That Dark Knight Guy Keeps Returning [Part 1, Review]

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 Review

Starting in 2007 with Superman: Doomsday DC Comics has been pulling from their library of classics for animated adaptions and shorts, there was perhaps none more tempting (and anticipated) than Frank Miller’s 1986 four-issue limited series, The Dark Knight Returns.

After adapting Year One it seems fitting for DC to bookend Frank Miller’s Bat-work with The Dark Knight Returns; also fitting was the decision to split the film into two parts, making sure that the original story was fully fleshed out (if your going to do it you might as well do it right). Of the 14 animated original movies by DC previous to this one Batman had appeared in 8, been featured in 5, but it seems as if this is a pinnacle of sorts – at least in which stories to adapt.

With few exceptions this is a straight translation from comic to screen; the biggest deviation probably being the absence of Bruce’s inner monologue throughout the story, which interestingly was kept in for Year One and then met with some aversion from reviews, perhaps explaining it’s absence here but for as closely related as the two are I missed it. Particularly since it played such a significant role in the original narrative, giving us an insight into Bruce’s psyche that seemed missing here. Although it was included where it mattered most, the “baptism” scene partifuclary (a personal all-time favorite Batman moment for me). And in it’s own way placing the inner monologue here first (and only I believe) in itself was a homage to the comic as it’s one of the only times that Bruce’s inner dialogue is actually in-panel.



Perhaps the most faithful element in the entire translation were the news reporters, who say almost exactly the same thing as the comic and are depicted in near identical fashion, even down to the same jewelry and clothing, making the impression that they didn’t work quite the same a bit odd. In the comic they more set the mood than the story; the pages in the book are constructed in a way where story is happening around them, they even pop in and out of action scenes at times but here they are used almost exclusively to take us from beat-to-beat which works…just not as effectively as the original.

One of the difficulties of translating from paper to screen I presume.

I think I sound like I didn’t like it though.

I liked it.


I mean come on, it’s THE Dark Knight Returns!

The film does an excellent job of paying homage to the original in almost every instance while at the same time standing as a good film in it’s own rights. Not too hard to do with such excellent source material but partial credit is also due to the appropriate rearranging; aside from segments of dialogue here and there Superman is entirely left out and the Joker is only seen a few times, his first words being the cliffhanger to Part 1 when in the actual comic he appears and speaks in the first issue. I think the swapping around worked though, I’ll take three hours of story for some repositioning. And really the Joker and Superman plots are only teased at until after Batman’s full-on return and dealing of the mutants so it feels appropriate to split them up here.

The most surprising addition though, for me at least, was hands down the music composed by Christopher Drake (who’s done almost all of the DC Universe Animated Original Movies). The more I watched the film the more I was reminded just how much this work influenced the recent Batman films by Christopher Nolan, at the same time noticing how similar the musical score was to Hans Zimmers for the recent trilogy, it ended up being an interesting collage of two separate influenced by each other – music for an animated film, inspired by box office movies, which were inspired by the original adapted comic the animated film was based on – a weird circle of life (kinda makes the brain hurt, in a good way though). Aside from that the 80’s-ish music in certain places was also a nice touch given the timing of the actual comic release, felt natural.

And per the course with most of DC’s animated movies the voice acting and animation was stellar. I’ll always hear Kevin Conroy’s voice when I see Batman but Peter Weller did a fine job along with the rest of the cast (Ariel Winter as Carrie Kelley was another stand out).

For anyone who liked the original comic I can’t see any reason to not enjoy this version.

And for anyone who’s never read the comic (first, stop reading me and go get it, and second…) I’m sure it made for an interesting and fun movie as well.

Was it as good as the original? Of course not, I doubt anyone expected it to even come close.

Were the homages, little easter eggs, and appropriate changes the answer to any questions one might have about as to why and adapt this classic – yup – because why the heck not?

No news yet on the release date for The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 other than just sometime in 2013 but the real wonder here is if successful would DC animate the squeal, one of the most polarizing comics ever, The Dark Knight Strikes Again.

What the heck, I’d watch it. (Heck, if just to see them do the opening scene).


Pros Cons
One of the greatest comics ever animated pretty much how you’d expect. Flowing images and cool music can’t exactly capture the magic of the original.


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1 Comment

  1. Daniel says:

    Of the DC animated Batman movies; I own and have watched Batman: Gotham Knight, Year One, Under the Red Hood and most recently The Dark Knight Returns Pt1.
    And in my opinion this latest release completely blows the others out of the water! Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed all of them, but TDKR is easily the best, I can hardly wait for Pt2!
    Everything from the voice acting and Miller’s faithfully recreated character designs to the animation and the fight scenes is just done so well and really feels a cut above the others.
    This a must-have for comic book and animated movie fans alike!


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