When I first watched the featurette for Gotham Knight on the New Frontier DVD, I wasn't sure what to expect. Bruce Timm was doing his best to assure me that it was a new, exciting take on Batman -- using several different prominent Japanese animators to bring together six vignettes about the Dark Knight -- and that anime + Gotham made more sense than, say, anime + Metropolis. Shortly before renting the film after its release, I'd read a few things stating that the movie was set in the same "world" as Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and essentially would be a bridge between the two movies, a la Clone Wars (bridging Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith.) (The problem with that analogy is that Genndy Tartakovsky's Clone Wars was much better than either movie it was connected to.)
Honestly, I think the idea that this is simply an animated "spin-off" of the movies was just a way to gain added viewers by milking the promotions for The Dark Knight. Aside from an appearance by Lucius Fox, and the idea that this is "young Bruce Wayne," (and "young Jim Gordon,") Gotham Knight has little to do with the Christopher Nolan movies. It actually fits better with the previous Timm cartoons that have gone before it, as far as tone and story are concerned. If you're expecting the animated version of Christian Bale, you're going to be disappointed.
And, as it turns out, many people are disappointed. I was shocked to find that most fans on the internet found the movie boring. I couldn't disagree more. Even though I'm largely indifferent to both anime and live-action Batman (GASP! I KNOW! A Batman fangirl who doesn't like the Batman movies!), I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I found it stunning, in fact -- the visuals at times looked live-action -- the movie is worth seeing for the Gotham cityscapes alone.
The writing was some of the best I'd ever seen attached to Batman. It included veteran authors like Greg Rucka and Brian Azzarello, who were both tasked with segments many people considered the most uninteresting -- "Crossfire" and "Working Through Pain" (respectively). Gotham Knight dives deep into the psyche of the Batman myth, and each section of the film devotes its time to revealing just a tiny slice of what makes the Batman world tick. It's not just an exploration of what makes Bruce Wayne into Batman, but how the people of Gotham view Batman.
Indeed, the first two vignettes are just that -- "Have I Got A Story For You" is a glimpse of what it's like to be a normal Gotham citizen and have a run-in with Batman. (There was a similar episode in the Batman Animated series.) You have three kids, each with a very different opinion of who (or what) Batman is. This is where the Japanese animation really gets to shine, and why I think this segment was put first in the movie -- you get a shadow Batman, an actual bat, and (my favorite) ROBOT Batman! With this piece of the story the rest of the film should be set in your mind -- at no time will Bruce Wayne or Batman look identical to any other part of the movie, because Batman is constantly evolving, and your perception of who he is should change, too.
The second story, "Crossfire" (penned by Rucka) explores the impact a masked vigilante running loose in the city has on the men and women of your local police force. Of all the writers on this film, I was most excited for Rucka's segment, because he is one of my favorite comic book authors. Personally I feel he has the strongest grasp not only on the Batman character, but of the villains and other characters that make up the Batman world. Coupling him with Bruce Timm makes a tremendous amount of sense, because their interpretations of the Dark Knight run concurrent to one another. (Here's to hoping they team up again.)
By far one of the most exciting stories told during Gotham Knight was the last segment, "Deadshot." As far as Rogue Galleries goes, I've always believed that Batman has had the best. Deadshot is no exception to this idea, and he is on full display here. It's no surprise that as far as pacing and script goes, it comes closest to reflecting the achievements of the animated Batman adventures, because it was written by a Timmverse veteran: Alan Burnett. In addition to writing several of the animated Batman movies (Mask of the Phantasm, Batman Beyond,) Burnett has penned several episodes of the different Batman animated series.
Aside from the striking set pieces and innovative visual interpretations of Batman, I was moved by the other ways in which the man was portrayed. I've always felt a deep connection to the character, and sometimes I'm not sure why. Here he is presented as a young man who makes unbelievably challenging decisions of self-sacrifice. At times it is heartbreaking what he is willing to put his body and his mind through in order to deliver his own version of justice. I'm not ashamed to say I teared up a few times, realizing that Gotham Knight was delivering what I truly feel is an accurate version of Bruce Wayne -- highly intelligent, unflinchingly honest, and desperately human.