Warner Bros. Animation scores a hit with their second R-rated feature, Batman: Gotham by Gaslight. Based on the 1989 comic by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola, Gotham By Gaslight is set in an alternate, Victorian era timeline. It's a steampunk thriller that far surpasses the disappointing Batman: The Killing Joke. Whereas that film took liberty with the source material and failed utterly; Gotham By Gaslight updates the plot with dramatic flourish. It embraces the blood soaked mystery without being gratuitous. The result is a dark tale that ranks among the best of the DC Animated Universe.
Gotham City is gripped by fear. Jack the Ripper, a vicious psychopath, is killing and mutilating disenfranchised women. The murders confound the police commissioner (Scott Patterson) and district attorney (Yuri Lowenthal). The violence threatens the opening of Gotham's illustrious World Fair. Millionaire Bruce Wayne (Bruce Greenwood) is hell bent on capturing this elusive predator. He patrols the streets at night as the masked vigilante Batman, using clever gadgets spawned by a new age of reason. The Ripper is also a target of the famous showgirl, Selina Kyle (Jennifer Carpenter). They're on the same hunt, but may be outmatched by the skill and tactics of their wicked adversary.
Screenwriter Jim Krieg and director Sam Liu, both DC animation veterans, have an intelligent approach. They take the time to re-imagine Batman accurately for this period setting. He's got a few cool toys, but his fists and wit are the primary weapons. The enemy he seeks is just as adept at rooftop prowling and lurking in dark places. Batman has a cold realization that Jack the Ripper's fighting prowess easily matches his. Krieg's script is also politically astute. Women and children's rights are depicted as they were in the late 1800s. The primary characters must reckon with the arcane notions of the day to gain progress. It's a welcome degree of sophistication. The R-rating is used wisely. Gotham By Gaslight is thankfully void of cheap salacity.
I was rapt at attention for the entire seventy-eight minute runtime. Jack the Ripper is a fantastic villain who goes toe to toe with the Dark Knight. Knowledge of the comic will not detract from the film's entertainment value. The plot is quite different, but still totally engrossing. Gotham By Gaslight captures the big reveal just as well as the book. The climactic showdown is superb, as solid an ending as I've seen in the DC films.
I can't imagine a Batman fan not liking Gotham By Gaslight. It's a fresh take on beloved characters. The fact that its dark as hell is a welcome return from the sappiness of recent DC efforts. Gotham By Gaslight rights all the wrongs of The Killing Joke. It looks like the filmmakers learned their lesson with an R-rated product. Gotham By Gaslight is not for younger audiences. It is graphically violent with images of sexuality and coarse language. Warner Bros. and DC need to make Gotham By Gaslight a live action film. Batman versus Jack the Ripper is a far more exciting idea than Justice League 2.