Frank Miller’s graphic novel, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, is arguably one of the greatest graphic novels of all time. It shows us a future when Bruce Wayne and all other super heroes have been put out of commission. When Bruce is attacked by some thugs in the infamous crime alley, he decides that it is time to don the cape and cowl again.
We now have a direct-to-video-two part animated adaptation of this story. Each film clocks in around 80 minutes and are rated Pg-13. I am very passionated about this story, so this review will be more of a discussion on the film and its ability to adapt the novel. If you have not read the novel or are completely unfamiliar with it, minor spoilers beware.
DC Animation is not messing around with these adaptations. These are very dark and very faithful adaptations of the source material. Part 1 is very reminiscent of what Warner Bros. did with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 and 2. Part 1 is all set up for the balls to the wall action of part 2. However, Part 1 is still enjoyable on its own. Batman is voiced by the wonderful Peter Weller (RoboCop). Weller is perfect as Batman with his deep and menacing voice. He’s no Kevin Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series), but this is a positive review and that is a conversation for another day. I am very happy to see that DC Animation sought out such a recognizable actor that takes the material so seriously. Weller carries the entire film so well, that he is now cemented as one of the best Bruce Waynes ever in my opinion.
Part 1 is almost a direct adaptation of the first two chapters of the graphic novel. It properly portrays the T.V. broadcasts that are essential to Miller’s style of story telling. The film also adds a little new information about the new Robin, named Carrie. In the film, she has two stoner parents. While this was never present in the novel, its a nice little touch that explains just how distant she feels from everything and everyone. It also feels a little weird hearing the Mutant gang spouting their catch phrases like “Shiv” and “Slice and dice.” These always felt more strong to me when read. The first half of the film deals with Batman’s fight with the now returned Two Face while the second half deals with the Bat having to face off against the Mutant gang and their leader.
Like I said, it’s almost a direct adaptation so there aren’t many surprises here, just the joy of seeing the action in fluid motion. One particularly nice scene in Part 1 is the moment when Batman goes after his first group of thugs in years. During this scene, he leaps off of a car and does the pose that is featured on the cover of the comic book itself. Lightning flashes behind him and his sillohuette displays prominently. It’s the money shot of the film. Part 1 is important becauses it establishes the motives of its three most important characters, Batman, Carrie the new Robin, and Jim Gordon. The film also has a great ending shot of the once comatose Joker smiling for the first time in years now that his old friend is back in action.
Part 2 kicks off with a bang. The action almost never lets up during the entire film. The action scenes in this part are really spectacular. The final fight between Batman and Superman was incredibly well animated. Their fight seemed pretty short and simple in the novel. But here, it’s an all out battle within the city using every part of a building or a car as a weapon. The animation is really amazing in these two films. I love the close up shots on characters like The Joker or Batman. The detail of their animation is astounding. The first part of the film deals with Batman having to fight the Joker and the second half deals with Batman challening Superman. I don’t want to go into too many spoilers but Part 2 packs a lot of action into its short 80 minute time span. There is also a great voice cameo by none other than Conan O’ Brien as a television talk show host.
The Joker is voiced by Michael Emerson (Lost, Person of Interest). I love his voice acting, because he does something that no other Joker actor has ever done before. He completely underplays the character and never breaks out in maniacal laughter. Instead, he plays the Joker very straight and serious yet still deranged and horribly disturbed. This makes the Joker an all out despicable villain because he seems to completely revel in the manic hell that he creates. But, just as Peter Weller is no Kevin Conroy, Michael Emerson is no Mark Hamill. Mark Hamill (Star Wars, Batman: The Animated Series) has the crown as my all time favorite Joker. I would also like to note that this is definitely the most disturbing animated Batman story I have ever watched. The Joker goes on a rampage at one point and begins shooting at people left and right. This scene felt very disturbing and sat uneasy with me for awhile. But, that just goes to show how serious DC was about adapting one of their greatest graphic novels of all time.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1 and 2 are a triumph of animated story telling. They are dark, gothic, and action packed. Batman is expertly voiced by Peter Weller and drawn extremely well. Robin and Jim Gordon are fully fledged characters too. The wonderful villains of Two Face, The Mutants, and The Joker are more than you could ask for. The real treat is Superman’s portrayal in Part 2. Superman’s presence turns Part 2 into a truly complex and powerful animated Batman tale. I highly recommend that any fans of the book or new comers should check out these two films. You have to buy them in order to watch them; they are extremely cheap and around $12 each. They would make a great double feature with one another now that both parts are out.
REWATCHABILITY: If viewed as a double feature, the run time would come out to 2 hours and 30 minutes. So, once a year. If viewed only as its parts, than about twice a year. They are so short when taken in as just a single part. This is meant to be watched in one sitting. This highly engrossing film is almost better than Chris Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Batman: The Dark Knight Rises Part 1 and Part 2 (2012-13) Directed by Jay Oliva