To be a comic fan and aficionado there are two stories that you have to appreciate, understand, grasp, and love: ‘Watchmen’ and ‘The Dark Knight Returns’. Both products of the late 80s they are the cornerstone for a new type of ‘gritty’ comics and heralded the importance of the 9 panel-grid comic book storytelling method.
And I hated them both.
I’m sorry, OK?! I tried! I bought them both (in trade) and read them cover to cover. Neither was any good! I’m serious! I’m time and again baffled by the importance people attach to these comics. In a recent interview Kevin Smith called The Dark Knight Returns “‘The Catcher in the Rye’ of comic books” for people of his generation (which I just missed out on, mind you).
So when they announced that DC would be turning it into the next of their successful animated features, I was heartbroken. I knew I’d have to review it at some point which meant revisiting a story that was at best boring, and at worst baffling. (Imagine my terror when they announced they were doing it in two parts!)
One minor character flaw I possess is my distaste for the 80s style of comic book art. I understand the principle of the thing, and can see how it was a great leap forward blahdiblahblahblah. I just don’t like it. Let’s be fair, too – art is an entirely subjective experience; what one likes another might hate.
Skip forward a couple of decades and all of a sudden the translation from comic book to screen has improved the original artwork and created a visual that is entirely pleasing to the eye. Not so dark and gritty you start hacking up a smoker’s lung, and finally Carrie doesn’t look like some androgynous mid-teens confusion. (What was with those glasses, anyway?)
Funnily enough, I even found the story enjoyable this time around as well. It’s been several years since I even laid eyes on the trade, let alone read the thing, so I can’t speak to the story translation from comic book to screen (check out iFanboy’s podcast for a more in-depth discussion with people who a) liked the book and b) remember it). But I really enjoyed the way the story moved along this time. I can’t necessarily agree with Kevin Smith (who has apparently watched it 12 times and wept every time) but Part 1 definitely carries the viewer along a fascinating story of an ageing Bruce Wayne, reliving his past glories and finally picking the cape back up to fight the latest crime wave affecting Gotham City.
The voice work is nothing to write home about – unusual considering past successes in that department – but I did enjoy Peter Weller as Bruce and Bats.
Overall, I’d recommend this particular animated feature to pretty much anyone. It might not be suitable for the children, and you might not want to give your teenagers any new ideas (‘cause I bet that Batman logo is not coming off his face anytime soon!) but whether you’re a lapsing comic book fan, die hard Batman aficionado, or have never picked up a comic book in your life (and still don’t know why Heath Ledger’s performance was so impressive) I think you’re going to enjoy Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1.