As a big Batman fan, the first reaction of hearing they would animate this origin story next after the awesomeness that was Under the Red Hood, was "meh".
Yeah, I honestly did not care about this movie at first. But since I am such a huge Batman fan and I want to collect it all (except anything from before The Dark Knight Returns, and except the TV-shows The Batman and Batman: Brave and the Bold - both that I wish will be forgotten soon), I had to buy it. So then I bought it and watched it... and oh my god, how I've underestimated this one.
To me, this basically is "Batman Begins - the good version". And well, it's also obvious Nolan stole a lot of his ideas for his story from this one (I use the word "stole" because he altered some stuff and pretended like his movie was totally original and clever). So you might assume why I think Batman: Year One is superior? You think it's because it stays truer to the source material? Well, I wouldn't know that since I haven't read the comic yet it's based on. And it's not about that. What makes Batman: Year One superior to Batman Begins BY FAR, is of how well executed Year One is.
This will not be your typical review. I will defend this movie and compare it to Begins. If you don't like that, I'm sorry - but that's the reason why I am doing this review. So here we go.
I've heard several people doing remarks about that it's more of James Gordon's story than it's Bruce Wayne's story. But that's what makes it so perfect - it doesn't focus on Batman too much. Batman is supposed to be in the background while other things happens in the foreground - that's why Doug Walker, AKA Nostalgia Critic once brought up considering Tim Burton's Batman movies. Batman is a mysterious character - but yet, they literally give us everything we need for his backstory here in Year One. In Begins you might think it's fun to get to know even more, but... THEY FOCUS WAY TOO MUCH ON POINTLESS THINGS. Seriously - they are giving WAY too much focus on the development of Bruce Wayne's character. A hell of a lot more than needed. Do we really need to know the reason behind why he's an excellent martial artist? Because to a lot of people, it is sort of a disappointment to know it; especially since we see he is a ninja. Not even a real actual ninja - a Hollywood ninja led by Ra's Al Ghul without the Lazarus Pit-... okay, okay; I promised to not focus on the source material here. >.< But yeah, still.
Hell - we even get in great details in Begins about how Batman got his costume. They even dedicate a whole scene to Alfred and Bruce discussing how they will get their hands on the bat ears....... really, are you kidding me?! No one wants or needs to see this! Like Doug said: The less we know about someone, the more fascinating we often find them.
All we get to see in Year One is that Bruce returns, we are shown he has great martial arts skills, and he tries to figure out how to bring fear into criminals because of how corrupt the city is. And the best part is that Year One is only a bit more than 1 hour long - 64 minutes to be precise, and is still telling everything we need to know. Begins was more than twice as long, and did not tell half as much... that is saying something, people.
In Year One, they properly and firmly shows us how corrupt Gotham is. Especially the cops, as we focus on Gordon a lot. And that is also why it's so great they DO focus on Gordon - because he is supposed to be the one to change the corruption with the police force. And just look at Flass - he is a big muscular bully in Year One. And in Begins... he is a fat short ugly guy. Classy, Nolan... not only do you miss the point of why Flass works as a character - you do not even try to make him resemble the actual character at all. You just slapped the name to a random character, and pretends like no one will notice.
And overall with the corruptness - while Year One shows us how corrupt Gotham is, Begins is basically all about telling it. I've said it before, and I will say it again: SHOW, don't tell.
And here's another thing they handled at least 3 times better in Year One - the relation between Batman and Gordon. In Begins, they are buddies right away basically. It's barely even mutual - it's Gordon kissing Batman's ass, while Batman do whatever the fuck he wants. In Year One - they are both enemies at first. And that makes us care more - because we get to see how both of them needs to earn each others' respect and trust. And I do not dare to spoil how in the end they both earn this from each other, but... it's handled really damn well to me.
And they could do this movie without tossing in dumb fanservice or bullshit. I mean, Year One didn't have ANY villain from the Batman rouge gallery appearing at all. Sure, Harvey Dent appears; but it's before his accident since it's in the beginning of everything. And funny enough and to my surprise - it makes it SO much more stronger. This means not only that we will have a proper focus - but also that the writers are daring enough to not go there and try too hard to satisfy the audience. Where Ra's Al Ghul and Scarecrow in Begins needed? No, they where not. Especially since they couldn't even get Ra's right, and every Scarecrow fan got pissed off because they reduced him into a henchman.
And speaking of adding in pointless things - Rachel Dawes in Begins. The whining, annoying bitch who thinks everything she says is right and tries too damn hard to lecture Bruce. Sure - she does apologize a bit for it in the end... but it's so glanced over, you can not help but to still hate her.
And that didn't excuse her from punching Bruce twice in the movie just because he said he concidered to shoot his parents' killer. Yeah... how dare he, huh? It's not like that dude killed his parents or anything - OH WAIT...! And on top of everything - this bitch is against violence and thinks vengeance only satisfies your own selfish needs, and yet punches Bruce because she is mad at him and because it satisfies her own selfish needs of punishing him since Bruce even clearly knew himself before he did wrong...? Hello there, hypocrite.
And this leads me to another thing in Batman: Year One - the love story there is handled SO much better, and SO much more adult than it is in Begins. Hell - in Begins, they only have a love story for the sake of having a love story. But here, the love story has to do with Gordon. And they make it complex, and as said; adult. Gordon has a pregnant wife he really cares about - but then he has this woman in the police force he talks to and works with occassionally. And since Gordon feels vulnerable and lost in a corrupt city, and she is someone who's as intelligent and nice as he is - it DOES lead to the point of him kissing her, and (supposedly) going to bed with her. And this really burdens him. In this movie, they show us you don't always fool around with someone else just because you're a jerk - people make mistakes. And he is mature and adult and goodhearted enough to bring it up with his wife and then gets her forgiveness. He understands SO well he did wrong by doing what he did - and he is doing the right thing. This gives Gordon flaws, and makes us care for him SO much more. And the woman he kissed even at one point says: "If your wife wasn't pregnant... would you-...? Sorry, that wasn't a fair question."
And that's one of the most realistic things I have ever seen in a movie. You will most likely say that in this kind of situation, dispyte it maybe not be the most proper or comfortable thing.
And another thing handled so well with Gordon's character here, is that we get to see he is more than capable of defending himself. Remember Flass I mentioned? The big muscular bully cop? At one point, the current Commissioner tells him to beat him up; which he does with some of his "friends", and even threatens to do things to Gordon's wife if he doesn't stop being... well, a good person, basically. And then later, Gordon manages to catch up with Flass and stop his car, then puts away his gun AND tosses a bat to Flass to give him a handicap - and yet, Gordon beats the shit out of Flass. Lesson of the day? Gordon is a freakin' awesome badass.
Is Batman: Year One a perfect movie? No movie is perfect. The scene when Flass tells the Commissioner he doesn't think Gordon fits in and stuff, it's like a small boy telling his dad someone was mean to him; and it's a bit unintentionally hilarious. Not to mention, Flass by himself is designed to look like a blonde big muscular high-school bully. Then we got Selina Kyle briefly appearing at points in the movie for no reason, other than quickly going into her backstory along with everything else. Sort of funny since they DID also make a short for Catwoman that came with the DVD... but since that short story felt pointless - they could have filled in with her backstory there instead, and just give her a even briefer cameo in the full movie for that scene when Bruce goes to those parts where she is (and fights Bruce, which is kinda cool).
But the thing is about the flaws - none of them bothers me. I can look passed them - because the movie is just SO well made. The movie feels a lot longer than it is - but not because it's boring, but because it manages to tell us so much in such an intriguing way.
Along with Under the Red Hood, this has to be my favorite Batman movie of all time. These two are just so fantastic in their own rights. They might even go as far as topping my top list of favorite movies. Yes - I think these two might actually replace Watchmen for me. These movies are so well made, and I just want more of it. I give Batman: Year One 10 of 10. You're bothered with me giving it a perfect score dispyte having flaws? As said - the flaws aren't ruining anything or even bothering me, so I don't think it makes any sense to change my personal score for that. Especially since as said no movie ever made is perfect.