Considering the long list of iconic Batman storylines the DC animation department has been bringing to our silver screens, Batman: The Long Halloween coming alive was only a matter of time.
Most fans have had high hopes for it. Especially, since the news broke that Batman The Long Halloween would be a duology. If you’ve paid attention to DC animated movies over the years, it’s easy to see that runtime usually tends to be one of the major issues.
Did they deliver though?
Let’s delve right in.
The Set-Up: Mob Murders, Rogue Shenanigans, and… Batman’s Greatest Foe of Them All?
Considering how simple the set-up for the story is, it’s still surprisingly hard to explain to someone who’s never read the original graphic novel.
The very basic setup seems pretty simple. On Halloween night a prominent mobster is murdered. Commissioner Jim Gordon, DA Harvey Dent, and Batman, who’s still a newbie at this whole detectiving thing, all launch investigations.
But before they can get their hands on any solid clues, the murderer strikes again – this time on Thanksgiving. And then again on Christmas Eve. And then…
You get the gist – there’s a killer who kills prominent mobsters on Holidays and thus gets aptly called Holiday. Police, the DA office, and Batman are all running around trying to find clues but fall short over and over. Holiday keeps on a’killing merrily. Until finally on New Year’s Eve, they kill Carmine Falcone’s (the head honcho mobster of Gotham) son.
Would be, at least, if this were a regular mob movie. But this is a Batman mob movie. Which means there’s always a Rogue or two lurking around the corner, complicating things.
If Holiday wasn’t enough, there are at least two distinct parallel storylines the movie is trying to grapple with.
First is keeping track of mob dealings in Gotham. Just because a serial killer is targeting them, doesn’t mean the mob suddenly stops their operations. On the contrary, Carmine Falcone is ever more determined to maintain his grip on the city. And recruit Bruce Wayne to help with his criminal dealings to boot.
Second is establishing Rogues and their relations across Gotham’s criminal underbelly. Rogues aren’t yet the driving force of crime in Gotham. A major attraction of the storyline is that it’s trying to balance their affairs with that of the mob.
And amidst it all is Batman, still comparatively new to the job, who has to 1) catch the Holiday killer; 2) somehow curtail mob dealings; 3) have a stand-off with Joker who’s escaped the Asylum and is trying to smoke out Holiday on his own, afraid he’ll lose the title of Gotham’s Prince of Crime.
Where It Went Right
Before all else, we MUST talk about the animation. The animation style may seem weird at first, but you cannot deny its charm.
Many reviewers have mentioned their disappointment at the movie’s failure to replicate Tim Sale’s iconic art. But frankly speaking, the movie does a great job bridging the gap between what I refer to as “classic DC animation” and Sale’s art. It looks more like a motion comic than the slick cartoon DC is known for, but it works.
Voice acting, always one of the stronger parts of DC animated movies, is nothing short of exemplary here. The star-straddled cast delivers. Jensen Ackles makes a fantastic Batman (I hope to see him down the cape again sometime in the future). Josh Duhamel is no less fantastic as Harvey Dent. As for Troy Baker – to no one’s surprise – he’s once again great as Joker.
The late Naya Rivera voicing Catwoman sometimes feels a tad somber. But this is a somber movie, after all. And if you get a gut-wrenching feeling every once in a while… No one has to know.
Plotwise, the main storyline dealing with Holiday murders is – unsurprisingly – the best part of the movie.
Far too often does it get forgotten that Batman is supposed to be “the world’s greatest detective”. Seeing him at the start, taking the right steps towards the title, but not being quite there yet, is possibly Batman at his most interesting.
The Long Halloween shows Bruce Wayne at his most fallible – both as a detective, always one step behind the culprit, and as a man, caught in a mobster’s plans.
The last third of Batman: the Long Halloween Part I contains if not the best then at least top-3 action sequences of DC’s entire animated universe. Batman not only has found his match in – seemingly not superpowered – adversary, who manages to foil him at every turn, but fails to cover himself at his most vulnerable – his civilian identity.
Even with a few hiccups along the way, the end of the movie delivers. The entire debacle with Joker and Holiday’s final strike, makes this movie feel like an independent entity instead of just a set-up for the second part, even though there were moments where it certainly felt like one.
(Oh, and the scene where Jim Gordon interrogates Calendar Man? Deserves extra kudos!)
Where It Falls Short
There have been many instances when these tumbles have cost DC animated movies – even the best of them, like Under the Red Hood – robbing them of the deeper emotional grit.
Often the creative team has to cram far too much in far too short a runtime. As a result the pacing often feels disjointed, giving the viewers no time to breathe – and still missing out on some of the major plot points.
Yet, it seems that both the creative team AND the suits have learned their lesson. DC animated movies – especially those based on iconic storylines – have been consistently getting better with their pacing issues lately.
And breaking Batman: The Long Halloween into 2 parts is testament enough that people working behind the scenes seem to at least have had an understanding that letting is complicated, multi-layered story breathe was the first step to its success.
…maybe too much space to breathe, if we’re completely honest.
There’s no way to put this nicely – there are moments when this story drags. While the decision not to cram 13 issues worth of complicated web of a story in 80 minutes deserves a salute, there was also no need to stretch it to the 3-hour mark.
It’s hard to imagine that a plot this complicated would drag – but it does. Pacing, while tight at certain points, completely falls apart at others.
Another, comparatively small shortcoming, is minor characters. There are multiple characters involved, especially on the mob side, but the movie never gets to flash most of them out.
Not that there’s a reason to – we’re not supposed to root for these people. ut there are constantly new names being dropped, and all the relations can sometimes be hard to keep track of. Especially when they keep getting murdered.
Overall, the timeline of the movie feels wonky. Detecting the passage of time between two holidays can be hard, especially if you skip the dialogue. And, unfortunately, the temptation to skip certain dialogue scenes is there, especially in the first half of the movie.
It also bears mentioning that certain shortcomings plot-wise are NOT on the creative team behind the movie.
Batman: The Long Halloween has had many detractors over the years criticizing its pacing, the narrative, the detective storyline (mostly lack of coherent clues for Holiday’s real identity), etc.
The original graphic novel is not perfect by any means, and – unfortunately – in their attempt to bring faithful adaptation to the screen, animators didn’t do much to make changes that would truly benefit the story.
Which is all the more disappointing in light of Part 2, which showed they weren’t afraid to make pretty darn big changes to the overall story after all.
While Batman: The Long Halloween Part I sometimes fumbles the many balls it’s been handed to juggle, overall the movie does a great job of telling a great detective story.
Would this movie benefit from shorter runtime and, possibly, even fewer characters? Possibly. But while certain scenes feel a little boring, especially after dynamic action sequences, overall the movie does a great job of showcasing Gotham the city as a character.
Batman, DOJ, the Rogues, the Mob – they’re all essential elements of giving Gotham its flavor. The atmosphere in The Long Halloween – dark, gritty, somewhat Burtonesque (which, coming from me, is a compliment) – is as important to the story, as the plot itself.
Overall, the movie delivers an iconic detective story fairly well. A showdown with one of Batman’s most iconic Rogues is a treat, and the final (brutal) Holiday murder, as well as them getting away from Batman manages to keep the viewer at the edge of their seat throughout the latter half of the movie. Somewhat making up for a slower first part.
In the end, this movie does manage to deliver on two fronts fairly well – both tell an interesting, if at moments overly convoluted detective story and act as a set-up for the second part which promises to be even tenser.
Check out our favorite Batman: TAS episodes too!