Friday, July 18, 2008

Batman: Gotham Knight

I watched the animated Batman: Gotham Knightlast night in preparation for seeing The Dark Knight tonight. This is the collection of six loosely-linked tales, set firmly in the world of the new Batman films, written by such notables as David Goyer (Batman Begins) Josh Olson (A History of Violence) and Alan Burnett (Batman The Animated Series) and directed by such famous Japanese directors as Yasuhiro Aoki, Toshiyuki Kubooka, and Shojiro Nishimi.

And this is definitely not for kids.

In fact, it's so violent and graphic that my wife left the room during the penultimate episode and let me finish it by itself. Now, I'm not shy about violence, and am really excited by the reports on just how dark The Dark Knight seems to be - and I'm a lifelong advocate of the "cartoons aren't just for kids" school of thought - but I can't help but think there are a lot of parents that are going to be picking this up for a lot of kids who are definitely too young to see it!

Now, as for us adults, for whom it was clearly made... Well, it looks very cool to see an adult animation of Bats (and I'm glad they got Kevin Conroy to voice him again, even though this isn't connected to BTAS), but I think Gotham Knight suffers from format, from being six different stories only loosely connected. There really isn't enough time for most of them to do more than showcase the art, and I felt only two of them actually furthered the character. Most are vignettes - cool for the art of it (Gotham looks incredible!) but not deep enough in terms of story. Ultimately, just bridging material between the two films. Not as "vital" perhaps as, oh, "The Second Rennaissance" stuff is in The Animatrix- where you are REALLY furthering the story (and, sadly, as it turns out, exceeding it). Of the whole thing, only one of the shorts - "Working Through Pain" - which is ironically the one that drove my wife away, actually stays with me and adds to my understanding/appreciation of the Batman story. (Not surprisingly, this one was scripted by 100 Bullets creator Brian Azzarello from a story by Jordan Goldberg.)

So, is a Batman completest like myself glad I bought this? Of course. But most of you can get by with Netflixing it. And while it's certainly worth watching, it doesn't need to be top of the queue. That being said, I'd love to see a single-story, feature-length animated Batman DVD in this style. If any one of these teams was allowed to do a story at a length that could match the artwork in its depth and sophistication, we'd really be in for something special. Don't get me wrong - I really enjoyed it, but more as a promise of what's possible and as a companion to the films than something that holds up on its own - I need more complex storytelling to give it the full marks.


Gabe said...

Huh. Seems we had pretty much the exact same reaction to Gotham Knight. Cool.

ces said...

I gave up on the Batman movies a long time ago. Haven't missed them.

Lou Anders said...

Gabe - it seems that we did!
Ces - the old Burton/Schumacher franchise and this have nothing in common. If you've read and appreciated Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns than you are doing yourself a disservice not to see the new film.

Shadowhelm said...

I downloaded this over Xbox Live in HD only hours before going to see The Dark Knight. While I really like the idea of Batman in anime (I think the Animatrix is the only real sequel to The Matrix) I was thoroughly disappointed by the film.

It was simply boring. Not to mention Bruce Wayne looked like a 15 year old. The Deadshot episode started to make up for the rest of the uninteresting film but then it whole thing was over. It was a good try but the stories just seemed a little underdeveloped.

I recommend checking out The New Frontier instead.

Lou Anders said...

Thanks, Shadowhelm - it's on my Netflix queue, though I'd heard it wasn't as good as the comic. Mask of the Phantom and Return of the Joker are still the two best animated films to date in my opinion.