The animated Batman Begins.
Batman: Year One (2011) is a DC animations film adapted from the graphic novel of the same name, and directed by Sam Liu and Lauren Montgomery. It stars Bryan Cranston as James Gordon and Ben McKenzie as Bruce Wayne, two men arriving in Gotham at the same time for two very different reasons. One enters into the police force to rid the scum from Gotham’s streets through the law. The other… well, not so much.
Considered by many as one of the greatest and most influential Batman comics of all time, an animated adaption seems like an easy decision. The most difficult hurdle for Year One to overcome in the eyes of many Batfans however is its parallels with Batman Begins. Why bother with the animated version when you’ve got a superior, live action picture? Thankfully, Year One does a solid job of differentiating itself through the parallel story lines between Gordon and Bruce. Two men arriving in Gotham at the same time from very different directions, the contrast between these two, while touched on in Begins, is explored on a much deeper level here. This is a big plus as it fleshes out Lieutenant Gordon incredibly well, even to the point of making him a more interesting character than Batman. This is mainly thanks to the film being an incredibly faithful adaption of its namesake whereas Begins remained distant and only pilfered certain elements.
Year One also manages to distinguish itself from other DC animated products with the style of animation that was used. Contrary to the very American direction of recent projects within the DCAU, Year One uses an almost anime-esque style that’s effectively a double-edged decision. On one side, it ensures the action on display really pops with visceral energy and speed… but on the other, the character expressions particularly in the eyes really falter, creating a disconnect that doesn’t happen in say Under the Red Hood. I don’t want to outright say I would have preferred the film go with the typical animation style, but it is a decision that was not 100% successful.
On the vocal side, there is actually quite a bit of talent behind the mics. Bryan Cranston (yes, Heisenberg himself) voices Gordon fantastically, and while as a Breaking Bad fan it was initially very distracting, he comfortably settles into the role with all the right beats of determination and destitution needed for an honest cop trying to get by in Gotham. Batman is unfortunately not quite as impressive, ironically voiced by Ben Mackenzie, the man who would go on to play Gordon on the TV series Gotham. While his voice is ethereal and evokes mystery, he lacks the gravitas and even sounds bored at times. Batman is many things, but he should never be bored.
As Batman: Year One goes, its a solid filmic alternative to Batman Begins. It may lack a little in the animation department and one lead performance, but the action and having Cranston himself bring Gordon to life more than makes up for it.
General Audiences: Recommended
True Believers (DC): Highly Recommended