"Tonight marks the ten-year anniversary of the last sighting of the Batman..."
With the success that DC Comics has had in adapting some of its most famous stories into direct-to-video animated features, this one was only a matter of time.
Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns gives us a glimpse of what would happen if Gotham City were left to fend for itself, without the aid of its caped crusader. While many of its worst criminals, such as Harvey "Two-Face" Dent and the Joker, have been apprehended, crime has been on the rise with the appearance of a new gang calling itself The Mutants. There's no rhyme or reason to their actions. They just steal, kidnap, and murder as they please, with the only person standing in their way being an older Commissioner Gordon.
Bruce Wayne hasn't worn the cowl since the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd, which happened ten years ago. However, he hasn't been taking very kindly to his retirement, engaging in heavy drinking and other self-destructive behavior. One night, after experiencing a series of flashbacks triggered by news reports about Dent's release from Arkham Asylum and The Mutants' crime wave, he decides that he can't hold himself back any longer, and that it's finally time to come out of retirement.
This movie is an extremely faithful, almost panel-for-shot adaptation of the comic. One of the things that I was initially worried about was whether or not modern animation techniques could successfully recreate the dirty, grimy look of the comic. While it may not succeed at that, it manages to recreate Frank Miller's iconic character designs really well and give Gotham City a very bleak look while still looking very modern and sleek. My only complaint is that the small amount of CGI used during the movie doesn't blend in very well with the traditionally animated backgrounds.
The acting is pitch-perfect, with a cast made up of actors who seem like they were all made for their parts, particularly Peter Weller (RoboCop, Buckaroo Banzai) as Batman. Although he may not have been my first choice to play an aging Batman (it was Michael Ironside), as soon as I heard that he had been cast for the part, it only took seconds for me to realize exactly how brilliant of a match he was, and his performance definitely lived up to my expectations.
Something that fans of the original will pick up on almost immediately is that Batman's and Gordon's inner monologues are completely absent from the movie. Their monologues were one of the driving forces behind the comic, and featured many of its most famous lines, but I honestly think they would have dragged the movie down, being an almost purely visual medium. The more important monologues were added to the dialogue, so it doesn't feel as though anything's missing.
I can't recommend this movie enough. Whether or not you've read Frank Miller's original The Dark Knight Returns (and believe me, you should), if you like Batman, this is something you've been waiting for your entire life.
The Dark Knight Returns, pt. 1 adapts the first two chapters of the graphic novel, with the latter two being covered in a sequel due out in the winter of next year.