The first act of Gotham by Gaslight is rough. It establishes Batman (Bruce Greenwood) in the Victorian era. He’s fighting with Fagin-types while “Jack the Ripper” is attacking prostitutes. Jim Krieg’s script, which will go on to impress at times, is rather problematic with the first Ripper victim. Director Liu’s already opened the film with male gaze (on a cartoon) and the whole thing just seems skivvy.
Then Jennifer Carpenter gets introduced (as a costume-less Catwoman) and Greenwood gets more to do as Bruce Wayne and Gaslight starts getting… okay. The animation is cheap and terrible, but a lot of the establishing shots are good. The smaller the scale, the better the visual. And the animation isn’t like an attempt at detail and then a fail, the animation is very, very simple. When the third act does a bunch of action, it’s a shock how well Gaslight executes it; there hasn’t been any good action until then.
The setting helps. And Krieg’s script. It gets smarter once it’s no longer about the real Jack the Ripper but about some Batman animated movie stand-in. It’s a narrative cheat, but it turns out to be fine because then the whole movie becomes a serial killer thriller. Both Greenwood and Carpenter are investigating on their own, their paths crossing, with Greenwood in and out of tights. And if Greenwood and Carpenter didn’t record their banter together, their performances are even more impressive.
Also good is Anthony Head as butler Alfred. Performances get a little less sturdy after him. Scott Patterson, for example, is fine, but Yuri Lowenthal is tiring. Grey DeLisle is annoying in both her roles. Gaslight lets the supporting cast go way too broad.
But the mystery is good. And the characters are good–at least Greenwood and Carpenter’s. There’s character development, there’s light steampunk (very light), there are even occasional neat shots from Liu.
Frederik Wiedmann’s music is another of Gotham by Gaslight’s essentials. Wiedmann gets the right mood every time (though his score does just sound like a riff on Elfman). There’s real suspense in Gaslight, real surprise. And the mystery is barely manipulative in moving the viewer through. It’s cool.
And Krieg’s pacing, in general, is good. There’s quite a bit of setup, then some longer action sequences. Those sequences involve the setting. Because Gaslight is well-conceived. It’s just not well-executed, its production values are too low. Carpenter, Greenwood, and Wiedmann’s contributions are strong enough, however, to win the day.