Casting Call: ‘The Dark Knight Returns’

In 1986 Frank Miller’s graphic novel, The Dark Knight Returns revolutionized the Batman mythos. Commercially and critically successful, the comic revitalized the character of Batman. Gone was the campy cartoonish rendition of Batman underscored by Adam West. In its place was a darker, grimmer, edgier Batman and Gotham City. The Dark Knight Returns ushered in the Iron Age of comic books and inspired countless comic writers working today.

There’s been a few different media echoes and iterations in the subsequent thirty-three years since the book was published. Director Zack Snyder gave us flashes of Miller’s tale in BvS and Jay Olivia’s animated adaptation touts top-notch voice performances (Peter Weller, Michael Emmerson) and deftly captures the spirit of the novel.

Yet The Dark Knight Returns possesses something distinctly cinematic and timeless about it. Almost three and a half decades later it in no way feels dated or irrelevant. Indeed the themes of injustice, apathy, hero-worship, and misplaced idealism all ring true in 2019. As such, I believe Miller’s book is an untapped source ripe for a live-action adaptation. With that in mind here are my casting suggestions for a live action adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns.

Brendan Gleeson as Commissioner James Gordon

Probably best known for his roles as Hamish in Braveheart, Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter films, and most recently as Bill Hodges in the television show Mr. Mercedes, Gleeson is a well established character actor. No one does gruff and grizzled like Gleeson. While some may think he’s more suited to tough-guy detective Harvey Bullock, the character unfortunately doesn’t appear in Miller’s seminal work. I think Gleeson would be a perfect match for the weathered, near retirement Jim Gordon that appears in The Dark Knight Returns.

Kate McKinnon as Commissioner Ellen Yindel

As a character and commissioner, Ellen Yindel is about as far removed from James Gordon as you can get. Tough, single-minded, and near fanatical when it comes to upholding the law, Yindel is additionally extremely anti-Batman. In fact her first official duty once she takes over for Gordon is to issue an arrest warrant for the Caped Crusader. While on the surface McKinnon seems like a weird choice (she’s known mostly for her comedic work on SNL) don’t discount her acting chops. There’s a surprising amount of pathos in some of her comedic roles such as Holtzmann in Ghostbusters. Much like her co-star of the same film Kristen Wigg, I think McKinnon is primed for a meaty, dramatic role. This could be it.

Adam Driver as Dr. Bartholomew Wolper

Now on the outset Driver may appear slightly too young to play the facile, arrogant, and naive intellectual psychiatrist of both Harvey Dent and the Joker. However, I really don’t think age needs to be a factor here as it does our main protagonist. Driver definitely has the look down and with turns in BlacKkKlansman and the upcoming The Report, Driver has proven himself to be more than just Kylo Ren. This role would be a challenge but one that I think Mr. Driver is more than up for.

Hafthor Julius Bjornsson as The Mutant Leader

The Mutant Leader in The Dark Knight Returns is more than a physical match for the older fifty-five year old Batman. Stronger, faster, and younger than the Dark Knight, the Mutant Leader nearly kills Bruce in their first encounter. At six feet nine inches and weighing approximately 400 pounds, Bjornsson certainly has the intimidating look and size for the part. Additionally, fans of Game of Thrones know he’s no stranger to playing homicidal and psychotic with his portrayal of Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane. The Mutant Leader is much more vocal than “The Mountain” however, who hasn’t said a word since season four. Increased dialogue and a thick accent may pose a daunting task to Bjornsson, but as for physicality, casting him would be a slam-dunk.

Daniel Craig as Oliver Queen/Green Arrow

Oliver Queen/Green Arrow plays a small but crucial part in The Dark Knight Returns. The man we meet in Miller’s work is not the billionaire vigilante that mirrors Batman in various ways. Instead he’s a man on the run who believes those in power abandoned their greatest allies. Bitter and missing an arm, he eagerly agrees to assist Bruce when he decides to confront Superman. With his time as James Bond, Craig is certainly no stranger to weapons. I believe he could play the older, jaded Queen to a t. Craig also brings just the right amount of sarcastic wit to the role as well.

Michael Shannon as Harvey Dent/Two-Face

No one does intensity like Michael Shannon. Nobody. From Boardwalk Empire to The Shape of Water to Nocturnal Animals, Shannon brings a kinetic energy to every role he takes. The Dark Knight Returns‘ version of Harvey Dent/Two-Face certainly possesses that, especially when the Two-Face personality is in full effect. However, there’s an undercurrent of sadness and vulnerability that I believe Shannon could bring to the role as well. Plus Shannon is certainly no stranger to comic book films having played General Zod in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel.

Mark Hamill as The Joker

Now some may say that at sixty-seven, Mark Hamill is too old to play the part. With physical roles in The Last Jedi and also the upcoming second season of Knightfall, I’d say Hamill is more than hale and hearty however. Additionally, between voice roles in Batman: The Animated Series and his turn in the Arkham videogames, Hamill has lived and breathed this character for over two decades. There’s few people living who understand the complexities of Joker than Mark Hamill.

Sophia Lillis as Carrie Kelley/Robin

When it comes to the character of Robin most associate the hero with Dick Grayson. In the years since his debut in Detective Comics #38, a number of people have played the Boy Wonder including Jason Todd, Tim Drake, and Damian Wayne. However, most of the general public doesn’t know Carrie Kelley, the character who first appeared in Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel. While outwardly a fangirl of The Bat, she honestly believes in his cause, in sharp contrast to her hippy-dippy parents who see Batman as a fascist. In fact it is Kelley who ultimately saves Batman, discovers his identity, and joins his fight. Lillis came to stardom with her turn as Beverly Marsh in IT and solidified her acting talent in the HBO mini-series Sharper Objects. While slightly older than her character in the graphic novel, I believe Lillis could bring the right amount of wit, physicality, determination, and innocence to the role.

Jon Hamm as Clark Kent/Superman

The Emmy Award winning Hamm has admitted in recent years that he’s aged out of the role of Superman. A younger Superman for sure, but not the Blue Boyscout of Frank Miller’s work. Having just turned forty-eight, Hamm currently sits at an age that would dovetail nicely into the role itself. Hamm certainly has the look and the height to play the role. As the lone surviving sanctioned superhero, it would be a treat to see how Hamm plays the Last Son of Krypton. His dynamic with Bruce is particularly delicate and interesting and the veteran of Mad Men certainly has the acting ability to handle Superman. It would be the height of irony to see the man who supposedly turned down the role previously to don the red cape.

John Cleese as Alfred Pennyworth

I originally thought that Michael Caine would be a good choice to reprise the role or perhaps Anthony Hopkins. However, both seemed very obvious choices. Cleese on the other hand I believe would make the perfect choice. The A Fish Called Wanda actor would bring the requisite amount of sarcastic wit along with a pragmatism to the part of Bruce Wayne’s manservant and surrogate father. Cleese has consistently proven he’s more than just Monty Python with dramatic roles in films like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Additionally, at seventy-nine, he’s the perfect age to play an older, grimmer Alfred.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Bruce Wayne/Batman

Yes I know Morgan has already played Thomas Wayne (Bruce’s father) in BvS. However, The Dark Knight Returns in no way connects to the larger DCEU. Additionally, there’s no rule saying a dog can’t play basketball or that an actor can’t play two roles in a specific comicbook IP. (Please see Chris Evans for further evidence.) Morgan is a Hell of an actor who I believe was just one star turn from being an A-lister. While that’s probably not likely to happen, I still believe he’d make an excellent Batman. Morgan’s already proven he can go to dark, grim places with his roles in Watchmen and The Walking Dead. Yet aside from gravitas, this incarnation of Bruce Wayne/Batman needs a level of humanity and dare I say tenderness, that Jeffrey Dean Morgan can also provide. At almost fifty-three years of age, he’s right in the older Batman wheelhouse. Moreover, I think he possesses all the necessary ingredients to crush it as the Dark Knight.

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