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Advance Review: Batman: Year One (2011)

Interesting Tidbit: Batman: Year One will be released on DVD, BluRay, and OnDemand on October 18, 2011 (the same day, as a matter of fact, as Batman: Arkham City).  I was blessed to be able to see the world premiere of this movie on Friday, July 22, 2011 at San Diego Comic Con.  I would like to give a special thank-you to Dustin for giving me the opportunity to interview Katee Sackhoff and Lauren Montgomery.


Batman: Year One Blu-ray


Directors: Lauren Montgomery and Sam Liu

Voice Director: Andrea Romano

Executive Producer: Bruce Timm


Bruce Wayne: Ben McKenzie

Lieutenant James Gordon: Bryan Cranston

Selina Kyle: Eliza Dushku

Detective Sarah Essen: Katee Sackhoff




Batman: Year One, quite simply, follows the first year in the career of Bruce Wayne as Batman.  Bruce has recently returned to Gotham after a 12 year absence.  Paralleling this story is that of Lieutenant Gordon’s first year in Gotham.  While Wayne deals with mistakes and a stuttering start as Batman, Gordon deals with dirty cops and questionable moral decisions on his part.  The two storylines intersect when Commissioner Loeb starts a manhunt for Batman and makes it Gordon’s number one priority.  It is clear how similar these two characters are (They both leave one of their enemies bound and naked in order to humiliate them!), though they represent two opposing world views (think Hector and Achilles from ‘The Iliad.’) 



I could make this the shortest review ever by telling you all that this movie follows the comic panel for panel, but there is so much more to be said.  As I bought the TPB of the story on Thursday at SDCC in order to conduct informed interviews, I had a really fresh memory of the story.  And so, when I say ‘panel for panel’ (I could also say ‘line by line’ and not be far off) I literally mean it!  The creators really stay true to the story, making minor tweaks here and there and only omitting one scene: one where Bruce is in Switzerland skiing and narrating how he was able to provide an alibi to Gordon.


What first struck me while watching the movie was the narration by both Gordon and Wayne.  As the comic has a lot of inner monologues by these characters, through which we often learn more about what the character is thinking and feeling but sometimes contradict what the character says, I knew it was important that these be maintained.  Since Superman/Batman: Supergirl had this same feature in the comic but was not adapted in the movie, I was pleasantly surprised that Batman: Year One retained the monologues. 


Something that happened less frequently in the movie than in the comic was the appearance of the TV news-heads (which, Josh informed me, is a frequent occurrence in Frank Miller stories).  There were some news reports throughout the movie, but what was nice about the comic is that the TV news-heads would pop up and really bridge the gap between the Gordon-centric stories and the Batman-centric stories.  The movie is not hampered by the lack of TV news-heads, but I do wonder how it would have changed had more been included.


As I mentioned above, there are some tweaks that were made to the story which I recognized right away since I had read the comic right before.  The first I noticed was that when Gordon first visits Dent and obliquely questions him (alluding to the fact that he may be Batman), Batman is hiding outside the window rather than under the desk.  I originally thought the idea of Batman under a desk was strange.  We all think of Batman appearing and disappearing like a ninja, would he hide under a desk?  Well, the fact is this is NOT the Batman that we know so well!  Batman is still learning the ropes and has not yet mastered his techniques, so it makes sense that he has not yet learned how and where to hide.


Another tweak is the introduction of Selina Kyle.  Bruce is undercover and ends up going to a seedy part of town where he is propositioned by Holly Robinson.  After an unfortunate turn of events, Bruce is fighting off a pimp and other attackers, and throws Holly after she stabs him in the leg.  As Selina is like a guardian to Holly, she does not look upon this scene favorably.  She leaps down and stands in Bruce’s way.  Now in the comics, Selina is easily dealt with, however, here she and Bruce tango in an intense dance of kicks and punches.  Bruce Timm stated in one of the interviews that he did not want Selina to just be knocked down in one panel, but that she should be able to hold her own against Bruce.  Though it is a departure, I would agree with his statement.


A tweak that I was not a fan of involves the character of Sarah Essen.  I stated in the plot summary that Gordon does some things that are morally questionable.  Unfortunately, one of these is having an affair with Essen.  While I truly believe that Gordon loves his wife, Essen, in my opinion, represents a desire for a life without the responsibility of a wife and child and without the need for concern for these attachments living in a morally-polluted city.  Essen has a minor role in the comic but this role is cut even shorter in the film.  As quickly as Essen flits into Gordon’s life she leaves.  Her last scene is in the diner when Gordon tells her they cannot see each other, and she decides to get a transfer.  While many may think this is a satisfying ending, I believe it ends the relationship short.  What follows in the comic is another romantic scene between the two of them, Gordon narrates that she has to leave, and admits that he has fallen in love with her.  These scenes really show the internal battle that Gordon is fighting and makes the Essen character more than just an outlet for Gordon’s sexual frustrations.


A final tweak that I shall comment on (though not the last in the film—what happened to the bicycle?!) is ‘funny in its badness.’  When Gordon and his wife go to question Wayne at his mansion, they find him ‘drunk’ and with a girlfriend (an additional scene with the girlfriend occurred after this scene).  Wayne acts the part of a playboy skeezebag, and in a ‘Basic Instinct’-eque move, Wayne, in his bathrobe, puts his left foot up on his right knee, revealing…a little TOO much to Barbara, Jim’s wife.  I remember vocally shouting, “OHHHHH!” in surprise.  No, this was not in the comic, but it certainly does cement Bruce’s skills as an actor!


I would be remiss if I did not mention one of the most powerful scenes in the comic.  After Bruce is shot by two police officers who arrive on the scene during Bruce’s scuffle, he is put in the back of a police car.  Bruce overpowers the two men (a minor departure happens here when he chokes an officer with his cuffs rather than breaking his cuffs as in the comic) and then gets into his car and drives away.  After Bruce arrives home, he contemplates whether he should bleed-out or ring the bell for Alfred.  In a very moving scene, he recalls the night his parents are shot.  As he finishes his trip down memory lane, asking his father what he should do, a bat breaks into the room and lands on a bust of Thomas Wayne.  I am sure many were waiting in breathless anticipation for this scene.  A powerful scene—not campy or unbelievable even in its supernatural feel—it ends with the words ‘Yes, father,’ and Bruce reaching for the bell.  Well done!


Before I wrap up this review, I must speak on the voice acting.  It is not a surprise that Andrea Romano again delivers with powerful voice direction.  Everyone does really well in the film and I was most pleased with Cranston’s portrayal of Gordon.  The voice was spot on and really matched the character.  I also liked Dushku’s performance as Selina Kyle, and I am looking forward to seeing the DC Showcase: Catwoman short that can be found on the DVD.  I did have trouble with McKenzie as Batman at first.  When the film began, I could really only see McKenzie in my mind.  As it continued, however, I really let the voice and the image of Wayne/Batman merge and found that the voice did fit.  I, like many others, think of Kevin Conroy as THE Batman voice, but in this case we did need a rawer form of Batman making his way to become the Dark Knight.  McKenzie accomplished this.


Overall, as I stated before, the movie really stays true to the comic.  The creators maintain the dark and mature tone (prostitutes but no drugs), which sets this movie apart from the productions that have come before.  There are so many scenes I could comment on (like when Batman is facing Gotham SWAT for the first time in an abandoned building), but I will save it for the commentary!  The directing and designs were great, and I believe that this movie has surpassed nearly all other DC animated films!


Final Thoughts


Seeing this movie at SDCC was a great experience, and what made it even better was the fact that the movie was fantastic!  I urge you to get this movie on October 18 (along with Arkham City!).  Who knows?  Perhaps Batgirl: Year One will follow soon!


Despite some minor changes, everything came together to make this a top-notch film!  I recommend reading the comic also, but even if you do not you should love this film!

Batman: Year One (2011):


5 out of 5 Batarangs


Stella from Batgirl to Oracle

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