Based on the 1987 four-issue story arc by Frank Miller, Batman: Year One is a stylishly animated retelling of Batman’s origins. Viewers unfamiliar with the print version may recognize similarities between this and 2005’s live-action Batman Begins. Bruce Wayne has returned to Gotham City after training overseas. He soon becomes inspired to fight crime dressed as a bat. But Year One is just as much the story of Lieutenant Jim Gordon, new to Gotham PD. While the rest of the department views Batman as a criminal, Gordon sees his true intentions and an alliance is slowly formed.
Complicating matters somewhat is Selina Kyle, a prostitute who develops her own alter ego: Catwoman. Actually, Catwoman is incorporated awkwardly into the story. We’re already seeing the beginnings of Batman as well as the future Commissioner Gordon. Though competently voiced by Eliza Dushku, throwing in the origins of the morally ambiguous Catwoman is a bit more than this film can handle. Year One boasts a rather insubstantial running time of 64 minutes. The adaptation of Miller’s story is faithful, but the storytelling buckles under the weight of the various plot elements it stuffs into a short duration. In the end, the film feels like a pilot episode for a new series rather than a stand-alone feature.
Not helping at all is the seriously uninspired voice work of Benjamin McKenzie as Bruce Wayne/Batman. McKenzie isn’t really acting so much as just reading lines, especially during the painfully dull narration. He sounds so disengaged with the material that it makes Batman a total bore. Much more effective is Bryan Cranston’s voicing of Lt. Gordon. Cranston brings significantly more gravity to his performance as Gordon, elevating him above the title character in terms of interest and sympathy. Batman: Year One is an attractively animated film with some excitingly staged action sequences but ultimately feels incomplete.
Batman: Year One is available in several configurations. For the budget conscious, the single-disc DVD is the best choice. The only significant extra feature it contains is a 15-minute DC Showcase short, Catwoman. Though unrelated to the events of Year One, this is a better use of Selina Kyle (voiced again by Eliza Dushku). Besides that, there are several lengthy sneak peeks at upcoming DC Comics animated films. The double-disc DVD edition contains significantly more special features. Batman: Year One is also available on Blu-ray.