Thursday, 13 September 2012

The Dark Knight Returns Part 1

While The Caped Crusader has now taken a deserved leave of absence from the big screen for a while, his legacy still lives on in direct-to-DVD animated adaptations of his comic adventures. There are perhaps fewer comic books more significant and contributed more to the cultural impact on how we view a character today than the works of Frank Miller in the 1980s on Batman. One, which was adapted last year, is the now iconic origin story, Batman: Year One and the other is Miller's dark and caustic swansong for the character, The Dark Knight Returns.

The story, for those who haven't read the original graphic novel, takes place ten years after the last appearance of Batman, who has since retired and grown old and weary as his alter ego Bruce Wayne. He's brought out of retirement upon realisation that Gotham has spiralled out of control and being overrun by a new criminal organisation who call themselves The Mutants. A lot of moments in the film can very much be considered as the groundwork for what Christopher Nolan used in the final part of his cinematic trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises.

Like many of these DC Animated Movies Warner Bros has churned out over the years, this one has stayed meticulously close to the original source material, almost to a fault this time around. Truthfully Miller's take on the character has been a little too extreme for my tastes, he gets away with it in Year One because it's a logical starting point, but his Batman is unique to Miller's own point of view, something which even DC Comics have sort of acknowledged over the years but tried to stay away from - his questionable use of firearms and extreme violence in the story being a particular controversial point with devoted fans. With TDKRs it's a story very much of its time both politically and even aesthetically. There's a sense of anarchy which The Mutants invoke along with their appearance which just screams the 1980s more than the 21st Century, post 9/11 world Batman has found himself in and been immortalised on the big screen by Christopher Nolan.

All that aside however, the voice acting was top notch. Peter Weller's cold, harsh tones really suited this older, battle bruised Batman and was unsurprisingly the stand out performer of the cast. In the quieter, more personal moments, which have always been the highlights of the original tale for myself, Weller is just simply fantastic at evoking emotion out of Miller's stone cold take on the character. Whilst David Selby take on Commissioner Gordon reminded me of Bob Hastings' turn as the character in the original Batman Animated Series of the 1990s. It was a shame though that we weren't given more than just a taster of Michael Emerson's Joker, whom will undoubtedly feature heavily in Part 2 out early next year.

The animation was terrific, and replicate the key moments of the original story to such potent effect. It's probably felt the most cinematic of DC's animated output since their take on Darwyn Cooke's Justice League: The New Frontier way back in 2008, but probably falls short of being as enjoyable as Batman: Under The Red Hood. There's also a couple of pleasant nods to Alan Moore in the background of key scenes, look out for the cover art from Swamp Thing and V For Vendetta buried in a scene which features Jim Gordon in a convenience store. 

Final Thoughts
As good as The Dark Knight Returns (Part 1) is, it also suffers the same problem as all these cash ins to split potentially one reasonably long film into two. What we have here is essentially just half of potentially a good animated film. We won't know how good until the sequel pops up in Spring 2013. Peter Weller's croaky, weary voice lends itself majestically to an older, embittered Bruce Wayne/Batman. The accuracy should delight fans of the original source material, but not likely to turn heads of fans who came in through Nolan's film universe, or even the 90s animated series. Worth your time, but then so is the original book...


The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 is available on DVD/Blu-Ray and digital download from September 25th 2012.

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