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Saturday, February 2, 2013

Review: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2




When I saw The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 last September, I thought that it was by far the best animated incarnation of Batman since Batman the Animated Series.  Several months later, DC/WB have now released the anticipated second half of their adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel.  So, how does this new film match up to the first half?  Read on to find out!  Also, SPOILER ALERT




Three months after the events of the previous film, The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 continues the story of a dystopic Gotham City and the aging Batman who must protect it.  Even though the Joker has also returned, the Gotham Police continue their man-hunt for Batman.  This leads the United States government to send in their most powerful weapon to stop the vigilante: Superman.

It is very hard to review a movie like this as it is such a close adaptation of Frank Miller's seminal classic.  Many Batman fans, including this reviewer, consider that graphic novel to be the pinnacle of not only Batman comics, but comic books in general.  As the animated movie of the first half was so good, the pressure was raised even more for Part 2 to deliver.  This was especially important as the second half of the book contains the two most well-remembered aspects of the story: Batman's fights with the Joker and, then, Superman.

So how did the filmmakers answer this pressure to be as great as Part 1?  Simple.  Do nothing to change the formula.

As the film pretty much follows the exact same story beats as the graphic novel, I will try not to use too much time in discussing this aspect as those familiar with the comic will know what they are.  I do, however, wish to point out that the fact that, as this is an animated re-telling of the comic, several moments from the story are able to become much more vibrant, powerful, and horrific.  

I had very much so forgotten how gruesome the second half of this story is.  While the previous film portrayed some violence, most of the more gory details were left off screen.  This was not a detriment to the first film as this world was already so dark, we did not necessarily need to see all of the blood to understand how bloody this Gotham city was.  Part 2, however, has no shame in showing us some of the more horrific moments.  The entire sequence at the fair grounds in particular has a level of violence and gore that I have never seen in an animated Batman story.  While it may sound like I am coming down on the film for being so gratuitous in its violence, I actually think it works to the film's benefit.  Reading and seeing pictures of the Joker killing himself was creepy.  When animated, this scene is down right nightmare inducing.  But it works!  It works so well.  Batman's fight with the Joker has to be violent and we have to see it, because we need to see the transformation in Bruce's character once he is finally forced to cross a line.

Moving away from the look of the movie, the voice acting is once again top-notch.  As Peter Weller and Ariel Winter are reprising their roles as Batman and Robin respectively, it was not much of a surprise that they were able to fill these shoes once again.  Sure, Peter Weller is no Kevin Conroy.  I was a child of the 90's and some part of me, deep down, will always feel like Kevin Conroy is Batman.  That being said, I do not feel like Conroy is the only person with the right to voice the character.  Weller does an excellent job of portraying the Bruce Wayne/Batman that is needed for this story.  He is brash and rude and blunt, but he is also sympathetic and caring when needed.

To discuss some of the newcomers to the cast, Michael Emerson is fantastic as the Joker.  Much like the Weller/Conroy argument, the same can be made for Emerson and Mark Hamill.  Sure, Mark Hamill could probably easily voice the dark, sadistic Joker that is required for this story, but I felt that Emerson brought something much different to the role.  While this Joker certainly has some things to laugh about, Emerson's voice brings a new threatening level to this character...there are moments where his Joker is genuinely frightening.

Mark Valley also does a good job of voicing Clark Kent/Superman.  Although Superman has an important role to play in this part of the story, I have to admit I don't think it can be too difficult to voice such a role.  Superman acts as a parody of sorts to the superhero archetype he had become by the time Frank Miller originally wrote the story (look no further in this film than the scene where Clark stands on a rock and a bald eagle flies up to him).  Therefore, Mark Valley does as good of a job of voicing the character as could be expected.

Conan O'brien guest stars as Talk Show Host David Endochrine.  He does a fine job, but I only mention him because his laugh when his character inhales Joker gas is awesome.  Perhaps O'brien could voice the Joker in the future.

So how is The Dark Knight Returns Part 2?  With all of the love I have given it throughout this (long) review, it is hard for me to say.  In most ways, this movie feels very much so like a continuation of the story from Part 1 as opposed to its own film.  This is not a bad thing as it is labelled as such in the title.  Therefore, any thoughts on this film have to look at Part 1 and Part 2 as two halves of the same movie.  And when they are combined into one movie, what do we come up with?  Not only the best animated Batman since the aforementioned Animated Series, but quite possibly the greatest Batman movie ever made.  DC Animated is going to be hard pressed to make a movie anywhere near the level of these two.  

Rating: A+

Summary:  Although it should be viewed with its first half, The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 is perhaps the best Batman movie ever.
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