When it was announced that DC Comics
, Warner Premiere
and Warner Bros. Animation
were going to be adapting the quintessential version of Batman's origins, Batman: Year One
, I was completely exhilarated and a bit anxious as to whether or not the story would be done justice in a direct-to-video animated film. Having now seen the highly anticipated new film, I have to say that I am stunned by just how faithful it is. I only detected two minor changes from the Frank Miller
story. The first change was that some of the narrative dialogue has been removed or altered to accommodate pacing and action sequences and the second change is that Branden's named was for some reason switched to Brendon. That's it, those are the only significant changes that I noticed and most casual fans probably won't even realize that these alterations have occurred because the story is so compelling and engaging.
From the start, it becomes clear to anyone who hasn't read Year One, that the story is different because it isn't just about Bruce Wayne turning into Batman after twelve years of absence from his home in Gotham. The story focuses as much, if not more, on young Jim Gordon as he and his pregnant wife move to Gotham City where Gordon encounters rampant crime, crooked cops on the police force, and corrupt politicians with ties to the mob. Miller's graphic novel really pays a great deal of attention to the moral dilemmas that the characters face and how they either overcome those dilemmas or fall prey to them. Both Bruce and Gordon are shown to be flawed characters in their personal lives, but as sentinels of justice, they stand tall as examples of the best that people can be in a city where authority is used to oppress the populace and make profit off of the suffering of other.
Now, on to the acting. Bryan Cranston
is, in my mind, perfectly cast as the voice of Gordon and he gives a nuanced and believable vocal performance that captures the character as he appears on the page written by Miller. Ben McKenzie
however doesn't feel absolute as Batman and Bruce Wayne. Part of the problem with his vocal performance is that there is no conviction or urgency to his lines. He simply says them almost in emulation of other actors who have also played the dual role of the playboy billionaire and his Dark Knight alter-ego. One cannot state what an overwhelming challenge it is for any actor to play a character so psychologically complex and so driven as Bruce/Batman. Few actors in the past have managed to do both aspects of the character justice (in fact, I consider voice actor Kevin Conroy
and actor Christian Bale
to be the only two who managed to make both Bruce Wayne and Batman completely plausible on screen). And for the most part, McKenzie rises to the challenge of his character admirably, but I have some reservations about his depiction of the character. One of them is that McKenzie seems too earnest and green. I realize that this is an early point in Bruce's vigilante career as Batman, but McKenzie feels especially naive in the part and he never possessed the ironic attitude that Bruce Wayne gives to the public. In other scenes, such as the few scenes with Bruce and Alfred, he seems spot-on. Eliza Dushku
provides the voice of Selina Kyle/Catwoman and does a nice job giving her an emotional side, but not overplaying it to the degree of melodrama, and she carefully shades her character with different levels of moral ambiguity and injects the entire persona with a seductive yet violent quality that makes her stand out from all of Batman's enemies (and lovers).
The animation in the film is very modern and utilizes computer graphics and striking camerawork which gives new life to the action scenes (which are usually pretty weak in most animated films that we see in the U.S.). There's a definite Japanese influence here that was in the graphic novel, but it never becomes too apparent or distracting from the story. The style of the animation retains that of the previous DC Universe Animated Movies
, but it also pays homage to the colors, angles, and character designs of comic book artist David Mazzucchelli
I, for one, was impressed with the film as a whole, though I do wish that Conroy had provided Batman's voice. All in all, the film is a welcome addition to the DC
animated film collection, in addition to thrilling the casual fans of the Batman character, and hopefully fulfilling the expectations of the diehard comic book community.