This past weekend, I saw one of the scariest things imaginable for a geek: a deadly boring “Batman” movie.
“Batman: Year One,” based on the comic story by Frank Miller and artist David Mazzucchelli, is a major snooze. The chief thing it has going for it is the “Catwoman” short that accompanies it. It has more interesting action than the entire movie it pairs with.
Part of the problem is the story, part of it is the script and dialogue, and part of it is the voice acting. Let’s start with the story:
I didn’t read the original, so I can’t say how closely this sticks to it, but it’s not really “Batman: Year One.” It’s “Commissioner Gordon: Year One,” with some “Batman: Year One” and a little “Catwoman: Year One” thrown in. That would be fine, if you weren’t expecting it to be a Batman movie.
As a Commissioner Gordon movie, it’s OK. A young Lt. Gordon arrives in Gotham, newly pregnant wife in tow, after busting some bad cops at his former precinct and being treated like a pariah. But for a man with a moral code, that’s his lot in life, and he starts doing the same thing here from almost the instant he meets his new partner, Flass.
And he’s an interesting character, not quite as moral as you’d expect him to be, giving him some depth.
Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne has returned home after 12 years of soul searching. He’s got the moves, but he doesn’t have the direction or inspiration yet. Then an incredibly strong bat does a number on his library window.
Meanwhile, Selina Kyle seems to be a prostitute, or at least an exotic dancer. Or not. They don’t say why she’s living above a topless bar. Her younger roommate is a hooker, though, but then Kyle sees Batman and has an idea to get them away from that life.
But Bruce’s journey to Batman has very little emotional build-up. The whole story is told in plodding fashion with a date ticker to show how you’re moving through the year. There’s one nice bit between Wayne and Gordon where they meet and learn to respect each other, but that’s about it for pay-off.
Like I said, Gordon has the main arc, but even that falls kind of flat in the end with a quick, almost dismissive take on his final accomplishments.
As for the script and voice work, I don’t think I’d be exaggerating to say about half of it is voiceover by Gordon or Wayne/Batman. Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”) lends some gravitas to his work and is pretty good at his other lines. But Ben McKenzie, who’s so good on “Southland,” sounds like he lost a bet and was just handed the script.
Of course, much of his voiceover dialogue isn’t much help as written. A particularly angsty appeal to Wayne’s dead father is pretty lame. But a good voice actor, like previous Batmen Kevin Conroy or even Bruce Greenwood, would have at least tried to make it work. Just lowering your voice a notch is not acting. He’s a bit better when Bruce Wayne is actually talking to someone, but not much.
Add to that some lackluster animation (seriously, Warner Bros., these are looking really bad), and you’ve just got a mess of a film. A boring mess.