2017 will see me revisiting some films that I think need or deserve a fresh take. It will be a series of columns cleverly called, “2017 Re-Watch.
Batman: Year One was an animated adaptation of the fantastic Frank Miller book of the same name. The story is still deservedly thought of as a classic, and it would probably be considered the definitive Batman origins story (and was a major influence on the beloved Christopher Nolan film, Batman Begins).
The story suggests that we get to see the first year of Batman on the job. It was a slightly misleading title though, as it really followed the first year of James Gordon on the police task force. Bruce Wayne was shown still struggling to have a plan to help the people of Gotham (apparently his billions of dollars and celebrity status are of no use), and it was actually a couple of months into the year before Bruce even actively tried to do something.
Getting to see the majority of a Batman story through the eyes of Jim Gordon is what separates this movie from most Batman interpretations. This portrayal of Jim was incredibly human, which means we get to see major flaws and mistakes from our beloved (future) Gotham Police Commissioner.
We saw Jim have an affair with a co-worker while his wife is pregnant. We saw him wait to tell his wife until he was forced to via blackmail. We saw him politically mishandle his rise in the Gotham Police Department to a level where he clearly would have been killed if not for the rise of Batman. Jim Gordon was the center of this film, and his journey was all the more rich for the exposure to his less desirable qualities.
Focusing on Gordon basically gave us a Gotham perspective on the rise of Batman. It can be tempting and sometimes necessary for a Batman origins story to explain everything through the eyes of Bruce. After all, it’s important to understand what happened to a human being that they sunk so low to become a lunatic running around in a rodent costume.
Gotham though can often overlooked though and taken for granted. How would a city respond to such a theatrical and effective vigilante? Why would they not be obsessed with finding out who was behind the mask? Year One addresses those issues and many more head on.
The story of Year One wisely though assumed an informed viewer and trusted that we knew enough about Bruce going in to just accept that Bruce was a deeply troubled human. That decision allowed them to spend more time with Gordon.
The audience got to experience the crime and corruption in Gotham through him. This established that Gotham has clearly reached a desperate state of disrepair. Something extraordinary would have to change for the city to have a chance to right itself.
Or someone extraordinary would have to come along.