Based on one of the most critically acclaimed Batman stories of all time, The Dark Knight Returns Part I is the latest in a long line of high-quality animated features from DC Comics. Animating a beloved and respected book like The Dark Knight Returns was a huge risk. No matter what, some comic book fans will have a problem with the adaptation. Fanboys are just wired that way. While it’s not perfect, The Dark Knight Returns Part I is a superior animated movie that succeeds more than it fails. Here are some random thoughts on the latest Bats Blu-ray.
Story: For the most part, Frank Miller’s grim-and-gritty story is intact. This is a dark tale of an over-the-hill Batman that comes out of retirement. The world has changed and he’s unsure if his methods are still effective. The script does a good job at creating a bleak (bleaker?) Gotham City and showing Batman’s vulnerabilities. Of course some liberties were taken in translating it to an animated feature. The tone is all there and some parts of the narrative actually work better. The clips from the newscasts and talk shows are much more vibrant. They felt too static to me in print and are much more effective with voice acting.
Speaking of which, the voice acting is quality and helps bring the story to life. Some fans will have an issue with
Robocop Peter Weller playing Batman, simply because he’s not Kevin Conroy. If you can get past that then you’ll enjoy a good portrayal of Batman. The supporting cast is great too. I enjoyed the actors that played Carrie Kelly/Robin, Alfred Pennyworth, and Commissioner Jim Gordon.
As a big fan of the book, I’m happy with the script for The Dark Knight Returns Part I.
Animation: It took a while for me to get used to the movie’s art style. Frank Miller’s pencils and Klaus Janson’s inks gave the book a distinct look. It felt artistically dirty, if that makes any sense. The movie looks a bit too clean and loses the semi-abstract feel of the comics. The lines are too straight and everything feels a bit too bright. It’s technically well done, but very different from the source material. After 20 minutes or so, I got used to the art style and appreciated it, but wasn’t completely sold on it.
On the plus side, the animation does a great job of showing how brutal and intimidating Batman can be. The fight scenes are excellent. You really get a feel of the bone-crushing impact of the punches thrown. You can almost taste the fear villains have for Batman.
The mutants, especially the leader, benefitted from the translation to animation. In the comics, they always looked borderline silly to me. In animated form, they looked more intimidating and less ridiculous.
While the art was good, I wanted something grungier, though I understand that the masses probably prefer the techniques used in the movie.
Value: With a run time of 76 minutes, The Dark Knight Returns Part I is inline with other DC animated features. However, I would have preferred getting the whole thing at once. I understand the economics of it all, but from a storytelling standpoint it would have been more enjoyable as a whole. As it stands, the cliffhanger isn’t that dramatic, though I wonder if newcomers will feel that way. As a fan of the comics, I was all, “Wait…I want the rest of it!” which is both good and bad. I’m looking forward to the next installment, but feel somewhat shortchanged by this one.
Conclusion: The Dark Knight Returns Part I is true to the source material in terms of story and a bit different in terms of art style. I was mostly happy with the movie, putting it up there with my favorite comic-book animated-features, though behind the outstanding Batman: Under the Red Hood. I recommend it, but caution fans of the comics to be prepared for the visual changes.
I know that some of you have watched this movie. Kindly share your thoughts on The Dark Knight Returns Part I in the comments section.