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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
Batman: Year One, an animated feature based on the comic book storyline by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, proves that what works on the page does not always work on film. The movie recounts not only the first year that Batman is active, but also the rise of James Gordon on the Gotham City Police Department. It follows the original comic story very closely. And therein lies the problem.
The story is very thin. It is made thinner by the predetermined 70 minute run time. As such, there is little development for any of the characters, except that of Gordon. Honestly, the movie pretty much centers around him. We see his frustrations with the corruption he is dealing with, his pursuit of Batman, and his brief affair with another detective. However, all of these things are very much short-changed. Nothing here feels fleshed out enough to get a real sense of a character arc. For example, after Gordon’s affair ends, he tells his wife about it, and, beyond a throwaway mention of marriage counseling (which Gordon seemed to be against – moron, he should be happy his wife didn’t drop him like a bad habit), there are zero consequences. It was difficult to buy into.
Focusing on Gordon isn’t a bad thing, but for a movie with “Batman” in the title, you would think the movie would be about Batman. The superhero is such a background character that we never get any sense of who he is or his motivations (beyond the fact his parents died). He attacks and terrorizes the the wealthy of Gotham (ironic, considering Batman is a billionaire). Presumably these people are mobsters and/or corrupt, but this is never directly referenced in the film. We don’t know why Batman goes after these people or what his goal is.
The movie also has a lot of throwaway bits and cameos. District Attorney Harvey Dent has one scene where we see he is working with Batman, but then disappears for the rest of the movie. His appearance is made pointless. Catwoman also has an extended role which also amounts to nothing. Both of these characters could have easily been cut leaving more time to develop the movie’s more pressing needs.
The animation is okay. Nothing special. They tried to emulate Mazzucchelli’s artwork from the comic. I suppose they do a good enough job, but I don’t feel that his work, while good, animates well. Things, at times, look a little too stiff.
The voice acting is very standard and largely forgettable, but that seems common with many animated features. Worth noting (because Zack would appreciate it) is that Bryan Cranston (Malcolm in the Middle, Breaking Bad) voices Gordon.
On a side note, I’m getting more and more irritated with these so-called DC Universe Animated Original Movies‘ use of profanity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude and those who know me know that I can have quite the sailor’s tongue. However, the use of it in these movies (this one in particular) comes off so forced and awkward as if they are simply throwing it in there just because they can as opposed to it happening naturally.
In the end, Batman: Year One is yet another disappointing DC Universe feature from Warner Bros. Animation. I suppose if you loved the original comic story, you’ll probably like this as it is a straight adaptation. For me, the original story doesn’t work as a movie. It works as a comic.