With THE DARK KNIGHT a bit more than a week away I was chomping at the bit for a new dose of Bat-mania, this time in the form of BATMAN: GOTHAM KNIGHT, a six-part animated film that bridges the gap between BATMAN BEGINS and the aforementioned TDK. Picking up after the events of BEGINS, GOTHAM KNIGHT finds Batman battling a variety of foes in a city that has improved since we last saw him, but not by much.
Criminals like Killer Croc (a massive former sideshow freak) and Scarecrow are roaming the streets (or sewers), rival gangs are blasting away at each other in public, and even homeless advocates aren't safe from the bullets of hired killers.
The six chapters in the film all work as stand-alone stories that illustrate part of Batman's training or his role within society – a gang of skateboarding kids relate tales that describe him as everything from a robot and a shadowy shape-shifter to a Man-bat, we see a young Bruce Wayne learning to work through the inevitable pain (both physical and emotional) that comes with nocturnal crime-fighting, and we glimpse how he's viewed by various members of the once-dirty Gotham Police Department. And while the tales work well on their own, GOTHAM KNIGHT also succeeds in weaving a complete story through its 75 minute running time.
Some folks have compared this release to a similar animated installment of THE MATRIX films, but I've never seen it so I'm not sure how accurate the comparison is. Each tale is done in its own unique style, with an emphasis on anime thanks to directors like Yasuhiro Aoki, Futoshi Higashide and Hiroshi Morioka. Surprisingly, the frequent change in visual styles isn't as jarring as I expected and the Japanese influence seemed fresh and provided some eye-opening takes on familiar characters like Batman (returning voice talent Kevin Conroy), James Gordon and Alfred (voiced by David McCallum).
Like any anthology with so many different cooks working the broth the results are a bit uneven. Frankly, some of the stories are a bit forgettable and the next day I'm struggling to remember what even happened in them. Others are good, but in at least one instance (the opening installment "Have I Got a Story For You") the segment seems remarkably similar to an episode of the late, great BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES.
In the end, I'm a sucker for pretty much anything Batman, so I probably got more mileage out of this than the average viewer. It certainly won't make me forget the highpoints of the character's rich history but at least it's not laughably bad like some of The Caped Crusader's cinematic adventures.