Now that we've seen it animated, can we stop begging and pleading to see Batman/Superman slobberknocker from Frank Miller on screen? With the second half of "The Dark Knight Returns," director Jay Oliva has finally visualized one of those things fans of the two characters have longed to see in well-staged, visceral beatdown, one of the success of this animated adaptation.
But does the total package nail the source material? And if it does, is that a good thing?
To the first question, yes, and to the second... well, let's read on.
The first half of "The Dark Knight Returns," released late last year, ended just as the Batman racked up several high-profile victories against Gotham street crime. This time out, we see the unwanted attention Bruce's activities have attracted, from the U.S. government and its sole sanctioned superhero, Superman (Mark Valley, "Human Target") to the Dark Knight's Arkham-incarcerated nemesis, Joker (Michael Emerson). Plus, the Gotham PD under new Commissioner Ellen Yindel have declared all-out war against the Batman, and are determined to bring him in dead or alive.
Even when the source miniseries was lean and mean to begin with, "The Dark Knight Returns Part 2" avoids any fat or padding, merely stretching out or making more cinematic some of the action scenes while moving deliberately and headlong towards the final confrontation between Batman and Superman.
Batman/Bruce remains effectively unknowable thanks to Peter Weller's cold line reading and I'm still trying to decide if that was an inspired decision to play him just this side of icy lunacy or a mistake. As with the original comic, this Superman is unrecognizable from pretty much any take on the character most of us are familiar with, a naive government stooge who allows himself to be pointed at America's enemies and deployed like a deadly weapon.
This actually gets at the odd politics of "TDKR" articulated by screenwriter Bob Goodman in one of the disc's short but informative making of docs where he lays out Miller's distrust to the level of paranoia when it comes to "authority" (read: government), the kind of tough guy, unsophisticated libertarianism that thinks that the only justice comes from average Joes simply manning up (and there's really only men for this vision, unfortunately) and taking control from duly elected officials. It's not the fault of the animated "TDKR" that these adolescent politics worked their way into the film--it's kind of the point of the work, after all. It just doesn't make the politics any less dumb, predicated on a strawman corrupt state, staffed entirely by cronies, thugs, and incompetents (no points for the first person to chime in snarkily "just like the real government"--because you're an idiot and don't know what a real police state looks like).
Still, with your brain turned off, it's a fun action movie, giving us a Joker as demonic Paul Lynde thanks to Emerson's performance, the fair sequence one of the more unsettling onscreen portrayals of the villain's gleeful willingness to snuff out life like it's nothing. Bonus points for Christopher Drake's tightly-composed synth score which sells the 80's grit of the action.
- From Sketch To Screen: Exploring the Adaptation Process With Jay Oliva (43:30, HD): Like the title suggests, "The Dark Knight Returns" director walks the viewer through the gradual process of translating Frank Miller's work into the script, and the script, in turn, into animated sequences in the film. Oliva breaks down some of the particulars of adding more action to sequences in the comic that were simply a couple of pages long to several minutes in "TDKR 2," focusing in large part on the liquor store brawl, the Gotham riots, and of course, Superman and Batman's final brawl.
- A digital excerpt from "TDKR": A short snippet of the comic--these never look right on even a modestly-sized TV and are possibly the worst introduction a potential reader could get to the source material.
- The Joker: Laughing In the Face of Death (14:05, HD): Screenwriter Bob Goodman is joined by producer Bruce Timm, writer Grant Morrison, "Batman" editor Denny O'Neil and others to look at the history and legacy of the Joker, with added segments featuring Jerry Robinson talking about the character's creation. I'm not sure I can get behind O'Neil's assertion that the Joker is the greatest trickster character in all of fiction, but it's still cool to see so many smart folks effusing about the villain's place in culture.
- Superman vs. Batman: When Heroes Collide (09:24, HD): Some of the usual suspects from the Joker feature add their two cents on not only the comic fan question of "who would win" but the larger context of Frank Miller's commentary on the two heroes in the writing of "The Dark Knight Returns."
- Three DC Animated U episode (various running times, SD): Two "BTAS" episodes, "The Last Laugh" and "Legends of the Dark Knight" are included on the disc as well as "The Brave and the Bold" episode "Battle of the Superheroes."
- A Sneak Peek at "Superman Unbound" (10:14, HD): Buried under "Trailers" in the Special Features menu (but advertised prominently on the back of the disc), it's a quick look at the next DC Animated U feature based on the Geoff Johns "Braniac" arc in "Action Comics." It's your chance to see the voice cast (including "White Collar" star Matt Bomer as Clark/Superman and "Fringe" star John Noble as Braniac) talking about their characters while the creative team discusses the animation style being used for the upcoming feature.
"Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2" will be available on DVD, Blu-ray, and VOD on January 29 from WB animation.