By Will Barber Taylor
Gotham City, at the turn of the century, is experiencing a golden era of discovery and industry as showcased by affluent businessman Bruce Wayne’s World Fair. Down in the darkest alleys, there is a killer on the loose. Preying on the city’s women, this killer is as precise as he is cruel. As Police Commissioner James Gordon tries to calm the fears of Gotham’s citizens over the butcher named Jack the Ripper, the masked vigilante Batman does some detective work of his own, with the help of the sultry and surefooted Selina Kyle. Witness a world in flames as the killer’s controlled savagery meets the calculated stealth of the Dark Knight!
As some of you may know, from reading my previous reviews of DC Universe Animated Original Movies, I’ve not really enjoyed them for a while. I found The Killing Joke “rough around the edges”; Batman and Harley Quin was “a travesty”; Batman: Bad Blood was “dry and predictable” and as for Justice League: Gods and Monsters… the less said about that film the better. I have perhaps only liked one film in the recent cavalcade of DC Universe Animated Original Movies and that was Justice League vs Teen Titans. That was until Batman: Gotham by Gaslight came out. Because Gotham by Gaslight is brilliant.
Whilst Justice League: Gods and Monsters promised a new look at classic characters; Gotham by Gaslight delivers this. Based on the classic graphic novel of the same name, the film is filled with steampunk designs and original twists on the Batman legend which make sense within the context of the story and also provide fun for those who know about them. However, again unlike the putrid Gods and Monsters, Gotham by Gaslight has a strong, compelling story which keeps the viewer hooked throughout its runtime. Rather than relying on the trope of it being “Batman but not as we know him”, the film tells an exciting, entertaining Batman story that just happens to be set in 19th century America. It is refreshing to find a DC Universe Animated Original film that take an interesting concept and adapts it in a way which means it works perfectly as a film – unlike the Killing Joke which attempted to make a comic book that simply moved, Gotham by Gaslight takes license with the story and doesn’t feel too bogged down by its status to ensure it is as engaging on the big screen as it is on the comic book shelf.
The artwork throughout the film is excellent; there is a perfect mixture between realism and a cartoon style to ensure that the film feels both like a comic book and a movie. This aesthetic is particularly noticeable in Batman’s outfit – the mixture between traditional Dark Knight attire and a that of a steam punk adventurer helped to solidify the image of Batman in 19th century America. The artwork down for Wayne’s World Fair is also impressive and does mirror similar great engineering feats from the same period.
Bruce Greenwood is excellent in his return to playing the Dark Knight. Greenwood always brings a level of sophistication to whenever he plays Bruce Wayne but his portrayal as a Victorian adds an extra level of laid back gent about town which helps with the setting and aesthetic of the story. His interactions with Selina Kyle (Jennifer Carpenter) both as Bruce and Batman are excellently pitched and their conversations feel organic and believable and never forced.
In conclusion, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is a spooky, daring and different type of Batman story which combines the best elements of the gothic horror and those of the Batman universe to make an engaging and highly enjoyable film. It is a shame DC Universe haven’t made more films like Gotham by Gaslight because if they did, more people might watch animated films.