Movie Review – The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2

I finally broke down and bought TDKR Part 2 today, so here’s the promised review of it. I was really hoping that Part 2 would help me get over the nitpicks I had about Part 1 (see that review here), but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. In fact, in a few instances they were worse. But before I get into the details, here’s a breakdown of what happens in Part 2. Consider this your spoiler warning as well.

tdkr-2

Animation:
Just like Part 1, TDKR Part 2 tries, but fails, to capture the gritty intensity of the graphic novel. There was more blood in this half, being the more violent part of the story, but still not what I’d call anything significant. Like in Part 1, the characters themselves do appear to match what we saw in the comic. One exception to that in this one is talk-show host David Endochrine, who is a dead-ringer for David Letterman in the comic but here bears no resemblance to him whatsoever. I imagine this was done for legal reasons, but it was still quite noticeable.

Story:
Ok, so the story of Part 2 covers the third and fourth volumes of the graphic novel, with Batman facing off against first Joker than Superman. A brief montage of newscasts at the beginning give us a high-level outline of what happened in Part 1, but there is no time wasted on any kind of recap. The Sons of Batman are briefly shown & debated about, and later a single-line mention is made of the Nixons, but otherwise not much time is devoted to the remnants of the Mutant gang. Joker has conned his way onto the David Endochrine Show, and Batman is following leads in an attempt to figure out what he’s up to. In the meantime, Superman is getting pressure from the President to “talk” to Batman and convince him to go back into retirement again. Due to the interference of Superman and new police commissioner Ellen Yindel, Batman is ultimately unable to stop the Joker from killing everyone in the audience of the show and then escaping.

Eventually tracking Joker down to a carnival, Batman pursues the villain with full intentions to finally kill him this time and put an end to the Joker’s murder sprees. Falling just short of actually doing it, Batman leaves the Joker crippled but is grievously wounded during the fight. When the Joker commits suicide anyway, Batman is charged with the murder by Yindel (although that line is left out, it’s mentioned later on a newscast). Now seen as crossing the line, a weakened Batman knows it’s only a matter of time before Superman comes for him. The events of the Corto-Maltese war, which has escalated since Part 1, culminates in the detonation of a nuclear “Coldbringer” missile in low orbit – an event that leaves Superman severely weakened and Gotham without power. Batman rises to the challenge, uniting the remnants of the Mutant gang to quell the rioting & chaos that resulted from the power outage. Afterwards, he prepares for the imminent battle with Superman that he knows is coming.

Readers of the graphic novel will see that the above pretty much matches what happened in the original. On watching it, though, you’ll notice that a TON of the little details that gave the comic its flavor are missing from this version. A few of the scenes, like Batman’s struggle with Bruno and the eventual show-down with Superman, are extended while other little odds & ends are cut out altogether. And unfortunately, much of what’s missing really added something to the story. For instance, at the carnival it shows the Joker handing out cotton candy to kids, and then Batman swooping in for a landing and telling him tonight it ends. However, the major impetus for that decision – the actual moment when Batman decided he finally had to kill the Joker – is missing. I imagine this was done because the creators didn’t want to show a group of dead children, but the fact that Joker’s cotton candy killed the kids and that the sight took away Carrie’s innocence was THE motive for Batman’s decision to kill him. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak. Here, in the animated version, it seems like the decision is made based on the events at the talk show.

Another nitpick is the fight between Bruce and Clark towards the end. In the graphic version, Superman was already very weak when he came after Bruce. The Coldbringer detonation had almost killed him, but he was able to absorb the energy stored in plant life on a jungle island (which, by the way, isn’t explained AT ALL in this animated version). He basically had limited flight & invulnerability, a fact which Batman’s plan was counting on. Here on the screen, however, Superman seems hardly weakened at all while they fight, then suddenly drops to nothing once Green Arrow shoots him with the kryptonite arrow. The more gradual weakening in the comic made a lot more sense – otherwise, Batman could have just shot him with the arrow to begin with and called it a day. In the comic, he specifically mentions that Clark has been absorbing solar energy so long that kryptonite doesn’t have the effect it once did. In the animated version, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

Voice Work:
As with Part 1, the voice casting for TDKR is really disappointing for me. I enjoy Peter Weller in a lot of his roles, but this isn’t one of them. Weller as Batman just really doesn’t do it for me. And, as I feared from the brief glimpse we got in Part 1, the voice for Joker was absolutely horrible. And we hear these voices a lot more than we’d expect, since added dialogue has to replace the interior monologues of the graphic novel. I think the only voices I really liked for the main characters was Commissioner Gordon and Carrie. Otherwise, nah, not working for me.

Overall:
As with Part 1,  this wasn’t all bad – it just could’ve been so much better. When it comes to animated features, so far DC usually knocks it out of the park. TDKR feels like a half-hearted effort, though, like maybe they assumed it would work simply because the graphic novel is so popular. If you’re a huge Batman fan and want to be complete, watch this. You may want to rent it first, though, and either way I would definitely recommend reading the graphic novel first. I give this a 6 out of 10.

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