Based on the 1986 comic by Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns is so well-regarded that Warner Premiere made the wise decision to split the animated adaptation into two films. For most Batman fans, the story is likely a familiar one. For those who’ve never read the comics, The Dark Knight Returns: Part 1 works nicely as a standalone film, offering some clues to what is coming in Part 2.
Bruce Wayne (voiced by Peter Weller) is a fifty-five year old thrill seeker. He let go of his Batman persona ten years earlier. Bruce has been enjoying a quiet, lonely life at Wayne Manor even as Gotham begins to disintegrate under the weight of a new threat. A gang known as the Mutants terrorizes the city, in the absence of superheroes. Lead by a monster of a leader (Gary Anthony Williams), the gangs murder, kidnap and rape for sport. As the crimes get worse, it takes every ounce of willpower that Bruce has to keep his inner vigilante at bay.
Meanwhile, in Arkham Asylum, Harvey Dent/Two-Face (Wade Williams) has undergone a risky surgery in an attempt to fix the damage to his face. While it’s a success, it costs him any chance at mental stability. Nonetheless, Dent is given a clean bill of health and released into society. Immediately, Dent threatens havoc and The Dark Knight is forced out of retirement. With the help of a soon-to-be-retired Commissioner Gordon (David Selby), The Batman goes to work. Along the way, he inadvertently inspires a young girl named Carrie (Ariel Winter) to take up the Robin mantle.
The film really captures the dark and grimy atmosphere of the novel. A rather violent vision of 1980’s futuristic Gotham, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 is definitely not for young children. Rape, kidnapping and other violent crimes are unapologetically treated as everyday occurrences.
Writer Bob Goodman and director Jay Oliva have largely stayed true to Frank Miller’s original material. In doing so, they have successfully shown Batman as a creature of the shadows. We understand that Batman is a larger-than-life mythical figure. When he returns after his ten year absence, you can see the city of Gotham breathe a collective sigh of relief. The action sequences are superb throughout. The Dark Knight’s battles are fluid, tough and exciting. The filmmakers did a great job of showing Batman’s strengths, but also letting us know that this is an aging man under that cowl.
The voice cast is mostly terrific. Peter Weller handles the Bruce Wayne/Batman duties nicely, riding the emotional rollercoaster of an aging hero. Ariel Winter as Carrie represents the film’s genuinely warm character and she brings the necessary warmth to her character. Michael McKean does a great job in his small part as Dr. Wolper. Unfortunately, there are a couple of disappointments. David Selby as Commissioner Gordon sounds far to laid back for a character that usually affects an authoritative voice. Gary Anthony Williams chews a lot of scenery as the Mutant Leader. However, it’s so over-the top at times, it’s difficult to take him seriously as a villain.
Presented in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p transfer is a nice one. Colors are vibrant and black levels are excellent. Perfectly defined, the characters are always perfectly visible. Even as the go down alleyways in darkness. While there are some slight aliasing issues in a couple of spots, it doesn’t mar the overall video presentation.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track works well for the film. However, don’t expect an all out sonic experience. The surround isn’t fully exploited. The action sequences simply don’t have the punch that the animation suggests. There is almost no rear speaker involvement, which is a real shame. It should be said that the does a nice job throughout. Dialogue is clear and exacting.
English SDH, French, Spanish and German SDH subtitles are available.
Along with a DVD and UV Digital Copy, the following special features are included:
- Her Name Is Carrie… Her Role Is Robin (HD, 12:23) A look at Carrie’s unique role as role as Robin and a peek at the comic book industry as a whole.
- Batman and Me: A Devotion to Destiny, The Bob Kane Story (SD, 38:26): This 2008 documentary looks at the life and career of Batman creator Bob Kane, complete with archive interviews with Kane and additional interviews with Stan Lee, Mark Hamill, Elizabeth Kane, Jerry Robinson, Thomas Andrae and more.
- Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 Sneak Peek (HD, 6:53): A behind-the-scenes preview of the second half of The Dark Knight Returns animated film.
- Batman: The Animated Series Episodes (SD, 44:51): Two classic episodes: “Two-Face, Parts 1 & 2.”
- “The Dark Knight Returns” Digital Comic (HD): A 4-page preview of Miller’s Batman classic. Hint: Just go buy the book!
- Superman/Batman: Public Enemies Sneak Peek (SD, 7:52)
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