the american86: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One Review

Posted: September 27, 2012 by pecknt in the american86's Movie Reviews

Director: Jay Oliva
Writer: Bob Goodman
Stars: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter and David Selby
Runtime: 76 minutes

Before Tim Burton graced the comic book scene in 1989, and Christopher Nolan even imagined he would do something his magnitude, Batman was a power house name. Hot on the heels of commercial success, Batman was pushing out quality stories in the liking of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. The Dark Knight Returns being made into a two part, direct to video animation film, the film I will be reviewing. The Dark Knight Returns so happens to be my absolute favorite Batman tale, so I went into this viewing critical, but openly optimistic. It did not disappoint.

For those who are not aware of the events of The Dark Knight Returns (you are missing out), it goes through the tale of Bruce Wayne, now ten years retired from his alter-ego Batman. The reason, often dodged around was due to the fan decision to kill off the second Robin, Jason Todd. A death so tragic that Bruce could not bare to don the cape and cowl. Bruce now lives his days as a big wig, walking streets, looking for danger, but never finding it, cowering behind alcohol with his soon to retire friend, Commissioner Gordon. Of course bad things happen; the Mutants, an evil, murderous gang, is terrorizing Gotham, and making life difficult for everyone. This sends Bruce back into action at the way past his peak age of 55. He even has the assistance of young, innocent, naïve and adventurous Carrie Kelly who takes on the mantle of Robin.

The best part of The Dark Knight Returns might not have been the story, as it is a typical old Cowboy coming back for one last rodeo, but really in the characters. Bruce Wayne, as a character, is fundamentally at his best. He is completely torn between the man he is, Batman, and the man he ought to be, Bruce Wayne. As an audience, you are really split between the idea of Bruce Wayne being the cover, and Batman being the actual man. This is not your child’s Batman. This is not bright neon colored Batman. This is not nipples on the bat suit Batman. This is not shark repellant Batman. This is an adult Batman, very much in the vein of a Clint Eastwood, almost satirical in the form of bonafide action stars. Frank Miller’s Batman holds back no punches. His vision of Batman is brutal, bloody, violent and extremely human. This not only makes the action sequences entertaining, but completely compelling. One of the final action sequences, a battle between Batman and the leader of the Mutant gang, Batman has his arm, and nose broken. However, Batman being a mere mortal is what in fact makes him great. Anyone can be Batman, but it is a choice nobody is willing to make, and the fact that a rich man, with no obligation to be Batman is Batman is simply fascinating. He continues to put himself through harm, injuries and death to stand for what he believes in. The Dark Knight Returns really embodies that, as well as the constant mental and psychological torture the death of your loved ones can play in your life.

When I first heard they were going to make this film, I was excited, at the same time, incredibly reserved and pessimistic. My biggest reason was voice acting, and the fact that they rarely get something so important right. However, when you step into the big shoes of Kevin Conroy, the challenge could be incredibly impossible. I thought of the last few performances, my favorite, beyond Conroy would probably be Bruce Greenwood who did very well in Under the Red Hood. His Batman was confident, elegant, and incredible intelligent. So who did they go after for The Dark Knight Returns? Peter Weller. If you don’t know who he is, feel free to explore films outside of 2000. Weller, most famous for his great cult character, RoboCop, actually does quite well. His Batman was confident, brooding, and every line was engaging. What did it for me was the delivery he had in some of the most iconic scenes. One of my favorite lines, “This is not a mud hole, it’s an operating table, and I’m the surgeon.” was delivered with bone crushing authority, impactful, so much so that I received chills. Weller’s performance was extremely satisfying, but left a lot more to be desired from the rest of the cast. Everyone came out rather flat, no lines were as incredible nor as memorable and that is a real shame. However, this cast was not talent wise as stacked as the previous films like Under the Red Hood, or the original BTAS crew. I would have liked to see more in such a meaningful and celebrated comic.

The animation is obviously one of the more important parts of this film, and it did not disappoint, staying as true to possible to the artwork of the graphic novel. Batman was toned up a bit, a lot less husky if you will, and perhaps more defined. An issue maybe some will have if they are people who want to be as absolute as possible, but I did not have an issue with it. The action scenes were vivid, colorful, intense and extremely entertaining to watch. They really helped the film in the pace wise, despite a rather awkward editing that seemed to inefficiently push plot lines together. Perhaps the only downfall of The Dark Knight Returns was the questionable plot and character development outside of Bruce Wayne/Batman. This might be understandable when you take on a story of this scope and magnitude. However, certain areas, like the Two Face story line, Commissioner Gordon, and even Carrie Kelly’s storyline left a lot to be desired. I hold out hope because this is only half of the story we are seeing, and I would like to think more will be delivered in the second part. I just find it hard to have balance when Superman and the Government will play a significant role, that is if they choose to stay faithful to the comics.

The Dark Knight Returns is my absolute favorite graphic novel. It is huge in scope, epic in meaning, and spot on in entertainment value. The character of Bruce Wayne is looked into from a completely different perspective, one with so much interest that you can’t help but continue to read page after page. The animation film follows the same routine, making one man’s pain, and sacrifice compelling entertainment. I would have liked to see more in the first half of this story which came off rather conservative, but I hold out hope for a dynamic second half which will hopefully resolve the issues I had. I recommend seeing this film, and I DEFINITELY recommend the graphic novel.

Rating: B+

  1. le0pard13 says:

    Just picked this up on BD and hope to screen it this weekend. Thanks for the fine review.

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