Twenty-five years ago, DC Comics opted to reboot the Batman mythos in an attempt to expand his origin story and base the character in a gritty realism rather than the cartoony foolishness it had drifted into through the years. They picked Frank Miller for the writing task, fresh off his success with The Dark Knight Returns, and he teamed up with artist David Mazzucchelli to craft four pivotal issues in the regular Batman comic book series under the banner Batman: Year One.
Flash forward to this week’s release of Warner Bros. Animation’s newest feature of the same title, an extremely faithful adaptation of the source material. I suppose it’s easier to craft a good adaptation when the plot is already fully storyboarded in its original comic book form, but whatever the reason, the film religiously follows exactly the same progression as the book and even features much of the same dialogue, making for a final product that is more akin to a motion comic than a standalone film. That’s not a bad thing when the source material is as rich as this, but if you’re already familiar with the original book you’re not going to find any fresh perspective in the film.
Although Batman is the star, the plot focuses nearly equally on Jim Gordon as well, tracking his acclimation to the Gotham police force as a lieutenant as well as the start of his relationship with Batman. Bruce Wayne is in his mid-20s and has just returned to Gotham after spending about half his life abroad. He’s in peak physical condition and is out to make a difference in his corrupt community, but hasn’t yet latched onto the bat motif until one crashes through a window at Wayne Manor. From there on, he begins to develop his costume and bag of tricks, emerging as an imposing threat to the criminals on the streets and in the boardrooms. With Batman battling bad guys and Gordon battling dirty cops, it’s inevitable that their paths will cross and combine by the end of the film. Catwoman also enters the fray along the way, although more as a peripheral character than one with any substantial interaction with the leads.
Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) heads the vocal cast as Gordon with a commanding performance, with Ben McKenzie (The O.C.) providing an unremarkable Batman and Eliza Dushku (Dollhouse) adding some nice purr as Catwoman.
The bonus features on disc 1 include a thrilling 15-minute Catwoman short again starring Dushku, a behind-the-scenes preview of DC’s next animated film based on the Justice League and Legion of Doom, as well as previews of currently available titles All-Star Superman and Green Lantern: Emerald Knights. Disc 2 is far less robust and really unnecessary, featuring just a brief reminiscence about the origin of the source comic book project and its resulting film including interviews with creator fans of the work such as Greg Rucka and Len Wein, but no interviews with Miller or Mazzucchelli. Aside from that, the disc just has two bonus episodes of DC animated shows selected by Warner Bros. Animation kingpin Bruce Timm. If you’re buying on DVD, you really only need the single-disc version.