This review was originally written on March 20, 2009.
Batman: Gotham Knight is an animated film comprised of six vignettes meant to bridge the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Each vignette tells an independent aspect of the overall story: Batman's battle with the mobs in Gotham City, as well as various villains from the Batman universe. This movie is very similar to what was done for The Animatrix. Each of the short stories in the film is animated by a different Japanese anime studio.
STORY ONE: HAVE I GOT A STORY FOR YOU
The first story was animated by Studio 4 C (Tekkon Kinkreet, Transformers Animated, Hikaru Utada's Passion music video). In this vignette, three kids share their individual experiences witnessing the Batman fighting a "man in black" around town to a fourth kid. As they share their experiences, each kid builds on the previous story, sharing what happened earlier.
I'm not generally a big fan of Studio 4 C's animation style, and this is no exception. The non-human aspects of the story were beautiful. The humans, however, looked strange and gaudy. Batman, at times, looked like a bloated old man, hunched over. The story, written by Josh Olson (A History of Violence), made the animation worth watching. It was interesting to see how each of these teenagers interpreted the Batman when they saw him. Each interpretation was vastly different from the others (a vampire-esque shadow, a bat in the style of Man-Bat, and a robot). He was almost mythical to these kids. At the end, the kids see the real Batman, and it becomes clear that Batman is none of the things the kids described, and all of those things.
This story was a strong opening to the Gotham Knight disc, and certainly piqued my curiosity in the rest of the disc.
STORY TWO: CROSSFIRE
Crossfire was animated by Production I.G. (Ghost in the Shell, Blood+, xxxHolic, FLCL). Batman has captured the man in black from the first story, and left him in the hands of the Gotham City Police Department. Anna Ramirez and Crispus Allen, en route to return the man to the penitentiary, discuss the Batman. When they arrive, they end up caught in the middle of a mob battle.
The animation for this story was much better than the first. Anyone familiar with Production I.G. (and if you've watched anime, you're probably familiar with them) knows that their art is very clean and beautiful. I was impressed with the voices for Ramirez and Commisioner Gordon, while Allen's seemed a little stale. The discussion in the car between Ramirez and Allen showed the dichotomy of opinions of the Batman. Allen doesn't support this vigilante; however, Ramirez, who grew up in Gotham, says she sees the difference he's making.
This story was written by comic veteran Greg Rucka. As such, it has the same feel as the Batman comics, which I really enjoyed. Also, a huge geek nod: when Allen and Ramirez are caught in the crossfire and calling for backup, they say they're on the corner of O'Neil and Morrison. This is a reference to comic legends Denny O'Neil and Grant Morrison.
STORY THREE: FIELD TEST
Field Test is animated by Bee Train, perhaps best known for their work on Tsubasa Chronicle, Madlax, and various .hack series. Lucius Fox has worked out some technology to make a bullet-proofing mechanism for Bruce. In his first field test for the technology, it works as intented, but deflects a bullet into someone standing nearby. Batman, well-known for his distaste of guns, resolves not to use the technology.
This segment was written by Jordan Goldberg. I'm not familiar with him, and after some research I came across nothing else that he's written (though he is credited as Associate Producer on both The Dark Knight and The Prestige). As such, I was impressed with the writing in this segment, especially for someone who doesn't have a list of writing gigs under his belt. There was one line in particular that I felt gave very good insight into the character of Batman. You'll know it when you hear it.
STORY FOUR: IN DARKNESS DWELLS
Animated by Madhouse (Black Lagoon, Death Note, Claymore, Ninja Scroll), one of the most popular anime studios in Japan, this segment featured the sleekest animation. Batman is searching for a man who was kidnapped. His quest leads him to the sewers of Gotham City, where he runs across Killer Croc and Scarecrow (who has a sizeable following). Batman gets a dose of the Scarecrow's fear toxin; still, he manages to rescue the man he was sent to rescue, albeit not unscathed.
In Darkness Dwells was written by David S. Goyer, who wrote the screenplays for both Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. This is the segment that seems to bridge the two live-action movies the most. The batsuit in this segment also looks the most like Christian Bale's batsuit.
The writing in this segment was very good. There were a number of memorable exchanges, as can be expected from David S. Goyer. The animation had its good and bad aspects. Madhouse is a great animation studio. The backgrounds of the sewer were surprisingly detailed. The character designs were, for the most part, interesting interpretations of the characters. I especially liked the look Madhouse gave the Scarecrow. However, Killer Croc looked very strange. I spent more time trying to convince myself that it was supposed to be Killer Croc than paying attention to his battle with Batman.
STORY FIVE: WORKING THROUGH PAIN
This segment, also animated by Studio 4 C, is told mostly through flashback. In the present, a very wounded Batman is trying to escape the sewers. While doing so, he flashes back to events that lead him to being able to work through pain. First, we see Bruce Wayne volunteering with a relief organization. Then, we see him attempting to join a religious sect known as the fakir in an attempt to learn to minimize pain. Though they don't accept him, he learns the techniques from a former student of the fakir. Bruce learns to lessen the physical sensation of pain to a controllable point. But, his lessons end when a gang comes to assault his teacher, and he fights back. In the present, as Batman is making his way out of the sewer, he discovers a surplus of guns in the garbage around him.
Written by comic veteran Brian Azzarello, this segment was my favorite. The animation, though done by a studio of which I am not fond, looked very crisp and colorful. Even their designs for people, usually my biggest complaint about Studio 4 C, were human looking, and not caricatures of humans. The story fills in some gaps from the time between Bruce Wayne leaving Gotham and returning to Gotham to become the Batman.
STORY SIX: DEADSHOT
Also animated by Madhouse, this story is the finale of the Gotham Knight film. Bruce Wayne flashes back to his parents' murder, as Alfred asks what he plans to do with the guns found in the previous segment. Assassin Deadshot is hired to end Jim Gordon's life, and Batman is called in to stop it.
Deadshot was written by Alan Burnett, who is no stranger to the Dark Knight. He's written a number of Batman animated series episodes over the years. This finale to Gotham Knight is, for me, all about character development. Everyone knows that Batman doesn't use guns. In this segment, he actually discussed why that is the case. That battle with Deadshot was very exciting to watch, and helped further Batman's character development in its own way.
Overall: I really enjoyed Batman: Gotham Knight. There were a few plot holes that I noticed, but they didn't detract from my enjoyment of the film. I highly recommend this to hardcore Batman fans. The casual viewer of Batman may enjoy this film; but, a lot of it seems to play to the hardcore Batman-philes. Anime fans would also really enjoy this film, as it's some of the best work from some of the best anime studios.
I purchased the two-disc special edition version of this film. As a special features junkie, I like to get more bang for my buck, as it were. The packaging is pretty cool. The slip case features a cut out of Batman, which opens to reveal a holographic image behind it. The case it self is a standard DVD case with two discs inside.
SPECIAL FEATURES -
Disc One: Audio Commentary by Gregory Noveck (Senior VP of DC Comics), Dennis O'Neil (long-time writer of Batman), and Kevin Conroy (voice of Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman: Gotham Knight), sneak peek at Wonder Woman animated movie, and trailers for The Dark Knight, Journey to the Center of the Earth, Lego Batman video game, and Popeye the Sailor 1938-1940 DVD collection.
Disc Two: Two documentaries and Episodes from Batman the Animated Series
A MIRROR FOR THE BAT: THE EVIL DENIZENS OF GOTHAM CITY - This documentary discusses Batman's Rogue's Gallery of villains, including their origins and insights into their characters, as well as Batman himself. It features interviews from many people involved in Batman over the years, including DC Editor Dan Didio, Writers Denny O'Neil, Brian Azzarello, and Greg Rucka, as well as many others. It features footage from Batman: Gotham Knight, as well as all animated incarnations of Batman, and artwork from Batman comics over the years. This 35-minute documentary is a very interesting watch, and at no point did I feel bored. As a long time Batman fan, I enjoyed hearing what people involved in writing the Batman over the years had to say about his villains. It's also a good watch for people unfamiliar with Batman comics, as it shares a lot of information about the villain's histories.
BATMAN AND ME, A DEVOTION TO DESTINY: THE BOB KANE STORY - As a Batman fan, I was amazed to see just how little I knew about Bob Kane, the creator. This 38-minute documentary was a testament to the man behind Batman, and his life. I highly suggest this documentary to new and old Batman fans alike.
FOUR EPISODES FROM BATMAN THE ANIMATED SERIES HAND PICKED BY BRUCE TIMM (Producer for both Batman: Gotham Knight and Batman the Animated Series) Anyone familiar with Batman the Animated Series knows in advance that these episodes are awesome. Batman the Animated Series is one of the greatest cartoon series of the 1990s. The episodes included are:
Legends of the Dark Knight
Heart of Ice
Over the Edge
I Am the Night
Two-disc DVD Special Edition, Blu-Ray, and Single-disc DVD editions available at most retailers, including , , , and wherever DVDs and comic books are sold.
CHECK YOUR LOCAL COMIC BOOK STORE! Many that do not carry DVDs can still order them for you!
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