Review: Batman: Gotham by Gaslight

Steampunk Batman? I am fascinated. On the one hand, the DC Animated movies are really hit-and-miss. Under the Red Hood was really good. Killing Joke was so awful it’s hard to believe some producer actually signed off on it. But I read some good reviews of this one, and Steampunk appeals to me. So…

The plot is a straightforward whodunnit: Jack the Ripper is stalking Gotham and Batman is determined to stop him. Unfortunately the newly returned Bruce Wayne is the prime suspect.

On this fairly simple premise, the film builds a surprisingly complex story. While I thought it was a bit too obvious that the Ripper would turn out to be someone Bruce trusted, we are provided with multiple possibilities, reinvented faces from Batman’s usual rogues gallery. There are enough twists and turns to keep us guessing and the reveal is a bit heavy-handed but otherwise well done.

There are other familiar faces, too. Early on we meet the “Cock Robins”: Dick Grayson, Jason Todd and Tim Drake reinvented as a gang of street urchins. Selena Kyle is here, too, no longer Catwoman the thief but rather a feminist vigilante on Jack’s trail herself.

The feminist theme is uneven, though. On the one hand, the script does a great job with Selina, and her relationship with Bruce is very much an alliance of equals. On the other hand we have Ivy, who is introduced as an exotic dancer. It’s not the framing her as a sex worker that’s the problem: it’s the way she is clearly unhappy on stage, but seems eager to prostitute herself to a stranger in a dark alley. It doesn’t quite make sense.

I did enjoy the steampunk elements: Batman’s costume and gadgets, the zeppelin and the big wheel, the bat-signal. The action sequences are very well done, particularly the fight on the airship.

It’s an animation, but decidedly meant for an adult audience. I only wish the quality of the animation were better. It’s consistent with the other DC Animations: i.e. flat and blocky. I’m not after photorealism, but next to what Disney is putting out these days (or even 20 years ago) it looks cheap and rushed (like the way Bruce’s eyes have no pupils – he looks like a zombie!)

All in all, though, it’s an enjoyable film.