Thursday, May 31, 2012

Batman: Year One

Directed by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery.
2011. Rated PG-13, 64 minutes.
Bryan Cranston
Ben McKenzie
Eliza Dushku
Jon Polito
Alex Rocco
Katee Sackhoff
Jeff Bennett
Grey DeLisle
Robin Atkin Downes
Fred Tatasciore

For those living under a rock, Bruce Wayne’s (McKenzie) parents were murdered in front of him during a mugging gone wrong back when he was a wee lad. After years of training abroad, he returns to his hometown of Gotham City and fights crime under the guise of his alter-ego Batman. As you might imagine, taking on bad guys all by your lonesome while simultaneously avoiding the local police is not easy. Mistakes are bound to be made. Batman: Year One is largely about those mistakes.

The mini-series turned graphic novel of the same name doesn’t change the Batman story, but it injects it with a realism that was sorely missing when it was written in 1987, even before the Tim Burton directed Batman hit the big screen. At that time, DC Comics was modernizing their entire universe since many characters had been around for 40 or 50 years by that point. For Batman, this meant getting as far away as possible from the hero’s perception as a campy crimefighter in a Technicolor world as created by the iconic 60s TV series starring Adam West. Frank Miller of Sin City fame took on the task.

Miller wisely kept intact the details of how Mr. Wayne became Batman. Much of his efforts concentrate on the rest of Caped Crusader’s world. Fitting of a town overflowing with supervillains, Gotham City is now a dark, foreboding landscape where corruption runs rampant. For that reason, it’s important that Year One is as much the story of soon-to-be police commissioner Jim Gordon (Cranston). He’s a straight and narrow type who doesn’t take too kindly to costumed vigilantes taking the law into their own hands.

The movie is pretty much a verbatim transfer from its source material. The graphic novel was groundbreaking. It did indeed help alter our collective idea of Batman. This film, unfortunately feels at least 7 or 8 years too late. Though neither is officially an adaptation, both Burton’s 1989 movie and 2005’s Batman Begins directed by Christopher Nolan incorporate elements of the book to greater effect if for no other reason than coming before Year One. Nolan’s movie appropriates Miller’s entire world and uses some of the same scenes, including the teaser ending. Those things make it hard to judge Year One on its own merits. It feels like an unnecessary origin movie for a character that already has two wildly popular such films, one of which isn’t very old. It offers nothing new, even though the exact same material was revolutionary when it was first published.

If you can judge it on its own, you’ll realize Year One is still an interesting entry into the Batman canon. Even more than the Nolan films, it fleshes out Jim Gordon to the point where he is actually the hero. Bryan Cranston is wonderful in the role, faring far better than the lethargic sounding McKenzie in the title role. The man in the cowl is much more of a disturbed guy with a death wish. He’s also a more vulnerable Batman and gets roughed up quite a bit. Roughed up includes getting shot. Yes, this is a decidedly mature representation of the character that earns its PG-13 rating. There is also a brief handling of the origin of Catwoman (Dushku). If you can’t judge it on its own, think of this as an alternate version of the second half of Batman Begins.

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