Batman : Year One (2011) –
(Originally published on Oct 11th, 2011)
It is finally here, the holy grail of Batman stories relayed through DC’s, admittedly, pretty damn good animation wing. Woe is them, because adapting one of the most highly revered Batman stories of all time has to be a nerve-wracking experience. Taking something that so many know so well and trying to adapt it into a different medium is always tricky, but when you pile ravenous fanboys on top of that it tends to be a lose-lose situation. With that in mind, full disclosure:
I am one of those fanboys.
The Year One story is the first comic arc I ever read that shook me out of my world of comic book banality and made me feel something that great art makes you feel; inspired, excited, alive, amazed, etc. It is the first comic book I read that re-defined what a comic book could be for me. I’m not saying it was the first genuine work of art in the medium – far from it – it was simply the story that made me a comic book nerd for life. Suffice it to say, I hold the work dear and while I’ve been eagerly anticipating this animated adaptation, I’ve also been preparing myself for what I assumed was an inevitable disappointment. Well…
From the opening line, spoken by Bruce Wayne, who is heading back to Gotham City via plane after a 12 year absence, it is clear: Ben McKenzie, the voice actor portraying Bruce/Bats, is awful. I kept holding out hope despite the disappointment in all the teaser pre-release clips: I just cannot hear his voice without cringing, yet I still hoped it wasn’t as bad as I was imagining, in context it would grow on me and start to work… right? Sadly, no… that is not the case. His delivery is amazingly wooden, without emotion and all around awkward. He speaks in a near monotone, an annoying trait that continually pulled me out of the film. This voice is not the voice of Batman. I’m not a raving Kevin Conroy fanboy either; I could care less who voices the character, as long as they are good at it. McKenzie though – at best he sells maybe two or three lines in the entire film… a sad percentage and a misstep that I can’t believe DC allowed.
The first line, I mention above is immediately followed by the voice of Jim Gordon, portrayed by Bryan Cranston (who, thankfully, receives top-billing), hearing Cranston’s performance directly after hearing McKenzie’s only enhances the dribbling impotence of McKenzie’s talent. But by god, does it make Cranston shine in comparison. I’m a Breaking Bad fan, so it goes without saying I enjoy Cranston in general, but even if I didn’t he would still, without a doubt, stand out as the best actor appearing in this film. Eliza Dushku is serviceable as Selina Kyle and I can’t really fault her performance much, but Cranston is still sweeping the floor with the rest of the cast. Prolific voice actor, Steve Blum voices some cameo roles and he does his usual great job – everyone else, Katee Sackhoff, Alex Rocco, etc. are good and manage to hold the film up – but good god, I just cannot let it go, McKenzie is dreadful.
The main thing I disliked about the film in general, other than the voice of Batman, was that it took such pains to recreate scenes exactly from the books in a visual sense – but it left out so much of the writing. So we have a Year One adaptation that goes to great lengths to recreate the book, which is known for its amazing story and writing, in a visual sense only, and therein the affecting import of the words (the story!) were left solely on the pages of the source material. This is an odd choice, I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of David Mazzucchelli’s original art, but when I think back to why I love Year One so much it is definitely because of the writing, not because of the way Mazzucchelli composed a scene of cars sitting in traffic.
Since the film drops the proverbial ball here, most of the emotional impact of the book is absent on screen, almost every memorable scene from the book falls flat and comes off as unimportant and somewhat trivial. However, one must wonder if this was a conscious decision on DC’s part, because if they had added all these internal thoughts into the script we would have had McKenzie delivering them anyway, which means they would have failed either way. Who knows? But then, that is still no excuse to excise so much of Gordon’s great inner-dialog; Cranston could have sold it.
They stick pretty damn close to the book’s plotting, with only minor changes here and there, but the omission of so much of the poetry from the original writing makes this an unfortunate, missed opportunity to make something truly special. Believe it or not, because of this it ends up being a rather boring Batman story.
Also – what the hell is up with Bruce flashing Barbara his junk? Seriously – he pulls a Basic Instinct on pregnant Mrs. Gordon! WTF?
Compounding atop all these negatives is the fact that this doesn’t only come off as a bit boring, but a bit boring and short. The whole thing is over in a flash due to a running time of 64 minutes, and that is including credit sequences! It all simply feels incredibly rushed and flat – that’s how I remember the film; quick and emotionally inert. This is disappointing, because that is certainly not how I remember the original story.
The animation in the film is good, up to the usual standard of DCAU films. The aesthetic seems a bit too slick for the story, but in the end it works well enough. I find it hard to fault the artistic direction of the film, as I said, they managed to render scenes almost exactly like they were in the original work and it looks good and there is some convincing movement and grace to some of the fight scenes. It’s very natural and authentic.
Overall – it pains me to say, but I cannot recommend someone go out and spend money on this film. It’s good, but it isn’t as good as the other Batman Animated films DCAU has been producing – and it certainly isn’t as good as the original material. It seems DC is better at taking weaker stories like “Under the Hood” and adapting them into films, their “Under the Red Hood” film, was in my opinion, much better than the original comic story… however, this is the first time they’ve taken a true classic and tried to make it into something which could stand alone. I believe they have failed.
Final Score: 3 out of 5
“Catwoman” – a short film included as an extra on the Bluray:
Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha. Seriously? Wow. Okay DC, okay. Let me just say this, if people were up in arms about the hyper-sexuality of Catwoman in her “New 52” book then this little short film is not going to go over well. Half of the short takes place in a strip club and the rest of it consists of Catwoman getting her costume slowly torn off of her while flipping around in heels, jutting her ass out and fighting big burly men. There is also a ridiculous chase scene thrown in, but really, the whole thing is just laughably bad. Enough said… I’ll let the screen caps speak for me. Suffice it to say, regardless of the ridiculously pointless, sexualized pandering on non-stop display, the story is cliché, boring and drawn out for no reason other than titillation. Big fail on this one.
Final Score : 1.5 out of 5