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.
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.
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.
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.
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.