Best of 2011
As everyone knows, I like to wait until January to write my "Best of the Previous Year" column - after all, I like to give myself plenty of time. If I see something impressive, say, at 8:00 pm on New Year's Eve, it deserves inclusion. I tend to be a completist (or is it "persnickety") that way?
However, writing my "Best of 2011" column has been a little bit of a challenge. Not that there wasn't anything good that happened...just that now that I'm working in a much larger context on Comic Related, I find that I've already talked about some of my choices.
For example, I think that the best shows of the year were Alphas and Terra Nova (which admittedly, started rather slowly)...however, I've already written about one and discussed the other on the Zone 4 podcast. Sure, I think to myself, I'll just write about Captain America: The First Avenger as the best movie of 2011...but again, discussed on the Zone 4 podcast.
So this month's column is a qualified column - it's the best animated movie of 2011. It happens to be an adaptation of a classic comic, and it comes from DC Animation.
In all honesty, I had no hopes for this - I felt (and still feel) like DC should be doing more original content in animation and less adaptations. However, Batman: Year One is one of the best adaptations, with its only peer being Justice League: The New Frontier. It does what most adaptations do best - hit the story beats, but give the material a little room to breathe, and provide an enjoyable view from beginning to end.
Much of Year One's success lies in what it doesn't do - mimic David Mazuchelli's art style. Although many of the sequences take their cue from his framing, the fact that it doesn't use his artistic style directly allows the movie to live a little bit more - it feels much more full-blooded and immediate. If the film had chosen to ape a distinctive art style (like, say, Superman/Batman - Public Enemies), that style might have been distracting - the fact that the look of the piece isn't a direct copy allows for a much more enjoyable view.
(Let me just say - I love Mazuchelli's art on Year: One. I'm glad that instead of using it as a template, the film emphasizes his framing and pacing rather than his portrayal of figures. It gives the film much more lift).
Another reason why Batman: Year One works is the script - it doesn't just hit the important story beats, but retains enough of the original's "flavor" to make it engaging. It's more than just a straightforward retelling of the story - there seems to be enough left in (like Gordon's affair with Essen, and Selina Kyle's background) that it feels a little bit more "adult" without the excessive baggage that term suggests. It hits the high points but somehow feels like there's more to the story, and that's a compliment. This is one of those films that I wish were longer and had more to tell - not from a sense that the producers didn't do enough or cut too much material; I wanted to stay in this world and engage with these character more. (And yes, the Catwoman short was enjoyable, but it just wasn't enough. My only complaint - at 64 minutes, the movie seems too short, but it might not work at a longer length).
What really makes the movie work, however, is the voice talent - Andrea Romano is the unsung hero of DC Animation. Her casting choices are always unique...but spot-on. Bryan Cranston easily steals the show as Jim Gordon, who is the main focus of the film - although this is Bruce Wayne's first year, Cranston gives us a Gordon who is an honest man within a corrupt system. (Cranston does more to mimic a Mickey Spillane/Raymond Chandler-style hero in his portrayal than Frank Miller did in his writing). This is as much Jim Gordon's story as it is Bruce Wayne's...and although many people have criticized Ben McKenzie's performance as not being "Batman enough", I beg to differ - Batman: Year One is the story of two men attempting to find their sense of purpose, of justice, and deciding what kind of person they will be. McKenzie does as much work in bringing Bruce Wayne's character - as unformed as it is at this point in his life - into being as Cranston does Jim Gordon. By the end, we see Wayne well on his way to becoming Batman; the fact that he doesn't isn't a fault of the movie. After all, it's the end of year one, but we see two men becoming the people we know they are later on, and I think Cranston's performance of Gordon's ending soliloquy nails it on the head:
"It turns out that Flass had more evidence than we could keep track of. If there's one good thing Flass ever did, its put Loeb behind bars. Now, I have been promoted to captain. This guy just threatened to poison the reservoir. Calls himself 'The Joker'. Got a friend coming over to help. Should be here any minute."
In short, the animated Batman: Year One does everything a good adaptation should do - hit the appropriate story beats, take some (but not a lot) of liberties with the story...but provide a unique viewing experience that engages the viewer on multiple levels. In short, thanks to this movie, not only do I want to view it again...but I want to go back and reread the original graphic novel.
(Oh, and I have a birthday coming up in early March. If you need a gift suggestion, here you go).
Easily, this is one of the best works to come out in 2011...but I would like to hear what you think. Please feel free to share your comments below, or post in the Comic Related forum. Please feel free to check out the awesome Zone 4 podcast. Catch up with me via my blog or various other writings and social media through my personal web site.
As always, keep watching!
Read More! For more of Gordon's writings, insights, and
general information, please visit his blog at blogthispal.blogspot.com.
blog comments powered by Disqus