Lets face it. Despite Nolan’s Batman run, when it comes to bringing their creations to the silver screen, WB/DC Comics sucks. This is a company that owns the rights to ALL of their creations, unlike Marvel….can cross over WHOEVER they want with WHOEVER they want without legal obstacles….unlike Marvel…has a roster of A-list heroes nearly double the size of Marvel’s. But the only movie they can manage to make that isn’t a failure lately is Batman. Singer’s Superman…sucked and underperformed. Watchmen…though great….underperformed. Flash movie…in development hell for years. Wonder Woman movie….in development hell for years. Wonder Woman TV series….cancelled in the pilot stage. Jonah Hex…blew chunks. Catwoman…a joke. Green Lantern…set up to be WB/DC’s new tent pole but subsequently shoved a tent pole right back up their ass. Its gotten so bad that their third attempt at Superman seems to be copying the tone of Nolan’s Batman Begins, in the obtuse thinking that it is the ONLY way to do a superhero movie right. However, the real puzzle of the matter is that the WB/DC direct to dvd animation films seem to always be amazing. Sometimes even better than their motion picture counter parts. I’m talking to you Green Lantern. That brings us to The Dark Knight Returns Part 1.
Before comic book writer Frank Miller went crazy and did The Spirit (Boy, I got to stop bringing this film up), he had a pretty good track record of awesome. Sin City, 300, Big Guy and Rusty. But before those was perhaps his crowning achievement, The Dark Knight Returns. It was the story of an older retired Batman putting on the cape and cowl once more to take back the streets of Gotham. It was gritty. It was gruff. It was great. Now over a quarter of a century later, DC animation brings it to life. And the results are amazing. Director Jay Oliva, who has done previous work on other great DC animated films like Under The Red Hood and Batman: Year One, really gets the feel of Miller’s graphic novel. The dark tone and the brutal violence in it is so UNFLINCHING and raw, I found myself several times checking the rating on it. In live action, this film would be rated R without question.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the performances in this as well. There has always been one quintessential Batman for me. Its not Bale, or Clooney, or Kilmer, or even Keaton. It is Kevin Conroy. His portrail is the first one that pops into my mind when I hear someone mention Batman. Bruce Greenwood has done a great job recently with a very similar voice. However, Peter Weller’s grizzled old Batman in The Dark Knight Returns fits the material like a glove. His use of “Son” will put a smile on your face for sure. David Selby also turns in a strong performance as Commissioner Gordon. They both hit all the familiar beats and add some new ones as well. The credit should go to long time casting and voice director Andrea Romano. If you ever want to be wowed, take a look at her filmography.
The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 delivers in every way a Batman fan would want and gives WB/DC’s animation department another homerun project. WB/DC might want to consider using the braintrust over there (Executive Producer Bruce Timm Especially) to help get their meandering motion pictures off the ground. Turn out the lights…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.