BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS PART II
There was rumour for a time that Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II would be the last of DC Universe Original Animated Movies due to poor sales although with the announcement of Superman Unbound (2013), this would appear not to be the case. With this in mind, it seemed fitting that Bruce Timm and the DC Universe Original Animated Movies would go out on an adaptation of Frank Millers classic graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns (1986), which is arguably the most famous and influential of all modern graphic novels. Timm and co considered that they could not do The Dark Knight Returns justice by condensing it to one of their usual 70-minute films and so the decision was made to split the story into two parts. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II is the second part of these. The first part of the adaptation Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part I (2012) disappointed somewhat, especially given the classic reputation that the original graphic novel had. The most immediate of the reasons for this was that the story had been split in half and the first part did not seem epic enough in scope to work as a standalone film. The other problem was that after The Dark Knight Returns graphic novel came out, its ideas were immediately absorbed into the language of all subsequent graphic novels (and film adaptations) and it seemed impossible to replicate today the originality and uniqueness it had back in 1986.
The good news is that Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part II is a far more satisfying entry than Part I was. The true strength of Frank Millers story comes into its own and the film is staged as a series of epic confrontations between iconic DC characters. Here Michael Emerson, best known as Ben Linus on tvs Lost (2004-10), does a fine Joker, coming out as one of the few voice performers to stand up to Mark Hammills wonderful portrayal throughout the earlier Bruce Timm animated series. Jay Oliva gives the story a much darker bite than the first film and jumps in with some satisfying action scenes which were one of the weaker aspects of Part I creating fine scenes with Batman taking on dozens of armed cops on a rooftop or going up against Bruno, and especially during the showdowns with The Joker and Superman.
The confrontations between the iconic characters are played with epic strength and are the finest part about the film. The showdown between Batman and The Joker in the Tunnel of Love, both of them knowing that it is their final battle together where there comes a sense of welcome weariness to The Jokers taunts, is excellent. This is also much more violent than all of the other Bruce Timm films where the production team have clearly decided to go for broke and we get decidedly un-childrens movie scenes such as The Jokers assistant getting his head splattered by a rollercoaster, The Joker slitting his psychiatrists throat with a broken cup and going on a shooting rampage through the fairground. Of course, the capping set-piece is the climactic fight between Batman and Superman. It is a battle that one cannot help but think is mismatched Batman who has no superpowers vs Superman who has near godlike abilities. The film evens the battle somewhat by giving Batman a powersuit and having Superman weakened by a direct hit from a nuclear warhead even so, it still feels like a gnat against a giant. Nevertheless, the film does get the sense of conflicting styles and rivalry between the two down nicely not quite the boys club that most of the comic-book adaptations make it into.
Like the first film, the sequel keeps to the original milieu of the graphic novel and its setting as slightly in a near future from when it was written the Soviet Union is still an existing threat and the imminent fear of nuclear war hangs over everything. In keeping with what Frank Miller wrote, the story becomes much more overtly politicised. The US President has clearly been modelled on Ronald Reagan (who was The President back in 1986). Miller is critical of Reagan and interestingly sees Superman as a supporter of the USs overbearing imperialist policies, which was what one always suspected was going on behind that boyscout smile. Miller creates an equivalent of the Falklands War (again very much a political fixture of the 1980s, albeit displaced to the fictional DC location of Corto Maltese) where he has Superman acting as an agent of the US war machine and throwing around Soviet tanks and planes.
The other Batman films and tv series are:- Batman (1943) and Batman and Robin (1949), two 15-chapter serials from Columbia; the campy tv series Batman (1966-8) starring Adam West and Burt Ward, which produced one film spin-off with Batman (1966); the animated tv series The New Adventures of Batman (1977-8); Tim Burtons superb duo of films Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) starring Michael Keaton, and Joel Schumachers dismal campy follow-ups Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997), featuring respectively Val Kilmer and George Clooney, followed by Christopher Nolans fine revival of the franchise with Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012) starring Christian Bale, and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) with Ben Affleck; the excellent animated series Batman (1992-4) inspired by the Tim Burton films and its follow-up The New Batman Adventures (1997-9), which spawned several film spin-offs with Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Batman and Mr Freeze: SubZero (1998), The Batman Superman Movie: Worlds Finest (1998), Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003), Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010), Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010) and Batman: Year One (2011), as well as Batman: Gotham Knight (2008), a compilation of anime Batman shorts; Batman Beyond/Batman of the Future (1999-2001), the futuristic follow-up series from the same creative team featuring an aging Bruce Wayne and his young apprentice, which also spun off one animated film Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000) and another animated tv series Static Shock (2000-4), which featured several appearances from Batman; the animated series The Batman (2004-8), which badly revised the basics of the series and was also spun off into a film with The Batman vs. Dracula (2005); two further animated series Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-11), which placed Batman alongside other DC superheroes, and Beware the Batman (2013-4); the live-action tv series Gotham (2014 ), which tells the origin stories of the familiar characters and villains as Bruce Wayne grows up; Batman turns up as an animated character in The Lego Movie (2014) and gets a whole film to himself in The Lego Batman Movie (2017); the animated films Batman Unlimited: Animal Instincts (2015) and Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem (2015) spun off from a line of action figures; and the animated Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders (2016) and Batman vs. Two-Face (2017) featuring a return of Adam West and Burt Ward. Batman also makes appearances in the line-up of superheroes in various other DC-related animated series such as SuperFriends (1973-7), The All New SuperFriends Hour (1977-9) and Justice League/Justice League Unlimited (2001-5), as well as the films Justice League: The New Frontier (2008), Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010), Justice League: Doom (2012), Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox (2013), Justice League: War (2014), Justice League: Throne of Atlantis (2015), Justice League: Gods and Monsters (2015), Justice League vs Teen Titans (2016) and Justice League Dark (2017). Other spin-offs include the short-lived live-action tv series Birds of Prey (2002), featuring the women of Batman a paraplegic Batgirl, Cat Womans daughter and Harley Quinn and the Halle Berry starring Catwoman (2004), while Robin appears as a member of Young Justice (2010-3) and Suicide Squad (2016) features a team-up of DC villains including The Joker and Harley Quinn. The Batman-Robin relationship is also excrutiatingly spoofed in the Superhero Speed Dating segment of Movie 43 (2013). Also of interest is Batman & Bill (2017), a documentary about the unacknowledged co-creator of Batman, Bill Finger.
(Nominee for Best Adapted Screenplay at this sites Best of 2013 Awards).