by Tony Dayoub
Why someone hadn't thought of this yet is a surprise to me. Available on July 8, Warner Premiere's newest direct-to-DVD release, Batman: Gotham Knight, is an anime-influenced feature that ostensibly bridges the gap between Batman Begins and the yet to be released The Dark Knight. It is reminiscent in tone and design to Warner's earlier tie-in to the Matrix trilogy, The Animatrix. But just as that film proved to be superior than the two Matrix sequels, Gotham Knight is much more than a promotional tie-in.
Written by some of the Batman's most well known storytellers, and directed by some of Japan's most renowned animators, the six segments that comprise the film can be enjoyed separately or taken together. Together, as veteran Batman comic book writer Denny O'Neil points out in the commentary, the stories form a mosaic of different perspectives on Gotham's guardian that inform each other, and are greater than the sum of its parts.
"Have I Got a Story For You" - dir. Shoujirou Nishimi (Akira), writ. Josh Olson (A History of Violence) - In this first segment, three skaters each tell their versions of personal encounters they had with Batman during his fight with the criminal Man in Black. A fourth friend who has never seen Batman (Kevin Conroy, reprising his voice acting from the animated series) is then put in the position of being an active participant in the continuing battle. Reminiscent of other stories, in both comics and cartoons (including animated episode, "Legends of the Dark Knight"), in which outside characters introduce different iterations of the Caped Crusader, it is clear why this one opens the film. It sets the tone for the rest of the film, informing the viewer that each segment will have a different take on Batman. Among the versions seen here, look for the one that resembles a certain Marvel hero tearing up the summer box office.
"Crossfire" - dir. Futoshi Hiashide (Air), writ. Greg Rucka (Gotham Central) - Here we get Batman as seen through the eyes of Gotham Major Case Detective Crispus Allen (Gary Dourdan). Unconvinced of the heroism by what he sees as just a simple vigilante, his partner Anna Ramirez (Ana Ortiz) tries to convince him to the contrary as they deliver the Man in Black to Arkham Asylum. Rucka, who wrote Gotham Central for DC Comics, uses his affinity for Gotham's detectives to show us a more objective view of the crimefighter. His comic characters play a central role here, although Renee Montoya was changed to Anna Ramirez in this film. Apparently, Ramirez ties to a plot point in The Dark Knight that mandated the change. Look for an appearance by another longtime character who'll cameo in the new film, gangster Sal Maroni, and mentions of how the Narrows became Arkham Island after the climactic asylum breakout of the last film.
"Field Test" - dir. Hiroshi Morioka (Tsubasa Chronicle), writ. Jordan Goldberg (associate producer of The Dark Knight) - This one continues the feud between Maroni and rival gangster, The Russian. Bruce Wayne's tech expert, Lucius Fox, provides him with a special suit designed to ward off any dangerous projectiles. When it unwittingly causes another person harm, Batman reconsiders using the technology. Notable primarily for being the closest interpretation to anime in the whole film.
"In Darkness Dwells" - dir. Yasuhiro Aoki (The Animatrix), writ. David Goyer (The Dark Knight) - Goyer follows up on a loose end from his Batman Begins story. After his escape, Jonathan Crane, that film's evil Scarecrow, has taken up residence in the city's sewers, where he controls the monstrous Killer Croc. Batman must save a prominent kidnap victim from certain death, after getting a dose of Scarecrow's fear toxin courtesy of Killer Croc's bite. This segment is most reminiscent of the Darknight Detective's comic stories.
"Working Through Pain" - dir. Toshiyuki Kubooka (Lunar), writ. Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) - Perhaps the best story of the bunch, Batman, still suffering from his wounds, calls Alfred (David McCallum) to help him out of the sewers. While managing his pain, he remembers training he received in that skill from Cassandra (Parminder Nagra), an outcast in India. The flashbacks to India give the movie scope. Cassandra serves as a great counterpoint to the young brooding Batman-in-training, and a welcome female presence. Look for a sad, and loaded, metaphorical image at the end of this segment that will surely be remembered by Batman fans for years to come.
"Deadshot" - dir. Jong-Sik Nam (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe), writ. Alan Burnett (Batman: The Animated Series) - Straight up action at top speed as we wrap up the movie with marksman/assassin Dead Shot lining up his sights on Lieutenant Gordon. The plot is pretty straightforward, save for a reversal midway through the action on a hurtling elevated train. This one probably has the best animation of the entire movie. Dead Shot's costume redesign is flamboyant, but inspired.
On standard DVD, Gotham Knight includes a great commentary by Kevin Conroy and Dennis O'Neil with Gregory Noveck moderating. It also has a sneak peek at Warner Premiere's upcoming direct-to-DVD feature Wonder Woman starring Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion , and Rosario Dawson. On two-disc standard DVD and Blu-Ray, look for additional extras such as four episodes of the animated series that might inform your viewing of the film, and two documentaries, one on Batman's creator, Bob Kane, and one on his villains.
This entry first appeared on Blogcritics on 7/3/2008.
Still provided courtesy of Warner Home Entertainment.