PG Cooper: Batman: Year One Review

Posted: October 23, 2011 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

Release date: October 18th, 2011

Running time: 64 minutes

Written by: Tab Murphy

Based on: The graphic novel “Batman: Year One” by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli

Directed by: Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Benjamin McKenzie, Eliza Dushku, and Alex Rocco

The name Bruce Timm might not mean a lot to most people, and at first glance, his importance seems minimal, but the man is a personal hero to me. He served as producer on Batman: The Animated Series and remained producer on all the subsequent sequel shows (Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League, etc). The DCAU officially ended a few years ago, and has led to Timm producing several direct to DVD adaptations, starting with Superman: Doomsday. While most of these films have been nothing more than fun escapism, Batman: Under The Red Hood took the first step toward being compelling drama. With Batman: Year One, Timm and those at DC are attempting to make that step again. Unlike Under The Red Hood, Year One is based on one of my favourite comic book stories, so my expectations were high. The question is, does Year One meet those expectations.

Batman: Year One tells the story of Batman (Benjamin McKenzie) and James Gordon’s (Bryan Cranston) first year fighting crime in Gotham City. Bruce has just returned from training abroad, and feels he’s just about ready to begin his war on crime. After awkward initial night, he finds his inspiration when a Bat crashes through his living room. Gordon has just been moved to Gotham with his pregnant wife Barbara. He finds himself being one of the few honest cops and is at odds with most of the men he works with. From rocky beginnings, the two start a massive change in Gotham City.

What might surprise people about the film is that it’s centered just as much around Gordon as it is Batman, if not more so. Gordon is voiced by Bryan Cranston and Cranston does an excellent job. Gordon is an honest cop and an efficient one at that. In Batman: Year One, Gordon is as badass as ever. Gordon is younger in this film than in most interpretations, so we get to see him take a more hands on approach to his work. We get to see him physically go toe to toe with his enemies. With that said, Gordon is very human. He has his faults and doubts, and he is a man struggling. These faults don’t bring him down though, they make Gordon all the more likable and respectable. That’s not to say Batman gets the shaft, he certainly doesn’t. Benjamin McKenzie voices Batman, and I’ve heard a lot of people give him criticism. Personally I thought McKenzie was quite good. He’s no Kevin Conroy, but who is? McKenzie brings Batman’s intense, almost psychotic determination to the table very well. I also like the way the playboy side of Bruce Wayne that pops up, even though it’s only for one scene. Overall, both Gordon and Batman are great, and the highlight of the film is watching the friendship between the two begin.

There are other story elements at work here too. Such as the corruption in the GCPD, Batman breaking down on mobsters, and the beginning of Catwoman. The Catwoman angle is one I especially want to focus on. It’s a nice subplot, and the beginning of the tension between the two. More importantly though, Catwoman is directly inspired by Batman, and I think that represents the way other villains would eventually be inspired. As a fan of the source material, I can say that the film is very faithful. My only problem with the film is that it’s barely over an hour. Now on the plus side, the film never has a dull moment, but at times it feels rushed, especially since the film is suppose to take place over a year.

Despite a budget of under five million, the animation is very good. The captured Mazzucchelli’s art style perfectly. The only real visual difference from the comic is the comic has a more minimalist colour scheme. The film also perfectly captures the tone and atmosphere of the original comic. Gotham feels like the worst place in the world, depressing and cold, dark, and unsettling. At times the film almost reminded me of Taxi Driver. This dark tone can be felt in it’s action scenes. While there is no shortage of action, this is a small scale film. These fights aren’t fancy or intricate. Their up close, uncomfortable, and brutal. Exactly like they should be. Though the film does get more hopeful as it goes on, you can tell that the war is just beginning.

For the average person, I recommend Batman: Year One for it’s good storytelling, animation, and atmosphere. For fans of the character, I recommend Batman: Year One for it’s great depictions of both Batman and James Gordon. For fans of the original comic book story, Batman: Year One is a must see for the reasons listed above, and also for being a faithful adaptation that takes almost nothing out. I would have liked a longer run time, but at the end of the day, I know the people making these have limited time and money to work with. Bottom line, this film is awesome, especially if your a fan, and of all the DC Universe Animated Original Movies, this is the best one so far. Yes, it’s better than Under The Red Hood.

Rating: A-




  1. Ipodman says:

    Nice review! I haven’t seen this, but I love the comic so I gotta check this out…

  2. Oh wow. Bryan Cranston as Commissioner Gordon? Thats pretty sick.

    Nice write up PG, I had fallen out of touch with these. I’ll have to pick it up soon and circle back and tell you what I thought. I think almost all of the new Animated features from DC have rocked. Wonder Woman, the two Green Lantern ones, all the Justice League ones… the only one I didn’t like was Superman/Batman public enemies, and I didn’t like that story in the comics either. The end with the kid and the rocket I thought was just dumb…

  3. 3guys1movie says:

    I’m goning to have to check this out my boy is Bat-Man crazy right now. Nice review

  4. Jay says:

    Apart from the main DVD (which I agree 100% with your review on), two other things on the DVD deserve mention:

    1. The DC Showcase short of Catwoman was awesome. These DC Showcase shorts have been a great little bonus to the DCU Animated features (The Spectre one was incredible).
    2. The preview for the upcoming “Justice League: Doom”. Conroy, Daly, Eisenberg, Rosenbaum, Lumbly all back!!!! Really looking forward to this one. And a little bonus – Fillion back from “Emerald Nights” as GL.

    • pgcooper1939 says:

      I’m looking forward to “Doom”, as for the Catwoman short, I thought it was pretty good. Though I must admit I thought the strip tease Catwoman did was a little over the top and unnecessary.

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