The latest straight-to-DVD animated release from DC Comics and Warner Premiere is extremely faithful adaptation of Frank Miller‘s retelling of Batman’s origin and the early days in the careers of Batman (Ben McKenzie) and Jim Gordon (Bryan Cranston).
Batman: Year One is a good, not great, entry into the DC Animated universe. It isn’t a success in terms of Batman: Under the Red Hood or Justice League: The New Frontier. However, it works better than the Superman/Batman animated films or Wonder Woman. In terms of a mixed success I’d compare it to Green Lantern: First Flight, and Green Lantern: Emerald Knights.
The film does a good job and capturing the look of David Mazzucchelli‘s art from Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, although it does have a decided Japanese animated look and feel. With a couple of exceptions, including the opening shot of Bruce Wayne returning to Gotham and Gordon unburdening himself to Essen in the diner, the film follows the comic nearly as closely as Sin City.
One of the limitations of the film is the choice of Ben McKenzie as the voice of Bruce Wayne. McKenzie delivers a monotone, almost detached delivery that left me cold. He does better in scenes where Batman intimidates thugs, but his inner voice just doesn’t sound right. It’s a challenge given the most of the dialogue in the film is narration from either Batman or Gordon, but where Cranston breathes some life into Gordon McKenzie’s Batman is almost robotic. I’m sure it was a conscious choice to go this way for his portrayal of a young Bruce Wayne, but it just didn’t work for me.
The supporting roles are an interesting bunch. Eliza Dushku may give the best performance as Catwomwan, and Katee Sackhoff is an inspired choice for Detective Essen who Gordon has a short affair with in both the comic and movie. Although the strong language is left in (and in some cases even added to) the film sadly doesn’t include any of the smoking scenes which really help illistrate the growth of Gordon and Essen’s relationship and their increased intimacy as she goes from offering to light his cigarette in one scene to giving him a lit one of her own on which he notes he can taste her lipstick.
And if the film stays true to most of Frank Miller’s lines there are several that are missing (my favorite being Gordon’s recognition that Batman saved everyone while the GCPD was trying to take him down even going so far as to save the cat and pay for the suit). Although the film does include the thought process of both Gordon and Batman its far less than on the printed page (especially during the action sequences), which in the comic helped illustrate how similar the two men are in how they react to different situations.
The DVD/Blu-ray combo comes with a digital copy of the film, a Catwoman short featuring Dushku (which oddly reminded me of Æon Flux), a Batman: Year One digital comic, sneak peeks for Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, All-Star Superman and the upcoming Justice League: Doom (adapted from “Tower of Babel“) which will return most of the original voice cast of Justice League, a pair of Catwoman episodes from Batman: The Animated Series (“Catwalk” and “Cult of the Cat“), and commentary from producer Alan Burnett, co-director Sam Liu, creative director Mike Carlin, voice director Andrea Romano. The collection also includes two featurettes which are worth checking out.
“Heart of Vengeance: Returning Batman to His Roots” takes a look at the attempt to return Batman to his darker roots following the demise of the Batman TV-show by Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams in the 1970s, Miller’s reinvention in the mid-1980s, and the attempts to bring Batman to the big screen. The featurette includes interviews with O’Neil, Len Wein, Alan Burnett, Michael Uslan, Greg Rucka, and Mike Carlin.
The second featurette is a round table discussion with the 2011 Batman Creative Team hosted by Michael Uslan featuring O’Neil, Dan DiDio, and Scott Snyder talking about their history with Batman, Frank Miller’s impact on the character, their love of the character, and their favorite Batman comics over the years.
Batman: Year One is a faithful adaptation to Miller’s original tale. It may not be as good as I hoped for but it’s better than the weaker entries DC Animation has put out (and far better than Marvel Comics Animation). The extras on the Blu-ray involving the discussion of Batman’s history in general, and Miller’s tale specifically, are also worth a look for Bat-fans everywhere.