FILM: Batman - The Dark Knight Returns Part II

Certificate: 15
Running Time: 76 mins
Director: Jay Oliva
Starring: Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, Michael Emerson, David Selby
Genre: Superhero, Comic Book, Animation

With Commissioner Gordon (Selby) replaced at the head of the GCPD, the Dark Knight finds himself on the arrest list as he tries to bring in a newly energized and recently escaped Joker.  Meanwhile Superman is summoned to the White House where the 40th President of the U.S. Ronald Wilson Reagan euphemisms himself hoarse about what he wants done with Gotham’s nocturnal problem.
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As good-ol’ JR used to say when the WWF wasn’t just pandas, “this one is for all the marbles”.  Having dished out a remarkable adaptation of Frank Miller’s first two books of The Dark Knight Returns, Oliva, Weller and co return to close off one of the most incredible imaginings in the Batman legend.  With Joker on a killing spree and the U.S. in the midst of war, both home and abroad, Batman must throw everything he’s got to stop Gotham from pulling itself apart.

The Dark Knight Returns Part II highlights perfectly why this seminal piece of work needed to be split into two movies.  As one story, the tail end of the movie would reduce Batman vs Two-Face & The Mutants to little more than a teaser for the big battle.  Sit down with a copy of TDKR in trade paperback and read it in one sitting.  Cover-to-cover what you come away with is the enormousness of The Caped Crusader versus The Last Son of Krypton; even the demise of The Joker plays a soft, flat beat in comparison.  Read it again, stopping for a day after the Bat bests the Mutant Leader and all of a sudden that fight in the wasteland takes on an almost Ali vs Fraser mythos… which it should… it’s excellent.  What I’m trying to get at is this… as big as the wows were in Part I, they’re BIGGER in Part II.  The longest moment in Part I in which you held your breath and thought “holy fuck this is awesome”, this is your default status for Part II.  DC Direct have done the animated cinematic equivalent of hitting a home run without having to walk to the plate while Isis Taylor gives you a handy.  It is mind-blowing!  Give me the day to bark how brilliant it is at you and I will.  Give me a week and I swear I’ll go hoarse before I run out of ways to praise it.
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Does Peter Weller still underwhelm behind the cowl?  Not as much.  I don’t know whether it’s exposure to his vocal style of because there’s so much more going on visually but I can’t remember being overly bothered by his lack of audible range.  Ariel Winter is still amazing, and Michael Emerson (Lost, Person of Interest) digs down deep and delivers a Joker that’s creepy without ever becoming Halloweeny.  It has a lot of Hamill in it, which may pose the question Why not just get Hamill?  Good question, maybe when he said he was done with the character unless they did The Killing Joke, DC took him at his word.  Either way, if we’re able to get a rendition of Mark Hamill’s Joker without having to worry about his voice straight up dying and making Star Wars VIII & IX a little too Marcel Marceau then I’m down with that.  Emerson’s Clown Prince of Crime is much more paired back and in classic Miller styling a little less humorous than other writers would have him, but he has him moments and when they come along… boy are they good.

Batman versus Superman (Mark Valley) brings all the dreams, expectations, and punch combinations you imagined when you first read TDKR.  The battle-suit looks so sweet, Superman looks every inch the threat that Reagan wanted him to be and these two Titans knock serious amounts of lumps out of one another.
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One of the things I love about Batman is that when required he can use his body as a blunt tool.  He can lay down some serious brawn but give him enough time and he’ll beat you before you even see him.  He’ll out-think you into submission.  That’s why when someone asks Superman (Justice League animation, about Batman) “Why’s that guy on the team?”, he responds with He’s the most dangerous man in the world… and that’s true.  Properly motivated, Bruce Wayne will come at you with everything he’s got and it doesn’t matter what you have up your sleeve; how many goons you have on your side, or even that you’re POTUS.  He will getcha!

Critics of TDKR throw down that Miller does Superman a disservice.  That the Man of Steel is more than just the latest weapon America likes to wield… and that’s fair enough, but so what?!  It’s a Batman story.  If it was a JLA or a Trinity title then I’d agree, it’s way off character but it’s not.  This is the story of a 55 year old man rediscovering his place in the world.  A world that went on without him when he lost something so personal that he broke for a time.  How Superman got to a point where he had Ronald Reagan’s hand up his brown knot is another story.  Have someone write TDKR from Supe’s perspective and I’m sure Batman will come across sociopathic.
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Though we’re unlikely to see a true adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns in live action, Miller’s work has been so influential in all aspects of Batman that it’s impossible to make a tonally mature Batman movie without referencing beats that live in the Miller-sphere.  Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice might have some of the more visually striking Miller-isms at work but it won’t ever come close to being a full adaptation… and I’m fine with that.  DC Direct have crafted two remarkable films, not animations, certainly not cartoons, but films… in fact, one would go as far to say two remarkable pieces of cinema such is the standard on work on display.  The Dark Knight Returns sits alongside Nolan’s The Dark Knight as a shining example of brilliance in film-making when material is allowed to mature and is played for the honest, emotional moments in the narrative.


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