Batman: Year One (2011, 64 minutes)
Source Material: Frank Miller will get at least a measure of respect forever for this story. It’s a superb look at Gotham before the costumed villains took over. The movie mostly adheres to it with only limited changes. This isn’t always a good thing as Frank Miller’s baffling decision to make Catwoman a prostitute continues here. Maybe strict adherence to the source isn;t ideal at times like those.
Animation: This is a surprisingly beautiful film, filled with atmosphere. The film, like its peers, is CG done in a cel style and that hybrid looks really good here. It’s filled with shots that hold the eye. It’s not exactly in the style of its source but this is really a very good looking film. Gotham has rarely been as transparently Chicago and it worked wonders for the film. Even the characters, if not the most expressive, look good.
Script: I’ll put this out there: Year One isn’t the most adaptable story. It’s short and Batman is a supporting character really. That said, Tab Murphy does a superb job adapting it. At 1hr30 seconds before credits, this is barely a feature but it does feel like a story. It’s dense enough to work. There’s lots of good character beats throughout. Is it a tight narrative? No, but the source wasn’t. It definitely feels like a journey through a year.
Voice acting: On one hand you have Bryan Cranston as Jim Gordon, a superb choice that works wonders for the film. Cranston is every bit as commanding as you’d hope. Alex Rocco and Jon Polito are solid in small roles too. On the other hand, Benjamin McKenzie is staggeringly miscast as Batman, doing a very bad Christian Bale impresssion without the charm. Eliza Dushku brings her usual utter void of personality to the film as Catwoman. I’m not sure why Katee Sackhoff was hired for the 15 lines she delivered as Sarah Essen. I concede this is a very mixed bag.
Final verdict: 4/5. Despite an iffy Batman, this is really worth watching. It’s so well animated and strongly scripted, justifying itself even while Begins exists. What I think makes it distinct is how well it captures the rot in Gotham that Jim Gordon fought to change and why he opts to trust Batman. There’s a clear sense of one age ending and another beginning. And seriously, isn’t it worth spending an hour just to hear Bryan Cranston as Gordon?