Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 – Review
• DC Universe, Animated Original Movie
• Release Date: September 25, 2012
For many of us, there are times when we wish we could watch our favorite movies or read a book for the first time all over again. One of the joys of catching up on graphic novels and DVD/Blu-Rays is the excitement of experiencing something new. A lot of pop culture art/entertainment that appear to be new are actually recycled or reinterpreted from eras gone by. But there’s something about retelling the stories of enduring superheroes like Batman that holds meaning for each new generation. The following is a straightforward and spoiler free review of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1:
This animated movie is based on the 1986 comic book series by Frank Miller. Although a 1987 review of the collected series criticized its convoluted story, many fans to this day regard it as one of the best Batman graphic novels. Some of Miller’s concepts have greatly influenced subsequent Batman comics as well as Christopher’s Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Story, Voice Acting & Art
Bruce Wayne has been in retirement for the last ten years, ever since the death of his protegé Jason Todd – the second Robin. In Batman’s absence, crime and street gangs have flourished in Gotham City. As the title indicates, the Dark Knight returns. But can an aging superhero defeat a new formidable threat to Gotham City and restore Batman as a symbol of fear and justice?
Actor Peter Weller (Robocop, Naked Lunch) does a good job of portraying Batman with a mature, naturally gruff voice. It’s not overly raspy like Christian Bale’s Batman, which is a good thing. Weller’s voice may take a little time getting used to because most people are familiar with Kevin Conroy’s voice as featured in Batman: Arkham City video game, Batman: The Animated Series and many other DC Universe Animated Movies.
Having not read Frank Miller’s comic, I’m unable to compare how his art style has been reflected in this movie. However, the animation is crisp and more than serviceable for a direct-to-DVD/Blu-Ray release. The look of Gotham City is grimy and gritty which is exactly in line with the tone of the story.
This is a different take on Bruce Wayne/Batman than I’m used to. Bruce is 55 years old and doesn’t have the agility and strength of his youth. Even though he is physically imposing (and bulkier than other versions of Batman), Alfred is fearful that Bruce might get himself killed. The first scene of the movie is underwhelming; in fact I wasn’t even sure it was Bruce because he looked like a senior citizen. But after the opening scene, the story is engaging until the very end.
The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 is not a detective story where Batman looks for clues to unravel a mystery. This is the Batman that lurks in the shadows, patiently waiting to ambush armed criminals whom are afraid of what goes bump in the night. The story intentionally goes through quiet lulls which are punctuated with extended scenes of non-stop action. There is a lot of focus on fight choreography, where if you are familiar with a little bit of mixed-martial arts you will recognize a variety of brutal submissions.
The use of news reports and interview montages which convey the thematic elements have been cited as being out-of-place according to some reviews. Although the newscasts may have been effectively used in the original graphic novel, I do agree these brief segments didn’t quite work in the movie.
Previewing Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2
The re-emergence of Batman awakens a catatonic villain in Arkham Asylum. I’m pleasantly surprised by the casting of Michael Emerson. Emerson is known for playing reserved, cerebral characters such as Ben Linus from Lost and Harold Finch from Person of Interest. Based on the preview of Part 2, I’m excited to see what Emerson will bring to this role which is a contrast from his TV characters. Emerson’s character in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2, which is set to be released on January 29, 2013, promises to be extremely maniacal and homicidal!
The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 can be viewed as a separate entity: a story with a beginning, middle and satisfying ending. It’s a good movie which I would recommend to any comic book fan but it falls short of excellence. However, to make a definitive judgement on Part 1 might be premature without watching the second part of the story which it nicely sets up.
If you are thinking about purchasing this movie as a gift, keep in mind that it is rated PG-13 for animated violence. Also, there aren’t many bonus features but the movie itself is worth the purchase.
Is Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns worth reading or is it overrated? Which Batman graphic novels or animated movies would you highly recommend?