Batman Year One – A Review
So DC’s been doing these straight to dvd animated stories for a while now. While we’ve had some adaptations before, this one is by far the highest profile we’ve seen. So how is it?
Not that bad actually.
Which is pretty impressive considering what a difficult task they had for them. The best stories are inevitably going to be married to their format, and Miller and Mazzuchelli’s story does an excellent job of using the devices that the comic book format makes available to them.
And while it’s not perfect, the movie does a good job transitioning the story between formats. The biggest stumbling block is definitely the narration, which comes thick and fast in the comic and can be a terrible problem in a movie. There are spaces where they probably could have cut more, but overall the movie does an admirable job using the narration effectively and only rarely succumbs to the temptation to tell rather than show.
That the narration works at all is a credit to the cast, who is headlined by Bryan Cranston as Jim Gordon. Cranston absolutely nails his part and carries the whole movie, which helps, given that Year One is as much a Gordon story as it is Batman’s. Benjamin McKenzie’s performance of Batman isn’t terrible, but he suffers from being too wooden too much of the time. For every line he nails (“it’s a raw, angry nerve”) he makes another sound stiff and unconvincing (definitely the “Father, I shall become a bat” monologue). Eliza Dushku shows up as Catwoman and Katee Sackoff (Starbuck on Battlestar Galactica) is Sarah Essen, but they’re strange pieces of stunt casting as neither actress has much to do. That said, it’s nice to see that they didn’t alter their characters’ roles in the story to match the fame of their actresses.
Of course in an animated movie, the biggest question is how does it look? And it looks pretty good. They try to match Mazzuchelli’s minimalist style with an anime type approach and it turns out pretty well. The characters are fluid and remind you of the comic and the action, particularly the set pieces, are good. The movie, which generally looks good, does suffer from a particularly cheap looking bit. Following Batman’s confrontation with a SWAT team in a burning building, he flees the police through the city surrounded by a cloud of bats. The bats look like very cheap CGI and the cityscape itself looks terrible, like an unpopulated level in an N64 game. Its not very good and really stands out in an otherwise well animated movie.
Bottom line, this is pretty good, but it won’t change your life. I’d recommend you wait for it to show up on Netflix than buy it new.