The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1: Robo-Bat

The new animated version of Frank Miller's classic makes some unfortunate missteps along the way - voice talent is one of them.

Iann Robinsonby Iann Robinson

The Dark Knight Returns Part 1

DC had a real opportunity with The Dark Knight Returns. Releasing this iconic comic as an animated movie had instant success written all over it. Seriously, who wouldn’t pay to see Frank Miller’s story come to life? This is the thing that reinvigorated Batman, it saved the character and launched us into age of the Dark Knight that still resonates today. So what did DC do with this golden opportunity?

They blew it.

Yep. Don’t bother rushing out to buy this because DC didn’t just drop the ball, they stomped on it until it was dust.  Let’s start with the animation. The art that Frank Miller did for DKR is still some of the best work in the history of the medium. Why not take some time and allow animators to breathe movement and life into those pictures? Nope, instead DC uses their standard part modern American animation and part Japanese Anime style. Without the art to back it up, The Dark Knight Returns loses a lot of its dramatic punch. There’s nothing special here, just an animated cash grab.

Another massive problem with the film is the casting. Peter Weller, the man best known to us as Robocop, just isn’t Batman. His voice is too flat, it lacks conviction and rage. The whole point of Dark Knight Returns is that Batman has rejoined the fight consumed with not only rage but also the fear that he’s too old to continue the fight. Weller has none of that. Instead, he plays Batman as grumpy or maybe high or possibly high and grumpy. Weller also mumbles, which is never good.

Gary Anthony Williams brings zero sense of insanity or terror to the Mutant Leader. His grumbled and throaty take on the character combined with the animation comes across more like Rocksteady or Be-Bop from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so you never take him seriously. The worst offender is David Selby as Commissioner Gordon. I have nothing against the actor but his nasally and thin voice puts James Gordon across as a doddering old man. Person Of Interest star Michael Emerson is behind the Joker’s voice, but as the clown prince of crime only has a single line in part one, I have no idea how his voice will work.

What I don’t understand is why, with something this important, the DC team didn’t go to Kevin Conroy for Batman, Mark Hamill as the Joker and Bryan Cranston as Jim Gordon. Conroy and Hamill are the greatest Batman and Joker voices that DC has ever worked with. Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston did a great job as Gordon for Batman Year One so why not let him do it again? Come on DC, bring out the big guns!

The lack of great animation and the poor voice over choices drain The Dark Knight Returns of any real punch. Too many times you’re taken out of the story by Weller’s mumbling of lines or how annoying Gordon’s voice becomes if he says more than three lines. I will give DC this, they didn’t skimp on the gore and the final battle between the Mutant Leader and Batman is killer. Other than that, this is a basic and boring DC animated film that fails both as a movie and as an adaptation.

I also think the fact this is split into two separate movies is shameful. If the entire film was three hours it would still fit on one DVD/Blu-ray. Splitting this up is just DC’s way of getting us to fork over more cash. The extras are cool. A comprehensive documentary on Bob Kane titled Batman And Me (that you can actually watch on YouTube for free) and a cool look Carrie Kelley (DKR’s Robin) are the two big winners. A sneak peak at Dark Knight Returns Part 2 is like getting slapped on the other side of the face and “hand picked” episodes of Batman The Animated Series are unnecessary.

Skip The Dark Knight Returns animated movie. It makes you wish Batman had stayed retired.