Batman: Gotham by Gaslight
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight 2018
I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Jack the Ripper, generally the most I know of him are when various TV shows that I watch have the random episode where they go back in time or something along those lines to have a Jack the Ripper episode. Aside from that, there’s also the mediocre comic book movie From Hell. And on top of that, I actually went into this movie knowing nothing about the background of the comic aside from the fact that it’s basically Batman if he existed in the early 1900’s. It is actually the first Elseworlds style story that even pre-dated the Elseworlds title. It basically comes from the question “what if Batman tried to solve the Jack the Ripper case?” only instead of random people asking the question, it’s asked by comic book writer Brian Augustyn and drawn by Mike Mignola. I thought it was pretty entertaining but I wasn’t fond of the final reveal, which I will be discussing so here’s your spoiler warning.
As far as the concept goes, the film and obviously the comic before it does a good job of translating Batman to this era. The characters used generally make sense where they’re put. Batman is still technologically advanced, but only slightly ahead of where everyone else it during that time. The overall style of the animation looks great to where it still feels like a DC animated movie while still looking like something completely different. The fight scenes are also all handled quite well, not exactly up to the gold standard of a Jay Oliva directed film, but still quite good. The voice cast also works well, bringing back Bruce Greenwood from Under the Red Hood and bringing in Anthony Head from Buffy to voice Alfred.
The main focus of the story is the mystery behind this version of Jack the Ripper and overall the mystery works well until it doesn’t. There’s a great back and forth between the two characters and the movie’s R rating allows for a bit more visceral violence than is typical for an animated movie but helps give it the extra punch that fits the story well. There are plenty of red herrings and it actually makes sense how Batman himself is framed to be a suspect. But it feels like it was written into a corner to have the identity of the Ripper not be the same character from the comics but also not be too obvious. Unfortunately, that means that when it’s revealed that the serial killer is actually James Gordon, it comes a bit out of left field. Because of how he fits into Batman lore, it feels like he was chosen just because he was the least likely suspect. A more appropriate choice would have been Harvey Dent, and the movie even leans heavily into that choice shortly before the final reveal. It’s a serviceable choice, but there wasn’t quite enough lead up to it.
One big problem with the previous rated R Batman film was the role of women and their characterizations. This time around the movie fares slightly better as the story of Jack the Ripper is also a story about violence against women. The era itself also lends itself to fall into certain attitudes towards women that were more prevalent during that time. And we also get the capable and forward thinking woman in Selena Kyle who rarely needs to be rescued throughout the runtime and actually saves Batman himself on more than one occasion.
The tone of the movie tends to fluctuate between the grim and violent murder mystery and a more typical Batman adventure with comic relief sprinkled in. There are a few fun Easter Eggs like the three Oliver Twist-esque orphans who end up becoming de facto Robins at the end and are all named after three different Robins. The grim nature along with the violence and occasional swearing can be a little jarring at first, but it does help to set it apart from other more typical Batman stories and fits in with the macabre nature of the Jack the Ripper story itself. But the more standard Batman elements help draw it back into something familiar. Personally, I thought the ebb and flow worked out well enough without being overly distracting. In fact, it was very enjoyable overall, much more entertaining than From Hell while still bringing something new to the table. My only real complaint would be the mediocre twist/killer reveal but everything else in this movie works and makes me curious to check out the original comic to see how it holds up. Until next time, this has been Bubbawheat for Flights, Tights, and Movie Nights.