Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 (2012)
Batman is a character who has gone through so many different incarnations in the comics, animation, and in cinema. While Bob Kane and Bill Finger created and shaped the character, other writers and artists really evolved these characters to how we see them today. One man who has had probably one of the biggest influences on the legendary Dark Knight's image is Frank Miller. Batman, a character who had begun as a masked vigilante fighting criminals from the shadows had become kind of a joke in the 1950s and especially in the 1960s with the safe for kids live action television series starring Adam West as the not so dark Knight of Gotham City. Batman had basically become a sitcom and steered away from the dark and dangerous image of Gotham. That was until the 1970s when the camp fad ended and Batman was brought back to his prime thanks to Denny O'Neal, Julius Schwartz, and Neal Adams. In the 1980s, a young comic book writer/artist named Frank Miller had just moved over to DC Comics after working a few years at Marvel. Miller, a man who likes to bring new things and tends to stir up controversy due to being original, decided to do things with the Batman world that had never been done before. Frank wrote what is considered the best Batman story of all time and one that has since continued to inspire comics, animation, and movies called The Dark Knight Returns. Dark Knight Returns centers around an aged Bruce Wayne who hasn't been Batman for a decade, but comes out of retirement when a gang calling themselves The Mutants begin to terrorize the city as well as his old pal Harvey Dent being released from Arkham only to return to his old Two-Face crimes. Miller didn't stop there though. Following his classic Batman in an even darker future story came the complete flip side. Frank Miller decided to go back to the very beginning with both Bruce Wayne and James Gordon with the iconic origin tale, Batman Year One, which explored Bruce's drive to become The Batman and the beginning of his alliance with soon to be Police Commissioner James Gordon. Miller's Batman Year One can be seen really well in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, which is now the best Batman origin story in cinema. Ever since 2007, Bruce Timm and several animation workers have been putting out three animated movies a year based on DC Comics characters. Timm and company pick the stories that fans are very eager to see get translated to animated feature films. Since the beginning, Batman Year One and The Dark Knight Returns were at the very top of the list of must projects, but it wasn't till 2011 that they got around to making them. In October of 2011, Batman Year One was released, which had mixed reactions. On one hand, it was a straight up adaptation of the classic Batman graphic novel. But, many fans were upset that they just copied the graphic novel word for word instead of doing things differently. Although, I can guarantee if they did do things differently, those same people would be whining that it isn't Batman Year One. For The Dark Knight Returns, Timm and comnpany decided that the only way to be faithful to this classic Batman story was to break it up into two parts due to the graphic novel being way too long for a 75 minute feature. So, yesterday Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 was released. Being someone who has honestly never read the graphic novel before, after seeing this movie, I definitely want to because this has got to be the best animated Batman film I've seen so far. It went to places that I wasn't expecting and I loved every second of it!
It has been 10 years since Gotham City has seen Batman. Billionaire Bruce Wayne has retired his cape and cowl, now drinking heavily and spending time at the race track trying to kill himself by driving wrecklessly. Police Commissioner James Gordon is in the process of retiring and already knows that Bruce used to be the legendary Dark Knight as the two hang out drinking and talking about the good old days. Former Gotham City District Attorney turned homicidal psychopath Harvey Dent has just had plastic surgery to make his face look normal again and has been released from Arkham Asylum. Soon, a vicious gang called The Mutants begin to terrorize the city killing innocent men, women, and children as the media eats it up in very despicable ways. Bruce is still haunted by his past and soon realizes that he can't change who he is and must become Batman to restore hope in this even darker Gotham City. His return inspires teenager Carrie Kelly to don the persona of Robin and fight by Batman's side. Batman must stop Harvey Dent who has been totally taken over by his evil side as well as stopping the Mutants from wrecking the city. Meanwhile, an old enemy awakes that will bring Gotham to an even darker Hell.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 is probably one of the darkest Batman stories ever told. The funny thing about this story is it came out in the 1980s, but a lot of the social commentary that Miller was getting at especially the depictions of the media still applies to today's society maybe even closer than it did back in the '80s. The media in this movie just exposes some of the worst acts of Humanity and uses others' despair as an outlet to gossip about and just get ratings and money. How people react to the crime that happens is also depressing. There's a scene where a thug pays a Taxi driver to let him beat up a woman in the backseat of the Taxi. People just stand around and watch as people are getting robbed, beaten, or killed, afraid that something bad will happen to them if they step up. Gotham is afraid to take a stand, which causes things to just get worse. Bruce starts off as an alcolholic and is pretty wreckless almost like he just wants to die already. Gordon is retiring, but trying to hold on to being a Gotham City cop for as long as he can. When Batman finally returns, Gordon sees this as their last case together. Alfred doesn't approve of Bruce putting the cape and cowl back on and feels he should just leave Batman in the past, put it behind him, and live a normal life. I can now see some of the influence this story had on Nolan's last Batman entry The Dark Knight Rises. Carrie Kelly is a teenage girl who is pretty street smart. She comes from a family who just sit in front of their television and smoke pot so she often sneaks out of the apartment and does her own thing. Carrie becomes inspired after Batman saves her and a friend from a group of Mutant thugs at an Arcade. She buys a Robin Halloween costume and saves Batman's life when he fights the Mutant leader. Batman's fight against the Mutant leader reminds me of the fight between Batman and Bane in The Dark Knight Rises where he loses the first fight but then gets the upper hand in the final battle.
I liked the portrayal of Harvey Dent in this movie where he had surgery to remove the deformed side of his face that created Two-Face, yet that personality still lives inside him to where he covers his entire face in bandages and scratches off both sides of the coin. The Mutant leader is a very scary guy. This is a guy you don't want to be alone with. There's also a psychiatrist named Dr. Wolper who is totally against Batman. We also get to see a much older Lana Lang. For those who don't know, Lana Lang was Clark Kent/Superman's girlfriend/best friend back in Smallville. I like that she is now working with The Daily Planet. We also get to see The Joker who is basically catatonic for most of the film, but comes alive at the end and will play a huge role in Part 2.
Yes, Robin is a girl in this story. I know that this part always surprises many fans, myself included. Miller is one who loves to change characters in a unique way that usually stirs up controversy with the die hards. For instance, he made Selina Kyle/Catwoman a prostitute and bi-racial in Batman Year One. I personally dig the girl Robin in this. I think it is great to have strong female characters in comics whether it be Catwoman, Black Canary, Huntress, Batgirl, Supergirl, or Wonder Woman. Women and girls need their superhero idols just like men and boys do. That's one thing that I do think DC has over Marvel, a great variety of strong female superheroes.
It's great that Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is split into two animated feature films because this thing would be a huge mess to try to cram everything into a single 75 minute movie. I think it will please most fans of the characters. Hoping they adapt Batman: The Long Halloween, another classic Batman story that would most likely end up as a two parter.
The animation is fantastic! Probably some of the best animation used in these films. Love the details of the characters and it definitely matches the look and feel of the graphic novel.
The voice casting was great. Andrea Romano certainly knows how to cast these movies. Peter Weller (Robocop) is perfect as an older Bruce Wayne/Batman. While I love Kevin Conroy as the character, I'm happy they are picking different actors to play this character. David Selby was great as Commissioner James Gordon. Ariel Winter was awesome as Carrie Kelly/Robin, giving us a tough kid who we really root for. Wade Williams who played Black Mask in Batman: Under The Red Hood plays Harvey Dent well. Michael McKean who played Perry White on Smallville was great as Dr. Wolper. Michael Jackson (not the pop star) played Alfred really well. Gary Anthony Williams played the creepy Mutant leader well. And Michael Emerson has only two words of dialogue as Joker, but is perfect for the role and I'm sure will be fantastic next year in Part 2.
The screenplay by Bob Goodman is basically Frank Miller's story come to life. The direction by Jay Oliva who is coincidentally the story board artist for next summer's much anticipated Superman reboot, Man of Steel, was great. Oliva is definitely a fan of these characters and knows how to get you excited and enjoying yourself with following Bruce from the low point in his life to resurfacing as Batman and giving the city hope again. Also dug the music score by Christopher Drake, which fit well with the story.
Overall, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 is a must see for any Batman fan. It's the first half of an epic story that looks like it is just going to get more crazy and epic early next year when Part 2 comes out.