‘Batman’ has undergone a number of different approaches throughout the years, in terms of comics and films. With cinema there is a large collection of styles, ranging from the camp and comedic Adam West classics, to the slick and smooth Nolan Trilogy. Well, it might have been re-imagined this time round in one of the most surprising but effective culmination of styles.
On the surface it may seem a bit odd. A crime fighting fictional vigilante in a bat suit alongside a real life Victorian Ripper. But in a lot of ways, they are a perfect match. They both operate in the shadows, they both wear masks and they both exist in poverty stricken cities, where crime and evil run riot in the streets. There is also the detective element. Many focus on the physical prowess of the caped crusader but we must not forget his aptitude as a crime solver. With Gordon, Bullock, Harvey Dent and Batman himself trying to put the pieces of the Ripper puzzle together, it stops it from becoming too solely ‘Batman’ orientated.
Although one of the Warner Bros Animated films, it is not suitable for kids. As I mentioned before, there are many reincarnations of ‘Batman’. Some kid friendly, others more adult. This is the latter of the two. It couldn’t really not be, when it’s main focus is ‘Jack The Ripper’. The broody, dark and atmospheric setting of Gotham seems even more poignant with the influence of Victorian culture. The swirling fog, dark alleyways and imposing architecture merge well with the themes of ‘Batman’ and the city of Gotham itself. One of the reoccurring themes in the ‘Batman’ universe is that of orphans. Bruce Wayne is the obvious one. But there is also Dick Grayson, Selina Kyle and Poison Ivy. That fits in perfectly to the Victorian setting, as street urchins and orphans were a common occurrence. Work Houses and orphanages were standard practice. This is but another example of how these two worlds blend together adequately.
The script has been tweaked with a Victorian flair, which is a delight. Especially when you have a fancified version of Jim Gordon telling his wife he will be with her directly. Costume design has been altered slightly. In particular Selina Kyle pulls off a dress and corset combination, made all the better by her accompanying whip. Batman’s suit is not too altered but it has a more steampunk feel to it with its gold buttons, formal shirt and more traditional mask. There are a few other character tweaks. Harvey Dent for example has a curly moustache and comb over hair. His character also mirrors Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, another Victorian classic. Poison Ivy is an exotic dancer, tying in more with the ‘Jack The Ripper’ angle. Dick, Jason and Tim, the three Robins are depicted as ‘Twist’ inspired pick pockets. These reinventions of the characters are ingenious, as it serves to cement the two styles.
The inciting incidents when occurring are both exhilarating and unique. Most of them involve Batman squaring up against Jack The Ripper. They are you’re standard fisticuffs and roundhouses but the backdrop is what sets them apart. One of the confrontation occurs in a slaughter house, an ideal selection for obvious reasons. Another is a chase scene across the roofs of Gotham. Just the image of The Ripper’s shadowy outline being pursued by The Batman’s even more defined black outline, sent goose bumps down my spine. There is also a zeppelin, a signature of Victorian steampunk and a fairground, more familiar with the ‘Batman’ canon. This attention to detail reinforces the themes and style of the film, giving viewers a visual narrative of its own.
In most adaptions of ‘Batman’, there is a large emphasis on bat gadgets and tech. One might think this poses a problem this time round, as it is more Victorian inspired. Luckily, the creative team have found a way around that. For example Batman is famous for having a bat cave, always located underneath Wayne Manor. This time round his hideout is in the attic, or as my fiance cleverly pointed out ‘the battic’. Although this is a break in tradition, I found the whole concept refreshing. It also fits in more with the period, as many Victorian London houses were built with attics. He doesn’t have a bat-mobile for obvious reasons but he does have a crazy steampunk bat bike with various pistons, motors and cogs. Also, there is more of a challenge for Batman in the Victorian inspired setting, as finger prints aren’t considered legitimate evidence. This forces Batman to find other ways to solve his mystery.
‘Batman Gotham By Gaslight’ is a gamble. It takes two beloved and very distinct worlds and brings them together. It is a tall task, trying to introduce The Ripper into the ‘Batman’ universe with all its history and style, whilst still remaining at its core distinctively dark knight. Fortunately it pays off, delivering an end result that provides something fresh and new but at the same time familiar. It is a reinvention of ‘Batman’ as we know it but then reinvention is what ‘Batman’ is all about. There are so many versions and takes both in comics and film, that it gets away with it. Visually it is stunning with the cities’ dark alleyways, high rooftops and abandoned buildings. Facets that are present in both Gotham and Victorian London. In fact there are so many similarities between the two, that after a while you forgot that it is even different. You accept it as commonplace that the world created is the genuine article because it is convincing. The characters are still the same at there core but they are tweaked to give them a Victorian flair. Being focused on ‘Jack The Ripper’ and his murders, this version of ‘Batman’ is largely focused on his skills as a detective. I found this refreshing, as a lot of the recent ‘Batman’ films have been more focused on the fighting and gadget side. The twist of the piece took me by surprise. I am normally able to predict the shock reveal but they did a good job of misleading the viewer on this one. If you are a fan of ‘Batman’ or a fan of Victorian steampunk and The Ripper you’re in luck. And if like me you are obsessed with both, then it is a dream come true.