Tuesday, August 19, 2008
4 Color Cinema
Batman: Gotham Knight
Since about the time I was in the fifth grade, DC Comics has always had a solid, well-established foothold in the world of cartoons and animation. Springing up as the show that would not die (Batman: The Animated Series, although it is always amusing to note that the show was simply called Batman until Fox decided to advertise it as such), and continuing in various forms and formats over the years, the "DCAU" as it is commonly referred to has moved in a new direction in the last few years, pushing more into DTV (or as some technophiles like to say "Direct to DVD") feature films. The titles released under this new umbrella (Superman: Doomsday, Justice League: The New Frontier, and Gotham Knight) have all had unique art direction and visual styles, setting them up as discrete, individual films rather than as a series adaption or continuation. Knight ups the ante even further, by bringing in six seperate styles to the film, with each one handled by a different creative team and animated at a different studio. The result is a sort of "jam" film or psuedo-anthology, with six smaller features adding up to one larger story. The overall effect, though, is more uneven than anything else, leaving all but the most hardcore viewer disappointed.
The story is roughly that of the intermezzo between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, as Gotham City continues to suffer from corruption and crime, even as Batman emboldens the citizens and takes the fight to his opponents. The first vingette is "Have I Got A Story For You," a twist on the classic tale of several kids exchanging thoughts on who or what they think Batman is. This leads directly into "Crossfire," where officers (Crispus) Allen and Ramirez must escort a prisoner to Arkham, and wind up in (natually) a crossfire between Sal Maroni and the Russian mob. Batman gets some new technology in "Field Test," in the form of a small electromagnet which can redirect small arms fire, but the test turns out to be a failure during a mission. "In Darkness Dwells" finds Batman in the sewers of Gotham chasing Killer Croc, only to end up face to face with Scarecrow and his strange brainwashed cult of homeless. This encounter leaves Bats physically and mentally beaten-up, so he flashes back in "Working Through Pain" to his time in India learning to manage and control his pain. Finally, Batman must overcome his injuries to stop the assassian Deadshot, who is gunning for Lt. Gordon.
The main problem I have with this film is it's episodic nature which leaves most of the segments unfulfilling. "In Darkness Dwells," for instance, teases us with Killer Croc only to gives us literally less than a minute with him, since he is not the "purpose" of the segment. In a similar vain, "Field Test" feels completely unrelated to the other segments, and is almost like a "fill-in issue" in the middle of the movie. The animation is hit-or-miss for me, but I am not an anime fan so I am not the target audience. This technique worked better in The Animatrix, which was all "side stories" and didn't try to be a larger narrative. That method might have been a better choice than the "sum of the parts" technique used here.
The voice acting has always been one of the strong suits of the "DCAU" and that is no exception here. It's great to hear Kevin Conroy as Bats and Bruce again, and the juxtaposition of his voice and Bale's grumbling in the theatrical films is alarming. Jim Meskimen evokes Oldham's Gordon without aping him, and his Deadshot is menacing and dangerous. And who can forget vocal madman Corey Burton, who plays both the Russian and Scarecrow to great effect. (Interesting side note, evidently Martha Wayne is played in flashback by none other than voice director Andrea Romano.)
On the whole, I didn't care for Gotham Knight. It didn't serve either of it's primary functions, which would be to first entertain me, and second to get me to want to see The Dark Knight, so I have to deem it a failure on those levels. But, as I have said, I am not the biggest Batfan in the world, and my taste for anime is very, very limited. So I am probably not the best litmus test for this film, given it's very specific genes. If you really like Batman, or enjoy anime and the different art styles, then this may appeal to you. But it sure didn't appeal to me.