Review: GOTHAM S1E1 "Pilot" by SonofArrogance

Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of the prequel genre, be they movies or TV shows. In my opinion they rarely add to the stories that they are foretelling. A lot of the time they simply serve to remove the mystique of the originals and there have been plenty of examples of this. Usually imagining what happened before is much more interesting than having it played out before you. I never seems as good as you imagined it would be. But there is an example of a prequel that makes the concept work, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. The reason why Sergio Leone's masterpiece works as a prequel is that it doesn't focus on the protagonist of the previous movies but on a new character Eli Wallach's Tuco and has the story of Eastwood's the Man with no Name play out in the background. It simultaneously tells a new story and fleshes out the mythos of the old. And it works. And that is why in my opinion Gotham works. Like the iconic western it's a back story of Batman but told through the eyes of (while not a new character) James Gordon. So we will find out the genesis of Bruce Wayne to Batman but in the context of telling a new story that we haven't seen before. The story of Jim Gordon and more importantly Gotham. So now with that out of the way onto the review.

The first few minutes of the Pilot gave me a mixed first impression. The young Selina Kyle bounding
around Gotham and pick pocketing didn't work for me, at least not right away. It seemed a little to on the nose, a youthful villain/anti-hero popping up straight away wasn't how I expected it or wanted it to begin. But this scene led into the key event in the Pilot and that was the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and the show nailed it, better than I expected it to. The robbery/murder of the Waynes was more visceral than I had expected, the bullet wounds and blood on Bruce's hands was very graphic. How they handled this scene sold me. It worked so well that I could even ignore Catwoman witnessing the killings which was a departure from the lore that I'm not entirely ok with.

Another element that the opening impressed me with was Gotham itself. In my opinion it is one of the best interpretations of Batman's home town that I've seen on screen. It strikes a balance between real world and the Gothic architecture that we associate with the source material. Where the Burton/Schumacher films overused the Gothic and the Nolan films fore the most part completely ignored it Gotham gets it right. It's real enough for the audience to relate but otherworldly enough for us to accept the larger than life characters that populate the harsh cityscape.

As for the main players they are mostly an impressive bunch. Ben McKenzie as James Gordon is a worthy protagonist. I believed the performance. The idealism and dedication to duty that we associate with the commissioner is there but offset with a sort of beaten dignity. He's a man fighting the good fight in a city full of bad. McKenzie is clearly confident in the role but even so I can see so many directions he can take it. He's not the Commissioner we know and love but the events of the Pilot and the performance make me excited to see how he gets there. There is corruption everywhere in Gotham even within the ranks of the G.C.P.D and more importantly Harvey Bullock. Donal Logue is perfect as Bullock. While the interpretation of the character does differ from the source material all the core elements are there. Logue's performance displays the cynicism, the seeming indifference but most importantly the broken humanity of Bullock. You like him even though he's an ass. You can accept it because you can believe why he is like that, being a cop in Gotham City you can't blame him. Bullock has the aura of an  against all odds survivor but there is a spark of redemption hidden beneath his weathered exterior.

At the center of the show and of course at the center of all the Batman mythology is Batman himself Bruce Wayne here played as a boy by David Mazouz. I was initially worried that Gotham would just be a Smallville retread but how they handled Bruce in the Pilot has quelled those fears. While he is played very well although he doesn't get that much screen time and this is a good thing. The Batman story should be a catalyst for the series and not the plot of the series itself and that seems to be the route they are taking. While I look forward to seeing young Bruce's journey I'm glad they haven't just gone Batman Begins... Begins. The story is being honored but the murder of the Waynes and the birth of the Dark Knight is an arc more so than the main story and I for one am very happy about that. Also you can't have Bruce Wayne without his trusted Butler Alfred Pennyworth and even though he has less screen time than Bruce Sean Pertwee does a fine job. His Alfred is more working class everyman than  refined gent and I find that take very refreshing and can't wait to see more.

Of course where DC both in Comics and related media really shines (love it or hate it) is the villains. And that is where for the most part the real appeal of Gotham lies and the Pilot doesn't skimp on the villainy. Several villains make little more than extended cameos so I don't feel the need to go into too much detail with them for the most part. Edward Nygma is charming and eccentric, Carmine Falcone delivers the right amount of menace and dignity while sadly Ivy Pepper is just there and doesn't add much to the proceedings. Robin Lord Taylor's Oswald Cobblepot is a delight. He's a cringing little sycophant but at the same time harbors his own ambitions for Gotham's Underworld. He's conniving and grovelling but at the same time quite an endearing character and the one comic book villain that the Pilot nails perfectly. Lord Taylor has truck loads of charisma and keeps you drawn to the screen whenever he on. A standout performance. The real villain and the highpoint of the entire Pilot is the revelation that is Jada Pinkett Smith as Fish Mooney. Pinkett steals every scene she is in. Pinkett Smith's combination of sensuality, motherly caring and violent menace is as perfect as villain performance as you can get. I was totally surprised by her ability to capture all those elements and bring them together for one hell of a antagonist. I loved every second of her screen time. Sexy, scary and cunning. For this audience member he more Fish Mooney in the series the better.

While I did enjoy the Pilot there are several flaws. Gordon's fiancee Barbara was very bland and her relationship with Montoya while intriguing could have benefited from a more fleshed out performance. I think the blame lies with the writers as it is a story strand that deserves more than a few seconds of screen time. It feels forced but does have potential for the future. The other major flaw in the Pilot is the attempts to connect the entire Batman mythos together. It felt sometimes like a join the dots of the Batman Universe. I don't feel that every character and their back stories needs to entwined with that of Batman/Bruce Wayne's and that is where I felt the Pilot really stumbled.

Regardless of my reservations I thoroughly enjoyed the Pilot and will be tuning in every week to see the continuing adventures of Gordon, Bullock and Cobblepot.

A compelling crime drama/comic book combo.

Rating: 8/10

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