Batman: Gotham Knight [retro revew]

“I must say, Batman, that’s the first time anyone’s tried to stop my gunfire by running into it.”

The Scoop:2008 PG-13, directed by Yasuhiro Aoki, etc. and starring Kevin Conroy, Jason Marsden, and Scott Menville

Tagline: Get Ready… To Rage Against Evil

Summary Capsule: A series of six vaguely interconnected but mostly independent short animated films about Batman. Simple.

Drew’s Rating: Not as great as Nolan, not as terrible as Schumacher. How’s that?

Drew’s Review: The Masked Manhunter. The Darknight Detective. The Caped Crusader. Ol’ Pointy Ears. He’s had many nicknames over the years, but one thing about Batman has always remained constant: He can kick your ass. Totally. Like, not even close. Batman can kick anyone’s ass, up to and including that wuss Superman. Maybe that’s why he’s the most popular superhero in the world. Or perhaps people just like watching psychotic bats beating up clowns. (Yes.) Either way, someone had the idea that commissioning 6 short animated films starring this “Batman” guy by acclaimed Japanese directors, putting them on DVD, and releasing it immediately before the most highly anticipated movie of the summer that just so happens to star him, might be a way to rake in a couple of bucks. A risky venture to be sure, but we’ll see if it pays off.

If you’ve read my review of The Animatrix, I’m going to handle this one the same way, assessing each piece on its own merits.

(1) Have I Got A Story For You

The most lighthearted segment, “Have I Got” focuses on a group of skate punks, each of whom has had a recent encounter with the legendary Batman. It’s amusing to watch each teenager try to top the others with his or her vision of what Batman truly is (a living shadow, a giant bat creature, a robot), none of them aware that their experiences with the Dark Knight aren’t quite over yet. Stylistically, the segment is similar in structure to two classic episodes of the animated series, “Almost Got ‘Im” and “Legends of the Dark Knight,” using Batman’s impact on others as a framing sequence to tell a larger story. Maybe it’s the sentimentalist in me, but I always like these kinds of tales — Batman and kids don’t usually mix (excepting Robin), but perhaps because his parents’ murder robbed him of his own childhood, the big guy always seems to have a soft spot for them. This segment doesn’t have much to attach it to any of the others, but as a standalone piece, it’s pretty fun.

(2) Crossfire

If you’ve ever wondered what Batman would look drawn in Voltron-style anime, now you know. This short is fine but pretty inconsequential, mainly serving as a character piece for detectives Allen and Ramirez- she likes that Batman is helping to clean up the streets, he doesn’t trust the vigilante, they’re the original odd couple! Nothing wrong with that, but Allen is a character from the comics who doesn’t appear in The Dark Knight, and Ramirez appears in the movie but doesn’t play a major role until the end. I can’t say anything else without spoiling things, but let’s just say it’s a bit of an odd choice. Beyond that, I have to say that I don’t think real mob bosses participate in massive gunfights in the street… I think that’s why they’re bosses. Oh, and most of those gang members are worse shots than COBRA.

(3) Field Test

This one’s an interesting short exploring what happens when Bats acquires a “superpower” of sorts and uses it to make waves with the warring crime families from the previous segment. Batman has long been the most famous example of the human crimefighter, so it’s neat to see him take a brief detour into Iron Man territory. You’ll probably guess how the segment is going to end before it’s halfway over, but still, as a one-off story it’s pretty good, and it juuust about sells you on why Bruce isn’t going to stick with his new toy over the long term. Bonus points for using the Morgan Freeman-esque version of Lucius Fox, and for the highly stylized, angular animation.

(4) Darkness Dwells

The short that ties in most closely with Batman Begins, “Dwells” finds Batman investigating a missing priest who was allegedly kidnapped by a giant lizard. Venturing into Gotham’s sewers, Bruce has his first encounter with Killer Croc and finds the Scarecrow assembling an army of homeless people under his rule. And it’s… okay. This was the segment I was most looking forward to (I love Batman’s villains, especially the Scarecrow), and there are some good elements. As with all the shorts, the voice acting was great (Kevin Conroy IS Batman, don’t let anyone tell you different), and the concept of tying Killer Croc’s origin to the Scarecrow’s experiments is solid. Pretty decent animation, though the particular style (sort of a hybrid of realistic and cartoony) isn’t my personal favorite. But somehow, a few of the little details kept niggling at me. Batman working closely with the police this early in his career – not just Gordon, but the police proper – feels off somehow. And for having been dosed with fear toxin, Batman’s voice stays incredibly lucid. Plus, wasn’t he supposed to be immune after his inoculation in Batman Begins? I guess the biggest quibble is that Gotham Knight is ostensibly supposed to serve as a transition between movies, but the portrayal of Scarecrow as an insane despot ruling over a kingdom of homeless people doesn’t jibe with the smug drug dealer seen in The Dark Knight. Not the end of the world or anything, but it’s kind of off-putting.

(5) Working Through Pain

Definitely the most graphic and quasi-philosophical of the shorts, this one finds Batman struggling to survive a gunshot wound, deliriously flashing back to his training with an Indian fakir on how to overcome pain. It’s… I don’t know, about what you’d expect. I have to say that for a smart guy, you’d think Bruce would figure out that sticking your finger into a gaping hole in your side = not such a great idea. Also, letting yourself get hit in the face with sticks and bottles may prove how hardcore you are, but is it really the right way to start a fight? On the other hand, I’m pretty sure Batman punches a guy so hard he vomits, so there’s that.

But on the other other hand, WTF is up with that ending? Abrupt is one thing, but that was downright midstream. When all’s said and done, “Working” features nice animation, but the overall message seems to be that learning how to take pain is a virtue, and Rocky already taught us that. Minus points for hammering the point home way too forcefully, then cutting off abruptly to make it seem extra meaningful (read: pretentious).

(6) Deadshot

In the final short, the assassin Deadshot is hired to kill Jim Gordon, leading to an inevitable confrontation with Batman. And is it just me, or does Bruce have major penis envy? This segment goes way too far in trying to give Batman a gun fascination. FYI to producer: Batman hates guns. They’re the ultimate symbol of what took his parents from him… i.e., bit of a sore point. Batman doesn’t equate guns with God, he equates them with all that is wrong and uncontrollable in the world. See also: Joker, the.

That doesn’t mean it’s all bad, though… in fact, “Deadshot” arguably has the most comic book feel of any of the pieces. Certainly the animation is the least exaggerated and most realistic of the bunch, and my personal favorite. The climactic confrontation between Batman and Deadshot is also pretty exciting, even if it doesn’t make a lot of sense. For one, in the live-action movies it’s clear Batman is using his cape as a glider, but here he seems to be actually flying… artistic license, I suppose. But more importantly, Batman’s ultimate strategy is to run directly at the guy firing a wrist-mounted uzi at him? World’s greatest detective my ass. Even Deadshot comments on how stupid that is. (However, I will say Batman should get shot more often, as he totally looks like a vampire when bleeding from the mouth.)

Gotham Knight has been marketed as bridging the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and I suppose it does that. But having seen both, I can honestly say that skipping it won’t hurt your enjoyment of the sequel any. There’s some stuff about mob wars that doesn’t go anywhere, and it fleshes out the character of Anna Ramirez (which, given her role in TDK, may be of dubious necessity, but so be it). But no major plot points are uncovered that impact the new movie, and I think the short length works against many of the segments… they’re enjoyable, but none carry the emotional impact of the best episodes of the animated series. Overall, if you’re just a fan of the Christopher Nolan movies, take a pass. If you’re a fan of Batman as a character and want to see a few random, decent stories about him, or an anime enthusiast who digs these guys’ work, then by all means check it out. Just go in expecting a nice cheeseburger, not a well seasoned, perfectly grilled New York strip steak.

Man, I’m hungry.

“You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”

Intermission!

  • During the part of “Have I Got A Story For You” where Batman is envisioned as a robot, Kevin Conroy’s voice is given an electronic tinge.
  • Detective Crispus Allen is a preexisting character from the comics, but his partner Anna Ramirez is original to this film and The Dark Knight.
  • Sal Maroni, the lieutenant/rival of Carmine “The Roman” Falcone, was in the comics responsible for the creation of Two-Face by smuggling acid into his trial and throwing it in Harvey Dent’s face during cross examination.
  • Also, with his wild hair and mustache, Maroni here looks nothing like he does in The Dark Knight.
  • While Kevin Conroy returns to voice Batman, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon, and Lucius Fox are not voiced by either the actors from the animated series or Batman Begins.
  • You know, I’ll bet in segment 6 Batman is wishing he’d held on to that gizmo from segment 3.
  • The Batmobile used in Gotham Knight looks like sort of a hybrid between the animated series version and the Tumbler. Yes, that’s right. Batman drives a hybrid.
  • While Killer Croc and the Scarecrow are classic members of Batman’s rogues gallery, Deadshot is another story. Floyd Lawton was first introduced as a Batman villain, but he’s best known as a member of the Suicide Squad, a team of supervillains sent on government-deniable, high mortality missions in exchange for shortened prison sentences. Deadshot himself has a severe death wish but is unwilling to commit suicide, leading him to instead volunteer for the most dangerous missions available. (Un)fortunately for him, he’s also extremely proficient and an expert marksman, so despite numerous close calls, he has yet to achieve his goal. For Gotham Knight he was reinvented as a sort of reverse Bruce Wayne, a rich socialite who takes assassination jobs. His ability to hit any target, not just with guns but with any object imaginable, recalls Marvel’s villain Bullseye.
  • Besides the animated series episodes “Almost Got ‘Im” and “Legends of the Dark Knight,” the segment “Have I Got A Story For You” borrows from the story “The Batman Nobody Knows” from Batman #250. In it, Bruce Wayne takes three underprivileged youths on an unsupervised camping trip in a manner that would absolutely in no way raise eyebrows today, and each of them swaps stories around the campfire about what he thinks the Batman is really like. At the end they ask Bruce what he thinks the Batman is like, prompting him to leap out of some nearby bushes in full uniform, saying he thinks Batman looks like THIS. Oddly, this in no way leads to his secret identity being compromised or any awkward questions from social workers when they return.
    “So Tommy, did you have a good time camping?”
    “Yeah, it was great until Mister Wayne disappeared for a while, then jumped out of some bushes at us in a Batman costume.”
    “…..Mister Wayne, why don’t we go have a little chat. Downtown.”
  • Detective Crispus Allen is a character from the comic book Gotham Central, where he was the partner of longtime Batman supporting character Renee Montoya. The two worked well together until Allen was killed in the line of duty. He was eventually resurrected as the human host of the Spectre (the living embodiment of God’s wrath), while Montoya recently donned the mantle of the Question. The writer of Gotham Central, crime novelist Greg Rucka, wrote the “Crossfire” segment of Gotham Knight.

Groovy Quotes

B-Devil: Yo, wait a minute. Batman never cut nobody’s head off! Everybody knows he don’t ever kill nobody.
Meesh: I’m making it more colorful, yo!

Meesh: Man, they pounded the tar out of each other! Pow, splat, kerplop, flurb!
B-Devil: “Flurb”?
Meesh: Whatever.

Allen: Just wondering if now is the time for us to be acting courier for a vigilante. That’s all, sir.
Gordon: It’s called trust, detective. Something this city’s had in short supply until very recently.
Allen: But I don’t trust him, sir.
Gordon: You will.

Batman: You get the docks, you stay in the slums. That’s the arrangement until I get something on you. And then you can fight over who gets the top bunk in Blackgate. Got it?

Cassandra: Pain exists in two forms: exterior, that which is caused by forces we can’t control, and interior, which we can. Both, though, can be managed through will.

Bruce: Pain cannot be overcome.
Cassandra: No. But it can be put in its place.

Bruce: You have to know your enemy, Alfred. I’d never use one, but even I can appreciate the attraction of a gun. The heft. The sleekness. The cool steel. The precision. And the power. The power to change lives, history. The power of God.

Deadshot: I must say, Batman, that’s the first time anyone’s tried to stop my gunfire by running into it.

Bruce: Thanks again, Alfred. I couldn’t have done it without you.
Alfred: You’re welcome, sir. Though next time someone shoots at you, try ducking.

If you liked this movie, try these:

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