Sep 12, 2014

[Movies] Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012-2013)

Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns is often celebrated as one of the greatest graphic novels created. And it's interesting since it's not exactly a "mainstream" release - it's a story that stands on its own and was not directly affected by on-going Batman continuity nor did it contribute to that same continuity. I guess that really added to the value of the title on the whole - the fact that it's such a solid story that stands on its own.

So I wasn't quite sure how to feel about the decision to create the DC Universe Animated Original Movie version of this comic as Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. The DC animated movies have been a mixed bag, but generally lean more towards the good rather than the bad. And so I was pretty curious to see how this would turn out.

I think the one thing that was both brilliant and annoying involved the casting of the voice talents for the movie. The animated life of Batman almost automatically triggers the need for Kevin Conroy and the like and this movie didn't go in that direction. It certainly supported the Elseworlds feel to the story, but it also still felt a little weird in terms of how the scenes came across. And a lot of the movie ends up feeling that way in general.

Synopsis: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is a DC Universe Animated Original movie released in two parts - Part 1 came out in 2012 and Part 2 was released in 2013. As a whole, the movie was directed by Jay Oliva with a screenplay by Bob Goodman.

After the death of Jason Todd, Bruce Wayne (Peter Weller) retires as Batman and pretty much disappears from public view. Ten years later, Gotham City is pretty much overrun by crime and is under threat by a gang that calls themselves The Mutants. Police Commissioner Gordon (David Selby) is just about to retire and the Joker (Michael Emerson) has been catatonic in a mental institution practically since the Batman disappeared. Former District Attorney Harvey Dent (Wade Williams), better known as the villain Two-Face, has just undergone extensive plastic surgery to repair the damage done to his face. But now he's disappeared and these and other events continue to trouble Bruce Wayne.

Eventually, he cannot deny his sense of duty and takes up the mantle of the Bat once more. But at 55 years of age, he's not exactly in the prime of his life anymore. Still, he takes the fight to the streets and begins to retake Gotham, including saving the life of young Carrie Kelley (Ariel Winter). And as he figures out how to deal with the Mutants, Harvey once again embraces his persona as Two-Face and tries to hold the city ransom. And elsewhere, the Joker finally begins to wake up upon hearing that the Batman has returned.

First, I rather liked what they did with the animation here. It wasn't quite a carbon copy of the original Frank Miller art, but it still carried similar weight and proportions, especially for characters like Batman himself. It felt like a nice homage but at the same time not overly married to the original art so as to possibly open the doors to even more criticism for failing to make a 100% accurate recreation or something. And that's sort of what we expect from these direct-to-video movies - a nice feel and understanding of the source material without feeling overly weighed down by it.

I already mentioned my initial concerns about voice acting. Both Peter Weller and Michael Emerson have had some pretty impressive careers as actors and having them lend their voices to the roles of Batman and the Joker respectively was an interesting move. They certainly didn't sound like the same characters we've seen in various DC animated television series, but they still generally fit the characters. I guess I sort of wished they had gone with someone else distinct that Weller at times given he will always sound like RoboCop to me. But it still generally worked here. Emerson was an interesting take on the Joker that still remained rather menacing.

I also liked the fact that they decided to split this movie into two parts. At first it might seem like a way to make more money, which is still probably true. But at the same time it gave the folks behind the movie a lot more time to work with in terms of telling this great story. And if you've ever read the original graphic novel, you know just how much action takes place across those delicately designed panels. The original comic was long both because of long dialog sequences but also detailed action shots told without dialog.

The animated movie also made sure to attempt to recreate several iconic moments from the comic in a rather nice way. We'll always go back to that one big fight between Batman and the Joker and that came out rather beautifully. Sure it was violent and pretty gruesome even, but on the whole it was such a visual spectacle combined with some pretty powerful dialog.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is a great adaptation of an already great comic book. It was handled very well and it certainly holds its own versus other animated movies of this nature. And thus the feature gets a good 4 examples of why Batman has always been a smart fighter rather than just a strong one out of a possible 5.

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