Batman: Year One

So, I had some free time yesterday, and instead of pursuing my normal Saturday afternoon GTL (Gym Tan Laundry), I ended up in front of the TV on Netflix. Netflix has this new feature called “Max”, wherein the most annoying voice I’ve ever heard (keeping in mind that I’m a huge fan of Fran Drescher) takes you through a TV game show-type experience in an attempt to guess what you’d like to watch. It gives itself a number of chances to make a good guess, based on the info you supply. It almost didn’t find me anything I wanted to watch, mostly because I had seen everything it suggested, not that it was off the mark. I think it was on the seventh guess that it suggested Batman: Year One. I gave it a try.

The animated film is an adaption of an eponymous 1987 four-issue run of the Batman title, and is quite faithful. It tells the story of Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham and his rather fraught initial attempts at vigilante justice, of Lieutenant Jim Gordon and his rise to commissioner, and of the first exploits of Selina Kyle, who would become Catwoman. Year One uses Gordon and Wayne as the primary POV characters, whose narration weaves exposition into the action.

I went into it wondering how dark it was going to be, and got my answer early on from the unflinching depictions of police brutality, prostitutes, and pimps. Much like the comic, Year One reminds us that Batman’s early battles were not against the rather escapist specter of “Who’s the next supervillain?” but against endemic poverty and crime, and the excess of wrath of the financially and politically mighty in a city that “uses its police like hitmen.” The narration was particularly effective here, used to establish a noir feel in some scenes, and to establish the mindset of men looking to battle not simple dens, but the whole jungle of iniquity that is Gotham.

The film goes out of its way to establish Jim Gordon as the most relatable character. Batman’s narration clues us into what he’s about to do, what his motives and methods are, but doesn’t get to the same depth of experience or complexity of character that Gordon’s does. There’s no flinching from his personal failings, or from choices made out of cowardice. He completely fulfills the archetype of the dark hero, who is beset by evil on all sides, and must confront his own flaws and personal liabilities in the process of combating said evil.

On that subject, I adored the film’s portrayal of Selina Kyle, a takes-no-shit angle on the prostitute/mother lion trope, with martial skill to match Bruce Wayne’s. She reminds me of a less over-the-top Eartha Kitt (though her cheesiness owed much to the Batman television show rather then her abilities as an actress). Selina and Bruce come face-to-face once, as do Batman and Catwoman (sort of), but they’re allowed to develop independently in a film that is all about origins. An excellent choice in my opinion.

I was also relatively impressed by the fights. They were complex, the sort of fights one might have in that improbable city where every other person is either a master martial artists or a hulking strongman. I wouldn’t be surprised if the artists weren’t accustomed to drawing animated films that focus more specifically on martial arts. For example, pay attention to the fight between Detective Arnold John Flass and Gordon here, which opens with what could easily be a few swipes of a katana rather than the swing of a bat. Skip to about 1:55 and also note what I was saying about the narration (potential spoilers):

So, no regrets here. I thought that Batman: Year One was excellent and my biggest complaint was that there wasn’t more of it. Not just that I would delight in Year Two being made into an animated film, but that it feels like the creative team could have done more with say, an hour and a half, or two hours. I wanted to see more of Commissioner Gordon’s exploits, and I wish there had been more time to bear out Batman’s decision making. That being said, I thought it was great from top to bottom. Check it out.