Friday, March 21, 2014

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1

Directed by Jay Oliva.
2012. Rated PG-13, 76 minutes. 
David Selby 
Carlos Alazraqui 
Paget Brewster 
Maria Canals-Barrera 
Richard Doyle 
Grey DeLisle 
Sam McMurray 
Andrea Romano 
Tara Strong 
Michael Emerson 
Michael Jackson

It has been ten years since Bruce Wayne (Weller) has dressed up as a bat and went crime-fighting. To fill the void, he partakes in other ways of trying to kill the adrenaline pumping. He's also become quite the prolific drinker. He says it helps him stay on the sidelines. He's really using it to cope with the tragedy that eventually led to him becoming Batman, the murder of his parents. In any event, it's getting harder to stay out of the game now that Gotham has a new menace, an out-of-control street gang calling themselves the Mutants. What makes these guys particularly dangerous is they like to commit random acts of violence, making them unpredictabel. They also like to take over Gotham TV and threaten city officials by name. This includes Commissioner Gordon (Selby) who has just announced he is retiring shortly. He vows to get the Mutants off the streets before punching out for the last time. After a couple of these punks have a run-in with Bruce, our hero decides it's time to don the cape and cowl once more.

We get a Batman that's older and not quite as in shape as he once was. Like an aging athlete, he knows all the moves to make yet can't make them as fluidly as he did in his prime. That said, I'm fairly certain the tight-rope walking act he pulls is a new trick. Still, we see him laboring to do things he once did with ease. Of course, as mentioned, he's still haunted by the death of his parents. This helps paint a picture of a more pathetic Batman than we're used to. We wonder if he's finally gotten to the point where he can't always come out on top.

The Mutants are both a help and a hindrance to our uncertainty about our hero. The leader is a help, somewhat. He's definitely not a match for Batman's wits, but he's more than one for him physically. He is huge and vicious. He's also slightly inhuman in appearance. Unfortunately, this could stand to be explained a bit, but the fact he's called a mutant is all we get. His fights with the Caped Crusader are brutal and well depicted. The guys who follow him are a disappointment. They are a never ending horde of nearly identical dudes who look like 80s punk-rockers and speak a rather corny sounding slang/broken English. They also don't have much heart. This army of knife wielding "slicer dicers," as they like to call themselves are more of  and annoyance than a menace.

Villain-wise, we also get Harvey Dent (Williams) in a truncated story line. At first glance, it seems extraneous. Digging a bit deeper, and maybe forcing it just a bit, it becomes a representation of Batman's past and a reflection of what his own mental anguish is doing to him. Another blast from our hero's past is the Joker (Emerson). However, this is merely to set up Part 2 of our tale.

Overall, Part 1 works very well. The story is fascinating and since we know this is a two-part deal, we can excuse the lack of resolution in some areas. the main drawback is that it covers a healthy chunk of the ground covered in The Dark Knight Rises. The set up is essentially the same. Batman has been away from crime-fighting long enough to fade into myth, yet he's still wanted by police. Plus, a new threat draws him out of retirement. Some of the beats that follow are the same, including how his relationship with Alfred (Jackson) changes. It gives the movie a more derivative feel than it probably wants. The irony here is that the original comic book this movie is based on, penned by the legendary Frank Miller, came out in 1986 and served as inspiration for Christopher Nolan's trilogy ending film. The problem is there are far more people who have seen The Dark Knight Rises than have read Miller's work. Still, this movie holds our interest as it does enough things that are different. Chief among them is Batman's quick acceptance of a young girl who dresses up like Robin (Winter). Again, Part 1 also benefits from the promise of a Part 2. Rather than being a movie with a satisfying conclusion, it gives us something to look forward to.

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