Bruce Wayne (Peter Weller), now 55 years old, comes out of retirement to don the cape and cowl. As Batman, he fights his old enemies, the Joker and Two-Face, for the final time before an old ally arrives looking for one last fight.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns is a two-part direct-to-video animated superhero film, an adaptation of the 1986 comic book The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. It was directed by Jay Oliva, who worked as a storyboard artist on Man of Steel, Batman: Under the Red Hood and Batman: Year One. Several other Batman veterans were also involved in the film. Part 1 was released September 25, 2012, and Part 2 was released January 29, 2013. A deluxe edition combining parts 1 and 2 was released on October 8, 2013. It is the 15th film in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series.
Batman has not been seen for ten years. A new breed of criminal ravages Gotham City, forcing 55-year-old Bruce Wayne back into the cape and cowl. But, does he still have what it takes to fight crime in a new era?
After the death of his protege Jason Todd, billionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne was forced to retire from his Batman persona. Ten years later, Gotham City is overrun with crime and terrorized by a gang known as the Mutants. The 55-year-old Wayne maintains a friendship with 70-year-old retiring Police Commissioner James Gordon, while the Joker (Batmans archenemy) has been catatonic in Arkham Asylum since Waynes retirement. Arkham inmate and former district attorney Harvey Dent undergoes plastic surgery to repair his disfigured face. Although he is declared sane, he quickly goes into hiding following his release. Dents disappearance, news stories of the crime epidemic throughout the city and the memory of his parents deaths drive Wayne to become Batman once more. He combats serious crimes, rescuing 13-year-old Carrie Kelley, but now struggles with the physical limitations of age.
Public reaction to his return is divided; Dents psychologist, Bartholomew Wolper, blames Batman for creating his own villains. Dent resurfaces, threatening to blow up a building unless he is paid a ransom. Batman defeats Dents henchmen, learning that the bombs will explode even if the ransom is paid; he realizes that Dent intends to kill himself. Batman disables one bomb, and the other detonates harmlessly. He defeats Dent, who reveals that although his face was repaired he still thinks of himself as Two-Face. Kelley dresses as Robin and looks for Batman, who attacks a gathering of the Mutants with a tank-like Batmobile (incapacitating most of them). The Mutant leader challenges Batman to a duel; he accepts, to prove to himself that he can win. The Mutant leader (who is in his prime) nearly kills Batman, but Kelley distracts him long enough for Batman to subdue him. The leader and many gang members are arrested. Injured, Batman returns to the Batcave with Kelley; he allows her to become his protegee (despite protest from his butler, Alfred Pennyworth).
Batman has Carrie disguise herself as a Mutant, and she lures the gang to a sewer outlet at the West River. At the Gotham City Police Department, the Mutant leader murders the mayor during negotiations. Commissioner Gordon deliberately releases the leader, providing an escape from the building, which leads to the sewer outlet. Before the amassed Mutants, Batman fights the leader in a mud pit; the mud slows the leader, removing his physical advantage, and Batman overpowers him. Seeing their leaders defeat, the Mutants divide into smaller gangs; one becomes the "Sons of Batman", a violent vigilante group. Batmans victory becomes public and the citys inhabitants are inspired to stand up against crime. Gordon retires after meeting his anti-Batman successor, Ellen Yindel. In Arkham, televised reports about Batman bring the Joker out of his catatonic state.
Feigning remorse for his past, Joker convinces Wolper to take him on a talk show to tell his story; he makes plans for his escape with an old henchman, who supplies him with mind-controlling lipstick. Meanwhile, Superman, who works as a government operative in exchange for being allowed to covertly help people, is asked by the President to end Batmans vigilante activities. Framing these events is a growing hostility between the USA and the Soviet Union over possession of the island of Corto Maltese. As Batmans continued presence humiliates the national authorities, Yindel becomes commissioner and orders Batmans arrest, and Superman warns Batman that the government will not tolerate him much longer.
Joker makes his talk show appearance as Batman fights with the GCPD on the studio roof; while they fight, Joker kills Wolper, gasses everyone in the studio to death and escapes. He finds Selina Kyle and uses one of her escorts and his lipstick to take control of a congressional representative, who calls for a nuclear strike on the Soviets before falling to his death. Batmans investigation leads him to Selina, whom he finds bound and dressed like Wonder Woman. Kelley notices cotton candy on the floor, and Batman deduces that Joker is at the fairgrounds. There Kelley accidentally kills Jokers henchman while Batman pursues the Joker, who indiscriminately guns down dozens of people. As Batman corners a wounded and partially blinded Joker, he admits to feeling responsible for every murder Joker has committed and intends to stop him permanently. In the ensuing fight, Joker stabs Batman repeatedly, and Batman breaks Jokers neck in front of witnesses.
Content that he made Batman lose control and that he will be branded a murderer, the Joker finishes twisting his neck, killing himself. The GCPD arrive and Batman, bleeding profusely, fights his way to Kelley and escapes. After Superman deflects a Soviet nuclear missile, he is hit with the blast and badly injured; the detonation creates an electromagnetic pulse that wipes out all electrical equipment in the United States and causes a nuclear winter. As the city descends into chaos, Batman, Kelley and Gordon rally the Sons of Batman and the citizens of Gotham to restore order, and Yindel accepts that Batman has become too powerful to take down. While the rest of the powerless U.S. is overrun with crime, Gotham becomes the safest city in America, embarrassing the Presidents administration and prompting them to send Superman to finally stop Batman. Batman and Superman agree to meet in Crime Alley.
Wearing a powerful exoframe and supported by Kelley and former superhero Oliver Queen (Green Arrow), Batman fights Superman, using various tactics to make the fight even. When Superman gains the advantage, Queen hits him with an arrow made with synthetic Kryptonite, severely weakening him. Batman defeats Superman, and claims that he intentionally made the Kryptonite weak, to defeat Superman without killing him. Batman then apparently dies of a heart attack, while Wayne Manor self-destructs, and Alfred dies of a stroke. In the aftermath, the world learns that Bruce was Batman; all of his secrets are destroyed with the manor and his finances disappear. As Superman leaves Waynes funeral, he gives Kelley a knowing wink after hearing a faint heartbeat coming from Bruces coffin. In underground caves, Bruce is revealed to have faked his death and makes preparations to continue his mission more discreetly, allied with Carrie, Oliver, and his followers.
Christopher Drake, veteran DC Animated Universe composer, scored both parts of the film. A deluxe two-disc edition soundtrack was released on October 8, 2013 to coincide with the deluxe version of the film.
All music composed by Christopher Drake
Frank Miller wrote the story for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns - Part 1 and Batman: Year One. Wade Williams appears in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns - Part 1 and Batman: Under the Red Hood. Jay Oliva directed Batman: The Dark Knight Returns - Part 1 and Batman: Assault on Arkham. Son of Batman (2014). Lego Batman: The Movie – DC Super Heroes Unite (2013).
Rotten Tomatoes gives Part 1 a score of 100% based on reviews from 5 critics with an average rating of 7.9/10.
IGN reviewer Joey Esposito gave Part 1 a score of 7.5 out of 10, praising the voice performances and animation. Esposito noted that the newscasters segments do not translate well to the screen and lack the thematic punch they had in the comic, making them extraneous at best. He also criticized Batmans inner monologue and the poor quality of the DVD extras. Esposito went on to give Part 2 a score of 8.6 out of 10, praising Michael Emersons portrayal of the Joker, as well as an improvement in Blu-ray extras. Gil Kellerman of Collider.com praised Part 1 overall, praising Wellers portrayal of Batman but also denigrating the DVD extras. Spencer Perry at SuperHeroHype considers Part 1 to be "one of the best Batman films ever made", scoring it nine out of ten. Noel Murray of The A.V. Club gave Part 1 a grade B+, saying that "there are ways in which the animated Dark Knight Returns gets across Miller’s vision even better than the comics page did." Kofi Outlaw of ScreenRant gave Part 2 three out of five stars, criticizing the outdated Cold War subplot as "a major distraction from an otherwise focused narrative", as well as the toning down of the Jokers character.
Part 1 received a Golden Reel Awards nomination for Best Sound Editing in Direct to Video Animation.