Knight Time (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns review)
Sometimes a person falls out of favour with their circle of friends, and sometimes they find a way back into social graces. Timing, humility, and quality of interaction all play into this result.
If you were to travel back in time to the mid-nineteen eighties, you wouldn’t have though much of The Batman. He wasn’t particularly cool and people weren’t that interested in what he was doing.
But today’s Theatrical Tuesday entry tells the story that got him back at the cool kids table? That’s right, you guessed it, we’re reviewing…
The Dark Knight Returns (2013)
Cast: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby, Wade Williams, Michael Emerson, Mark Valley
Director: Jay Oliva
re-released on blu-ray w/graphic novel on February 24, 2016
Rotten Tomatoes: 100%, Audience Score 94%
The Guardian: N/A
Jay Oliva is a Filipino-American artist, producer and animated film director; one who happens to work for Warner Brothers Animation.
He got his start on the FOX Spider-man series of the 1990s, and has been involved in animated versions of Ghostbusters, Godzilla, Starship Troopers, and He-Man. Since then he has worked on numerous animations for both DC and Marvel and numerous years before he was assigned the task of creating the two-part animated movie The Dark Knight Returns.
If it it isn’t clear by now, Oliva has a good track record when it comes to creating comic book inspired worlds or adapting already written stories like The Dark Knight Returns mini-series.
For the sake of the review, let’s go over the story, if somewhat briefly.
Taken from Wikipedia and edited,
Set in a dystopian near-future version of Gotham City. Bruce Wayne, at 55, has retired for ten years after the death of Jason Todd. Wayne has a breakdown and assumes the role of Batman again. He first confronts Harvey Dent, who was thought to be cured after therapy and plastic surgery (which Wayne financed).
Batman saves 13-year-old Carrie Kelley from an attack by a gang called the Mutants. Kelley buys herself an imitation Robin costume and searches for Batman, seeking to help him. She finds Batman at the city dump, where he fights an army of Mutants. Though Batman defeats the Mutant army with his weaponry, the Mutant leader beats him in combat. With the help of retiring Commissioner James Gordon and the new Robin, Batman defeats the Mutant leader on his own terms. The Mutants disband and some rename themselves the Sons of Batman.
At the White House, Superman and the president discuss the events in Gotham, with the latter suggesting that Superman may have to arrest Batman. Superman is then deployed by Washington to the Latin American country of Corto Maltese where he fights Soviet combat forces in a conflict that may ignite WWIII.
Batman’s return stimulates The Joker to awaken from catatonia at Arkham Asylum. With renewed purpose, The Joker manipulates his caretakers to allow him onto a television talk show, where he murders everyone with gas and escapes. Batman and Robin track him to a county fair, where he is already killing people. Batman defeats The Joker in a violent confrontation, nearly killing him. To incriminate Batman for murder, The Joker seemingly commits suicide by breaking his own neck. A citywide manhunt for Batman begins.
Superman diverts a Soviet nuclear warhead which detonates in a desert. The United States is hit by an electromagnetic pulse, and descends into chaos during the resulting blackout. In Gotham, Batman realizes what has happened, and he and Robin turn the remaining Mutants and Sons of the Batman into a non-lethal vigilante gang. He leads them against looters and ensures the flow of essential supplies. In the midst of electromagnetic pulse, Gotham becomes the safest city in the country. The U.S. government sees this as an embarrassment, and orders Superman to remove Batman. Superman demands to meet Batman.
Superman tries to reason with Batman, but Batman uses his technological inventions and mastery of hand-to-hand combat to fight him. During the battle, Superman compromises Batman’s exoframe, while Green Arrow shoots a kryptonite-tipped arrow to greatly weaken Superman. Batman reveals that he intentionally spared Superman’s life by not using a more powerful kryptonite mix; before he can finish his monologue, Batman suddenly has a heart attack, apparently dying. Alfred destroys the Batcave and Wayne Manor before dying of a stroke, exposing Batman as Bruce Wayne, whose fortune has disappeared. After Wayne’s funeral, it is revealed that his death was staged. Clark Kent attends the funeral and winks at Robin after hearing Wayne’s heartbeat resume. Some time afterward, Bruce Wayne leads Robin, Green Arrow, and the rest of his followers into the caverns beyond the Batcave and prepares to continue his war on crime.
I tried to edit that down as much as I could folks, but it was important to include all of those details for the next part of the review.
I will start by saying this, if you like animated films, but don’t know a lot about the Batman mythology, start here. The Dark Knight Returns is a great Batman story and because it is set in an alternate future, it won’t screw up or confuse you with subsequent readings of other books. The animation is well done, and echoes the source material as well.
That being said, it is an incredibly long story which includes what seems like almost every single detail of the original mini-series. So be prepared for a narrative which expects you to pay close attention.
Pros: As is the case with most of the DC line of animated films, it’s faithful to it’s source material and very entertaining. Peter Weller does a great job as Batman, as does Michael Emerson as The Joker. You have to follow the entire story through to appreciate everything, but it’s well worth it.
Cons: It is difficult to sit through 2 hours and 30 odd minutes of an animated feature. TBH, I blame Disney for conditioning us to expect animated films to wrap up in 90 minutes or less.
Runtime: 2 hours 32 minutes
Points of Interest: The Joker visits the David Endochrine Show which is based off the David Letterman Show. However the David of the animated movie is voiced by Conan O’Brien and as such resembles him. Though not explicitly stated, the POTUS in the film looks like and sounds like Ronald Reagan.
What I find most interesting about this story is not that we get to see how Batman would act if he returned to crimefighting after a hiatus, but that he is clearly themed around a fascist messiah, and most people who read the book, watched the animated film or went to see Batman v Superman didn’t really care to recognize that. Which says something about humanity even now in the wake of Batman v Superman.
This Batman is one who “realizes” the world is broken and that only he can judge it properly, so after cleaning up his city, he fakes his death, and builds an underground army while he waits for an opportunity. Almost 20 years later, Frank Miller wrote a follow up to this story titled The Dark Knight Strikes Again which details how Batman goes about “savining” the United States from rule by Lex Luthor. A third mini-series, The Dark Knight: The Master Race is also currently in the works, and makes me wonder about the conclusion of this Batman story.
You should definitely watch and/or read The Dark Knight Returns, IF you want to better understand how easily fascism can crop up in society; because we all want a hero to save us, but maybe that’s not the best solution. This story definitely helped drive Batman back into pop culture, and incidentally, tomorrow’s post has some wisdom about Buzzworthy content. I’m out of theories for now, please comment, subscribe, and share this post if you liked it!