Monday, September 9, 2013

DVD of (Last) Week: The Dark Knight Returns; Part 1

Since the end of Justice League: Unlimited, the animated division of Warner Bros seem be putting more of their effort into letting us see their top-flight characters in the guise of adaptations of already-successful stories. Certainly the big boys were sidelined through most of Young Justice's run, and The Brave and the Bold seemed pitched at a very different demographic, and the run of DVD-movie adaptations feels like a way of selling to the converted with stories that are already written and known. Not that thats a bad thing, of course, because there are already stories that have survived some contact with the readership, and a chance to revisit some classics.

The Dark Knight Returns is one of the classics of comic-books. A brooding dystopian future has settled over the DC universe, all the heroes have retired, and Gotham City is again sinking into anarchy. As chaos rises, a retired Bruce Wayne is again drawn in by his own demons to take on the cowl of Batman one last time...

So everyone has read this right? I mean, Frank Miller is a bit of a shot bolt these days but there was a time when it seemed like he was the creative voice of the moment; when his Batman was the only Batman worth talking about, and certainly when I read The Dark Knight Returns for the first time it kind of short-circuited my brain. It is unashamedly noirish, introspective and heavy-handed, grand and operatic and about as subtle as a giant bat smashing though a window to embrace you. And the movie captures that brilliantly; flashing up some of the books most iconic images at key moments, and staying very faithful to the original.

So faithful, in fact that they've split the book into two films. This, the first part, comprised Parts One and Two of the original, covering the Bruce's return to the cowl and triumph over the Mutant Threat, ending with a lingering shot of the Joker's returning smile. That faithfulness also extends to Millers somewhat heavy-handed political points-scoring, most notably Carrie's pot-smoking liberal parents and the weak politicians and do-gooders who allow evil to run amok. Crucially it doesn't get in the way of the story, but it did raise my eyebrows a couple of times as we watched it.

Interestingly the break means that the film plays well as a complete work; its final shot more easter egg than dangling plot point, and that is to its favour. I guess they could have interlaced the second halfs story in a little more but I'm glad they didn't, and allowed the two parts to act as almost two separate works. It will be interesting to see how well the second part manages the same trick, when that drops through the mailbox.