Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – Part 1

I review the first part of the animated DC Comics Movie based off Frank Miller’s legendary BatmanThe Dark Knight Returns graphic novel, sharing the same title, featuring Peter Weller as the voice of Batman.

Batman the Dark Knight Returns P1

I mentioned that after watching Justice League: Paradox, my next DC Animated Movie that I’d be watching would be Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Unlike Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, it’s a movie split into two parts, designed as a direct movie adaption of the Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns – bringing Batman’s final battle to life on the animated screen. I haven’t yet seen Part Two, but will do my best to watch it by the end of the week, because based on what I have seen here – I will certainly watch Part 2, as The Dark Knight Returns P1 whilst not being as great as The Flashpoint Paradox, certainly provides an excellent job at telling the opening half of Frank Miller’s classic, and really weaves an epic narrative that when it was originally released, was partly responsible for the grimdark portrayal of Batman that we know and love today.

Having read Batman: The Dark Knight Returns – borrowed from the library – I’m actually better placed to compare both versions when I haven’t read the graphic novel for The Flashpoint Paradox. Whilst it’s been a while since I’ve read it, from what I recall, the graphic novel remains very faithful to the comic book adaption, which should please comic book purists. It’s also important to note when writing this review that every single Batman film that we’ve seen so far hasn’t tried to directly adapt a storyline from the comics. Whilst they may have drawn on series heavily for inspiration – as well as including plenty of Easter Eggs for fans (John Blake’s real name for example in The Dark Knight Rises) – there’s never been any direct adaption. This is what The Dark Knight Returns is, though. It’s a direct adaption of the graphic novel, made into two parts because one movie couldn’t simply contain enough awesome.

It’s of great credit to the filmmakers that they’ve chosen to stick as close to the source material as possible, weaving an engaging narrative with some improved style. Whilst this isn’t as crisp as The Flashpoint Paradox The Dark Knight Returns is a wholly different style. It’s darker, grittier in animation – perhaps not quite in violence, but that doesn’t mean that the movie is as clean when it comes to that subject – there’s plenty of gore within its running time. The design and colours also look better than the graphic novel – because whilst I did enjoy it, I think that the movie does a better job with the style, colours and artwork than Miller did – but it still manages to stay true to that dark vision of the future that the creator managed to pull off. They’ve even kept the ridiculously over the top design of the mutant-gang’s costumes and the portrayal of their leader.

Taking place in a world where Bruce Wayne hung up the cowl following the death of Jason Todd – crime as a result has sprung up around the city and several years later James Gordon is on the verge of retirement from the GCPD. The Mutant Gang are bringing mob rule to the city and many of Batman’s former villains such as Harvey Dent and the Joker haven’t been active criminals for a while. Indeed, Harvey Dent’s just had plastic surgery on his face to remove the half of him that was Two-Face – and is on the verge of being released from prison. The complex plot of the graphic novel is allowed to be captured in full detail due to the choice of the filmmakers to split the graphic novel into two separate films – allowing for a perfectly timed cliffhanger which teases that the second act to come is going to be even more engaging and awesome than the first half.

Carrie Kelly has recently been introduced into the New 52 for the first time in Peter J. Tomasi’s Batman & Robin and it was nice revisiting her storyline here. If there was one thing that I had to complain about however was that Carrie looked ridiculously out-of-proportion when she was shown at the same time as Batman, but that was one of the few gripes that I had when it came to the animation. I liked how her character story unfolded here and it can only develop further in the second half.

The voice acting, is fairly solid despite a few flaws. We haven’t had much of the Joker yet in Part One so I can’t really judge but Peter Weller does a pretty impressive job as an old and angrier Batman. A few lines however fall flat as he lacks the emotional range that I would have liked, but overall – he does a fairly solid interpretation. David Selby’s James Gordon was one that I didn’t feel worked as well as it should have – but maybe that’s because I’ve grown so used to Gary Oldman as the character I can’t imagine anyone replacing him. Robin’s voice, Ariel Winters – is spot on however – and whilst there wasn’t much expectation in how this role would perform Winters does a pretty solid job with the character. Oh, and Alfred’s voice actor, Michael Jackson (not THE Michael Jackson) is just perfect as well, with a pretty solid delivery and a great British accent.

The soundtrack by Christopher Drake was awesome, feeling very similar to Hans Zimmer’s score for The Dark Knight Trilogy particularly drawing big action sequences.  It’s a nice change to have somebody else other than Zimmer doing a DC Movie (Zimmer’s done both The Dark Knight Trilogy & Man of Steel) and Drake doesn’t disappoint, so if you enjoy movie soundtracks than this one should be right up your street.

Overall then, The Dark Knight Returns Part One comes highly recommended. I can certainly see myself checking out Part Two by the end of the week, so there should be a review of that up hopefully sooner rather than later.

VERDICT: 4/5

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