Remember last week when I joked about getting the flu so I could get caught up on my anime and DVR?
Well, it wasn’t the flu, but I was laid up a couple days this week, so the blog suffered a bit. But while I was busy applying bags of frozen peas to my wound (I’m fine now), I was able to watch a few things. And one of those was the terrific part 2 of “The Dark Knight Returns,” the latest direct-to-video animated offering from DC and Warner Bros.
But this is no “Batman: The Animated Series” for kids. It’s rated PG-13 and with good reason — most of it involving a homicidal Joker.
Here, the Clown Prince of Crime is the Clown Prince of wanton killing, with a disturbing body count. It’s uncomfortable to watch, but it’s true to the story, so it’s hard to argue in a film for adults. Like “Pulp Fiction,” it doesn’t feel gratuitous in context.
As part 2 opens, the Joker (creepily voiced by “Lost’s” Michael Emerson) is feeling a bit bummed by all the attention Batman’s return has been getting. He’s completely duped his ridiculously stupid therapist, who books the Joker on a talk show to tell “his side of the story.” The Joker promptly kills everyone there.
An interesting thing about these films is that they play like mini movies: all the gang stuff in the first one, now the Joker and finally a duel with Superman, who’s under the thumb of president Reagan. In Frank Miller’s story, the heroes have been almost entirely out of business, and the president doesn’t like Batman making him look even more foolish than other decisions do. Any one of them could be a movie on its own. But the story isn’t about any of them individually, it’s a fascinating arc about age and justice and leadership and redemption. And if it can make me this interested in Batman, who I normally wish would just go away for a while, it’s good.
It’s also nice to see that Warner Bros. put a little extra dough into the animation. The character work and backgrounds are nothing special, but there are some sequences with great details. One co-worker was particularly taken with the sequence where Batman — bruised, bloody and barely standing — is grabbed and whisked away by Robin and the Batcopter. The final fight with Superman is also a snappy bit of choreography.
And they got some top-notch voice work from the cast. I really like Peter Weller as Batman. The weight of the world is there in his voice. Ariel Winter (“Modern Family”) does a fine job as Robin, though the part is underwritten. Emerson does a different take on the Joker, all quiet and calm instead of over the top — shudder. Mark Valley (the sorely missed “Human Target”) does fine work as Superman.
One thing I have to say about Superman. I know it’s from the book, but the part where he’s talking to Bruce and looking all cheesy romance cover in riding pants, boots and a mostly unbuttoned shirt is just silly.
I never read the original, but I must say director Jay Oliva and screenwriter Bob Goodman did a fantastic job of putting a Batman story on screen. It’s definitely one of the best of these Warner films. Next up is “Superman: Unbound,” a Brainiac story, May 7.