Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 (2012)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 (2012)

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He always did have a flair for the dramatic.
He always did have a flair for the dramatic.

Twitter Plot Summary: Years after his retirement, Bruce Wayne dons the mask and cowl again to restore Gotham City.

Five Point Summary:

1. Fatman Returns.
2. A new Robin.
3. The first fight does not go well.
4. Rematch. Better outcome.
5. Nicely set up for Part 2.

Whilst DC Comics have never had a huge amount of success on the big screen outside of the Batman franchise, their characters have always fared much better in their animated universe. It’s no surprise that their most popular creation, Batman, is the primary subject of their animated movies, and The Dark Knight Returns is the latest in a very long line of impressive animated Batman adventures. Based on Frank Miller’s gritty graphic novel of the same name, it’s been several years since Bruce Wayne retired as Batman, and he’s now aged, out of shape and grumpy. Somewhat impressively, Alfred is also still up and about as Bruce’s trusty servant, and Commissioner Gordon, by now aware of Bruce’s secret life as a vigilante, is coming up to his own retirement. Unfortunately for Gotham, gangs have taken over the streets and it seems that it’s time for Batman to return to the streets. Or rather, Fatman – as I said, The Dark Knight Returns sees Bruce Wayne horribly out of shape and struggles in his first fight with the Mutant Leader – a man who has seemingly decided to exchange nipples for bolts. It’s the future – go figure.

There are a number of plot threads introduced but not everything is fully explained, all because the story has been split in two. Provided we get a resolution to those threads in Part 2, then all will be well. Judged on its individual merits, Part 1 tells a self contained story, with Bruce reacquiring that special set of skills that once made him the World’s Greatest Detective. He has a single nemesis in the form of the Mutant Leader, which allows the script to focus on Bruce and his rediscovery of his Batman skills without straying too far from the whole “Gotham’s falling apart” conceit.

"I'm sorry Master Wayne, the colours ran in the wash."
“I’m sorry Master Wayne, the colours ran in the wash.”

Much like the source material, Dark Knight Returns Part 1 does not skimp on the blood and the violence – bones are broken, noses are bloodied, and the future dystopia that is Gotham City is nicely realised. On that note the Batmobile is an impressive piece of kit, a beast of a vehicle that’s more like an armoured tank crossed with a personnel carrier than the sleek and not so sleek vehicles we’ve seen in the live action series. It may also be a sign of my age, but hearing Batman voiced by someone other than Kevin Conroy felt a little odd at first, but eventually I became accustomed to Peter Weller’s take on the character and it actually fits very well. Perhaps not as well as Kevin Conroy, but it’ll do. The remaining voice cast are as good as you’d expect, and whilst there are a few recognisable names it’s not something that played too much on my mind as I watched it.

Of course, being part 1 of 2 means that there is a cliffhanger ending to draw you into the second half, but it also raises a very pertinent point. It’s always been said that the only reason Batman has such an extensive rogue’s gallery is because his existence demands a similar level of crazy, at the other end of the spectrum, to act as a dark mirror. Whilst Gotham wasn’t in fine fettle before Batman’s return, it wasn’t populated by a bevy of villains who are just as messed up as he is. Instead it’s a city filled with mostly generic goons, and it’s only with the Bat back on the streets that the likes of Two Face and, perhaps, the Joker decide to re-enter the game. Part 1 was competent, but the pieces are lined up for an explosive second half.

Score: 3.5/5

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