Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 Movie Poster Image
Popular with kids
Extremely violent animated addition to the Batman story.
  • PG-13
  • 2012
  • 76 minutes

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 4 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 14 reviews

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

As an exploration of the good and evil existing in everyone, as well as a debate on due process versus vigilantism, there isn't much in the way of a clear-cut positive message.

Positive Role Models

In this version of Batman, Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement to help not so much because he wants to, but because he feels he has no choice as Gotham City sinks further into crime and decadence.


Graphic animated violence abounds. Extended fight scenes -- with punching, kicking, stabbing, and eye-gouging. Knife-wielding "mutant" gangs constantly talk of "slicing and dicing" citizens. In a flashback, a boy watches as his parents are murdered in an alley; there's a shot of the parents on their backs in the alley, dying and bloody. During a race, a car spins out of control and crashes. Batman shoots at The Mutants in a Batmobile that looks more like a massive tank.


"Damn," "hell," "son of a bitch."


Tie-in to vast quantities of related merchandise.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Commissioner Gordon and Bruce Wayne drink whiskey but don't act intoxicated. A teenage girl continually overhears adults in her apartment talking like extremely parodied examples of burnt-out old hippies who talk about tripping, getting high, and memory lapses.

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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bykyleReeselives October 7, 2018

A great movie, just don't show it to kids

Being that this is an animated Batman movie, you'd think it was better for kids than the Christopher Nolan trilogy. Well think again. This one is much less... Continue reading
Parent of a 10, 12, and 16-year-old Written byHendo H. U January 15, 2018
Teen, 15 years old Written byMr Blonde January 28, 2014
Teen, 15 years old Written byJustHereForBatman July 8, 2021

Perfect for any teen or older who loves Batman and/or superhero films!

I never read any of the comics but from what I know this is a very faithful adaptation. I enjoyed it very much! There is moderate violence and mild swearing bu... Continue reading

What's the story?

In BATMAN: THE DARK NIGHT RETURNS, PART 1, 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, this is an excellent exploration of the ambiguities of Batman/Bruce Wayne. Iatman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 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 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 ?

  • 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?

Movie details

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