Animation Sidebar : “Batman : The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2”

Posted: April 13, 2013 in comics, movies
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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Okay, this one’s probably going to be something of a “quickie” given that we’ve already covered all the relevant background info and what have you in our (alright, fair enough, my) review of the first film in this series — suffice to say that if you enjoyed Batman : The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 you’re absolutely gonna love part two (released in January of this year), because this is the one  where the shit really hits the fan.

Fresh out of a self-imposed 10-year retirement, and having already taken down both Two-Face and the leader of the vicious Mutant gang, a newly-reinvigorated Batman (Peter Weller), together with the latest version of teen sidekick Robin, an all-heart-but-no-training adolescent girl named Carrie Kelley (Ariel Winter),  find themselves tangling this time around not only with a crazier-than-ever Joker (fantastically voiced by Michael Emerson), but in the crosshairs of none other than Superman himself (Mark Valley), who has been dispatched by the highest powers imaginable to put a stop to his one-time friend’s self-decla vigilante war on crime in Gotham City.

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Things start out on a fairly absurd note as The Joker is invited onto the Letterman-in-all-but-last-name “David Endochrine Show” (Endochrine himself being voiced by none other than Conan O’Brien), but quickly turn quite deadly when he kills the entire studio audience and has his final, and decidedly gruesome, confrontation with Batman at, appropriately enough, a carnival. All this is realized at a thoroughly fun, breakneck pace by director Jay Oliva, but for my money it’s when the inevitable Batman/Superman confrontation occurs that this story really kicks into another gear, as the story invites us to take a hard look at the philosophical and attitudinal discrepancies that have always made for an uneasy-at-best alliance between DC’s two “flagship” characters. When the thin strand of mutual (perhaps) aims between the two finally breaks, it makes for one of the more thought-provoking and multi-textured psychological analyses ever presented in a mainstream superhero comic (or, by extension, a mainstream direct-to-video superhero animated flick).

Fans of Frank Miller’s original work will be pleased to see that Batman : The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 doesn’t shy away from the book’s rather disturbing, even quasi-fascistic portrayal of the Caped Crusader, but likewise it isn’t afraid to ultimately portray him as a hero, either — a complex, deeply flawed hero, to be sure, but far from the heartless basket-case that so many subsequent writers have too easily pigeonholed him as. And in Miller’s world Superman is far from perfect, as well, so that’s a relief.

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Don’t let all my talk of the subtexts inherent in this movie’s source material scare you off, though, because above all this is a piece of fun, kick-ass entertainment — just one that has the added bonus of being open to a deeper and more considered reading should you choose to give it one. On the surface, it’s one well-realized action sequence after another, and that can be a plenty good time in and of itself. Old friends (David Selby’s Commissioner Gordon) exit the scene while other old friends (Robin Atkin Downes’ Oliver Queen/Green Arrow) enter it, every old score is finally settled, and by the time the end credits roll a thoroughly satisfying, heartfelt, and respectful conclusion ends things on, believe it or not, a note of optimism that the sunny-out-of-nowhere wrap-up to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy could learn a lot from.

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On the minus side, pretty much all of my criticisms from part one — the guys look like they’ve been gobbling ‘roids for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; Miller’s idiosyncratic, free-form art style is replaced by a more typical “house” animation look; Selby’s take on Gordon just doesn’t ring true; the script adaptation can be a bit too hyper-condensed at times; etc. — all hold here, but that’s all small potatoes compared to the number of things Oliva and his cohorts get resoundingly, joyously right here. A genuine treat for long-time fans of the book while being immediately accessible to those unfamiliar with it, Batman : The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 is pretty much everything you could ever hope for in an animated superhero flick, and I guarantee it’s one you’ll enjoy again and again over the years should you go ahead and give it a purchase.

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Speaking of which — I went the cheap route again and opted to pick this up on DVD rather than Blu-Ray, given that I can’t see what the hell difference there’s gonna be in image quality for an animated feature between the two formats, and while the widescreen picture and 5.1 sound are plenty great (at least to my mind) on DVD, it is, once again, free of extras apart from promotional preview material for other titles in the “DC Universe” animated line. The Blu-Ray disc, on the other hand, does have a smattering of pretty cool bonus features from what I understand, but not having seen them I can’t fairly critique, or even summarize, them here, so I guess that’s a wrap as far as the technical specs are concerned.

Still, whatever format you choose to go with, the point remains — get out  there and buy, or at the very least rent or steal (whoops, did I just say that? ) this thing now. Too few “legendary” comic stories live up to their status on either the printed page or the screen (if they make it that far), but this is one that does. If you’re unsure as to what all the fuss is about, you owe it to yourself to find out, and if you’re already familiar with the work, you’ll be pleased as punch to see it translated into a new format with so much care and respect.

Comments
  1. Good review. Good movie. I did though like the first more but this was also solid. I reviewed the first, but never got around to this one

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      Hope you get a chance to do a write-up on it when you’ve got time!

      • One of the reasons you’re seeing more lists and ads on my page is writing hasn’t come easy these days. I sometimes get into funks. Some have lasted months without a single review. This slump isn’t as bad for every 1 I write 3 I can’t finish.

        This film was one of those I couldn’t finish. Once it seems I broke out and begin writing I’ll write a couple than bam I can’t write anything for a couple of weeks

      • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

        I guess I’m lucky not to suffer from writer’s block like that. Sometimes I’m feeling too lazy to write, and sometimes my “real” job keeps me too busy to write, but once I sit down to write, I never have a problem finishing it. I just wish I had all the time in the world to do it more, or that writing actually paid anything so I wouldn’t have have my time and energy sapped by other work and could devote more of both to this.

      • I can go though long bouts of writers block. I am up all hours of the night (not by choice). So it leaves me more time to write. But right now its a struggle.

        Some reviews I’ve posted were new, but many were reviews already written. Sooner or later I’ll break out of it

      • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

        Sure hope so! It sounds like a real drag and I wish you nothing but the best!

  2. Victor De Leon says:

    This is the best review I’ve read on TDKR Part 2. I loved that you mentioned the accuracy of the graphic novel and how DC did not shy away from the subtext, action, violence and political overtones of Miller’s vision. Great job, Ryan!

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      Thanks for the kind words, glad to do my part to help set the bar a bit higher for movie and comic criticism online!

  3. Bubbawheat says:

    Definitely the best DC animated work so far, and I’ve really enjoyed a lot of them.

    • trashfilmguru (Ryan C.) says:

      Me too, I’ve seen all the DCU animated flicks they’ve done to date, and there have only been a couple that I didn;t care for. One area where DC definitely has it all over Marvel right now is in the direct-to-video animated movie arena.

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