The Good: DVD Bonus features with Wonder Woman featurette
The Bad: ANIMATION style, Plot, Lack of character, virtually everything
The Basics: Batman is gutted in many ways by a straight-to-DVD series of vignettes that do not honestly bridge the cinematic gap between the last two Batman films.
Do you ever have a DVD in your player that you wanted to get out as quickly as possible for fear that it might somehow crap up DVDs you put in later? I don't mean physically dirty or ruin future DVDs in that way, but rather the content of a DVD is so lousy you're afraid it just cannot be contained in a single DVD and will somehow seep out and spread the suck to subsequent DVDs? That's how I felt after watching Batman: Gotham Knight, a straight-to-DVD animated feature that supposedly fills in the gaps between the last two Batman films.
To be clear, I am a cinematic Batman fan. I've enjoyed the movies and two days ago, I sat down and re-watched Batman Begins (reviewed here!) in anticipation of the forthcoming DVD release of The Dark Knight. All I knew about Batman: Gotham Knight was that it was animated and it was rumored to fill in a few of the gaps between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. So, coming off the excitement of seeing Batman Begins again and liking it a LOT more the second time, if anything, I was biased toward Gotham Knight.
That died a quick death.
Batman: Gotham Knight is actually a series of six vignettes lasting about fifteen minutes each. Each "episode" tells a little story and they do not so much link together as appear side-by-side on the DVD. Obviously, they all take place in Gotham City and feature Batman, but beyond that, there is little to recognize them as Batman and even less to label them as "good." Or even "watchable."
In "Have I Got A Story For You," four skateboarding tweens sit and tell a story of their encounters with Batman throughout the same day. Batman, apparently, is hunting down a wetsuit-wearing robber who is outfitted with a jetpack. One kid encounters the pair when the robber tries to steal from civilians at the top of a building, another when the guy comes out of the river, another on the street between the two incidents and finally beneath the streets when the battle comes to an end.
This is a terrible way to begin the DVD as the animation is utterly terrible. In fact, there are several scenes that look like little more than storyboards and the lack of detail is almost as disturbing as the stupidity of the story the kids are telling. The kids add their own perspectives on what Batman is: to one he is a phantom of smoke, another a demon, and another a . . . sigh, robot. Yeah, we're not running with the deep end of the gene pool when a kid would hear "BatMAN" and come up with "robot." This is a dumb excuse for an extended, pointless battle and the only thing more insulting is the simplicity of the end. At least the producers get the worst out of the way first.
In "Crossfire," Lieutenant Gordon orders two detectives to transport a prisoner who had escaped custody, but was returned by Batman. Detective Allen is disenchanted by the Batman and his work, denouncing him as a vigilante. After he and Ramirez return the criminal to Arkham Asylum, they find themselves caught in a crossfire between two mobs vying for control of the streets of Gotham. Batman, who had been hanging around to watch the prisoner transfer, comes to their aid.
This, of course, leads Detective Allen to learn a Very Valuable Lesson about how Batman can be an ally to him and the police department. This gets the detective to stop whining about Batman's vigilantism and the only people who will be surprised by this character change are the children too young to be allowed to watch this little violent epic.
In "Working Through The Pain," Batman is wounded by the Killer Croc and yet his determination leads him to continue the fight. Okay, I've got nothing on this one. This one I glazed over through and I could not bring myself to re-watch it to see what I supposedly missed. It was boring and utterly unmemorable. Seriously, it began and suddenly I was into the next segment. It is worth noting that I watched this at 6 PM after a good night sleep, so it's not like I was predisposed to being tired, either.
But then comes "Field Test," which has the merit of having a somewhat clever concept. Lucius Fox builds Batman a force field to stop bullets. It's a clever idea, despite working on sound (which wouldn't work because the bullets would arrive before the sound did) where Batman is outfitted with a little EMP device to deflect bullets that would otherwise hit him. It's clever and he uses it to go after a gun toting maniac.
This episode at least makes a passing attempt to provide character elements as Bruce Wayne comes to realize that his distaste of guns goes back to the murder of his parents. Alfred manages to not say "well, duh," which is nice. Sadly, though, this is also one of the episodes where things severely fall down as far as a bridge between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Many of the scenes happen in Wayne Manor, which was burned down in the first movie and was not yet rebuilt by the second.
A more direct link between the two movies is "In Darkness Dwells," wherein Batman attempts to find the Scarecrow. The hunt, of course, ends with Scarecrow getting away, which anyone watching this as a bridge between the two movies would have to know (whatwith the capture of Scarecrow being one of the first actions in The Dark Knight). This does not satisfactorily bridge the gap as it adds nothing of significance to either character.
Finally, there is "Deadshot." "Deadshot" is an assassin who has killed at least three people from extreme distances and he now has his bionic eye targeted on Lieutenant Gordon. Of course, this is Deadshot's attempt to flush out Batman and with Batman out in the open, the villain begins spraying the hero with bullets until the episode ends. Again, this is not a stellar character work. It does, however, have animation that is decent and a pace that works.
Still, it's not enough to justify this DVD set. It is too violent for children, too simple for anyone who is not a kid. On the two discs (there is a second disc with extensive behind-the-scenes featurettes on Gotham Knight) the only things I found I enjoyed were the ten-minute featurette on the forthcoming Wonder Woman straight-to-DVD movie (reviewed here!) and the preview trailer for The Dark Knight (sigh, LOVED that movie!). There is a commentary track, but after the lack of quality to the primary feature, I could not justify listening to the commentary track: it would either have simply explained how the work turned out so bad or be filled with the ideas that were better than the execution.
It's tough to see how Batman fans would enjoy this DVD, much less general audiences. It's an easy pass.
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© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.