It is ten years after an aging Batman has retired, and Gotham City has sunk deeper into decadence and lawlessness. Now, when his city needs him most, the Dark Knight returns in a blaze of glory. Joined by Carrie Kelly, a teenage female Robin, Batman takes to the streets to end the threat of the mutant gangs that have overrun the city. And after facing off against his two greatest enemies, the Joker and Two-Face, for the final time, Batman finds himself in mortal combat with his former ally, Superman, in a battle that only one of them will survive.
Frank Miller's groundbreaking Dark Knight Returns story arc is capably translated to a two-part, feature-length animated film, with the first installment serving as introduction to Miller's brooding, violent take on the venerable comic book hero. Actor Peter Weller (RoboCop) does a fine job as the aged Bruce Wayne, lured out of retirement to take on the Mutants, a vicious gang of criminals waging a terror campaign in Gotham City. Their brutal methods inspire the Batman to take an equally hard-nosed approach to crime fighting, which draws criticism from the powers that be and praise from the general public, especially 13-year-old Carrie Kelly (Ariel Winter of Modern Family), who becomes the new Robin. Director Jay Oliva and writer Bob Goodman ably condense the first two issues of the Dark Knight story arc into a 76-minute feature that preserves much of Miller's tone; the cast also provides the proper degree of vocal grit, with standout turns from Michael McKean, Gary Anthony Williams, and Michael Emerson in a brief but memorable bit as one of Batman's longest-running foes. Extras are limited to a preview of the second installment of The Dark Knight Returns, which when combined with the quality of the first part, should bring viewers back for the final go-round. --Paul Gaita