Review: Batman - Gotham By Gaslight
It's a steampunk Dark Knight versus Jack The Ripper in the latest DC Universe animated movie.
“What if?” stories have always been popular with the chance to re-imagine events or people in a different light. Comics, in particular, have made much use of the idea with DC dedicating an entire range to it known as Elseworlds which put its character such as Batman and Superman into new settings in the past or turned the characters fundamentally on their head. It's not surprising then that the most recent DC Universe animated movie would take the very first Elseworlds tale which takes the Dark Knight into steampunk territory as he takes on Jack The Ripper. It's safe to say that expectations were high for this particular animated movie but does it live up to them?
At its essence, Gotham By Gaslight is a whodunit. In Victorian-era Gotham City, Jack The Ripper is loose on the streets murdering women of the night (though unlike the comic it isn't clear if this is quite the same serial killer from 1888 London) with the police apparently unable to catch him. While Bruce Wayne is a rich young bachelor about the town, as Batman he is pursuing the Ripper. He isn't alone as the actress and social advocate Selena Kyle is pursuing the killer as well. The movie might perhaps be described as a cross between Batman and The Alienist (itself currently being aired on TNT and written around the same time as the source comic) which makes it all the more interesting.
What the movie does first and foremost is neatly adapt and expanded upon the original 1989 comic. The film takes the basic premise of Jack The Ripper on the loose in Gotham with the Batman in pursuit as its foundation. No surprise then that it incorporates characters, plot points, and scenes from it into the narrative. What is a surprise is the length that screenwriter Jim Krieg and the filmmakers incorporate characters and elements not included originally. Selena Kyle who is a major character in this screen version for example yet didn't feature in the original while the movie also draws some inspiration from the follow-up Master Of The Future to an extent as well. Which isn't a bad thing at all as it actually provides some nice twists that make it a fresh experience even for those familiar with the comic. Even more so with a whodunit as it takes the same approach Nicholas Meyer did in adapting his own Sherlock Holmes pastiche The Seven Percent Solution for the screen by sticking to the mystery but playing around with the elements somewhat.
As one might expect, the film features plenty of action as well. There's a number of expansive set pieces ranging from the first reveal of Batman stopping a mugging to a number of encounters with the Ripper including a chase that takes the viewer from Arkham Asylum to a top a police department Zeppelin. Unlike some of the previous DC animated movies (especially ones in recent years with the DC Animated Movie Universe efforts) where action overshadowed plot, that isn't the case here as the plot nicely leads into each and every action sequence which also allows them to drive the plot forward.That all of them are well animated is just the icing on the cake.
Elsewhere, the movie features the elements that have been the highlights of these DC animated movies. There's a strong voice cast led by Bruce Greenwood as Batman whose performance suits this version of the Dark Knight just as well as it did when he voiced him in Under The Red Hood. Joining him is Jennifer Carpenter as Selena Kyle with a solid performance and nice chemistry with Greenwood, Scott Patterson as Jim Gordon, William Salyers as the alienist Hugo Strange, and Anthony Head is a welcome addition as Alfred. The movie's animation is strong as well from its designs which show a strong steampunk influence as well as the backgrounds and action set-pieces. All of which come together to wonderfully bring this Victorian Gotham to life though in a visceral but most gratuitous way that gives the film an "R" rating.
Put all those elements together and Gotham By Gaslight lives to expectations across the board. From its adaptation of the original comic which neatly expands upon it to its action sequences, voice actors, and production values it stands up far better than The Killing Joke in bringing a fan favorite story to the screen. The result is not only a fine Batman film in its own right but the best DC animated movie in years.
About the Creator
Matthew Kresal was born and raised in North Alabama though he never developed a Southern accent. His essays have been featured in numerous books and his first novel Our Man on the Hill was published by Sea Lion Press in 2021.
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