Kryptonite blasts. He fights Superman, also using his Kryptonite gun. Then he destroys the control council. Batman heads for the rocket, saying “Goodbye” to Clark/Superman as he gets inside the robot and takes off.

Superman fights and defeats Luthor. Batman takes off in the rocket. “That was my best friend! And you just killed him!” Superman yells at Lex, before knocking him into next week. However, Luthor takes off again in pursuit of the rocket and Batman.

Batman manages to destroy the meteor using the rocket. Superman and Lex fight, and even though they’ve landed back in the US he finally knocks him out. Captain Atom has recovered and arrives with Power Girl and a message for Superman. Superman rescues Bruce who’s in a survival capsule shaped like a combination of the Batman and Superman symbols. He sets Bruce on a rooftop, and helps him out of the ship. Luthor is taken away. Lois arrives. Batman disappears as Superman watches the sun rise.

Again, this was an excellent animated film. It is a bit political in tone – rich businessman Lex Luthor, one of the most evil villains in the DC Universe, yet someone that Superman can never really stop because he can’t prove he’s broken the law – becomes president. And in the DC universe, Lex Luthor was president for awhile during the Bush years (besides harrassing Superman, he bombs Gotham City at one point to annoy Batman, making part of the city a wasteland). Although the film doesn’t state outright that Luthor caused the economic turmoil that he then exploits to get himself elected, it’s certainly implied. And the economic turmoil described in the film’s excellent opening sequence is half the Great Depression, and half every economic down turn since.

But what is even more striking about Lex Luthor is what an obvious xenophobic racist he is. He wants to get rid of Superheroes, especially Superman, not only because he doesn’t trust them, but because he considers them “freaks and monsters” – and not human. Luthor is one step away from openly declaring a war between humans and meta-humans.

But one of the best things about this film isn’t merely it’s politics – it’s seeing the glimpses of the close friendship between Bruce Wayne (voiced by the incomparable Kevin Conroy of Batman: The Animated Series) and Clark Kent (Tim Daly of Superman: The Animated Series). Though they don’t see eye to eye on how to solve crimes, or battle super villains, in this film they are nonetheless close friends – and it’s threats to Bruce that cause Clark to really go after Lex Luthor. Plus there’s some wonderful dialogue between the two.

If I had one quibble with the film, I could have done with less of the mega fight scenes, especially every super villain they could find being thrown into a fight with Superman and Batman, and more of the male bonding between Clark and Bruce. And more Alfred. I always like to see the more Alfred the better – he only gets one scene here. It’s a great bit, but once Batman sails off into what appears to be a one-man one-way mission to save the planet, you’d think someone would break the news to him. But I digress.

The Superman Batman Graphic Novels were known for their thought bubbles, yellow for Superman’s pov, and blue for Batman’s pov. I think the film could have used some voice-over between the two, because that was a big part of what made the graphic fun – seeing Clark’s view of  Bruce and Bruce’s view of Clark, or their situation or whatever. It was always great fun to see how iconic characters viewed each other. However, the film does do a great job, when we see Superman and Batman working together, of showing their different personalities and methodology. And that was terribly fun.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars

Justice League Crisis on Two Earths

 

  • Title: Justice League Crisis on Two Earths
  • Directors: Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery
  • Date: 2010
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, Drama, Animation
  • Cast: William Baldwin, Mark Harmon, Chris Noth, Gina Torres, James Woods
  • Format: Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“I can’t believe we’re having this discussion. Of course we’re going to help.”— Wonder Woman
“She’s right, that’s what we do.”— Superman

“Might doesn’t make right. It might seem that way sometimes, but in the long run it’s the other way around. We’re always stronger when we’re doing the right thing.”— Rose Wilson (the alt-Earth president’s daughter)

The movie opens with Lex Luther in the midst of a robbery and about to get caught. His partner, a guy in a jester’s outfit gives his life, so Lex can escape. We soon discover this is an alternative Earth, and this Lex is a good guy — the “Justice League”, on this particular Earth, are known as the “Crime Syndicate” and are the bad guys. Lex dimension jumps to our Justice League Earth to ask for help.

After a short discussion, six of the seven Justice Leaguers go with Lex to his Earth — Batman stays behind to oversee the construction of the Watchtower. On the other Earth, the Justice League discovers things are as Lex said — the crime syndicate uses bribes and muscle to prevent police, attorneys general, governments, etc from stopping them and the populace lives in limited terror (their day-to-day lives are “free” but if they don’t toe-the-line in bowing down to the crime syndicate, they are subject to possibly even lethal rebuke). One person standing up to the crime syndicate is Rose, the president’s daughter, much to her father’s chagrin, as he made a deal with the crime syndicate years ago.

Unbeknownst to the president, things are about to go from bad to worse — the crime syndicate now has a device that can destroy the whole planet. And Owlman (the evil Batman) wants to do even worse than that and destroy all the alternate Earths by unleashing the device that will destroy all realities on Earth Prime.

Meanwhile, Owlman sends Superwoman to the JL’s reality to steal the trigger for the device. She fights Batman and gets the device, but Batman follows her when she escapes, by flinging himself  into her transport beam. This costs him, as Superwoman beats him up again in another fight.

There is a fantastic fight sequence with each of the Justice Leaguers fighting their opposite numbers on the crime syndicate’s home base on the moon. However, Owlman is able to locate Earth Prime and take the device there. Batman theorizes the only way to get to Owlman now is to have someone vibrate quick enough to open a portal. Convincing the crime syndicate they have to work together or all realities will disappear, Batman gets Johnny Quick to open the portal.  Batman leaps through, he and Owlman have a philosophical discussion, then fight, then Batman sends him to an abandoned Earth. Owlman could escape, but he’s so insane he decides not to, and is destroyed.

The movie is quite, quite good. The fight scenes are extremely well-realized, especially the climatic fight between the Justice League and their opposite numbers. James Woods is chilling as Owlman, reminding me a bit of a character from the film, Watchmen, though not his namesake (who was sort of a good guy). However, he’s completely insane, having decided that because every choice results in a new reality — nothing has any meaning, leading to his idea to destroy all reality (Hum, sounds like Davros and his reality b*m b from DW?). There’s a couple of other references to DW as well — Owlman’s plane has a Chameleon circuit, though I think it was Flash who asks ‘What does that do?” before nearly getting run over by the invisible plane. The device itself, abbreviated, Q.E.D., which was not working, is said to work when the Blinovitch Limitation Effect is eliminated.

Owlman’s speech on Earth Prime is chilling — but his decision to not save himself when Batman sends him to an abandoned world is even more so. Superwoman is also a complete psychopath, who enjoys hurting, maiming, and playing with people — she and Owlman have a very twisted relationship. In one of her fights with Batman, she says to him, “That’s going to cost you a rib,” then takes her thumb and presses his side hard enough to break a rib. Batman is left gasping in pain.

Overall, definitely one of the better Warner Brothers Animated DCAU movies, and I recommend it.

Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

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