Friday, September 28, 2012

I Think I Hated This


I just finished watching the first part of the animated adaptation of the iconic graphic novel by Frank Miller. Maybe I have read the story too many times or maybe the film was just boring. It's clearly the worst of all the animated films that DC has put out. I remember feeling a thrill with the anticipation of all the great films that DC has put out over the past decade. Not a single one has disappointed me but this one left me cold.

Set a decade after an aging Bruce Wayne quit crime fighting in the wake of Jason Todd’s death, the four-issue miniseries brings Batman out of retirement to save Gotham from sinking deeper into decay and lawlessness. With the help of a new, female Robin, Carrie Kelly, the Dark Knight ends the threat of the mutant gangs that have overrun the city and confronts two of his greatest enemies. But then he must face his former ally Superman in a battle that only one will survive.

I liked the female version of Robin in the book but in the movie she comes off as dangerously untrained and it really makes no sense for Bruce to work with another Robin again, especially one who has no business being in his line of work. We hear how he is still morning the death of Jason Todd (the second Robin) so putting another child in danger is not something that he wouldn't do - certainly he would not accept her so easily into his life.

I think they really stretched out the action to get two films out of the story and that hurt the pacing. I found the first part bloated with unnecessary elements that worked on the page but don't translate well to the screen. I would only recommend this to someone who doesn't already know the story. In fact I would be interested in what someone thought about the film who hasn't read the graphic novel. Of course I am also interested in what long time fans of the work think too.

The voices are uniformly excellent. Peter Weller (Robocop) gives Batman a fierce growl and a sarcasm that he never really had as a younger hero. You can hear the weariness in his voice.

Michael Emerson also does a terrific Joker who is less manic than in any other incarnation making him seem more dangerous than he has ever been. He truly lives to battle the Batman - without him the Joker doesn't exist.
People forget how innovative and special the book was when it first came out. It was a game changer that gave birth to a golden age of the graphic novel. So many great creators have been able to tell complicated adult stories using these timeless superheroes and it was exciting to be there at the beginning. Frank Miller really created something that took the character of Batman to a whole new level. Few stories had ever been told of his last days and told so well.

Miller’s seminal Batman story arcs - Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns – have directly influenced every iteration of the superhero thereafter, including Chris Nolan’s Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises (respectively). In short, it was Miller who put the “dark” into The Dark Knight.

I have soured on Frank Miller, however. His Daredevil stuff is terrific but he has become really self indulgent since he did 300. Dark Night Returns II was an abomination and the less said about The Spirit movie the better. Don't even get me started on his All Star Batman - MY Batman is not a psychopathic sexual fetishist.

This isn’t the first time that The Dark Knight Returns has been animated. There, of course, was the tribute in The New Batman Adventures in the episode entitled “Legends of the Dark Knight.”


david_b said...

I had that Bats/Robin image as this 3'x5' poster (HUGE SUCKER..) in thin plastic/vinyl, from this bookstore in Giessen, Germany back in 1990. I just asked for it when they take it down and had it for YEARS. It started becoming brittle and cracking (I was moving around way too much to keep it rolled in pristine condition..), but it was gorgeous.

Not a huge Batfan, but it was pretty awesome.

Kal said...

That image is terrific. There is no denying Miller's skill.

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

Its interesting to hear you say that since this is probably the studios most ambitious animated adaptation. I've been growing a bit weary of the animated movies that are direct adaptations of storylines. I've already read stuff like "All Star Superman" so I don't much see the point of watching when I already know the story. Whereas something like "Crisis on Two Earths" or "Justice League Doom" may have familiar elements from some famous stories, but it takes them and makes those stories their own.

Personally I want to see stuff highlighted that we haven't seen elsewhere. If we are going to adapt stories, try it with characters with less media exposure like the Teen Titans or the Legion of Super Heroes, or The New Gods.

Thought thats a bit a pipe dream given that theres little promise of return investment in those characters.

Kal said...

I think I just knew the story too well to be surprised. It could only let me down.

Anonymous said...

MY Batman's not a psychopath either... but dude, look at his love life- he's clearly a LIIIIIIIIIIITLE kinky, at least.