Originally Posted by CConn
It probably should be considered sacrilege to be a Batman fan and not be absolutely gaga over The Dark Knight Returns, but, strangely, I never was a giant fan of Fran Miller's grim take on Batman's future. Don't get me wrong, it's a good story, and one of the better Batman tales out there, but I never quite regarded it as definitive or superior to the many other worthwhile takes on Batman. Amazingly however, TDKR Part 1 did what very few film adaptations are ever able to do and - in many ways - improved upon and surpassed it's source material.
The changes are immediately apparent. While the film opens in the exact same way as the comic, gone is the hard boiled noir inner monologues that gave the original comic it's Sin City-esque tone, gone is the constant drone of newscasters and polipsy babbling, and in its stead is little more than the grim, dark adrenaline of Bruce Wayne pushing its racer to its limit, as a musical score that blends Hans Zimmer with John Carpenter plays quietly in the background.
The newscasters pop up soon enough - make no mistake, no story beats are missed or forgotten about - but the subtle tweaks in its presentation turns the film from a definitively noir, comic booky experience, into something even more sinister and brutal. It's still unmistakably Batman, but with it, comes the slick and eery overtones of 80s sci-fi and the ultra-violent twinge of the 80s actioneer. Being an animated film with a running time of scarcely 76 minutes, it's obviously not quite up to par with Blade Runner, and RoboCop, and the original Terminator, but it without question borrows heavily from those pieces to create a strangely iconic, strangely unique 80s futurist vision of Batman.
Which, if you've read the comic, I'm sure you'll say it's what it always has been. The source material definitely lends itself to that sub-genre that was burgeoning in Hollywood when Frank Miller first penned the comic back in 1986, but again, it's only enhanced and improved by the film crew's creative decisions and direction.
Outside of its overall presentation, the next overwhelming strength for the film, is the characterization of Batman himself. After reading the comic, I was hardly sold on the grizzled, militaristic Batman that Frank Miller made famous, but on film, and voiced phenomenally by Peter Weller (of RoboCop fame, ironically), the over the top characterization of the comic is, once again, transmuted into something much cooler, sleeker and simply exuding 80s cool and bravado.
To say that Batman is at his best - his coolest, his most violent, his most broken and intriguing - would not be a wholly incorrect statement to make. While I positively love Michael Keaton's portrayal of Batman, and while I respect the detail in which Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale explored their Batman's psyche, Weller's Batman has a fierceness that both of those interpretations lacked. He is, to be blunt, a bad ass. More RoboCop, John McClaine, Snake Pliskin than the wounded soul that Keaton and Bale were.
The final striking aspect of the film, honestly has to be its direction and overall sublety of its screenwriting. During the opening act of the film, we're treated to several moments of Bruce Wayne's inner demons and his continued obsession with his parents death in several flashbacks and hallucinatory episodes that deliver that age old psychosis of Batman in possibly the most sophisticated yet troubled way I've yet seen on film.
On top of this surprisingly mature writing is a level of direction and shot selection that I've seldom seen in animated, direct-to-video filmmaking. It's balantly obvious that director Jay Olivia truly strove to make a movie that is more than just an hour-long marketing ploy. He really seemed to want to make something truly special and individual to the series of DC Animated movies; a love letter to the original work, to the action films of our collective, 80s childhoods, to Christopher Nolan's recent entries, and, of course, to the character himself.
All in all, this care, attention to detail and talent in adaptation, acting, and direction imbibes The Dark Knight Returns with a level of quality and maturity that is rarely seen in this genre of film.