When I was just entering high school in 2012, Warner Bros. had plans to release The Hobbit – a brand new movie set in Middle Earth, and a sort-of prequel to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Having seen all three of the LOTR movies several times (because who hasn’t), obviously I was very excited to see what the creators were going to do with this new peek into J. R. R. Tolkien’s world.
I was a little less excited when they said they’d be making it two movies instead of one – and a little less again when they suddenly revealed it was going to be three, with the final movie being mostly one or two chapters from the original novel. But hey, who cares? This was clearly a creative decision, and not an attempt to make one movie’s worth of content and stretch it out over multiple releases for maximum profit, right?
Anyway, welcome to my review for The Long Halloween, Part One.
Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One is a partial adaptation of Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s graphic novel of the same name – specifically covering the first four issues of the thirteen-issue series. If you’re concerned that the movie is leaving too much content for Part Two to cover, you’d be right: the first four issues of the comic do very little in the grand scheme of the story, which has plenty of more natural places to end on. It does, however, have the Joker, who’s marketable enough to give this movie a reason for existing.
The original comic is considered one of the greatest Batman stories of all time, and one of the biggest influences on movies such as The Dark Knight. That said, people might give several different reasons as to why they think this book is so good. Some would argue it’s an excellent noir that crafts a complex and intricate political thriller for Batman to navigate in his early years, showing the downfall of one of his first and closest friends. Others – insane people, probably – would argue that it’s a genuinely good mystery with a satisfying conclusion. Meanwhile, many would point to Tim Sale’s incredible art, which has cemented itself in Batman’s hall of fame for its iconic mood and style.
Naturally, it’s a DC animated film, so you’re going to see almost none of that art style here. However, what we’ve got actually isn’t that bad of a substitute! Beginning with Superman: Man of Tomorrow, recent DC films have had a blockier style to them, thicker lines making the characters stand out among some incredibly detailed backgrounds. While I sometimes feel like the lines can be too thick, the style actually lends itself quite well to an animated noir – it was probably a better idea than attempting to emulate Sale’s style with the budget that they had.
This especially bears fruit during action scenes. There’s some really crisp motion on display here: the choreography of the fights isn’t anything mind-blowing (though that’s a pretty high bar to reach nowadays), but the polish that the staff put into bringing those scenes to life really shows. There’s a high energy to the fights that contrasts well with the slow, ponderous nature of the rest of the movie, so it gives me hope for the apparently faster-paced Part Two.
Unfortunately, one of those well-animated fights involves Batman beating up a group of Chinese gangsters, who were created for this movie to replace an Irish mob from the original comic. The creators of the movie said they wanted to put more diversity in their adaptation – Loeb’s comic is incredibly white, and he’s had serious accusations of racism before. That said, I don’t think changing the villains from Irish to Chinese was the way to go, considering their role and fate in the story… especially when you hear screenwriter Tim Sheridan’s explanation as to why they were added.
“There were two reasons why the Irish mob was changed to be the Chinese Triad. One of the reasons was we were looking for opportunities to have more diversity in our cast so it seemed like a place where we could do that. When you look at the original book, there’s not a lot of instances of diversity like that so we felt like that was a good thing to do.
More importantly, at the time in which the book was written and released, we looked at Irish gangs much differently then; we were in a different place politically, with things like the history of the I.R.A., which were very relevant and topical. When Jeph and Tim did the book about the way we saw the Irish back then is not as relevant today. Today, I think the idea of Chinese mobsters is fresh and in our minds now and feels more like a real thing today.” (Source: CBR)
The last sentence honestly makes me a little frustrated, and I’m struggling to find a generous interpretation for it. It’d be different if the movie did make a genuine attempt to diversify its cast, but the only other characters who aren’t white are Montoya, who’s relegated to a non-speaking cameo, and and a black nurse who’s in the movie for only a couple of shots. Judging by this, The Killing Joke and Hush, it feels like DC can’t help but adding new things into their adaptations that serve only to backfire in their faces.
Not everything about this movie backfires, though – the characters and the actors performing them are actually really well-done. Many of the characters have one too many cliched lines that bring the movie down a little – Batman, Carmine Falcone and Catwoman specifically – but their actors deliver them with sincerity, and clearly put the work in to make their characters feel believable.
Jensen Ackles has grown up since his performance as Jason Todd in Under the Red Hood, and I mean that in a good way. While his Jason is still my favourite of the two performances, there’s not a single moment where I didn’t believe him as Batman. His Bruce felt a little flat at points, but I feel like that was more to do with his lines – which really aren’t much to write home about. One change to Batman’s character that I did like was that he didn’t expect to be a detective in this universe, which puts him on the back foot and justifies why he doesn’t do the best job of solving this mystery.
When it comes to supporting characters, Josh Duhamel’s Harvey Dent is fantastic. It becomes incredibly easy to believe him as a character on two sides of the law – especially seeing as the movie likes to hit you over the head with foreshadowing, as if we don’t know exactly what Harvey’s going to become in the next movie. The late Naya Rivera’s performance as Catwoman is great, and she balances her double life as Selina and her masked counterpart with a lot of authenticity and respect to the character, playing a wide variety of different emotions throughout the movie. Troy Baker’s Joker is exactly what you heard in Arkham Origins, so do with that information what you will. I’d also like to give shoutouts to Jack Quaid’s Alberto Falcone and David Dastmalchian’s Calendar Man, who both do a lot of work with what little they’re given.
Honestly, my main problems with the movie are all pretty fixable: really, I don’t think it would be too hard to cut this movie down significantly and edit it into Part Two. This is about an hour and a half-long movie, and it can certainly be shorter – almost every scene has a second betweeen each line of dialogue where absolutely nothing happens, and it makes the scenes feel incredibly stilted and unnatural. If you, as an editor, do nothing but cut out the awkward silences in this movie, I genuinely think you could get this movie down to a length where it could naturally fit into the second half of the story. As it stands, the movie is frankly pretty boring.
The mixing of the music is also incredibly weird, because what appears to be a fantastic soundtrack is often completely forgotten in long scenes that could do with, at the very least, an ambient noise befitting the tone of this noir movie. Instead, we have to sit down and watch a long chase scene between Batman and Catwoman, accompanied by nothing but the rain and their footsteps. It gets to a point where a music swell will happen and I’ll find myself visibly excited, only to sit back down when the music cuts out again.
The second half of the movie is, admittedly, a bit more interesting than its much slower first half. I hate to say it, but Joker really does breathe some fresh air into the film, and it’s exciting to watch Batman balance his fight with the clown prince while still attempting to figure out the mystery looming over him. I don’t think this completely saves the movie, but it does manage to give me hope that this will play a lot better when watched back-to-back with Part Two.
All this being said, what I REALLY want to talk about is how they handled the ending. This movie adaptation changes a lot of little things from the book while trying to keep in the spirit of the original, and those decisions range from harmless to… well, what I said earlier about the Chinese Triad. However, the ending of the movie does make one decision that I worry will seriously affect how the creators conclude the story. See, at the climax of the movie, Batman arrives on Carmine Falcone’s ship to find–
Oh, I’m sorry. You’re going to have to pay twenty dollars to read part two of this review.
I suppose it must be frustrating to get cut off in the middle of reading this, abruptly and unnaturally – as if I didn’t know how to write a proper ending, so I just sort of peetered off into nothing. I wouldn’t know what that sensation’s like, of course. Batman: The Long Halloween, Part One has far too much respect for its audience to do that.
- You like going to a restaurant where the staff kicks you out after they feed you the appetizer.
- Jensen Ackles’ Batman is enough to get you interested, seeing as he’s finally got the time to do roles outside of Supernatural.
- You’re impatient and can’t wait for the inevitable Parts One and Two double-release, like we got with The Dark Knight Returns.
This might be the greatest adaptation of Two-Face in a motion picture yet – because in DC’s obsession with splitting things in half, they accidentally released only 50% of a movie. There’s some stuff to like here, from the animation to the music (when it actually shows up) to the performances (when the actors are given something to do). But this is a film that relies entirely on its second half – and seeing as that isn’t out yet, I can only give this half-movie half of a good score.
(P.S. Watch out for a pretty good post-credits scene that’s going to be important for the next film!)
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with a copy of this movie for the purpose of this review.
Author’s Twitter: @ObnoxiousFinch
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