When it comes to comics in the modern era (80’s to present), Frank Miller’s name has to be up there with one of the greats. I mean, you have a pretty great run of issues in “Daredevil”, not to mention his original works of “Sin City” and “300”. However, my first introduction to Miller was brought on by a 4 part miniseries that he did way back in 1986; “The Dark Knight Returns”. While on vacation with my family, I had stopped in a bookstore (I know that my friends are shocked by this) and happened to see the trade collection on the shelf. Well I picked it up and started reading it, and kept reading it, and damn near walked out the store with it before my mom stopped me and paid for the book. Anyways, Several years ago, I saw that they were making this movie but were releasing it in two parts. Now I was definitely interested in watching this movie but I decided to wait and be patient, as I had a feeling that they would release a special edition that had both parts on one disk. Sure enough, they did and I immediately picked it up and then sat back to watch. So let’s enjoy some of Frank Miller’s best work with today’s movie, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.
The plot: In Gotham, 55 year old Bruce Wayne is competing in a race when his crew chief feels he is being too reckless and activates the computer autopilot, only for Bruce to deactivate it. Bruce continues racing but his car malfunctions and ends up crashing and catching fire, but Bruce was able to get out at the last minute and only received some minor burns. Later that night, Bruce meets with James Gordon, who is celebrating his 70th birthday. As the two friends share a drink, they talk about how it has been 10 years since Bruce retired and Bruce seems to be considering what would happen if he came back but Gordon tells him it is a different time now, both with the government oversight as well as the criminals, such as the Mutants. Gordon asks if Bruce has talked to Harvey Dent yet, saying he could have been a shoulder to lean on after Jason died but Bruce decides to call it a night an leaves. As he walks home, he stops at the alley where his parents were killed and as he thinks back to them, he is confronted by two members of the Mutants that consider mugging him but when they notice Bruce actually looking forward to it, they change their mind and leave. That night, after failing to get any sleep, Bruce heads down to the Batcave and stares at Jason’s Robin costume in it’s shrine before Alfred comes down to check on him. At Arkham Asylum, Joker is shown to be in a catatonic state ever since Batman disappeared. Meanwhile, Harvey Dent has undergone successful plastic surgery to repair his damaged face, while his psychologist Dr. Wolper has worked on making him sane again but after giving a press conference where he announces he is fine, he suddenly disappears. That night, Bruce is watching television and as he sees the reports of crime on the rise, a voice in his head calls him weak and says the time has come. Later that night, Batman returns to Gotham and stops various crimes from occurring. When Gotham Bank is robbed, the police chase after a car filled with gunmen, ignoring a second car that drives off in the other direction. As the lead police car chases after the gunmen, they see Batman swinging across the sky and the elder cop slows down and allows Batman to handle the gunmen. Batman lands on the car and causes it to crash into an abandoned building, where he proceeds to take them down, though his age makes him slower than he used to be. The rookie cop attempts to arrest Batman but his partner tells him to go to the car while Batman searches one of the criminals, then tells the officer to have Gordon contact him. As the news reports talk about Batman’s reemergence, one of the gunmen’s lawyer argues that his client should be released and Gordon agrees and has him released that day. Gordon contacts Bruce to tell him and as the crook heads back to the gang’s hideout to see if Two-Face is there, he finds Batman waiting for him. The crook attempts to get away from Batman and ends up falling through the window and out onto the fire escape, and Batman points out that he is bleeding to death and he is the only one who can get him to a hospital in time so he had better start talking. Meanwhile, Gordon gets some information and he heads to the roof and turns on the Batsignal, both to contact Batman and to let people know he has returned. When Batman shows up, Gordon tells him that two military helicopters were stolen and they both figure Two-Face is behind it and try to figure out what he is up to. Batman figures out where Two-Face will strike and heads to the buildings the next night. When the two helicopters land, one on two separate buildings, Dent emerges from his helicopter, his face completely wrapped in bandages, and after hacking the television signal, threatens to detonate two bombs unless he is paid a ransom. Batman, who is on the roof where the other helicopter landed, takes out the men guarding it only to discover that the bombs are already activated, and he realizes that Dent wants to kill himself and take as many people with him. Batman disarms the first bomb, then uses a grapple gun to head to the other roof but Dent gets back in the helicopter with the bomb and shoots at him, knocking him off the line. Batman fires another grapple at the helicopter, knocking Dent out of the helicopter and Batman catches him as they crash into the building, leaving the helicopter to fly off with the bomb, where it explodes harmlessly. Dent and Batman briefly struggle before Batman is able to unmask him and sees that Dent has not reinjured his face, but rather his mind is unable to deal with having his face whole and he feels that both sides are now scarred. As public opinion continues to vary on Batman’s return, Gordon is heading home when a member of the Mutants tries to shoot him at the liquor store, only for Gordon to shoot him instead. Meanwhile, a young girl named Carrie Kelley, whom Batman had rescued during his first night back, buys a Robin costume and heads out into the city, attempting to do her own part to stopping crime. Batman confronts an Army General for selling weapons to the mutants and then decides to head out there in a heavily armored version of the Batmobile. In the city junkyard, the Mutant’s leader is rallying the Mutants to attack the police and take control of the city when Batman shows up and orders them to surrender. The Mutants attack the Batmobile but Batman is able to take them out, with Carrie helping him out unbeknownst to him. When the last of the Mutants is dealt with, the leader challenges Batman to face him man to man and, despite Alfred warning against it, Batman accepts. Batman and the Mutant leader start fighting and Batman gets the early advantage but the Mutant leader is able to take advantage of Batman’s slower movements and easily defeats him. As he goes to kill him, Carrie attacks him, distracting him long enough for Batman to use his a resin to choke the Mutant leader into unconsciousness. Carrie races to make sure that Batman is still alive, then helps him get into the Batmobile. As Alfred remotely steers the Batmobile, Carrie works on putting a splint on Batman’s injured arm, and Batman asks what her name is, then tells Alfred to take him to the cave and that Robin is coming with them. When they get there, Batman walks off into the cave, discarding his suit as he does, and Alfred tells Carrie that he is going to find his strength. As Batman recovers, the public is still mixed on Batman’s return. The mayor has announced that Ellen Yindel will replace Gordon as Police Commissioner when Gordon retires. The mayor also plans to meet with the Mutant leader, who has been captured along with many other members of the Mutants after Batman’s assault, but when he meets with the Mutant leader in his cell, the Mutant leader kills him. Back at the Batcave, Batman places a brace on his injured arm and as he gears up to fight the Mutant leader again, Alfred argues with him about bringing Carrie on as the new Robin but Batman says she is perfect. Batman then has Carrie disguise herself as a Mutant and takes her into the city, where she spreads the word among the other Mutants to meet at “The Pipe”. Meanwhile, Yindel meets with Gordon and the two discuss why he allowed Batman to run free as long as he did. As the Mutants gather there, Batman speaks with Gordon and tells him he needs one last favor from him. Gordon heads down to the cells and relieves the guards, then leaves the room. The Mutant leader’s cell suddenly opens and as he steps outside, his attention is drawn to the open sewer grate on the floor. The Mutant leader heads through the sewers to escape the jail, eventually coming to the exit pipe where Batman has had all of the Mutants gathered, and where Batman is waiting for him. Batman tackles the leader from behind and knocks him out of the pipe and into the mud pool below them, where he faces off against him. The Mutant leader fights back, but this time Batman doesn’t try to match strength with the younger and stronger fighter, but uses his martial art’s skills to incapacitate him, eventually breaking the bones in his limbs and completely beating him. The Mutants, seeing their leader completely broken, end up falling apart, with half of them being captured by the police while the other half breaking up into smaller gangs, the most prominent of them being a gang called the Sons of Batman, who have taken to wearing Batman’s symbol on their face. Gordon calls Bruce and tells him his plan worked in dealing with the Mutants but he is on his own from now on and after he hangs up, he finishes packing up his things from his office and leaves police headquarters. Meanwhile, the constant news reports about television have registered in the catatonic Joker, and he snaps out of his coma excited to find his old playmate has returned. 3 months later, Dr. Wolper has been working with the Joker since he came out of his catatonic state and as Joker comments about seeing Wolper on TV and how it must be nice to tell his side of things, Wolper says he might be able to get Joker on TV to share his story. As news breaks about Joker’s televised interview, the story switches to the White House and their lack of a clear response regarding Batman’s activities. Inside the White House, the President speaks with Superman and asks him to try and deal with Batman and get him to settle down and Superman says he will try. That night, a disguised Batman tangles with Bruno, a former lover of Joker, and tries to get information from her about Joker’s plans but they are interrupted by the appearance of Superman, who quickly traps Bruno and tells Batman he wants to talk but Batman says they can talk in the morning but for now stay out of Gotham. As the news talks about the growing tensions between America and the Soviet Union over the situation about control over the island of Corto Maltese, Yindel is officially made the new commissioner and her first order of business is to issue an arrest warrant for Batman. Meanwhile, Bruce and Clark are talking about Batman’s return upsetting the wrong people and Clark warns him that if he doesn’t go back into retirement, he might be ordered to take him down. Bruce says if that happens then may the best man win when Clark suddenly says he has to go and rushes off. Breaking news says that U.S. and Soviet forces have begun fighting in Corto Maltese and Superman has gone there to aid the American soldiers and prevent innocent people from being hurt in the crossfire. Meanwhile, one of Joker’s minions visits him at Arkham and hands him some special lipstick that he asked for as well as some nose plugs. As the show is about to go on, Yindel has the police outside the studio building, waiting to capture Batman if he shows up as well as Joker if he tries anything. As the show starts, Batman notices the police presence and has Robin wait in the Batcopter while he heads down there, getting in a fight with the cops when Yindel orders them to arrest him. Meanwhile, Joker’s henchman sends two robotic dolls to go help Joker and as Joker kills Dr. Wolper, the dolls enter the studio and begin releasing Joker’s smile gas into the air, killing everyone else. On the roof, Batman is starting to get overwhelmed and Robin brings the Batcopter in close to help Batman escape, telling him that Joker is gone after killing everyone. Meanwhile, the battle continues raging in Corto Maltese and Superman continues using his powers to destroy the Soviet forces. In Gotham, Joker pays a visit to Selina Kyle, who runs an escort service, and uses his mind control lipstick on her to summon one of her girls who has a congressman as a regular customer. The escort uses Joker’s lipstick to brainwash the congressman and have him go out on the ledge ranting about firing nukes at the Soviet Union but when the police try to get him inside, he ends up falling to his death. Yindel and her men show up and Batman, disguised as a cop, asks her if he can help. She tells him about the escort and tells the disguised Batman to bring Selina in but as he leaves, the real police officer shows up and Yindel, realizing she was fooled, tries to have Batman arrested. Batman and Robin head to Selina’s business and find Selina tied up and gagged and when he frees her, she warns Batman that Joker is worse than ever now. Robin notices some cotton candy on the floor and Batman realizes that Joker is going after the fairgrounds, causing Robin to get scared as many of her friends will be there. The police show up but Batman and Robin jump out the window and grab onto the Batwing glider. Yindel and her men fire on the glider and manage to break Robin’s harness as she is putting it on, causing her to fall but she manages to grab onto Batman’s cape and he pulls her back up and holds her to keep her safe. At the fair, Joker and his henchman are passing out cotton candy to some kids when they see Batman approaching. Joker sends one of the robot dolls to blow up the Batwing glider, then tells his henchman and the other doll to deal with Robin while he handles Batman. Batman faces off against Joker, who attempts to shoot him and has no qualms hitting innocent bystanders in the process. When he takes one of Robin’s friends hostage, Batman throws some batarangs at him, with one of them lodging in his eye, then chases Joker inside the Hall of Mirrors. Joker grabs another kid to use as a hostage but Batman is able to save the kid but gets shot in the process. As Joker goes to finish Batman off, he finds himself out of bullets and leaves the Hall of Mirrors. Meanwhile, the second doll arms it’s explosives and sits on the roller coaster tracks to blow up the oncoming train. Robin uses her slingshot to knock it off the tracks, causing it to explode harmlessly in the sky, but she is attacked by Joker’s henchman. As the henchman tries to strangle her, she lashes out and manages to kick him off of her, and he ends up getting caught in the chain for the roller coaster and killed when his head gets caught up in the gears. Elsewhere, Joker kills a security guard and grabs his gun, then makes his way into the Tunnel of Love, killing anyone he comes across. Batman chases after him and continues fighting him, with and Joker manages to repeatedly stab Batman before he twists Joker’s neck; not killing him but effectively paralyzing him. As Joker taunts him for crossing the line, he says that he wins for finally breaking him and the police will hunt him down for it, then starts laughing maniacally as he twists his neck sharply, breaking his own neck and killing him. Batman blacks out from loss of blood but comes to as the police enter the cave and begin looking for Batman and Joker. When they find Joker’s body, one of the police touches it, igniting a booby trap the Joker had on him and igniting his body on fire with napalm. Batman uses the distraction to try and deal with the police, then grabs Yindel’s gun after knocking her out and tries to shoot some plastique he had set up to make an escape route. He eventually succeeds, and Robin brings the Batcopter in to pick him up, firing on the police cars to discourage their shooting at them before using some rope to snag Batman and fly off with him. As Alfred works on tending to Bruce’s injuries, the new mayor says he asked the governor to bring in the state police to help find and capture Batman. Meanwhile, the news reports go to a live announcement from the President, where he tells America that the Soviets have been driven out of Corto Maltese but in an act of retaliation, they fired a nuclear missile at the island country. Superman intercepts the missile and manages to divert it’s course away from the island and up into the upper atmosphere, where it and explodes and unleashes an EMP that knocks out the power in Gotham, while leaving Superman extremely weak. As the people in Gotham react to the blackout, Batman regains consciousness and figures out what happened, then heads out with Robin on horseback to help reign in the chaos that is sure to hit Gotham. Batman and Robin head to where the Sons of Batman have gathered, and convince them to follow his lead in restoring order to Gotham. As the police find themselves helpless due to the blackout, the Mutants break out of their cells and hit the streets, where they encounter a mob of people who were looting a store. As the two groups begin fighting, Batman and his new army show up and quickly incapacitate all of the people involved. Batman then speaks to everyone, telling them that they can either help restore order to Gotham or stay tied up and most of them choose to follow his lead and help out. Looking down from police headquarters, one of the cops asks Yindel what they should do about him and Yindel says nothing, as he has grown too big for them to deal with. Meanwhile, Gordon had been out shopping when the blackout occurred and he convinces the people in his neighborhood to stop fighting with each other and help out or else their homes will be destroyed by fire. They manage to put out some fires just as the fire department shows up to help but when Gordon notices some more fires over by his home, he rushes there thinking his wife Sara will be dead but she had managed to get out in time and the two embrace. As the U.S. continues dealing with the nuclear winter and lack of power from the explosion, many major cities along the Eastern Seaboard have descended into chaos and the President orders martial law enacted but with little success. Gotham however is the only major city that has not descended into chaos, due to Batman’s efforts in keeping the peace, and it has become a publicity nightmare for the government. Superman is talking with the President, who asks how he is feeling, and Superman admits he hasn’t fully recovered but the President says he knows he will get better and asks that he take care of the problem they discussed and Superman says that Batman won’t let himself be taken and the President says to do what he must. Meanwhile, Oliver Queen pays a visit to Bruce and says that he always knew that things would come to a head between him and Superman and he wants to be a part of the action, wanting a little bit of payback on Superman for the loss of his arm. The next day, as Bruce is helping Carrie with her horseback lessons, a beam of energy burns down from the sky, spelling out “Where?” in the ground. Bruce looks up and says “Crime Alley”, then heads inside to begin making preparations. With Alfred helping him with a armored suit to help keep him alive while also increasing his strength and durability, Batman takes a pill, then gives himself a one hour countdown. The military evacuate Crime Alley and initiate a media blackout of the area. Batman heads to Crime Alley, as the military try to keep tabs on him and when Superman shows up and uses his x-ray vision to search for him, a series of missiles programmed to target sources of x-rays fire and strike him. As the weakened Superman drops to the ground, Robin attacks him in the Batmobile but Superman is able to knock it away. Batman reveals himself and as Superman approaches him, he uses a sonic gun, then the city’s power grid to attack him. Meanwhile, Alfred activates the self destruct in the Batcave, and as he looks over the photobooks of Bruce as a baby, he has some mild chest pains but places the book back on the shelf, then leaves the house. Back in the city, Batman and Superman continue fighting while the soldiers approach the downed Batmobile, but Robin is able to get it started and drives off, with the military chasing after her. As she drives, a pre-recorded message from Bruce starts playing, telling her that Clark should be too busy to hear this and explains the plan to her. Meanwhile, Oliver shows up and at Batman’s signal, fires a kryptonite-laced arrow at Superman, then escapes with Robin in the Batmobile. As Superman collapses from the kryptonite dust covering him, Batman approaches him and tells him that he will live, as the Kryptonite will be clear of his system in a few minutes, but he wanted him to know that he was the man that beat him. As he finishes speaking, Bruce collapses dead from a heart attack while Alfred also dies of a stroke as Wayne Manor burns down. Later, the news reports about Bruce Wayne being Batman and how all of his secrets, as well as his financial holdings and accounts, seemed to have disappeared with him. At Bruce’s funeral, Clark attends and is yelled at by Selina, who knows who he is and blames him for Bruce’s death, but Gordon leads her away. As Clark walks away, he suddenly stops as he hears a faint heartbeat coming from the casket and as he turns and stares at the lone mourner still there, a second heartbeat is heard. Clark, realizing what had happened, smiles and winks at Robin, who it the mourner, and leaves. Some time later, Oliver leads a band of former Mutants and Sons of Batman into some caves and as they get things situated, Bruce and Robin join them. Bruce, having faked his death in order to get the government off of his back, explains to the assembled gang that he will be teaching them all of his secrets and methods and they will be his army in order to keep Gotham safe. As the gang goes to carry out his orders, Oliver approaches him and asks about Superman figuring things out but Bruce tells him that as long as they keep quiet, Superman won’t bother them, then goes to oversee his new army’s progress.
The only thing I can really say about this movie is that it is fantastic. This is probably one of the best, if not the best, animated Batman movies to come out. The voice acting was great, with Peter Weller doing a phenomenal job portraying the aged caped crusader. I thought that Ariel Winter was also great as Carrie/Robin, while David Selby (Gordon), Michael Emerson (Joker), Wade Williams (Dent), Mark Valley (Superman) were equally good in their roles. The story was spot on, not deviating from the comic very much except for one or two minor aspects. The fight between Batman and Superman in this movie was the fight comic fans were hoping to get in Batman V Superman, which failed to deliver any of the emotion that was felt in this fight. The animation was great and the more angular and squarish designs of some of the characters really helped showcase the darker look and aspect of the city in this future version. The music was incredible and actually helped carry the emotions that were written into the story, especially towards the end as it started to become apparent that this was going to be Batman’s last battle. A fantastic movie and definitely worth waiting for the deluxe edition so I didn’t have to switch disks in order to watch the whole thing.
Rating: 5 out of 5