I didn’t know entering this calender year (and especially when I typed up my “Batman: Under The Red Hood” review) that the Dark Knight is celebrating his 75th Anniversary of making his justice-dealing presence felt in stories both good and bad.
So far in this series, the Caped Crusader’s solo outings has had him deal with multiple stories within the Nolanverse and handle an unexpected resurrection from his past. Now, an acclaimed ’80s re-imaging of his gritty beginnings has taken form as we delve into…
Originally released on October 18, 2011, this film is based on the 1987 story arc of the same name. Taking place in the pages of Batman #404-407, it was written by Frank Miller and drawn by David Mazzucchelli. How does the translation to film hold up? Let’s find out.
We open in the skies above Gotham City on January 4 where Bruce Wayne (voiced by Ben McKenzie) arrives back in his hometown after spending twelve years traveling the world to train himself following the death of his parents.
At the same time, Lt. James Gordon (voiced by Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad fame) has arrived into the city by train for a police transfer. He narrates that his pregnant wife Barbara is heading into town via plane.
Following the title card, we cut to the train station where he meets up with Det. Arnold John Flass (voiced by Fred Tatasciore), who was sent by the Commissioner to pick up and take Gordon to the police station so they can get properly introduced.
Shortly afterwards, he has his first meeting with Commissioner Gillian B. Loeb (voiced by Jon Polito). In a news broadcast leading into the scene, it turns out that the head of the Gotham City Police Department has a conspiracy charge lingering over him yet a key witness has disappeared. He’s impressed with Gordon’s prior police work and the ability to keep the press away from any major mistake.
Shortly afterwards, Flass and Gordon are out on patrol. After spotting a group of teens just standing at a corner, Flass arrives and assaults one of the youths despite the fact that no crime was committed. As he watches his partner beat up the young lad, Gordon narrates how his partner has training with the Green Berets. He also mentions about the corruption that inhabits cops like Flass and plans on bringing him down eventually.
Following a quick scene where Bruce visits his parents’ graves and narrates on a new beginning that his has in store…
…we then cut to the month of February. While the 12th has Gordon seeing the rough methods that Flass and company use in trying to stop someone on the run via car, the 21st has Bruce punching through bricks and kicking down a tree. Despite these impressive feats, he still doesn’t feel ready to carry out his new persona yet.
Following Flass’ February 26th meeting with Loeb where he says that Gordon is starting to bring actual ethics onto his fellow police officers, we cut to March 11th where James prepares to head off to work. However, Flass leads an organized (and commissioner-approved) attack on him. Gordon’s able to initially hold up against his attackers, but a lucky shot to the head allows the thugs to pummel away. After threatening to go after Barbara as well, Flass drops his bat as he and the rest of his goons run off.
That night, Bruce arrives at the East End to go on a reconnaissance mission. While scouring the streets, he’s appalled to see how bad it’s gotten during his time away from Gotham: loads of strip shows, adult bars and prostitutes up and down the road as far as the eye can see.
Suddenly, a young hooker named Holly Robinson (voiced by Liliana Mumy) tries offering her “services” to him. Not too long afterwards, her pimp boss named Stan (voiced by Steven Blum) grabs her by the hair and tells her that she’s “doing it wrong”. With that, Bruce stands up to the scarred-faced goon as a brawl starts to ensue with a pair of swift kicks to take Stan down. Holly manages to sneak up and stab Bruce in the leg as others enter the fray. After Bruce knocks them to the ground, Holly tries attacking again but gets defeated and smacked onto the ground.
Selina Kyle (voiced by Eliza Dushku), who’s watching the incident from above while giving her dominatrix services, is enraged to see her young friend get hurt. In response, she jumps down onto the street and proceeds to fight Bruce. The two tussle for a while before a pair of cops show up. One of the officers (more corrupt than the other) shoots Bruce in the shoulder (even though there was no signs of provocation at all) which knocks him out cold and allows the cops to arrest him. After only a short time, Bruce regains his consciousness and manages to slip the handcuffs in front of himself in order to detain the officers. After the cop car crashes into a big rig trailer and starts to catch fire, he still saves the officials before it blows up. Afterwards, the badly-injured Bruce manages to get back to his car and start towards home.
Meanwhile, Gordon is on his way to get back on Flass upon hearing that he’s over at a friend’s house playing Poker. After a brief moment of waiting, he sees his nefarious partner start to head out. With his headlights off, James successfully manages to sneak up alongside and use his car to knock him off the road and into a tree. Using the headlights to blind Flass, Gordon stands poised to get back on his unethical partner. Knowing that Flass is a little tipsy from alcohol, James gives his bat back to him and puts away in gun in order to fist-fight him. Gordon easily beats the crap out of him and finishes up by stripping him of his clothes, tying up his hands and leaving him face-down in the snow. In his narration, James says that this incident will be enough to keep Flass away from Barbara and that it would be too embarrassing for him if he tried to explain what actually happened to him.
Meanwhile, Bruce makes to back to Wayne Manor. After crashing the car into the side of the house and dripping blood, he makes it to his study where he sits in front of a sculpture of his father. In his inner thoughts and narration, he asks his father how he’s supposed to make the criminal scum of Gotham afraid of him.
He then has a flashback to 18 years ago where we get the iconic origin of a young Bruce Wayne walking home with his parents after seeing the film “The Mark of Zorro”. Fate came to play when they made their way through Crime Alley where the anonymous Joe Chill shoots Thomas and Martha Wayne and easily runs away into the night, leaving the distraught youngster with his dead parents.
As if the answer came from beyond the grave, a bat crashes through his window as the sun rises and lands on top of the Thomas Wayne statue. Upon seeing this terrifying yet amazing creature, Bruce sees this as his inspirational answer and is fueled by this moment.
We then cut to a rainy April 4th night where Gordon hears on his CB Radio that a hostage situation in under way. Four children are being held against their own will by a former Arkham Asylum inmate who also suffers from a mental illness. Gordon quickly arrives when he hears that the police have highly considered letting Lt. Brandan (voiced by Stephen Root) and his S.W.A.T. team onto the situation. We learn from James’ narration that he and his men pretty much have a shoot-first-and-ask-questions-never mentality as he arrives in time to take care of the ordeal himself.
After showing the gunman that’s he coming in without a gun, he starts to make his way up the stairs. When he arrives at the hold-up room, the gunman comes out with one of his hostages and holds the gun up towards Gordon. It doesn’t get any better with the signs of his mental illness possibly making the situation worse by the second. Fortunately, a stray cat’s meow distracts the gunman just enough for Gordon to disarm and defeat the would-be killer, bring the tense moment to a peaceful end.
Over the course of two days, Loeb gets Brandan’s complaint of Gordon becoming a beacon of hope while James’ target practice is balanced with his wife getting a sonogram of her eventual baby. On the second eve, a caped figure leaps from a rooftop. Three nights later, Batman finally arrives onto the scene as he discovers a small group of delinquents robbing an apartment. While trying to save the one guy who accidentally fell off the fire escape, the other two try to beat up their captor not caring of their almost-fallen comrade. Fortunately, Batman takes them down and successfully saves the other guy as he narrates this moment as being lucky.
We then cut to the Gotham City Police Department on May 15th as Gordon stands alongside Det. Sarah Essen (voiced by Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica fame) as they discuss their hunt for Batman. He tells his fellow officers of his developing patterns and even has a bruised Det. Flass to show that not even cops are safe from him.
Flass then tells him of how he was “tipped off” to a cocaine delivery within East End. It turns out that he was actually helping out with said business and was happily paid so that he wouldn’t tell the authorities about it. Fortunately for Gotham (and unfortunately for him), Batman arrived and easily shut down the operation using laced Batarangs to knock the thugs out. He then proceeded to beat up Flass off-screen who’s fabricated tale makes him the butt of laughter.
We then cut to May 19th where a dinner party is being held at the mayor’s house as Commissioner Loeb and several of the city’s corrupt politicians and crime bosses, including Carmine Falcone (voiced by Alex Rocco), discuss about Batman costing them money due to him slowly but surely tearing down their operations. Loeb says that they’re positive on how the people have a hero and can stop asking suspicious questions. There’s even the talk of Gordon wanting Internal Affairs to launch an investigation on Flass. Unbeknownst to everyone in attendance, the Dark Knight himself managed to sneak his way towards the house and tranquilizes all of the chauffeurs along the way. He makes his entrance by smashing a smoke grenade through the window and cutting off the electricity. He makes his presence felt by letting them know that their time of feasting off of Gotham City’s power and wealth is nearing an end.
After Loeb tells him the next day to bring Batman down or else, we then head to the Gotham City streets on June 2 where Gordon has set up a plan to try and bring him out into the open. Essen would pose as a random woman who’s the target for a purse robbery while another cop pretends to be a robber. Batman watches from the shadows and doesn’t buy their act for one second as the plan turns into an ultimate failure.
After a quick scene showing the result of Batman’s June 5th attack on Carmine Falcone that also resulted in his Rolls-Royce being snatched up and driven into a river…
…we then move ahead one day where Gordon has a meeting with a young Asst. District Attorney named Harvey Dent (voiced by Robin Atkin Downes). We learn that he’s been trying to go after Falcone as well, yet every witness have either changed their testimony or have disappeared completely.
After a few rounds of questions, Gordon then heads out. Shortly afterwards, we learn that Batman has secretly eavesdropped on the meeting and that Dent has become the Dark Knight’s inaugural crime-fighting friend.
During the car ride, Gordon tells Essen of his possible notion of Dent and Batman being one and the same since every alibi he got from him was “At Home Between Midnight & 4 a.m. With The Wife”. Essen then brings up a counterpoint in that Batman’s high-tech weapons would cost loads of money and that Bruce Wayne is the richest man in town along with said fact of his parents being killed as a kid. Just then, a delivery truck speeds right in front of them with Gordon getting enough of a look to see that the driver has passed out. A chase ensues as James leaps onto the truck to try and stop it. However, it’s speeding right towards a homeless lady and won’t be able to stop in time. Fortunately, Batman save the woman in time as Gordon falls onto the street before the truck crashes. He gains enough consciousness to see that Essen has already drawn her gun on Batman. However, she looks away to ask if Gordon’s okay. This give Batman the opportunity to knock her down and make a run for it. Gordon’s unable to retaliate due to him being too groggy from the fall.
Just then, the police back-up that Essen already called for arrive and start to fire their guns towards the fleeing vigilante. One of the shots manages to hit Batman in the leg before he smashes his way into a broken-down building in order to hide.
After the police completely surround the building, Gordon calls into headquarters to say that Batman hasn’t attacked anyone and that Brandan won’t be needed. It turns out however that Commissioner Loeb has other ideas as a police chopper arrives on the scene and drops a bomb onto the building.
During the heated moment, an ember manages to reach the utility belt and cause Batman to discard the majority of his weapons. As the fire continues to tear the building down, he reaches a heavy metal basement door and strikes up an idea.
A few blocks away, Selina is woken up by her compatriot Holly to let her know of the war zone that’s taking place a short distance away. After checking the news and discovering that Batman’s being hunted by the police, they decide to go check the situation out.
Following another police bomb on the building, Lt. Brandan arrives with the S.W.A.T. team with strict orders from Loeb to hunt down and kill Batman.
Brandan and his team make their way towards the basement door as they decide to check it out and find out if he’s hiding down there. Brandan takes the majority of his team downwards, leaving two guys to stay topside. Batman sneaks up on them and knocks them out, where he then proceeds to trap the rest of the S.W.A.T. officers down below by closing the door and placing a huge wooden beam on top. He then uses one of the walkie-talkies and demands that the rest of the officials leave the building right now. However, Brandan orders both of the remaining units to converge on Batman. Fortunately, the Dark Knight manages to take one team out with knock-out gas.
While underneath the stairs, Batman’s narration tells us of his limited weaponry consisting of a blowgun with three darts and a special sonic device hidden on the heal of his boot which he activates. After using a blowgun to knock out a suspicious official, the rest of the S.W.A.T. members open fire on Batman. A stray cat is also caught in the crossfire as the Dark Knight saves the feline (taking a bullet for it) as it makes its way towards Selina. Gordon radios to the S.W.A.T. officers to watch where they’re firing since the recent rounds have unintentionally hit onlooking civilians.
With Batman pinned behind a column due to gunfire, Brandan manages to climb his was out of the basement via the chimney and joins in on the bullet-riddled hunt as they converge. With a dwindling cover space, Batman uses his injured leg to kick down the column and bring the gunfire to a halt. Using this to his advantage, he confronts Brandan and throws him out of the building.
Batman then proceeds to fight the remaining S.W.A.T. officers and scores some hits. However, the injuries start to take their toll as the officials manage to get some hits in as well and knock him down. Fortunately, the sonic device pays off as a huge swarm of bats fly in to overtake Batman’s attackers.
The bats’ presence have even consumed the nearby street as Batman uses the cover to steal a police motorcycle in order to escape. Commissioner Loeb (who had arrived at the scene earlier via helicopter) spots him trying to escape as a chase ensues. The sniper aboard the chopper tries to shoot Batman, but the bats manage to cover him up in time as he slips away from his pursuers.
In the aftermath, Gordon narrates that every single S.W.A.T. member, cop, and nearby civilian had to get treated for the bat bites. He also explains that Brandan got hospitalized due to five broken ribs and internal bleeding while four of his men ended up with broken bones. Even with all of the destruction and injuries towards civilians, no one wants to press charges on either Loeb or Branden.
We then head to Gordon’s office on June 9th where he and Essen continue their efforts to connect Bruce Wayne as Batman. They’re told that Bruce was away on a Switzerland ski trip for a month-and-a-half and accidentally broke an arm and both legs. Essen thinks that this is the perfect excuse to cover up the bullet wounds.
Following a quick June 17th scene in the East End where Selina terminates the business that she and Holly had with Stan through a single punch to the face, we cut to a rainy evening as Gordon and Essen have a conversation within a diner. Sarah asks what brought James to become a cop in Gotham City and he summarizes mainly with trying to fix the town’s infamous reputation of police corruption and that Internal Affairs has always been hated since they give the false hope of honesty and yet you’re treated poorly if you take a fellow cop down. After Essen places her hand on top of Gordon’s and apologizes, they eventually head out to try and catch a cab. However, the rain picks up again as they’re forced to take cover underneath a doorway. The scene ends as their emotions towards each other takes hold and an affair is born with a single kiss.
We then cut to Selina’s apartment building on August 7th where she uses the remainder of the money between Holly and herself in order to obtain a cat costume, thus beginning her thieving career as Catwoman.
Meanwhile, James narrates on his chaotic situation. Being entangled in an affair with his fellow police partner while being asked to take down Batman by the corrupt commissioner, he feels the weight of his situation bearing down on him.
We then cut to the diner on September 2nd where the affair has become too much of a strain between Gordon and Essen. As such, she tells him that she’ll head back to the police station in order to ask for a transfer.
Over at the police station on September 12th, Gordon interrogates a cohort of Flass’ named Jefferson Skeevers (voiced by Keith Ferguson). However, that’s all for naught as he’s able to post bail. That night, his attorney lets him know what to do in his upcoming trail before she leaves. Unfortunately for him, Batman easily sneaks in and attacks the low-life. After instilling great fear onto the scumbag, we cut to the next day where he arrives in Gordon’s office and says that he’ll hand over Flass. James accepts as he tells a cop to contact Dent (recently promoted to District Attorney) and to not tell Loeb about it. The next day, Loeb and Brandan confront Gordon on his righteous act. James discovers to his horror with a single picture that they know about his affair with Essen and they threaten to reveal it if charges against Flass aren’t dropped soon.
We then cut to September 25th. Following Barbara’s pregnancy check-up, Gordon gets informed that Bruce Wayne is immediately available for questioning. As such, they arrive at Wayne Manor where he’s already playing company to a lady. After Bruce manages to have his story straight on the interrogation, James and Barbara begin to drive off. Just then, he stops and confesses his affair to her. We also find out that Bruce hired the lady to help the authenticity of his playoff status just so she could make $5,000.
Over the course of early-to-mid October, Gordon continues his case against Flass. Even when Jefferson Skeevers secretly gets rat poison in his systems, the doctors are able to keep the witness alive via stomach pump. Then, on October 12, his wife Barbara gives birth to a baby boy.
It also turns out that around the same time, Commissioner Loeb was the first theft victim of Catwoman. Unfortunately for her, he didn’t have any precious jewelry or paintings lying around and she was forced to end up taking his valuable doll collection. As if that wasn’t enough of a slap to the face, the newscast says that it was possibly Batman that committed the act. Furious to being shunned away from attention, Selina decides to make her presence felt by robbing Carmine Falcone.
We then cut to Falcone’s manor on November 2nd where Batman arrives to overhear Carmine’s plan as he shares it with his brother-in-law Johnny Vitti (also voiced by Fred Tatasciore). Just before the details can be given, one of the guards spots an intruder.
The intruder turns out to be Catwoman as she easily scratches and beats up some of Carmine’s henchmen, yet a few still remain and have her at gunpoint. Just before Johnny jumps into the fray with his knife, Batman takes him, the henchmen and Carmine out with tranquilizer-laced Batarangs. He then scolds Catwoman for interrupting his business before taking off, but she decides to leave one last scratch on Carmine himself.
The next day over at Wayne Manor, Bruce is disappointed that all he got from the past night is that Carmine doesn’t want bad publicity. Thanks to the help of his butler Alfred (voiced by Jeff Bennett), he’s able to single it down to one possibility: kidnapping. As such, he takes his leave minus the Batman identity for this venture.
Following a quick scene where Selina is still unable to get respect as a villain (being called by the newscast as “Batman’s Assistant”), we cut to the Gotham Medical Center where Johnny Vitti is visiting Carmine. He’s told to go after Gordon, especially with the added incentive that he’s now a father.
The devious plan is set in motion as James Gordon is woken up by his crying baby boy James Jr. and is forced to prep some warm milk. Just then, he’s called into the office by Commissioner Loeb. Immediately afterwards, Loeb tells Brandan to inform Carmine to tell Johnny that Gordon’s heading out. A few moments after he heads out in his car, he spots a motorcyclist heading into his garage. Suspicious, he quickly turns around and heads back.
To his horror, he discovers Falcone’s henchmen holding his wife hostage while Johnny Vitti holds a knife to his own son’s face. He orders James to drop his gun, go to his office and wait for their ransom call. Knowing that his family will die if he instantly gives in to the demands, Gordon aims and shoots both of Barbara’s captors before taking a shot in his shoulder. As such, Johnny has his driver speed off. Shortly afterwards, the motorcyclist from earlier appears as James shoots him off of his bike. After telling Barbara to leave and call Merkel, Gordon gets on the motorcycle and rides off after Vitti. Barbara then holds up the cyclist at gunpoint using one of the thugs guns. It turns out to be Bruce Wayne and he was wearing a bullet-proof vest underneath his clothes. Since his face is in just enough shadow, he uses his Batman voice to assure her that he’s going to help save James Jr.
While Bruce gives chase via running across the rooftops, James continues to maintain his pursuit behind Vitti in the hopes of rescuing his newborn son. The chase makes its way towards a bridge as Bruce was able to catch up by leaping onto a moving truck and then get off in time to run up the side. Meanwhile, Gordon is able to shoot out a rear tire as the car crashes into the side of the bridge and knocks out the driver.
He then proceeds to get into a street fight with Johnny who’s still holding a distraught James Jr. The struggle ultimately leads towards a railing as Vitti tries using his knife to try and attack James. Gordon is able to avoid the dreaded blade, but Vitti had unintentional dropped James Jr. over the side. Both of them ultimately fall over as well. Thankfully, Bruce is able to catch James Jr. during the drop and save him just as Barbara arrives to be tearfully relieved of her baby’s safety. In fact, Johnny Vitti was the only one not standing after the fall.
Bruce uses his Batman voice to confirm of his bullet-proof vest and thankfully, his identity is safe due to a combination of Gordon not having his glasses and the sun in his eyes. James thanks him for his help in saving James Jr. before taking off in order to avoid to police.
And so, our film ends with one final narration. Flass was able to be put behind bars since he took notes of exactly when he had his talks with Loeb. Despite a huge federal indictment for racketeering, the corrupt commissioner managed to avoid going to jail and instead sent Branden to the clink in his place. The film closes out on December 3rd as the newly-promoted Captain James Gordon also narrates that he and Barbara are attending a marriage counselor to permanently repair their wedded bliss and that his new friend Batman will be arriving soon to help stop the iconic villain known as the Joker.
Despite a few minor details being changed and some narration being trimmed down, this is practically a straight-up adaptation of its source material. The mind-set for the most part seems to be “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. After all, this was a story that influenced future Batman tales told on the small and big screen. It seemed like a lot happened given my recap of the story (which does), but the film just barely cracks past an hour long minus end credits. Maybe some things could have be expanded upon, like the affair between James Gordon and Sarah Essen. Most of the scenes they shared leading up to their secret fling has them being on their job and only in their initial diner scene does it start to progress towards said affair. Maybe their were subtle hints (like the “Sarah, I could kiss you” line following her “Bruce Wayne is a multi-millionaire and could afford Batman’s gadgets” revelation), but I couldn’t catch them.
In terms of characters, Bryan Cranston makes it work as James Gordon. Even though this is a Batman tale, the good-hearted man behind the badge is the primary driving force behind the story. The film-noir style narration fits the struggles of one guy’s fight against a police system that’s run by scum while trying to maintain a family. He’ll use a gun to enforce the law if he has to even though he has a disliking towards them and he’s initially hard-pressed on finding those who believe in a fair way of righting wrongs yet slowly but surely gets a foundation of support that’ll help him on his eventual rise towards commissioner.
As far as Batman goes, Ben McKenzie does an admirable job. His youthful tones fits in depicting a young Bruce Wayne about to embark on his legendary status as Gotham’s protector. I think the reason why he doesn’t ring with an exceptional performance is that we’ve been spoiled so much with the awesome presence of Kevin Conroy, since he began in 1992 and had loads of time to make the role his own. Since we’re dealing with a Caped Crusader who’s just starting out here, McKenzie holds down the role really well.
Not much else in terms of standout performances, since mostly everybody else helps the story move along. If I were to mention a notable female performance, then it would have to be Eliza Dushku as Selina Kyle. The former Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel star brings a very confident performance towards her character. Though not a prominent character here, she at least delivers when depicting a notable person like Selina Kyle as she progresses towards her legendary icon of Catwoman.
As far as action scenes go, they range from standard fist-fights to an intense man-hunt with a shoot-out thrown into the mix and even the climatic chase to save one’s son. The best one from the film is definitely when Batman is within the rundown building and the police tries to hunt him down. Since his loses the majority of his gadgets almost right off the bat, it shows the resourcefulness that makes Batman very tough to take down. Not a lot when it comes to stand-out action, but it brings really good stuff when it’s time.
Overall, this film is a good way to introduce the story to the uninitiated. Since it follows the original tale practically to a T, the main details will be present. Since it’s also really short (only 1 hour and 4 minutes), you can get a quick Batman fix with this film. As an adaption, it mainly holds up. Batman and James Gordon each fight their own battles in trying to make Gotham a better place for all before ultimately coming together with their ideals, the animation does well in the “What if Bruce Timm’s art looked like Dave Mazzucchelli’s” side of things, and it can serve as a good start to anyone who wants to get into Batman. If you’ve got an hour to spend, check it out when you have the chance.
Next Time: The Dark Knight returns as he and the Justice League go toe-to-toe with a man who’s just as old as time. Not only does he have well-known villains to help him out, but he’s also got an ace up his sleeve and that ace is “Batman”? The World’s Greatest Heroes face a great and desperate hour next time in “Justice League: Doom”.
Batman (created by by Bob Kane and Bill Finger) is owned by DC Comics.