The Dark Knight Returns is one of my favourite comics, centring on Batman returning from retirement to once again clean up the streets of Gotham, bringing back his old enemies and angering the government. So I was apprehensive when I heard that DC were making a animated version, hence why it took me almost a year to watch it.
Rather than cram all of the material into one film, they decided to split it into two parts. The first half centres on Bruce’s return to the cape when Two-Face’s insanity returns and his battle against the mutants. The world of Dark Knight is set up very quickly, without the Batman to police the city it has become a hell-hole with crime around every corner. However Gotham doesn’t stay this way for long, as Bruce is back in the costume within the first 10 minutes. The scene of Bruce hearing about violent murders on the news which trigger memories of his parents’ murder is very effective, reminding our hero why he chose to become Batman in the first place.
Two-face’s story is quite tragic, as despite his face being repaired through plastic surgery his deluded mind now sees his face as being completely scarred. However, unfortunately there isn’t much time to focus on it, as the film chooses to centre on the conflict between Batman and the mutants, particularly their savage leader. Batman at first attempts to defeat him with brawn but discovers that the mutant is too strong, requiring Bruce to use his powerful intellect to defeat his foe.
The second half gives the focus over to the Joker coming back before moving on to Batman’s iconic battle against Superman. Michael Emerson is fantastic as the Joker, having the right kind of terror and creepiness to him yet still having the Joker’s silly side. The Joker breaks free from Arkham, killing many people on live TV before rampaging through a carnival. While he has done this many times before, Batman finally decides he has had enough and snaps. Their showdown in the tunnel of love, carried by the amazing “I let you live” conversation which perfectly sums up the relationship between the two, is one of the highlights of both parts.
However, what keeps it from being the best part of the whole film is the aforementioned showdown between Batman and Superman, one of the things the comic book is well remembered for. The confrontation is built up very effectively throughout the second half, from the first introduction of Superman when it is suggested that something needs to be done about Batman. The question of “who would win in a fight?” is one you can probably remember from the school playground, and I think most people would argue that with Superman’s incredible strength and power Batman wouldn’t stand a chance. However, as adapted from the mind of Frank Miller, Batman is a incredibly smart opponent who always has a plan, not surprisingly he had things in place should he ever need to fight his old friend.
The actual fight itself is suitably epic, seeing Batman don a suit that boosts his strength and employing many gadgets such as a sonic weapon that only affects Superman’s super-hearing. Superman in the story has very much become the tool of the government, but Batman brings into a question how Clark can trust a government that would order his death just because they don’t believe in his methods. The fight comes down to an incredible conclusion as Bruce towers over Clark encouraging him to remember the one who beat him.
The voice cast is quite strong, though Peter Weller as Batman is probably the weakest link. He sounds a bit too dark, almost as if he would be better suited for a villainous role than the caped crusader. Ariel Winter has the right level of spunk and playfulness for Batman’s latest Robin. The voice of Superman as provided by Mark Valley is also a fine choice, strong yet still noble.
I purchased the blu-rays which came with a wide variety of extras. The first part comes packaged with a feature looking at the character of Carrie and her role as Robin, the first female to take on the part. There’s also a small film looking at the creation of Batman by Bob Kane, which is a bit too brief to give any real insight. You also get the original comic to read through, though this feels strange on the TV. As an added bonus you get two fairly good episodes from Batman: the Animated Series which focus on Two-Face.
The second part has a few more featurettes one which explore the relationship between Batman and Superman, and another that explains the idea behind the Joker and how he fits into Batman’s world. Both are again quite short but for the uninitiated they can provide some information, however the mega-fans will already know it all. There’s also a feature that explores the adaptation process from comic to film, explaining how the cartoon came about and trying to turn the comic into a moving image. As with the last part, you get some extra cartoons: a Joker story from Batman: the Animated Series, another focusing on the apparent death of Batman, and a short Batman and Robin cartoon from Batman: The Brave and the Bold. You also get a little excerpt from the comic, the battle between Batman and Superman.
Overall, the film is a great package that does honour to the original story. I would definitely recommend it to fans of The Dark Knight Returns as well as casual Batman fans, as very little fore knowledge is required, you basically just need to know that these characters exist. It’s great to finally have an adaption of this comic that captures it’s mood and action so perfectly.