Out Tuesday is Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2, the conclusion of the movie series that began with Part 1 last fall.
Commissioner Gordon is being replaced by Ellen Yindel, who declares Batman’s actions illegal and demands his arrest. Meanwhile, Superman has been sent by the government to rein Bruce in, as Batman tries to stop the Joker from doing what he always does.
The President (Jim Meskimen) sounds and looks like Reagan, bringing back memories of the time period when the graphic novel was originally released. As he concludes his directions to Superman (Mark Valley) with “Good boy,” the conflict appears obvious. Authority vs. vigilantism, the underground fighter vs. the all-powerful government machine, the virtue of criminal actions in the service of a greater good, those who think for themselves vs. those who follow orders. Sadly, Valley doesn’t really have the depth and gravitas I like for Superman, especially compared to Peter Weller’s gravelly Batman.
The Joker, as played by Michael Emerson, sounds vulnerable and human, which makes his insanity all the more shocking, although he may seem a little too reserved to some listeners. He sounds matter-of-fact instead of sinister, although his actions take care of the latter. He’s a scorpion, a mass murderer, something bound to destroy regardless of setting or treatment. One could ponder the politics of Miller’s message, of how the best possible psychiatric care doesn’t do a thing for him, but really, that’s beside the point, isn’t it? This is an exciting action flick dressed up with aging, ruthless characters to allow adults to feel better about enjoying it.
That the authorities are going after Bruce instead of the Joker while he’s killing a studio full of people is just part of the expectations, the idea that the cops never get things right and we need a daring individual to save us. Miller may have been making fun of a doddery President with desires for global domination, but his politics here are similarly retro.
Here’s a clip showing the Joker appearing on a talk show. The host, David Endocrine, is voiced by Conan O’Brien in a bit of stunt casting that isn’t distracting, while Michael McKean is Dr. Wolper.
The idea of Batman as over-the-hill has been lost in this installment, with him ducking bullets and taking immense drops without visible pain or effect. It’s much more of a showdown between two classic antagonists with increased levels of violence. Don’t be taken in by the cartoon format — this is definitely not for kids. Although, like the other DC animated films, this is rated PG-13, in addition to the violence, parents will not appreciate the topless thug wearing nothing but tape swastikas over her nipples. Well, I’m assuming. She doesn’t actually have any, since she has typical comic breasts — big bubbles, with no physical equivalent. A pure Nazi sex fetish, she also wears thigh-high heeled boots. (Ah, Frank Miller, what were you thinking?)
Gordon does return, late in the movie, in a sequence I found the most moving of the film. His determined run against the crowd reminded me that of the definition of a hero. A hero is the one who runs towards the trouble instead of away from it.
The resolution of the showdown with the Joker is just as unbelievable as it is in the book — I don’t believe someone can do that to themselves, no matter how crazy — but that’s just another example of how faithful this adaptation is. The film works just fine as a stand-alone, with enough to keep the viewer’s attention. However, if you buy both parts together, you’ll get an extra $5 off with the coupon on the front of this edition. Since they’re only an hour and 15 minutes each, they’re easily watched together in one sitting.
Warner provided these clips of the two stars talking about their roles. Peter Weller on playing a superhero:
Michael Emerson on playing a twisted villain:
Superman vs. Batman: When Heroes Collide (9 minutes) — Bob Goodman (screenwriter) and Michael Uslan (executive producer) discuss the classic faceoff. Mike Carlin, Denny O’Neil, Bruce Timm, and Grant Morrison join into what becomes a debate about how the character of Superman works. Several of them talk about what they think Frank Miller was aiming for or intending or saying — too bad we can’t hear from the horse’s mouth.
I was hoping this would be a historic retrospective about the two characters’ tangled history, from Worlds’ Finest to this story, but that would have required more comic people, instead of the film people, and an acknowledgement of the history of the properties. More varied people saying which of the two heroes they think would win and why would also have been neat, especially since every comic reader has thought about that at some point in their life.
The Joker: Laughing in the Face of Death (14 minutes) — The character is long-running, murderous, and unpredictable. Same contributors as the above, only they also talked to Jerry Robinson, the character’s creator, before his passing. That’s cool. Otherwise, most readers have thought as much about the character’s motivations as they’ll get out of this piece.
From Sketch to Screen: Exploring the Adaptation Process With Jay Oliva (43 minutes) — The director talks about how they kept their work faithful to the screenplay and the graphic novel as he breaks down several scenes. This could have been a commentary, but perhaps they didn’t think it was long enough, and that wouldn’t have allowed them to cut to the sketches and breakdowns. If you’re interested in the construction of a film like this, this is a cool learning experience.
The three cartoon episodes included have changed from the original plans. They included “The Last Laugh” and “The Man Who Killed Batman” from Batman: The Animated Series, but the third is now “Battle of the Superheroes!” from Batman: The Brave and the Bold (was previously supposed to be “Legends of the Dark Knight” from The New Batman Adventures).
There are three digital comic pages from the Batman and Superman showdown from the comic “The Dark Knight Falls” by Frank Miller. It brought home to me how much I missed the internal narration by Batman. It wouldn’t work as a continuing voiceover on film, but I think it makes the book a stronger work. (Also of interesting note to me — DC’s digital comic site is now promoted as “readDCentertainment.com”, not dccomics.com.)
In the Trailers section is a 10-minute sneak peek at the next DC Universe animated original movie, Superman: Unbound. It’s described as a “looser adaptation than we usually do” of Geoff Johns’ Superman: Brainiac story, but at least we get to see Gary Frank’s art in the promotion. They don’t seem to be using the style in the animation, though, and I don’t care much for the short-haired Lois they’re showing.
They also discuss how Superman was trying to be too controlling over his loved ones, including Lois. Mike Carlin says something I found intriguing: “When something is an adaptation from the comics, we definitely do not want to alienate the fans of the original story, but our job is to make, hopefully, some new fans for these stories so that they will join the club.” I think that indicates a lot about DC’s function these days, as well as demonstrating an old-fashioned view of reading comics as a “club” that you have to join or be indoctrinated into.
Actors shown include Matthew Bomer (playing Superman) and Stana Katic (from Castle). I knew Molly Quinn (Alexis Castle) was going to play Supergirl, but I had no idea Beckett was going to be Lois! John Noble (Fringe) plays Brainiac.
The disc also has a 12-minute promo for Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 that was previously released on the Superman vs. the Elite movie and an ad for the DC kids’ cartoons on DVD. (The studio provided a review copy.)