Review: Gotham Pilot

And now for a Movie Sleuth review of the Gotham pilot!

"Where's the trigger, Cobblepot?
With my adoration for DC and through sheer force of will I begrudgingly finished both seasons of Arrow. Though the writing is nauseatingly amateur, the action scenes are above average for a TV series, Emily Bett Rickards is cute, and hoping that at any second Thea and Laurel would be simultaneously killed off the show kept me hanging on. I don't think I'm going to have to do much of that with Gotham. After seeing the first couple of trailers for the new DC series, I wasn't expecting much. I'm a little shocked to realize that I don't have much bad to say about the pilot. 

I look at Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy as something entirely its own. It doesn't share very much in common with the Batman universe I've grown to love through the comics and the brilliant video game, Arkham Asylum. Through its mere 45 minute running time, Gotham did more to scratch my comic itch than most of Nolan's work did. The very first thing I noticed about the show—and what coursed through the veins of the entire pilot—was the unabashed comic book vibe of the city and its locations. It pops with color, contrast, and life in a way that feels copied and pasted from the pages of a Batman prequel comic that never existed. Gotham City itself is rendered with a modern neon energy, but infused with classical noir designs and lighting, giving it a very distinct tone. It doesn't quite layer on the fog and grim of what Batman comic fans are used to, but you can tell that this is a city that is intended to deconstruct through the progression (or digression) of the series while staying true to the stylized roots of the books.

Gotham sets off with a bit of a cheap introduction to both Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon, however. Each intro feels both lazy and rushed. Spoiler, Bruce's parents die. The direction and setup here feels tacked on. I imagine the producers just needed to get it out of the way because of the story's familiarity with almost the entire planet. It doesn't make this scene any less important to the world of Gotham City. In fact, one might argue it is the single most pivotal piece in the universe. The death of the Wayne's here doesn't feel as powerful or as dark as it should. I didn't buy it. Its impact was nerfed.

"I will personally shoot both
you and that
stupid butler if you
don't become Batman and save
all of us. Deal, Batsy Pants?"
Jim's intro, while not as important to the Batman universe as, well, Batman, but it is important to this story. Gotham, after all, isn't necessarily a Batman story. It's a Jim Gordon one. While I can spoil the Wayne's deaths, I can't spoil Gordon's introduction, only to say it feels forced. I believe they felt they needed a good guy move to open the audience to who Gordon is, but I contend that it's unnecessary and softens Gordon's great arc through the rest of the pilot. It would have been more tasteful and far more effective had they left it out and allowed the Gordon arc to start small—as it certainly does—and work up to the good cop angle by its close. Not to say that his arc is broken with the cheesy intro in there. His arc is great. His set up for being the guy to root for remains strong in spite of this, especially his interaction with the exceptionally casted Oswald.

If all goes well, Robin Lord Taylor will be a name on the tip of everyone's tongue in the near future. He damn near steals the entire show with his disturbingly weird performance as Oswald Cobblepot, better known as The Penguin. There is no doubt he has injected the character with a slimy, impassioned energy that has potential to be one of the best casted villains in the live-action DC universe. Yes, I have the balls to say that he has the talent to match or dethrone even Ledger.

The other cast members, though not as exceptional, range from good to very good and I really couldn't ask for more. It would be hard for any actor of David Mazouz's age to deliver a powerful performance required of young Bruce Wayne. While he didn't astound me after the death scene, a later scene had me eerily entranced by his cold, ruined eyes. I totally believe this kid—this child—could be Batman. I deeply believed it. I know it's not Batman's show, but I believe the creators can get some potent stuff from Mazouz and the Bruce Wayne character if they wanted to.

"If I crap in this huge
jacket I wonder if it
will keep me warm?"
Even Jada Pinkett Smith was good. I'm sure there are some big Jada fans out there, but she hasn't ever impressed me as an actress at least. She's a professional and serviceable performer, but I've never been impressed. While she might be just a pinch overt in her performance, I also really dig her as a villain here. She's given some material to get her hands dirty, and I really liked that. It shows the audience that not only is the character ready and willing to get the job done, but so is Jada, and it looks like she's really enjoying herself.

Typically, these kinds of things get inundated with shoehorned cameos that rip the focus away from the juice of the story. I was pleasantly surprised that this didn't happen with how many name drops, winks, and nods peppered the plot. In fact, all of these elements fit the plot, never detracted, and made for excellent seeds to sprout later in the series. I'd love to go on about every character and cameo, but I would ruin a lot of the surprises.

What it all comes down to, really, though, is Ben McKenzie as Jim Gordon. I believe Jim Gordon is a deceptively tough character to get right as an actor because Batman villains (and even Bruce Wayne himself) have so much gnarly meat to chew on. Gordon does not. He's as straight-laced and as good as they come. There aren't many quirks or hooks to latch on to. McKenzie, I think, is making all the right moves for a young Gordon. There is a point in the story where he is demanded for the truth. This one and only time in the narrative his morality comes into direct question and I could plainly see it in McKenzie's face. You'll have to see it to know why I think it's important to mention. This is going to be tough for McKenzie because both his performance and the writing could, if not tactful, become eclipsed by the cast of more vivid characters.

 "Don't ask me where
the trigger is.
You certainly haven't
found the one in
these pants yet."
TV series are truly about their characters first and foremost, which Gotham, so far, has done a fairly 
exceptional job of setting up compared to similar shows of the past. The city looks especially great with standout production value. What little action is there is nothing to get excited about, however. Of course, this is a show clearly not about its action, and I get that, but I'd prefer less of the fights and chases and more of the depraved labyrinth of Gotham's criminal underbelly. If you want action then watch Arrow. The producers of Gotham have visually and narratively set themselves far apart and I hope they take it further into its own identity. Go even darker. Go more depraved and surreal. Make it hard for Jim Gordon to hold onto his sanity, not by making him fire his gun on a rooftop, but by desperately making him try to hang on to what's good while Gotham's criminals violently eat at its heart. The pieces are all there. I'm thrilled with what they've started. It's not perfect. My praise is high, no doubt, but it's mostly because I'm shocked that this isn't complete crap. I'm not expecting another Breaking Bad. Gotham doesn't come anywhere close—yeah, I know it's only one episode—but for being a live-action DC show, this pilot alone is pretty darn outstanding.

I just have one very big request. Please, if you're going to ever put Joker in this, do not—and I mean do not—insult the legacy of arguably the greatest comic book villain in existence with an origin story. His entire lack of one is the point.

Now keep doing what you're doing—only, ya know, more dark and stuff.

-JG Barnes