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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 Review

Despite sporting an unwieldy title (an unnecessary and clumsy modification of the seminal Frank Miller comic book), the end result stands far from what its moniker would suggest, providing a traditional but loyal adaptation that should easily satisfy fans while offering up something for the less initiated. It’s actually immensely interesting to prop up Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 – out on DVD and Blu-Ray today – alongside Christopher Nolan’s trilogy and take a long hard look. Despite the obvious variance in medium, they couldn’t be more different at heart either. Landing in a deteriorating Gotham City with a retired, 55-year-old Bruce Wayne (and a rising criminal organization known as The Mutants) the events that eventually thrust The Caped Crusader back into the cowl do not require the grounded procedure we’ve been experiencing since 2005’s Batman Begins. Despite laying low for the course of a decade, Wayne is still a chiselled, hulking and athletic presence – nearly inhuman in fact – and is able to return to his vigilante ways without a great deal of difficulty (no Rocky­-esque training montages to be found here). In a way it’s a refreshing change of pace. Likewise is the arrival of a new incarnation of Robin (a teenaged girl by the name of Carrie Kelly) who takes to gravity-defying gymnastics and villain-dispatching at the flick of a switch. Again, it’s loyal to the traditional roots of the genre, but it should still detract minimally from those who admire the more grounded superhero films of the last decade. As you’ve likely surmised, I am one of the aforementioned uninitiated when it comes to DC’s animated canon, having seen only the stellar Mask of the Phantasm from back in 1993 before venturing to this adaptation. Although far from my usual cup of tea, so to speak, “Part 1” makes it easy to see why Miller’s comic is so revered and if ever adapted to live action would be an utterly bleak and fascinating endeavor. For now, this hand-drawn-GCI creation will do just wonderfully for those subconsciously begging Warner Bros. to go somewhere geeky with The Dark Knight when the inevitable reboot hits. My one big complaint that doesn’t have to do with basic execution would be the lack of depth in the Bruce Wayne character. With a two-film arc at play, more time could have been used to explore this troubled and emotionally broken individual who is one of the most tormented incarnations of Batman’s human alter-ego. Although starting out rather choppy, the animation gradually improves as the fight scenes escalate, eventually barely calling to attention that it is in fact not real-life actors and sets we’re witnessing. The two principle battles between Batman and the brute known simply as Mutant Leader are stellar, unafraid to highlight snap bones and spatter those involved in crimson. Additionally the voices behind these characters are excellent across the board, particularly RoboCop’s Peter Weller as Batman and David Selby as a retiring James Gordon. Modern Family’s Ariel Winter also lends her pipes as Robin. With this being part one of the full adaptation, we’ve so far got but a tease of Lost’s Michael Emerson as The Joker, which will no doubt turn out to be a treat to behold. It's nothing we haven’t seen before in terms of execution (the days of watching Superman on Saturday morning cartoons when I was but a youngun’ spring immediately and vividly to mind) it’s Miller’s original vision and a dedicated cast that knock Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 up a peg in terms of what one would expect from a direct-to-DVD product. When viewing the entire adaptation when “Part 2” arrives in 2013, it will no doubt be a favorite among fans of all Batman comics and is worth a look for those who deem these types of films as strictly nerd fare.  


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