Monday, October 8, 2012

The Dark Knight Returns Part 1

I had high hopes for this one. The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller is a classic. It's perfection in graphic novel format, and I've always said that they should turn it into a feature film. Like 300, that other Frank Miller graphic novel, it's practically made for a screen adaptation. Any smart director wouldn't mess with it. Just look at what Zack Snyder was able to accomplish with 300. Of course, The Dark Knight Returns is a series of four lengthy books, so condensing it into one movie would have been tough. When I heard that the animated version would be three movies, I was very excited. I raised my expectations another notch. Then I heard that Peter Weller was going to do the voice of Batman. And the expectations went higher still.

This animated feature is a straight-to-BluRay movie, and that should have clued me in as to what we were dealing with here.

After watching The Dark Knight Returns Part 1, expectations came tumbling down to planet Earth. It's not that the movie wasn't faithful to the graphic novels. It was. In fact, some frames were ripped straight from the book. That is a good thing, in my opinion. But something was missing. Instead of the art being a bold graphic statement, it looked a little low budget. Like it was made by some cheap Korean animation sweatshop. Also, missed opportunities abound: if there was anything that needed changing, it was the 80's design of the mutant gang, and that remained 100% intact.

It's not that the plot was meddled with either. Events unfolded just like they did in the comics. The pacing was off. The storytelling felt stiff somehow, and it missed many of the high points of the comics. (Spoilers follow!) Batman getting shot in the chest as he walked the tightrope was devoid of thrill. The unmasking of Two-Face turned out to have zero drama. 

It's all there. But it never comes together.

The director's decision to skip the first person narrative from the comics is partly to blame. And that's a shame really because I would have loved to have heard Peter Weller saying that line from the comics, "This would be a good death. But not good enough." Still, it was a thrill to hear Peter Weller deliver the one-liner of the movie adaptation in his gravelly Batman/Marlboro Man/Robocop voice: "He'll live."

The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 ends after Batman defeats the Mutant Gang. That's a lot to put into one movie (two whole books), so I'll cut the filmmakers some slack. It wasn't that bad, and there are some things to like about the movie. That won't stop me from saying that The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 was a disappointment. There's still Part 2 and Part 3 to look forward to, and these books include some of the most memorable stories in comics history. My expectations will stay low this time.

Third World Nerd Verdict: This adaptation of one of the greatest comic books of all time isn't one of the greatest animated movies of all time. It's merely passable, which is too bad.

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