The latest in DC Comics’ straight-to-DVD animated movies is Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 1. The movie is an adaptation of the first half of the 1986 limited series Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, written by Sin City scribe Frank Miller. If you’ve never heard of The Dark Knight Returns let me assure you, it is the reason Batman has been cool for the last 25 years. Along with Alan Moore’s Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns is responsible for the more serious and adult tone we see in today’s men in tights. So does the animated adaptation stack up to the original? Let us see.
The story begins with a middle-aged Bruce Wayne who is ten-years-retired from being Batman and now spends his days thrill seeking and drinking. The city of Gotham (and the country) is in a state of unrest, with gang violence soaring in a media-polluted culture. Commissioner Gordon is approaching retirement, Two-Face has become rehabilitated and the Joker has vanished just as Batman has. Bruce can’t avoid his destiny forever though, and is once again called back to his cape and cowl. This isn’t a slender and young Batman, but rather an old brute in a batsuit with the immense strength to punch through walls. Batman takes on the new gang in town: The Mutants, along with the help of a new Robin named Carrie Kelley. The media and the general public debate on Batman’s return and what it means for their city, but as the old man says: “The war goes on.”
Warner Bros.’ DC Universe Animated Original Movies have consisted of movies that take inspiration from a handful of comic book stories (Wonder Woman and Green Lantern: First Flight), as well as those that are direct interpretations of the comic books of the same name (All-Star Superman and Batman: Under the Red Hood.) Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 falls into the latter category. Though it is true to the script, I found the animation of this adaptation (and DCU Animated Films in general) to be missing something. The animators did a great job and definitely took some inspiration from the material, but the style is more homogenized cartoon than the muted dark pallet that colored Miller’s gritty and abnormal-looking characters. Voicing The Dark Knight this time out is Peter Weller (RoboCop), who plays the sardonic nature of an old Bruce Wayne well, but lacks what I can only describe as the “Clint Eastwoodyness” of the character. Ariel Winter (Modern Family) sticks the landing as Carrie Kelley, mainly because she is a teenage girl in real life, so yay method acting. Though he wasn’t featured heavily, I enjoyed David Selby’s version of Jim Gordon, but then again, Jim Gordon can’t not be awesome (mostly.)
Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 is a faithful adaptation and a good story and it was cool to see the middle-aged hulk Batman kick ass, as well as Miller’s cynical commentary on the media. In spite of this I found myself asking the question “why?” Why do we need a panel-by-panel translation of a classic story? Making live-action interpretations of super-heroes can still be impressive, but near exact copies that render good comics into TV screen flip books seems unnecessary. I’m all about reaching new audiences though, so if you happen to be someone who refuses to pick up a comic book then sure, watch the movie instead. Watch it for no other reason than that in Part 2 you’ll see Superman and The Joker, voiced by Benjamin Linus himself, Michael Emerson.
Final Grade: ★★★½ 3.5/5 Stars
Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 is in stores now