When Frank Miller’s critically acclaimed “Batman Year One” saw a direct to video movie adaptation, fans knew that a movie adaptation of Miller‘s much hailed “The Dark Knight Returns” graphic novel was indeed coming. After all, “Year One” was Batman’s Alpha, and so a story can never be complete without an Omega. Warner Bros. animation is the one studio with the right stuff to bring the celebrated graphic novel come alive into the screen, and I have to say, director Jay Oliva and screenwriter Bob Goodman made a very credible adaptation of the source material, even with some minor changes to the style, tempo and mood, “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1” is one exciting film that proved to be just as gripping and fun as Frank Miller’s graphic novel.
Gotham City, 10 years after the last known sighting of the Dark Knight. The city had changed but stayed more or less the same. Crime had taken a turn for something different and yet the same, as the city is once again gripped by crime. Bruce Wayne (Peter Weller) has retired as the Batman and he has become close friends with Commissioner Gordon (David Selby). But something is clawing its way out from inside Wayne, as something would not stay put. Constantly reminded of his parents’ murder and the death of his former partner Jason Todd, Wayne must once again take up the mantle of the Bat, and face the threat of a supposedly rehabilitated Harvey Dent (Wade Williams) and the new threat of a criminal gang called the Mutants. And then, there is a new “Robin” (Ariel Winter) back in town…
Part one of the “Dark Knight Returns” covers the graphic novel from its beginning up to the final confrontation with the mutant gang leader (Gary Anthony Williams). I know the tale of Batman’s Omega is one lengthy premise that I was glad to see that the producers seemed to have made every effort to keep the film as close to the source material as possible. I know fans of the graphic novel would probably complain about the lack of the monologue that steadily captures the mood and the state of mind that lies within Wayne, and I would agree. But sometimes, we do have to remember that this film is rated “PG-13” and having a limited 75 minute runtime (part two is going to be 95 minutes), and being as such, some variations and differences to the graphic novel is to be expected for pacing purposes. However, much of the key dialogue remained from the source material remained intact, some had been altered for a more dramatic and cinematic touch, but nevertheless, the film captures the essence of Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns”.
Readers of the graphic novel would know exactly how the plot of part one would play out. The screenplay touches on the political and social state of the country, as a means to express the effects of a vigilante who dresses up as a Bat. The much debated “Batman” may indeed be a force for justice but does he attract as much danger as he eliminates? These are the things that made Miller’s work phenomenal, and while the film does not dwell too much on its social and political commentaries, it does keep the importance of such themes alive with the addition of TV shows with Lana Lang (played by Paget Brewster) as a defender of vigilantism and a psychiatrist (Michael McKean) who is the anti-Batman. I feel that the spirit of the characters that made the graphic novel so successful may have been a little watered down in the case of Harvey Dent, but it was necessary to keep the film on point with the mutant gang which part one does mean to take into its central focus as a manifestation of the ‘old meeting the new’.
This is a very different Batman after all. An aged Batman is a meaner, smarter and even more ruthless than his younger counterpart. Tempered and hardened by more guilt and pain, Wayne was a Batman who seemed to want to prove something to himself. The voice-acting by Peter Weller as the aging vigilante was fantastic; it was exactly how I would imagine Batman/Wayne to sound like. I also enjoyed the exchanges between Gordon and Capt. Ellen Yindel, as it spoke volumes to the film’s themes; just what is a vigilante and is there a need for one? I know, it may be too soon to say, but the subplot with Carrie Kelley does need further development into its script, and I can see it as an opportunity to maybe improve on the original material.
The animation and set pieces were done in a manner that it mimicked the art of the source material. I was in awe as to how the direction followed certain areas that feel as if it had been lifted off the graphic novel. From the re-emergence of the Bat against the underworld, to the scenes of the news reels, to the assault on the mutant gang, up to the final encounter, the scenes captured the drama of the struggles and the sheer thrills that came with each scene. For an animated film, it was pretty violent and went into as much blood and brutality as it could muster into a PG-13 film. I just loved that final encounter with the mutant gang leader. While I did miss the moody and gritty monologue that made the graphic novel its thoughtful, brooding drama and 'noirish' feel; I thought the direction still was still able to capture the suspense as I found myself immersed into each scene.
I did notice several inspirations and influences from Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight”, not in a narrative sense, but more in the manner it had been paced and edited to deliver a cinematic experience. Most notably the soundtrack, which sounded like a throwback to Nolan’s “Batman” films. The touches were noticeably “Nolan-esque” as the film tried to emulate a more realistic, gritty and darker tone while staying true to the layouts of the source material. Let’s be honest here, graphic novels are a different medium, and sometimes, changes need to be made to make for a more thrilling movie adaptation. I know it seems as if this film’s focus is more on the action and Wayne’s state of mind, while the graphic novel centered more on the political and social arena, and yet, both carry the same core premise and themes. This is just an observation, regardless, both mediums came with an gripping and powerful narrative. I would say that this adaptation is about 95 % faithful to the material.
I am curious as to how part two would adapt the political landscape (seeing as the graphic novel was set during the Reagan administration), it would be real interesting as to how director Jay Oliva would handle this (including a very liberal Oliver Queen). Fans of the graphic novel would know just what is to come, the Joker rising and the encounter with the man with the big red “S”. I am not sure, the graphic novel went a little over-the-top around those areas, and I kind of enjoyed this rendition of the graphic novel turned film. Here’s hoping that the DCU filmmakers does not disappoint, and they can keep it up since I am all in for “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns- Part Two” (click on link to see review of Part two)
In the early 1980’s, comics veteran Frank Miller penned what many critics claim is one of the greatest graphic stories ever. It was called THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, and it told the story of an old and gray Bruce Wayne. He’d long ago given up being the Batman – not because of any one reason in particular, though there was an obvious combination of events that culminated in Wayne hanging up the cape – and the streets of Gotham City quickly regressed into lawlessness. … more