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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1

And stumbles.

Rod Lott September 26th, 2012

In 1986, writer and artist Frank Miller changed the comic-book industry forever with the four-issue series that became the graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns. Its sour disposition and gritty attitude was arguably the darkest depiction of Batman the world had seen, paving the way for the caped crusader’s move to big-screen blockbuster three years later.


Christopher Nolan’s recent trilogy, concluding with this summer’s The Dark Knight Rises, owes more to Miller than Tim Burton’s two versions did, and on Rises’ boot heels comes an animated adaptation of Miller's source material in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, directed by Jay Oliva (Green Lantern: Emerald Knights).

At an hour and a quarter, this is just the first half of a larger work, yet I wonder whether it was needed at all. Essentially, we’ve already gotten it — and in live-action, no less! — with Nolan’s treatments. And since this isn’t created for kids, why did they bother? Other than purely commercial reasons, of course.

The story finds Bruce Wayne (voiced by Peter Weller, ol’ RoboCop) nearing old age and having given up the cape and cowl after the death of Robin. Once though dead himself, Batman bursts back onto the scene when Gotham City is overrun by a gang of hoodlums known as Mutants, just as Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face (Tulsa native Wade Williams, TV’s Prison Break), reappears. He even gets a new Robin in the form of — gasp! — a teenage girl named Carrie (Ariel Winter, TV’s Modern Family).

From the opening race of the Batmobile, action scenes are well-rendered, and Weller seems right at home in the role. Despite reliable support from the likes of Michael McKean and Paget Brewster, the lesser-known voice talents sound too ... well, cartoony, which is directly at odds with what Miller intended. His satire, perhaps most evident in the TV anchor sequences that thread through his original work, comes off as broad jokes delivered with an elbow to your ribs.

And, really, how many times do we need to flashback to the murder Wayne’s parents? Returns, Part 1 delivers the umpteenth.

On the plus side, the animation is fluid overall and given an outstanding score by Christopher Drake (Batman: Year One) that bears distinct touches of Tangerine Dream. But those are not reason enough to compensate for a watered-down version of a groundbreaking story.

Returns, Part 1 is available on both DVD and Blu-ray, but only the latter boasts significant extras, including a 40-minute documentary on Batman (co-)creator Bob Kane, a pair of Two-Face episodes from the early 1990s’ Batman: The Animated Series, and a peek at The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2, which is due next spring. As big a Batman fan as I am, I can’t say I wish to follow this telling to its conclusion. —Rod Lott

Hey! Read This:
Batman: Year One Blu-ray review  
The Dark Knight Rises film review    
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights Blu-ray review    
Modern Family: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray review    

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09.27.2012 at 06:07 Reply

I saw this and really enjoyed it. I appreciated seeing a more straight forward adaptation of the Frank Miller graphic novel that wasn't filtered through Nolan's prism.

Also loved the quality and style of the animation, which in my opinion transcends the art of the book. But that's my personal thing, I never much liked the art in DKR.

Most of the voice acting was very good, except some of the characters had higher registers than I would have prefered, like Comissioner Gordon.

The biggest problem definately is that it's divided into two parts. Blu-Rays can be expensive these days, especially if you're only getting the first half of a complete story. I would wait a few months for Part 2 and just rent them together.