Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 1

  • Title:  Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 1
  • Director:  Jay Olivia
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2012
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Action, Animation
  • Cast:  Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby, Wade Williams, Maurice LaMarche, Michael McKean, Rob Paulsen, Tara Strong, Frank Welker
  • Format:  Widescreen Color Animation
  • DVD Format:  R 1, NTSC

“We must believe we can all defeat our own private demons.” — Bruce Wayne, during press conference

“Two abducted children were found alive in a riverside warehouse along with six critically injured members of the mutant gang.  The children describe the gang’s attacker as, ‘a man dressed as Dracula.’ “– Female Newscaster

“If it’s suicide you’re after, I have an old family recipe.  It’s slow and painful — you’d like it.” — Alfred, to Bruce

“I played along as long as I could, while you and the docs had your joke.  You got everyone to smile and keep their lunches down when they looked at me, pretending I looked normal. … Just look at me and have your laugh.  Get it over with.  At least both sides match now, right?  Look at me, and have your laugh.” — Harvey Dent

Batman The Dark Knight Returns is based on Frank Miller’s incomparable graphic novel of the same name. Miller’s work changed comics for a decade, and it’s effects are still being felt.  The animated film starts quickly, with no credits (they will appear at the end).  Commissioner Gordon is weeks from retirement, and the Batman hasn’t been seen in Gotham City for ten years.  The city is in a grip of a crime wave, mostly caused by the Mutants, a gang dedicated to horrific violence even more than crime.  Bruce Wayne and James Gordon are having dinner.  Gordon lightly inquires about Batman, and then brings up Dick and Jason. Bruce insists he’s given up his old life fighting crime, but isn’t happy that Gordon’s brought up the Robins.

Bruce leaves his meeting with Gordon and walks through Crime Alley, there he is reminded of his parents’ deaths and his one-time vow to stop crime.  Some Mutants approach to attack Bruce, but he frightens them off.  That night, he dreams about his experiences.  He remembers falling down a well, and being scared by bats.  Unable to sleep, Bruce goes to the Batcave and stares at Robin’s shrine.  Alfred arrives, concerned.  To Bruce’s own surprise, he has shaved off his mustache.

Meanwhile, at the Arkham Home, a Dr. Wolper (Michael McKean) works with Harvey Dent, to rehabilitate the criminal once known as Two-Face.  Joker is also in Arkham, but completely comatose.  Harvey, his face  restored, and supposedly cured of  his criminal bent, is released, but then disappears.

Meanwhile, back at his manor, Bruce Wayne is flipping TV channels in the middle of  the night.  He keeps finding news reports of Gotham’s escalating violence.  But he also comes across a late night showing of The Mark of Zorro, the film he saw with his parents That Fateful Night.  The film brings back bad memories of his trauma.  But even as he tries to escape his memories by flipping channels, he only hears more bad news of crime and violence.  Even the weather report of the on-coming storm seems dire.  Bruce’s memories mix with the Voice of the Bat, calling him to return.  A bat breaks through his window.

Meanwhile, Carrie and her friend Michelle have taken a short cut through The Arcade to escape the rain.  Michelle is nervous because she has heard it’s a Mutant Gang hideout.  Carrie pooh-poohs her fears.  Then the lights go out and Mutants attack.  Batman confronts the Mutants and rescues the girls.

He also catches an armed robber the cops are chasing.  TV news clips and reports are soon covering the story of  the return of  Batman from a number of perspectives.  Even Carrie and Michelle are interviewed.

Alfred helps Bruce with his physical injuries, and chides him that he really is getting too old for this kind of thing.

The next day, one of the thugs Batman had captured and beaten up is in Gordon’s office with his lawyer, claiming “police brutality”.  Gordon simply releases the guy.  This turns out to be Batman’s plan, who follows him and tortures him to get information on Two-Face.

Meanwhile, Carrie listens to her parents whining and gets sick of  it, she sees the Batman symbol on a building and is heartened.

Gordon meanwhile has contacted Batman.  He tells Batman two helicopters were stolen the previous night.  Batman responses he didn’t get much out of Two-Face’s lackey,  just that the crime was going down the next day.  Gordon responds that it makes sense, since it’s Tuesday and the second of  the month.  Then Two Face breaks into the television signal of a news report.  He claims to have two bombs and he will destroy the Gotham Life Building (which has two towers) unless he’s paid off with Twenty-two million dollars, and he gives the citizens of Gotham twenty-two minutes to comply.

Batman defuses one bomb, but he’s attacked when he tries to cross on a line to the other tower.  Harvey Dent (Two Face) and Batman crash through a window into the other building.  There Batman pulls off Harvey’s bandages, but he looks normal.  Harvey, however, is delusional, and thinks that both sides of  his face are horribly disfigured and scarred.

On TV, a point-to-point debate pits pro Batman Daily Planet managing editor, Lana Lang, against anti-Batman author Dr. Wolper.  More news clips follow the rising debate.

Carrie dresses as Robin.

A newscaster reports that James Gordon has been killed, then admits she “read it wrong”, James Gordon killed a Mutant gang member.

Carrie tries out being Robin, and discovers her fear of  heights, but slowly she starts to get it.

The Mutants kidnap a wealthy family’s two-year-old heir; Batman rescues the child and defeats the Mutants.

The screen goes completely dark as Batman questions a suspect, eventually he takes his hand away from the man’s eyes, and reveals he’s holding him over the Gotham city streets far below.

Carrie stops a purse snatching.

Batman confronts the general who sold military-grade arms to the Mutants.

Batman and separately, Carrie, go to the Gotham dump to confront the Mutants.  Bruce is badly beaten by the Mutant Leader.  Carrie manages to get him inside the Batmobile, which looks like a tank.  Bruce orders the car back to the cave, despite Alfred’s pleas to go to the hospital.  He takes Carrie with him and tells Alfred she will be trained as a Robin.  Alfred isn’t hot on the idea.  Bruce also goes deep into the cave, alone, to confront his demons.  He decides to continue as Batman.  He flashes back to the loss of  his parents.

On TV, again Lana Lang and Dr. Wolper debate about Batman.  Carrie stares at the Robin memorial in the cave.  The mayor appoints a female, anti-Batman police commissioner, Ellen Yindel.  The mayor also offers to meet with the Mutant leader to arrange appeasement.

Alfred tries to talk to Bruce about his plans.  When he doesn’t appear to be getting through, he brings up Jason.  Bruce refers to Jason as a “good soldier” but that the war must go on.  He has Carrie undercover as a Mutant pass along a message for all the Mutant gang members to meet at “the Pipe”.

Gordon talks to Yindel, trying to explain to her why he approves of  the Batman.  When the mayor is killed by the Mutant leader during their “peace treaty”, Gordon agrees with Batman’s plan, and sees to it the Leader is able to escape.

Batman again confronts the Mutant leader.  They fight in the mud by the Pipe, in front of  all the Mutant gang members.  Batman uses his smarts as well as his fighting abilities to defeat the Leader.  As a result, the Mutant gang is broken up.  Gordon’s officers arrest several, others break off  into other splinter gangs.  One gang, the Sons of  Batman, insist on “actions not words” and attack other criminals.

Gordon turns in his badge and gun, retiring.  Ordinary citizens start to stand up to violence, a man stops a mugging in front of his store.  The TV news clips runs other clips, both pro and con Batman and the new reality.

The Joker awakes as he hears the news.

The story will be continued in part 2.

Batman The Dark Knight Returns is awesome!  The story is straight from Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel, and the animated film does not hold back.  This is a dark, and violent story with lots of  blood.  But the animation is also awesome.  Many of the images are truly memorable, and often it is the images that tell the story, especially Bruce Wayne’s flashbacks to his parents’ murder and becoming Batman.

Meanwhile, Gotham City is a mess — without Batman, violence, especially gang violence, has taken over the streets and ordinary people have no hope.  The constant TV news cashes in on the violence and “bad news”, offering no reprieve from the sense of  gloom and hopelessness.

The film realistically portrays an older Bruce Wayne, with lined face, who groans and creaks when he returns to the life of  Batman.  Commissioner James Gordon is also considerably older, and ready to retire.

Television news dominates the lives of  everyone in Gotham, and even Carrie gets on TV to tell the story of how she was rescued in the Arcade (by a man — seven feet tall!).  Like the graphic novel, much of the structure of the actual story is told in the comments of  the newscasters, and people they interview.  Much of this is also full of  irony and dark humor, such as the man who advises that criminals need to be rehabilitated back into society — then acknowledges that he “doesn’t live in the city”.

The animation in the film is incredible!  Not only is it very real-looking, but it’s dark and has the slightly “washed” look of the original graphic novel.  Great images abound, as well as novel things such as a scene that’s completely black, with only audio to tell you what Batman’s doing.  Uses of flashes of  lightning or gunshots or other bright, sudden sources of  light are also used in other scenes.  The over-all effect is of watching a moving graphic novel.

The plot of  the film is an excellent adaptation of the graphic novel.  Not only is Batman brought back after a gap of ten years, but he confronts two main villains beyond his own age:  The Mutant gang, notably their leader, and Two Face (Harvey Dent).  Both these villains are psychologically interesting and complex. The Mutants look like punks, and act like them too — committing horrible acts of  violence not for money or to survive, but because they can.  In other words, they are bullies – pure and simple.  And like any bully, when Batman defeats their leader in front of the entire gang, the gang itself falls apart.  And, some members of  the gang decide to follow Batman instead.  The other villain is Harvey Dent.  This film doesn’t go into too much detail about Harvey’s backstory, however, Bruce Wayne has personally paid for Harvey’s rehabilitation.  Harvey’s face is rebuilt, and a “psycholisgist” is employed to help re-build Harvey’s broken psyche.  Yet when he’s released from Arkham, Harvey goes straight back to his life of crime.  When Batman catches up to him, Harvey is completely delusional – convinced his face is now horribly scarred on both sides, and that’s how it was made to “match”.  Bruce is crushed – in a way he’s sympathetic, because he also can only see himself  as  Batman.

The film is very violent, and there’s just a lot of  blood.  If you’ve read the graphic novel, this isn’t surprising, but if you’re only familiar with the DC animated universe and original films — this one is considerably more adult in tone and imagery.  The rating is PG-13, and it should be at least that, if not limited to 15-year-olds and up.  But overall I highly, highly recommend it.  And if you loved the graphic novel, you will really love this film.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2