Batman: Gotham Knight is an "homage" (a more accurate phrase would be "rip-off") to the fabulous Animatrix collection that was released alongside the final two films in the Matrix trilogy. Since the unfolding Batman Begins trilogy releases its second installment, The Dark Knight, on July 18, studio Warner Bros. (never one to reinvent the wheel,) is attempting to $queeze some extra profit out of its expanding franchise by giving the Dark Knight his own collection of anime shorts, which chronicle events between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, summating in a hit-and-miss sequence of stories that just barley make the collection as a whole worth checking out. [SPOILER-FREE REVIEW INSIDE]
Comparisons between The Animatrix and Gotham Knight are impossible to ignore, the former, (in my opinion,) being much more visionary, daring, and revolutionary for those not familiar with anime, than what Gotham Knight offers. (The Animatrix also had that SICK CGI short that premiered in theaters. GK offers no such thrill.)
Rather than write a small novel on the collection as a whole, I thought I'd separate it into its individual stories, grade each one, give a quick synopsis, and end with my own verdict. This should help you sort out which of the shorts is worth watching, and which can just be skipped altogether, so that hopefully, your experience watching Gotham Knight won't have you nodding off at certain points like I did.
"HAVE I GOT A STORY FOR YOU" (C-)
SYNOPSIS: Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Josh Olson (A History of Violence) tells the story of how chance encounters with Batman by a group of youngsters leave each kid with a very different impression of the Dark Knight.
VERDICT: This type of Batman story has been done before, (see the episode "Almost got him" from Batman: The Animated Series), and been done better, at that. Also, the animation style (that kind of taffy-stretched, Aeon Flux-type anime,) is the sort I've never been a fan of. A poor intro to the collection.
SYNOPSIS: Acclaimed novelist/comics writer Greg Rucka tells the story of Gotham City police having to get over their distrust of Batman – while under fire from the mob.
VERDICT: A somewhat interesting story that fills in some gaps about what happened to 'the narrows' slum after all the Asylum inmates were set loose at the end of Batman Begins. It's also an interesting meditation on the see-saw relationship between Batman, a vigilante, and the GCPD.
"FIELD TEST" (B-)
SYNOPSIS: Writer Jordan Goldberg showcases the incredible high-tech arsenal Batman commands and reveals that there are some things even Batman won’t do in his pursuit of justice.
VERDICT: Nothing really wrong with this chapter; just nothing really great about it either. I was more enthralled with the size of the lint I found in my belly-button than watching what was happening on screen.
"IN DARKNESS DWELLS" (A+)
SYNOPSIS: Batman descends into the Gotham sewers to face “Killer Croc,” a deformed thug who seems even more monstrous after the Scarecrow, and his fear toxin, makes a resurgence, in a story by David S. Goyer, co-screenwriter of Batman Begins.
VERDICT: It's no wonder that this chapter is so good, having been written by Goyer. The story has the strongest link to BB, and the take on Killer Croc is truly horrifying, as are the visuals of the Gotham City Sewers (they used to be a waterway used to transport coffins.) The ending of the story is totally left-field, yet resonates so well with the underlying theme of who Batman is. A superb achievement.
"WORKING THROUGH PAIN" (A+)
SYNOPSIS: Award-winning comics writer Brian Azzarello (100 Bullets) explores an early chapter of Bruce Wayne’s training, showing how a mysterious and exotic Indian woman named Cassandra introduced Batman to techniques that would help him to conquer the physical and spiritual consequences of what he does.
VERDICT: Cassandra is by far the most interesting character introduced in the collection, and what she teaches Bruce Wayne is just as interesting. Also raised in this chapter is a theme rumored to be central to TDK, namely that Bruce/Batman has chosen a solitary path to walk, one that no one else can, or will, walk alongside him. An unorthodox, yet no less powerful, story.
SYNOPSIS: Four-time Emmy Award-winning writer Alan Burnett ties together threads from all the Batman Gotham Knight chapters, as Batman must thwart an unerring assassin whose love of guns and disregard for human life lets him cross lines that even a Dark Knight shies away from.
VERDICT: This is pretty much what we want to see from Gotham Knight. The story is straightforward, the animation style is basic anime, sans abstraction, and the whole chapter is pretty much action. Deadshot is a rogues-gallery favorite, and his showdown with Batman in a tunnel atop a speeding train is visually stunning. I tacked on a minus to the final grade only because "In Darkness Dwells" and "Working Through Pain" were able to reach up and grab some deeper truth about who Batman is, and what his quest is about. "Deadshot" is just pure entertainment.
So that's my take on Batman: Gotham Knight. How does your assessment compare? Rant back and let us know.