Gotham by Gaslight is adapted from the 1989 one-shot by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola (which full disclosure, I’ve never read) that pits the Caped Crusader against Jack the Ripper set against a Victorian-era Gotham City backdrop.
A murder mystery involving Batman hunting down Jack the Ripper in a steampunk universe? On paper, you couldn’t devise a better set of ingredients for a perfect Batman story but unfortunately the premise writes a check the film doesn’t even come close to cashing.
The setting is by far the most interesting aspect of the film but instead of fully utilizing the concept, the film is more interested in shoehorning in as many references as humanely possible. One of my major criticisms of Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the constant wink-wink-nudge-nudge prodding by the director every time a thing you love is referenced. “Hey it’s a thing from Star Wars, isn’t that swell?”
It’s all over this fucking movie. Every victim, every suspect/red herring is a famous Batman character. Which in of itself isn’t a problem per say but instead of fleshed out characters, they’re leaning on the fact that audiences already have pre-existing knowledge of these characters. The film doesn’t spend time developing a single character because it knows you know these characters.
If a character says, “Don’t mind Dent. He’s like two different people when he’s drunk.” Within the context of the film, that doesn’t mean anything, but it knows you know that Dent is Two-Face. It creates red herrings by just listing a character trait that it knows the audience already has knowledge of and calls it a day. It’s lazy writing.
As is the writing itself. If you have ever seen a single episode of Scooby-Doo, you’ll be able to guess the killer a mile away and while it’s an obvious twist, I’ll give it points for not having the Joker be the Ripper. That’s not a spoiler. He’s thankfully not in this film. And just like it’s extremely predictable killer reveal, the films structure is derivative of a million other films.
Five seconds before the Ripper kills someone, Batman rushes to the scene but he’s inevitably late every single time. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
He somehow has the uncanny ability of knowing exactly when the Ripper will strike but doesn’t have the wherewithal to get there in time. The plot thanks him for this convenience.
But it’s not all negative. As with all the DC animated movies, the voice acting is stellar. Bruce Greenwood (who previously voiced the Dark Knight in Batman: Under the Red Hood and Young Justice) returns as the voice of Batman and he’s right behind Conroy as my second favorite interpretation of the character. His voice is calm and contemplative, yet all business.
He’s easily the best part of the film but the real surprise is Scott Patterson as James Gordon. I’m not overly familiar with his work with the terrible Saw sequels and the odd Gilmore Girls episode being the only things I’ve seen of his, but he’s damn good in the role.
All in all, Gotham by Gaslight is an interesting premise hampered by a weak script. I guess you could say, it ran out of steam…punk?