Batman: Year One (2011) (& DC Showcase: Catwoman)

Batman: Year One (2011) – Every comic book geek out there has an idea of just how a Batman movie should be made. Some believe in taking the best from several existing comics to make something familiar but new (luckily one of these suck geeks is named Christopher Nolan and we got Batman Begins and The Dark Knight out of it, with the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises looking similarly awesome). Another camp wants just straight-up adaptations of particular graphic novels. I know I, and many others, would love to see a big screen version of Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth (especially since Mirrormask marked McKean’s rather impressive film-making debut) or Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween (possibly my favorite Batman comic). More often proposed, however, are Frank Miller’s two major Batman books Year One (with David Mazzucchelli) and The Dark Knight Returns. Warner Brothers was actually going to make Year One for a while, with accomplished directors like Darren Aronofsky attatched, but the project fell through. The recent Warner Premiere direct-to-disc animated films have been going the comic adaptation route (with titles like Justice League: The New Frontier or Batman: Under the Red Hood), so last year we finally got our Year One movie (and The Dark Knight Returns is coming up soon…)

Detective Jim Gordon (Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad and HALF THE GOD DAMN MOVIES MADE this year and last) has just transferred to the Gotham City Police Department from Chicago. The adjustment is taking some time. The department as run by Commissioner Gillian Loeb (Jon Polito) is openly corrupt and Gordon’s partner Detective Arnold Flass (Fred Tatascione) is regularly trying to drag Gordon down into being just as corrupt as the rest of them. Meanwhile young billionaire Bruce Wayne (Benjamin McKenzie) has returned to Gotham City and a lengthy time abroad. He is looking for some way to fix the broken city that claimed the lives of both of his parents. Anyone with even a sliver of pop culture awareness should be able to figure out how he goes about doing that… As Batman, Bruce takes on the mob as run by gangster Carmine “the Roman” Falcone (Alex Rocco). Of course after the Roman and Loeb are threatened by the Batman, Gordon and Detective Sarah Essen (Katee Sackhoff) are tasked with tracking down the new caped crusader…

The first thing that you might notice from the summary above is that a lot of the same ground was covered in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins. True, but the approach is wildly different. My main problem with this film is Benjamin McKenzie. Now I normally like him. I liked him on The O.C. and what I’ve seen of Southland, and he was good in Junebug. However he just doesn’t do voice over well in this movie. Maybe he just doesn’t do voice over well period. At any rate, an iconic character like THE GOD DAMN BATMAN is not the place to start. The Gordon scenes work a lot better because Cranston is a pro (as the several consecutive Emmys might indicate). With movies like Sin City and 300, we’ve gotten used to seeing the Frank Miller style brought to the big screen. Batman: Year One is somewhat tonally more low-key and that comes through in this film. I have been reasonably impressed with the DC direct-to-disc features from Warner Premiere and this one holds up against the rest of them. They take everything that was great about shows like Batman: The Animated Series but skew towards a more adult sensibility. In a lot of ways they’re the comics brought to life.

DC Showcase: Catwoman – So the shorter animated films (released as bonus features for the longer movies) have been more hit-or-miss than the longer ones. They’ve showcased Captain Marvel, The Spectre, Jonah Hex, and Green Arrow before. They had an appealing variety of styles. (Last I checked you can watch those four all together on Netflix Instant). Catwoman is a little more problematic. She’s a character who is generally motivated not by good or evil but self-interest at all times. She’s grown to be a hero in the DC universe, but this short’s version of her has her following a cat as her only apparent motivation for most of the short. Eliza Dushku plays the role (as she does in Batman: Year One) and really I can’t remember anything about her characterization (from the short anyway, Year One does okay with her). She takes down a diamond thief named Rough Cut (John DiMaggio) and unzips her cat suit to show cleavage. Both seem to be treated with equal importance. Sexism with regards to female comic book characters has always been a bit of a tricky issues, and this cartoon doesn’t really escape from that. It’s by far the most forgettable of the DC Showcase shorts (taking that title away from Green Arrow). If you already have the Batman: Year One disc you might as well take the ten extra minutes it will take to watch it, but you won’t be any better off for it really.

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