by Mel Valentin
An anime-inspired collection of six shorts created as a bridge between Christopher Nolanís reboot of the Batman franchise, "Batman Begins" and the upcoming sequel, "The Dark Knight," "Batman: Gotham Knight" is the latest direct-to-DVD release from Warner Premiere and Warner Animation. "Batman: Gotham Knight" matches fan-favorite comic book and screenplay writers with Asian anime studios. Given the demands of the brief running time (a studio mandated 75 minutes, including credits), and the risks inherent in allowing different points-of-view (relatively) free reign, itís not surprising that the shorts vary greatly in quality, ranging from the mediocre to the (almost) exceptional. Alone or combined, however, the six shorts canít be considered essential viewing for fans of the comic book character or his cinematic incarnation.In the first short, Have I Got A Story For You, written by Josh Olson (A History of Violence) and directed by Shoujirou Nishimi, four skateboarders get together to recount their experiences in meeting Batman as he fights a bank robber equipped with high-tech weapons. One sees Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy, as in the animated series) as a living shadow, another sees him as a demonic or mutated bat, a third sees him as an super-powered, Iron Man-like figure, and the fourth sees as the more traditional costumed hero with cape and cowl. Olson and Nishimi play up each characterís perceptions, both as events happened and, later, as they change the descriptions of their experiences, Rashomon-style. Olson also borrows Mementoís backward narrative structure. Nishimi brings a great deal of anime-style flavor to the segment, favoring blocky, angular characters and caricature to photo-realism or verisimilitude.
"Non-essential? Yes. Worth seeing? Still a yes."
Written by Greg Rucka (Gotham Central, Queen & Country, Whiteout) and directed by Futoshi Higashide, Crossfire focuses on two Gotham City detectives, Crispus Allen (Gary Dourdan) and Anna Ramirez (Ana Ortiz), in the major crimes squad under James Gordon (Jim Meskimen). After delivering a criminally insane patient to the newly rebuilt Arkham Asylum (an Escape From New York island isolated from the rest of Gotham City), Allen and Ramirez have the bad luck to drive smack into a confrontation between two gangs, one run by The Russian (Corey Burton) and the other run by Sal Maroni (Rob Paulsen). Allen and Ramirezís only hope? Batman, of course. Crossfire is by far the weakest of the six segments, primarily due to the improbably causal chain that leaves Allen and Ramirez in the middle of a shootout. Rucka and Higashide have the shootout play out, OK Corral-style, with the two gangs facing off, unprotected, on open ground.
In Field Test, written by Jordan Goldberg and directed by Hiroshi Morioka, Batman/Bruce Wayne, with Lucius Foxís (Kevin Michael Richardson) help, tests bullet-deflecting technology in the middle of another confrontation between the Russian and Maroni. After discovering that the new technology has unintended consequences, one that goes against Batmanís ďminimize harmĒ personal code, he reconsiders using the technology. More a sketch or vignette, Field Test allows director Morioka to focus primarily on the set pieces and visual choreography (all if it striking). Field Test, though, has little in the way of a memorable hook, storyline or characters.
Written by David S. Goyer (The Invisible, Batman Begins, the Blade trilogy) and directed by Yasuhiro Aoki, In Darkness Dwells is probably the strongest of the six segments, less for Goyerís hostage/rescue storyline than for Aokiís Mignola-inspired approach to character design. In a carryover from Batman Begins, Batman has to confront and defeat the Scarecrow (Corey Burton) again. The Scarecrow, late of Arkham Asylum, has kidnapped a Roman Catholic cardinal, O'Fallon (Brian George), fleeing into the caverns and sewers underneath Gotham City where, with the help of hallucinating cultists, he plans on sacrificing the cardinal. Itís up to Allen, Ramirez, and a hallucinating Batman, dosed with fear toxin, to save OíFallon. While Goyer keeps In Darkness Dwells moving at a rapid clip, itís Aokiís surrealistic, noirish visuals that elevates In Darkness Dwells as the best short in the anthology.
In Working Through Pain, written by Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) and directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka, an injured Batman, awaiting rescue by Alfred (David McCallum), his loyal butler and surrogate father, flashes back to his pre-Batman days, when he sought spiritual enlightenment India. Rejected for supposedly impure intentions, Wayne turns to Cassandra (Parminder Nagra), an outcast and accused witch. Cassandra teaches Wayne not just to overcome or block pain, but to integrate it into his identity. While Working Through Pain works story wise, it isnít done any favors by Kubookaís manga-inspired animation. The young Bruce Wayne is indistinguishable from every other manga or anime hero, bland good looks, soft features, and big eyes, a visual choice that strays too far from any reasonable conception or description of Bruce Wayne.
Deadshot, written by Alan Burnett (Batman: The Animated Series) and directed by Jong-Sik Nam, closes out Batman: Gotham Knight with a storyline that culminates in an extended action scene set on a moving train. Deadshot (Jim Meskimen), a sharpshooter and mercenary, agrees to take out the troublesome Gordon for a price. Alerted to Deadshotís plan by an informant, Batman, Allen, and Ramirez prepare for Deadshotís attempt on Gordonís life. Preparations mean nothing next to Deadshotís near-superhuman accuracy. The confrontation ends with Batman and Deadshot facing off on a train hurtling through Gotham City similar to the climax in Batman Begins. Deadshot also includes the obligatory flashback to the deaths of Batmanís parents, along with a brief flashback of Bruce helping his father save a man in a triage center at (presumably) a disaster site (or war zone). If Deadshot has any weaknesses (beyond the all-too-brief running time), itís in the less-than-seamless combination of traditional 2D animation with CGI.Not surprisingly, "Batman: Gotham Knight" yields mixed results: occasionally stellar, striking animation (including widely divergent takes on Batmanís costumes), and thin, undernourished storylines. Actually, letís call them what they are: vignettes, samplers, pieces of larger stories (or a story) that offer little insight in the Batman character or mythos and even less connection to "The Dark Knight." That doesnít mean "Batman: Gotham Knight" isnít worth checking out (it is), just that fans of the comic book character or the film series should keep their expectations in check. Check out "Batman: Gotham Knight" for the character and the world he lives in, but stay for the (almost) always impressive animation.
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originally posted: 07/08/08 16:10:51