GFS home movies: Batman: Gotham Knight

This is shaping up to be a banner year for BatmanThe Dark Knight comes out next week, and I can’t see any way it won’t kick ass.  So to whet the appetite of the hardcore Bat-fan, this week marks the release of Batman: Gotham Knight, a direct-to-DVD animated adventure.

But rather than being just another animated Bat-film, Gotham Knight is actually an anthology of six short films, all presented with different styles of animation.  Those six short films, and my take on them, are:

Batman: Gotham Knight

“Have I Got a Story For You” – A group of young skaters each has seen Batman at various points during the same fight with a criminal that day.  They share their accounts, and with each one Batman takes on a vastly different appearance based on the storyteller’s perspective. Of all Bat’s incarnations, the first is definitely my favorite.  The storytelling is brisk and the tension was built up effectively.  A good start to the proceedings.

Batman: Gotham Knight

“Crossfire” – No, this isn’t about Batman debating politics on CNN, although it is really heavy on the dialogue, at least during the first part.  The action at the end more than makes up for it, though, as a pair of cops on Gotham’s Major Crimes Unit find themselves in the (you guessed it) crossfire of a gang shootout.  Our friend with the cape and cowl makes a timely appearance, and proceeds to kick lots of ass.  The animation is bold and striking here, especially during the fight sequence.  I thought it reminded me a lot of anime, and for good reason, as this segment was produced by the company behind the Ghost in the Shell franchise.

My main beef with “Crossfire” is the rather lifeless voice acting for the Crispus Allen and Anna Ramirez characters.  Other than that, I like this one a lot.

Batman: Gotham Knight

“Field Test” – The Russian and Sal Maroni (already seen in “Crossfire”) make return appearances.  In this one, Bruce Wayne/Batman gets to test a new device designed by Lucius Fox, which proves to be too effective in the end.  This segment shares the same dynamic and striking visual impact that “Crossfire” has, although the Batman of this one has a sleeker look.  Bruce Wayne looks to be about 20 years old, which seems to place this toward the beginning of his crime fighting career.  The animation surrounding the mystery device is pretty cool as well, however this was not a particularly strong entry (but not a dud by any stretch).

Batman: Gotham Knight

“In Darkness Dwells” – A double whammy of classic villainy – Killer Croc and the Scarecrow – makes this film a treat.  I didn’t care for how Batman was rendered, though.  He was too bulky and even looked a little overweight.  But that was more than made up for by the stunning art direction, which lent this segment a more cinematic feel than the previous three.

The story is classic Batman, through and through.  Batman investigates the disappearance of Gotham’s Cardinal O’Fallon, who was taken by what eyewitnesses described a giant lizard man.  The chase leads to a brief but violent clash between the Dark Knight and Killer Croc, before a final showdown with the Scarecrow and his fear toxin-laced minions.

Batman: Gotham Knight

“Working Through Pain” – Ooooh, spiritual.  Actually, this reminded me a lot of the sequence in Batman Begins where Bruce Wayne receives his training.  Here, he travels around the world in the hopes of learning the secret to eliminating physical pain from the Fakir.  Rejected, he receives tutelage instead from a mysterious woman named Cassandra, who herself was trained by the Fakir.  The two share a commonailty, in that they are rejected by society at large.

Bruce learns some deep truths about pain, and discovers that it can never really be conquered.  Batman is only seen at the beginning and end of this segment, and his look is pretty traditional.  This was a good film and served to change the pace quite well overall.  The only thing that could’ve made it better is a new title – “Pain Don’t Hurt.”

Batman: Gotham Knight

“Deadshot” – As has happened many times, Batman’s no-kill policy is put to the test.  This time it’s when he tracks down the assassin Deadshot, currently on an assignment to take out Lt. Gordon.  The plot is quite simple, but the visuals are amazing.  I didn’t think I’d see anyone take a bullet right in the coconut in this one, but I was wrong.  And no, it wasn’t Gordon.

As in the previous segment, the artists didn’t take any real chances with Batman’s appearance.  The cowl is different but otherwise things are as you’d expect them.  The aforementione assassination sequence is the crown jewel of this short film.

Extras – I picked up the two-disc special edition of Gotham Knight.  Disc one contains an audio commentary, a preview for the upcoming DVD release of Wonder Woman (starring Keri Russell of Felicity fame), and other random trailers.

Disc two contains two lengthy featurettes (a character study featurette called A Mirror for the Bat and a biography of Batman co-creator Bob Kane called Batman and Me: The Bob Kane Story).  Funny that Bill Finger gets no featurette, but whatever.  Rounding out the extras is a set of four bonus episodes from the landmark ’90s cartoon Batman: The Animated Series, which along with the Tim Burton feature films helped restore credibility to the franchise for most of the public.

Overall – This is about as good as I expected, which is to say very.  The six films supposedly interconnect, in that they all tell the story of Batman’s development into the Dark Knight we know him as.  I honestly didn’t see too much of a connection there, as this really just seemed like half a dozen random Bat-stories.  The major giveaway was Bruce Wayne’s appearance, as he was markedly younger in some segments.

As mentioned before, some of the voice acting was pretty wooden.  Batman veteran Kevin Conroy returns as the Caped Crusader, and once again is great – although his delivery was more effective in the segments portraying the older Batman.

Animation-wise, this is a knockout.  For those turned off by anime, I would say to give this a shot.  It’s not over the top with the steretypical anime features, and the immense talent on display here is worth seeing at least once.  So yeah, I recommend this highly to anyone who digs animation and/or Batman even a little.

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