‘Batman: The Dark Knight Returns’: Beautiful, Faithful… Unnecessary

Warner Brothers has a small industry of turning DC graphic novels into direct-to-video movies, and, for the most part, it works. While none of it achieves quite the level of Batman: The Animated Series or Justice League, there’s nothing inherently offensive or bad about them.

It does, however, occasionally raise an odd question. Like, just who is this faithful and well-animated version of Frank Miller’s Batman what-if for, precisely?

The short answer is “the casual viewer who hasn’t read the graphic novel”, but honestly, if you have any sort of passing interest in Batman, you’ve read The Dark Knight Returns. It’s one of the seminal Batman stories, the kind of book that somebody interested in Batman comics would probably find at the local library or dig up at Barnes and Noble. More to the point, this adaptation is faithful right down to the dated slang and grim ’80s urban rot setting, which means anybody who hasn’t already read the book is essentially locked out. Really, it’s safe to say that a fair chunk of the audience for this probably isn’t even going to get what Miller was sending up.

So clearly it must be for fans of the novel, which this being a “Part One” would cater to… except if you’ve read the novel, you’ve seen the movie. It’s pleasant that this is essentially a stand-alone feature, but there’s nothing here to add any depth or reason to justify this project except “people who like Batman will probably buy it.”

It’s sad because the animation is good and the writing is faithful, and clearly this had a decent budget behind it. This may be a cash grab by Warners but for those working on it, it’s clearly a labor of love. It’s by no means bad, either technically or artistically, just essentially unnecessary. Perhaps, Warners, instead of tying them to someone else’s script, you let this team take Batman for an original spin of his own?