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Batman: Year One animated movie review

The latest DC animated feature, Batman Year One is out and I have finally gotten a chance to watch it.

The DC films have been something of a mixed bag.  Some have been nothing short of brilliant (New Frontier) others much less so (Emerald Knights).  While this is clearly not a work of brilliance, neither is it junk.  I would say closer to the former though as the source material alone is one of the finest works in DC’s long and rich back catalog.  While that has never been a guarantee of a quality final product with DC, it is the best possible place to start.

The original Year One miniseries ( it was actually in the regular Batman monthly book from issue 404 to 407) was a backhanded way to reboot and update the origin of one of the oldest and best in the company’s long history.  While it was more of an update that a re working, much of it has become canon since, and it is one of writer Frank Miller’s finest works.  It was done as a bookend of sorts to The Dark Knight Returns and is far different in tone and style to that landmark work.

The film, like the original, is more s story about Jim Gordon.  His struggles in his new job with the Gotham City PD, his wife and baby on the way and the attractive new detective Essen that he works along side are there from the book, mostly intact, and serve to make his arc in the story far more interesting than that of Bruce Wayne.  There is not much you can jigger about with Batman’s origins, and there is almost nothing new there, save for the style in which it is told, but that style is what has defined the character for over 2 decades now.  The movie shows the same style of storytelling and similar pacing.  The book is as faithfully adapted as it can be, sometimes to the movie’s detriment.  As an example, the Selina Kyle subplot is not much use here.  In the book it provided a touchstone for the longtime reader, but did nothing to move the story along other than to flesh out the universe a bit.  I did not see the point of it then, and still do not.  The universe should start out as small as possible and THEN grow.  That is the function of the mention of the Joker at the end of the story, one of the few parts that never really worked in canon, assuming that the Killing Joke IS canon.

The animation is excellent, and never strays far from the style of the source material.  As is usually the case in these adaptations, there are lots of key iconic shots pulled from the source and they work well here.  There is a bit too much color, more than the book at any rate, and that could be a bit distracting at times, but only really at the start.   As the film gets going, things get much more subdued.  That could be by design though, to more slowly immerse you than the book did.  the quality of the disc is also very nice.  I have not watched the main featurette, but I can say that the Catwoman short is bloody awful.  Style substituting for any kind of story.  And since the style is a bit salacious, I felt dirty just watching it.  Fortunately, I did not buy it for the short. 

The voices are well cast with Bryan Cranston’s Jim Gordon being the real treat here.  I miss Kevin Conroy as Batman though.  Even when I read a comic with Batman, that is the voice I hear in my head.

Overall, this was very good, and as faithful to the source.  This is adult fare and I doubt younger viewers would even enjoy it, but longtime fans should.  I would have liked the Catwoman element to go away and be replaced by more of the Gordon and Wayne stories as this seemed a bit short for the material.  Ultimately, if you like the original, I would say that this will please you.

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