Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 [Blu-ray] (2013)

Actors: Peter Weller, Michael Emerson, David Selby, Michael McKean, Ariel Winter
Director: Jay Oliva
Format: Animated, Full Screen, NTSC, Widescreen
Language: English (Stereo)
Region: Region A/1
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: January 29, 2013
Run Time: 78 minutes




All the cool kids are dividing their movies into multiple parts nowadays, so why should The Dark Knight Returns be any different?

The first half of Frank Miller’s innovative comic book series came to breathtaking life last fall, and now the second half arrives with the same respect and attention to detail that made its predecessor one of the best DC animated features so far.

Like Harry Potter, The Hobbit and (sure, what the hell) Breaking Dawn, you can’t really see part 2 without watching Part 1 first. It picks up shortly after the first movie left off, with an aging, possibly deranged Bruce Wayne (voiced by Peter Weller) reborn as the bane of Gotham’s criminals. As with the first film, his heroics can’t hold off the ugly compromises and unexpected consequences of the world. Yes, he’s broken up the monstrous Mutant gang, but countless splinter groups still exist . . . including one called the Sons of Batman who take his creed far more seriously than they should.

They’re small potatoes, however, when compared to the Joke (voiced by Michael Emerson), who emerges from a coma and – with the help of his naive psychiatrist - promptly books an ominous appearance on a late night talk show. As if that weren’t enough, Superman (voiced by Mark Valley) takes an unwelcome interest in his activities as well. The federal government doesn’t want Batman giving them bad press, and with the Man of Steel taking his orders from the White House, a conflict between the two is inevitable.

According to Miller, a mythic figure like Batman needs a proper ending, something akin to Arthur and Mordred that provides closure to the story. How would the last fight between Bats and the Joker go down? Who would win if Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent ever went toe-to-toe for real? The Dark Knight Returns had an answer, and director Jay Oliva dedicates himself to recreating the drama and intensity of those moments in their entirety. The handsome animation recreates Miller’s visual style, then follows through with every moment of narrative from the comic. We sense the stakes and the impact of each four-color panel: the notion that things really could end here, and not the way we want them to at all. Miller’s concept inspired later creators like Christopher Nolan, and Oliva treats his work with all the respect and reverence it deserves.

As with the first film, The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 refuses to change or alter anything. Only the internal monologues are gone here, a controversial choice that nonetheless prevents the action from bogging down. The remainder is all but flawless: a tough, gritty interpretation that captures the essence of Miller’s genre-changing vision. Big-budget superhero movies are moving closer and closer to the comic book stories that inspired them. (Witness the new Wolverine and X-Men: Days of Future Past storylines.) The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 provides a blueprint on how to do it right, in ways only that true fans of the medium could achieve. DC may be lagging behind its rival in the feature film department, but down here in direct-to-video land, it sets a standard that few can beat. Just crack open this Blu-ray if you need any further proof.

THE DISC: Though not quite as sexy as the Part 1 Blu-ray, the disc here still provides its money’s worth. Top-notch sound and image quality keep the film sparkling, while the extra features include the same thoughtful insight we’ve come to expect from DC’s animated features. One deals with Superman, a second with the Joker, and the third with the process of adapting Miller’s comic panels to a more dynamic medium. The set also includes quick preview of the next animated feature, a digital collection of the source comic, and DVD and digital copies of the film. Three episodes from older DC Comics cartoons complete the Blu-ray. They’re all gems: “Battle of the Superheroes” from The Brave and the Bold (aka The One with Superman), and “The Last Laugh” and “The Man Who Killed Batman” from Batman: The Animated Series. (The last one is a long-time personal favorite.)

WORTH IT? Fans should need no convincing, and while newcomers should probably start with Part 1, they can’t do much better than The Dark Knight Returns.

RECOMMENDATION: You need to get The Dark Knight Returns Part 1 to properly enjoy this one, but don’t worry: it’s just as good.

- Rob Vaux



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