Underrated: Batman: Gotham Knight [No Spoilers]

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Everyone has those movies on their list that have been there for years, something they’ve been meaning to watch for years but just haven’t gotten to. Until recently, for me that movie was Batman: Gotham Knight, an animated Batman movie which came out just a few weeks before The Dark Knight. The movie is something unique to Batman animated features; rather than adapting and focusing on one specific story, Gotham Knight is broken up into six short movies, or vignettes. The catch is that each of the vignettes is written and animated by different teams. This makes all six feel totally different.

The six vignettes can kind of be put together in one vaguely interconnected story, but mostly stand alone. The first, “Have I Got a Story For You,” a group of kids meet at a skate park, all claiming to have seen Batman fight crime earlier that day, but all of them have very different stories. In “Crossfire,” two detectives debate Batman’s role as a vigilante before getting caught up in a mafia turf war. “Field Test” tells the story of Lucius Fox developing new tech that will deflect bullets, while Batman works to take down mafioso Sal Maroni. “In Darkness Dwells” follows Batman and Lieutenant Gordon as they investigate reports of a lizard-like monster, while still hot on the trail of Scarecrow. “Working Through Pain” begins with Batman sustaining a particularly bad gunshot wound, and leads into flashbacks of his training in the East (think Batman Begins). And lastly, “Deadshot,” focuses on Batman’s pursuit of the gun-wielding assassin.

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Of course, the animation for each of the vignettes manages to be unique in its own way. “Field Test” looks distinctly anime, “Crossfire” looks like a comic book, and “Have I Got a Story For You” resembles a cartoon. This brings a distinct flavor to each of the stories.

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This movie is kind of like Batman’s equivalent of Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse. The different animations show different artists’ takes on Batman. Admittedly, Spider-verse does this better; telling one story with characters that reflect the animation that they might come from, while integrating well with the main setting.

I remember always assuming this movie simultaneously was and was not canon to the Nolanverse; like it’s supposed to take place between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, but it doesn’t really “count.” And that is probably correct – Scarecrow is one of the villains Batman encounters, and he was at large between Begins and Dark Knight. Same goes for crime boss Sal Maroni, who also appears in Gotham Knight.

So we know when this movie could plausibly be set, but my point is that it doesn’t really matter. Each of the stories is its own little world. None of them are really enriched for having taken place in the Nolanverse. And if you try to hard to establish a canonical truth, some of the fun can be taken out of it.

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One thing that kind of sets the tone for the movie is the fact that the opening vignette is all about kids who claim to have seen Batman, but unable to verify who exactly Batman is or what he’s like. I’ll admit that this doesn’t exactly give the same resonance as the “anyone can be Spiderman” theme of Spider-verse, but it does do a little something to set the tone. It raises the question of who Batman is and why we tell/read/watch/etc. stories about him; for the characters in the vignette, that’s answered with the conclusion of their story. For the audience, that question is answered throughout the rest of the film.

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And that’s probably what I love most about this movie; it really rocks the mythological element of superheroes. They can change from interpretation to interpretation. Bruce Wayne can be an anime-boy in one and a dark and violent vigilante in another. He can look like a cartoon or appear as he does in the comics. And all are equally true to the character. While it lacks the same singular story we see in Into the Spider-verse, this movie shows an equal passion for the character. Batman: Gotham Knight is not often talked about, but should be required viewing for any fan of the Caped Crusader.

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