A Gotham Without Batman
I wasn’t particularly interested in Gotham when it was announced, and the trailers leading up to it didn’t do much to change that. We’re being fairly inundated with origin stories lately, and while they’re interesting to follow, do we really need another one regarding Batman? Of course, it isn’t really a Batman story. Or even a Bruce Wayne one. It’s a slightly different take on the idea of an origin story in that it’s basically the origin of a side character, albeit an important one. Nevertheless, even someone like me, who doesn’t read comics, already knows this story.
Gotham follows Detective James Gordon, long before he is Commissioner Gordon. It starts with the pivotal point of Batman’s own origin: the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne.
Not surprisingly, Bruce Wayne is one of the first people we meet in the pilot episode. He screams like a girl. Okay, yes his parents have just been murdered in front of him, but I wasn’t expecting such a scream from the boy who is soon to embark upon a ten year or so journey to becoming a fearsome vigilante, striking terror into the hearts of criminals throughout Gotham and beyond. But whatever; he’s twelve. It’s fine.
It seems as though Gordon may play a bigger role in young Bruce Wayne’s life than he has done in other iterations of the Batman origin. Not only does he promise Bruce that he’ll find the man who murdered his parents, but he offers the boy some sage advice. After finding Bruce balancing on the edge of Wayne Manor’s roof, and hearing that it’s part of an attempt to conquer fear, Gordon tells him that fear isn’t something to conquer.
It’s not the best delivered or meaningful piece of advice ever, but the very fact that he gives it suggests the possibility of Gordon being an accidental, part-time mentor to Batman-to-be. So far, it seems like he’d be a better one than Alfred, but I’ll get to that later.
It wasn’t entirely accurate to say that the episode starts with the Waynes’ murder.
Actually, it starts just a little before, with a young Selina Kyle. The girl drops off the edge of a building in typical comic book style, and ends up on the ground – which is what usually happens when you drop off the edge of a building, though you’re not always feeling a hundred per cent.
Next comes a couple of overly obvious and clumsy pocket-picks, the first of which scores her a brand new bottle of milk from a woman’s shopping bags. Or groceries, as those crazy Americans call it. I was bothered not by how badly they pulled off the thefts, but by what Selina does with the milk.
Unsurprisingly, down a dark alleyway, a cat is waiting for Selina, and she pours some of the milk into a container for it (or them, I forget). But when she puts the bottle on the ground, there’s barely enough left in it to brown pastry. This is meant to be a brand new bottle of milk. Now, obviously that’s a small issue, but the point is that it kind of sets a standard of quality. Surely, the continuity here isn’t difficult to keep up with. If the girl steals a new bottle of milk in one scene, it shouldn’t be practically empty in the next. That oversight isn’t encouraging, no matter how unimportant the milk itself is.
I can’t yet comment on the city itself, though so far it does do fairly decent job of seeming like Gotham, and not just some generic, crime-ridden US city. Only time will tell, though, if they’ve truly captured the dark essence of comics’ most famous city.
In terms of story, the pilot seemed a little all over the place. It seemed more interested in giving what they thought was a sly wink and nod towards all the well-known characters they crammed into one episode to actually do much with the story. Gordon getting his first glimpse of what the police are really like in Gotham; high-profile murder; corruption; frame job; Penguin’s lowly origin. It all seemed like bits of nothing, and too much of everything at the same time.
I’m not sure they were wise to start the series off with the iconic murder of the Waynes, and should perhaps have brought that in a couple of episodes later. Yes, it helps show what kind of man Gordon is, and what kind of people he’s found himself in the midst of, but with so much else going on, it got diluted. It become no more a meaningful start to the Jim Gordon story than any crime would have been.
Character-wise, I felt like there were too many. I thought they would have been introduced a little more organically and subtly than they were. Catwoman, Penguin, Riddler, even Poison Ivy. These big Rogues Gallery entries on top of Harvey Bullock, the Waynes, Alfred Pennyworth, Carmine Falcone, and some more minor characters you’d have to be quite the fan to recognise.
You would also have to be a big fan, perhaps, to notice some other easter eggs, such as harlequin dancers in red and black, the clock tower reference in Barbara’s apartment, Bullock when he shoots someone (referencing an apparently fairly iconic scene). And the comedian. The series wants to eventually incorporate the Joker’s origins, and we’ll constantly see contenders. Now we’ve seen the first.
Let’s have a closer look at some of the casting choices:
Jim Gordon – Ben McKenzie
The obvious starting point, but I don’t really have much of an opinion on him. He’s fine. I can’t quite see him as Jim Gordon, but I also can’t…not see him as Gordon. He’s fine.
Harvey Bullock – Donal Logue
Good casting, I think. He seems pretty true to character, with what seems to be a drinking problem, an attitude problem and, of course, the corruption. Bullock eventually cleans up his act when Batman comes to town, but it looks like he may be doing so a lot sooner in this series.
Oswald Cobblepot (Penguin) – Robin Lord Taylor
Perfect casting. He looks the part, he immediately shows an unhealthy attraction to violence and causing pain, and I don’t think they could have found a better Penguin. The character isn’t quite what I expected to see, as he starts off as a lowly thug – perhaps not even that – in Fish Mooney’s gang. He’s very submissive and terrified of Mooney, though already has grander plans for himself.
Fish Mooney – Jada Pinkett Smith
Mooney is an original character, but does a good job of fitting right in. I didn’t recognise Plinkett Smith at first, so I had the advantage of not being biased. Some people seem to be of the opinion that she was one of the weakest points of the pilot, but I thought she was fine. Not great, and perhaps not quite what I would have expected from an actress of her fame, but not bad. I can’t imagine the character lasting beyond this season, but for one newly created for the Batman universe, they did a good job.
Alfred Pennyworth – Sean Pertwee
This is a more tricky one. I think the casting was good. As soon as I saw him, I knew he was Alfred, not someone pretending to be Alfred. But then he opened his mouth. While the casting itself is very good, I’m not sure the character’s direction matches. He’s a tougher Alfred than we’re used to, but it’s doesn’t appear, so far, to be tempered with any warmth.
Despite the fact that the Waynes are meant to be like family to Alfred, we see no signs, concealed or otherwise, of him being upset by their murder.
He arrives to collect Bruce from the crime scene, and on the way out, corrects the way the boy is walking, and tells him not to let anyone see him crying. This is fine, but it just doesn’t seem to have the caring that should underlie the words.
But the thing that jars me the most is the way he speaks. He calls Gordon “mate”. That doesn’t say ‘posh butler to billionaires’ to me. It doesn’t meld with telling Bruce to keep his chin up and not cry. To me it just seems like they thought the American viewers would need as much cockney in there as possible so they’d know he’s English. Sorry, ‘British’.
Later, in Wayne Manor, the relationship between Bruce and Alfred doesn’t really come across as a loving, caring one. Alfred is perhaps a little impertinent, but Bruce speaks to him like he’s nothing but the help. Alfred is sarcastic, but in an unpleasant, scathing way, not the amusing way we’ve come to know.
Otherwise, very good casting again.
Selina Kyle (Catwoman) – Camren Bicondova
She didn’t open her mouth in the pilot except to attract the cats, so I can’t speak for her acting. But physically, she seems like another good choice. Something about her face has a feline quality, and she bears a striking resemblance to Michelle Pfeiffer, who of course played Catwoman in Batman Returns. Her movements, also, exude an effortless, graceful, feline quality. So, she certainly seems like a good choice for a young Catwoman.
All-in-all, I wasn’t disappointed with Gotham, but that’s really only because I wasn’t expecting much.
I was surprised by the air of cheapness, though I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that creates that. It feels like it’s trying to be better than Arrow, with higher production values, but failing to be even as good. And let’s face it, Arrow might be good and entertaining, but it’s not that high-quality.
There’s a scene – a montage, really – where Gordon and Bullock are interrogating petty criminals, and it just looked to me like something I’d expect to see in a fan film. It was surprising after the trailers led me to believe it was going to be pretty good quality, visually, if nothing else.
So overall, I’m conflicted. Kind of. Conflicted in a way that my negative feelings for the pilot cancel out the positive ones, and leave me not caring either way. Frankly, I’m no more interested now in watching Gotham than I was before I saw the pilot.
What do you think? Should the show follow the Waynes into the grave? Or should Jim Gordon be given the chance to clean it up?