Describing himself as "obsessed" with Frank Miller's acclaimed comic book miniseries, filmmaker Zack Snyder told fans during a livestream this week that he would still like to make a live-action film adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns. Name-dropping Jay Oliva, who has worked with Snyder on Justice League as well as directing a number of animated DC movies, Snyder joked that there were no other Batman stories besides The Dark Knight Returns, and suggested that, rather than putting it in a shared universe, he might like to revisit the idea as a stand-alone film, presumably looking at the success of Joker and the potential opening up through films like The Batman.
The Dark Knight Returns tells the story of a Batman who has been retired for years, but is called back into action by a crisis in Gotham. Grizzled, massive, and brutal, Batman faces off with a variety of threats, including a 'roided-up street gang called The Mutants and a Joker who has found himself freed from Arkham.
"I saw a tweet recently like 'Snyder needs to stop reading Dark Knight Returns, he needs to read another Batman comic,'" Snyder said. "I almost tweeted back, I'm sure Jay [Oliva] replied like 'there aren't any others!' I'm so obsessed with that comic. I've always thought that maybe one day down the road as a one-off, just as a crusty old Batman, we'd just do it. It's a dream I have."
Oliva directed a two-part animated adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns that is a favorite among fans, but was released before DC was willing to go for an R-rating on their animated movies and thus falls somewhat short of being fully true to Miller's grim vision.
Elements of The Dark Knight Returns can be seen throughout Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. The most obvious example is the heavy armored costume worn by Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) during the film's big battle with Superman, but arguably more key to the actual story of the movie is the way that talking heads on TV and in popular culture help to shape the way the citizens of Metropolis and Gotham City think of their superheroes. In the film, Superman's impact on everyday people doesn't seem to earn him a reprieve from the wrath brought on by the 24-hour news cycle and the need to fill time with something controversial.
With DC electing to embrace a multiverse model for their film and TV projects, it is not outside of the realm of possibility that Snyder might have his chance to make The Dark Knight Returns yet...but it will have to wait at least until after he's done with Zack Snyder's Justice League, which has reshoots scheduled ahead of a 2021 release on HBO Max.