Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 picks up where Part 1 left off. Batman’s return to an exorbitantly crime-ridden Gotham has been felt across the city – he’s wanted by the cops, the citizens are divided on the idea of a man who takes the law into his own hands and the mutants, having watched their leader get his ass handed back to him by the Batman, have splintered off, some becoming “Sons of Batman,” a violent vigilante group. Meanwhile, the Joker, free of the catatonic state he resided in during Part 1, is poised to wreak deadly havoc. And finally, on the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union, the President of the United States has enlisted Superman as his own personal boyscout/henchman to keep the peace.
Hit the jump for my review of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 on Blu-ray.
As with Part 1, Part 2 is religiously faithful to its source material, with many of the graphic novel’s standout panels recreated beautifully. Playing Batman, Peter Weller is adequate, although his performance at times dips into monotony. But overall the spirit of the graphic novel remains intact, which is to say this is a very dark movie. And although the filmmakers don’t go so far as to show all the boyscouts at the carnival dead from Joker’s poisoned cotton candy, the clown prince certainly pulls off his maniacal share of homicidal antics. The highlights from the graphic novel are all there – the Joker’s randomly shootings innocents, stabbing Batman in his bullet wound, and of course, his mass murder at the David Endochrine show.
One of the big draws of the narrative is the Joker storyline. His homicidal rampage through Gotham is one of the graphic novel’s most memorable sequences. And while Michael Emerson’s animated Joker will never be Mark Hamill’s, the Lost alum does manage to bring his own brooding, somber stamp to the character. His final mano-a-mano showdown with the Dark Knight is vicious, brutal and exactly what the ultimate fight between these two was always meant to be. If there’s a gripe to be had with the Joker material in Part 2, it’s that it’s all over too quickly.
The other outstanding element of the movie is the climactic fight between Batman and Superman. The film again does a fine job of translating the brawl from graphic novel to moving animation. More dynamics are added in the adaptation and the result is a for-the-ages knock-down, drag-out throwdown between the world’s two most famous superheroes.
The datedness of the graphic novel’s Reagan-era/Cold War storyline is the movie’s most glaring drawback. But the filmmakers embrace the 80s feel of the graphic novel, echoing it in the movie’s score and even keep those news-broadcasting television sets squared off and old school. The snappy pace of the film also helps any sort of antiquated notions the movie holds, never lingering too long on the president and the Russia issues, bringing the story back to Batman and Gotham in general.
No big surprises here. Consistent with the first installment, the art and animation are beautifully rendered. Since the darks are so dark, the brighter ones pop even more strikingly off them in contrast. The sound effects, from the snapping of a neck to a piledriver punch from the Man of Steel are sharp and clear as ever. Turn the speakers way up during that final epic Superman fight.
Keeping in the tradition it started with Part 1, the extras on this disc are pretty standard. Superman vs. Batman: When Heroes Collide, a featurette on the film’s climactic fight and Joker: Laughing in the Face of Death offer little in the way of originality or insight and start to feel like filler towards their final stretches. Only From Sketch to Screen: Exploring the Adaptation Process with Jay Oliva is the disc’s notable supplemental. It’s an in-depth look at director Oliva’s methods for bringing the graphic novel to life. His reasons for choosing which panels to keep and which images/sequences to invent on his own are definitely worth a listen for any fan of the story.
A stirring finale to Part 1’s set-up, Batman the Dark Knight Returns Part 2 eschews some of the talkiness of the final book and cuts right to the chase. The movie is lean, tight and dark. The power that resonates with the original graphic novel is present throughout the film, and as with the first installment, we’re again left wondering why the studio didn’t expand more in the supplemental section of the disc. But this is a petty complaint. Regarded separately from their source material, the films are a welcome addition to the Warner Animation library. And for fans of The Dark Knight Returns, they’re proficient adaptations.