Based off Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns: Bruce Wayne (Peter Weller) has been out of the game for ten years enjoying the solitude and loneliness in his retirement as he sits in Wayne Manor drinking whisky and occasionally going racetrack driving. If he can’t be Batman, there must be other ways to get thrills and nearly getting yourself killed. So, he’s been retired for a decade and Gotham City has fallen to its knees because of a rising threat. *Cough Cough…Dark Knight Rises…Cough Cough.
But this time it isn’t the masked mercenary Bane, it’s an army of street thugs called the Mutants led by the Mutant Leader (Gary Anthony Williams). The crimes continue to escalate and Gotham City is about to explode, if Batman does not return thus our aptly chosen title. Bruce Wayne is a cover for Batman and Bruce has to fight against his emotional tether to his alter ego. Batman is part of his identity and he has to keep fighting to not let Batman rule him. He so longs for his inner vigilante to come out. Batman returns, parallel to a young girl he inspired, called Carrie Kelley (Ariel Winter) who becomes Robin.
I believe the movie accurately portrays the aura and darkness of Gotham City. The noir settings from the comic book are presented incredibly well onscreen. It’s set in a dystopian version of the 1980s and creating the most violent adaptation that we’ve ever seen, animated or live action alike. This movie doesn’t pull any punches, physically and figuratively. Murder, child kidnapping, torture, suicide and sexual assault to name a few but this still remains with a PG-13 in the United States but has a more apt certificate in the UK at age 15. Furthermore, all I have mentioned have been normalized in modern society. Society has accepted these things as daily occurrences as if they’re nothing. Just like the source material, this movie is not child friendly at all.
There were many uses of archaic dialogue and terms from the 1960s used by the Mutant gang. This film takes some getting used to. The 1960s feel gives me an aura similar to British movies set in the 1960s similar to those like crime drama, John Le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy in terms of pacing. The gradual build up was similar to this with the climax at the end. The more you get into this movie, the more you get into the sixties feel. You adapt to your surroundings. Batman isn’t just a man. He’s a story and many of Gotham’s citizen’s have never seen the Batman. He’s a myth, an urban legend that people had second thoughts about but also a myth that had taken a life of its own and been embellished on.
Many of the younger citizens were cynical of the Batman’s very existence. He keeps to Gotham’s dark corners and when he is finally in the limelight of Gotham’s media, this frightens some, and liberates many. He instills fear into the criminals he fights against, but extracts fear from Gotham’s people. He inspires people to stand up and fight against their oppressors. The movie exploits this and the Batman is bigger than one man in a costume, a cape and few gadgets. He’s a symbol of justice and equity, despite his much frowned upon methods. Nobody is above the law. From the lowest petty thieves to the hardcore gangsters.
The action sequences are truly something special. They’re absolutely phenomenal. Every time I watch these movies (Dark Knight Returns: Part I/Part II), I have goosebumps and my arm hairs are on stilts. If I get this from an animated movie, I am fearful of what’s going to happen when Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice is released because that takes inspiration from this comic. The fight scenes are lit up by flash-bangs and lightning. Many see Batman as this inhuman vigilante who instills fear and tortures his victims for info like breaking the bones.
Rookie Cop: You’re under arrest mister! You just crippled that man!
Batman: “He’s young. He’ll walk again. But he’ll stay scared – won’t you punk?”
That is all correct to a degree but sometimes you have to do what needs to be done for the greater good. They’ll live. You have to utilise a degree of the ruthless pragmatism to survive in Gotham City. Treat the criminals as they treat their own victims. Batman is giving them a taste of their own medicine. He’s not a young man anymore. He’s fifty-five years old and that is evident. It shows that his age is holding him back. He’s getting slow in his old age but he’s still faster than his adversaries so even at fifty-five he can still pack a punch.
DC are known for their dark and gritty stories, this is no different. The big boss bottle at the end with Bats having out against the Mutant Leader is bloody and savage. They fought like men. No guns or weapons. Classic fisticuffs. That was the only way to win. The Mutant Leader needed to be beaten not imprisoned and arrested. His defeat would humiliate him and show that he wasn’t as immortal as his followers had believed him to be. The arc with Harvey Dent (Wade Williams) shows how alike these men are yet so different as well. We also have plenty of media broadcasts, either being anti or pro-Batman.
It’s set in the 1980s but the media played as a big a role back then as it does now in the public forming opinions. The media and popular culture are probably the two biggest ways to send messages to a mass audience, especially to the younger audience. Young people are more likely to watch movies and television show than sit down to watch the news.
The voice casting for the characters is spot on. Peter Weller gives a great performance as Bats but he’s no Conroy who is in his own league of awesomeness. I enjoyed the talks he has with himself inside his own mind. When he questions his own emergence as Batman as well as his morality. His justification of donning the mask but he’s able to play the broken Bat very well indeed. Ariel Winter plays a very youthful and charming Carrie Kelley/Robin. Gary Anthony Williams as Commissioner Jim Gordon is good and gives an inspiring speech about Batman to Ellen Yindel (Maria Canals) who is constantly on her moral high horse. She actively does her best to thwart Batman despite being on the same side.
Much of the film is set in darkness as one would expect with a Batman story. The black and blues are used to a marvellous effect. Despite being animated, I felt scared. Batman is more ruthless than usual in this and I think this is due to him knowing that this will be his last time as Batman. Next, I will talk about sound and music. Controversially, I will say that Christopher Drake’s musical score is better thanHans Zimmer’s score of The Dark Knight Trilogy despite Zimmer’s score being as great as it is.
The sound itself in the movie is visceral. Especially, when Batman gets to work and takes out a dozen guys without breaking a sweat as well as when he cripples one of Harvey Dent’s goons. You can hear the crunch of his legs being broken and it’s very hard on the ears.
In conclusion, this is an excellent animated feature and I wouldn’t expect anything less from DC. DC have developed a reputation for making fantastic animated movies and they will continue to in 2016 as they proved with Batman: Bad Blood and the upcoming Batman: Killing Joke R-Rated flick. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: Part 1 is sometimes unduly comic book accurate. Great voice performances from a stellar cast, excellent writing and an outstanding musical score from Christopher Drake.
Expect my review for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns: Part 2 in due course.