The Dark Knight Returns – Animated Movie part 1

DC Comics continues its fine run on animated adventures.

We have this running joke in my family where, if we’re buying a present for someone that we’d definitely be interested in watching/playing ourselves first, we wrap it up in clingfilm before wrapping it as if to say “no, this is the original shrinkwrapping, of course I didn’t use it first”. So when my brother gave me a clingfilmed copy of TDKR Part One for Christmas, I wouldn’t have blamed him if he actually did get a viewing in before me.

TDKR animated movie

Based on the seminal Batman graphic novel of the same name, TDKR takes up the story of a Gotham City that hasn’t been protected by the Dark Knight for a decade. As Commissioner Gordon prepares for a peaceful retirement, it seems he’s spent the last ten years trying to keep Bruce Wayne in his own. But the itch to live dangerously and do the right thing keeps on needling at Wayne and, with the rise of a criminal youth known as the Mutants, Wayne decides to don the cowl once again.

Although a non-canon contribution, so much of the current general consensus of Batman’s background, themes and motifs come directly from Frank Miller’s original work; a lot of the Nolan trilogy owes itself to the comics too – which is why I was initially nervous about this animated movie which features the voice acting of Peter Weller as Batman/Wayne; in much the same way as I get nervous about remakes, reimaginings, sequels and prequels (see Weller’s other famous work, Robocop for example), is my panic justified?

On this occasion, no, I really don’t think so. DC knows how much of Batman’s resurgence in the late 80s was owed to TDKR, and so it knows how this source material needed to be treated with respect. I really enjoyed this version and, although I’d tell anyone to read the comic first, it does serve as a great introduction to anyone who puts the Nolan trilogy’s dark overtones above any of the camp sensibility put up by the previous films.

It works precisely because it’s so faithful to the comics – there are no unexpected sharp diversions from the original text or additional characters sprinkled in to mix up the pot some. This reverence works to its extreme credit, with great pacing and tone that’s as fast and furious then in turn dark and brooding as the comic itself. At times I was reminded of watching an anime like Akira in terms of style; it’s probably a standard feel for the translation of any comic to animation – and no bad thing at all to compare it to. That pacing is what makes for such a good build. While the dialogue has been updated for the modern age (the comic’s nearly as old as I am…no, not that old) it still doesn’t take away from the exact thing it’s trying to convey; the world is trying to move on without Batman, but can it really survive without a protector?

One character that’s always torn Batfans is Carrie Kelley; the plucky teenager whose life Batman saves from a Mutant gang, and ends up donning her homemade Robin costume in an effort to assist Batman in fighting the young threat. I think she’s a fantastic addition in the comics – the missing link between Batman and a new kind of Gotham which grew up without him – and I liked her just as much in this film, although her initial streetwise attitude was a little much at first.

Batman, of course, is Batman – and very well voiced by Peter Weller to add just a slight waver of uncertainty to the voice of his new campaign of justice. I do wish that the film included some of Wayne’s inner monologue from the comics though – his cursing himself for making elementary mistakes and blaming it on age.

The Dark Knight Returns so far is absolutely worth a watch – I stopped writing this review after one paragraph to go and order Part Two. Read the comic first though!

Can you recommend any other DC animated movies for me?

One thought on “The Dark Knight Returns – Animated Movie part 1

  1. Pingback: Frank Miller announces Batman: The Dark Knight Returns sequel | Alpha Signal Five

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