The rather moody Batman: Year one is based on the comic series by Frank Millar of the same name, which in turn was the basis for Christopher Nolan’s equally moody Batman Begins. The key word, if you haven’t already guessed, is moody. If you’re a comic aficionado or have happened to have seen Sin City or 300, you’ll know what to expect from Millar’s take on the Caped Crusader’s first steps into crime fighting.
Inner monologues that sound like the same person no matter who is talking? Check. Honestly, you could swap the voices and it wouldn’t matter jot.
Laughable attempts to make everything seem grown up? Check. Selina Kyle AKA Catwoman is a prostitute, Batman says ‘fuck’ and 90% of the fight scenes seem to happen within Gotham’s red-light district.
That sneaky feeling this is all a bit misogynistic? Check. As well as Catwoman being a lady of the night who looks after a 12-year-old prostitute, the only other strong female character is merely used as a plot device for the soon-to-be Commissioner Gordon to have his end away with. Sigh.
The plot hangs around a series of snapshots taken during the first 12 months of Bruce Wayne’s tentative steps as Batman. Whilst this makes for interesting viewing, some sub-plots are picked up and dropped quicker than would be liked. Depending on how you look at this, this can be a bit frustrating.
As this is a serious film about serious grown up things – did I mention Batman says ‘fuck’? – there is clearly a huge effort to ground all this in reality. A commendable effort that is somewhat skewed by the fact that everyone appears to have unbelievable superhuman strength. If it’s not Gordon kick boxing like Sagat from Street Fighter II, it’s Selina Kyle leaping out of a four-storey building before landing safely on concrete and Bruce Wayne punching a pile of bricks to dust before kicking a tree in half. Seriously, in half.
Yes, this is a cartoon world, films have to earn your suspension of disbelief. A man dressing as a bat is going to be difficult to take seriously as it is without him having to ability to take out oak trees in a single swipe.
It’s not all bad. The minimalist animation is effective, and the denouement is surprisingly low key for a superhero film. If you count babies falling from a bridge low-key, that is. All of which goes some way to show that Batman: Year One can do subtlety when it can be bothered.
Overall, considering this is based on a well thought of comic book series, Batman: Year One is kind of a missed opportunity. It has a criminally short running time (just over 60 minutes) and there is just not enough of an attempt made to get inside the head of Bruce Wayne. Did I mention it’s incredibly moody? I’m not saying Batman needs to break wind and giggle, but the darkness would contrast better if it was up against some lighter moments.