The God-damn Batman indeed.
Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is arguably the seminal Batman story, with every scene firmly implanted into the minds of comic book fans the world over. Warner Bros. obviously saw this and decided a high budget, 2 part animated movie was in order, and boy, they were right.
I won’t bore you with plot details, as this story is known all too well and I don’t want to give too much away for anyone unlucky enough to have not read the book (or seen this adaption). Part 1 follows very closely to the first half of the book and does not miss anything out, yep; all the TVs are still here. In fact, it adds to the story by starting with a high speed car race in which Bruce Wayne is taking part. This scene however adds little to the already strong narrative and comes off as a little pointless; it doesn’t hurt to show what Bruce did while the Batman was retired after Jason Todd’s death, but it doesn’t really add anything beyond a simple introduction.
As the film follows very closely to the book, a couple of aspects get a little lost in translation. Batman’s inner monologue for example is completely missing; a real shame as it really allows the reader to barge in on his inner feelings in the book, letting us know what he’s really thinking. Perhaps the monologue was cut out due to it not working on film, but it was a little disappointing to not have one of my favourite lines: ‘there are two kicks I can use here, one of them kills. The other… hurts!’; simple yet effective character study right there. The TV is used fantastically in the book, but in the film, it just does not quite carry the same effect or gravitas and it just comes off as a little distracting.
Beyond these two slight flaws however lies a fantastically animated film with some of the finest sound editing I have ever heard in an animated picture. In fact, editing is where this film shines for the large part. I’m not sure how big the budget was, but this film is rivalling the best Hollywood can provide in terms of editing, voice-acting and direction.
You may be a little disappointed in finding out that it is not Kevin Conroy providing the voice for Batman but Peter Weller’s voice is perfect. The voice this Batman has sounds exactly as you imagined it while reading the Dark Knight Returns. In fact, the whole cast sounds perfect, each of them delivering amazing performances.
But do the action scenes live up to the ones in the book? Yes, in fact, they come across slightly better here. Each punch is as brutal as the last and the fight between the Mutant leader and Batman at the end of the film is incredibly well crafted; see: awesome. In fact the Mutants as a whole are given a new lease of life in the film, with their weird way of speaking coming across as more intimidating than in the book.
One of the major problems people have with the book is in its artwork, with Frank Miller’s simplistic and slightly hap-hazard style looking a bit naff (I personally love how the book looks, particularly in the one page spreads), while the film uses the character design and slightly wonky lines from the book, it is very clean – the blu-ray looks lovely – and superbly animated. Meaning this problem does not exist anymore except for those who just did not like the character designs.
However, due to the missing inner monologue and certain other aspects not quite making the translation to film, The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 comes off as a little simpler than the original book. Which could be good or bad depending on how much you enjoy the book, for me, I think the book is better in some areas and the film is better in some areas (such as fight scenes). Overall though, I feel the film does not go into quite as much detail as the book, meaning you don’t get quite the whole picture.
Despite this, there is one area in which the film has a definite advantage: the music and sound. There is only so much music and sound effects one can add while reading in their head (only me?), but the score and use of sound here is very impressive and really adds weight to proceedings that simply was not there in the book. It does slightly make up for the lack of inner monologue, but man do I miss that.
The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 is a great filmic adaptation of the ground-breaking original book that really works when it comes to action sequences, voice-acting, editing, visuals and score but it is missing Batman’s inner monologue and other aspects do not quite translate to the film, meaning overall it is simpler than it’s comic-book counterpart and slightly worse for it.
A great watch and a good adaptation, The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 is worth a watch from anyone who loves the original book, or anyone who has not.