Before, I hadn’t been able to appreciate this installment as much as its predecessors. I think this was at least due in part to the fact that it’s the one I’ve watched the fewest times; this was probably my second or third time watching it, whereas I was watching Batman Begins and The Dark Knight for at least the fifth or sixth time. After this viewing, I’ve come to appreciate this film significantly more.
Every film in the series has had a moment where Batman is pushed to the breaking point. In Batman Begins, it was right before the climax of the film when Bruce is injured and his mansion is burned down. In The Dark Knight, it’s at the conclusion of the film in the standoff with Harvey. In The Dark Knight Returns, however, I’ve found this breaking point is more profound than either of the other films. Batman has, for the first time, met his true physical and mental equal. He is seemingly broken beyond repair, and is forced to overcome a nearly impossible challenge to return to Gotham. The Joker is the most famous and, I would argue, the most interesting villain in the franchise, but Bane pushes Batman like no other antagonist. I’ve found this to be one of the most interesting facets of this film.
This is also perhaps the most visually stunning film in the trilogy. The conflicts are on a larger scale than ever before, something that shows in the football stadium setpiece and in the final attempt of the heroes to rid the city of the bomb. It continues the trend of a fluctuating aspect ratio that started with The Dark Knight, but I felt that it was overdone in this film. Its predecessor used it somewhat sparingly to great effect, only switching to a wider aspect ratio during intense action sequences or wide establishing shots. This film, however, uses it a bit too much, and the transitions can be jarring.
I’ve learned a lot from watching all of these films again. I’ve gotten a new perspective on one of my favorite film series. I’m still inclined, however, to crown The Dark Knight as my favorite film in the franchise. I enjoy that the conflict is obviously pivotal, but not earth-shatteringly catastrophic like The Dark Knight Returns or Batman Begins. In some ways, this gives the film more room to breathe and allows it to focus more on its characters. The whole trilogy, however, is a masterpiece.
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