Following my review of The Dark Knight Returns Part I are (you guessed it) random thoughts on The Dark Knight Returns Part 2. Like the first installment, the movie does a fine job of retelling Frank Miller’s grim and gritty story. And like the first installment, the art is much cleaner than the source material and isn’t nearly as distinct, but is probably more appealing to mainstream viewers. With a run time of 72 minutes and 30 seconds, I was very much satisfied with the conclusion of the series, but wish it was released as one movie from the get go. Now without further ado, here are some random thoughts on The Dark Knight Returns Part 2.
Batman vs. The Joker: While Batman was taking a long hiatus, Joker found life without his rival boring and allowed himself to be locked up in a psychiatric hospital. The return of Gotham’s hero reinvigorated Gotham’s greatest villain and the results were ghastly. The movie did a great job at showing what a psychopathic fiend and remorseless killer Joker is. Unlike most animated comic-book movies, this one had a villain that was truly frightening. Joker felt dangerous and his murder spree felt grisly. The conflict between Batman and Joker was brought to a bloody and satisfying conclusion for viewers, but left the hero with more problems than ever. Good stuff.
Cold War is Cold: One element of the movie that has lost impact over the years is the Corto Maltese subplot. When the graphic novel was released in 1986, the conflict between the United States and Russia was arguably the biggest global issue of the time. In 2013, it feels like a short and uneventful chapter in a high school history book. It just doesn’t feel as big a deal as it did back then, which takes away from the story (though that’s hardly Miller’s fault). I just don’t think the subplot will resonate with younger viewers the way it will with people that grew up with Cold War fear. The important thing is that it serves as a plot device that sets the stage for The Dark Knight vs. Big Blue.
Batman vs. Superman: While Batman and Superman have clashed over ideologies for decades, The Dark Knight Returns was the first book I read that treated the conflict in a major way. The two heroes have very different ideas on how to serve people and defeat villains. The conflict comes to a boiling point in the movie and the two duke it out. Thanks to a nuclear explosion, some kryptonite, and a tank-like battle-suit, Batman is able to hold is own. The animated version of this battle doesn’t feel as tragic as the print version; the motion actually detracts from the drama and makes it feel more like a typical wham-bam cartoon. That said, it’s a pretty sweet fight scene with a great conclusion.
Resolution: While the movie concludes with lots of destruction and death, there’s a twist at the very end that gives viewers hope. Gotham is in shambles, Wayne manor is in ashes, and the hero is seemingly six feet under. Being the clever old bastard that he is, Batman finds a way to survive, comes to an understanding with Superman, and is ready to give Gotham a fresh start (from the shadows, naturally). For a grim and gritty movie, the ending is surprisingly uplifting.
Conclusion: Like I said in my review of The Dark Knight Returns Part I, I wish the entire movie was released at once. It would have felt more complete and satisfying. That said, I understand that a total run time of over 148 isn’t what most people want from a movie, especially an animated superhero one. As a whole, I loved the The Dark Knight Returns and have it ranked as my second-favorite animated comic-book adaptation behind Batman: Under the Red Hood. While the art is a little bit too clean, the movie stays true to the original Frank Miller comics and is a fine version of one of the greatest Batman stories ever told.