Director: Sam Liu
Voice Cast: Bruce Greenwood, Jennifer Carpenter, Kari Wuhrer, Scott Patterson, Yuri Lowenthal, Anthony Head, Grey DeLisle
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is an atmospherically animated DC movie with a potentially compelling premise. It’s a shame about the script. If I were to tell you that I found the screenplay by Jim Krieg to be quite awful, you might argue that this is a direct-to-DVD animated feature, and thus, the screenplay shouldn’t really be held to the same standards as a theatrical release. That’s certainly a fair argument, except that last year’s Justice League: Dark was also a direct-to-DVD animated movie, and quite a good one at that. Compared to that film, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight represents a major step down in quality.
The movie takes place in Gotham City in the 19th century. In the film’s opening, a young stage performer/prostitute known as Poison Ivy (Kari Wuhrer) is stalked by a shadowy figure on her walk home. At first, she believes him to be someone only interested in sex, but then he pulls a giant blade out of his bag and butchers her without mercy. He’s known for sending letters and entrails to the police, and goes by the name “Jack the Ripper.”
That’s right, folks. The Dark Knight goes up against the Leather Apron here, and while it might seem tasteless for an R-rated animated movie to exploit a real-life tragedy in a comic-book story, I was willing to give the movie the benefit of the doubt. For the most part, the voice acting is good, the atmosphere is rich and creepy, and I even liked the fact that the Bat Suit looked homemade and stitched together. The Catholic side to me even appreciated the sympathetic and totally human portrayal of a nun and the occasional citing of scripture verses.
In spite of all that, I just can’t look past the many nagging inconsistencies in the story. First off, Batman is framed as the Ripper when the workers at Arkham Asylum claim to have seen him murder the head doctor of the place, Hugo Strange (William Salyers). I’m not entirely sure how they came to that conclusion, since Batman was standing on one side of a pit full of crazy patients, and the Ripper was on the other side when he threw Dr. Strange in. I guess the filmmakers had to build tension some way by making Batman a fugitive.
So as Batman chases the Ripper, the police chase after Batman with the intent of shooting to kill. Batman is hit in the shoulder, flees the police on foot, and is rescued by stage actress Selina Kyle (Jennifer Carpenter), whom Batman saved before when she tried to take on the Ripper with a whip and was nearly strangled to death for her troubles. She, of course, discovers that Bruce and Batman are the same person, and when the police stop her carriage in their search for the Batman, she puts on an act that she and Bruce are making out, and the police send them on their way.
I mention this because what happens next is beyond frustrating. Bruce and Selina spend the night together, and the next morning, the police show up to arrest him for the Ripper crimes because the latest victim was an old drunken woman who saw him at one crime scene and tried to bribe him. Her body was found the previous night, when the cops were out looking for Batman, and when the two police officers saw Bruce and Selina making out in the back of her carriage. It would seem as though he would have an air tight alibi, but no. Selina herself doesn’t even think to give him an alibi. She actually tells Bruce that if he tells Commissioner Gordon (Scott Patterson) that he’s the Batman, then he’ll be set free, although since Batman is also accused of a murder already, I’m not entirely sure I follow her logic.
Who sent the police after Bruce? Why, it’s Bruce’s old buddy Harvey Dent (Yuri Lowenthal), Gotham’s DA. Why is he trying to frame Bruce? Because he has a crush on Selina Kyle, and is jealous that Bruce got to spend the night with her at her place. This is a pretty lame motivation, but what I want to know is how he found out that Bruce and Selina spent the night together so quickly that he’s able to send the police to her place the very next morning to arrest Bruce. The movie never explains how he came to know about their affair, but hey, the filmmakers gotta up the stakes somehow.
Eventually, we do find out who the Ripper is. It’s a risky play on the characters in the Batman universe, but it’s not one that really pays off. Bruce escapes his prison cell rather easily, and faces off against the Ripper at Gotham’s World Fair (which looks more like a futuristic metropolis than a fair). The action scene is impressive, but is hampered by some very heavy-handed dialogue from the Ripper about how he feels it is his duty to clean the streets of Gotham.
I, of course, won’t say who the Ripper is, only that he ends up burning to death. Once he dies, the movie fades to black and ends, which is problematic because when the movie ends, Batman is still accused of Dr. Strange’s murder, Bruce Wayne is still accused of being the Ripper, and the movie doesn’t resolve these plot threads at all. Who’s going to clear Bruce? Selina Kyle? Yeah, she knows the real identity of the Ripper, but she also knew that Bruce couldn’t have been the Ripper before the fact, and she said nothing. Is that because Harvey Dent would have discredited her as an unreliable witness? If so, what’s to stop him from doing the same when she comes out about the real identity of the Ripper?
The more I looked back on the plot of Batman: Gotham by Gaslight, the more frustrated it left me, and the more frustrated I became, the less I liked the movie. As far as recent DC movies go, it’s miles better than Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice and especially last year’s Justice League. Heck, I would even go so far as to say that it’s better than The Killing Joke (which I didn’t like at all). But compare it to something like Justice League: Dark or even last year’s Wonder Woman, and it’s a major disappointment.
Final Grade: ** (out of ****)
Rated R for some bloody violence and disturbing images, brief language. It may be a cartoon, but it’s definitely not for the kiddies.