The Return of Robo … er, Batman
A Review of The Dark Knight Returns Part 2
By: Lawrence Napoli
Frank Miller’s seminal work in The Dark Knight Returns continues to take on new life in part 2 of the animated adaptation directed by Jay Olivia. Part 1 certainly set the table with tremendous dedication to the source material in terms of art and tone while giving the viewer an added glimpse in between the panels at some of the action that led to this tale’s most iconic moments. Part 2 follows suit quite nicely as the stakes for Batman go through the roof with Joker on the loose, the Man of Steel to contend with and lest we not forget the whole possibility of global thermo nuclear war with the Soviet Union looming in the background.
It is on like Donkey Kong!
The art continues to be right on the mark with every character: from the creepy Ronal Reagan-inspired President to the “zombie” Superman surviving a nuclear blast to a one armed Oliver Queen “having one more crack at the boy scout.” Storyboard artists Brendan Clogher, Christie Tseng and Kirk Van Wormer working with animation checker Justin Schultz outdid themselves by mastering an art style that is unmistakable from the original, static form. It isn’t a perfect recreation, mind you. Bruce Wayne’s costume of a bag lady as he stops a convenient store stickup looks a lot like a fat version of Scarecrow from the Batman animated series. Also, the vehicles depicted in every scene continue to bother me in their blocky presentation and movement. In addition, I was not as impressed with the background art as much as the quality animation in the foreground. However, these are all very nitpicky criticisms. Overall, the art is very satisfying to see and extremely nostalgic to experience.
Batman is an avid rider.
The voice over work, however, is a bit of a disappointment which is lamentable considering the new characters the audience is being presented in part 2. Peter Weller, once again, voices Batman and after giving him a chance in part 1, part 2 confirms that I simply cannot accept anyone not named Kevin Conroy as this character. Weller’s voice hits that one dulcet tone and never, EVER, fluctuates. You’ll remember Michael Emerson from Lost and Person of Interest and he had the opportunity to voice Joker. Although he gives a much more emotive performance than Peter Weller, Emerson clearly isn’t Mark Hamil. How can anyone possibly follow a Mark Hamil Joker? Just about every other male character: Superman (Mark Valley), Commissioner Gordon (David Selby) and Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Jackson) fail to leave any semblance of an impression. Who knew Conan O’Brien did VO work for this project as talk show host David Endocrine? I certainly didn’t because it was a total afterthought. The best vocal work continues to come from Ariel Winter as Carrie Kelley/Robin. Unfortunately, Robin has significantly less involvement in part 2 which means the audience gets less of a very good thing.
Hi! I'm Conan O'Brien
I highly recommend purchasing the Blu Ray/DVD combo primarily because many retailers are selling them at the exact same price points as the regular DVD this week, but also because the bonus features are very interesting. The first feature is called When Heroes Collide and it features commentary from the likes of Grant Morrison, Denny O’Neil and Bruce Timm speaking on the historic comparisons between Batman and Superman, how they could ever be set against each other and who inevitably would come out on top. The segment I found most interesting was when the professionals were discussing classic comparisons to DC’s flagship characters: Superman = Zeus/Achilles vs. Batman = Prometheus/Odysseus, respectively.
Clash of the titans!
The second feature called The Joker: Laughing in the Face of Death is a character analysis of his popularity over the course of time and how he not only represents Batman’s greatest adversary, but perhaps the greatest villain ever conceived. The audience will be treated to some fine observations by the man who invented the Joker, Jerry Robinson. He discusses his preference for overpowering his villains to pose a constant threat to the hero and presents his original art work for the character in the form of the infamous Joker playing card featured in just about every manifestation of Batman in entertainment. Also discussed is the perceived symbiosis between Batman and the Joker, specifically how Frank Miller’s work presented it almost like a constant lover’s quarrel. Is Joker really an “omni-sexual being” in The Dark Knight Returns?
I'm too sexy for these mirrors.
The third feature involves several storyboard walkthroughs with director Jay Olivia. Olivia discusses his theories and philosophies of character and scene integration as they pertain to the scenes in question and the film in general. He comes off as a passionate director who clearly wants to do right by this adaptation and has a dedicated vision to what must stay, what must go and what must be altered from the original comics to be successful on video. This segment is a little longer as his commentary is quite thorough, but I raised an eyebrow when he discussed how he related his thoughts for action sequences by referencing other movies to his artists. Apparently, the scene that shows Commissioner Gordon embracing his wife in front of his burning apartment was inspired by Silent Hill, the movie; not the best choice in films.
Handsome super beings like me don't bother with films like "Silent Hill."
The last little bonus worth mentioning is the sneak preview of the upcoming DC direct to video project called Superman: Unbound. This new project is an adaptation of the limited series created by Geoff Johns called Brainiac which involves the bottled city of Kandor, Supergirl, Superman’s overprotection of his loved ones like Lois Lane and the return of a much more threatening Brainiac. Unlike The Dark Knight Returns, this project will not seek to channel the original art style in ANY way which would be fine under normal circumstances, but I had a specific reservation about one character in particular. Brainiac is going to look almost exactly like Martian Manhunter (right down to the exact shade of green) and I simply do not understand this choice. I found it very interesting how several comments during this feature described how this project was going to “new places” with the source material or going “left of the source.” If this were really true, then why base any of these direct to video projects on existing storylines? Why not give us something new in the first place?
Something new always puts a smile on my face.
The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 is very entertaining and totally worth buying so long as it is the BluRay/DVD combo and it’s less than $15. I was a bit upset over the fact that this movie comes with a $5 off coupon if purchased in conjunction with part 1. This isn’t so great for someone like me who has already bought part 1, but a fine deal for anyone else. There is a noticeable increase in the action, blood and violence in part 2. Joker’s murder spree and the final fight with Superman are very exciting, but the dramatic bullet points of the comics don’t resonate as well in part 2 as they did in part 1. Perhaps it was Peter Weller’s dull delivery or perhaps it was the greater emphasis on action, but I actually preferred part 1 a little more. Bat fans will find a worthy investment in The Dark Knight Returns, but be warned, this is still not a cartoon to show to the youngsters in any Bat family due to violence and suggestive content (not even Damien).