In the wake of the success of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy of Batman movies DC Comics have begun to release a series of animated versions of some of the most revered and influential stories in their canon.
First, appropriately enough, was Batman: Year One, Frank Miller’s mid-80s take on the origin of the character, which informed quite a lot both Tim Burton’s run of Bat-movies and Batman Begins.
They have followed this up with another of Miller’s 80s tales, The Dark Knight Returns which, along side Year One, set the standard for the Batman that took us through the 90s and up to today with his darker and more psychologically troubled tale.
This animated movie cover the first half of the story as an older Bruce Wayne dons the cape and cowl again to “come out of retirement” as Gotham heads into another crime wave.
In terms of the style of the film it combines elements of the Miller’s own artwork with some rejuvenated aspects of the 1990s Batman: The Animated Series to create something that is visually striking and still clearly a part of the ongoing DC animated universe.
This style looks superb and really does feel like lifting the comics off the page, but that idea is also where the major problem with this film comes in.
While, as a fan, I appreciate the dedication that has gone into sticking to the comics feel in this film it has fallen into a trap that comic book adaptations often do, in that it has stuck too close to the source in many ways. If nothing else this highlights the differences between the different media of film and comic books.
So what we are left with is a great looking retelling of Frank Miller’s tale, but one that feels slightly slow and stilted as it tries to lift images directly from the book and fit them into the animation.
The voice acting in the film is generally of a high standard though doesn’t quite reach some previous incarnations, specifically again The Animated Series, but the producers have found good matches for an older Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon – though I still don’t think anyone has bettered Mark Hamill’s voice for The Joker which is sadly missing here.
Overall part one of The Dark Knight Returns is an interesting film for fans but isn’t something that I would expect to be of much interest beyond that and, for anyone coming to this from Nolan’s version of The Bat, it will be a completely different world.
The Blu-ray edition of The Dark Knight Returns: Part 1 comes with a few decent extras.
First there is the throw away previews of the next installment of the story, and a Batman/Superman crossover tale, that really serve little purpose other than to see a few elements of pre-production from the films.
The more interesting things come in the form of two episodes of Batman: The Animated Series telling the story of Two-Face which really show that the series, essentially aimed at kids on its initial release, kept quite a lot of the darkness that was added to the comics in the late 80s and this exploration of Harvey Dent’s dual identity is a prime example of this.
The other interesting extra is a documentary about Bob Kane, the man behind Batman, which gives an interesting glimpse into the life of Kane and how he wanted to be Bruce Wayne and Batman and it seems became a caricature of himself, and seeing Stan Lee talking about this is fascinating as well as it seems that part of Lee is trying to be Kane as much as Kane was trying to be Wayne.