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COVERAGE - ANIMATED FEATURE REVIEW

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part Two
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Release Date: January 29th, 2013

Synopsis: The Dark Knight, along with new sidekick Robin, have finally reclaimed Gotham City and allowed a ray of hope to penetrate the reign of terror that The Mutants had cast upon his city. With Batman back in the spotlight, the extended media coverage has awoken a far worse evil at Arkham Asylum, The Joker! Forever destined to be mortal enemies, The Joker has a diabolical scheme that may pull Batman down to the darkest levels of insanity. While on the horizon, a global catastrophe races towards Gotham and with it comes a familiar face, The Man of Steel, though this time he has Batman in his sights. Witness as the aging Dark Knight wages a tireless war against crime while proving that courage and will are indeed timeless.



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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part Two Feature Review
By James Harvey

Before I go continue any further, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part Two is definitely superior to the previous instalment of this two-part adaptation. While some of the same issues from the first part remain, I found the concluding chapter to be tighter, fast-paced and just unrelenting at times. It’s good, flawed, but still pretty enjoyable, but a few of the issues I had with the first part still remain here.

If you know the source material, you know how this’ll play out for the most part. Aside from a few more slight changes here and there, including moving the order of events around just a shade, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part Two is incredibly faithful to the source material. Some dialogue deviations and slight tweaks to the narrative helps balance some of the more over-the-top and absurd aspects of the Frank Miller source material - The Dark Knight Returns - but it doesn’t really hold back on some of the more shocking moments, either. Despite knowing the source material quite well, a few moments did shock me (in a “I can’t believe they just showed that” kinda way). In fact, I found this instalment was easily superior to the first instalment of this two-part animated adaptation. It seemed more concise, more trimmed, more focused.

Weird factoid Producer Bruce Timm revealed about this movie during a recent panel appearance: You’re not allowed to show smoking/tobacco use in any of these animated features, but you can show topless women with swastika tattoos on their breasts. And you get that here in all its weird glory.

For those wondering how this movie handles arguably the two biggest moments of the overall The Dark Knight Returns storyline, fear not. The first - the showdown between Batman and the Joker – is handled really well. In fact, it’s incredibly shocking and sometimes a bit hard to watch. The film holds nothing both in capturing the insanity that comes with the Clown Prince of Crime. It’ on full display and it is....frightening at times. The other is the epic clash between Batman and Superman, the climactic battle between the two heroes. And, as expected, it does go all out. It stays very true to the source material and lets the two heroes go toe-to-toe in a pretty brutal beatdown. Again, fans should be very pleased with the animated version of this slugfest.

In terms of disappointment, there are a few to be found here. I found the animation, a times, wasn’t as strong as it could be. It feels as though the budgets have been tightened a little here. Movements sometimes aren’t as smooth, occasionally jumpy and incomplete. I noticed errors here and there that shouldn’t be. Given some of the very lavishly animated movies we’ve seen under the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line, like Batman: Under the Red Hood, All-Star Superman, and Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, I am a little disappointed here. It’s not a deal-breaker, but I feel it does hinder the movie some. Just watch the scene where Batman takes out a roof full of policemen while the Joker makes his talk show appearance. The action doesn’t feel as grand as it should. It’s animated well, yes, but it doesn’t seem as well-staged as it should be, and the animation doesn’t give the full ‘oomph’ we should be getting from Batman taking on a huge group of opponents.

The other disappointment is some of the voice-acting. Overall, the cast does a good job, save for a couple exceptions. While Peter Weller’s dry and somewhat stilted delivery in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One made sense for the character, I find that there was little improvement here. Occasionally he’ll bring some extra heft into his performance but, overall, I found it lacking at times. His rallying cry to the Sons of Batman, where he decries no gun should be used as they attempt to keep Gotham together during a blackout, didn’t have that 'oomph' it should’ve. That being said, his really subdued performance during the ‘tunnel of love’ scene, however, seemed spot on to me. Even his final words to Superman were handled really well. Mark Valley as Superman was pitch-perfect across the board. Noble and honest, a hero who would never back down. You could almost feel Valley puffing up his chest each time he voiced the character. Michael Emerson is...is ridiculously crazy as The Joker. Scary, twisted, slimy, just perfectly cast. While I found some of his deliveries lacked the twisted panache the Joker usually embodies, overall he did a spectacular job bringing the creepy out of this classic villain.

It goes without saying that composer Christopher Drake deserves a major shout-out here. He ups his game considerably here in Part Two and, boy, at times it is hard to not want to jam that score as loud as possible. Obviously influenced by music scores of the 1980s, Drake’s score is so dead-on perfect for this movie. It firmly dates the movie without making that a negative. It sets the tone and actually adds to what the movie is trying to accomplish with its setting (it feels true to the times and source material, basically). I simply cannot praise it enough.

Writer Bob Goodman also deserves a acknowledgement for his work here, most notably downplaying the severe thrashing Superman got in the original The Dark Knight Returns comic from writer Frank Miller. Goodman handles Superman with a more considerable amount of respect here, which actually makes the final tussle between Supes and Bats more than the simple “good versus evil” vibe that Miller seemed to be going for. Superman isn’t just a lapdog anymore. It’s a bit more grey and, as a result, actually adds some new layers to the climactic battle. He (and director Jay Oliva) also deserve a nod for...not holding back when it came to the Joker. Like I said, some shocking stuff happens...

In all honesty, there’s not much more to be said here. What you get here in Part Two is more of the same from Part One, with some slight improvements here and there, though still a little flawed. Animation could’ve been a little better, based on previous installments in the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line, and the voice acting sometimes doesn’t hit all the marks it should, but it’s still a great effort. Is it the best animated Batman DTV? Nope. Is it the best animated Batman DTV under the DC Universe Animated Original Movie line? Well, that is open for debate. It definitely is a very fine end product, but best? Well, I’m sure plenty will consider it just that, but I can't say I do. And this is coming from a life-long Batman fan.

I will admit I am looking forward to watching both Part One and Part Two back-to-back to get the full effect of the story. This is a great initiative by Warner Home Video to take a chance on the two-part movie format and it really seems to have paid off. If you enjoyed Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part One, then I Highly Recommend picking up the excellent conclusion to arguably one of the better comic adaptations to hit the small screen.

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