Year One was originally a four part story arc, dating back to 1987. Written by Frank Miller and drawn by David Mazzucchelli, Year One (much like Miller's The Dark Knight Returns) was a rebirth for the Dark Knight, and brought the Batman back to be a darker character in a much grittier, noir setting. Year One is literally the first year in Batman and Jim Gordon's careers and NOT an origin story. Bruce Wayne has returned home from his long absence training abroad, and Detective James Gordon is new to the Gotham City PD. Gotham City is riddled with crime, and its leaders are corrupt. Although they are two very different men, they clearly have the same goal - to clean it up. Year One tells the tale of their early careers, their first encounter and their similar mission.
Despite being a Kevin Conroy fanatic/purist (he IS the voice of Batman), the voice acting in Year One was enjoyable. I admit, it would have been weird hearing Conroy saying some of Frank Miller's dialogue, so newcomer Benjamin McKenzie was probably a better choice. The true star of the film however is Bryan Cranston, the voice of Jim Gordon. Cranston voices the role exceptionally well. Ironically, he supposedly turned the down the job at first, thinking the film was going to be a campy portrayal.
The film itself follows the original plot and script fairly closely. It's obvious this is a good thing but Frank Miller's heavy use of narration and inner monologue, which works well on paper and in a noir setting, doesn't quite work in a full animated film. Granted I didn't have the book in front of me as I watched, but it's obvious that they almost tried too hard to include all of Frank Miller's script. This isn't exactly a bad thing, and does give the film the needed noir feel, but too much inner monologue just feels strange in an animated film.
The narration also might have been easier to digest if the film had been drawn differently. Unfortunately the one the place where the film fails is visuals. Yes, the characters are well drawn, the animation is clean and fluid (and beautiful), but aside from the story what made the comic book so great was David Mazzucchelli's artwork. His rough pencils and muted colors are what gave the book it's gritty, bleak, almost sickly feel that was/is Gotham City. Everything from the rooms, architecture, and police cars are too perfectly drawn. It's a place you're NOT supposed to want to be in or even visit, and what I felt seeing in the book I didn't get from watching the film. It's a pretty big detail and was clearly missed.
Despite the aesthetic issues, Batman: Year One is a must see for Batman fans, purely for the classic Frank Miller story. However, if you're new to the Batman Universe do yourself a favor a read the graphic novel first.
FINAL VERDICT: B-
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