On paper, Batman: Gotham Knight
According to the official press release: “Batman: Gotham Knight is a fresh and exciting new entry into the Batman mythos, spinning out of a 40-year history in animation including the Emmy-winning Batman: The Animated Series, widely considered a pivotal moment in American animation. A cross section of distinguished creators, award winning producers and acclaimed writers weave six interlocking stories that reveal Bruce Wayne’s journey to Dark Knight, each with stylish art from some of the world’s most revered animation visionaries.”
Doesn’t that sound like a DVD you want to own? Bruce Timm, one of the driving forces behind Batman: The Animated Series (which I wholeheartedly love) teaming with three top anime studios and a collection of talented writers to make a film that bridges the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight; it sounds like it can’t miss. They even got Kevin Conroy, the phenomenal voice actor from Batman: The Animated Series to reprise his role as Batman/Bruce Wayne.
Unfortunately, while the idea behind the DVD is brilliant, Batman: Gotham Knight fails to deliver. While the animation is remarkable (especially in “Deadshot,” the final story, which paints Gotham City in a dark canvas reminiscent of The Animated Series, but in a traditional anime style), the stories themselves are lackluster. They fail to live up to the promise of revealing “Bruce Wayne’s journey to Dark Knight” and saying that the stories are “interlocking” is being generous.
While there was an attempt to bridge one story to the next, there isn’t really anything tying them all together for an overall story arc. If you attempt to watch Gotham Knight as a complete movie instead of six separate stories, the experience ends up feeling disjointed.
So instead of judging the film as a whole, I’ll give you a breakdown of each individual story:
Have I Got a Story for You
Written By: Josh Olson (A History of Violence)
Directed By: Shoujirou Nishimi
“Have I Got a Story for You” seems to have been inspired by a classic Batman comic from the 1970s titled “The Batman Nobody Knows” (by Frank Robbins and Dick Giordano). Like “The Batman Nobody Knows,” “Have I Got a Story for You” focuses on a group of kids sharing embellished encounters they’ve had with the Dark Knight.
In Olson’s version of the story, it is a group of skater kids who are swapping Batman stories. The first kid depicts Batman as a living shadow, the second describes him as an actual flying bat-man (not to be confused with Manbat, one of Gotham City’s rogue gallery) and the third claims he is a Robocop-esque cyborg. Of all of the different incarnations of Batman seen in this opening story, Cyborg Batman is by far the best. It was very reassuring for me to see that when the robots of the world rise up as one to enslave all mankind, Cyborg Batman will be there to protect all humans.
The animation for this story looks like a cross between a Gorillaz video and that popular Whack Your Boss online game, which gives “Have I Got a Story for You” the most distinct visuals out of all six stories.
Overall, this segment serves as a cute opening story for the film. It’s ironic that the writer of A History of Violence would write the fluffiest, least-violent story on the DVD, but I guess Olson felt like branching out.
Written By: Greg Rucka
Directed By: Futoshi Higashide
“Crossfire” actually does attempt to fill in some of the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. In this story, we learn that Lt. Gordon is now openly working with Batman. We also learn that the bridges are still raised up leaving the Narrows cutoff from the rest of Gotham City (presumably because of the aftereffects of the toxin Scarecrow and Ra’s Al Ghul released at the end of Batman Begins). Basically, the Narrows are being treated like Australia was in the 1700s; a place to store prisoners while the rest of the city is cleaned up.
In “Crossfire,” two detectives serving under Gordon are transporting a criminal back to the Narrows. The two detectives, Crispus Allen and Anna Ramirez, debate whether Batman is good for the city or not. Detective Allen thinks Batman is a no good vigilante (and I think Detective Allen is a whiny douche) and Detective Ramirez thinks Batman is the bees knees. Eventually, the two inadvertently stumble in to the middle of a gang war and (sorry if this next line counts as a spoiler, but come on, it’s incredibly obvious) Batman has to show up to save them.
Written By: Jordan Goldberg (Associate Producer for The Dark Knight)
Directed By: Hiroshi Morioka
While the first two stories only give you glimpses of Batman through other characters’ eyes, “Field Test” is the first story to center around Batman/Bruce Wayne. It’s also the first story to actually give Batman a substantial amount of dialogue, which is nice since the previous segments really give Kevin Conroy nothing to work with.
“Field Test” opens with Bruce Wayne meeting with Lucius Fox inside Wayne Enterprises. For some reason, the animators decided to make Bruce Wayne look about 10-years-old, which is really odd and distracting. Wayne and Fox have an incredibly long and boring technical conversation about EMP (electromagnetic pulse) technology. Nothing against Kevin Michael Richardson, the guy who did the voice of Lucius Fox in Gotham Knight, but I just kept thinking that their boring technical conversation would have been a lot more riveting if Morgan Freeman was the one reading the lines.
Anyway, the gist of their talk is that Fox has discovered a way to deflect bullets using EMPs. Batman decides to field test this new technology, but learns that there are unexpected consequences. There is also a subplot about Bruce Wayne golfing in a charity event, but the less said about that plotline, the better.
In Darkness Dwells
Written By: David S. Goyer (Batman Begins)
Directed By: Yasuhiro Aoki
For some reason, the animators in this segment decided to bulk up Batman to make him look super-buff (perhaps to make up for the fact that he looked like a 10-year-old boy in the previous story). In this vignette, Killer Croc, one of Scarecrow’s patients, kidnaps a holy man named O’Fallon and carries him in to the sewer. Super-buff Batman heads in to the sewer to confront Killer Croc and Scarecrow and rescue O’Fallon.
Perhaps David S. Goyer, the co-screenwriter of Batman Begins, was attempting to use the already established Scarecrow to introduce a new villain, but this story heavily incorporates Scarecrow’s fear toxin, which in some ways makes it feel like a retread of Batman Begins. Also, while this story has some cool action sequences, the dialogue often felt stilted. Overall, this segment just falls flat.
Working Through Pain
Written By: Brian Azzarello
Directed By: Toshiyuki Kubooka
By far this is the worst story of the six. For some reason, these animators decided to make Bruce Wayne look like Pete Wentz and decided to dress him like an extra from Miami Vice. Seeing Batman with emo hair, a peachfuzz goatee and a Hawaiian shirt is an image I sadly may never forget.
While the look of this segment is bad enough, the plot is even worse. Through a series of flashbacks, this story shows a time when Bruce Wayne went to India to continue his training to become Batman. The whole thing is incredibly boring and pointless and it really drags the movie down. The only thing that could have saved this part is if Bruce Wayne and his exotic Indian trainer Cassandra suddenly burst into some sweet Bollywood singing and dancing.
Written By: Alan Burnett (Batman: Mask of the Phantasm)
Directed By: Jong-Sik Nam
While most of the stories in Gotham Knight fall short of expectations, “Deadshot” is the film’s saving grace. Alan Burnett was one of the writers on Batman: The Animated Series, as well as a slew of other quality animated programs, and he was the writer of the phenomenal Batman: Mask of the Phantasm, so it’s no real surprise that his story “Deadshot” outshines all of the other stories on Gotham Knight. “Deadshot” shows how great this DVD could have been and it leaves you disappointed that the other segments couldn’t deliver a similar level of quality.
Even the animation is better in this segment. As mentioned above, it seems to have a darker canvas than the other segments, which really adds to the noir look of Gotham City. And, instead of looking like a 10-year-old boy or Pete Wentz, Bruce Wayne looks like a lost Baldwin brother. They even give him a sweet turtleneck to make up for the Hawaiian shirt Wayne was previously forced to wear.
This story is about an assassin named Deadshot who is hired to kill Lt. Gordon. Deadshot is an incredibly accurate sharpshooter who looks like he put his costume together by raiding Carmen Sandiego’s closet (where in the world is she these days, anyway?). While he looks like a bit of a dandy boy, his firearm skills make him a worthy adversary for Batman.
“Deadshot” gives you everything you could hope for in an animated Batman story. The plot is interesting, it has great action scenes and the animation is top notch. My only complaint is that they didn’t give “Deadshot” more time to unfold. This was the one story out of the six that I felt could have been developed into a longer story, perhaps even made into the focus of the entire film.
Overall, I feel like Batman: Gotham Knight is a mixed bag. While “Deadshot” was incredibly good and “Working Through Pain” was incredibly bad, most of the stories were somewhere in the middle. It seems like everyone was so focused on making the animation as amazing as possible that they forget to actually write engaging stories.
So, if you are a huge Batman fan like me, this might make a nice addition to your DVD collection, but for casual fans or those looking for something to bridge the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, I suggest you steer clear.
Still, while I was disappointed with the film overall, I hope they don’t give up on the concept completely. “Deadshot” showed that this idea could work if done properly. Next time they should leave all of the writing to Alan Burnett; then they might actually have a film that lives up to its press release.
Written by Joel Murphy. Batman: Gotham Knight is available on DVD July 8. For more information, check out the official site.