Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1
“I’m your worst nightmare.¬† The kind that makes you cry out for your mother.”
The H-Bomb:¬† It’s been ten years since Bruce Wayne (Peter Weller) hung up his bat suit and bid adieu to crime fighting for good.¬† The 53-year-old billionaire now spends his days driving race cars and his nights swilling down scotch with his old ally, Commissioner James Gordon (David Selby), who’s about to join him in retirement.¬† Now a melancholy type, Wayne has resigned himself to simply sit by and watch as his beloved Gotham City has gone completely to shit over the past decade… and it’s only getting worse.
A new gang of hoods, the Mutants, lead by some gigantic, muscle-headed meatball with razor sharp teeth, have been raising hell all over the place, and have started to gain a real foothold in the city.¬† While that’s going on, Harvey “Two-Face” Dent (Wade Williams), has supposedly been rehabilitated, complete with surgery that fixed his facial disfigurement, and is being released from Arkham Asylum.¬† Unfortunately, almost immediately upon being set free, Dent goes right back to his old ways, creating even more mayhem in a city that has already seen more than its fair share of it.
Wayne can no longer stand on the sidelines.¬† His conscience, his nightmares, won’t let him.¬† So, against the wishes of his faithful butler, Alfred, as well as the warnings of his own aging body, Wayne dusts off the cape and cowl, and swings back into action, letting the scumbags of Gotham know that they do have something to fear.¬† The Batman’s return is met with a mixed reaction from the public, as pundits on the tube debate whether his return will help or harm the war on crime.
One Gothamite who’s glad to see him back is Carrie Kelley (Ariel Winter), a young teenage girl who has had her fill of the Mutants terrorizing her city.¬† Inspired by the Dark Knight’s comeback, she goes out to take on some crooks of her own.¬† Of course, Carrie has no clue what she’s doing, and in all likelihood will only get herself killed with her foolish antics.¬† However, if the Batman were to take her under his wing, and teach her a thing or two, she could have potential.¬† Maybe, just maybe, he’ll find a valuable partner in her…
Just when we thought we were all done with Batman, the fine folks at Warner Premiere hit us with this animated film adaptation of the first half of The Dark Knight Returns, the groundbreaking 1986 graphic novel by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson.¬† The surface similarities between this and Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises are apparent.¬† They both start with an older Batman, who’s not quite what he used to be, coming back after a lengthy absence.¬† Both also feature a key plot point in which Batman is forced to confront a physically superior opponent and end up the worse for it.
There are other little bits and pieces that Nolan stuck in as homage, as The Dark Knight Returns is an obvious source of inspiration for the concluding chapter of his Batman trilogy.¬† The two works, however, are entirely different.¬† Nolan’s film is somber, dark, and set in a realistic looking universe.¬† Miller’s story, while dark, is not so much somber as it is satirical, as the politics of having someone like Batman in society, and the debate that would bring about, as well as how such epidemic levels of crime should be fought, are all brought to the forefront.¬† Miller makes it clear, from how events play out, which side he is on, as the liberal “appeasers” are presented as a bunch of double-talking candy asses who are dangerously naive and completely out of touch with reality.
This political “subtext” is so present and “in your face” that whether or not you agree with Miller’s stance could actually affect your enjoyment of the film.¬† Me, I don’t feel too strongly one way or the other about it, as I had a helluva lot of fun with this cynical interpretation of the Batman universe.¬† It’s an intelligently written, surprisingly bloody (parents take note) work that manages to both feel fresh and unique, while honoring this classic character at the same time.¬† Its pacing is perfect, telling a fairly epic story without ever feeling sluggish or bloated, and the animation, while obviously not Pixar quality, is still beautiful nonetheless.¬† See this in high def, if you have the capabilities.
As far as the voice acting goes, everyone is good enough, though there is merely one standout among them, Batman himself, as voiced by Weller (the original, and only true Robocop).¬† His voice is aged, yet strong, with a wise, authoritarian air to it, which makes him perfect for an older Bruce Wayne, and he can sound menacing as hell when he wants to, which makes him perfect for an older Batman.¬† There’s one scene, in which Batman comes crashing through a wall and grabs a perp from behind, that I could swear is a direct homage to a scene in Robocop.¬† I haven’t read the graphic novel, so I don’t know if it’s in there or if it was something the filmmakers stuck in to honor Mr. Weller, but either way, I got a nice little kick out it.
[H-Man Trivia: Frank Miller co-wrote the screenplays for Robocop 2 and Robocop 3]
Do I have any issues with the movie?¬† Yeah, a couple of minor ones… very minor.¬† There’s a point where Batman picks up a gun and shoots a thug with it.¬† Granted, he only shoots to wound, but we all know this is still completely out of character for him, as Batman is second only to MacGyver as the hero who hates firearms.¬† Another problem I had is that the whole Harvey Dent subplot seems peripheral to everything else in the film, and the character disappears way too soon.¬† He either should have been more essential to the central plot, or not in it at all.
My biggest issue would be that this is Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, meaning that this is only the first half of the story.¬† Not a terribly huge gripe, as it does, to an extent, work just fine as a stand alone film, as opposed to say, Kill Bill, Vol. 1, which I do love, but it feels like half a movie.¬† This one doesn’t have that problem, it’s just that I found it so immensely entertaining, I didn’t want it to end.¬† Though, I must say, it does end with a fantastic cliffhanger, re-introducing an old friend of Bats, that provides a thrilling set-up for Part 2.¬† Speaking of Part 2, let me get back to you on that…right now!
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2
Hero non grata.
The H-Bomb:¬† Three months after making his triumphant return, the geriatric Batman (Peter Weller), and his new Girl Wonder, Carrie (Ariel Winter), continue to wage their war on crime as TV pundits endlessly debate as to whether the Caped Crusader is a hero or a menace.¬† A new street gang of Bat-inspired vigilantes, the Sons of Batman, has risen to “help” rid the city of its criminal element.¬† Unfortunately, they’re just a pack of thugs who are every bit as ruthless as the felons they fight, and they’ve only added fuel to the fire that Batman is part of the problem and not the solution.
The mounting pressure to do something about the Dark Knight is being felt on every level of Government, from Gotham’s new Police Commissioner, Ellen Yindel (Maria Canals-Barrerra), all the way up the State and Federal ladders to the Gipper himself (!), who calls in a “special friend” to handle the situation.¬† But they shouldn’t be too hasty, as Batman’s reemergence has woken the Joker (Michael Emerson) out of years of catatonia, and now he’s on the loose, and reeking all kinds of mass destruction.
This puts Batman in quite a bind, as he has to not only contend with a hostile police force, more determined than ever to take him down, but also battle his lifelong arch-nemesis one last time.¬† Let’s not forget the president’s “special friend,” who may be too much even for Batman to handle.¬† Bats, you are getting way too old for this shit.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 flat out kicked ass when it landed on DVD/Blu back in October, and after three long months, we finally have the concluding half to this epic animated feature based on the Frank Miller/Klaus Janson graphic novel.¬† Since I truly dug the first part of Miller’s take on Batman’s golden years, I was mucho excited to see how the rest of this saga would play out.¬† So, having now taken in Part 2, I can certainly say I liked it… but not as much as Part 1.¬† Most of it worked, but there were some aspects of the story, in particular the direction it took, that I simply didn’t agree with.
But I’ll get to my hang-ups in a moment.¬† Let me just say, if you’re a fan of the graphic novel, or of the first half of this film adaptation, or of Batman in general, then this is, without a doubt, requisite viewing.¬† You will enjoy it, that I can guarantee.¬† It takes the darkly satirical tone of the first part and goes even further with it.¬† Yeah, the blind-to-reality hippies are still lampooned, but so is Reagan and the policies of his government during the Cold War.¬† Yes, this definitely dates the story, but some will relish that the Right is forced to consume as much crow as the Left, this time around.
Like with Part 1, this one moves at a swift pace, while never feeling rushed, and clocks in at a lean 76 minutes. The fact that both movies are under eighty minutes does make me question why it needed to be split in two (aside from obvious financial double-dipping motives).¬† Some say it’s an animated film aimed at kids, and therefore, for the sake of the children’s limited attention spans, it should be kept short.
Yeah… let’s just examine that claim for a moment, shall we?¬† One poor sap gets his throat cut with a broken coffee mug, while another fool gets his head crushed by roller coaster gears, and yet another sucker has his eye put out with a Batarang… yeah, this movie is for kids… and Larry Flynt publishes children’s books!¬† I’m not complaining about the violence, that’s partly what makes these animated flicks work, but like the live action Nolan films, these are absolutely, positively, 100% not for children.
Speaking of Christopher Nolan, it’s interesting to see, just like in Part 1, how influential this graphic novel was to The Dark Knight Rises, and how Nolan appropriated a number of the book’s elements, and weaved them into his film.¬† One may also notice things that Tim Burton lifted and used his 1989 Batman film, such as the Joker’s chosen method of terrorizing Gotham City.
While I’m on the topic of the Joker, I should point out that Emerson does a fiendishly good job of voicing the legendary villain.¬† He’s not quite on the same level as Mark Hamill in terms of Joker voice actors, but he’s stellar, nonetheless.¬† I loved how the final confrontation between the Clown Prince and the Bat played out, with one fiery image that is simply haunting, but I didn’t love that the Joker is merely the secondary villain who’s story thread is resolved roughly halfway through the movie.
The movie’s main villain, or more appropriately, antagonist, is someone else from the DC Comics universe, someone who has crossed over with Batman before.¬† And now we arrive at my main beef with the story, the direction I really wish it hadn’t taken.¬† Now, I don’t know how I can go into this, or identify this antagonist without violating iRatefilms’ No Spoilers law, so I’ll merely say he’s not a bird, he’s not a plane.
I have a number of problems here.¬† First, while there have been past crossovers, I personally feel that these two characters should never share the same universe, because a world that had this unnameable hero would have no need for Batman.¬† That’s a general gripe.¬† Something that bugged me about his involvement in this particular story, is that we’re supposed to believe that Batman, an old and feeble Batman at that, could actually hold his own in a fist fight with this character.¬† Sorry, Mr. Miller, but NO!¬† Even if he is wearing a special robot/armored suit thing, the answer is still NO!¬† Come on!
My issues with the movie’s latter section aside, I found Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 a satisfying, entertaining conclusion to Miller’s dark, mature, and slightly off kilter version of one of the most complex and intriguing comic book heroes ever created.¬† The graphic novel was considered revolutionary back in the 80′s, and if you loved Nolan’s films, and want to see where those more or less came from, then this two-parter, along with 2011′s Batman: Year One, is absolutely worth seeing.