After my rant this summer about Batman overload, I felt a little funny popping “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns — Part 1″ into the Blu-ray player.
But it’s a comic book video, and I’m a geek writer, so I figured I should do it. And I’m actually glad I did. Would I have preferred an Aquaman (or Legion of Super-Heroes or Amethyst or Captain Carrot or Shazam or Wonder Woman or Flash or Sandman or JSA or Hawkman or Dial H for Hero or Outsiders or Blue Devil or Black Condor II or …) movie? Of course! But this one actually managed to hold my attention for an hour and 15 minutes. And I’m not cursing my fate, wishing for those 75 minutes back.
One of my colleagues says Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” is the greatest superhero comic ever written. I’ve never read it. When it came out, I couldn’t have cared less. (My ambivalence about the character is longstanding.) And I’ve never felt compelled to pick it up.
The story’s the thing here, adapted by Bob Goodman and directed by Jay Oliva.
And it’s a good story. Batman has been retired for 10 years, and a gang called the Mutants is causing an increasing amount of trouble in Gotham City with robberies, kidnappings, assaults and random murders. Also, Harvey Dent is supposedly rehabilitated. Yeah, that doesn’t last long.
The story and source material are so good, they decided to split it into two movies, but I won’t spoil the point where the first one ends.
With the extra room to breathe, Oliva spends some time building character and tension. Bruce and Jim Gordon, who’s about to retire at the film’s start, are friends outside of crime fighting. There’s also a tense fight with some bank robbers as Batman returns and stalks the criminals at an old construction site.
Kevin Conroy may be a fan favorite as Batman’s voice, but I must say Peter Weller (“RoboCop”) does a fantastic job as the older, more grizzled and slightly weary Bruce Wayne. He bears the weight of Gotham on his shoulders, even in retirement, and you hear it in his voice. And you hear the determination when he dons the cowl again. I hope he gets nominated for an Annie Award.
Not having read the book, there were some interesting twists: Lana Lang as managing editor of the Daily Planet? Jimmy Olson as a media mogul? Um, OK.
But Alfred’s as dry as always, even if he must be pushing 90, and give the film moments of well-timed humor. And new Robin Carrie has spunk.
The animation budget for these seems to shrink with each new release. But there are some interesting stylistic choices, including some nice bits played in smoke. But Miller’s iconic style is barely replicated.
The second volume will be released early next year.