Batman: The Long Halloween is the latest two-part attempt from Warner Bros. Animation at adapting an iconic DC Comics storyline for home video. Some of these — like 2012’s fellow two-parter Batman: The Dark Knight Returns — fared pretty well, but most have felt more like disposable cash grabs due to uniformly unimaginative animation and stiff voice acting. Taken as a whole, both parts of The Long Halloween are marked improvements in terms of both animation and pacing. Hopefully, it’s a sign of better things to come for future Warner Bros. adaptations.
What makes the original 1996 comic miniseries (and, to a lesser degree, these films) so memorable is how many different classic crime tropes writer Jeph Loeb and illustrator Tim Sale stuffed into one epic superhero narrative. You have the central murder mystery in which a younger Batman must sharpen his detective skills, here to find a serial killer known as Holiday who’s plugging a different member of the Falcone crime family on each holiday. You also have a supervillain origin tale at play with attorney Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two Face, as well as a mob story following the disintegration of the Falcones.
That same thrilling blend is mostly intact here thanks to the moody animation and Tim Sheridan’s screenplay, which is faithful without being a slavish panel-for-panel recreation of the source material. To date, the most successful animated Batman venture has been Bruce Timm’s iconic Batman: The Animated Series from the 1990s, and it’s refreshing to see a new Batman project successfully tap into that show’s Art Deco influences. Gotham once again has that fantastical Gothic quality where its grotesque gallery of rogues feels of a piece with the city they inhabit.
The voice cast acquit themselves admirably with the glaring exception of Jensen Ackles, whose drone-like delivery as Batman is indistinguishable from his Bruce Wayne. But David Dastmalchain (who will later appear as Polka-Dot Man in next week’s The Suicide Squad) does a wonderfully creepy Calendar Man and the late Naya Rivera brings the appropriate range as Catwoman, whose loyalties towards Batman remain ambiguous throughout The Long Halloween.
However, where all these recent DC animated outings fall short — and this being no exception — is that they never feel essential. This is a competent adaptation of a masterful comic-book miniseries that laid the groundwork for Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy. If anyone is tempted to check out The Long Halloween in movie form, they are likely doing so because of their familiarity with the book. This release isn’t high-profile enough to attract anyone who isn’t already a Batman addict. And in that case, watching the movie may be satisfying enough but will ultimately feel like a cheap high compared to the real thing.