It may be hard to believe, but Batman wasn’t always a dark and gritty caped crusader who punch twice before asking questions. The current iteration of the dark knight is one that was created in the late eighties, in one influential mini-series from Frank Miller and inker Klaus Johnson. That formed the template for the next two and a half decades of Batmannery, and finally, that dark and sinister tale has been adapted, for the small screen at least.
The Dark Knight Returns has long been considered one of the holy grails of comics, a piece of work that shaped a company and could never be faithfully realized on screen, as it could take away part of the dramatic impact that made the print tale so popular and revered.
Adapting such an iconic tale could have ended in either tragedy or triumph. And in TDKR Part One, the dark knight certainly rises to the occasion. By breaking the four issue comic book series into two parts, the opportunity to tell the tale of a middle-aged Batman giving in to his inner demon to come out of retirement, is presented with uncanny faithfulness to the source material.
In fact, it’s so damn faithful, it really is an occasion where the idea of the printed page coming to life is perfectly realized here. From art direction, to dialogue through to some brutal moments that shaped the Batman for a new generation, it’s all there. Well, almost at least.
No matter how dedicated a project is, something has to be lost along the way, and that comes in the form of an internal monologue from the Batman himself, as he takes the time to chastise his weakened body, or reflect on how he could choose one of several ways to kill a criminal, or to disarm him with the maximum amount of pain possible.
But it works. It keeps the action going, makes it fluid and kinetic, because including those inner voices could have given the film a taste of Limburger level cheese. And throughout it all, former Robocop Peter Weller shines with his gruff take on the Gotham vigilante.
His is a voice that resonates with experience and loss, yet authority and determination, sounding similar in tone and bass to actor Michael Ironside, but unique enough to not be confused.
Likewise with the rest of the cast, the voice acting is spot on, from Ariel Winter as the latest Robin, Carrie Kelly, through to Gary Williams as the wild and dangerous mutant leader, everything works here. Well, except for David Shelby as Commissioner Gordon, but that’s a miss with some and a hit with others.
But as an animated film, there’s an outstanding amount of life brought to the story within it. It’s dark, heavy and gloomy, and no punches are pulled whatsoever. From Batman reigning down mayhem on the Mutant gang, through to his first disastrous encounter with their leader, to Harvey Dent showing his true face, it’s all there.
Heck, even some of the cheesy dialogue is retained, but it’s done so with reverence and a serious attitude, amidst a beautifully gritty realisation of Frank Miller’s hard-hitting art. Unlike the previous animated adaptation of his Batman: Year One tale, this is one story that was made for the small screen, and doesn’t feel tame or underwhelming in comparison.
Special mention has to go to the soundtrack here. In regards to setting up scenes and giving them that certain level of emotional investment, the soundtrack is superb, a collection of moody trumpets and theatrical cues, without sounding like the signature silliness usually found in the Danny Elfman efforts.
It’s a film for the fans, and newcomers might find themselves pleasantly surprised at how mature something that looks like a Saturday morning cartoon can be. If there’s one major criticism that I have so far, it’s that I have to wait a couple of months now to see the second part of the Frank Miller tale play out.
But at least I’ll have this masterpiece, a crisp and clean take on the final Batman adventure. The Dark Knight Returns has long been considered to be one of the greatest caped crusader stories ever told.
Now, it’s one of the best animated films that DC has ever released.
Last Updated: October 10, 2012