I love Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Originally released as a four-issue mini-series back in 1986 Returns gave us a look at the future of Gotham City, ten years after the last appearance of Batman (Peter Weller). So when DC Animated announced their plans for not one but two animated features I held my breath and hoped for the best. Much like last year’s Batman: Year One, this adaptation of Frank Miller’s work is, at best, a mixed success.
Ten years to the day after the Batman’s last recorded appearance, and one month before the retirement of Commissioner Gordon (David Selby), Bruce Wayne is lured out of retirement by a vicious new gang known as the Mutants who are slowly taking over the city. Part 1 gives us Batman’s return, Two-Face‘s (Wade Williams) short reign of terror, and the always jabbering talking heads who continue to debate whether Gotham is better or worse off with Batman’s return.
Aside from not providing me my favorite panel from the comic, the adaptation also unnecessarily makes several big and small changes to Miller’s original work. Gone are any instances of Batman’s narration, crucial in telling the story from his perspective and providing insight to the man’s decisions such as why the hero would wear a big yellow target in the middle of his chest. The movie’s extended opening, featuring Bruce Wayne wreck a race car, feels incredibly out of place and goes on far too long. And, however small, the change that really bothered me, was the choice to change a key piece of dialogue in Batman’s confrontation with Two-Face that, at least in the original work, told you as much about the man behind the cowl as it did about Two-Face.
Weller’s voice fits the role (even if it’s not quite gritty enough for me), but his lack of experience with voice acting means we’re left with us a rather monotone performance that lacks nuance, and at times, real emotion. The real stand-out, in both acting and animation, is Carrie Kelly (Ariel Winter), the young girl who takes it on herself to assume the role of Robin once the Dark Knight reappears. The movie may struggle with other characters, but it gets Carrie right (even if it, again, robs us of yet another iconic shot).
The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 doesn’t deliver exactly what I wanted, in fact it doesn’t even rank among DC Animated’s best straight-to-video features. However, there’s enough of Miller’s original work, including a pretty damn good depiction of Carrie Kelly, that, for fans, is worth picking up. We’ll have to wait until “Winter 2013” for Part 2 which should feature much more of the Joker and (hopefully) will deliver on Miller’s epic throwdown between the Dark Knight Detective and the Man of Steel.
Both the Blu-ray and DVD include a sneak peak at Part 2 and a short behind-the-scenes featurette for 2009’s Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (which is an odd choice because any mention or appearance of Superman from the first-half of Miller’s work is removed in the film). The Blu-ray also includes access to an Ultraviolet digital copy of the movie, a featurette on Carrie Kelly, the 2008 documentary Batman and Me: A Devotion to Destiny, the Bob Kane Story, a digital comic containing four whole pages of The Dark Knight Returns, and the two-part episode from Batman: The Animated Series which introduced Two-Face.
[Warner Home Video, Blu-ray $24.98 / DVD $19.98]