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MOVIE REVIEW: FTN reviews The Dark Knight Returns animated movie, parts 1 & 2

March 25th, 2013 by Michael Leonard Comments

Directed by Jay Oliva

Written by Bob Goodman

Based on the Graphic novel by Frank Miller, Klaus Janson, and Lynn Varley.

Out On DVD (in 2 parts) Now

Whenever lists are compiled on the topic of ‘must read’ Batman comics The Dark Knight Returns is always there at the top of the list or at least damn close. For me that was never the case. It is a good story, don’t get me wrong, but it is an alternative take on Batman. The Bruce Wayne we see in this dystopian future Gotham is one I never envisioned the Bruce I read would turn out and I’d hate to imagine that he would. For me Frank Miller did a much more confident and skilled job of writing the caped crusader when he brought us Batman Year One a few years later. That Batman was equally as driven as the one in TDKR but had that heroic optimism that Frank’s older Bruce had lost. I am often told that it’s hard to judge a big name comic book without seeing how it affected the industry when it first came out and it’s a valid point. TDKR was a game changer and without it, and others like Watchmen, more adult takes on superheroes would not be the norm they are now. So hats off to Miller, inker Klaus Janson, and Colourist Lynn Varley for that. However, this is not my Batman and having seen the book brought to life by Warner Brothers in this two part animated epic I see more clearly now why that is the case.

Directed by Jay Oliva and released in two parts on DVD in September of 2012 and January of 2013 this is one of the most eagerly awaited of Warner Brothers animated comic book adaptations. In a futuristic Gotham City, well one that still has Reagan in the White House and the Cold War in full swing so thing more alternative history, a retired Bruce Wayne returns to the cape and cowl once again after 10 years to bring justice to a city spiralling out of control. He faces advisories old and new, contends with the difficulties of an ageing body and recruits a new Robin, all before facing an epic showdown with a former ally. So grandiose story telling all round then.

For anyone who hasn’t read the book, and you really should, some of the themes and scenes will remind you of The Dark Knight Rises. Christopher Nolan and company mined large elements of Miller’s work in constructing the script of their film. This animated adaptation is a very faithful retelling of the graphic novel. Throughout the film’s 152 minute running time there are moments time and again when you will feel that if only you paused the DVD and held the book beside the screen you would see just how exact the replication of the images actually are. It really shows the effort put into staying true to the story as it is on the page.

I only noted some slight extensions to scenes, particularly in the final scene where we get a better-paced conclusion to the story of Bruce. It was an addition I felt added to the overall piece and congratulations to writer Bob Goodman for his skills there.

The art style is more anima then the type of cartooning Miller and Janson produced but the character designs are very close to those found in the book. The voice acting, particularly that of Peter Weller as Batman, suited the look of the characters well and added some superb talent to the film. The only problem was some of Frank’s truly awful dialogue. It sounded like every word spoken by members of the Mutants gang was written by a ten year old, and a very untalented ten year old at that. It takes all the tension out of the film when you feel Batman should be beating them up more for poor language skills then for any other crime. Maybe Warner Brothers or Miller will offer me the compensation I deserve for having to listen to such crap but I doubt it. I wish Goodman had fixed this but I’d say he would have been demonised for doing so.

Much is made over Miller’s portrayal of women (to be blunt he seems to see far too many of them as either victims or hookers) but this story gives us his best example of a female hero in his work other than Electra. Carrie Kelley’s Robin is resourceful, smart, brave, and yet still a kid who can get other whelmed by the violence she sees and sometimes has to play a part in. This all comes across well in the adaptation; the scene on the rollercoaster was as powerful in animated form as it was on the page.

When we get down to it any problems I have with this film comeback to Frank Miller. He was a great writer, please note the use of the past tense, and his Daredevil work and Batman work of the 80’s is terrific but in TDKR we get a glimpse of his more hard line views and ideas that he shows off more and more in his recent work. The man’s politics are his own, and I respect that even if I disagree, but he seems to mould the story around them. The TV newsroom and chat show elements particularly are turned into a pulpit from which he projects his world view and that makes me feel that this is less and the less the definitive interpretation of Batman than so many claim it is.

The Dark Knight Returns is a good watch, particularly for anyone that has read the book, but it might make you realise that Frank does not write dialogue well.

3 out of 5 Nerds

Michael Leonard is a media lecturer and writer based in Northern Ireland. A fan of the classic geek for all things movies, TV, comics, and games. When not writing he is usually travelling the world seeking the means to fight injustice, or just reading.