Bruce Wayne is 55 years old. His chin is about three miles past his nose. His hair is grey and his mansion is more vacant and ghostly than a crypt. It’s been 10 years since he retired from being the Batman, and he’s pining the loss of his sidekick (one of the many Robins). He has dark dreams about his parents and the fall of Gotham, which cause him to lose sleep and call out to the bats in the night. By all accounts he is a man rejected by the physicality of vigilantism.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, poses Bruce Wayne a very trying question: Do you have what it takes to defeat crime when your body is telling you to serenade the chiropractor?
The answer is perhaps irrelevant. Bruce reenters the vigilante business because he’s the kind of man who cannot sit back with a whiskey while gangs of odd shapes and sizes flex their muscle around town. And The Dark Knight Returns gives us a very muscular gang indeed. They’re called The Mutants (make of this name what you will) and they skulk around dark alleys and abandoned malls wearing glaring colours and visors that seem to be borrowed from the Cyclops museum of eyewear. Some of them have metal studs grafted into their skulls. Makes them more ferocious. Their leader is a giant bald-headed mass of muscle with sharpened teeth and nipples that could cut glass. When he faces off against the Caped Crusader, he throws him around like a tennis ball.
Batman is built like The Hulk crossed with a rabid walrus in this movie, so you can imagine how much bigger the Mutants’ gang leader is. We never see Bruce working out, so it’s a wonder his body has remained so large and so tight. He is called back into action after Harvey Dent (Two-Face, voiced by Wade Williams) escapes from prison with a posse of henchmen hired from the Bond villain supply depot and threatens to destroy Gotham City. After again subduing Harvey, Batman moves on to the Mutants, who want more than anything to take over the city.
The strongest part about this plot is Bruce Wayne. Voiced by Peter Weller, we get the idea that he is a man past his prime but not yet past himself. Bruce has always been concerned about the welfare of Gotham. The city is a social relic, rife with crime and disorder. The bad guys never seem to get the message. They create havoc, get caught, are institutionalised, break free and start again. Gotham encourages this behaviour. It’s always foggy and dank, as if crime itself has seeped down its walls and onto the streets. Bruce believes that Gotham is not beyond saving. Watching the city burn is like watching a dog attempt to leap off a high stool onto a floor of broken glass; intervention is necessary.
So we understand why it is necessary for Bruce to spring back into action, and it’s very good. We feel worried for him. His character is given weight as a masked vigilante. We can relate to his unyielding desire to rescue his city. What doesn’t do it for me, though, is the sheer brutality of The Dark Knight Returns, and the inexplicable nature of some of its miracles.
On several occasions, Batman displays superhuman strength; he punches through the roof of a cab and yanks a pimp out by the scruff of his neck. Later he bashes through a concrete wall and ensnares a Mutant member. Given his tank-like physique, I can accept some improvements in the power department, but during one of the climactic battles against the Mutant leader (Gary Anthony Williams), he has his face crushed by the leader’s knee. Even in the elastic world of animation, Batman should be dead by now.
And then there’s the tippy-toe entrance of a new Robin character named Carrie Kelley (Ariel Winter), the first female in the role. She decides to help out Batman after Batman rescues her from a couple of horny Mutants. She looks like a science or mathematics student, but her family is neglectful, so she runs out into the night, picking up combat skills with every step she takes. By the time she encounters Batman again, she has the confidence and quick-step of Bruce Lee. She does some rescuing in this movie, but I have never cared for the Robin persona. Batman is a lonesome hero who has decided to take Gotham on as a burden. He needs no sidekick, nor does he need to be educated in science and mathematics.
Best Moment | The fight scenes are well choreographed and thud with the weight of bricks. It’s also always great to see Batman snatching bad guys from the shadows while they quiver and wet themselves.
Worst Moment | The unrealistic fight scenes.