Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 [Blu-ray] (2012)

Actors: Peter Weller, Michael Emerson, David Selby, Michael McKean, Ariel Winter
Director: Jay Oliva
Writers: Bob Goodman
Producers: Alan Burnett, Bruce Timm, Sam Register
Format: Animated, Full Screen, NTSC, Widescreen
Language: English
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: September 25, 2012
Run Time: 76 minutes



And here we have it: the DC adaptation so big it took two movies to bring it to us. The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller’s groundbreaking limited series that helped change the face of comics, has arrived as an animated feature. I was a little skeptical of the endeavor after the disappointing Year One, but thankfully, the filmmakers took this as seriously as the fans, and score a solid success in bringing Miller’s vision to the screen.

In the first place, the animation itself ranks among the best yet produced by DC’s line of direct-to-video features. That’s no small feat when it comes to Miller’s artwork, which is quite simple on the surface and might have suckered the filmmakers into cutting corners. Nothing doing. Director Jay Oliva deftly evokes Miller’s signature style without skimping on the grace or elegance required from the material. The images pop right out of the page, but retain the fluidity necessary to work in this new medium.

The same holds true for the script, which places us in an unspecified future ten years after Bruce Wayne has hung up the cape. His former adversaries are all locked up – The Joker lies catatonic in Arkham – but street-level crime has grown exponentially worse. A massive gang known as The Mutants engages in routine atrocities, slaughtering innocent civilians seemingly on a whim. They ultimately send Wayne (voiced by Robocop Peter Weller) back into action, his advancing age bolstered by the fire still burning within his soul.

The story moves slowly at first, but only long enough to put the principles into play. Screenwriter Bob Goodman makes the risky decision to eliminate most of Wayne’s interior monologue – a key part of the comics – in order to avoid easy exposition. It works, though it also loses some choice lines, as well as forcing us to play catch-up a bit. As for threats, this opening chapter features plenty, as the Mutants run wild and Harvey “Two Face” Dent (voiced by Wade Williams) goes rogue after receiving reconstructive surgery. Dent ultimately serves as a sideshow; the gang is the real problem, especially its psychotic leader, and Batman may not have what it takes to overcome them.

Miller filled his pages with a lot of easy button pushing which the film aptly recaptures here. But he also understood how rarely real solutions arise in our own world, and applies the same principle to the DC universe. Batman makes choices that reverberate further than even he can predict, and his fight to restore order often creates more problems than it solves.

On the other hand, it also brings some unexpected allies to his cause . . . notably Carrie Kelly (voiced by Ariel Winter) who, in a fit of hero worship, dons a dime store costume to become the new Robin. Miller has been accused of misogyny in his work, and not without good reason, but Kelly served as a shining example of a strong comic book heroine in an era sorely in need of one. (He didn’t even sexualize her, something today’s comic book writers still can’t figure out.)

She fits perfectly into the story’s messy, compromised reality, where the villains have their own television advocates and each victory leads only to larger and messier battles. The Dark Knight Returns helped pioneer that philosophy (along with Watchmen and a few other works), and The Caped Crusader hasn’t been the same since. Without this comic, there would have been no Christopher Nolan version, and the stories upon which Nolan drew owe a great deal to Miller. The animated movie understands exactly how to deliver this material, evinced by the great respect for the story and the sterling cast chosen with perfection once again by Andrea Romano.

The decision to cut the series in two makes an equal amount of sense. With Superman and the Joker waiting in the wings, there’s more than enough story to cover a second film, and trying to cram them all into one – even one with a longer running time – would blunt their effectiveness. DC plays this one almost ideally, with a slightly slow pace and some excised lines the only shortcoming on display. There’s no better project to keep the DC Animated line adhering to the highest standards . . . and best of all, we still have a second half to look forward to.

THE DISC: The disc quality is reliable and makes a good showcase for the film’s solid animation. Extra features include a look at the impact of the comics, a preview of The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2, and a terrific biopic of Batman creator Bob Kane. The last one represents a real highlight, particularly interviews with Kane during the release of the Tim Burton Batman and some delightfully snarky reminiscences from long-time Kane frenemy Stan Lee. A DVD copy, a digital copy, and the two-part “origin of Two-Face” episodes from Batman: The Animated Series complete the set.Batman: The Animated Series

WORTH IT? Definitely. The solid animation and loyal storyline should keep fans happy while opening the door to newcomers as well.

RECOMMENDATION: DC’s theatrical releases may be facing a bleak future, but titles like this remind us that their direct-to-video line is alive and well.

- Rob Vaux



blog comments powered by Disqus

Latest Headlines

Most Popular

Copyright © 1997-forward James O'Ehley/The Sci-Fi Movie Page (unless where indicated otherwise).