So I read that Kevin Smith has wept every time he's seen the film and I can see why. The Dark Knight Returns is a religious experience. Not a spiritual experience, really, but a religious experience in that it allows you to experience a religion, in this case the religion of Millerite Batmanism.
I don't really know the tenets of Millerite Batmanism, though I assume that they're sort of cryptofascist libertarian, much like Miller himself seems to be, but that's a little irrelevant. The movie isn't so much adapted from the books as translated from it. There is no attempt to update, clarify or alter anything from the graphic novel. Moreover, there is no attempt to make the movie at all newbie-friendly. You either know who Selina, Dick, Jason, Oliver, etc., are or you just don't. This is not a film for new believers. This is a film for those already well initiated into the Batmanism doctrines. It is indifferent if not hostile to those less initiated.
Make no mistake, this is a faithfully rendered, brilliantly executed film version of Frank Miller's masterpiece. And it was a masterpiece, a work that reinvented the Batman - along with much of comics as it was known and spoke about and to the hopes, dreams and fears of that generation.
However, this is no longer that generation. The Soviet Union no longer exists. Our foreign challenges consist of nasty places where nasty people to nasty things to themselves and us because we happen to be there, no Superman required. We don't fear nihilist punk gangs as criminals. We fear white collar businesspeople tapping keys that bankrupt us and madpeople coming into our schools and businesses with guns to kill us. Our president is not a amiable, addled old white guy risking nuclear war, but a ruthlessly cool-headed black guy waging war by remote control because we want him to do so.
Still, as far as Batman goes for the 80s, this one was awesome.
"The most dangerous man, to any government, is the man who is able to think things out for himself. Almost inevitably, he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane and intolerable." - H. L. Mencken