It’s no wonder that Gotham City has such an alarming variety of insane criminals; its police force is made up of officers who wouldn’t be able to hit water if they fell out of a boat. They’re the usual faceless trigger-happy morons who enjoy emptying their machine gun cartridges at their targets without landing a single shot. All the while, the new Commissioner of the Gotham Police Force stands idle and frowns when she should be devoting her attention to matters that don’t involve Batman.
Her name is Ellen Yindel (Maria Canals Barrera), newly incumbent, and at her ceremonial dinner her first order is the arrest of Batman. I suppose this presents an interesting angle to the inexhaustible Batman legacy. Batman has always frolicked along the streets of Gotham with the support of the local PD. Retired commissioner Gordon (David Selby) — now in his 70s for sure — was not so much an obstacle for the Dark Knight as he was a loyal assistant. Now that he’s gone, Batman, by the looks of it, will have to frolic a little less.
The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 picks up where the previous film left off. Batman (Peter Weller) has defeated the gigantic Mutant Leader. He has adopted a new Robin sidekick in the form of a young geeky girl named Carrie Kelley (Ariel Winter). The Mutant group has disbanded; small pockets of them have reunited to form a large posse under Batman’s tutelage. The Joker (Michael Emerson) is primed and ready to break out of his asylum. Selina Kyle (Tress MacNeille) and Lana Lang (Paget Brewster), once the babes of DC Comics, have let themselves go to the point of being unrecognisable. Bruce Wayne is misguided. And now the president of the United States has called in Superman (Mark Valley) to put Batman in his place. This isn’t the dark hero we’re used to.
Much of the action that takes place in this second film is perfunctory. Everything builds up to the sensational climax and showdown between Superman and Batman. I have never been a follower of the comics, but I am aware of the story arc that involves the duel that happens here. It is a nasty duel, to be sure, with unrealistic hopes and pathetic undercurrents. The premise is that Batman has become a public menace. He trots around town on his mighty steed, ordering his posse to create havoc — presumably to spite the new commissioner — while he exalts himself a god among his followers. Everyone in the city lives in constant fear.
So Superman comes in to set things right. The plot no doubt follows the events of the Justice League, the DC equivalent to Marvel’s Avengers. Superman and Batman have had their day in the sun, and now things have turned sour. Something has made Bruce Wayne grumpy, and the ever youthful Clark Kent doesn’t help to ease the situation.
Their showdown at the end is wonderfully animated and, like the first film, every punch and kick can be felt. Superman in his customary red, yellow and blue; Batman in his preposterous enhancing bodysuit built to look like the Juggernaut.
The Dark Knight Returns is not so much a movie about characters as it is an attempt by director Jay Oliva to convert a graphic novel into a movie. All its events take place in fits and starts. One story arc is introduced, and before another can be, it’s quickly ended and forgotten. The result can be quite disorienting. Take The Joker, for instance. For reasons never elaborated on, he has found himself locked up in an asylum. Now he escapes, appears on the local talk show, and gases everyone to grotesque smiling deaths. A chase with Batman ensues that pays homage to the climax of Hitchcock’s classic Strangers On A Train. And then before we can realise what’s happened, The Joker’s body is on fire. His appearance has no impact on the rest of the film.
This is my main qualm with these two movies. They exist as part of a comic book whole, not a cinematic individual. Surely the filmmakers cannot expect us to walk into it knowing everything that has happened before, or after! What has set up the events, the characters? Who was Jason Todd? Who is Ellen Yindel? Where did she come from? Who, for that matter, is Bruce Wayne? He has lived so long and we know nothing about him. Not everyone is a Batman follower. Batman himself is starting to understand this.
Best Moment | Superman’s and Batman’s duel, as absurd as it is.
Worst Moment | The Joker’s meaningless appearance, among others.
Note: How old is Alfred? Correct me if I’m wrong, readers, but shouldn’t Alfred be dead by the time this film takes place? Bruce is a weary 55 years old. What’s Alfred? 85? 90? 100?