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Batman: Year One (Film) – Review

By: Tab Murphy (writer), Sam Liu & Lauren Montgomery (directors), Bryan Cranston, Eliza Dushku, Benjamin McKenzie (voice actors)

The Story: Uplifting a depraved city takes more than just putting on some tights, you know.

The Review: No matter how grim cartoons get, we still rarely think of them as truly edgy or dangerous, at least enough to satisfy the adult palette.  Japanese animators have been doing this kind of dramatic work for years, basically, but of all the American producers, only DC has ventured into that territory with commercial success.  With each yearly release of their animated films, they’ve shown a willingness to take bigger risks, yielding more fruitful results each time.

You can see the evolution in the animation.  All-Star Superman showed subtle signs of moving toward an anime standard of production, but in this film, it’s unmistakable, beautiful, and fitting.  By now, DC has grown quite formidable at depicting action, but here they show surprising aptitude for subtle body movements and changes in expression that gives a whole new level of craft to the “acting.”  The animation itself shows emotion, even without the voice actors’ help.

But then, we’re working with a pretty excellent source to begin with.  Anyone who’s flipped through Frank Miller’s original story arc knows what a groundbreaking piece of work it is.  So much of its success derives from what Miller left brilliantly unspoken; as aggressive as it seems, most of its tension feels almost subconscious.  This film is about as faithful an adaptation of all those qualities as it can get, and remains gripping nearly its entire length as a result.

If you want to capture the Miller spirit, you better just go for it, and Murphy, Montgomery, and Liu pull no punches.  Fifteen minutes in, you’ve got violent cops, corruption almost visibly festering in all places, fist-fights with pimps and prostitutes, underage hookers stabbing men in the thigh, even (unless I misheard it) an F-bomb at one point.  Heck, you even get to see a couple stark-naked men, bound up and lying (privates-side down) around.
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