Curiously nerdy posts.
Last weekend, I took the chance to finally watch The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2, on DVD. So I felt now would be as good a time as any to finish my commentary and analysis on the similarities and differences between the movie and its source material.
Part 2 picks up right around the end of the second part of the original comic miniseries… Batman has defeated the Mutant Leader definitively, and thus all of the former mutants now look to Batman as their “leader”, prescribing to a pack mentality of following the strongest. After some foreshadowing of Superman coming to Gotham, we’re taken to this scene.
What takes place in one page in the comic is extended to a lengthy fight scene in the movie. It almost plays out like a kung fu movie fight scene, with granny Batman fighting Bruno and her thugs back and forth for a while. It looks really cool, and we get to see Batman pull off some amazingly fluid and skillful moves, considering that he’s in his 50s at this point.
But it comes at a price, I think. The beauty of this panel is in its curt simplicity. Batman appears, and wrecks the bad guys. But the leader gets away, so he chases her down the streets, but not before warning the shopkeeper that killing anyone, even a random thug who would’ve done the same to you, is not cool.
I guess the director of the movie felt that 30 seconds of violence would’ve been disappointing, and it had more potential by stretching it out. And I’m not going to lie, it looks great in the movie. But on the same note, extending it creates a problem. It makes Batman look weaker.
Yeah, I said it. It makes it look like he can’t handle two basic street thugs without a long and protracted battle. Batman’s not about fighting out in the open, not in his ideal form. He’s about skulking in the shadows, and taking out criminals before they even know what’s happening. Here, it ended up playing out like a brawler video game from the 90s’, like Final Fight. I know that the movie makers just wanted to embellish, but it felt slightly off to me. That being said, the way they linked Superman finding Batman just by hearing that one line of “Pull that trigger… and I’ll be back for you”, was a brilliant touch.
One thing this movie had to miss out on, as usual, was Superman’s inner thoughts. We get to see him wreck Soviet forces in the name of USA, which is more than a little disturbing. But you don’t get to know what he’s thinking, like the original comic lets you do.
The “Sure we’re criminals. We have to be criminals” line is brilliant, vintage Miller, and could’ve easily been lost. But thankfully, the filmmakers found a place to sneak it in when Superman and Batman have their gentleman’s discussion on the Wayne Manor grounds. I think the movie came dangerously close to making Superman just look like a tool to be used, instead of a normal guy with normal thoughts, who just happens to have godlike powers. The comic did a great job of making it clear and obvious that even though Superman is a god amongst men, and can basically do whatever he wants, he chooses not to. He doesn’t, just because he will always choose the path of least resistance, the path where he has to hurt the fewest people (American people, anyway), and still get to be some semblance of a hero. But Batman? He doesn’t care about being a hero. He doesn’t care about anything except keeping order, and stopping the bad guys. For all the talk the pop psychologist in the movie and comic has about Batman being Narcissistic, he should take a look at Superman in the same way.
Where this movie shines the most, by a wide margin, is how it handles the Joker. At the end of the first part, it hypes you up that a sleeping giant has awakened, and chaos is going to follow in his wake. And well, the movie doesn’t disappoint on this in the slightest. Honestly, if I had to choose, I’d say that anything pertaining to the Joker is a part that the movie actually did better than the source material.
In the comic, we get to see him pretend to be a reformed criminal, and sucker his psychologist into booking him on a popular talk show, only so that he can kill everyone in the studio with his famous gas. But the movie fleshes it out in just the right way to make it feel that much more chilling. It also doesn’t hurt to have a Conan O Brien cameo as David Endochrine, at least in my book, since I’m a longtime Conan fan as well.
It’s done so perfectly, it makes up for the strange and logically flawed battle between Batman and the police on the roof the whole time this is happening. It’s yet another time Batman is made to look weak and silly, and ridiculously lucky to not ever get shot at point blank range despite the comic pointing out that that is never where he wants to be. We’re made to believe he came to try and stop the Joker, but the movie somehow makes it look like he came just to introduce himself to the new commissioner – by punching her in the face and leaving. So, once again, while that looked really cool to see Batman beat up a whole bunch of cops, it still made little logical sense to extend the way they did.
Thankfully, Batman and the Joker’s final showdown in the amusement park should and will go down as one of the most intense, breathtaking, and violent fights in animated movie history. It’s that good, and the highlight of both movies.
The Joker is in top form here, like most people who don’t read comics have never seen him before. He sells poisoned cotton candy to kids. He murders people left and right, for little more reason than because they’re standing in his way, and he finds it funny. He’s a fully realized psychotic monster, and one that as you watch, makes you realize just how much self control Batman has had over the years to not just murder him on sight, for the good of everyone. Batman isn’t safe, either. Before he finally takes down the Joker, he’s shot, has a mirror dropped on him, and is stabbed repeatedly. And you get to see every single bit of it, complete with blood and gore. How this movie didn’t get an R rating is beyond me, but it is what it is: stunningly accurate and true to a comic that redefined Batman as a dark character for the next 20+ years.
The movie does kind of fall short in the fallout from these events. Right after Batman escapes thanks to Robin lassoing him away from the police, he’s recovering from his injuries. Immediately after this happens, we have the incident where the USSR fires their “Coldbringer” missle, and causes the entire United States to be hit by an EMP pulse that kills any and all electronics. Gotham, predictably, turns into utter chaos. Batman rises from his bed, still badly wounded, and rides a horse into Gotham, like a Sheriff riding into town to restore order.
The movie captures this perfectly, except the pacing and placement of scenes creates one big point of confusion.
It makes it look like the big reason why Superman is finally ordered to go take down Batman is because Batman manages to keep order in Gotham City, while every other major city in the US burns in a state of anarchy. This makes the people in power look bad; incompetent, even. They can’t have that, so they want him gone. The president makes this clear in a scene that appears only in the movie.
In the comic, on the other hand, it’s made crystal clear that the big reason Batman has Superman come for him is because everyone believes that he finally took that one step he never had before, and killed a man. Thus, Batman is just a criminal in a batsuit to the rest of the world, and to bring a superhero in, you need an even more powerful hero to take him down. That point was mostly lost in the movie, I feel.
As for the showdown itself, it’s fun to watch the two of them go at it. The fight is extended far beyond what it should have, just because it’s a movie, so that’s a bit of a problem. But it perfectly captured the most important scene, to the letter:
Again, in the movie he has to say it instead of think it, but at least they put it in.
And as for the end? Well, considering that we almost never get to hear Batman utter the recurring theme of “This would be a good death… but not good enough,”, the last line of “This is a good life” doesn’t quite have the punctuation that the comic did.
But you know what? To this Bat fan, it was good enough.
So, the verdict?
I wasn’t a fan of how they embellished some of the action scenes to fill in more time, when all it did was make it look a little silly, even for a comic book movie. But everything else, from the voice casting (Robocop as Batman grew on me after a while), the music, the animation, to even the shots that were painstaking made to resemble some of the more iconic panels… well, all of that was pretty much perfect.
All that considered, I give this a ***** rating. I plan to add this to my permanent collection soon. It was a really fun watch, and I can only hope more famous comic story arcs get the same kind of loving treatment this one did.
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