Warner Bros Animation take their current trend of adult focused Batman offerings to the Victorian Era with an adaptation of the celebrated comic series Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. It’s 19th century Gotham and the caped crusader must face off with the nefarious and elusive Jack the Ripper. Can Sam Liu, the director of the unforgivably awful Batman: The Killing Joke and the equally heinous Batman & Harley Quinn, do justice to the Dark Knight this time?
In short, yes. Points to Liu, this is the best Warner Animated feature he’s made that involves Batman. That’s not a hard feat given how atrocious the previous two entries were.
Mercifully Gotham by Gaslight forgoes any sense of humour, plays its hand directly at atmosphere & intensity, and pushes itself into an almost flat out horror film. The frames are dripping with style, with Frederick Wiedman’s Danny-Elfman-lite propulsive, thundering score amplifying the sense of dread.
It also scores points for its ingenious use of stable characters like Hugo Strange, Selina Kyle, Alfred, Harvey Dent, and Barbara Gordon though that credit goes to the source material moreso than the film makers.
Another kudos point for the way Batman’s gadgets are re-interpreted to suit the time and space in which this is set. It’s very clever, very noirish and, indeed, very evocative.
Where it wobbles, slightly, is in the narrative arc of the main story. It all moves along well but it desperately needs to push its ambition that one step further, it’s almost there but it just needs to ramp it up another gear to really make this a stand out achievement. There’s a certain sense of deja vu in some of the exchanges for the seasoned fans as the film opts to do re-exposition of character information we all know all too well.
Batman: Gotham by Gaslight is a huge step forward in delivering an adult animation in the Warner Animation stable. Sam Liu does redeem himself here immeasurably and, whilst it stumbles a little, on the whole this is a rip roaring Batman animated adventure.