The first part of The Dark Knight Returns (read the full review here) was a pretty hit-or-miss affair; great animation and style, for the most part, but its refusal to allow its audience to think for itself and its downright perversion of the Batman made for a pretty so-so film. Much to be enjoyed, but much to be desired. With the Joker finally awaking from his catatonic state at the end of part one, it seemed as if business was finally ready to pick up. With the arrival of The Dark Knight Returns: Part II, business not only does not pick up, it closes up shop, continuing the same mistakes made in the first part and making loads of new ones along the way. It is a dismal disappointment of a film, it is terribly anti-climactic, and it relies on a whole utility belt full of plot contrivances.
Having defeated the leader of the mutant gang, Batman (Peter Weller) has inspired a wave of new vigilantism, which inspires even more of the previously derided television news panels and news programs that spout off the film's various running themes at the viewer, lest they forget that they need to select a point of view they most agree with and be reminded of it every five minutes. Unlike the first film, however, which was content to only ask the question, this film does everything it can to convince the viewer that they are wrong if they like the Batman or support the kind of vigilantism that he represents. How does the film manage this? Fifty seconds into the film it stages a talk show debate both for and against Batman, selecting for its "pro" Batman voice a grotesquely overweight and ignorant Lana Lang who babbles inanely at the audience that it isn't Batman's fault that he has inspired further vigilantism in his name. Many arguments can be made about the Batman, but the vigilantes he inspires in his wake are a direct result of his actions, which the film makes overtly clear.
In the meantime, Commissioner Jim Gordon (David Selby ) is retiring, leaving newcomer Ellen Yindel (Maria Canals-Barrera) to take over the job. Being decidedly anti-Batman, she becomes the face of a city that will no longer tolerate Batman's vigilante antics, and thus dedicates every single police resource possible to taking him down. This specific plot is annoying at best, something contrived in hero stories when A.) the hero needs to be delayed in reaching a goal, and B.) the villain needs to be given time to achieve their goals. The Dark Knight Rises adapted this onto the big screen and it was just as ignorant there as it is here; it defies any logical sense that the police would dedicate so many resources to take down Batman but ignore the serial killers and super villains that are plotting beneath their noses.
Meanwhile, the Joker (Michael Emerson) has stirred, beginning another killing spree that sends the Batman after him (murdering an entire studio audience while no police were around, since Batman is clearly the bigger threat). The chase and subsequent battle between the two of them is downright amazing, capturing the bitterness and hatred the two characters have for one another perfectly. The Joker going so far as to kill himself to pin his murder on Batman is an inspired stroke of writing. It is tragic that his time in the film is rather short, since their confrontation is easily the film's best sequence.
Meantime, the president decides that Batman's renewed antics are a menace and must be put to an end. He sends Superman (Mark Valley) off to give the Batman a stern talking to that goes as well as anyone might expect. From this point on the film just... it just falls apart. Seeing Superman as a government lackey, fighting against the Soviets on Corto Maltese was so absurd that there is no response appropriate enough for it. So Superman allows himself to be used as a human weapon for political ends now? This, similar to portraying Batman as a dual personality of Bruce Wayne in the first film, is so bafflingly out-of-sorts with the character. Worse is his diversion of a nuclear strike in Corto Maltese that renders him crippled and looking like a super zombie. So Superman then proceeds to... suck the life force out of the Earth to replenish himself?! Errrr... no. Just, no.
Thanks to the ineptitude of the Man of Tomorrow, the nuclear strike instead cripples the United States with an electromagnetic pulse, sending the country into pseudo-martial law. Batman, not content to let crime overthrow Gotham, rounds up the vigilantes that have been acting in his name and decides to keep the streets safe. This makes Gotham the safest city in the country, something that the Feds deem to be a colossal embarrassment, so they send Superman in to take Batman out. At this point, this movie has become so ludicrously ignorant that Wonder Woman could've suddenly sprang forth from the ground and gone on a killing spree and it would have made as much sense as this plot does. Nonetheless, it pits hero v. hero in the place where the Batman was born.
All things considered, the fight between Bats and Supes was very well done. Batman shows his strength of character and his intellect, attempting to weaken the Man of Steel before facing him in a full-on showdown that he knows he will likely lose. As in the previous installment, the animation style completely suits the sort of heavy-fisted fighting that it again showcases here, as well as earlier in the Joker fight. The whole affair is very well done, with Bruce enlisting the help of Oliver Queen, the former Green Arrow, to help him take down Superman. Robin (Ariel Winter) also lends a helping hand here and at other places in the film, but is really just a throwaway character.
Just as in part one, this film could've been made a lot better if it had cut down on the insipid newscasts that constantly intercut it, content to yell at the viewer over and over what they should be thinking and believing that audiences are too stupid to think for themselves or to glean the themes of the film from the film itself. This could've easily been done as a single feature-length animated feature, instead of two 75-minute films that are drawn out and overlong and replete with the same repetitive newscasts that never, ever stop. The whole thing reeks as a cash grab from DC, whose feature films always seem to falter unless they star Batman. Can't blame the company from cashing in on its relatively successful (and for the most part, very well-done) animated featurettes, one supposes. The animation style is terrible for anything outside of the film's action sequences or those not featuring Batman, and despite some great voicework from the cast, the whole affair feels as worthless as part one before it. It's a shame that the Joker couldn't have hung around longer, because once he died, he took the energy of the film with him. Three out of Five Stars.
By Nicholas Haskins
You can check out the trailer for The Dark Knight Returns: Part II by clicking here. Like my reviews? Please subscribe to them; your support means everything to me. You can also become a fanboy/girl and follow me on Twitter or book my face.