Before I watched this animated feature and its second part, 'The Dark Knight Returns - Part 2', I had considered animated features based on the 'Batman' mythos to be quite a cosy way of filling an otherwise empty evening. They had their own level of violence that, at times, could be a little too graphic, but they were still a guilty pleasure of mine.
'The Dark Knight Returns - Part 1' changed quite a bit of that. As a 'Batman' feature, it is quite intense, in a similar vein to the 2011 adaptation of Frank Miller's 'Batman: Year One' -- only more so.
From the beginning, it is clear that we are in a different time, sat in with a Bruce Wayne and a Gotham City that are not quite right. Make no mistake, they are still the characters made familiar to us over time but, as they say, 'this is not your father's Batman'.
Parents should be warned that most of the DC Animated Original Films are not aimed at young children (even adults may find them a little distasteful in parts), and this one is no exception. Blood, gore, suicide pacts and 'surgery' in a mud pool ensue. This is a very violent, post-modern Gotham, not too unlike Christopher Nolan's 'The Dark Knight Trilogy', and younger children are better directed towards either Adam West or, if animated, then 'Batman: The Animated Series' and its successors.
With that aside, this is a very engaging animated film that shares a lot in common with Frank Miller's original source illustrated novel. Some scenes are switched around, redacted or, in some cases, even enhanced, making this quite an interesting watch for general Batman fans and fans of this specific comic book. As an aside, the comic book behind this feature was part of the inspiration behind Tim Burton's original 'Batman' film in 1989.
Peter 'Robocop' Weller provides the voice of a very beleaguered Batman/Bruce Wayne, whilst Michael Jackson (not to be confused with the late Prince of Pop) provides the voice of his faithful, yet ageing valet, Alfred Pennyworth. Screen stalwart, David Selby also lends his voice to the similarly past-his-prime Commissioner Gordon, whilst Wade Williams (who previously voiced Black Mask in the 2010 feature, 'Batman: Under The Red Hood') provides a fresh and surprising look at Harvey 'Two-Face' Dent. But the major scene-stealing performances here are from Ariel Winter as Carrie Kelley, who those unfamiliar with the story may be shocked to find allying herself with Batman, and from Gary Anthony Williams as The Mutant Leader - a more dangerous Killer Croc-style villain who is the mastermind behind many of the events at this stage of the story.
Christopher Drake who, by this time, had provided the musical score (either in whole or in part) to several Batman features since the 2008 release of 'Batman: Gotham Knight', infuses the proceedings with an incredibly edge-of-the-seat and sometimes moving and haunting series of compositions. A word to the wise, however: even though some commentators have accused Drake of lifting some of Hans Zimmer's ideas for his score to 'The Dark Knight Rises' (2012), this is, in fact, 1980s-style music. It holds a retrospective quality that, perhaps, Mr. Zimmer also wanted to infuse in his score owing to the fact that that film's inspiration was drawn heavily from Frank Miller's comic book 'The Dark Knight Returns'. At the end of the day, Batman is not exactly synonymous with 1980s-style music, so both composers reached a satisfactory quality in their respective scores without allowing their work to sound like a who's-who of artists of the 1980s.
Many of the same creative talents behind 'Batman: The Animated Series', such as Bruce Timm and Andrea Romano, return to adapt a tale that helps to put the 'dark' in 'Dark Knight', making The Batman an incredibly scary and disturbing character once again!
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