Next week, DC will release The Dark Knight III: The Master Race, the second sequel to a 1986 Frank Miller graphic novel that forever changed how both comics and the Dark Knight are viewed. The first arc in the trilogy, The Dark Knight Returns, introduced the world to a gritty, older Batman come out of retirement to clean up Gotham one final time, and it culminates with an epic final showdown with Superman.
It’s the perfect ending to the Batman mythos, though its legacy was somewhat sullied by a poorly-received sequel released in the early 2000s. As great as The Dark Knight Returns was, Frank Miller has put out a lot of other material of questionable quality in the new millennium, so it’s somewhat of a relief that the talented Brian Azzarello will be handling most of the writing on The Master Race and illustrated by a rotating cast of artists. Then again, Miller is vowing to finish the story solo with a Dark Knight IV, which will probably be a nigh-unreadable cluster-you-know-what of a book.
But hey, regardless of crappy sequels, The Dark Knight Returns is still a classic! Next year’s Batman vs. Superman movie looks to be heavily influenced by it, right down to the more experienced Batman and the power armor he dons in his fight with Supes.
That’s a good sign, right? Well, maybe.
Batman vs. Superman director Zack Snyder made one really good comic book movie (300, also based on a Frank Miller comic), one decent comic movie (Watchmen), and reception to his take on Superman in Man of Steel was… mixed, to say the least. Yes, it had a lot of spectacle, but more often than than not Man of Steel felt like a generic sci-fi movie with little respect for the source material. So while Batman vs. Superman looks amazing in the trailers, with Snyder’s track record, it’s still a wait-and-see game.
A solo Ben Affleck Batman movie is virtually guaranteed at some point in the next few years, but what if instead of that (or in addition to it), DC did something truly daring and original that not even Marvel could top?
What if instead of merely paying homage to The Dark Knight Returns here and there, DC went all out and committed to a big-screen adaptation? And what if instead of casting Affleck, Jared Leto, and other young actors for roles in that film, they brought back much of the cast from the 1989 and 1992 Batman films directed by Tim Burton?
Fans would flip out.
It sounds far-fetched, and it kind of is, but Michael Keaton said as recently as last year that he would be up for playing Batman again if Tim Burton returned to direct. The 1989 Batman film was even inspired by The Dark Knight Returns, so tonally it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to set a sequel in that film universe.
Michael Uslan, producer of the 1989 Batman said a couple years ago that it would be his dream project to bring back Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson for a live-action Dark Knight Returns movie. The actors are both the perfect age for it right now, and with The Dark Knight III bringing the original story back into the public consciousness again, now would be the perfect time to capitalize on that interest.
And unlike Frank Miller, the combo of Burton, Keaton, and Nicholson have all put out fairly consistently quality work over the past decade, even if Nicholson has pulled back from acting a bit.
The themes of The Dark Knight Returns, which focus on Bruce Wayne dealing with both the struggles of old age and the challenges of still fighting crime as a superhero lend themselves to a returning cast. This wouldn’t be a case of an old actor squeezing into a poorly fitting suit to try and re-live his glory days, this would be more like Harrison Ford returning to play Han Solo in The Force Awakens, a story that would bring the story full-circle.
And if it turned out well, maybe Warner Bros. could even try to salvage the other Dark Knight Returns sequels with film adaptations.
This isn’t the film we need… it’s the film we deserve.