Batman Rips Open the Case of the Ripper
DC Comics has had a fairly strong run with animated movies over the past several years. With Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, the comics giant takes its first swing at adapting one of its Elseworlds stories. The adaptation is true to the source material’s core premise and story, while not being afraid to expand and improve upon it. The Dark Knight clashes with Jack the Ripper, and it’s an entertaining ride from start to finish.
From Comic to Cartoon
The comic book this feature is based on is fewer than 50 pages long. It’s a simple short story with a simple plot and twist. The movie takes elements from the (also short) sequel and some new additions to reach a reasonable length. The world has more depth and details, and there’s more interesting character interactions to entertain viewers and contextualize the drama. If you’ve watched the trailer, you already know that the movie adds Selina Kyle to the story. There are some more fun cameos and references that weren’t in the comic that I won’t spoil for you.
This adaptation makes several changes, but the core plot remains intact with a far less predictable twist. All in all, the changes work to enhance the story rather than being an incongruous inclusion (The Killing Joke, anyone?). If anything, the new additions allow this to be a well-developed detective story. Moreover, seeing the World’s Greatest Detective put his skills to use while limited by the advancements of the Victorian Era (something the comic only brushes on) is a real treat. All this set to an alluring score that’s reminiscent of Batman: The Animated Series, but with some compelling Victorian twists.
Voices and Characters
It’s always an iffy situation when Kevin Conroy isn’t voicing Batman. Too often it comes off as jarring, taking half the movie just to get used to it. That isn’t the case with Gotham by Gaslight. Maybe it’s because he sounds similar to Conroy here, but Bruce Greenwood does an excellent job with the Dark Knight. He’s amiable and intriguing as Bruce Wayne, and authoritative and intimidating as Batman. He gets you on board from his first scene.
Jennifer Carpenter brings vitality and tenacity to Selina Kyle. Her inclusion in the story provides a dynamism that simply isn’t in the original comic. Far from being an excuse to stretch the story to feature length, she makes the viewer want that extra length and depth. Moreover, having her available to engage and challenge Bruce enhances the development of both characters.
In addition to the leads, Scott Patterson gives us an approachable James Gordon that’s easy to like, but still pushes back against both Batman and Bruce Wayne. It’s a good character conflict that keeps some extra tension throughout the film. Finally, Anthony Head shines as Alfred Pennyworth. He’s dry and charming, giving us that classic and enjoyable Alfred that Batman fans love. Overall, the cast does an excellent job, but these are easily the standouts.
Animation and Action
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight gives us a beautiful Victorian Gotham, along with engaging character designs. The animation doesn’t leave much to be desired. Sometimes detailed movements don’t quite work, and sometimes the digital animation doesn’t completely mesh. That being said, for the most part, it’s extremely crisp and competent.
There’s more than a few action sequences in this feature. They’re tense and well-placed within the plot. One sequence, in the beginning, is particularly well-designed and unique. It features Batman engaging with a group of juvenile criminals, carefully disarming them without hurting them.
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight gives a delightful viewing experience whether you’ve read the comic or not. The movie provides a rich world and several surprises to keep you engaged with this re-imagining of the Dark Knight. If you’re at all interested (and if you’re reading this review, you probably are), don’t hesitate to check it out.
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is currently available for digital download. It comes to DVD and Blu-ray on February 6.