When big films get released, the studios releasing them will often look for different ways to market their new product to get as many people to see it as possible. The usual way is to release trailers and posters to tempt people; a newer unusual way to do things is make a tie in animated film. This was done with The Animatrix and the release of The Matrix Reloaded. So with the release of The Dark Knight sequel to the phenomenally successful Batman Begins, comes the tie in film Batman: Gotham Knight, which a lot like The Animatrix is an anthology of six short stories that were written by a few different writers from America and animated by a couple of the bigger anime studios in Japan.
The anthology begins with Have I got a Story for You. A couple of skater punk kids each meet up at a local hang out and tell their stories of meeting “The Batman” with each story portraying Batman in differing inhuman visages such as a living shadow, an animalistic bat creature and a futuristic cyborg. It’s all very Rashomon and emphasises an unstated theme to all the works, different looks and different interpretations of the two main characters Batman and Gotham City. The animation is in a style that isn’t typical of anime which may have to do with the Director of the short Shojiro Nishimi who did work on Tekkonkinkreet.
The second story is called Crossfire and introduces some recurring characters that return throughout the film. Two police detectives tasked with returning an escaped convict to Arkham Asylum, stumble into the middle of a showdown between the Russian mafia and what remains of the Gotham city mob. This story is more about the police and their thoughts on the Batman; whether he is a force for good or merely a vigilante. This story was animated by Production I.G., the studio most famous for the Ghost in the Shell series, and while they did a great job of showing a Batman on fire, I disliked that we didn’t actually see the Batman kicking ass as it was mainly hidden in shadow in speedy one-hit take downs.
Field Test, the third story, finally gives us time with an incredibly youthful and pretty Bruce Wayne the alter-ego of The Batman. Lucius Fox (The Morgan Freeman character from Batman Begins) has accidently come up with an invention powerful enough to deflect small arms fire. This seems all well and good until it comes time to use it when someone shoots and the bullet ends up hitting someone else. Field Test demonstrates some of the technology that Batman has access to and it’s implications in his crime fighting ways. It brings back into play the Gotham City Mob and the Russian Mafia from Crossfire as well as Bruce stealing a PDA that is referenced again in a later story. Field Test was animated by Studio Bee Train who have worked on Noir and .Hack//sign.
Darkness Dwells brings into play the Scarecrow who went underground (quite literally into the underground sewers) after the events of Batman Begins, who is using his fear toxin to kidnap people from the surface, namely a cardinal that Batman goes to rescue. The story examines Batman’s need to go it his own way and not look for help from other people, specifically the police detectives from Crossfire and Jim Gordon. This segment is animated by Studio Madhouse.
Working Through Pain is the story of Batman dealing with a bullet wound that he receives and remembering training he received in his journeys to reduce his pain spiritually. It was nice to see Batman’s training in something other than a physical discipline, but I was disappointed as I’ve come to expect better of writer Brian Azzerello after his work on the 100 Bullets comic book of which I’m a huge fan. While well animated this segment suffers in its narrative in maybe being too smart for its own good. With multiple viewings it might be better.
Deadshot, the final short, tells the story of an assassin for hire (very much in the vein of Golgo 13) who is hired by the Russian Mafia from Crossfire to kill Jim Gordon. Good action, with fighting a plenty between Deadshot and Batman on top of a moving train. The unstated theme of the story is to contrast both Deadshot and Batman both being highly skilled rich men who lead secret lives, one as saviour, one as criminal, and their fighting styles – guns and no guns. The story is animated in a style very reminiscent of other Madhouse films Ninja Scroll, Highlander and Wicked City.
As a whole it was nice to see a continuity between the stories, in terms of characters and plot tokens, but at the end of the day this feature is not long enough to properly explore the ideas and themes being presented. If each story had another two minutes added to the run time it would greatly enhance the possibility for action and narrative cohesion. Huge fans of Batman will likely really enjoy themselves but for the average fan it doesn’t whet the appetite for The Dark Knight.