Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Batman Prep: The Dark Knight Returns Animated

After much internet smack talk and fanboy outrage, Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice is nearly here. Hoping to rake in some of that connected universe moolah Marvel is sitting on, Justice introduces Ben Affleck as an older, semi-retired Batman who battles then teams up with Superman and Wonder Woman against alien bruiser Doomsday and Lex Luthor. While Affleck seems like a cool guy, my vote for a post Christian Bale Batman still goes to Josh Brolin. The film looks polished and serious and hopefully director Zach Snyder can tell a story as strong as the visuals. To prep, we randomly watched some Batman animated movies as DC continues to excel on the small screen. Starting off with 2012's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, based on Frank Miller and Klaus Janson's seminal mini-series from 1986 that finds Gotham City Batman-less for a decade, being overrun by a vicious gang dubbed Mutants and sees a 55 year old Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to mete out some bloody justice. In this alternate universe tale, a young woman named Carrie Kelley becomes the new Robin and you get Joker, Harvey Dent, Superman and Ronald Reagan in the mix.

The animated films follow the still yoked Bruce Wayne as he tries to help rehabilitate Two-Face Harvey Dent to no avail and becoming increasingly bothered by the state that Gotham is in. Commissioner Jim Gordon is on the verge of retirement and the Mutants are killing innocents left and right. Donning the cowl and cape, Wayne once again hits the streets in these action packed 70 some minute chapters. The action and fights are really well done with hand to hand combat scenes packing more punch, pain and cringe worthy moments than most live action stuff. It was reminiscent of the fantastic animated scrpas from Street Fighter: The Animated Movie but not quite as good. Robocop's Peter Weller voices Wayne and Batman with his usual gusto even if there's no differentiation between the two characters. After Batman defeats the Mutants' leader via well placed cuts above the eye and broken limbs, the gang disperses and become The Sons of Batman, using their violent tactics on criminals instead of innocents.

Batman's resumed war on crime results in the resurrection of his greatest foe, The Joker, who's been catatonic since the dark knight retired. Ending up on a talk show to try and make amends, Joker kills everyone with poison gas and slashes animated Conan O'Brien's throat with a shattered coffee mug. Brutal stuff you're just not used to seeing in a cartoon. All of this catches the attention of the president who enlists Superman to take care of the job. This leads up to a showdown between the two former friends where Bats uses a metal suit, smarts, technology and a synthetic krypotnite arrow shot by Oliver Queen to take the big boy scout down. Seemingly dying of a heart attack, Bruce Wayne's identity and exploits as Batman are revealed to the public, Wayne Manner burns down, trusted confidant and butler Alfred dies of a stroke and the family fortune disappears. But beneath the family abode, down in the caverns and Bat-Cave, a still alive Wayne has amassed an army that includes Robin, Queen and the former Mutants that he will train to fight and take back the city.

While current animation is computer driving and makes for some slick visuals, the animated films do a good job of distilling the look and feel of the comics with solid design and great action. Including making every male in good shape while all the women, like Lana Lang and Selina Kyle, into fat old hags. Maybe Miller doesn't like women? As a 90's kid you expect Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill to be present as Batman and the Joker but Peter Weller and Michael Emerson fill in just fine and bring their own pastiche to the roles. With reported budgets of $3.5 million each yet still delivering entertaining, enjoyable and violent adaptations, let's see what Snyder and company do with a couple hundred million bucks.

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