‘Dark Knight Returns’: Animated movie inspires tears from Kevin Smith

Jan. 29, 2013 | 5:01 p.m.
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Michael Emerson voices the Joker in "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2." (Warner Bros.)

tdkr2 181781 Dark Knight Returns: Animated movie inspires tears from Kevin Smith

David Selby voices Commissioner Gordon in "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2." (Warner Bros.)

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Michael McKean voices the Joker's doctor, Bartholomew Wolper, left; Michael Emerson voices the Joker, center; and Conan O'Brien voices talk show host David Endocrine, right, in "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2." (Warner Bros.)

Kevin Smith has no small amount of praise for Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns.”

“‘The Dark Knight Returns,’ for many people of my generation, for many people that followed, from the moment it was published forward is kind of like ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ of comic books,” Smith said at the West Coast premiere of “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2,” the concluding chapter of Warner Bros.’ animated adaptation of Miller’s landmark 1986 miniseries.

“It’s a very important book that we all carry with us and just like the ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ they’ve never done a movie of it, because most people thought it was unfilmable,” he said.

Perhaps, though the animated format seems to have served the story just fine, judging from the reaction of the audience attending a screening of the new PG-13 rated movie Monday night at the  Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills.

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Smith was on hand to serve as the moderator for a panel discussion that followed the screening, featuring Ariel Winter, the “Modern Family” actress who provides the voice of the near-future version of Robin, and Peter Weller, who gives voice to Batman. Also appearing were screenwriter Bob Goodman, dialogue/casting director Andrea Romano, director Jay Oliva and executive producer Bruce Timm.

“I have watched it at least 12 times,” Smith observed. “And I have wept each time.”

DC Comics initially released “The Dark Knight Returns” as a 4-part series in 1986, the brainchild of author and penciller Miller (who had turned the then-lagging Daredevil into a hit at Marvel), along with two frequent collaborators, inker Klaus Janson and colorist Lynn Varley. As Smith noted, the title immediately became a cultural touchstone in comics.

Set in a futuristic 1980s — complete with a Reagan-esque president, a David Letterman-style talk show host, an American/Soviet conflict in Latin America, break dancing and big shoulder pads — the story centers on an aging Batman who comes out of a semi-forced retirement to save his city and finish old business with enemies and friends alike.

“We did discuss the possibility of updating it and we thought, nah, hell with it,” Timm said. “Jay was an advocate early on for keeping the whole thing literally set in, like, 1986.”

Even though the book was supposed to be set in the future, there were plenty of 1980s references. Authenticity and fealty to the source material was a subject the creative team returned to often throughout the course of the evening. Before the panel, Goodman noted that “the goal here was to do a true adaption of that material,” he said. “It is for a more adult audiences. I was given free rein to do what’s necessary. And yes, it’s brutal. This is by far the highest body count of anything I’ve ever worked on.”

Timm and his team tried to apply the same faithfulness to the art as well. “It’s always tricky any time where we’ve actually tried to adapt the style of a really significant comic book artist,” he said before the screening. “We felt it was really essential in this movie, because it is such a big crazy iconic book that we really needed to do whatever we could to make it look as much like the original as possible.”

The ability to skew darker certainly aided in that aim. Warner Bros. and DC have enjoyed success with earlier PG-13 animated entries — “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2” is the 16th such project released since 2007’s “Superman/Doomsday.” The preceding “Dark Knight” installment was released last fall.

For his part, Weller said he approached the character of Batman as a blank slate. “I do have a sense of a guy, who felt himself worthy and subsequently retired and is now coming back to life and sees a venue, an avenue for himself. And that’s the only story I wanted to build. You know, the rest of it is all gravy.”

“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2” comes to Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday.

— Thomas Suh Lauder

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex


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5 Responses to ‘Dark Knight Returns’: Animated movie inspires tears from Kevin Smith

  1. Molly says:

    Awesome review! I don't even like comic books and I want to go.

  2. Richard says:

    You know Kevin Smith cries at everything, right?

  3. Renerak says:

    I loved this movie

  4. Obiwont Jablowme says:

    Kevin Smith has ManOvaries…Is spite of this…DKR 1&2 WERE AWESOME

  5. Jim King says:

    Maybe he cried because it was so bad. I thought it had a cleaned-up Disney like feel to it.

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