Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Parts 1&2 (2012/2013 146 minutes total)
Plot: A long retired Bruce Wayne is forced to return to the role of Batman to save Gotham City from a crimewave.
Source Material: One of the grand epics of DC’s canon, The Dark Knight Returns was considered so sacred it received a 2 part take rather than being whittled down to 75 minutes. Furthermore it was reedited into a single film for blu-ray, the ideal viewing method I think. The film by and large sticks to the source with minor alterations here and there but nothing too distracting. The film even at times lifts shots directly from Frank Miller’s work. It’s definitely a tribute, even if it shows how thoroughly this comic has been mined by other media.
Animation: As I noted, there are a number of shots taken directly from Miller. While the film doesn’t borrow his style, compared by a friend of mine to editorial cartoons, it still looks utterly incredible. The company style of borderline anime mixed with flash animation that at times looks 2.5D is in place hard and it works great here. The action crackles while the characters are refreshingly expressive. It’s some of the finest work from WB animation yet.
Script: Bob Goodman’s work here is quality, even if it shows why this is kind of a tricky work to adapt. It’s very much told in four sections, reflecting the four issues of the source, resulting in at times an anthology feel. That said, it’s a four act structure more than anything else and it works. The expanded time definitely lets the film breathe. Character work is potent. Lots of nice small scenes.
Voice Acting: It’s not the most notable I’ve heard but it works. Peter Weller is a rather strong Batman, bringing a nicely human touch to the character. Ariel Winter is well cast as Carrie Kelly, albeit basically doing Alex from Modern Family in a cape. Michael Emerson is fun as the Joker. Mark Valley joins a long tradition of Superman voices who turned in a decent go but were forgotten at once. Supporting voices are about on this level.
Final Verdict: It’s unfair to give this one any bonus points for its length. That’s an advantage the others didn’t have. But I’m still going to give this one a well deserved 4/5. Docking it a bit for the uneven structure, but still a first rate work. This is what DC Animated films are at their best: highly satisfying journeys through this universe. Is this the same as reading Miller? No, but it’s a fun companion.