“Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2” picks up a few months after the first part so, as director Jay Oliva suggests, Robin (Ariel Winter) has had time to train up and Batman (Peter Weller) has had time to mend his broken arm. Turmoil. Chaos. Mayhem. It’s all here, even the threat of World War III. We also get two all-time throw downs: Batman versus Joker; and Batman versus Superman. Questions are settled, or as close at they can be. There is no holding back. This is based, after all, on one of the most audacious, and thought-provoking, works of comics by Frank Miller. The time is a futuristic present/80s. It could be now but there’s no way we can deny the present time in the original graphic novel, when Ronald Reagan sat in the White House and the Cold War still raged. The threat of a nuclear strike from an itchy trigger finger remained embedded in reality and in popular fiction.
Some might say that Ronald Reagan was the ultimate amalgamation of reality and popular fiction so it is quite fitting to have him play the role of president in this story. He’s the one that concludes that Batman has become a “problem” and instructs Superman to put him in his place. Reagan uses the analogy of a bucking bronco. Sometimes you have to put him down. In this case, the bronco has to be broken. Superman grudgingly agrees. As we’ll come to see, this sets into motion a collision between two forces for good with very different philosophies. Superman places himself within the perimeters of authority. Batman places himself outside the perimeters of authority.
What happens when the government you are supposed to trust in is acting in its own self-interest? What happens when the media you are supposed to rely upon for information is untrustworthy? This is where Superman hopes for the best. This is where Batman relies on his own moral code. And this is where the Joker comes in as the wild card. He keeps Batman on his toes and perhaps helps keep him focused. This animated movie brings all these issues to life starting with the Joker, played with devilish glee by Michael Emerson. In short order, we see the Joker go from inmate to guest on a David Letterman type of talk show. The Joker convinced his therapist that it would be good for him. It’s not long before the Joker is on a whole new killing spree and has found a way to fuel the flames over a dispute between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
The Batman/Joker smackdown is a beautifully choreographed piece enhanced by the brooding synthesized score by Christopher Drake. Batman commands the stage. He’s nicely paired up with the Joker, who doesn’t ease up for a second. The original graphic novel had them duke it out in some grimy tunnel. But, in this movie, the two find themselves in an amusement park tunnel of love. It’s pitch perfect given their yin-yang relationship and the less than subtle homoerotic undertones.
Once we get to the main event, Batman vs. Superman, the whole world has been through hell. But there’s still a chance, that we can all just get along, right? It doesn’t look good and the stakes are as high as you can go. What’s interesting is that all the factors on how to make this a fair fight have been considered. It’s a pretty awesome fight. Superman, played by Mark Valley, is nobody’s fool and he helps add to the Man of Steel’s stalwart mythos.
There are three main bonus features: a discussion on superheroes in society; an analysis of the Joker; and a behind-the-scenes look at the animation process with director Jay Oliva. Plus you get three animated shorts. And an excerpt from the original graphic novel. It’s a wonderful treasure trove of informed discussion and added entertainment. Warner Bros. goes the extra mile with these features which mirrors their devotion to comics and animation. There’s a genuine respect for comics history and for solid storytelling. It’s a nice added touch to include in the discussion a noted expert in the classics, Richard Rader, along with Denny O’Neil, editor on the original graphic novel, and, especially noteworthy, Jerry Robinson, who was key in the creation of the Joker.