Film Review: Batman: Year One

Batman_Year_One_cover

There’s been a disturbing trend in animated features lately. Namely, that they don’t completely piss on the source material. As a long time comic book collector, with the Caped Crusader numbering in the first I added to my collection, the mere thought of a cartoon recreation of some of the most groundbreaking comics ever created brings a pained chagrin to my face. Not so for Batman: Year One.

Watch out for the angry bat!

While this retelling of Batman’s first year under the cowl, originally written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli, ticks all the right boxes and does favour the distinctly adult tone Miller brings, it doesn’t hit quite as hard as the original four issue comic run did when released in 1987.

Certain heavier elements are glossed over as well as some poignant and occasionally disturbing insights into the minds of the major players have been omitted for a more readily digestible end product. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but fanboy sticklers may find themselves a tad disappointed with the end result. The majority, however, will remain none the wiser and enjoy the ride on its merits alone in blissful ignorance.

I'm bat man!

Batman: Year One paints a far darker picture of Gotham City than even seen in the Nolan films. Taking it back to the 1980s to where Bruce Wayne first donned the mantel of the Big Bad Bat, it also takes a look at the corruption permeating through every facet of the city’s police force and the struggle newly transferred cop Jim Gordon has on a daily basis. Not one to take bribes and following the law to the letter, he is ill equipped to deal with crime on such a large scale on his own.

Finding kindred spirits in both District Attorney Harvey Dent and the costumed vigilante Batman, the three refuse to look the other way any longer, with the trail leading Gordon from his partner Flass, to SWAT leader Brendon to the current commissioner, Loeb. Without giving too much away, things come to a head in dramatic fashion with Gordon’s own wife and infant child caught in the crossfire.

How can they see me?

The animators should be commended for beautifully bringing David Mazzucchelli’s artwork to life. Everything looks and fits the part, well bolstered by a sensational 1980s inspired score that really cements the tone and puts you right there. Brian Cranston (Breaking Bad) is not the most obvious choice to play Jim Gordon and does a fantastic job. He is solidly backed up by Eliza Dushku as Selina Kyle, better known as Catwoman, and a barely recognisable Katee Sackhoff as Sarah Essen.

Ben McKenzie (of The O.C.) seems out of his depth as Bruce Wayne/Batman, especially considering the remarkable job Kevin Conroy has done over the years, and will not be to everyone’s taste, but his casting does make sense to an extent. In the formative years of the Dark Knight he lacked confidence and direction and McKenzie does convey this sense of uncertainty well.

Whip it real good

What makes this story such as standout is the entire focus is not solely on the fledgling steps of the World’s Greatest Detective, but the origins of his partners in and against crime, namely Selina Kyle and Jim Gordon set against a more grounded setting. The way each player’s actions influence the others, intertwining and weaving into one another is poetry, so you feel like you’re not only watching the birth of a hero, but also of his stalwart supporter and lover/rival.

As an added bonus, there’s an animated short starring a modern day Catwoman, borrowing heavily from Jim Lee’s designs, with quite a raunchy twist. Going up against a little known adversary called Rough Cut (voiced by the always reliable John DiMaggio), it’s an action-packed change of pace that nicely rounds out this release.

A lot of care and consideration has been taken with Batman: Year One. It’s respectful to the original material, has a well thought out voice cast and is mired in the 80s through visual and musical cues and a stellar soundtrack. If you’re looking for a piece of comic book history to compliment Batman: Arkham City, you can call off the search, Batman: Year One has got you covered.

9/10

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Dave Kozicki

Shotgun Samurai
Video game reviewer, presenter and enthusiast. Film and TV-aholic. Pop culture geek. T-shirt and sneaker addict. All around nice guy and one hell of a sexy beast. Writer for Official PlayStation Magazine AU, AusGamers and Hyper Magazine.
  • The Chad

    Being a person that has trouble putting my thoughts to words, your review conveys exactly how I feel about the Year One movie.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks dude. I purposely didn’t re-read the comics before I watched it so I could go in fresh, then read them after, and I’m glad they did. Though not as hard hitting as the comic, it is a fine animated addition to DC’s portfolio