DVD Review: Batman - Year One

PrintE-mail Written by Chris Holt

Review: Batman: Year One (12) / Directed by: Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery / Written by: Tab Murphy, Frank Miller / Starring: Ben McKenzie, Bryan Cranston, Eliza Dushku, Katee Sackhoff, Jon Polito, Alex Rocco

Frank Miller’s four issue run on the regular Batman comic to tell the story of Batman: Year One is rightly regarded as a classic story in the caped crusader’s back catalogue. Miller stripped the concept of a man dressed as a bat to fight crime to its very core and told a simple human story of two people (Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon) searching for justice in very different ways. The original comic was set to be adapted into a film at one point and ended up being a huge inspiration to Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins along with Batman: The Long Halloween. Now with the direct to DVD DC Animated universe movies we are getting to see many of our favourite stories from the comics adapted to the screen. Sadly in the case of Batman: Year One at least, this is something of a mixed blessing.

Batman: Year One begins with a young James Gordon travelling to Gotham City to begin his new life there as a detective with his pregnant wife Barbara. At the same time the long missing billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City after many years. Gordon finds that the police department is mostly corrupt and his new partner Detective Flass is perhaps the most corrupt of all. Flass is keen on dealing out indiscriminate beatings and also is on the take from the ruling organised crime regime. Gordon voices his disapproval and finds that he is not listened to and seen as a threat by his fellow police officers. Gordon eventually receives a savage beating for his troubles. Bruce Wayne meanwhile is gearing up to become a legendary crime fighter and decides to go into the red light district and beat up some pimps. Narrowly escaping with his life, he is arrested and then manages to escape from captivity recklessly endangering innocent lives. Back at Wayne manor and wondering what he should do, Wayne witnesses a vision of a bat and an idea is born. Batman starts to menace criminals on the streets of Gotham and the police set out a task force to capture him as the source on most of their income; mobster Carmine Falcone is understandably nervous. Jim Gordon meanwhile has turned the tables on Flass and the others, and is starting to gain headlines as a hero cop, putting him at odds with police commissioner Gillian Loeb. Gordon is assigned an attractive new female partner and given the task of bringing the Batman to justice. A young prostitute with a fondness for cats, Selina Kyle sees the theatrics on her streets and decides to become Catwoman and frame the Batman for her crimes. All three are brought into direct collision both with each other and with the reigning criminal underworld of Gotham City.

The first and most appealing thing about this interpretation of Batman’s early years is that it’s beautifully animated. It really does look brilliant, the characters are excellent and there is just about the right amount of background details. It’s even better to look at than Justice League: The New Frontier and that had an excellent retro feel to it that really popped. Co-directors Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery certainly do a better job overseeing this than they did with the sub par Green Lantern: First Flight and erm… Batman vs Dracula. The problem is, as pretty as this is, and I know this may irk some, but this is just too damn faithful to the source material, a weird complaint for sure. Batman: Year One lasts not much longer than an hour and is the comic book beat for beat and almost word for word. The story goes through dates in the year from January to December and then dramatizes the events that occurred; as a result it feels very segmented and unstructured. It may well have worked on the comic page but does not translate well when you are talking about something with drama in it. I would have loved it if they had added a bit more flesh on to the bones of Frank Miller’s story the way Nolan did with Batman Begins, an extra half hour or so comprised of the early humiliating crime fighting exploits of Bruce Wayne and more development of the Selina Kyle and teenage prostitute Holly relationship would have made all the difference. Due to the faithfulness at times this feels like you are watching one of those goofy motion comics that have come out in the last few years and as a whole feels somewhat unsatisfying.

The supporting voice cast is all really good, Bryan Cranston as Jim Gordon was an inspired choice and probably would have been a good choice for the live-action version had Gary Oldman passed. Eliza Dushku as Selina Kyle is also really good and likewise would have made a good live-action Catwoman. Alas Batman/Bruce Wayne as played by Ben McKenzie from The OC is terribly, fatally miscast. There is nothing wrong with McKenzie as an actor, he was good in The OC as well as the low budget indie flick Junebug but his voice is just totally the wrong pitch for Batman/Bruce Wayne. During the scenes where a beaten and disillusioned Bruce Wayne is wondering what he should do, his voice just comes across as some kind of pervert villain from a Die Hard film, monologuing endlessly. It’s a sad misstep for an otherwise very polished production.

Batman: Year One is probably for Batman die hards only, as it adds nothing new to one of the best stories in the Batman canon. Let’s hope that the proposed animated version of The Dark Knight Returns is better.

Extras: 'Justice League: Doom' (sneak peek), 'All-Star Superman' (sneak peek), 'Green Lantern: Emerald Knights' (sneak peek), ’DCU Application' (download digital comics trailer), 
'Thundercats' (trailer), 'Looney Tunes Platinum Collection' (trailer), 'Young Justice' (trailer), 
DC SHOWCASE PRESENTS: 'CATWOMAN' short animated film.

'Batman: Year One' is available on DVD/Blu-ray now

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