Written by Tab Murphy.
Batman: Year One is Warner Premiere’s one-hour animated adaptation of the 1980s modernised origin of Batman.
I picked it up from my comic book store purely because it stars Bryan Cranston as James Gordon, a casting choice Warner Bros. should carry-over to mainstream cinema, and Ben McKenzie as Bruce Wayne, who now stars as a younger Gordon in prequel Gotham. Warner Premiere promoted this as a story more about Gordon than Wayne, and that’s something that accurately carries-over here, but in a very strange way. What we get is a montage of events during Year One, which cuts between Wayne and Gordon. Most of the run time before the final act is this style; backwards and forwards between them, as a montage, playing over a long piece of music. Which is how Year One is recounted. Run time is something I’ve had a big problem with when it comes to DC animations, because storytelling is often sacrificed because of it. Such a short runtime’s caused by writers realising they don’t have enough ideas for how to use and develop these characters, so instead they just cut the story short. And that’s the problem here: the story’s told much quicker than it needed to be. To say it establishes itself as a crime noir-esque thriller is strange, given that it rushes through each segment as if they don’t matter. Which is why there are a lot of questions left over – eg: where did Wayne get the Batman outfit? An origin story really desires that kind of information, especially for a character known for his appearance.
And even then, in scenes that have been given breathing space, the characters are so uninteresting. Bryan Cranston is an actor I love, but it’s obvious from the words he’s speaking that the script requires him to say it for the audience. In fact, there’s barely any dialogue here at all. Most of it’s internal dramatic dialogue that gives the audience all the information they might need. And that’s because there’s no time for dialogue in the story.
And yes, I complain, but that’s because I care. Warner Bros. could have become so popular by now if they put effort into their DVD-direct productions. If they used a cinematic screenplay, with a runtime allowing the story to exist in its own, natural terms, they could make something worth making, regardless of whether it was released in the mainstream or not.
McKenzie’s sleep-inducing performance notwithstanding, there’s nothing really notable about Batman: Year One when there should have been. There are many versions of Batman’s origin story, but this one told the story from Gordon’s perspective, and that really could have been something. But what we get instead is an extended montage that looked like a series catch up rather than the story itself.
Batman: Year One — potential wasted on frustrating montage. 4/10