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Friday, August 01, 2008

Movie Review - Batman: Gotham Knight

Not bat. Not bat at all.


RATING: 3.5/5


It isn’t every day that we see a partnership between American and Japanese talents with regards to the production of a film. And when that film is actually one that has got to do with Batman, there is no doubt that anyone with the slightest interest in animation or Batman will be hyped up about it. That’s what Batman: Gotham Knight seeks out to achieve: to stoke up interest in The Dark Knight. It is a series of 6 short movies that is designed to bridge the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. On that count, you could end up being addled and disappointed because Batman: Gotham Knight fails miserably in its task – it doesn’t seem to be in any way connected to either of Nolan’s Batman films and the 6 short movies do not tie into a single narrative; instead, they are disparate.

However, what you have here are 6 refreshing short films, with each of them having a unique feel as they are each being done by a different writer, director and animation studio. Some explore the interesting perspectives of Batman from various characters, some offer more of the conventional Batman plot – which means intense action sequences which feature established villains from the Batman universe, while some further the character development of Batman. But ultimately, all of these 6 short films are varying interpretations of the Batman character by various talents, making for a fairly captivating watch. The idea of assigning each of the 6 short films in the compilation to different talents to produce before combining them together again ends up rather innovative and impressive when executed here.

Looks like a villain.

‘Have I Got a Story for You’ is the first short film in this compilation. This is also the film which seems to have the most Japanese influence as the animation style contains more Japanese elements than American ones. There is not much of a story to this film, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Rather, the film revolves around how a group of kids perceive Batman to look like. This opens the opportunity for some really creative interpretations of Batman – one kid recounts Batman to be a shadow-like shape-shifting bat figure that looks more like a villain than a hero, while the other portrays Batman to be simply Batman – literally, a half-man, a half-bat. Another kid mentions that Batman is neither a human nor creature, but rather, a robot (think Robocop, but without any human in the suit). All forms of Batman depicted here look excessively sanguinary – far from the Batman everyone knows and loves. This may not go down well with traditionalist Batman fans, but it would be preferable to have an open mind to really appreciate what is being accomplished here – exploration of how most Gotham citizens, who are likely to have never seen Batman before, may perceive the hero to look like and the demonstration of ideas of how Batman would look like from a more artistic perspective. The film concludes in a considerably surprising and appropriate way, with the real Batman finally showing up in front of the kids. Overall, this film is quite a intriguing take on Batman, with the talents injecting just enough refreshing and imaginative elements to make this film one of the more unique and outstanding ones in the compilation.

The second short film is ‘Crossfire’. Like ‘Have I Got a Story for You’, this short film focuses on the different perspectives of Batman – but this time, the perspectives are from a pair of detectives rather than of a bunch of kids. One is proud of the fact that the redoubtable Batman is helping them to keep the city under order, while the other begs to differ – he thinks that they are just running errands for Batman – bringing criminals to prisons after they have been caught by Batman. The film begins with both the detectives transporting the criminal to a high security prison and the general atmosphere and mood of the film is mysterious and a tad sinister – so much so that I was expecting one of the villains from the Batman universe to show up because it’s so fitting for the setting of this film. Unfortunately, the talents producing this film had other things in mind. The detectives accidentally turn into a soon-to-be gunfight scene between a pair of rival mobs after dropping the criminal at the prison and they are soon caught between the bullets. As you’d have guessed by now, Batman intervenes and saves the day.

While there isn’t anything wrong with this event, my question is: Why was there even a need to have the scene where the detectives are transporting the criminal to the prison in the first place? And why was there such a mysterious and sinister atmosphere and mood being introduced when all that this film is going to escalate into is a gunfight between some mobs? What’s the point? It’s meaningless – and I can’t help but think that half of this film isn’t anything more than mere fillers. Granted, the gunfight is quite spectacular, with the fight scenes being a traditional showcase of Batman’s combat skills. As Batman saved both the detectives’ lives, the detective who initially doubted Batman was proven erroneous. This provides the much-needed reasonability to an otherwise shallow film. All in all, this film is one of the weaker ones in the compilation.

This is Bruce Wayne!?!

The third short film to make it into this collection is ‘Field Test’. It supposedly revolves around the development and usage of a new Batman tool – and that tool in question is a magnetic device that creates an invisible bullet-proof shield around Batman at all times. Like the short film before it, there are some commendable fight scenes here that showcase Batman’s silky moves, but the story is nothing to write home about. Does it matter? More often than not, your attention would be directed towards the ridiculously young Bruce Wayne represented here – in fact, he looks so young that no one would have blamed you if you have thought that Bruce Wayne was a teenager at first glance. While I encourage creative interpretations of Batman, this one is just too weird, too unrealistic and doesn’t seem to fit in. The Batman outfit featured here is modern and nice, though.

‘In Darkness Dwells’ is the next short film and as it title suggests, this has an overall dark theme to it. A pair of villains from the Batman universe finally makes an appearance here, marking a return to a conventional Batman storyline. Fans would be delighted to see Scarecrow and Killer Croc in this film. In addition to that, there are also some really intense action sequences, and I found myself wishing that this film would last longer, but like the other preceeding films, it ended all too quickly. Despite the aforementioned, this film remains one of the more satisfying movies in the compilation.

The next film is ‘Working Through Pain’. In the film, Batman is severely injured and has to work his way up the sewers after his enemies have been defeated. The film is also told via a series of flashbacks that elucidates how Bruce learnt to withstand pain. It is essentially a film that skillfully develops the character in a way that would allow fans to have a more coherent comprehension of Batman’s background. But the bizarre thing is: Why wasn’t this film merged with ‘In Darkness Dwells’ since Batman got injured severely in the said as well? The merged film would have provided more competencies to the already good movie that is ‘In Darkness Dwells’. Nonetheless, this film is strong enough to stand on its own two feet.

Cooking with Batman - slicing and dicing.

They say that you should always save the best for the last. And indeed, that rings true for this compilation. ‘Deadshot’ is the last film to be featured in Batman: Gotham Knight, but it’s also the BEST. This film doesn’t beat about the bush – there aren’t any new weapons to speak off, neither is there any character development nor convoluted story – just a straight-to-the-point style of film. And this idea works very well for this film – it dives straight into the action and it never lets go. It’s great to see a new villain featured here and he has the same name as the title of this film. The pace of the film’s suitably furious and is suspenseful throughout – certainly a brilliant way to conclude the entire collection.

Final Comments
If you are either an animation or Batman fan, or both, chances are you would have already bought or decided to buy Batman: Gotham Knight. While it doesn’t fulfill its objective of bridging the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, this is still a relatively good compilation of 6 short films. With the exception of the second short film ‘Crossfire’, everything’s great. Each short film brings different animation styles, story ideas and varying interpretations of Batman to the table – something that can be difficult to find elsewhere.


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