Watched: Part 1 - 10/02, Part 2 - 10/03
Director: Chris Palmer
I've not kept it a secret that I haven't thought all that much of the narratives of DC Animated films in several years. There's been some winners, and some mediocre stuff, and a certain bit of leaning in to the "edge-tacular" stuff that was kicked off by Flashpoint.
Hence, I haven't really wanted to give anyone any money to watch any of the animated features. I've paid for a Superman and Wonder Woman movie here and there, and I know I caught a Bat-film or two, but none of it knocked my socks off. Including some adaptations of some favorite stories straight from the comics.
More out of curiosity than anything, Jamie and I decided to check out Batman: The Long Halloween (2021) on HBOmax. She also read the comic maybe 15 years ago, so we both had a bit of knowledge about what to expect.
Frankly, for me, it's probably also been 15 years since I read the book, and so my memory of it, while extremely positive, is wound up with Dark Victory and I don't know what happened in what anymore (ie: was Dick Grayson in Long Halloween or no?).
Anyway - from my memory, the 2-part film is... generally close to the comic? But, more than that, this is literally the best DC Animated movie I've seen in well over a decade. Maybe ever.
Don't worry about the comic, worry about the fact DC Animation put out a 3 hour opus that tells a sprawling crime story of the end of old school organized crime in Gotham, and the rise of the residents of Arkham, while also telling the story of Harvey Dent. And making it all one seamless story.
In many ways, it's a necessary step for Batman, if you're of the Batman: Year One persuasion. Loeb and Sale's comic was a terrific bridge between the concrete, man-in a cape appearing in a major metropolitan area and taking on corruption, crooks and street crime in the mode of New York's old "Five Families". Which, of course, left the question.. so... when did, like, The Riddler show up? And the film remains true to these ideas.
We've seen elements of this story before reflected in the Dark Knight movies from Nolan - the Harvey Dent stuff at least spiritually came from these comics. But, this movie feels like the real deal - like comics come to life. It's still cartoons and animated characters (no one tries to imitate Tim Sale's work, and I think we can all be appreciative that we didn't see something we loved fail in the translation), with some of the best voice work I've heard from DC in a while.
Mostly, and this is where Marvel animation usually failed right up to What If...? - the movie has pacing. I absolutely get how hard pacing is in animation. You record some audio, you splice it together, and then you animate to the pacing there. But this story in comics and now on screen has long periods of silence. People aren't just shouting ideas at each other. With a year to tell the story and a generous near three hours, it breathes. Batman and Gordon are not in control here - they're waiting.
DC has moved away from the "everyone has very pretty eyes" animation style of the post-Flashpoint era, and seems to be finding a new groove. They've taken lessons from Bruce Timm about less being more, and the importance of silhouettes to define a character. And taking some tips from Sale, the characters do have unique looks. I was thrilled to see the Falcone children show up looking very much like themselves, with an excellent treatment of Sophia, which I was not expecting. I assume Calendar Man's tattoos were not present as they were flat out too hard to animate. And if anyone else is familiar, does Gilda not look modeled from Crepax's Valentina? Or is that just me?
Unfortunately, Naya Rivera's tragic passing marks what will be maybe the last bit of her work as Selina Kyle/ Catwoman. And, honestly, she's perfect in the part.
Anyway, I remembered The Long Halloween being very much in my wheelhouse when I read it years ago, and it makes me wish the bat-comics would roll back how much they're about themselves and remember that Batman versus gangsters is still compelling stuff. And there's plenty of room in that for real character work and mystery stories. The movie plays to all those strengths in a way I thought had disappeared when Andrea Romano retired and nuance in these things seemed a thing DC forgot how to do.
Both parts of the film are streaming now on HBOmax.