We’re in For a Show, Kid.
Today’s review is brought to you by Smodcast. Well, Kevin Smith and Smodcast are in no way paying me to write this review, but it probably wouldn’t have come to pass if it weren’t for Kevin Smith. I listen to numerous Kevin Smith podcasts, and I think I’ve heard him rave about today’s movies on a few different podcasts he’s taken part in. The movies are based on some comic books that meant a lot to Smith, but I had never read. I had attempted to read them, but I found them a little verbose and not as visually interesting as the comic books that I tend to go for. Then these movies came out, and Smith loved them. If I remember correctly, he stated that he is brought to tears by the retelling. After hearing him talk these movies up numerous times, I finally decided that they begged a rental. And that brings me to review Part One and Part Two of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, based on the comic books by Frank Miller, screenplay by Bob Goodman, directed by Jay Oliva, and starring the voices of Peter Weller, Michael Emerson, David Selby, Ariel Winter, Mark Valley, Wade Williams, Maria Canals Barrera, Robin Atkin Downes, Paget Brewster, Michael McKean, Gary Anthony Williams, Tress MacNeille, Grey DeLisle, Bruce Timm, Conan O’Brien, and Frank Welker.
Part One. The government has banned superheroes. Billionaire Bruce Wayne (Peter Weller) retires from crime fighting as the Batman. But, without the Batman, Police Commissioner James Gordon (David Selby) is left to fight a losing battle against the gangs of Gotham City. Harvey Dent (Wade Williams), having undergone surgery to repair his face, relapses and returns to crime. Bruce also relapses, succumbing to the gangs, Harvey’s reappearance, and the memory of his parents’ death, and returns to the cowl after saving the life of 13-year-old Carrie Kelley (Ariel Winter), who he starts training as his new Robin. But Batman’s return may have other consequences…
Part Two. Batman’s return brings the return of the Joker (Michael Emerson), who remained in a catatonic state in an asylum in Batman’s absence, his life having no purpose. Joker intends to make his big debut on a talk show interview, and Batman determines to stop him, even though he must get through Commissioner Gordon’s successor, Ellen Yindel (Maria Canals Barrera), to do so. But making such a public showing of the Batman’s return comes with another danger: the government may send Superman (Mark Valley), who works as a government operative now, to deal with the vigilante detective.
I was really happy with this movie. I knew that the comic books were well-written and entertaining, but I’m too easily bored by reading to make it through. Turning these into a movie was the perfect way to enjoy the story without any of that annoying reading stuff. And the story is definitely one that’s worth getting into your brain, either by reading or by watching. I start into the movie a little closed off because I don’t like seeing Batman retire, but I also understand the world that Miller creates that leads to Batman retiring. And then I like it even more when Batman comes back because of Two-Face. But if Two-Face no longer has two faces, doesn’t he have to change his name to Harvey Face or Scary Face? Plus, don’t they already have a villain that walks around with his face wrapped up like a mummy? Hush or something? I also thought it was cool that the movie shows us what it’s like to be an aging Batman, in the shadows planning his move against a group of criminals, and then you get to see a little bit of what it’s like to be one of the criminals, getting beaten down by the Batman, but not knowing where it’s coming from. But really, I feel like I was more excited to get to part two of the story. Part one does a lot of hinting at bigger things on the horizon. I was waiting to see what would happen with Superman, and I was waiting to see what would happen with the Joker. The relationship between the Joker and Batman has always been a fascinating one. I really liked Kevin’s Smith’s take on it in the comic book series Batman: Cacophony, and that one seems to take some ideas from Dark Knight Returns in things like the fact that the Joker is catatonic in a world without Batman and only comes back when Batman does, and Joker says something to that effect in Smith’s book. But the talk in Smith’s book was only a preamble to what happens further along in the timeline in this story, and it is an epic conclusion to their relationship to be sure. I also knew that part two would include a showdown between Batman and Superman, which I was very excited for. Mainly because I hate Superman. Such a goodie two-shoes son of a bitch. And not even a bright one! Why would he shove a train to a halt to save one blind man on the tracks when he could’ve just … I don’t know … picked him up and carried him off of the tracks instead of demolishing a train by shoving it to a stop? Fuckin’ douche…
I really don’t have a lot to say about the look of the movies. I wouldn’t say that I “liked” it, per se, but I do respect that they captured the look of the comics very well. I just wasn’t that big of a fan of the look of the comics. It works very well either way, but it’s not really my bag. I also like how the fights are realized in the movie. They’re very effective. It’s kind of like watching a UFC fight … in mud … between Batman and a mutant guy with spikey nipples … Also, I was a fan of that Bruno chick, or as I called her “Swastika Titties.” Swa-stick-ons? Swa-tit-kas? I don’t know, you work it out.
I found myself very conflicted by the voices in the movie. I liked them all, but I kept feeling myself missing the people that I had become more familiar with. Batman’s voice for me has pretty much always been Kevin Conroy from Batman: The Animated Series, which may have been one of the first times I heard him speak. Either that or Pete Holmes imitating Christian Bale. Those are my Batman voices. The same could be said for the Joker. No one does Joker like Mark Hamill. Peter Weller and Michael Emerson do good jobs, but my brain is so resistant to change that I will probably always shy away from any deviation.
If you’re anything like me, you should definitely go out and buy Parts One and Two of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. It allows you to experience Frank Miller’s fantastic story of the aging Batman and his return to crime-fighting without all that tedious reading. They capture the comic book entirely, as best I can tell from my limited skimming of the graphic novels many years ago. Definitely worth buying for any comic book fans, Batman fans, and people who lack the attention span to read things. Of course, if that’s you, I doubt you made it to the end of this review. I wouldn’t have read it all, that’s for sure. Part Two is way better in my opinion because it has the fights with the Joker and Superman, but you kind of need Part One to set it all up. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns gets “It took years and cost a fortune. Luckily, I had both” out of “This isn’t a mud hole. It’s an operating table. And I’m the surgeon.”
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