FILM: Batman - The Dark Knight Returns Part I

Certificate: 15
Running Time: 76 mins
Director: Jay Oliva
Starring: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, Wade Williams, David Selby
Genre: Superhero, Comic Book, Animation

It’s been a decade since the criminals of Gotham have had to content with The Dark Knight and in that time a new breed of villainy has come to power.  Known as “The Mutants” their numbers are large, the goals are great, and their methods are bloody.  Racing cars for sport, Bruce Wayne (Weller) chases that rush he once knew nightly only to lose that high when it’s within reach.  At night, he finds himself haunted by “the bat” and the mistakes made that led to the death of someone particularly close to him.
Lightning might not strike twice... but I do!
Brushing off the suit for one last “fuck yeah”, the Bat-Man once again creates a world that allows for individuals like Harvey “Two Face” Dent and Joker to exist.  With Dent experiencing the most extreme body dis-morphia you’re ever likely to see, Batman must stop his old foe and take on the leader of The Mutants who has sworn Death to Commissioner Gordon!

There are literally no words that can clearly articulate how excited I was when I first read The Dark Knight Returns.  Like his run on Daredevil, and Wolverine, Frank Miller came to Batman with a clear idea of what the character should be.  You can praise someone to the point where people accuse you of “Fanboying” but Miller’s work on Batman is the most important piece of work outside of the Golden Era.  Look at the DC Direct Universe, the Tim Burton, and Christopher Nolan eras… hell even look at the forthcoming Zack Snyder Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice movie.  It’s thirty years since Miller handed in TDKR and since then nobody has had a clearer idea of who lives inside the cowl.  There has been very little revisionist work to the character (outside of Batman Beyond as Warner targeted the 6-11 yr old market) because Miller’s vision of The Bat was 20-20.
In this car, ALL restaurants are drive-thru
You might look at DC Direct’s decision to do two separate movies, one at 76 minutes and another a 86 minutes, and think why not one two hour flick?  This is not some Hobbit bullshit that has the Studio just want more, and more money… though I’m sure it didn’t hurt.  Books 1 and 2 of the original run had a completely different feel to the rest.  They are two completely different stories, they just happen to feed into one-another.  For this to be one movie would be a disservice to the material.  Batman v Dent & The Mutants is completely different to part II’s Batman v The Joker & Superman.
Will live action get its first Non-Dick Grayson Robin?
The animation here is perfect.  There are no other words.  It channels the best elements of Miller’s collaboration with Klaus Jansen while simultaneously stays loyal to the artistic style that was created by Bruce Timm for Batman: The Animated Series, and the rest of the DCU.  The beats on screen play perfectly to the beats that occur in your head when you’re reading the book.  There is so much love for the source material that it gets emotional when you see Batman beaten and needing to pick himself up and regroup.

I initially liked the idea of Peter Weller (Robocop, 24, Sons of Anarchy) voicing Bruce Wayne.  I felt his age and experience could really draw out a different avenue of the character but there’s something missing from it.  There are moments when Batman should be shouting that seem a little lackluster.  You could almost see Weller sitting there in front of the microphone such was the lack of energy in the vocal performance.  I’m not saying Kevin Conroy is the only person who can voice the Dark Knight but why not Conroy for this?  Why not Gene Hackman?  Could you imagine how amazing that would be with a character actor like Hackman?  It’s a shame, but in fairness it’s the only shame in the thing.  Ariel Winter (Modern Family) climbs into the frame of Carrie Kelly perfectly.  She is Robin.  To the point where if they ever made a live action The Dark Knight Returns you’d feel bad that she didn’t get the roll because she sounded so perfect in the part.
"You haven't beaten me, I just can't look at your nipples. Those puppies
need to be on Embarrassing Bodies."

The set-pieces are drawn beautifully.  From that first Batmobile/Tank versus The Mutants to the Dark Knight taking on their leader hand-to-hand in the mud, it leaves you breathless with anticipation.  Cowls off to DC Direct.  Not only have they been putting out really brilliant original work in the animated universe for years but they’re not afraid to go to the Bibles and give them to you as they were spoken.  2016 will see DC Direct hand us over The Killing Joke with Mark Hamill back as The Joker.  With the creative muscle from TDKR hard at work it’s difficult to see how it won’t be anything other than brilliant.  If Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is anywhere near the quality we’re used to from DC’s straight to home viewing wing, then 2016 is going to be The Year of the Bat.


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