Thursday, August 11, 2016

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

   This animated offering from DC was originally released in two parts, and then released again in a 'deluxe edition' which combined both 75 minute long parts into one long two and a half hour movie... the way it was meant to be seen. Personally, I'm not nuts about the DC animated movies. My favorites are like... almost 20 years old at this point. Mask of the Phantasm, Sub Zero, Return of the Joker, et cetera. I mean, I've seen quite a few of their subsequent animated flicks, but they never do too much for me. This is the one movie though that's made me consider giving most, if not all of them a second chance. This movie is... simply put, fantastic.

   I'm a big Batman fan, but I could never claim to be one of the biggest fans. I just seriously enjoy the character. I've seen all the live action movies and could talk your ear off about each one. I've read more than plenty of the comics and most of the stories considered to be essential Batman material. Including... and especially, The Dark Knight Returns. I actually only got around to reading it because this movie came out. I wanted to read it before I saw the movie based on it. It lived up to the hype, and I genuinely enjoyed the comic. Now the movie had the daunting task of living up to it. I watched it and loved it, found it virtually indistinguishable from the comic. Now I've given it another shot.

   It's actually been on my mind quite a bit since Batman V Superman came out. And since the movie faithfully recreates just about everything from the comic, it was just simpler in the moment for me to give it another watch. "We're criminals, Clark. We always were." it's a great line here, and it ended up as a great line in Batman V Superman, but said to Alfred instead of Clark. It's little things like that I've noticed from one to the other. It's something I don't think a lot of casual audience members ever picked up on in Batman V Superman. That movie felt like a massive homage to The Dark Knight Returns, obviously. Most people, unlike myself, just didn't feel it was a good homage.

   I liked the animation in this movie. It was detailed and pointed when it needed to be. It obviously didn't have a gigantic budget, but it was created with care, and I respect that. It shows. When certain key scenes from the comic show up, they're awesome and show stopping moments like the lightning strike behind Batman in mid-air. But those visuals are just that: visuals. The meat of The Dark Knight Returns was more than just a style or visuals. I think in the case of The Dark Knight Returns there are many ways the translation of static images to moving ones improves the delivery of the story being told. In some scenes, it's more dynamic, more engrossing. Even more emotional. But, on the flip side...

   Somethings just don't work as well. Certain subplots that feel organic on the page, feel stilted and distracting in the movie. The cold war subplot for example. It doesn't translate well to the movie because it interrupts an otherwise solid pace and streamlined narrative. It doesn't become immediately relevant til the second half of the movie (which would be towards the end of Part 2 if you're not watching the deluxe cut). It's a key part of The Dark Knight Returns comic, yes, and I understand the desire to maintain that into the movie, but it doesn't work as well. Maybe some creative license should've been implemented here? Who knows. As it is, even though it doesn't work perfectly, it doesn't seriously detract from the experience.

   When both halves are together, and viewed as one movie, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns reaches heights that few of it's live action counterparts ever have. It feels like an event, like a big deal. Something serious and complex. It almost makes me feel like a kid again, watching the 1989 Batman movie for the first time. It was important and immersive. This movie in it's best moments evokes that feeling, and it's amazing. Even some of the best of the other animated Batman movies just feel too short to accomplish that. They're over as soon as I'm getting involved. I realize that's just par for course with direct-to-video animated features, but that's why this one is so special. It has two parts, or if you feel like it, one long cut.

   The makers were wise enough to not cram the entirety of the story into an hour and 15 minutes. Splitting it up was smart... putting it all together for another release was even smarter. It feels epic in it's scope and it delivers visceral thrills that most Batman movies shy away from. This is easily one of the better Batman movies, animated or not.  Peter Weller does an admirable job as Batman, and Ariel Winter (of Modern Family fame) voiced Carrie Kelly precisely as how I imagined the character would sound. In fact, she did so well, I can't remember if I ever imagined Kelly sounding differently. Crazy, huh? The cast was uniformly great, and so was the score. Fantastic music in this movie. There's really no major downside to the experience as a whole. If you weren't really feeling Batman V Superman, or you simply want more to tide you over until Justice League, you could do worse than this one.

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