Welcome to this week’s edition of the Nerd Review! Every week the Nerds give you their take on a different classic from the Nerdosphere. This week Dave and Patrick review the Batman animated films The Dark Knight Returns pt. 1 & 2!
The Flick(s): Batman: The Dark Knight Returns pt. 1 and 2
What’s it About: Bruce Wayne has been retired as Batman for a decade but comes out of retirement to face a new gang of criminals known as the Mutants. His return finds him taking a new Robin under his wing. When the Joker breaks free of Arkham Asylum and wages a new campaign of crime on Gotham, Bruce finds himself not exactly welcomed by the Gotham, or the country. With the city divided, Gotham’s new police commissioner names Batman criminal #1 and a manhunt begins. Meanwhile, the President of the United sends his own agent to bring down Batman….Superman
Metacritic Score: None
The Nerds’ Take on The Dark Knight Returns Pt 1 & 2 (2013):
Dave: When Patrick suggested that we review an animated Batman movie for the Nerds Review this week, one movie immediately jumped into my mind: The animated adaptation of one of the best graphic novels of all-time, Frank Miller’s 1986 classic, The Dark Knight Returns. Miller told the story of a now retired, fifty-something year old Batman coming out of retirement to, in many ways, reclaim the heart and soul of Gotham City. Comics fans, and Batman fans in particular, have placed it right there with Watchmen as one of the greatest graphic novels ever, and for good reason. Did the DC animated adaptation do the graphic novel justice? In the words of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin…”Oh hell yeah!”
It should be noted, and as we have said on the show many times, if there is one area where DC has been pummeling Marvel for years it is in the area of animated movies. While there are a handful of good to great Marvel animated films, such as Into The Spider-Verse, DC has released 38 animated moves (and counting) since 2007, most of them being very good and several of them being downright great. While The Flashpoint Paradox remains, in my opinion, the greatest animated super-hero movie ever, The Dark Knight Returns is a very, very close second. The move was originally released in two parts, with Part 1 coming out in 2012 and Part 2 coming out in 2013. A combined deluxe edition came out in 2013. The two parts are very distinct from each other, although there is a continuing narrative stretching across both chapters.
In Part 1, we find Bruce Wayne is now roughly 55 years old and he, along with almost all of the JLA, have been out of action for a decade. Commissioner James Gordon is on the verge of retiring and he and Bruce have maintained a strong friendship for all these years. A new threat to Gotham in the form of The Mutant Gang has emerged and their random acts of violence and senseless killings convince Bruce to don the cape and cowl once again as The Dark Knight returns to action. There are many references to Jason Todd and Jason’s death may have played a key role in the Batman stepping away. Meanwhile, The Joker has been in Arkham Asylum in a semi-catatonic state, doctors have fixed Two-Face’s face so that “both sides match” and a young 13- year old girl by the name of Carrie puts on a Robin costume and follows Batman around. Two-Face cannot accept his old Harvey Dent persona and Batman takes him down. Batman then goes after the Mutants. In the initial encounter, he takes a tank like variation of the Batmobile to the dump and injures many of the gang. The Mutant leader challenges Batman to a one on one fight and Batman obliges. But the 55-year-old Batman barely escapes this battle with his life and Carrie has to help Batman get back to the Batcave so Alfred can patch him up. In doing so, Carrie gains Bruce’s trust and becomes the new Robin. Batman realizes the only way to achieve victory is to defeat the Mutant leader in front of all his disciples. Batman wins the rematch handily and The Mutang Gang splinters with many of them now adopting the Sons of Batman moniker and siding with the Dark Knight. Part 1 concludes with The Joker coming out of his catatonic state, with evil intentions on his warped mind.
In Part 2, Batman continues to gain a firmer control over Gotham. He has his supporters and detractors. One of his biggest opponents is President Ronald Reagan and one of President Reagan’s biggest allies is none other than The Man of Steel, Superman. Superman tries to press the USA’s advantage in an island known as Corto Maltese, where the USA and USSR are at odds. He also pays a visit to Bruce to ask him to stop antagonizing those in charge or else someone, someday, will ask Superman to stop him. Bruce responds that when that day happens, “May the best man win!” Superman does such an effective job at turning back the Soviet threat in Corto Maltese that they withdraw….and fire a nuke at the island on the way out. Superman intercepts the nuke and it explodes in space. The blast depowers Superman significantly, and the fallout blocks out the sun some, further weakening the Man of Steel. While this is going on, The Joker massacres an audience of over 200 during an appearance on a talk show. Batman tracks The Joker to a carnival and there, in the Tunnel of Love, Batman and Joker have their final confrontation. The end of this battle is quite shocking and I do not want to give it away here. Batman escapes from this battle only to now have to fight Superman, who has been called upon to restore order to Gotham after The Joker’s devastation of the city.
I again do not want to give away the end or tell you who wins the fight between Batman and Superman. I do not want to give away the twist at the very end of it all as it is simply magnificent. I implore you, as much as I possibly can, to watch this classic for yourself. What I will say, however, is that this is, in every way, what Batman vs Superman should have been. No, it would not have worked to kick off the DCEU…but it might have been the perfect way to end it. The Dark Knight Returns is just a fantastic adaptation of Miller’s work. If you look at the Rotten Tomatoes score for both parts, that becomes quite evident. There are some places where the movie does it better than the comics. Personally, I found the dialog that Batman says to Superman during their fight more effective in the movie than in the comic, where it is more of Bruce’s inner monologue. Then again, the Mutant Gang members seem like idiots more often in the movie and they were not portrayed that way so much in the comics. The whole US vs USSR stuff, and having President Reagan involved, is something that might make the movie very difficult for the present generation of comics fans to completely embrace. But if you are looking for an animated Batman movie that you will watch for nearly three hours and leave wishing there was more, The Dark Knight Returns is that movie.
Dave’s Rating: 4.75/5
Patrick: Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, The Dark Knight Returns pt. 1 & 2 follows a retired Bruce Wayne struggling to find his place in the world without Batman. He carries the ghost of Jason Todd with him and struggles to stay on the sidelines as a gang calling themselves the mutants terrorizes Gotham. Eventually, Bruce returns to his vigilante ways and even takes on a new young ward/Robin by the name of Carrie Kelley. Upon his return, Batman brings down the mutants, but Gotham is divided. Some embrace the Dark Knight’s return and citizens begin to fight back against criminal elements. Meanwhile, Gotham’s new Police Commissioner and even the President of the United States believe Batman to be a threat and do everything in their power to bring the Bat down.
This is a really good, dark tale which shouldn’t be a surprise given the author of the source material. Bruce Wayne/ is at his broodiest for much of part one before seemingly finding his purpose late in the first film and all through the second. And in my mind that’s what really resonated with me watching this film. The title is The Dark Knight Returns, but to me it was more about leaving one’s own terms and cementing a legacy. Bruce wants to be finished wearing the cowl, but he wants to leave on his own terms. It is made clear in part one that he didn’t. The film also follows a favorite trope of the Batman mythos as Gotham wrestles with itself over vigilantism and Batman’s role in fueling the fire. Lines are blurred to the point we have a confrontation between Batman and Superman. The resulting battle between the two is epic and familiar(if you watched Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman)
The movies are not without their misses, however. I never really got a sense of how Bruce Wayne felt over losing Jason Todd. Did he feel guilty? Did he really believe Jason died giving everything to him, as Bruce told Alfred? And then there is the new Robin introduced here, Carrie Kelley. She’s eager to Batman’s new protégé and bring him back to save Gotham. But I just didn’t find the character all that interesting in the film. She’s just kinda…there. Carrie just felt underdeveloped and it was hard for me to buy she and Bruce bonded in a mentor-mentee relationship. It just kind of happened.
Rushed storylines aside, these are a fine pair of animated films. The voice acting is solid and while there is a dark tone to the films, the comic was far darker. The violence can get a little graphic at times, I wouldn’t recommend this one for the kiddos, but it’s nothing too out of bounds for a Frank Miller tale. Warner Brothers and DC Animation have always been strong and this installment is no different. Definitely worth the time to watch on HBO Max if you have the subscription.
Patrick’s Rating: 3.0/5