Saturday, January 21, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Batman: Year One (2011) ***

PG-13, 64 min.
Directors: Sam Liu, Lauren Montgomery
Writers: Tab Murphy, Frank Miller (original story), Bob Kane (creator)
Starring: Brian Cranston, Ben McKenzie, Eliza Dushku, Jon Polito, Alex Rocco, Katee Sackhoff, Fred Tatasciore

It’s been quite some time since I read Frank Miller’s redefinition of Batman’s origin, the comic book “Batman: Year One”. It was a turning point for comic books as a whole that steered comic books toward a more mature audience. Miller’s later “The Dark Knight Returns” would go even further, but this origin story built the characters of both Bruce Wayne and Commissioner Gordon into people more three-dimensional than your typical superhero cast members.

Instead of presenting these men as heroes with a perfect sense of justice, they were now flawed. Wayne struggled to figure out how to avenge his parents’ deaths, making mistakes along the way. Gordon is new to the Gotham Police force, having left his former assignment in disgrace. His wife is pregnant and he struggles with his own fidelity toward her. But, Gotham itself is even more flawed, with a police force driven by corruption.

“Batman: Year One” brings this story to the screen for the first time in an animated format. It sticks pretty close to Miller’s source material, although much has been eliminated for time and some has been updated to match today’s current vision of Batman and Gotham City as found in Christopher Nolan’s live action movies. The story also contains some origin elements for the character of Catwoman.

The animated format removes some of the darkness of the comic book and loses some of the serious power of Miller’s tale, but it makes for a rather unique superhero movie. There are no masked villains—although The Joker is alluded to in the film’s final moments, much like in “Batman Begins”. Gordon’s story is even more prominent than Wayne’s. Most of the action involves the GCPD trying to capture the Batman. In the end, little progress has been made for either hero, but progress has been made. They’ve made their impressions.

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