Batman: The Long Halloween (2021)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 8/14/21
Cast: Jensen Ackles, Josh Duhamel, Naya Rivera, Troy Baker, Katee Sackhoff, Titus Welliver

"A killer who only works on holidays. There's lots of crazy out there."

A continuation of Frank Miller's "Batman: Year One" story, focusing on Harvey Dent's (Josh Duhamel) early career before he became Two-Face. But it could just as easily be a Catwoman (Naya Rivera) story, as she plays a large role and is constantly saving a bumbling and inexperienced Batman (Jensen Ackles) from certain death. The story begins with a gangland murder on Halloween, followed by more holiday themed murders every month for the next year. While Calendar Man knows the identity of the Holiday Killer, he's locked up in Arkham Asylum and refuses to cooperate with the police, preferring to taunt Batman with riddles instead. Meanwhile, Batman, Harvey Dent, and Jim Gordon form an alliance to end the gang war and put the Falcone crime empire out of business, but Dent's wavering sanity and moral compass are pushed to the breaking point. Could he (or his dormant alter ego) actually be the Holiday Killer? Solomon Grundy, Joker (Troy Baker), Scarecrow, Poison Ivy (Katee Sackhoff), Mad Hatter, and Penguin show up to raise the stakes and complicate matters.

The movie is divided into two 90-minute episodes, and it's best to watch them back-to-back. By the time I watched the second part, I had no recollection of the first half. That said, the pacing in the first half is dreadfully slow and all of the various plot threads, twists, diversions, and dead ends result in an unsatisfying ball of confusion and disappointment. The second half fares much better and is more action oriented, except that I was completely lost because it's so disconnected from the first half. Eventually, everything comes together, resulting in Dent's tragic disfiguration and psychological transformation. Much like DC's other animated projects, it differs from the source material by replacing some of the characters and changing the identity of Holiday. Recalling the animated adaptation of "Hush" (2019), it's not clear why the filmmakers thought these changes were necessary. Bruce Wayne also seems a bit out of character, and it's pointed out that he's a lousy and not-so-bright detective, and more of a reckless brawler (who is repeatedly saved by Catwoman). This goes against all previously established history and continuity, where Batman is primarily a master detective who only resorts to violence when necessary. It's hard to sympathize and relate to his character in the film.

The animation is good, but the more mature presentation doesn't allow for any stylistic flourishes. As a result, it can come across as a bit dull. Similarly, the voice acting is very good, but also a bit flat. Nothing seems to match the brilliance of Andrea Romano's casting and direction from "Batman: The Animated Series," although Troy Baker's impersonation of Mark Hamill's Joker is astonishingly good. The action scenes and fight choreography are well-executed and exciting to watch, and again, Catwoman ends up stealing the show. Overall, it's a fun, but tedious and convoluted entry in the Batman series.