If you remember all the way back to September of last year you will probably recall I was not at all positive about The Dark Knight Returns Part One. In my opinion it suffered all the myriads that can make an animated film terrible: bad acting, terrible animation, clunky dialogue and awful music. And I did not have high hopes for part two. The clips I had seen of part 2 had not impressed me at all and it looked like it still suffered from all of the problems that ruined the first film. So it was with huge trepidation that I sat down yesterday to watch the film upon its release expecting to end up thinking the same thoughts as before.
I was wrong.
This was by far one the best Batman animated films that I have seen in a long time. With a few exceptions almost all the problems of the first film had been eliminated. We had great acting, great dialogue, great animation and great music. This is the film that the first film should have been.
The film opens with news clips giving a brief background to the previous film and filling in some of the gaps between the two films. From there we move along and a fast pace dealing with the Joker and the final climatic battle with Superman and the start of Batman’s underground resistance. Throughout this keeping the film moving forward and immersing you in the world of Batman is the animation. We get shown a Gotham that clearly needs Batman. While in the first film the whole city felt neat, clean and nice. In this Gotham I could feel the grime and dirt underneath my fingernails. But at the same time we get a line between the two worlds in Gotham; the down town area, which was dirty and un-kept and the richer areas of Gotham, which felt clean and neat. It was something that had not been done in the first film. The fight scenes were beautifully scripted and drawn as well. It certainly does not shy away from the violent and graphic artwork of Klaus Janson. From the Batarang through Joker’s eye to the bloody and bruising fight with Superman it was graphic but also wonderfully drawn. I felt like I was pulled along, swallowed by the artwork and moved into Janson’s world. Something that the first film sorely lacked.
The acting in the film, aided by a more dynamic and edited scripted, has improved immensely. Michael Emerson has provided the best Joker since Mark Hamill. There was no part of the scenery that was left undigested by him as he joyfully chewed his way through the film. We were treated to a well round Joker, who showed his dependence upon Batman, but also his cunning in following his plan to the end. Frank Miller had always understood the relationship between the Joker and Batman very well. It is one of the high points of his writing. And this translated very well to the screen; especially with the climactic scene where Batman and the Joker fight in the Love Tunnel. Which is perhaps the highlight of the entire film and shows just what a great combination the animation and acting can be; creating a truly disturbing scene. While the artwork did not hide from the violence of the scene showing shots and dead bodies everywhere. The joy at succeeding with making Bruce lose control was clear in Joker’s voice and I honestly got chills from it. However we were also given quieter moments especially at the start of the film which give the Joker the best lines and the most development in the film. Ariel Winter has also improved markedly from the first film. Gone was the street urchin who sounded like they were from Eton. What we instead got was a much more street wise and tough character. Someone who felt the right mix of child and adult, as any 15 year old should sound, but also conveyed the changes that working for Batman would make.
However it was not all great. Peter Weller’s acting still leaves a lot to be desired. He still sounded bored through the entire film, almost entirely devoid of emotion. One of the best examples is just after all power has been lost in Gotham Batman gives a speech to the Sons of Batman. If one is to look at the great orators of our time; Roosevelt, Churchill, J.F. Kennedy, Hitler, Obama they know how to play a crowd. They vary tone, tempo and a number of other things to sway the crowd to their way of thinking. They persuade you to see the world as they do. Peter Weller gave us nothing of that in this scene. Everything was delivered in the same monotone voice. How anyone followed him I do not know. The editing could also be sometimes questionable. Especially including a rather suggestive scene where Robin and Batman hug. I also would have preferred the entire Superman storyline to have been dropped and instead filled with much more of the Joker and his activities. Most of the time the Superman sections aside from the ending just felt like padding.
We also finally get an improvement with the music as well. Gone is the 80’s sitcom music instead we get a return to dramatic underscoring that does not jar you and pull you out of the film. Instead we get something that adds to the film and enhances the emotion you are feeling. Again one scene that this worked well with was the Love Tunnel battle. Here with the first film it would have jarred. However with a return to a more classical esque feel it added to the scene and I felt the tension and horror at what the Joker was doing.
This film was a huge step up from the previous film. There is some wonderful animation, great acting and good choice in the music which all combine to produce a really enjoyable film. Michael Emmerson is a particular high light and gives a great performance. While the art is sumptious and detailed creating a world that felt realistic and somewhere that looked like it truly needed Batman. It also, unlike the first one, embraces the political message that Frank Miller was making through the story. While that may not be a message that some people want to hear (I could practically hear Alex James screaming that we should have nuked them all first, and the weakness of the president etc etc). It is still crucial parts of his work and without it the story feels heavily neutered. Something that plagued the first movie.
I would highly recommend this film to anyone. It is just a shame that it had to come after the first film.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2: