In efforts to cash in on the frenzy for the upcoming The Dark Knight, Warner Bros. and D.C. Comics have released the third in the newly established D.C. Universe animated movies on DVD, following the footsteps of last fall’s Superman: Doomsday, and this past winter’s Justice League: The New Frontier. The film takes six different stories (and six very different animation styles) centering on Batman, Lt.Gordon and the status of Gotham City since the events in Batman Begins in 2005. Effectively, the collection of animated shorts is meant both to give viewers insight and knowledge that fills in the “gaps” between the two motion pictures Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Think what the Wachowski brothers did with The Animatrix, filling in the gaps inbetween The Matrix and The Matrix Reloaded, only nowhere near as cool and nowhere near as watchable.
Batman, when you stop and think about it, should be the perfect candidate for Japanese animation, a.k.a. anime, and yet most of the styles represented in Batman:Gotham Knight are terribly unappealing to watch. Sadly, the better styles are often on the less action-filled pieces and just leave you wanting more and wondering about what could have been. Batman is an iconic character, a majestic character and the appeal to his story (when told right) is the darkness of it, the grittiness of Gotham, its criminals and even of Batman himself. Despite popular opinion (much of which is still based on the terribly campy and inaccurate 1960’s T.V. show), Batman is not a happy story. it is a story about a man who loses everything. His parents are murdered in front of his eyes when he is a young child and he turns that helpless rage into something greater. There is a delicate unbalance within Batman, and its why so few screenwriters have captured the character very well. In Gotham Knight, very few of the stories bother to showcase this, or even make much attempt at action. Much of the 74 minute film is talking heads, which works great when its great actors performing it, but not in an animated Batman film, which makes slight attempts to fill us in on the state of things between films, but nothing remarkable occurs, and my guess is anyone skipping this DVD won’t be missing much, if anything at all. For example, nothing is said or mentioned about either Harvey Dent or the Joker, who was set-up in the conclusion of Batman Begins.
Perhaps the greatest disappointment is the collection of great comic book, and film writers responsible for the six stories, who collectively lay one giant egg. Veteran comic book writers Brian Azzarello, Greg Rucka and others turn in stories that seem like they were concieved on the taxi-ride over to the production meeting. David Goyer, co-writer on both Batman Begins and the upcoming The Dark Knight, does provide one of the only two entertaining stories, entitled In Darkness Dwells, focusing on “Killer Croc” and what the Scarecrow has been up to since escaping at the end of Begins. Aside from Goyer’s piece, the only other entertaining short (to me) was the final, much too short, piece introducing a brand new villian named “Deadshot.” The piece also sets up the notion that the crime world is now on the defensive and are beginning to realize they must rid themselves of Batman to restore things to what they used to be. The remaining shorts, varied in animation quality, all just leave you feeling empty and frustrated. All of them are much too short to accomplish any solid storytelling, and the little tidbits of information that may set things up in The Dark Knight don’t make the film worth watching in the slightest.
The only truely great thing is the addition of Kevin Conroy’s voice as Bruce Wayne and Batman in all six shorts. Conroy has been doing the voice of Batman on all the recent animated series’ from D.C. and Warner Bros., including Batman: The Animated Series, Justice League and Batman: Beyond. His familiar tone does ground any longtime fans of Batman and his animated adventures with a sense of comfort, even if the writing and animation around that voice falls short. Ironically, the best things about the DVD (the single disc version anyhow) is the emmaculate digital preview for The Dark Knight and the 10 minute sneak peek at 2009’s Wonder Woman animated movie, which looks extremely fun, accurate and well casted. Too bad none of the those qualities can be used to describe Gotham Knight, a total letdown and complete waste of time…even for the hardcore fan. Thankfully, The Dark Knight looks to be a true masterpiece for both critics, fans and casual movie-goers and the memory of Gotham Knight will be lost and forgotten quickly.