In the bleak and ominous future of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1
, it’s been a decade since Bruce Wayne hung up his cape, following most of the other superheroes who had been forced into retirement. Facing the downside of middle age, a restless Bruce Wayne pacifies his frustration with racecars and liquor -- but the Bat still beckons as he watches his city fall prey to gangs of barbaric criminals known as The Mutants.
The return of Harvey Dent as Two-Face finally prompts Wayne to once again don The Dark Knight’s cowl, and his dramatic capture of the villain returns him to crime-fighting -- simultaneously making him the target of law enforcement and the new hope for a desolate Gotham City. Particularly inspired is a teenage girl named Carrie, who adopts the persona of Robin and ultimately saves Batman from a brutal attack by the Mutant leader. Armed with a new sidekick and re-energized with a definitive purpose, The Dark Knight returns to protect Gotham from foes new...and old.
BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, Part 1 is exactly what I expected it to be…
A (pretty much) straight up animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel.
Back when I reviewed the BATMAN: YEAR ONE animated film, one of my (petty) complaints was that it was adapted too closely to the source material. That doesn’t mean that it wasn't good -- I quite liked it. I would prefer “loose adaptations” of classic comic book stories (like we saw in BATMAN: UNDER THE RED HOOD for example) or even original animated films based on DC characters.
Like YEAR ONE, BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, Part 1 is a film that’s tremendously loyal to the graphic novel on which it’s based in both story and aesthetic. However, while YEAR ONE included just about everything found in the comic book, RETURNS, Part 1 does exclude many things that were found in Miller’s graphic novel. I’m not sure if these things were cut due to time restraints or, perhaps, some of the original stuff simply didn’t fit when it came to turning it into a film. Regardless of the reason, the film didn’t suffer from any of the omissions -- though I’m quite sure that there will be fans crying “blasphemy!” anyway. Whatever.
As far as the plot goes, RETURNS’ story has been split into two parts -- and this was a GOOD thing. Trust me, it would’ve been a mess if they had tried to cram the entire storyline of the graphic novel into one 70-ish minute film. In Part 1, the story consists of Bruce Wayne donning the cape and cowl as The Batman once again after a 10 year “retirement.” The Dark Knight returns (pun intended) due to the fact that Gotham is under siege by criminals -- in particular an organized, powerful and terrifying gang known as “The Mutants.”
Don’t worry, the “Harvey Dent/Two Face” returns subplot is included and intact in Part 1 as well.
When it comes to the voice work, I thought Andrea Romano did a fine job of casting the film. Peter Weller as the middle age Bruce Wayne/Batman was an inspired choice and his work fits the film perfectly. When either Bruce or The Batman speaks, you can tell that there’s lots of “mileage on the Batmobile,” so to speak. I know many folks bitch and complain whenever Kevin Conroy isn’t cast in one of these films (even when he‘s not suitable for the role like in YEAR ONE), but I actually enjoy the fact that they do cast others as Batman. It’s both fun and interesting to see -- well actually, hear -- someone’s take on the character.
Besides Weller, Ariel Winter, Gary Anthony Williams, David Selby, Wade Williams and Michael Jackson (No, not THAT MJ!) all turn in topnotch performances as Carrie Kelly/Robin, The Mutant Leader, Commissioner Gordon, Harvey Dent and Alfred respectively.
For me, there were two parts of the film that I particularly liked…
1) Bruce’s “first” outing as Batman -- after his 10 year “retirement,” of course.
2) The final confrontation between The Batman and the Mutant Leader.
The story (even if you know what’s going to happen) and action (though there’s a bit of stiff/clunky animation in some parts) are excellent. And of course, then end isn’t really the END as Part 2 ends with a kinda-sorta cliffhanger which provides us a setup for Part 2 -- which is coming in early 2013.
All in all, I quite enjoyed BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, Part 1 -- even though I knew the story (by heart) before seeing it. Nevertheless, it was still cool seeing the comic book brought to (animated) life. This is definitely a must-have that all Batman fans add to their collection as I think it’s one of the better animated Batman films to date. And to those whose first RETURNS experience is this film, you definitely need to get the graphic novel and read it. - Bill "Jett" Ramey