The most accurate and faithful adaptations of superheroes, Batman particularly, have been animated. DC and Warner Bros. are leading the way in the animated versions of their superheroes, not just producing cartoons aimed at “kids” but also producing recreations of some of the more mature, but critically acclaimed and brilliant, Batman comics.
I reviewed Batman: Year One last year and it received a perfect 10! Although Dark Knight Returns isn’t quite as good as the other recreation of a Frank Miller classic, it is definitely close and also a demonstration that you don’t have to have some sort of access level or introduction to the character to understand what is happening or appreciate the story .
The story itself is a fantastic one. Anyone that has seen Nolan’s Dark Knight Rises will recognise some elements that he has taken from Frank Miller’s version of an ageing but returning Batman. The idea of a Batman past his best, a Gotham on the brink of ruin and an enemy that offers insurmountable odds and an almost impossible challenge. It’s all in Nolan’s conclusion to his trilogy but you can see the perfect realisation here. The Batman is much older and out of shape than his Christian Bale counterpart and his return makes such a bigger impact. It’s an engrossing story and one that has so many cool elements and clever narrative tricks, like the use of tv new shows and chat show formats to keep the story progressing.
It also includes a few classic villains, although not the one people would be expecting (not yet) and the way they are handled and included in this futuristic version of Gotham is another masterstroke and demonstrates a great understanding of Batman and his supporting characters. It’s just a shame that the “main villain” of this story is such a faceless, generic figure. It’s the same issue I have with the comic, the Mutant Leader has no discernible qualities except that he is strong and crazy. Of all Batman’s villains, Miller seemed to create one that is bottom of the heap when it comes to threat or interest. Luckily, I know what the second half of the story has to offer.
This is the issue with this movie, it is only half the story. I wasn’t sure they would have enough material for two films but having seen this, it seems they just about do. Unfortunately, the final parts of this movie, although they sset up a great second half, feel like a weak end to the great build-up that went before. The establishing of Batman’s return and the Gotham he has to fight in are great, its just the finale makes a perfect middle to the book, not an end to a movie. Its a shame because the rest of the adaptation is fantastic. The use of Miller’s animation works perfectly and demonstrates that you can take Miller’s story from the pages of the book to the screen, effectively.
Overall, The Dark Knight Returns (Part 1) demonstrates that the most faithful superhero stories, the ones that capture the comic book character they are based on, are animated. It has the feel, action and quality of the Frank Miller book and although breaking it in two damages it slightly, it does show that it can be accessible to everyone that likes a well told, well structured Batman story. It’s just a shame that nobody other than those familiar with Batman or Miller’s book, will probably see the movie.
Rating – 4.5
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)