Another year, another Batman classic adapted to the screen.
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight (2018) is a direct-to-video DC animated film directed by Sam Liu (Batman and Harley Quinn, Batman: The Killing Joke). It stars Bruce Greenwood as Batman/Bruce Wayne in an alternative Victorian-era Gotham City, where he must contend with mysterious actress Selina Kyle (Jennifer Carpenter) and a new killer on the streets going by Jack the Ripper.
As a huge fan of the source comic this was another animated project I have been hotly anticipating since its announcement. And now that its finally here its… good. Better than Killing Joke? You bet. Inessential and not particularly memorable? That too.
While the setting and a handful of the characters remain the same, Gotham by Gaslight takes very little story inspiration from its namesake. Not only has the mystery of the graphic novel been changed, a large amount of Batman mainstays have been brought over to further populate this alternate Gotham in an approach the source material never bothered with. And for the most part, these changes are good. Its interesting to see the Robins depicted as street orphans or Poison Ivy as a lounge prostitute and so on. The mystery itself isn’t anything compelling but at the very least changing the culprits from the graphic novel means there’s still an air of surprise for familiar fans – even if the final reveal is not the shock the film wants it to be.
Gotham by Gaslight also boasts a suitably gothic setting and tone. Gotham as a Victorian-style city rife with crime and poverty is a compelling setting and the film does a good job making the city more than just a backdrop. However this is somewhat upended by animation that honestly feels cheap and stilted. The direct-to-video films have never been big budget productions but this one feels cheaper than usual, a feeling that sadly robs any action sequences of much of their excitement. Watching Batman take a bare-knuckles boxing approach compared to his usual style is interesting, but ultimately it just can’t reach beyond the disappointing animation.
As performances go, Bruce Greenwood (who also did the voice for Batman in Under the Red Hood) fits the character quite well. Aside from his Batman and Bruce Wayne voices being almost indistinguishable, he’s appropriately gruff and serious and gives Batman the dour tone he requires. Jennifer Carpenter as Catwoman however turns out to be the real surprise standout of the cast. Victorian-style Selina is outspoken, harsh and capable and brings the spark of a firecracker to her relationship with Bruce Wayne. On the opposite end is Scott Patterson as James Gordon. A Bat-mythos mainstay, Patterson just sounds flat and bored as the detective and stands out like a sore throat next to Greenwood and Carpenter’s engaged vocal cords.
Stiff animation and a bored Gordon drag down Gotham by Gaslight to just being… good. But coming from such great source material that’s a bit of a disappointment. Still worth a view for the new mystery and suitably gothic tone, but this isn’t essential viewing for Bat-fans.
General Audiences: Recommended
True Believers (Batman): Recommended