Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Past performance is most definitely not indicative of future results when it comes to The Dark Knight Returns Part 2, the follow up to last September's somewhat lacklusterPart 1. Where the first half of the animated adaption of Frank Miller's 1986 The Dark Knight Returns failed, its follow up succeeds in just about every measure, delivering a solid, mature experience that redeems the entire effort.
Picking up not long after The Joker, inspired by the return of Batman, awakens from his catatonia, the film wastes no time showing the clown prince of crime quickly manipulating his fame-hungry, buzzword spouting psychologist into allowing him out of the Asylum for an appearance on a late night talk show, the host of which is voiced by real life late night host and superhero fan Conan O’Brien. At the same time a new Commissioner of Police in Gotham City starts a campaign to arrest Batman. The Joker is up to his usual tricks and his brutal rampage and its aftermath ultimately brings on a final conflict between the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel.
Whereas Part 1 struggled with conveying the true message of the source material, in particular the struggles of a well over-the-hill vigilante coming to terms with his mortality, Part 2 compresses important dialog into its action, even adding characters to a scene or slightly sliding moments along the source material’s time-line when it feels necessary. This allows the movie to keep its pace up, which it does very well, dragging only during the blackout sequence where a number of speeches that largely cover the same material again and again leave little payoff, thanks in part to the need the film seems to have to return to Commissioner Gordon's isolated perspective.
Part 2 also benefits from the source material’s heavy tilt in the direction of action, including a faithful rendition of the “Bruno Gang” liquor store robbery, a gruesome revision of the aforementioned talk show appearance, the carnival sequence and finally the legendary battle between Batman and Superman at Crime Alley. All the fights are very well put together visually as the adaptation of Miller's pencils to movement come across better than expected, the key 'visual beats' of iconic panels from the source comic lose none of their individual impart even as they smoothly glide past. In some cases the action is even extended, but to varying degrees of success.
Again, where Part 1 was muddled with its attachment to the twenty year old vision of the near future, Part 2's quicker pace doesn't let its corny Ronald Reagan parody President and Cold War background story jar the viewer out of their suspension of disbelief, it instead feels like a story that could still happen today. That same Cold War proxy battle over a Latin America island nation instead allows for some of the better animation in the film; a vision of a grim Superman laying waste to a Soviet army and navy with little apparent effort.Peter Weller (RoboCop) returns as Bruce Wayne/Batman, but the voice cast gets a major upgrade with the casting of Michael Emerson (Person of Interest) as the Joker. Emerson plays the psychopathic clown with some of that eerie calm that made him a breakout character on Lost. Far removed from the cackling chaotic Jokers portrayed recently in film and animation, Emerson's Joker doesn't need to act or sound crazy to actually be crazy, coming off more like Christian Bale in American Psycho than Heath Ledger’s or even Mark Hamill's Joker. The other major addition to the cast is Mark Valley (Zero Dark Thirty) as Superman, who capably plays the role as Miller depicts it: completely straight.
As a whole entity the The Dark Knight Returns animated movie is a very slow boil, but in isolation, Part 2 is the realization and the embracing of the limits of both comic book and movie storytelling, an uncommon but welcome feat for adaptions.