This movie is based on the 1989 Else Worlds comic of the same name by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola. The basic premise of this film is great. Batman taking on Jack the Ripper in a steam-punk Victorian era version of Gotham (London more-like). Batman and mysterious figures prowling the dark streets and alleys in foggy London (I mean Gotham !). What’s not to like about such a setting ?
This movie has a lot going for it and yet, strangely enough it never hits the high notes that it seems capable of. So let’s cut to the chase.
The premise is a classic ‘whodunit’. Jack the Ripper is prowling the streets of Gotham and brutally killing women who are supposedly polluting society. So it’s up to our good old billionaire playboy Bruce to find out who Jack is. Let’s start off with the good.
The movie throws in a lot of traditional Batman characters. The likes of Hugo Strange, Pamela Isley, Selina Kyle, James Gordon, Harvey Dent, Leslie Tompkins, Harley Quinn and even Solomon Grundy all make appearances. In classic whodunit fashion, all these characters are meant to throw the viewer off guard. It’s nice to see the alternate versions of these traditional characters as they certainly add to the interesting feel of this story. The voice over work behind all the characters is also fantastic. Bruce Greenwood and Jennifer Carpenter deliver great performances as Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle.
The trouble is that there isn’t much else to say about this problem. Herein lie the movie’s problems.
In any mystery or detective work, the suspense and element of the surprise are the most important aspects. Yet, how these aspects are handled is arguably what makes or breaks the film. The main issue with Gotham by Gaslight is that the characters feel like one-dimensional cardboard cut outs that are just thrown in to make up the numbers.
In order to thoroughly experience the element of surprise, the viewer must be completely invested in the characters. In this movie, many of the classic Batman characters are there in the movie just to act as references to the rich history of Batman. While these characters are all involved in the plot in some fashion, not much is known about them. The movie unfortunately has a limited run-time and definitely needs more time to flesh out its characters. The lack of character development definitely hinders the final result in a big way.
Gotham by Gaslight does have its moments. Jack the Ripper’s portrayal is generally very good. He always seems to be one step ahead of the batman and is also more than a match for him in hand to hand combat. Selina Kyle as some kind of Broadway-esque performer and an undercover sleuth is another one of the movie’s strong points. The chemistry between Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle is also very strong.
However, one can’t ignore the feeling that this movie leaves a lot to be desired. Some of the more integral characters unfortunately weren’t really given much of a background. Hence, the final reveal, while an interesting one, lacks the necessary punch. There is so much in this interesting alternate world to be explored and yet it feels like the surface has barely been scratched. To immerse oneself in this world however, one needs more time and it is likely that this movie had a limited run-time mandate.
Overall, this isn’t a bad watch but a feeling of what could have been remains. With Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay and The Death of Superman: Part 1 slated for release later this year, it will be interesting to see what direction DC’s stand alone films are heading in. Hopefully, they will improve upon this rather lukewarm start to 2018.