Review by Jason Serafino (@serafinoj1)

Up until 1987, the Caped Crusader mostly operated in a brightly-colored superhero world along with the rest of the DC Universe. Then, Frank Miller's Batman: Year One came along and reimagined the Dark Knight as a gritty, urban vigilante who seemed to operate in a world not unlike our own. The same civil unrest that was felt towards the end of the Reagan administration was evident in every page of the story, and it seemed to strike a chord with a much more discernible fan base. This more realistic take on the character has become the basis for every Batman comic, TV show, movie, and video game since. Now, Warner Brothers Animation has released this monumental story in animated form, led by director Lauren Montgomery and producer Bruce Timm, the man behind the legendary Batman: The Animated Series.

Much like the original comic's look and tone separated itself from DC's other books, the realistic character models and surprising amount of violence in this movie separate it from previous DC animated releases, such as New Frontier and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. There are no over-exaggerated physiques on characters or futuristic looking skyscrapers; instead, Year One presents Gotham City in a way that is more reminiscent of Detroit than Metropolis. The raw look of the city and its inhabitants perfectly capture the spirit and hellish tone of Dave Mazzucchelli’s artwork from the comic.

The title of the movie may have people believe that this is a Batman story, but the truth is that this film is all about Commissioner Gordon (voiced by Bryan Cranston). He is the character that drives the narrative forward as he deals with a corrupt city, a pregnant wife, and his own questionable morals. Between Cranston’s superb voice-acting and Miller’s deep story, Gordon quickly becomes one of the most fleshed-out characters to ever be featured in a comic book movie, live-action included. He fights, he cheats on his wife, and, in the end, he’s the type of damaged hero that any compelling story should feature. Although, at a mere 64 minutes long, this movie does shortchange him in a few scenes. 

When Batman finally does appear on screen, the brilliance of Miller's work truly begins to take shape. His arc may be understated, but whenever he shows up, he is like a force of nature. Silent, yet powerful, Batman takes down mobsters, corrupt cops, and an entire SWAT team as he begins the early stages of his war on crime. He is just a rookie in this story, but every scene he is in is simply fierce. In fact, there are iconic moments in this movie that easily trump anything found in Batman Begins, which took most of its influence from Year One.

Because it's based off of a superb comic storyline, the script and the visuals are already in place, but one area that Year One falters a bit in is the voice acting. While there are highlights, such as Alex Rocco as Carmine Falcone and Eliza Dushku as Catwoman, Ben McKenzie’s Bruce Wayne/Batman comes off pretty flat. It’s not as bad as Christian Bale’s smoked-out Al Pacino interpretation of Bats, but it is still not up to the standards of Michael Keaton or Kevin Conroy, who voiced him in Batman: The Animated Series. There is a lack of conviction in his voice that leaves a little bit too much to be desired at times and actually serves as a distraction from the story.

Despite the brief runtime and soft voice-acting, Year One is one of DC’s better animated films, and it can easily hold its own against the company’s live-action projects. Its slow pace and subdued nature might turn some people off, but like the original comic, the intense character deconstruction should be enough to satisfy longtime Batman fans. Don’t go in expecting wild action scenes or over-the-top personalities, but if you want a great interpretation of the Batman legend, and an extremely faithful representation of a classic comic, then Year One should hold you over until The Dark Knight Rises comes out next year.

Review by Jason Serafino (@serafinoj1)