Directed by: Jay Oliva
Starring: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby,
DC has a pretty terrible track record with live action renditions of their comic book properties of late but their animated attempts have been much more successful. It all sort of started in the 90’s with the stellar Batman The Animated Series, followed by superman The Animated Series, and the various versions of Justice League that aired on cartoon Network. Those animated shows were successful because there was plenty of tights and fights for kids to jump around too but hidden within the episodes were characters and themes that older viewers could sink their teeth into. All of these series are over now but most of the characters are reoccurring in DC’s regular slate of direct to Blu-Ray/digital animated films. So far these films have all been fairly good. Now one of the most popular Batman story arcs is brought to life in animated for with The Dark Knight Returns Part One.
Frank Miller originally crafted this story of an older retired Bruce Wayne simply existing day to day missing his old life as a creature of the night fighting crime. When a new gang begins taking over Gotham City called The Mutants Wayne comes out of retirement to to fight the good fight once again just as his old friend Comissioner Gordon is retiring himself. Batman is older and not as fast as he once was. So, the Dark Knight is forced to be smarter and more cunning to save the day. That was always Batman’s way though. He was never as strong as Superman or as powerful as the Green Lantern so he had to be smarter to fight alongside them as an equal. A bunch of cool gadgets also didn’t hurt.
Miller’s vision of this story was obviously quite dark and it was effected by previous events in Batman’s life, including some guilt carried over the death of Robin. Much of this is hinted at in the animated film but not elaborated on. There is enough there to decipher what the references mean and to begin to understand why Batman has retired but not so much that the film goes darker than Warner Brothers probably wanted. That may get to truly what’s most disappointing about this rendition of Miller’s story; it’s just held back and lightened up with kids references such as this new nonsensical Robin. She’s an acrobat for no reason! At least the original Robin had experience in the circus that made his acrobatic abilities make some semblance of sense. This film is trying to toe the line for kids and adults like the original series did but few kids are buying these blu-rays and even if they were the original show was much smarter about the whole process. There’s not enough feeling of darkness here to give weight to Wayne’s decision making and the villains aren’t rendered scary enough.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is by no means a complete failure. The action is well developed and considering the lower budget for the film it looks good too. Director Jay Oliva is no stranger to this sort of film. He previous directed Batman: Under the Red Hood (an overrated film that was truly just OK) and Superman: Doomsday (another film that was just held back feeling compared to the actual story). Knowing that he is in the director’s seat you know what to expect. The film is by the numbers which means good action and an OK but timid retelling of the actual story.
The 1080p presentation features art that’s a mixed bag of Frank Miller’s great original art style and that of the previous DC animated films. The overall look of the film is quite good and the blu-ray representation doesn’t get in the way too much. There are some instances of banding and some edge aliasing in a few scenes but the color palette matches the original comic book art nicely, black levels are deep, contrast is high, and when there is stand out color it’s appropriately vivid.
The DTS-HD mix here is aggressive and surprisingly immersive for a direct to blu-ray animated fil. At the beginning of the film a few instances of dialogue are overpowered a little by sound fx but after that everything levels out and dialogue is always crisp and easy to hear. There are some nice surround effects from the entire sound stage and dynamic levels are pretty good although the low end could have used more attention.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
This release comes packaged in a standard slim blu-ray amaray case with a blu-ray, DVD, and digital copy of the film. The art is actually quite cool on the cover.
There are sneak peeks for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part Two and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. Both of these brief featurettes are a mix of cast interviews and storyboards and animation tests for the films. They aren’t deep at all and just feel like marketing kits. You won’t watch these more than once. There is a featurette about Carrie, the new female Robin that ends up discussing women’s roles in comics. The discussion is actually much more interesting than the character that inspired it. Batman and Me: The Bob Kane Story is the sweet spot as far as bonus features go on this release. This featurette covers the creator of Batman’s entire life story with interviews current and past with collaborators and friends and family and some archived interviews with the man himself. Every Batman fan should see this documentary short.
There are a couple of episodes of Batman The Animated Series that focus on Two face, a character with a small role in the film, and there’s a Batman digital comic. There’s no feature commentary? Seriously? There should be one of those for sure with the director and cast.
Batman The Dark Knight Returns is a good not great story. It’s worth a look and worth adding to a library for a fan of DC characters. It doesn’t live up to the best that DC animation has to offer though.
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
The Movie 7.5/10
The Video 8.5/10
The Audio 8/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10