A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 is extremely violent. Based on the 1986 Frank Miller graphic novel, this Batman is a reflection of a mid-'80s vigilantism mindset as exemplified by Dirty Harry, Rambo, and so many other "tough guy gets even" movies from that era. Even compared to recent Batman films, this one is more violent, even if it's animated. The story is dark, and the complexities of the characters and the violence make it inappropriate for younger viewers. But for teens and parents ready for a superhero story with ambiguity, this is one worth seeing.
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What's the story?
It's been 10 years since Bruce Wayne was Batman (voiced by Peter Weller). He's trying to stay retired, but as Gotham City continues its descent into violence, crime, and decadence, he's finding it harder and harder to remain a civilian who's content to spend the rest of his middle-aged days driving his race car. A crime gang known as The Mutants are terrorizing innocent citizens at every turn, and if that wasn't bad enough, Harvey Dent (aka Two-Face) has been released from jail thanks to a plastic surgeon and a coddling psychiatrist. With this turn of events, Wayne becomes Batman once again, and as he fights The Mutants and starts to bring about a drop in Gotham's crime, once again, citizens and the media are torn as to whether or not Batman's brand of justice is right or wrong.
Is it any good?
As an adaptation of Frank Miller's 1986 graphic novel, BATMAN: THE DARK NIGHT RETURNS, PART 1 is an excellent exploration of the ambiguities of Batman/Bruce Wayne. It also examines the battles between good and evil that are fought not just in the good guy/bad guy sense of standard comic book fare, but within each individual. In some ways, with the steady media debate raging as a counterpoint to Batman's crime fighting, this could be seen as a satire of contemporary urban life.
The only quibble with this is that the contemporary urban life being satired feels like it's stuck in 1986, where the '80s action movie mentality reigns -- where tough guy Dirty Harry-types shoot first and ask questions later, rule of law and due process be damned. Nonetheless, the complexities of the characters themselves transcends some of these more dated elements, making this an enjoyable, if extremely violent, experience.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Batman. How has the Batman character evolved over the years? What has remained unchanged about his basic story? Out of all the different Batmans played or voiced by different actors, which one is your favorite?
What are your thoughts on the violence in this version of Batman? Does it enhance or detract from the central story?
In some ways, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 explores the idea of whether people should take the law in their own hands, or whether they should place their faith in the police and the due process of our court system. How does this debate emerge in the story?
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