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Josh Reviews Batman: The Long Halloween Parts One & Two!

The latest direct-to-DVD/blu-ray DC animated film is a two-part adaptation of Batman: The Long Halloween. This comic book story was originally published as a 13-issue mini-series back in 1996-1997, written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by Tim Sale.   The story is set soon after the events of Batman: Year One, the re-telling of Batman’s origin written by Frank Miller and illustrated by David Mazzucchelli in 1987 (and subsequently adapted into a pretty excellent animated film in 2011).  In The Long Halloween, we follow the development and then destruction of the friendship and alliance between Batman, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent.  As the story opens, the three men – the vigilante, the Police Commissioner, and the District Attorney – agree to work together to take down the mobs that control Gotham City.  Over the course of the story, which takes place over a full year, we witness the transition of Batman’s villains from mobsters into colorful supervillains… as well as Harvey’s descent into madness and transformation into Two-Face.  Weaving among all this, we see all of the characters in the story seeking to identify the mysterious Holiday Killer stalking Gotham, who commits a new murder on each holiday.

The Long Halloween is a famously great Batman story, so it was ripe for adaptation.  While I myself am not the hugest fan of the original comic book series (I got a little impatient with the storytelling, and I found the ending to be a bit of a letdown), I for sure acknowledge that it’s a much-loved story, and I was excited to see what an animated adaptation might look like.  The folks at Warner Animation made a terrific choice to stretch this adaptation into two films, giving the story plenty of room to breathe.

The result is one of the best of these DC animated films in years!  (Or TWO of the best, if you want to count the two parts separately!)  I thoroughly enjoyed this two-part adaptation of Batman: The Long Halloween.  It’s an excellent, very faithful adaptation of the original comic.  I was impressed with the way that the filmmakers molded the original story to work as a (two-part) film, making changes that I felt mostly strengthened the film.  Allowing this story to be told over two films gave the story the room it needed to flesh out and develop the characters and give the drama time to build.  One of the main conceits of the original story was that it took place over the course of a whole year, and this two-part adaptation gave the story the time required to maintain that structure without feeling rushed or edited down into just a Cliff’s Notes version of the story.  The result is a film that feels epic in scale and scope.  The film feels adult because we’re given the time needed to explore the characters, without needing to jump into fisticuffs every two minutes.

The animation and character designs are terrific — some of the best I’ve seen in any of these DC animated projects for years.  I loved the beautiful textures on the Gotham City backgrounds; lush and painterly.  The character designs were detailed enough to have weight and a certain amount of realism, but they were stylized enough to animate smoothly and look cool.

The voice cast in the movie was excellent.  Jensen Ackles (who had previously been terrific as Jason Todd/the Red Hood in the terrific 2010 animated film Batman: Under The Red Hood and its 2020 sort-of-sequel adaptation of Batman: A Death in the Family) is dynamite as Bruce Wayne/Batman.  He’s got just the right amount of gravel in his voice to make a great scary Batman, and Mr. Ackles can bring the needed gravity to sell the story’s dramatic moments.  Josh Duhamel is a great counterpoint to Mr. Ackles’ Batman as Harvey Dent.  Mr. Duhamel plays Harvey just right – he starts out with the nobility needed for a character who is being heroic… and then he’s able to take us and Harvey down into the pits of insanity as Harvey loses his way and becomes Two-Face.  The third point in this triangle is Billy Burke as Commissioner Gordon.  This is a great Gordon – grizzled and damaged but still trying to keep his head above water and do the right thing.

Titus Welliver (Bosch, the Man in Black on Lost) is fantastic fun as Carmine Falcone (“the Roman”), the head of the most dangerous crime family in Gotham.  The late Naya Rivera (Glee) is spectacular as Selina Kyle/Catwoman. This is one of the best Catwoman performances I have ever seen; Ms. Rivera gives Selina the sexy purr she needs, but she also shows us Selina’s confidence and competence and warmth.  (Ms. Rivera died tragically last year.)  David Dastmalchian, who was so great in the recent The Suicide Squad film as the Polka-Dot Man, brings to life another great DC comics villain here as the Calendar Man.  Mr. Dastmalchian’s quiet creepiness is so perfect!  Julie Nathanson does strong work as Harvey Dent’s wife Gilda.  I’ve just scratched the surface — there’s also Amy Landecker (Transparent) as Barbara Gordon; Katee Sackhoff (Battlestar Galactica) as Poison Ivy; John DiMaggio (Bender from Futurama) as the Mad Hatter; and many more.

For the most part, I was pleased with the changes made to the story for the adaptation.  I loved that Catwoman had a larger role.  I was intrigued that in the film, it’s clear that Selina knows that Batman is Bruce Wayne.  They also shifted Catwoman’s role in the film so that she’s unquestionably an ally of Batman/Bruce’s, as opposed to the comic in which, at the end, she hangs with the villains.  The past few years of the Batman comic book continuity has played up the Batman-Catwoman relationship; I wonder if that’s why they made those changes?  (In the original comic, it could be interpreted that Selina knows Batman’s identity, but it’s not outright stated, and overall Catwoman has a smaller role in the story.)  I was happy that the film’s ending provides an answer to one of the most egregious unanswered questions from the original comic: why Catwoman was obsessed with the Roman.  Speaking of the ending, I thought the muddled ending of the original comic was a letdown; I was pleased with the changes made for the film, to more definitely resolve the story’s main mysteries, including the identity of the Holiday killer.  (Though the one off-note for me was what felt liked the tacked-on happy ending with Bruce and Selina together — that didn’t feel to me like it fit well with what was otherwise a boldly grim ending.)

I question why they added in some cliche mobster stuff, like having someone talk about so-and-so “sleeping with the fishes”, having Carmine Falcone called “Godfather”, or having Carmine have one of his men thrown off the stairwell in his own penthouse for disrespecting him. (That’s a dumb super-villain act, not something real crime lord would do.  Who wants a bloody body in the lobby of their own home?)  On the other hand, I missed the one Godfather reference from the book that was so iconic: the “I believe in Gotham City” opening line!  I’m bummed that changed that!

Other thoughts:

* I liked seeing the different neighborhoods of Gotham: the Italian section, Chinatown, etc.

* There was some great action in the film.  The fight with the Triad warriors was unnecessary (it wasn’t in the original comic) but it was a terrific action sequence.  The Joker’s attack on Gotham City on New Year’s Eve at the end of Part 1 was exciting and very well animated.

* I liked that they included Montoya in the film; though I wish they’d actually given her something to do.

* Troy Baker did a nice job voicing the Joker, though it was weird to me how completely Mr. Baker seemed to be imitating Mark Hamill’s iconic performance as the Joker from Batman: The Animated Series.

* I didn’t understand the weird scene late in Part 1, where Gordon gives his gun to a clearly disturbed Dent, standing outside in his hospital gown.  What was that all about?

* It also didn’t make sense how, at the end of Part 1, Joker says “puzzle” and Batman flashes back to Falcone’s son Alberto doing a crossword puzzle, which was an event Batman did not witness.  Oops!

* I thought it was a clever change to move Batman’s guess of Alberto as Holiday up to end of part 1.  In the comics there was famously no body seen after Alberto was shot on the boat, so I laughed that here they show us his body being gruesomely chopped up by the boat’s rotors.

* It’s hard to split any story in half; not surprisingly, I thought the transition from part 1 to part 2 was a little choppy.  If you didn’t stick around to watch the critical stinger featuring Poison Ivy at the end of the credits of part 1, you’d probably be very confused by the start of part 2.  I thought it was awkward that part 2 opens with two extended sequences in which Batman is out of his right mind, first controlled by Poison Ivy and then affected by the Scarecrow’s fear toxin.  It felt to me like writerly wheel spinning; obvious obstacles to keep Batman busy for a few months.

* I liked the choice to delve deeper into Harvey’s transformation into Two Face here than in the original comic, though it doesn’t quite work.  They depict Harvey being crazy before his transformation — an aspect of many modern tellings of Two-Face’s origin, most notably that seen in Batman: The Animated Series, but not so much a part of the original Long Halloween story.  But I felt like they showed Harvey getting a little too crazy too fast; it felt like it came a little too much out of nowhere.

* I wonder why Falcone’s sister Carla — a memorably character from the comics — was mostly excised?

* On the other hand, I loved the twist added to Gilda, and her connection to the Falcone family.  That was extremely clever and surprising.

* There was some awkward staging at the end, as Batman just stands and watches a certain someone destroy all the evidence… and then seems to lets them walk away after having committed multiple murders.  That doesn’t seem in character for Bats.

* The short silly stinger at the end of Part 2 seemed out of place to me.  Was it just there to clarify that these films are in continuity with the other recent DC animated films?  (However, I’d be excited if that’s the case, because I’d love to see more of this animation style and this voice cast.)

The blu-ray of Part 1 includes a “Showcase Short”: The Losers, depicting a group of adventurers fighting monsters during WWII.  (I’m most familiar with this group from Darwin Cooke’s magnificent The New Frontier story.)  This was a fun short with decent animation and some interesting characters.  Part 2 includes another “Showcase Short”: Blue Beetle.  Many fans online seem to love this short, but it wasn’t at all what I was hoping for.  I like this character, particularly from the famous Keith Giffen/J.M. De Matteis/Kevin Maguire “bwahaha ha ha” run on Justice League, and I wanted to see that character depicted on screen.  Instead, this short was a silly farce done in the style of the old Super Friends cartoon.  That’s a wild choice, and the Super Friends spoof was done well, including a theme song, a spinning logo to transition between scenes, stiff and recycled animation, characters climbing up a wall like in the Batman sixties TV show, and lots of other winks and nods.  But I didn’t have much patience for it.

Batman: The Long Halloween might not be perfect, but it’s extremely well-done and easily the best of these animated direct-to-DVD/blu-ray DC animated films to come down the pike in several years.  It’s delightful to see a famous Batman story adapted so faithfully, and with so much care and attention to detail.  Batman: The Long Halloween is exciting and sophisticated; this is an animated Batman adventure done right.

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