In 1986 Frank Miller wrote The Dark Knight Returns, one of the most significant and influential Batman stories in comic book history. It returned Batman to a darker and grittier place, forever abolishing the camp of the 1960s. Due to the success of the series, the next year he created a follow-up with artist David Mazzucchelli titled Batman: Year One, which retold the events of Batman’s first year as a costumed crime fighter. It has since been considered the definitive version of the story and even influenced many aspects of Batman Begins. Now that it’s officially been adapted into an animated movie, the real question is: how does the story hold up? Is it an obvious match or should it have remained a comic?
Batman: Year One is an almost episodic telling of the year Batman begin his campaign against crime, but that’s not to say it’s entirely about him. In fact, he’s more of an enigmatic side character as the majority of the story follows Lieutenant Jim Gordon whose transfer to
The animation is crisp and detailed, closely resembling the panels and look of the original comic. The shadows and lighting are used particularly well, keeping Batman as a shadow in the dark and Gordon’s glasses always managing to catch the light no matter where he is. Every character has fluid animations and some of the action sequences are pretty memorable, the best being Batman’s game of cat-and-mouse with the police in a derelict building. It’s suspenseful, exciting, and his escape has the distinct feel of a comic book superhero. There’s some use of computer animation alongside the 2D, but it’s mostly limited to backgrounds and vehicles. It’s never as polished as the 2D animation, and it’s easy to notice when they use it (during car chases the city looks oddly vacant in the background, devoid of other vehicles or pedestrians).
|Lt. Jim Gordon (Bryan Cranston)|
The voice acting is where this movie feels the most mixed in its execution. Bryan Cranston is perfect as Gordon, adding a great deal of character and emotion to his performance. This is practically Gordon’s story anyway, and had it been shown entirely from his point of view, it might have improved. Gordon is the most complex, heroic, and sympathetic character in the movie. He’s honorable and determined, yet also human and prone to certain weaknesses. His side of the story has a distinct noir feel to it and suits the tone well. It’s actually Batman’s side of the story that may be the weakest here, and it’s almost entirely because of the poor voice acting from Benjamin McKenzie. Most of the time he sounds stiff and at worst, bored. Like it was too early in the morning for him to be reading when they recorded him. It makes Batman’s narration, which contains the majority of his lines, painful to listen to. Once again I found myself missing the perfect sound of Kevin Conroy as the caped crusader. Thankfully Batman doesn’t talk much, otherwise even his action scenes would be hurt by this.
Overall, Batman: Year One is still an interesting account of Batman’s early days. The movie adaptation suffers from having a poor Batman voice and it’s (at times) disjointed plot. As a comic it worked, but as a movie it lacks a steady pace and never feels as though its building up to the conclusion.