A gangster’s murder on Halloween kicks off a series of murders carried out by a serial killer who only slays on known holidays. Dubbed Holiday, it doesn’t take too long for the killer to strikes fear into the city of Gotham – especially its mobsters. Batman (Jensen Ackles) sets out to pursue the elusive murderer with the support of police officer James Gordon (Billy Burke) and district attorney Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel) while trying to use the case as a means to finally bring some of Gotham’s biggest gangsters to justice.
Released as a limited comic book series between 1996 and 1997, a Batman story written by Jeph Loeb and brought to life by Tim Sale’s art used a clever and elaborate murder mystery to help document the end of days of organised crime as full-blown costume anarchy. Right at the centre of this, trying to keep order and Gotham safe, is one caped crusade, one Gotham City Police Captain and one hungry D.A; only for their efforts to eventually be tragically in vain. The lasting impact and influence of The Long Halloween have rippled into Batman’s visual exploits for many years since that first issue dropped. Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, a comic book movie disguised as an engrossing Michael Mann inspired crime movie with that core relation of Batman, Gordon and Harvey Dent at the forefront is one great example of The Long Halloween’s influence.
The fact that The Long Halloween’s animated adaptation was delayed (and almost shelved) because Matt Reeves also wanted to adapt it as well for 2022’s The Batman speaks volumes about how revered this particular story is amongst Batman storytellers. The new animated feature couldn’t have come at a better time for the DC Universe which is just about finding its feet again with its productions.
Between 2013-2020, fans of DC’s animations had the luxury of the DC Animated Universe based on The New 52 period of DC Comics. It kicked off from The Flashpoint Paradox right up to Justice League Dark: Apokolips War with a whopping 16 films in total. While the interconnecting stories, same animation styles and the established voice cast is a nice solid bed of foundation for the animated universe, it wasn’t perfect. At times, it fell below the standards many audiences expect from the DC animation factory. For every solid film like Justice League: War or Teen Titans: The Judas Contract, there was something a bit lacklustre like Throne of Atlantis or disjointed like Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay. It really paled in comparison to how the DC animated movie franchise kicked off back in 2007 with Superman: Doomsday.
That initial phase of direct to DVD animations, free from the restraints they had on TV, always presented something interesting. Whether it be a different art style, a particular actor coming in, the graphic novel story chosen for adaptation, there was something for a DC comic fan or a DC animated fan to latch on to. The early years of this animated brand still have some of the best DC animated offerings. Offerings that surpassed most DC live-action adaptations at the time, of course with the exception of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Justice League: New Frontier, Under The Red Hood, Year One and Wonder Woman still remain as highpoints of this initial era. Now with the interconnecting universe phase of DC animation in the rearview mirror, the latest batch of films have returned to these successful origins.
Take a look at the reception for the last few films. Superman: Man of Tomorrow was an enjoyable look at the Man of Steel’s first year as a hero. Batman: Soul of The Dragon was a fun, campy, ode to 70s exploitation flicks and the latest Justice Society animated movie has also been well received by fans. The Long Halloween is the first in this new batch of movies to try something really ambitious with a two-parter animated adaption of that revered Batman series.
But there’s also the dangerous possibility that this could go in a similar direction a lot of other noteworthy adaptations have gone. Badly. And it is usually for the same thing – being faithful to the source material. DC animations have done justice to stories like The Dark Knight Returns and the Death of Superman Adaptations. But there have been notable missteps with translating graphic novels to their animated environments and the caped crusader has had a terrible streak of late. The last major Batman adaptation, Hush, misguidedly jettisoned the established revelation regarding its villain. A decision that destroyed any hope of keeping diehard fans of the source material invested. Then there is the small matter of the 30-minute “prequel” material that, despite an effort to add some sense of depth to Batman and Batgirl’s relationship, ultimately marred the overall experience of The Killing Joke with some fans only starting rewatching the movie from when the actual adaptation begins.
So with all that on this reviewer’s mindset settling down to watch the opening half of this adaptation, how does it fare?
Right now, based on the first part’s 85-minute runtime, I’m very happy to say that the adaptation, written by Tim Sheridan, has been pretty faithful so far. Part One covers the story from Halloween up to events on New Year’s Eve. There are some notable changes in a few supporting characters and some scenes omitted but it’s nothing to be concerned about. The big takeaway from this first movie, importantly for fans of the source material, is that the core narrative remains intact and it remains as engrossing as Loeb’s captivating story. It certainly does shy away from what is ultimately a serial killer thriller. The film’s 15 age certificate in the UK a clear indication that the filmmakers are not afraid to shy away from the brutal nature of the story. Ultimately, the best credit to really give how the adaptation fares right now is that Part One leaves me wanting to watch Part Two as soon as possible.
The film is bolstered by a great ensemble cast. For the DC animation fans, the film marks a fan-pleasing full-circle moment for Jensen Ackles. Having played Jason Todd in Under The Red Hood, the Supernatural actor now gets a chance to voice Batman himself. He handles himself remarkably well and feels like a perfect fit. With the film placing Batman as a hero still trying to find his way, especially getting to grips with detective work, Ackles conveys a good mix of confidence and uncertainty. In principle roles as well, Josh Duhamel is solid as Harvey Dent, working well with Julie Nathanson who plays Dent’s isolated wife, Gilda. The two voice actors able to present The Dent’s relationship as loving but incredibly strained due to Harvey’s obsession with trying to bring gangster Carmine Falcone to justice.
In one of her final roles before her untimely passing, Naya Rivera’s brings an engaging and mysterious air of intrigue to Catwoman. The cat burglar’s presence not necessarily explained right now in Part One but leaving a few more questions to ponder as the Holiday murders unfold. If we’re looking at Batman’s villains for a moment as well, Troy Baker continues to have fun playing The Joker with jovial menace with a loving nod to Mark Hamill’s take on the character. But I will give special credit to the one scene appearance of Calendar Man, a rarely used character in Batman animations who given an unsettling Hannibal Lecter vibe by David Dastmalchian in a fleeting yet memorable presence.
Distinctive and eye-pleasing, the film’s visuals work well. Those familiar with the style utilized in both Man of Tomorrow and Justice Society by the DC animation team will know what to expect. It has been a radical departure from most films, especially that 16 film canon of the DC Animated Universe. I remember having to get used to it with Man of Tomorrow but here it now feels natural and it ultimately gives the film a fresh new aesthetic that should please fans here. Having Chris Palmer, the director said Man of Tomorrow, helming the adaption certainly helps. If you’ve been a stranger to recent films due to burnout or disinterest, The Long Halloween is a welcoming change. Even the action sequences, including a crop plane battle with The Joker and a multi-man fight sequence in Gotham’s Chinatown, brim with confidence against the grim backdrop of proceedings. Some pursuits might be annoyed that the visual doesn’t match with Tim Sale’s distinctive style but the film does acknowledge it quite nicely in the opening credits.
The tricky thing is that we’re only halfway and this really does feel like half a story. While The Long Halloween has been split into two parts, I feel the overall production can only be properly judged based on both parts. With that in mind, it would be quite redundant of me to give a usual star rating in this review right now. However, I still heartily recommend this film to all devoted Batman animated fans. But with Part Two due at the end of July, maybe it might be worth waiting until it releases to experience the story in one near 3-hour viewing experience.
The problem we are left with is whether or not Part Two is going to be as good and, importantly, do the original comic’s ending justice. Considering, I’m still rattled with how they treated Hush, I’m nervous. I really hope the team nail the landing with Part Two because if they do, this is going to be an outstanding DC animation. Dare I even say it, it could be up there with Mask of The Phantasm. Until Part Two’s release, whether or not this film’s second half delivers the goods is like Batman words of advice to Harvey Dent in one of the early scenes from this movie –“It’s a coin toss.”
Batman: The Long Halloween Part 1 (2021)
With eye-pleasing animation and a great ensemble voice cast, DC animation do a stellar job with the opening acts of The Long Halloween. Even with the odd change to the material, the movie faithfully follows the main events of the original comic series respectfully. If they nail the landing with Part Two, this will be one of the best Batman animations for some time. Though, based on how things are left, I can’t help but feel more radical departures from the source material are lurking in the second half which will either make or break this adaptation.
A final star rating will appear once Part Two has arrived as this film is clearly one complete story.
Reviewed by Iain Boulton
Batman: The Long Halloween Part One is available now on Blu-Ray and Digital Platforms. Part Two is released on 26th July 2021. A 4K combined cut release of the film will follow later in 2022. If you want to check out both movies, use our handy Amazon links below. Buying through these links is a great way to help support the content that we produce here at Bunkazilla UK.