Named as one of IGN's 25 greatest Batman stories of all time and one of the books that any Batman fan would swear by, Frank Miller's 1987 classic Batman Year One finally comes to life as a full length animated movie. Besides inspiring elements in various Batman animated shows since the 1990s, Batman Year One is also the main inspiration for the blockbuster hit "Batman Begins". So with its influence seen in all incarnations of Batman in the last 15 years, the producers are hard pressed to come up with anything original. So instead of just retelling Batman's origins, drawing influence from Batman Year One, the creative team decided to stick as close as possible to the source material and literally transfer the book into animated form.
To date, Batman Year One is easily the movie that is most faithful to its source material. Barring a few lines tweaked to flow more naturally in dialogue, the script is almost exactly the same as in the book. Whole scenes are reproduced shot for shot, as if the comic panels themselves came to life. One could literally watch this movie and read the comic side by side. Sadly, the plot itself is weaker than what one would expect, mostly due to the limitations of the audio/visual media.
Batman Year One contains two parallel tales. One follows Bruce Wayne, a millionaire playboy with a tragic past who returns to Gotham City after many years. The other follows Lieutenant Jim Gordon, a cop transferred to Gotham Police Department. Crime and corruption run rampant through the city, driving both Gordon and Wayne to bring justice to this lawless town through their own means. Initially, they are powerless against against a world of vice and sin, a world that does not want their help and would instead seek to crush their bodies and spirits. But both men soldier on in their quest. Wayne decides to become a masked vigilante; striking from the shadows against those that the authorities are powerless to touch. Meanwhile Gordon, knee deep among crooked Cops, struggles to expose the corrupted powers that be.
When it first debuted in 1987, Batman Year One was meant to be a realistic reinterpretation of Batman's origins. No fancy gadgets, no Batmobile, no crazy freaks. Batman does not befriend the police, and is in fact wanted as a criminal at one point. Those expecting long drawn out Batman brawls might be disappointed by the lack of appearances by Batman. Remember, the story is less about the icon and more about the man behind the mask. Also, the voice cast is possibly one of the weaker ones from DC animation. None of the performances really stand out, especially Benjamin McKenzie's Batman who seems to be doing a bad Christian Bale impression.
In true comic book fashion, the story is the very definition of brevity. Despite running barely over 60 minutes, the movie does a wonderful job of getting to the point of how both Wayne and Gordon struggle to keep their beliefs in a world devoid of morality. The power of a comic's visuals in telling a story without words is reflected very well in the animation. Scenes are loaded with impact and potential interpretations. Sadly, in an animated medium, one cannot mull over a page or let the imagination "set" to fully appreciate a scene's impact. Perhaps some would feel that the movie is too "to the point"; giving the audience the story instead of letting it play out over time.
On the flip side, what the animated medium takes full advantage of is bringing motion to static artwork. The animation by Korean studio "Moi Animation" is so smooth and seamless, a standard usually only seen in big budget theatrical feature films along the lines of "Rebuild of Evangelion" and "Sky Crawlers". The fight scenes are definitely the highlight of the movie. Fully animated, without a single cost saving short cut, it is almost like live action combat sequences out of a blockbuster. The art is no pushover either. It is David Mazzucchelli's original comic designs and characters, combined with an Asian anime flaire and aesthetics. This means small tweaks like giving characters more expressive eyes, sharper features and a less murky color palette. Purists would cry foul at the tweaks but they never detract from the original artwork's feel; it is still dark, gritty, and atmospheric as ever.
Being incredibly faithful to the source material means that one need not be familiar with the graphic novel to appreciate this show. If anything, this film allows those who would normally be averse to reading a comic book appreciate a timeless tale, integral to Batman lore. It is the same book, just a different way of reading it.