“Batman: Gotham Knight” is a collection of six interconnected short films that take place between “Batman Begins” and its upcoming sequel, “The Dark Knight.” Despite efforts to give the character a cutting-edge, anime-influenced makeover, the experiment never quite gels.
The third film from the straight-to-DVD DC Universe (after the tepid “Death of Superman” and the rousing “New Frontier” — both based on specific comic book stories), “Gotham Knight” finds itself stuck in a gray area between Christopher Nolan’s films, the beloved ’90s “Animated Series” (vets Bruce Timm and Alan Burnett also had a hand in “Gotham Knight”), the more recent toon “The Batman” and the anime style employed by the film’s six directors.
Likewise, the Batman franchise, in general, seems caught between two worlds — publisher DC Comics and parent company Warner Bros. “Gotham Knight” makes concessions to the former by using comic book scribes as the film’s writers, and the “Animated Series” is represented by exec producer Bruce Timm, writer Allan Burnett and the voice of Batman himself, Kevin Conroy.
The first segment, “Have I Got a Story for You,” sets the tone for the film as four youngsters offer their vastly different interpretations of the urban legend known as Batman. Like the varying point-of-views in that segment, “Gotham Knight” offers six distinct artistic designs of the hero.
While it’s interesting to see different takes on the Caped Crusader (in one seg, Bruce Wayne looks to be about 17, while he’s apparently middle-aged in another), things don’t really take off until “Working Through Pain,” penned by comics wiz Brian Azzarello (“100 Bullets”), which flashes back to Wayne’s early days learning fighting skills in India.
Those expecting to get a glimpse of “Dark Knight’s” main baddies, the Joker and Two-Face, will have to settle for appearances by Scarecrow, Killer Croc (more of a cameo really) and ace sniper Deadshot. Latter appears in the disappointing final segment that delivers some thrills but is woefully underdevloped.
The commentary track is a strange one, featuring iconic “Batman” writer-editor Dennis O’Neil, DC Comics honcho Gregory Noveck and Conroy. Though it would have been nice to hear from Timm or some of the film’s scribes or directors, the trio offer a highly entertaining track.
A 10-minute peek at the next DC Universe DVD title, “Wonder Woman,” doesn’t include any finished animation, settling instead for interviews and animated storyboards.
Disc two’s extras make up for the film’s letdowns. The 35-minute “Batman and Me” is a surprisingly no-punches-pulled look at Batman creator Bob Kane, a complicated man who alternated from being an arrogant womanizer to a charitable mensch. Comparisons between his dual identity and that of Bruce Wayne/Batman are not lost on interviewees, such as DC Comics exec Dan Didio, Mark Hamill, Kane’s widow Elizabeth Sanders Kane and Marvel icon Stan Lee. Lee’s stories of the duo’s playful rivalry are a hoot.
Another lengthy docu, “A Mirror for the Bat,” is a frustratingly repetitive and superficial look at the myriad depictions of Batman villains over the last 60 years.
Best of all is the inclusion of four of the finest episodes from “The Animated Series,” including “Legends of the Dark Knight,” which uses the same story framework as “Have I Got a Story For You” with much more effective results.