I’ll be upfront, I’m not the biggest fan of The Dark Knight Returns. I know it is held as one of, if not the, best Batman graphic novels of all-time,but it never really connected with me. I couldn’t pinpoint an exact reason why that is, but not necessarily needed for this review.
Over the past half decade or so, Bruce Timm and company have done an amazing job of creating these DTVs. Ranging from completely original stories to adaptions of popular story, so it was no surprise that The Dark Knight Returns was one of the most highly requested films for the group. With much joy, and a little reservation, we finally get The Dark Knight Returns. A story so dense that it becomes the first film adaption to warrant two separate DTVs!
The Dark Knight Returns retains the style of the comic book fairly well. Which is both a blessing and a curse. The style loans itself to animation well as we’ve seen in both Batman: The Animated Series and Batman: The Brave and the Bold, but it’s also not a style I’m personally too keen on. Well that is a bit strong, I really don’t care for the overly bulky Batman design that this book used. It’s just not a style that makes sense, and not many characters actually retain it. It really stands out when Batman is interacting with the new Robin in this film. His hands are also as large as her body!
My dislike for the art-style aside, the film does animate and look fantastic in motion. Some of the more memorable moments, and especially some of the fights, look extremely wonderful when animated. Some of the shots for shots from the comics feel a little forced in motion, but it was cool to see that they included all of the iconic moments (from the first half at least) while building around them.
I’d be honest, I haven’t read the actual source material in nearly a decade so when I tell you it follows the story pretty straight-forward, I’m only going off of what I remembered. I’m sure there was stuff cut, but I couldn’t point you to exact moments or pieces of dialog off the top of my head. I have read enough Frank Miller stuff to know that almost all of Batman’s internal monologues had been cut from the film. Though, as a rule, a character speaking in their head isn’t as easy to convey in animation. It’s really a comic book thing.
The writing on the other hand is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of it, I will chalk up to the source material. Frank Miller is a lot of things, but the most elegant writer he is not. A lot of the dialogue comes off as a bit hokey or stilted not only in their delivery, but just how they are phrased. Granted, I’m sure some of it is a product of the era. Slang from the 80s probably hasn’t carried over well nearly 30 years later!
On the bright side, the voice cast they got for this film is top-notch. While I have already expressed my love for Kevin Conroy as Batman, Peter Weller (Robocop!) as an elderly Batman/Bruce Wayne though knocks the performance out of the park. He just works so well for me, and he has a voice that is kind of serious and gravely without coming off as a bit of parody (still love you Bale!). And it’s not just Weller who shines in this cast, David Selby as Commissioner Gordon and Michael Jackson as Bruce’s loyal butler, Alfred, are perhaps have some of the best parts in the movie for me. Alfred is his usual dry self, but he does it with such charm that it is endearing. Selby brings a nice warmth, but toughness to Gordon, who is now up there in age, but dealing with a more reformed Gotham.
The rest of the cast does a decent job, but aren’t giving as much screen-time to work with aside from Ariel Winter as Carrie Kelley, the new Robin. I think she does a great job in the role, but there’s nothing in this film that makes me believe that she should have been Robin. The whole idea of Robin has always been a bit of a stretch since Batman deals with really bad people. When Carrie first dons the costume, which is just a Halloween costume, we see her come off a bit clumsy and reckless to the point where you fear she may get herself killed. The fact that she is able to take down the Mutant Leader, or at least distract him long enough for Batman to do his thing, seems a bit contrived from what little we had seen of her up until that point. Yes, much like any Robin, she eventually does get training from Batman, but she hadn’t earned much up to that point!
Which brings us to the final point, the actual story in the movie. If you’ve read the comic, you pretty much know all the beats. We’re about a decade out from the last sighting of the Batman. Gotham is in relative peace aside from a new gang calling themselves The Mutants, and Bruce is dealing with his life beyond the cape. Slowly, the pieces of the peace start to fall aside as the return of an old foe, Two-Face, triggers some events that leads to the return of Batman. Batman does battle with the mutants, which eventually escalates to an all-out assault planned on Gotham City.
That’s pretty much the extent of the plot. A lot of the political undertones from the source material have been removed from the adaption, though you still get discussion on whether or not Batman is better or worst for society. Ultimately, it is an odd talking point since a lot of this is focused on Batman and you see how much good he does for Gotham, but it also does mean he tends to bring out the wack jobs…
And that’s where The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 leaves off, it is a very smartly done cliffhanger. You are given a really solid movie from start to finish. It has a complete plot, but it dangles a very juicy carrot in front of you so that you will check out Part 2 when it drops next year. Sadly, I wish they would have been able to time the two releases closer together!
King- This isn’t the best DC DTV, and I’m not even sure it’s the best adaption, but it is a remarkably strong film from top to bottom. It features a great cast, amazing animation and a pretty solid story. If you’re a fan of the source material, or even if you aren’t, there’s a lot to enjoy here.