Wayne Rock, Comic to Screen Head Writer
The long awaited and highly anticipated adaptation of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s seminal Batman comic is finally upon us. To say I have been wanting this movie to be made is the understatement of the decade.
However, I must admit my expectations were tempered a bit after the horrendous outing that was The Killing Joke. And nothing I saw from the promotional materials for this movie gave me any additional hope. After watching it though, I must say I was pleasantly surprised and dare I even say, impressed?
In case you don’t know about the source material because you don’t read comics, let me fill you in quickly. An unknown murderer is killing members of the Falcone crime family on every single holiday in Gotham. Batman, Commissioner Gordon and Harvey Dent team up to find and stop these murders after one of Harvey’s would-be snitches becomes a victim. They agree to work together, bending the rules but never breaking them. This takes them on a journey filled with twists, turns, drama, intrigue and almost all of Batman’s rogues gallery as they try to find and stop the Holiday Killer before he strikes again.
Watching this movie, you can clearly see the influence this story has had on the Batman mythos, particularly Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of the character, particularly the scene where Batman, Dent and Gordon meet on the rooftop of Gotham PD. And let me tell you, when an animated film has you drawing parallels to The Dark Knight, arguably one of the best superhero movies of all time, you know it’s something special.
It took me a while to adjust to the new art style of the current DC animated universe (DC Universe Animated Original Movies) when I watched Superman: Man of Tomorrow, and even after a while I still found the thick dark outlines to be a bit jarring. I must say though that the new art style better suits Batman’s aesthetic rather than Superman’s as these same dark outlines blend nicely into Gotham’s dark, gothic backgrounds. My enjoyment of the movie only became better once I stopped comparing it to the artwork of the original.
The animation never even comes close to Tim Sale’s unique character designs and art styles, but that’s okay. It’s an extremely well-produced adaptation and I’m actually quite glad that DC stopped trying to emulate the look of the work and focused more on capturing the feel of it. They succeed really well in this particular outing. The opening credits do a good job of showing the translation from comic to animation, which helps a lot if you stick around for it. It really strikes the perfect balance of adapting the source material and updating it from a visual perspective, particularly Catwoman’s design, which I always found to be a bit weird.
There are a number of exceptionally choreographed and animated action scenes throughout the film that showcases DC’s animators in top form. More than that, there are small visual storytelling details to give insight into Batman’s character, for example, him leaving a thanksgiving dinner for a certain character. It is also very interesting how the film teases and foreshadows Harvey’s turn to Two Face both within the narrative and visually.
On the storytelling front, the movie sucks you in and doesn’t let go. It is a slow burn, which may be a turn off for some of you looking for another “Batman punches bad man” movie, but considering the cerebral source material, you’re better off rewatching Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or something.
As a crime drama rather than a high-octane action movie, the slower pace allows for better worldbuilding and more nuanced character development. This is one occasion where splitting the films into two parts actually benefits the story, as even though Part I comes to a pretty natural conclusion, you’re still left wanting more. The story is also another area where they strike a perfect balance between sticking to the source material while simultaneously modernising it. It keeps most of the story the same while changing around just enough to keep those familiar with the original story engaged. After the swticheroo they pulled with Batman: Hush, I’m not expecting the big reveal to be what it was in the graphic novel.
On another note, this movie is a great example of how you do red herrings. It absolutely sells Batman’s inexperience and naivete, especially in the detective aspect, without taking away from his character. At least two characters comment on him needing to work on “that part of the job”. In most Batman stories he’s already the world’s greatest detective, and even in early Batman-focused plots they always seem to focus more on him becoming a ninja man, so it’s interesting to see a story where he’s not even a very competent investigator and comes to the realisation that in order to clean Gotham up, that needs to be part of his job description.
The film is extremely well voice cast and acted by everyone, including a bone-chilling performance by David Dastmalchian (Ant-Man films, The Flash) as Calendar Man. Even though he’s just there for one scene, the visuals, voice acting and almost no music during this scene just enhances the creepiness.
Of course, no Batman story would be complete without an appearance by everyone’s favourite clown prince of crime. Wait, before you groan and say, “Not again!” the Joker is never the focal point of this story, nor does he overshadow it. Joker’s addition is organic to the story and not just shoehorned in so we could have another forced confrontation between the two mortal enemies. Troy Baker delivers another stellar performance as the murderous clown, one that is truly unhinged and genuinely hilarious. As of this movie he has quickly become my second favourite voice actor for the character next to Mark Hamill. Now it seems less like he’s doing a Hamill impression and has developed his own unique take on Joker, though the parallels are still there.
The person who really surprised me was Supernatural’s Jensen Ackles as Batman. I was not prepared for how amazing he was as the Dark Knight. Of course, we’ve heard Ackles before in one of the best DC animated movies to ever be released, Under the Red Hood as the titular character, but man does he ever show his talent here. There are even shades of Kevin Conroy in his performance without being a rip-off, and the voice is so naturally imposing without him having to do a weird gravelly thing or a whispery growl. I really wish that Ackles becomes the new Batman for this new animated universe.
It’s really hard for me to say anything bad about this film, but I do think that one is that was a bit lacking was the soundtrack. There’s nothing really memorable to accompany the fight scenes, dramatic or emotional moments. Certainly, it never even comes close to the work done by the composing team on Batman the Animated Series or Christopher Drake’s work on Under the Red Hood.
If my constant praise of this movie in the preceding paragraphs weren’t enough, I thoroughly enjoyed Batman: The Long Halloween Part I and I cannot wait on Part II.
Wayne’s Score: 9 out of 10
So what’s your favourite Batman animated film? Feel free to hit us up in the comments. And you can check out more of the Caped Crusader’s animated adventures below:
Knock Knock! ‘Batman: The Killing Joke’ review in 3 pieces
Batman: Soul of the Dragon is an Action-Packed & Funny 70s Throwback