Review: Batman Year One (2011)


After years of waiting, and being teased with moments from Batman Begins, comic book fans finally have one of the classic storylines brought to film. Batman: Year One is an incredibly faithful and complete adaption of the comic book graphic novel, and while the film has an uneven beginning and character problems throughout the first half, the strength of the source material breaks through and makes it so the film cannot possibly disappoint.

Batman: Year One is exactly as it sounds, it depicts the events of Bruce Wayne’s first year as Batman. The film commences with both Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon arriving in Gotham City. Bruce, after 12 years of training, is coming home to fulfill the promise he made to his parents on the night they were murdered, to rid Gotham City of crime. At first, he struggles to grasp how best to accomplish this goal, but after a disastrous night, which leaves him on the verge of death, he has a revelation and decides to disguise himself as a bat to frighten and defeat the criminals.

At the same time, Gordon has taken up his new post as Lieutenant of the Gotham Police Force. Unfortunately, it becomes quite clear from the start that Gordon may be the only honest cop in Gotham, and this causes him to have a strained and dangerous relationship with his boss, The Commissioner, and his own partner. Complicating matters is that the crime bosses are using their influences in the police to force them, and Gordon, to bring down the masked vigilante Bat-Man that has been terrorizing them. As the year progresses, Gordon continues to gain more enemies, both working in the system and working against, and soon discovers that his only true ally in Gotham is the very vigilante he has been ordered to capture.

The film’s loyalty to the source material is absolute, and this proves to work for and against the film as a whole. The problem that arises is that certain forms of storytelling are not as effective in film as they are in novels. For instance, the majority of the dialogue in the first half of the film is done in voice over, where both Gordon and Batman are explaining their thoughts about all that they are involved in. At first it was interesting to see how both characters view their surroundings and how their expositions revealed their personalities and character. As all fans of the graphic novel will agree, the dialogue was taken directly out of the source material and it may even be enjoyable for the hardcore fans. But for those who have not read the graphic novel, this voice over would feel quite odd even out of place, as if the film was trying too hard to be a typical film noir.

Character development is another of the weaknesses of the film, except in the case of Gordon and Batman. Despite what the title says, this is more Gordon’s story than Batman’s. All the other characters have no real depth and they are not fully fleshed out nor explored. Too much time is spent on Gordon and Batman, but not enough is paid to their supporting characters, which again can be the fault of the source material instead of the writers. Of course this is supposed to be a story of the two of them and told from their individual points of view, but a little bit more attention could be given to the rest.

The voice acting was quite strong in general, with special recognition given to Bryan Cranston for his role as Jim Gordon. Cranston did a fantastic job and gave his character depth, made him cunning, intelligent, humble and endearing. When he delivered his monologues, it felt as if you were listening in on his private thoughts and could really understand the character beyond his actions and words. Unfortunately, Ben McKenzie was not able to hold his end of the film as his Batman/Bruce Wayne felt like an unemotional, scripted performance. As if he was just reading the lines of the script with no depth at all. As the film progressed, his performance improved, but not enough to match his cast members.

On the other hand, the film’s faithfulness to the graphic novel allows for some truly amazing iconic moments to be visualized in fantastic animated sequences. All the things that made the graphic novel great also make the film great. The action scenes come to life in a very elegant and, at times, brutal way. Fans, who have favourite elements of the comic, will find these captured seriously and maturely. It can be said that Batman: Year One was made for the fans, but it can also entertain those who know very little of Batman.

68/100 - Batman: Year One is an incredibly faithful and complete adaption of the comic book graphic novel.

Umar Shameem

When I was 6 years old, my mother showed me the 1978 Superman movie. I watched that maybe 1000 times by the time I was 7. Ever since I have loved movies, and comic books. Fast forward 20 years, a couple film courses, several thousand comic books and over 2000 movies, and you get me. I continue to watch films of all genres and read comics. It is apart of my identity and it is something I love and hope to be able to continue loving and enjoying until the end of my days.