Batman: Year One — review

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

Written by Tab Murphy

Superman & Batman: Apocalypse — review

Adapted by Tab Murphy from Supergirl From Krypton.

 

Superman & Batman: Apocalypse is a strange case in terms of what it wants to achieve. The title would tell you it’s a team-up between the World’s Finest, as they journey to Apocalypse to fight Darkseid. Which is what happens, but that isn’t the main event. Instead, the story is really about the arrival of Kara Zor-El, and how she adapts to Earth life with the guidance of cousin Kal-El and Wonder Woman, Diana. Bruce Wayne, a headline character sharing the billing with Kal-El, only plays a supporting role, and the story can’t seem to decide what it wants to be.

What it is though, is actually better than you might expect it to be. There are some real moments of believability, as Zor-El adjusts to her new home by going on a shopping spree and experiencing hot-dogs, all while dragging Kal-El around with her, who already feels Human enough to react how you might expect him to. Another highlight is her reaction to the death of Harbinger, which was underplayed to effect. Or is that just because I sensed a romantic subtext between them?

The best part is after the battle between Zor-El and Darkseid, destroying Kent Farm. When the Kents return, they see the destruction around them, and Kal-El stands amidst it with a girl in clothes ripped to shreds. His reaction takes the character from Superman to Clark Kent without the distinction. It’s a subtle, but important factor. Unfortunately, the battle itself is the problem. Having reasoned to Darkseid, Kal-El is able to take Zor-El away from Apocalypse, and prepares her for the meeting between his parents. Darkside then emerges from within to destroy Kal-El. It was a surprising twist, but follows completely brought down the tone of the story. Somehow, Darkside tossed Kal-El so far that he was thrown toward the sun. Meanwhile, Zor-El was left to fight Darkseid herself. It reminded me of Man of Steel‘s latter half, with the violence becoming so overblown that it lost its effect to the point of the audience no longer really feeling the force of the violence. The conflict between them wasn’t between the characters, it was just between two super-powered characters. And naturally, Zor-El’s clothes became torn-off, showing much flesh. Kal-El had a few rips here and there, but none to the point matching Zor-El’s. It was very reminiscent of Michael Bay: tedious levels of destruction, leading to an opportunity for eye candy. It felt like a weight on the end of an okay story, that makes you feel as if its too long (which it was), and had already reached a satisfying conclusion.

While the ending lacks confidence, what comes before is several stories in one, and the whole thing feels as if its an extended recap of a television series rather than a single story. Subplots and multiple plot-lines aren’t a bad thing, but Superman & Batman: Apocalypse doesn’t seem to be very good at them.

 

Superman & Batman: Apocalypse: multiple plotlines and overblown finale 5/10.