Batman: Year One
Batman: Year One 2011
After first hearing about these DC animated movies several years ago through Kevin Smith of all places (based on the fact that he has a one-liner in Doomsday referencing his well-known work on the scrapped Superman Lives script), watching several of them before starting this site and loving every single one of them through varying degrees, I’ve finally watched every single one of them that has currently been released. I still have to re-watch Gotham Knights and Justice League: New Frontier so I can review them, but I have seen all of them until Justice League: War comes out next year. You can expect a top ten list in the near future. But for now I’m just talking about Batman: Year One, based on the Frank Miller run about both eventual Commissioner Jim Gordon and Batman’s first year in Gotham. It shows how deep the corruption runs in Gotham from the outset but while it is called Batman: Year One, I almost think it should have been called Gordon: Year One, and I’d be perfectly ok with that. It has some weak points, but it’s still a great addition to the library of animated DC titles.
I hate to say it, but Batman/Bruce Wayne really is the weakest character in this movie, and part of that is the voice actor Ben McKenzie who gives Bruce Wayne and Batman a very stiff manner of speaking and doesn’t seem to be used to doing voice acting in general. Batman also is at an odd level of training, he has just come back from 12 years abroad, apparently part of his training, and he is shown able to kick down a full sized tree, yet has some difficulty with his first stint as Batman fighting three teenage thieves. There’s also the extremely melodramatic epiphany where he gets the idea for Batman as a giant bat breaks through a window in his mansion to land on the bust of his father and screech at him. In general the fight scenes with him are very well done, especially the sequence with the SWAT team, partially because it doesn’t involve much speaking.
But luckily Batman is really only half the story, if that. There is a reason why Bryan Cranston is top billed in the credits and it’s not just because he’s a bigger star than Ben McKenzie. Jim Gordon is the real heart and soul of Year One and is by far the best part of this movie. Cranston completely nails the role, not only that, but if you weren’t told that’s who did the voice I doubt you would be able to place his voice unless you just did a Breaking Bad marathon. Even when he doesn’t always do the right thing, you are always rooting for him. The one problem I did have was what little I thought I knew from the Batman mythology is that Jim has a daughter named Barbara, but in this version of the story his wife is named Barbara and she is pregnant with his son. Knowing this, I was fully prepared for something to happen to his family and… well I’ll just leave it at that. I thought it was actually a great way to add drama to this story because you know that both Batman and Gordon come out on top in this story, but Barbara and his son could very well be casualties.
Aside from Gordon, there’s also plenty of colorful villains without having to resort to any of the costumed cadre of Batman villains with the sole exception of Catwoman who has a small role. I wasn’t overly fond of her redesign as a buff, somewhat butch prostitute with fighting skills that equal Batman’s skill in these early days. There’s also the corrupt cop Flass who starts out partnered with Gordon and continues to try and get Gordon to go along with the bribing and recreational beatings that most of the other cops partake in. And the ringleader is the current Commissioner Loeb voiced by Jon Polito who has such a great voice for this kind of role, and there’s a lot of interesting character bits like his fascination with old childlike things such as having a giant clown painting in the back of his office which obviously evokes the image of the Joker, as well as a ventriloquist’s dummy which reminds more hardcore fans of Scarface/the Ventriloquist, and a fun little throwback to Huckleberry Hound.
I do almost wish that this was Gordon: Year One because one of the storytelling techniques they use quite often is the voice-over, which they do for both Gordon and Batman depending on who they’re focusing on at the moment. I would have preferred to only have one of the characters get the privilege of voicing their thoughts while letting the other character remain more mysterious, and who is more mysterious a figure than Batman? But aside from my misgivings on Batman himself, I still greatly enjoyed this movie. The animation is wonderful as always, the score hits in all the right places, and nearly all the voice actors are perfect in this. It has a lot of things going for it, and is of course worth a watch like all the other DC animated titles which I can now say I have seen them all. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.