Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is one of those seminal works that along with Alan Moore’s Watchmen forever changed the face of comics. These two works from the early – mid 80s transformed comics from camp that it became in the 70s to what it is today. Warner Home Video’s DC Animation group has lovingly brought this epic to life in a fashion that every comic book fan should love. Last year’s part one was one of my favorite films of 2012 and I was scared part 2 would be screwed up.
The Joker is truly terrifying, while the epic battle between Superman and Batman is flawlessly executed, old Ollie and fat Selina are here. We get the Joker’s escape in all its gruesome glory. Almost everything in the concluding chapter is perfectly handled. All the iconic moments and beats from the book are perfectly realized in here. Like the comic, no punches pulled. Against all the brutality, there really are a lot of underlying themes at play. What is a hero? What is the nature of Authority? If you go against it, are you automatically wrong? What role does the government and media play in our every day lives?
I loved how the movie handles the public reactions to Batman. He is polarizing to the citizens and authority figures of Gotham. Some see him as a hero taking out the trash, while others see him as flaunting “authority”. Remember The Dark Knight Returns was published in the 80s and reflects the morals of the times. We even get Regan as the President in this. The movie is relentlessly dark, but Batman still serves as a symbol against that darkness.
The sound design is amazing; you can feel every inch of Batman’s age and wince at every punch or kick he dishes out and receives. You hear the bones cracking and marvel at the great sound effects. Director Jay Oliva does a really nice job with the animation style. While basic and plain, it is fluid and fits the material perfectly.
My only quibble with the movie is, I’m not sure if I liked the voice acting or not. It is really hard, basically impossible to top the voice work of the great Kevin Conroy who for many is the definitive voice of Batman, while Mark Hamill, is the definitive voice of The Joker.
Peter Weller ‘s (Batman/Bruce Wayne) wasn’t consistent and didn’t sound as gravely or imposing as I would have liked. Michael Emerson ‘s Joker lacked the maniacal glee and pure joyful over the top insanity that Hamill had. He actually sounded a bit bored which is the one thing you don’t associate with the Joker; in some ways this made all of the Joker’s actions even more terrifying. It is a different take that fans will take some getting used to. I really liked Mark Valley as Superman. His voice was perfectly modulated and came across as a man who was forced to work for the government and just sort of sleepwalking through.
At first I was skeptical about the idea of splitting this film in two parts, but now that I’ve seen Pt. 2, it was a good decision. There’s such a thing as too much and I think 2 ½ hours of this grim, brutality would have been too much to take in at once.
While the movie is short, Warner Home Video always does a great job packing in extras on their animated films. Beyond the flawless picture and audio quality of the Blu-ray transfer, we get several classic episodes from the animated cartoons including a couple of Batman: The Animated Series (and you will see how Weller and Emerson pale in comparison to Conroy and Hamill), an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold and a host of nice little featurettes. My only issue is, while Batman: The Animated Series is still awesome; the video quality just looks really bad and dated now.
There’s also an interesting preview of DC Animation’s next series – Superman: Unbound. While all of their stuff is great, I’m getting a bit tired of seeing Batman and Superman. I want them to really expand into the rest of the Universe in the future. Recently we had Wonder Woman and Green Lantern and this year we are getting the epic Flashpoint so these are good starts.
I will never understand how Warner Animation does such a consistent, amazing job on their DC Animated films, but other than the Nolan Batman movies, the film division can’t seem to do anything right. Just throw a bunch of money at Bruce Timm! This movie is almost everything that I could have hoped for and more. It is not perfect, but it is damn close.
- Movie – A+
- Audio/Visual – A
- Presentation – A
- Extras – A
Final Grade – A+