Monday, July 14, 2008

Movie Review - Batman: Gotham Knight

Recently we had an opportunity to sit down and watch Batman: Gotham Knights, a DVD containing a series of short, connected Batman cartoons animated by various Japanese animation studios. The concept is of course reminiscent of the Animatrix released a few years ago. Unfortunately, it wasn't as good.

The Animatrix is a similar series of anime shorts tying into The Matrix. Their quality varies, but a few at least are better than any of the actual Matrix movies.

Batman: Gotham Knight isn't bad. Some of it could generously even be called good. Of the six shorts, only one, "In Darkness Dwells," truly impressed us. It wasn't that the rest were bad, just mediocre. And, when it comes to Batman, our expectations are already high.

The DVD's producer, Bruce Timm (iD&Di: .56), has already set the bar in more ways than one. His numerous animated series, from the now classic "Batman: The Animated Series", through the unparalleled "Justice League Unlimited", are the epitome of animated television entertainment. Similarly, he has produced direct-to-DVD features such as "Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker" and "Justice League: New Frontier", which have redefined what we expect from films without a theatrical release.

But Gotham Knight does not deliver, at least not in the way we've come to expect. While it's always a pleasure to hear Kevin Conroy (iD&Di: .35) voice Batman, we were less impressed by the choices made when casting supporting characters. This particularly bothered us in the case of Jim Gordon, who sounded far too young. It's not clear to us whether they were trying to duplicate the sound of the movie or if they were trying for something that duplicated a dubbed anime, but the end result was jarring.

In addition, with the notable exception of "In Darkness Dwells", there was a disconnect between the writing and the animation. While everything of course reflected the look of Japanese animation, most of the stories were subdued. This hardly complimented a style that favors action and movement. Many of the stories felt burdened by a sense of realism; perhaps the writers felt they needed to maintain the tone of the films.

It's somewhat ironic that the least realistic story, "In Darkness Dwells", was scripted by David Goyer (iD&Di: .92), the screenwriter behind both "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight". Perhaps he felt more free to explore the world he helped create.

In short, while not awful, "Batman: Gotham Knight" doesn't live up to expectation. There are some good moments and some good animation, but it just can't live up to expectations. If you have the opportunity to see it for free, there's plenty to enjoy. But if you're looking to purchase an animated Batman DVD, track down "Batman The Animated Series" and its many spin-offs. Also, let us reiterate our endorsement of "Justice League: New Frontier".

Against any of the above, Gotham Knights can't do better than a relative two and a half stars. Plus, a lot of the older animated movies and shows have been discounted as of late, so you'll save money while watching a superior product. Still, if you're a big enough fan of both Japanese animation and Batman, you might want to check this out as well.

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