Spoiler warning: contains light spoilers of the pilot episode
Despite sharing in the less than joyous reaction to pictures of Ben Affleck’s Batman incarnation in the upcoming Batman vs Superman, I was floored and mightily intrigued by the smart sucker-punch twist packed into the Gotham trailer earlier this year.
This week’s first instalment of small screen Batman does much to justify its existence in the post-Nolan universe. Or is that pre-Nolan? Gotham is a Batman prequel which takes place around fifteen years before the point where Nolan’s version kicked off in 2005’s Batman Begins, or, to be more specific, it starts with the death of mummy and daddy Wayne.
Harsh but true; as the Waynes Grayson McCouch and Brette Taylor are so bland and wooden that it’s a relief when they’re shot. Thankfully, 13 year-old David Mazouz as Bruce Wayne is rather more impressive, and is a good match with Ben McKenzie’s Jim Gordon.
The real triumph of this early scene, however, is in reinventing rather than just repeating a sequence so recently brought to the screen, particularly as Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy has become such an icon of modern cinema. Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) disappointed in this regard, shooting the death of Peter’s Uncle Ben almost identically to Sam Raimi’s scene back in 2002. Gotham keeps this central catalyst engaging with interesting camerawork that is present throughout the whole episode, for instance combining with snappy choreography as Jim Gordon first graces the screen.
McKenzie’s Detective Gordon may be a logical progression from his Officer Ben Sherman in cop show Southland, but there are also glimmers of his most famous role, The OC’s Ryan Atwood. McKenzie’s Gordon is enough of a hothead to allow the writers to shoehorn a couple of action scenes into the pilot, though at times this feels contrived and a dramatic pursuit through a busy commercial kitchen is just plain clichéd.
Aside from an unbearably under-lit police station Gotham breaks with the Dark Knight aesthetic – there are even scenes which take place in the daytime, allowing viewers to fully appreciate the run-down art deco buildings which make up a Gotham at once less fantastical and more believable than Nolan’s conception. Yet Gotham makes no concessions to its small screen home, packing in epic cityscapes of cinematic scope and quality.
Alas, of course there are flaws. They range from the comically ridiculous (sandwich related homicide in the final 30 seconds) to the perhaps inevitable. Alfred (Sean Pertwee) is thus far an American stereotype of Britishness – his every sentence ends with a gruff “mate” – but then who can compete with the national treasure that is Michael Caine? When it comes to competition, Camren Bicondova’s also got it tough, following in the stiletto-heeled footsteps of Anne Hathaway’s Catwo– oops, I mean Selina Kyle.
However, Gotham brings a fresh take by reincarnating original DC characters who didn’t make it into Nolan’s universe, and makes the very interesting move of positioning Selina Kyle as a witness to the Wayne murders – one who has so far remained confined to feline shadow-skulking. All the more reason to keep watching.
Gotham airs on Channel 5 (yes, really) at 9pm on Monday evenings.