REVIEW: BATMAN: YEAR ONE

CAST (VOICES)
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
Ben McKenzie (Gotham)
Eliza Dushku (Tru Calling)
Jon Polito (Gangster Squad)
Alex Rocco (The Simpsons)
Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica)
Sara Ballantine (Spider-Man 90s)
Jeff Bennett (Batman: The Brave and The Bold)
Steve Blum (Wolverine and The X-Men)
Roark Critchlow (V)
Grey Griffin (Justgice League: Cosmic Clash)
Robin Atkins Downes (Babylon 5)
Liliana Mumy (Cheaper By The Dozen)

We’ve seen the origin of Batman’s psychosis and motivation in several forms over the years, from Tim Burton’s creative ’89 reimagining to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. By relation, we’ve also seen earlier stretches of the Dark Knight’s career that follow after his emergence, where he stumbles while finding his footing as his persona, arsenal, and tactics for fighting injustice build within the dangers of Gotham City. The previous incarnations, strangely enough, all occurred with a particular series of comics available to the filmmakers’ and directors’ disposal (and, in the case of Batman Begins, used as a semi-direct source): the Frank Miller-written, David Mazzucchelli-drawn Batman: Year One, which took the character’s rookie year down a fierce, rough-and-tumble path. So when word arrived that the four-comic chronicle would arrive on the disc in the style of their recent animated pictures — like the largely successful Under the Red Hood, with hints hearkening to Mask of the Phantasm — it generated palpable excitement.

We’re shown a young Bruce Wayne (Ben McKenzie) grieving beside his murdered parents’ graves and experiencing flashbacks to their murder, all after he’s traveled abroad and honed his fighting skills for twelve years, while a brawny Jim Gordon (Bryan Cranston) transfers into the crooked Gotham City police force after a stint in dealing with Internal Affairs (as an accuser, not under investigation) elsewhere. The story carries natural gravity, reflected in the film’s tone; the struggles Gordon undergoes as he witnesses Gotham’s police corruption takes center-stage as he juggles his domestic life, while a grim Bruce Wayne endures a dark breaking-in process once he’s discovered the frightening vigilante identity that’ll come to personify him — and how he can use his wealth and position to purge evil from the city.

The creative team’s diligence towards staying faithful to Miller and Mazzucchelli’s content deserves hefty praise; the look and tone of the universally-flawed characters and the bleak but vivid setting feel reverent, from the neon lights of Gotham’s “red light district” to the stale air of Gordon’s office and the gloom permeating the mausoleum-like halls of Wayne Manor. As it tickers through the days through Batman and Gordon’s lives, it feels like thumbing through the pages of the book at almost the same rate as reading it, only with a slightly more vibrant visual tone. Scenes that linger in the shadows become brighter, handled in a more pragmatic art style. Ben McKenzie aptly sounds the part of a young Bruce Wayne and Batman. During dialogue scenes, McKenzie’s suitably gruff and intimidating; Bryan Cranston’s Jim Gordon, though the Breaking Bad actor fares even better

This is a great film which covers Batman’s origins and the complexity of Gordon’s relationship with work and his wife – with colleagues who stand for everything he fights against and a marriage in crisis, his personal story grabs your interest. The disc contains some impressive bonus features, my favourite being a documentary about rescuing Batman from the camp image he gained in the sixties and seventies. It looks at the grittier works which emerged and re-established him as a dark hero with depth. There are a couple of episodes from the animated series chucked in, but more importantly there’s an animated short about Catwoman which reminds you that this is intended for more mature audiences.

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