Batman: The Long Halloween Part One (2021)
Directed by Chris Palmer
Written by Tim Sheridan
Based on the Graphic Novel by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
Produced by James Krieg and Kimberly S. Moreau
Rated PG-13, 1hr 25min
I have a feeling I know where this is going, and I’m not sure I’m going to like it.
Based on the graphic novel, The Long Halloween takes a lot of liberties with the adaptation. Tim Sheridan’s screenplay plays fast and loose with the overall story, dispensing with pretty much most of the first issue leading up to the first murder, which happens during the title sequence. Throughout the run of the movie, elements of the original story are rearranged into a new structure. I get that you’ve only got a certain amount of time to get to a certain “midway” point in the story, but it feels like there’s a lot that’s been left on the floor. WB Animation did this before with Hush; the entire third act was completely different, with a villain reveal that was different from the book.
That’s what I’m thinking we’re going to get here, as the actual villain of the book… well… spoilers.
Despite the glaring differences between book and movie, it feels like a pretty solid story that they’re telling here, even if it’s not exactly The Long Halloween. The spine of the story is the same: Batman (Jensen Ackles), Jim Gordon (Billy Burke), and Harvey Dent (Josh Duhamel) work together to stop the serial killer known as “Holiday” for killing on … holidays. And his (or her?) targets are all related in some way with mob boss Carmine Falcone (Titus Welliver), also known as “The Roman” for his family connections. Along the way, they get the occasional assist from Catwoman (the late Naya Rivera).
Falcone first appeared in the pages of Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli in 1987, and has since become part of the overall pantheon of gangsters populating Gotham City. Here, he’s both gangster and philanthropist, having organized an annual fundraiser for a children’s hospital on his yacht. His chief rival for control of Gotham is Sal Maroni (Jim Pirri), who hasn’t played as large a role in the adaptation as he did in the book.
Holiday’s killing off members of the Falcone crime organization draws the attention of the Joker (Troy Baker), of course, because he doesn’t want anyone else showing him up. We get the Christmas confrontation between him and Dent, but not the same beats. And the relationship between Dent and his wife Gilda (Julie Nathanson) is much different, with more emphasis on Gilda’s mental health issues to the point that it’s almost a caricature.
I could go on about the many differences, but essentially, you’ve got to look at this as its own thing. It’s got a decent fight in Chinatown, the animation is pretty clean, and the performances are all very good. Ackles makes a great Batman, and Rivera’s performance as Selina is first rate. It brought to mind Adrienne Barbeau’s turn at the character in The Animated Series. While it’s a shame that this is the last thing she did before she died, it’s a top-notch performance. I enjoyed Welliver as Falcone, as well. Just enough of an Italian “tough guy” without descending into parody. The three scars on his face — leftovers from his Year One encounter with Catwoman — were a nice touch (and yes, they were in the book, too). Plus, we get a thoroughly creepy Calendar Man in David Dastmalchian’s performance.
Now, having said all of that, I’m concerned that the ending of Part Two is going to give us a villain reveal that isn’t earned. Unlike Hush, there aren’t really any problems doing a straight adaptation. There’s no Robin, no Red Hood, no characters in the book that haven’t been introduced in the animated story, so you don’t have to spend any time explaining back-story. The Long Halloween stands on its own as a Batman-Gordon-Dent tale that’s pretty straightforward and easy to follow. I’m really hoping Sheridan doesn’t try to be too clever by half.
Plus, there’s still a lot of story left to unpack. The original book covers a full year, Halloween to Halloween. Since Part One ends at New Year’s, that leaves a lot left, and I fear the next film is going to drop a lot of material for the sake of brevity. I expect to see a lot of consolidation of scenes. Call me a purist, but I like it when the adaptation makes a decent effort to stay faithful to the source material as much as practicality allows.
Batman: The Long Halloween Part One is a good film. Solid performances all around, and the pace moves well with the story beats that remain. But you’ll enjoy it more if you watch it as its own thing rather than “based on the book.”