If there’s one name that should come to mind when you think “Lovecraft” and “comics”, it’s Mike Mignola. For decades he’s brought the same incomprehensible cosmic horror to life with his incredible Hellboy series, along with its various spinoffs. As such, there was no better person for the task of writing a Lovecraftian Batman story than him. About 20 years ago he wrote Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham, (you can read our review for the comic here) injecting that unique Mike Mignola/Lovecraft style into the world of Batman, and now it’s been adapted into a feature length film. It’s an adaptation that is surprisingly faithful to the source material, and with that comes both the comic’s strengths and weaknesses
Immediately, the film’s opening perfectly captures the feeling of Lovecraft. A lot of modern writers reduce his works to Cthulhu and big tentacle monsters, but Mignola manages to understand the subtler aspects. There’s an atmosphere of dread as the world slowly reveals more of an unknown something that goes against the natural order. Journal entries and disturbed animals are all hallmarks of Lovecraft’s style, and the movie’s intro sequence feels like it could have come straight out of At the Mountains of Madness, right down to the mutated penguins. That feeling of uneasy mystery, as if something that shouldn’t be has come, persists throughout the film as one of its strongest elements.
While that harrowing tone is delivered by the narrative, the visuals are often much less impressive. The original comic was drawn by Troy Nixey who mimicked Mike Mignola’s signature style. Nixey didn’t always succeed in that attempt, but there was always at least a distinct artistic style meant to match the story’s atmosphere. The movie adaptation, on the other hand, has the same generic art style that DC has been using for all of their animated movies lately. It’s not a bad style per se, but it’s largely unremarkable and gives off the impression of being primarily focused on being cheap and easy to produce.
It’s the characters that most directly tie into the Lovecraftian tone which are the most interesting. The al Ghuls take center stage as the story’s main antagonists, and their style of exotic occultism blends perfectly with the surrounding story. Others such as Grendon, the frozen man found in the Antarctic, help set the disturbing atmosphere of the story.
However, one of the story’s biggest stumbles is the way it tries to cram in so many other Batman characters. At times it feels almost obligatory, as one scene after another introduces a different well-known Batman villain or ally. It reaches the point where it starts to hurt the overall pacing of the film, as sequences are stretched out so as to visit as many different cameos as possible. It wouldn’t be so bad if these characters were more meaningfully integrated into the plot, but they often feel totally superfluous. Entire plot threads with characters like Oliver Queen, Harvey Dent, and Poison Ivy could be cut without losing much if anything at all.
Many of those characters don’t even share more than a superficial resemblance to their canon counterparts. For example, Bruce is accompanies to by Dick, Sanjay “Jay” Tawde, and Kai Li Caine, but none of them are recognizable as the Dick, Jason, and Cass that fans might know, aside from their names. Dick and Sanjay are standard research assistants who don’t do much, and Kai Li is a sarcastic British schoolgirl. Others such as Grendon and the lizard monster aesthetically match characters like Mr. Freeze and Killer Croc respectively, but amount to little more than Easter eggs. Don’t get me wrong, Easter eggs can be fun, but the the narrative takes so many detours to include them all that it just feels like a distraction.
The voice acting for all of these characters varies from good to ok. Everyone delivers at least a competent performance, but many of the side characters’ dialog have a very flat delivery. Nothing here is enough to ruin the experience, but at the same time there aren’t any particularly memorable performances.
The dialog itself is also a mixed bag. The original comic was quite short, and in order to get this up to a feature length runtime, there have been a number of scenes added to pad things out. Unfortunately, a lot of those scenes are filled with uninteresting dialog that is clearly meant to fill time. There’s a lot more humor in the movie, and a lot of it manages to garner a laugh, but those quips and jokes often conflict with the otherwise dreary tone that the story has established.
The extended runtime is not entirely negative. The world that Mignola created has a lot of lore and backstory to cover, and giving those flashbacks and expositive scenes more time to breathe makes it easier to keep up with everything. Information that’s quickly glossed over in the comic is given full sequences to explore here, making it more impactful. This is sometimes taken too far to the point where it becomes excessive, but it makes for a much easier to follow plot.
With all of the diversions and cameos that hold the story back, it’s tempting to wish for a version of the story divorced from everything Batman. If you feel that way, then you’re in luck. Take away the Gotham mythos veneer and give Mignola full creative control, and what you’re essentially left with is the plot of the opening story of his Hellboy saga: Seed of Destruction. Some people might be more familiar with this story from when it was loosely adapted into Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 film Hellboy.
The similarities are striking once you look for them, with a couple of examples being 1:1. The climax is especially guilty of this, where both necromancer antagonists end up trying to use an ancient bloodline to summon an eldritch horror, resulting in a battle between demons. However, the execution in Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham is more cluttered and sudden due to all the time spent dealing with the numerous aforementioned Batman references.
As an adaptation, Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham does an impressive job. The story is faithfully translated to film, with more time given for story elements to breathe, even if some of the new scenes feel more like padding than anything else. Where the movie falters most is with problems that already existed in the source material. Too much focus is given to Batman-related cameos that ultimately don’t add much, and often serve as a distraction from the Lovecraftian mystery that works.
Batman: The Doom That Came to Gotham is now available on Blu-Ray, Digital HD from Amazon Video, Vudu, and iTunes.
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