THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, PART I BLU-RAY
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 [Blu-ray] (2012)
Weller, Michael Emerson, David Selby, Michael McKean, Ariel Winter
Director: Jay Oliva
Writers: Bob Goodman
Producers: Alan Burnett, Bruce Timm, Sam Register
Format: Animated, Full Screen, NTSC, Widescreen
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: September 25, 2012
Run Time: 76 minutes
And here we have it: the DC adaptation so big it took two movies to bring it
The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller’s groundbreaking limited series
that helped change the face of comics, has arrived as an animated feature. I
was a little skeptical of the endeavor after the disappointing
Year One, but thankfully, the
filmmakers took this as seriously as the fans, and score a solid success in
bringing Miller’s vision to the screen.
In the first place, the animation itself ranks among the best yet produced
by DC’s line of direct-to-video features. That’s no small feat when it comes
to Miller’s artwork, which is quite simple on the surface and might have
suckered the filmmakers into cutting corners. Nothing doing. Director Jay
Oliva deftly evokes Miller’s signature style without skimping on the grace
or elegance required from the material. The images pop right out of the
page, but retain the fluidity necessary to work in this new medium.
The same holds true for the script, which places us in an unspecified future
ten years after Bruce Wayne has hung up the cape. His former adversaries are
all locked up – The Joker lies catatonic in Arkham – but street-level crime
has grown exponentially worse. A massive gang known as The Mutants engages
in routine atrocities, slaughtering innocent civilians seemingly on a whim.
They ultimately send Wayne (voiced by Robocop
Peter Weller) back into action, his advancing age bolstered by the fire
still burning within his soul.
The story moves slowly at first, but only long enough to put the principles
into play. Screenwriter Bob Goodman makes the risky decision to eliminate
most of Wayne’s interior monologue – a key part of the comics – in order to
avoid easy exposition. It works, though it also loses some choice lines, as
well as forcing us to play catch-up a bit. As for threats, this opening
chapter features plenty, as the Mutants run wild and Harvey “Two Face” Dent
(voiced by Wade Williams) goes rogue after receiving reconstructive surgery.
Dent ultimately serves as a sideshow; the gang is the real problem,
especially its psychotic leader, and Batman may not have what it takes to
Miller filled his pages with a lot of easy button pushing which the film
aptly recaptures here. But he also understood how rarely real solutions
arise in our own world, and applies the same principle to the DC universe.
Batman makes choices that reverberate further than even he can predict, and
his fight to restore order often creates more problems than it solves.
On the other hand, it also brings some unexpected allies to his cause . . .
notably Carrie Kelly (voiced by Ariel Winter) who, in a fit of hero worship,
dons a dime store costume to become the new Robin. Miller has been accused
of misogyny in his work, and not without good reason, but Kelly served as a
shining example of a strong comic book heroine in an era sorely in need of
one. (He didn’t even sexualize her, something today’s comic book writers
still can’t figure out.)
She fits perfectly into the story’s messy, compromised reality, where the
villains have their own television advocates and each victory leads only to
larger and messier battles. The Dark Knight Returns helped pioneer
that philosophy (along with Watchmen and a few other works), and The Caped
Crusader hasn’t been the same since. Without this comic, there would have
been no Christopher Nolan version, and the stories upon which Nolan drew owe
a great deal to Miller. The animated movie understands exactly how to
deliver this material, evinced by the great respect for the story and the
sterling cast chosen with perfection once again by Andrea Romano.
The decision to cut the series in two makes an equal amount of sense. With
Superman and the Joker waiting in the wings, there’s more than enough story
to cover a second film, and trying to cram them all into one – even one with
a longer running time – would blunt their effectiveness. DC plays this one
almost ideally, with a slightly slow pace and some excised lines the only
shortcoming on display. There’s no better project to keep the DC Animated
line adhering to the highest standards . . . and best of all, we still have
a second half to look forward to.
THE DISC: The disc quality is reliable and makes a good showcase for
the film’s solid animation. Extra features include a look at the impact of
the comics, a preview of The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2, and a
terrific biopic of Batman creator Bob Kane. The last one represents a real
highlight, particularly interviews with Kane during the release of the Tim
Burton Batman and some delightfully snarky
reminiscences from long-time Kane frenemy Stan Lee. A DVD copy, a digital
copy, and the two-part “origin of Two-Face” episodes from Batman: The
Animated Series complete the set.Batman:
The Animated Series
WORTH IT? Definitely.
The solid animation and loyal storyline should keep fans happy while opening
the door to newcomers as well.
theatrical releases may be facing a bleak future, but titles like this
remind us that their direct-to-video line is alive and well.
- Rob Vaux