I believe in Gotham City.
What’s the Story?
Gotham is a city as broken and corrupt as they come. Carmine ‘The Roman’ Falcone is the indisputable and untouchable boss of crime, with a stranglehold on everything from the Mayor’s office to the justice system, but that’s all about to change. Three men are working to bring him down. Captain James Gordon, one of the few honest cops in Gotham. New District Attorney Harvey Dent, a man stood at a precipice even if he doesn’t see it yet. Batman, the dark knight who has sworn an oath to save his beloved city. Of course nothing in Gotham is ever simple and the war on crime is complicated by a string of bizarre murders. Members of the Falcone family are being murdered each and every holiday, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas one after the other. Gotham is changing, an empire is falling and everyone is a suspect. It’s time to learn to be a detective, Batman.
The Long Halloween is probably one of my favourite Batman comics and, by extension, one of my favourite comics in existence. It’s not perfect, but Jeph Loeb’s noir-soaked world and Tim Sale’s amazing art are what I think of when I think of Batman (alongside everything from Batman The Animated Series of course). For me, it’s not just a story about the early days of Batman and the fall of Harvey Dent (sorry, spoilers for any non-Batman fans), but it’s about the transition of Gotham. We watch as the city moves away from the more traditional organised crime to being a place plagued by costumed and theatrical crime. I’d recommend it whether you’re a Batman fan or not.
With all that being said, I’ve been waiting for an adaptation of this story for a long time. We’ve had pieces here and there, Nolan’s Batman trilogy took a heavy influence from this comic (I’m pretty sure everyone who’s seen The Dark Knight will recognise the scene with the huge pile of money and, yes, that comes from Long Halloween). But this is it. Finally. The full adaptation of The Long Halloween to the screen, or the first part at least with the second due for release shortly. So, how was it? Honestly I have mixed feelings.
There are parts of this movie that I love. I’m still very much enjoying the new animation style that the DC Universe animated movies have adopted (see my review of Justice Society: World War II HERE, to read more about that). The action scenes are fast and fluid, though I did notice a couple of the more quieter scenes looking a bit stiff and awkward. I’m assuming this is down to the rushed release schedule for these films, which is a shame. If any story deserves the time and money to get it right, it’s a work as seminal as The Long Halloween. That brings me to the voice cast, who are all fantastic. Jensen Ackles is perfect for Batman and my only hope is that he gets more to do in Part 2, which brings me to Naya Rivera who unfortunately passed away last year. I’m using the same word again, but she is perfect as Catwoman and it’s a tragedy that we’ve lost her.
Moving on the plot and, again, I feel like I’m stuck in a positive/negative sandwich. Adaptation-wise it’s very faithful, there are some cosmetic changes but on the whole a lot of effort is put into maintaining the core of the story. Scenes are extended from the comic, we get a bit more action, characters talk more about what they’re feeling and where they’re at. There is a really adorable scene with a young Barbara Gordon that both melted and then broke my heart. The problem is that a lot of this feels like filler. To a degree I can argue that it’s leaning into it’s noir roots and building atmosphere and tension, which it is, but I also can’t escape the fact that a few seconds shaved off of each scene would have really helped this movie (I think this is the first time I’ve wanted one of these animated movies to actually be shorter).
I think the core issue is that the majority of this film is set up, necessary set up, but we’re very much moving things into place and laying out breadcrumbs (sometimes with the subtly of a sledgehammer). I am a little worried for Part 2, this film covers the first 4 issues of the story, there’s 9 left to go. If the next film is rushed I am going to be sorely ticked off. What it all comes down to is that, honestly, I think this film is probably better off watched alongside Part 2 when that comes out at the end of July, I can’t give my full judgement until I’ve seen that. So, I’ll see you then.
In the end, Batman: The Long Halloween Part 1 is the set up to something that could be truly great, or a disaster in the making. It’s hard to tell at the minute. It’s an incredibly faithful adaptation, taking it’s time to add depth and action in-between the scenes that were already there, unfortunately this does slow down the pacing of the film and it isn’t helped by some lacklustre animation in parts. The voice cast are superb though, breathing new life into this age-old characters and the story is still as great as it’s ever been. Honestly I’m reserving my final judgement until Part 2 is out, so come back when I review that film and we’ll see if this was worth it.
Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.