I don’t believe there was ever better casting than Bryan Cranston as Lt. James Gordon. I’m going to come right out and say this first because Cranston as Gordon makes the movie. I know it says Batman: Year One on the cover, but this is The Jim Gordon Show, and he’s a badass. Just wanted to make that clear. Onward.
In a continuing fashion of pitch-perfect adaptions, Warner Bros. Animation bangs out another fantastic flick. When I watched this film the comic book wasn’t fresh in my mind. I’ve read Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli‘s grim, noir beginning of Batman before, but most of the details are fuzzy. Which I’m thinking only heightened my enjoyment. Batman: Year One excels at creating suspenseful moments and they’re only sweeter if you’re not sure what’s coming next. If you were planning to brush up on Miller’s original book before taking in this film, I say don’t. Let the movie reveal the plot to you.
Minor spoilage begins below.
Year One opens with Jim Gordon and Bruce Wayne arriving in Gotham City. Gordon’s coming to Gotham after an incident in Chicago where he turned in a fellow officer, a corrupt officer, and he was treated as a traitor by the other boys in blue. Bruce is coming back to Gotham after fleeing across the globe to find himself, as well as train under one of the best martial artists in the world, and finally he’s prepared to face his childhood tragedy. For both of them, Gotham is hell.
And I couldn’t help having Bladerunner flashbacks as these two men familiarized themselves with the cesspool of Gotham. I think this is because much of the film is told through dueling inner monologues from Gordon and Bruce, exactly like the comic. In fact, I’m pretty sure most of the film’s dialogue is lifted straight from Miller’s script. The language is very terse, brief and to the point. No fancy, flowery language here.
Year One has marvelous pacing for a film only a little over an hour in length. We follow Gordon and Bruce through their first year in Gotham, their successes and failures as both men keep struggling for purpose. Strangely, they become one another’s reason to soldier on. They provide each other with hope, Gordon gives Bruce hope the police force isn’t corrupt and worthless and Batman gives Gordon hope they’re not alone, there is someone willing to fight for good in this hell hole.
I said in the beginning Year One should have been retitled The Jim Gordon Badass Hour. Why you might ask? Because this Jim Gordon is a kick-ass, no bullshit, determined, honorable man with one goal, to clean up Gotham, and even more importantly the Gotham City Police Department. Right away we know the GCPD is full of dirty cops, dirty cops who don’t like or trust Gordon. It’s quickly made known if Gordon decides to get any ideas, like reporting on crooked cops, his new family (Gordon’s wife, Barbara, is pregnant when we begin and little baby, James joins them by film’s end) won’t fare well.
At one point Gordon is jumped by several masked police officers and he makes an impressive effort to fight off his attackers, but quickly he’s overcome as they beat him senseless with baseball bats. But Jim Gordon is gruff and tough, and would do anything to protect his family. Including tracking down the lead dirty cop, Detective Flass, challenging him to a rematch and proceeding to pwn him. Flasse is a former Green Beret and Gordon gives him a baseball bat before their fight. A handicap, he says. Then Gordon proceeds to his kicks his ass, brutally. In fact the whole scene, including the lead in when he’s tailing Flass, Gordon comes off as one scary ass mother fucker.
Unfortunately, a character who doesn’t work for me is Selina Kyle, Catwoman. I know she’s in Miller and Mazzuchelli’s original comic, but in a film like this with such brilliant pacing and wonderfully crafted inter-twining narratives for both Gordon and Bruce we aren’t given much reason to care about Selina. He storyline eventually evolves into a running joke as Gotham news reporters keep calling her Batman’s sidekick. It’s a real shame because Eliza Dushku is pretty fantastic, she’s so tough, fiesty, very sexy, and guess what?! Catwoman’s boobs aren’t popping out in every frame! Take note, the Catwoman of the current comics is a master thief who can’t keep her tits in or her suit zipped up, while the Catwoman of Year One, whose a dominatrix by trade, appears empowered and covered up. What the fuck, DC? You don’t make any sense. Now, I am aware Catwoman stars in her own short included on the DVD, which I haven’t seen, but in it she apparently hides out in a strip club and performs a strip tease to avoid her pursuers. Being an animated short I doubt much else happens.
For Batman, they cast Ben McKenzie, and he’s not bad, he has a good grasp of both Bruce Wayne and Batman and makes their voices distinct without need to growl his lines. In fact, I think his Bruce Wayne sounds a lot like Christian Bale, and if you were to pick some part of Bale’s portrayal to mimic, that’s it. Also, and this happens a lot otherwise I wouldn’t mention it, but Batman’s only animated facial expression is to slowly squint his eyes. Waaaay to much Batman squinty face, it’s laughable.
I hardly mentioned Sarah Essen, a GCPD detective Gordon begins an affair with, and it’s because her scenes are brief, but they’re important. Katie Sackhoff does good work, but again, this isn’t her picture. Their scenes together add some shades of grey to Gordon’s character and even more excellent emotional material for Cranston to work with. I can’t tell you enough how awesome Bryan Cranston is as Gordon. He owns this movie and the character, and his Gordon isn’t only one tough hombre, but he’s funny too! Gordon has this cynical, sarcastic wit and Cranston just nails it. It’s no surprise he’s given top billing.
And lastly, before I forget since this is an animated film, how’s the animation? Beautiful. There’s a moment when Batman’s trapped in a burning building and the action is animated so seamlessly, his movements look effortless. It really is beautiful work. And while the style of animation isn’t an exact copy of Mazzuchelli’s work they lift a lot of imagery straight from pages of the comic.
No surprise here, I’m recommending you check this movie out. If you’re in the mood for a great Batman movie, and an even better origin than Batman Begins you should watch this. And believe me, this will defintely become your favorite version of Jim Gordon. Gary Oldman is fantastic in the Chistopher Nolan’s films, but Cranston was born for this role, he embodies Gotham’s police commissioner perfectly.
Batman: Year One releases on DVD/Blu-ray October 18th, but is available for purchase on Xbox Live, PSN, Zune, VUDU and iTunes today.