Even in a city on the edge of decay and corruption, Jim Gordon is a man who cannot be bought. Here is a man who believes in justice, swift and fair, and refuses to bend for the promise of a dollar, and he has maintained this notion of nobility throughout his early career as a cop with the Gotham Police Department. After a perceived cover up over the murder of the parents of young billionaire Bruce Wayne, Gordon ventures deep into the Gotham underworld in an effort to locate the true killer. Once he realizes his own partner is on the payroll of local mobster Falcone, and his own life hangs in the balance, Gordon is forced to manipulate both sides of the law in order to bring justice back to Gotham City.
Ben McKenzie shines as James Gordon. Functioning as a small-screen version of Russell Crowe ala L.A. Confidential, McKenzie is all grit as he navigates the grimy Gotham underworld. As the lynchpin for this series going forward, it was essential that Gordon was cast with an actor with enough strength and purpose to convey a future Gary Oldman (the most effective on-screen representation of the character to date) and McKenzie is more than up to the task as he propels the show forward, perched atop of his dutiful shoulders. His Gordon is dour and focused, a fired-up crusader in his own right, and just the hero this city deserves.
The overall look of the pilot is heavily atmospheric and brooding, this is clearly a city in a downward spiral. It is also continuing the current DC tradition of placing its superheroes squarely in the realm of reality as each of the characters here could reside in any major city. If you are a fan of The Dark Knight aesthetic, the Nolan look for the Batman films, you will feel right at home in FOX’s Gotham City. Gothic vistas, sweeping crane shots, rain-soaked streets, all accentuated by a visceral score from Graeme Revell combine to make this one of the most visually stunning pilots in some time.
The attractant for many of you will be the tie-ins to the Batman universe and of that there are plenty. In the pilot alone we run into Selina Kyle’s Catwoman (who seems decidingly older than Bruce Wayne here), Oswald Cobblepot (the soon-to-be Penguin), Poison Ivy as a child, and even despised mobster Carmine Falcone. Mostly their involvements are kept non-descript, while teasing future endeavors and tweaking their backstories to serve this updated universe. One newly created character, and therefore not found in any of the DC comics, is the horribly named Fish Mooney portrayed by Jada Pinkett-Smith. Mooney is a rival mobster with a thirst for blood and power, and thanks to Smith’s spot-on performance, manages to be the most interesting character in a smorgasbord of unique characters. Bravo to Smith for standing out amongst some of the most iconic villains around and creating a character even the faithfully dedicated can be playfully surprised by.
The pilot’s primary connection to the Batman universe, the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents, is also its only weakness. While Alfred and Bruce (Sean Pertwee and newcomer David Mazouz) are both well-cast, the storyline of Gordon committing to finding the real killer is already the one plot this reviewer could not care less about. Whether it is a factor of the Wayne subplot being done to death in the films, or it is simply taking away from the far more interesting characters residing in Gotham City itself; as far as the pilot goes, this is least interesting aspect. As this will obviously be an ongoing crux of the show, the showrunners have their work cut out for them to keep this overused plot point fresh.
Gotham is a dark, moody pilot and did enough to keep us invested in its future. This is NOT overly comic-booky if that is something that concerns you. Bright lights, supervillains, nor superpowers are present in any fashion. You do get a touch of Catwoman, the beginnings of the Penguin, as well as a new mobster in the form of the horribly named but aptly portrayed, Fish Mooney. Gotham feels more along the lines of a dark, serialized drama with a rich history of well-known characters to pull from than either an Arrow or Smallville. This new series invokes memories of Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy in terms of look and feel, just lacking the guy running rampant in a rubber batsuit through the wee hours of the night. This is definitely a series to watch.
Gotham premieres September 22nd on FOX.