Justice League War (Origins – New 52)

  • Title:  Justice League War 
  • Director:  Jay Oliva
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2014
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre(s):  Action, Fantasy, Animation
  • Cast:  Sean Astin, Christopher Gorham, Justin Kirk, Michelle Managhan, Shemar Moore, Jason O’Mara, Alan Tudyk, Ioan Gruffudd
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  Blu-Ray

“They don’t like us much!” – Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
“The world’s afraid of us.” – Batman
“You say that like its a good thing.” – Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
“It’s necessary.” – Batman

“Superman’s close, I’ve been tracking his flight path.” -Batman
“Pfft, on what?  Your own satellite?” – Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)
[pause, as Batman checks an electronic gadget]
“I was kidding.  You have a satellite?!” –  Green Lantern (Hal Jordan)

With Justice League War Warner Brothers Animation moves from creating animated DC Comics films based on classic Silver Age (and early modern age) DC Comics, to making films based on the New 52.  Justice League War is a perfect case in point, as it is based on the graphic novel Justice League Volume 1 Origin (which is, in turn, really just a compilation of issues 1-6), written by Geoff Johns, penciled by Jim Lee, and inked by Scott Williams.

The first time I watched War I was impressed, the animation is good, and I felt the story did what it needed to do – introduce a big enough threat to bring together all seven superheroes who, until that time, had only been working in their own respective cities. These heroes, including new hero, Cyborg (Victor Stone) must over-come their distrust and fear of each other and learn to work together to overcome Darkseid, his Parademons, and his lieutenant, Desaad.

However, the second time I watched this, last night, I was considerably less impressed. Yes, the animation is gorgeous. And it’s nice to see older DC elements, like mother box and boom tubes, brought back. And if one needs a really big threat, it doesn’t get much bigger than Darkseid. Yes, this is essentially a re-boot. And, DC Comics, has rebooted it’s universe before.  They’re somewhat famous for it, actually. Personally, I actually started reading DC Comics when they re-booted the universe after Crisis on Infinite Earths. That was a great time to start reading comics – everything was new, you didn’t need to know the long complicated history, even the books started at number 1. I imagine, now, there are people who did the same thing for New 52 – they started there, and don’t know (or care) about the Silver Age and post-Crisis on Infinite Earths books I read and loved in college (just like when I started reading DC I didn’t care if a story was set on Earth 16 or Earth 2 or whatever). And that is perfectly OK. I see no need to rain on their parade.

But, as a fan of the Post-Crisis on Infinite Earths era, I really don’t like New 52. There, I said it, I don’t. Justice League War, especially on repeat viewing, is a perfect example of why I don’t like New 52. War, is, as the title suggests – full of battles and wisecracks. I’ve watched other DC animated films (Justice League:  Doom is a perfect example) where I also felt there was too much of an emphasis on fights and not enough on character – but at least in Doom, there is character. And, it’s the flaws in the characters that are exploited and must be overcome that are central to the plot. That keeps me riveted to the screen. But in Justice League War, not only is the majority of the film fight scene after fight scene, but the characters are pretty much stereotypes – not the DC characters we know and love. Hal Jordan, rather than being a man who knows no fear (and intergalactic police officer for the Green Lantern Corps) is reduced to “the one with the funny quips and lines”. Barry Allen, the Flash, is “the one who’s the nice guy next door”. Wonder Woman is the overly naïve “little girl” type. Superman is “the angry one”; I mean, seriously – Was that even supposed to be Clark Kent? Because he sounds like Young Justice‘s Conner Kent. Billy Batson (Shazam), well, actually, he’s got the same “little kid in a big body” quality he’s always had – but then, that is what he’s supposed to be. Cyborg is”‘the new guy”. And even Batman is “the only one who knows what’s going on / the parent”. These aren’t our much-loved characters – they are stereotypes. Even in the last line of the film, Wonder Woman describes her fellow heroes as iconotypes by comparing them to the Greek gods. (Jung would call these archetypes and it is a fair and valid comparison.) But I found the lack of real character a major disappointment. Creating great characters, not only the major characters, but the minor characters, has always been a strength of DC Comics. I feel New 52 falls short of the mark. Though this is an origin film, and it’s always possible that there will be improvement as the series develops.

Justice League War also cuts frequently from scene to scene as the various heroes fight Parademons in whatever city they happen to be in, before joining together to fight Darkseid, Desaad, and more Parademons. And in fighting together, the seven Justice League (a term never used in the film) founders, do learn to work together. They do learn that cooperation is very important, as is teamwork.  Perhaps the series will improve.

Recommendation:  See it, if you want to stay up to date with New 52
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Prestige

Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox

  • Title:  Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox
  • Director:  Jay Oliva
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Animation, Action, Fantasy
  • Cast:  Justin Chambers, C. Thomas Howell, Michael B. Jordan, Kevin McKidd, Kevin Conroy, Sam Daly, Dana Delany, Cary Elwes, Nathan Fillion, Ron Perlman
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“They’re motivated by greed. They lack the commitment, the absolute focus…” – Professor Zoom (Reverse Flash)
“…to kill me.” – Flash
“To erase you.” – Professor Zoom (Reverse Flash)

“Brake the sound barrier and there’s a sonic boom. You broke the time barrier, Flash, time boom. Ripples of distortion out from the point of impact, shifting everything just a tiny bit – but enough. Enough for events to happen slightly differently.” – Professor Zoom (Reverse Flash)

Justice League The Flashpoint Paradox starts with what we quickly realise is a flashback or memory. Young Barry Allen and his mother are stranded at the side of the road with a broken car. Another car passes but fails to stop to help them. Barry is incensed that the person in the car didn’t care enough to do what’s right and stop to help them. Nora, Barry’s mother, urges him to not worry about it – then spots a gas station close by, they decide to walk there to find a phone.

The next flashback finds Barry coming home from school – only to find that his mother has been killed.

In the present, Barry and his wife, Iris are putting flowers on his mother’s grave. Barry expresses his regret that he wasn’t there to save his own mother. He and Iris are interrupted when Barry gets an emergency call, there’s been a break-in at the Central City Flash Museum. As Flash, Barry arrives and confronts The Top, Mirror Master, and eventually Captain Cold, Captain Boomarang, and Heat Wave. It soon becomes obvious that the person in charge of the break in is Eoband Thawne, aka Professor Zoom, aka the Reverse Flash. He uses the distraction of the Rogues Gallery attack to place small but powerful bombs on each Rogue as well as on Flash. He also traps Flash in a gooey substance he can’t escape. Flash manages to trap Professor Zoom, but he can’t get free. The Justice League arrives, and each takes a Rogue to get rid of the bombs, without hurting anyone. The various plans that each Justice Leaguer uses, work and all the bombs are destroyed harmlessly and the Rogues sent back to prison. Meanwhile, Flash is still trapped. Professor Zoom taunts Flash, but Flash manages to disarm the explosives on himself and Thawne.

Next, Barry wakes at his desk. He’s a little confused by the news headline on his computer screen – and even more confused when he exits the building and meets his mother. Things go from bad to worse, as Flash realises he’s in an alternative world that never had a Flash. A world that’s in the midst of War. Barry goes to the Wayne Mansion just outside Gotham City – but the place is a wreck. He gets inside the Batcave and meets Batman – a very violent Batman, who uses guns, and has no problem with killing. Barry quickly realises that this Batman is Thomas Wayne, and it was Bruce who died That Fateful Night. To make matters worse, the death of her son, and seeing her husband become a violent vigilante has turned Mrs. Wayne into the Joker. Though it takes some doing, Barry not only convinces Thomas that his world is “all wrong” – he convinces him they have to re-create the experiment that turned Barry into the Flash. The resulting scene brings to mind various filmed versions of Frankenstein. The first try fails, but, the second try works. The Flash, however, is unable to get enough speed and theorizes there’s another speedster out there also tapping into the “speed force”.

Since using his own power won’t work, Barry’s next idea is to ask for Superman’s help. Batman tells him, though, this world has no Superman. Barry, however, from his own nightmares of the divergent timelines, gets an idea. Batman calls in Cyborg, who works directly for the US Government, and convinces him to hack every computer system he can, looking for information. Eventually Thomas Wayne/Batman convinces Cyborg to hack government and military records. This leads them to find a warehouse that holds the little baby rocket from Krypton. Superman is locked-up, and very weak because he’s been kept in a room with red light and hasn’t experienced the Earth’s yellow sun. Batman, Flash, and Cyborg break Superman out of the military cell.

In Europe, which has been flooded by Aquaman, then taken over by Queen Diana and the Amazons, Lois Lane is about to be killed by Amazons. She’s rescued by the Resistance, another group of Heroes, like Cyborg’s group. Lois swears she saw a yellow-clothed speedster, but the Resistance Group tells her that no speedster works with them. When Batman sees the footage, he tells Flash, who realises it’s Dr. Zoom.

Lex Luther, Deathstroke and Clayface work together on a US Military Carrier to attack Aquaman and attempt to find his doomsday weapon. They fail.

The Military also find Hal Jordan and offer him the chance to fly a captured alien spaceship. Hal jumps at the chance. (The ship’s pilot is dead and enclosed in a glass tube.) The air force general tells Hal that when he died, a glowing green ring flew off his hand and into space. Hal has trouble believing that part of the story. However, Hal has no trouble flying the ship. He too goes after Aquaman, specifically attacking a giant octopus-like creature. Unfortunately, Hal and his ship are swallowed by the creature and Hal is presumed dead.

At that point, the President fires Cyborg, stating there’s nothing left to be done. Cyborg goes to Batman and the Shazam kids and tells them it’s over. Flash talks everyone into not giving up. They all go to Europe. In Europe, they meet Lois and the Resistance group. However, Aquaman and Wonder Woman are in the midst of their final battle. There’s a huge fight, and one by one, most everyone is injured or killed. Finally, Reverse Flash arrives and confronts Flash – explaining that everything that’s happened is his fault, he changed things – and created the mess.

There’s more destruction and heroes, Amazons, and Aquaman’s troops dying. Superman arrives, and cuts off Aquaman’s arm to save Cyborg. However, severely injured, Cyborg dies. Diana goes to kill Aquaman, but he launches his doomsday weapon, Captain Atom. Barry’s absorbed the info from Professor Zoom. Batman kills Zoom, and gives Barry a letter for Bruce. Barry runs and runs, barely escaping the Doomsday weapon, and catches himself.  He prevents himself from changing the past.

Barry again wakes up at his office – and everything is back to normal. He visits Bruce and gives him the letter. Bruce recognizes his father’s handwriting and is moved to tears by Thomas Wayne’s letter.

The first time I watched this film, I really didn’t like it. It seemed so unfair to Barry that he’d have to sacrifice his mother and his happiness with Iris to save the world (in the alternate reality – she’s married to someone else and has a child.)

Watching it a second time, I liked it slightly better, but the film still has some issues. First, Barry, The Flash, is thrust into the altered reality suddenly, and with no explanation. We don’t see him time travel, or Professor Zoom trying something, or even a strange portal. There’s no visual or other indication that somehow time has changed. So the audience is as much in the dark as Barry Allen. And, although in some films, that technique of utter confusion can work, because the audience has faith that All Will Be Explained, in a short, animated film, it becomes wearying to have no idea what is going on. The film is full of action sequences, that sometimes make sense and other times don’t – because so little is explained in the film. And the only explanation is at the end, and from the villain – who places the blame squarely on Barry’s head. Really? How did Zoom know? If he was from the altered reality – he shouldn’t know anything about Barry Allen, because Barry never became the Flash in that reality. Not to mention, if Zoom tapped into the Speed Force by copying the accident that made Barry the Flash – how could he exist without an accident to copy?  (A non-invention paradox.) Meanwhile, Barry actually brings up the other problem – how could his interfering with his mother’s death have affected events before that event? Professor Zoom’s explanation is inventive, but not quite convincing. My guess is he actually lied to Barry – and it was Zoom who messed with things to create the Really Messed Up world then dumped Barry into it. Or, caused a version of Barry to exist that never became Flash. It certainly sounds more like a plot put together by a supervillain.

The other issue was the animation – which I thought was crude, and frankly, pretty bad. The Justice League in the opening barely looked human – or, Kryption or whatever they may be. And in some scenes, the animation was OK, in others, especially the opening flashbacks – it looked very much like Japanese anime, and it others the humans/heroes just didn’t look right – at all. (Diana / Wonder Woman looks awful in nearly every shot she’s in.) It really was quite messy – and there seemed no reason for it.

I will say, it was nice to see a story about Barry Allen, The Flash, but this particular story was dark, and the execution wasn’t very successful.

Recommendation:  For die hard DC fans only, otherwise skip it.
Rating:  3 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  No idea – I have, The Prestige, Inception, Superman Unbound, Justice League War (New 52 Origins)”, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind on deck.

Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 (Spoilers)

  • Title:   Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2
  • Director:  Jay Olivia
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Animation, Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, Michael Emerson, David Seltz, Mark Valley, Robin Atkin Downes, Maurice LaMarche, Michael McKean, Conan O’Brien, Rob Paulsen, Frank Welker, Tara Strong
  • Format:  Windscreen, Color Animation
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“Look, either shut it down, or one of these days someone with authority is going to tell me to come stop you.  And when that happens…” — Clark
“When that happens may the best man win.” – Bruce
 
“Come on, finish me…. Doesn’t matter, I win, I made you lose control … and they’ll kill you for it.” — Joker
 
“Tonight, I am going to maintain order in Gotham City, you’re going to help me!  But not with these [guns]!  These are loud and clumsy!  These are the weapons of cowards!  Our weapons are precise and quiet!  In time, I will teach them to you.  But for tonight, you will rely on your brains and your fists.  Tonight we are the law!  Tonight I am the law!”  — Batman
Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is a classic graphic novel that’s been in print since it’s original publication in 1986.  It’s excellent, and truly raised the bar for graphic story-telling and changed comics forever.  It’s the first graphic novel I ever read and one I occasionally re-read.  I’m very glad Warner’s allowed two movies to be made from this big and complicated graphic novel.  I was worried though that Warners would “wimp out” with the more controversial aspects of the story.  I’m happy to report they did not.  The political aspects of the storyline are here in full.  Hazzah!
Whereas the first part (film) focuses on Bruce putting the Batsuit on again and Two Face and the Mutant gang Leader as villains, the second part focuses almost exclusively on The Joker as primary villain, though there is still a lot going on.  Even more than Part 1, television newscasts are used as a narrative device in Part 2.
In Part 2, the remainder of  the Mutant Gang has split into various groups.  The Sons of Batman, with their blue face paint, declare Batman as their leader, and attempt to save Gotham City from other criminals – violently.  The Nixons, with their tall blonde female leader, “Bruno”, rob and steal without remorse.  Bruno has red swastikas painted on her breasts.  Batman sets up a sting to catch her, and succeeds. Superman arrives in Gotham and saves a blind man who’s fallen into a subway track in the path of an on-coming train.  But the reason he’s there is to encourage Bruce to hang-up the cape again.  However, the majority of the film concerns Joker.
Jim Gordon retires.  The new police commissioner, Ellen Yindel, as her first act as Comissioner, issues a warrant for Batman’s arrest.  When Clark and Bruce talk, Clark has a bald eagle on his arm, and Bruce pets Clark’s white dog — which is a great image!
Joker is in an asylum, being treated by Dr. Wolper.  He manipulates Wolper to get him a pass and an interview on the Dave Endocrine Show.  Wolper does this, and soon Joker is free.   He kills Wolper with a coffee cup during the show’s taping, as well as Endocrine and his audience with his deadly Joker gas. Batman and Robin (Carrie) had gone to the show’s taping to try to stop Joker, but Yindel’s police attack Batman.  The police spend so much time trying to catch Batman that they fail to stop Joker.
After escaping the chaos at the television studio, Joker finds Selina Kyle, and uses hallucinogenic lipstick to control her mind, as well as one of her girls.  The girl gets a Congressman to declare the country should declare open war on the Soviets before falling to his death (while wrapped in an American flag).
The president announces on TV that American troops are battling Soviet troops in the South American Island country of “Corto Maltese”.  As in the graphic novel, the president looks like Reagan, and he’s voiced in the animated film to sound like Ronald Reagan, including his “folksy wisdom”.  He announces a war by saying, “Now those Soviets would like to see us turn tail and run, but we’ve got to protect our interests, I mean, stand up for freedom and the good people of Corto Maltese.  So don’t fret… we’ve got God on our side.”  This political conflict forms the backdrop of the entire film.  News is blacked out “due to severe weather”.
Batman finds out about the connection to Kyle Escorts.  He finds Selina, dressed like Wonder Woman, and tied-up.  She tells him about Joker and the mind-control lipstick.  Batman is too late to save the Congressman.
Batman also finds out Joker’s next target is the local amusement park, which is just opening.  Batman and Joker fight in the house of mirrors, where Joker shoots Batman in the shoulder.  Joker escapes into the tunnel of love, and he and Batman fight again.  Joker knifes Batman across the stomach and stabs him several times.  Batman beats Joker, who finally collapses against a wall.  Joker taunts Batman, then breaks his own neck.  Batman passes out.  Later, Batman awakes.  He places incindiaries on Joker’s body and disappears, as Yindel’s police troops close in.  Joker’s body burns and the entire tunnel blows up.
Carrie rescues Batman and takes him to the Cave where Alfred does surgery.
Reagan announces from an “undisclosed location” via television special report, American troops won in Corto Maltese, but the Soviets are “poor sports” as a missile’s been sent towards the Island nation.  Superman deflects the missile and it blows up over Gotham City.  Superman is irradiated, crash lands, and kills everything he touches — flowers, trees, grass, etc.
Gotham is blacked out and everyone panics.  Bruce realizes it was an EMP blast.  Batman and Robin ride on horseback into Gotham.  Batman rallies the Sons of Batman, and later citizens and even former members of the Mutant Gang into keeping order in the city.  Meanwhile, Jim Gordon, organizes people in his own neighborhood to put out fires.
The country is buried under a cloud of smoke and ash.  In Gotham, there is no sun, but electricity is slowly coming back on.  Gotham is the only city not torn apart by crime, rioting and looting.
The president (still Reagan) enforces martial law, and sends a recovering Superman after Batman. Batman works with Carrie, Oliver Queen (formerly the Green Arrow), and Alfred on a plan.  He fights Superman in Crime Alley, distracting him until Queen can fire a Kryptonite arrow at Superman.  The arrow doesn’t kill Superman outright, but weakens him.  Batman somewhat defeats Superman, but then he falls victim to a heart attack.  Superman, Diana (once, but no longer, Wonder Woman), Selina, and Jim Gordon attend the funeral.  At the end, Carrie, heavily veiled, is the last to stand by Bruce Wayne’s grave.
Wayne Manor has burned to the ground, after Alfred, following Bruce’s instructions, hit the self-destruct.  Alfred escapes the house but dies of a massive stroke.
There’s a cut to the sound of a heart monitor.  Then, Oliver Queen begins to instruct the Sons of  Batman in cleaning up the Bat Cave.  Bruce arrives and states he will instruct the Sons of Batman (as well as former Mutants and other citizens who joined him the first night after the missile fell).  They are now Bruce’s army.
I liked Part 1 slightly better; Part 2 seems like more of a slug-fest.  However, kudos to Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano, Warner Brothers Animation, and DC Premiere for not shying away from the darker and more political aspects of  Frank Miller’s classic book.  The second half of Part 2 works really well.  In the first half,  Batman’s final confrontation with Joker seems almost anti-climatic.  However, though the film is dark and violent, it is also really good — with an adult story, and incredible animation that evokes the art of Miller’s classic.  Recommended.
Recommendation:  See it!  (Though not for young children)
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Third Man

Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 1

  • Title:  Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 1
  • Director:  Jay Olivia
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2012
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Action, Animation
  • Cast:  Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, David Selby, Wade Williams, Maurice LaMarche, Michael McKean, Rob Paulsen, Tara Strong, Frank Welker
  • Format:  Widescreen Color Animation
  • DVD Format:  R 1, NTSC

“We must believe we can all defeat our own private demons.” — Bruce Wayne, during press conference

“Two abducted children were found alive in a riverside warehouse along with six critically injured members of the mutant gang.  The children describe the gang’s attacker as, ‘a man dressed as Dracula.’ “– Female Newscaster

“If it’s suicide you’re after, I have an old family recipe.  It’s slow and painful — you’d like it.” — Alfred, to Bruce

“I played along as long as I could, while you and the docs had your joke.  You got everyone to smile and keep their lunches down when they looked at me, pretending I looked normal. … Just look at me and have your laugh.  Get it over with.  At least both sides match now, right?  Look at me, and have your laugh.” — Harvey Dent

Batman The Dark Knight Returns is based on Frank Miller’s incomparable graphic novel of the same name. Miller’s work changed comics for a decade, and it’s effects are still being felt.  The animated film starts quickly, with no credits (they will appear at the end).  Commissioner Gordon is weeks from retirement, and the Batman hasn’t been seen in Gotham City for ten years.  The city is in a grip of a crime wave, mostly caused by the Mutants, a gang dedicated to horrific violence even more than crime.  Bruce Wayne and James Gordon are having dinner.  Gordon lightly inquires about Batman, and then brings up Dick and Jason. Bruce insists he’s given up his old life fighting crime, but isn’t happy that Gordon’s brought up the Robins.

Bruce leaves his meeting with Gordon and walks through Crime Alley, there he is reminded of his parents’ deaths and his one-time vow to stop crime.  Some Mutants approach to attack Bruce, but he frightens them off.  That night, he dreams about his experiences.  He remembers falling down a well, and being scared by bats.  Unable to sleep, Bruce goes to the Batcave and stares at Robin’s shrine.  Alfred arrives, concerned.  To Bruce’s own surprise, he has shaved off his mustache.

Meanwhile, at the Arkham Home, a Dr. Wolper (Michael McKean) works with Harvey Dent, to rehabilitate the criminal once known as Two-Face.  Joker is also in Arkham, but completely comatose.  Harvey, his face  restored, and supposedly cured of  his criminal bent, is released, but then disappears.

Meanwhile, back at his manor, Bruce Wayne is flipping TV channels in the middle of  the night.  He keeps finding news reports of Gotham’s escalating violence.  But he also comes across a late night showing of The Mark of Zorro, the film he saw with his parents That Fateful Night.  The film brings back bad memories of his trauma.  But even as he tries to escape his memories by flipping channels, he only hears more bad news of crime and violence.  Even the weather report of the on-coming storm seems dire.  Bruce’s memories mix with the Voice of the Bat, calling him to return.  A bat breaks through his window.

Meanwhile, Carrie and her friend Michelle have taken a short cut through The Arcade to escape the rain.  Michelle is nervous because she has heard it’s a Mutant Gang hideout.  Carrie pooh-poohs her fears.  Then the lights go out and Mutants attack.  Batman confronts the Mutants and rescues the girls.

He also catches an armed robber the cops are chasing.  TV news clips and reports are soon covering the story of  the return of  Batman from a number of perspectives.  Even Carrie and Michelle are interviewed.

Alfred helps Bruce with his physical injuries, and chides him that he really is getting too old for this kind of thing.

The next day, one of the thugs Batman had captured and beaten up is in Gordon’s office with his lawyer, claiming “police brutality”.  Gordon simply releases the guy.  This turns out to be Batman’s plan, who follows him and tortures him to get information on Two-Face.

Meanwhile, Carrie listens to her parents whining and gets sick of  it, she sees the Batman symbol on a building and is heartened.

Gordon meanwhile has contacted Batman.  He tells Batman two helicopters were stolen the previous night.  Batman responses he didn’t get much out of Two-Face’s lackey,  just that the crime was going down the next day.  Gordon responds that it makes sense, since it’s Tuesday and the second of  the month.  Then Two Face breaks into the television signal of a news report.  He claims to have two bombs and he will destroy the Gotham Life Building (which has two towers) unless he’s paid off with Twenty-two million dollars, and he gives the citizens of Gotham twenty-two minutes to comply.

Batman defuses one bomb, but he’s attacked when he tries to cross on a line to the other tower.  Harvey Dent (Two Face) and Batman crash through a window into the other building.  There Batman pulls off Harvey’s bandages, but he looks normal.  Harvey, however, is delusional, and thinks that both sides of  his face are horribly disfigured and scarred.

On TV, a point-to-point debate pits pro Batman Daily Planet managing editor, Lana Lang, against anti-Batman author Dr. Wolper.  More news clips follow the rising debate.

Carrie dresses as Robin.

A newscaster reports that James Gordon has been killed, then admits she “read it wrong”, James Gordon killed a Mutant gang member.

Carrie tries out being Robin, and discovers her fear of  heights, but slowly she starts to get it.

The Mutants kidnap a wealthy family’s two-year-old heir; Batman rescues the child and defeats the Mutants.

The screen goes completely dark as Batman questions a suspect, eventually he takes his hand away from the man’s eyes, and reveals he’s holding him over the Gotham city streets far below.

Carrie stops a purse snatching.

Batman confronts the general who sold military-grade arms to the Mutants.

Batman and separately, Carrie, go to the Gotham dump to confront the Mutants.  Bruce is badly beaten by the Mutant Leader.  Carrie manages to get him inside the Batmobile, which looks like a tank.  Bruce orders the car back to the cave, despite Alfred’s pleas to go to the hospital.  He takes Carrie with him and tells Alfred she will be trained as a Robin.  Alfred isn’t hot on the idea.  Bruce also goes deep into the cave, alone, to confront his demons.  He decides to continue as Batman.  He flashes back to the loss of  his parents.

On TV, again Lana Lang and Dr. Wolper debate about Batman.  Carrie stares at the Robin memorial in the cave.  The mayor appoints a female, anti-Batman police commissioner, Ellen Yindel.  The mayor also offers to meet with the Mutant leader to arrange appeasement.

Alfred tries to talk to Bruce about his plans.  When he doesn’t appear to be getting through, he brings up Jason.  Bruce refers to Jason as a “good soldier” but that the war must go on.  He has Carrie undercover as a Mutant pass along a message for all the Mutant gang members to meet at “the Pipe”.

Gordon talks to Yindel, trying to explain to her why he approves of  the Batman.  When the mayor is killed by the Mutant leader during their “peace treaty”, Gordon agrees with Batman’s plan, and sees to it the Leader is able to escape.

Batman again confronts the Mutant leader.  They fight in the mud by the Pipe, in front of  all the Mutant gang members.  Batman uses his smarts as well as his fighting abilities to defeat the Leader.  As a result, the Mutant gang is broken up.  Gordon’s officers arrest several, others break off  into other splinter gangs.  One gang, the Sons of  Batman, insist on “actions not words” and attack other criminals.

Gordon turns in his badge and gun, retiring.  Ordinary citizens start to stand up to violence, a man stops a mugging in front of his store.  The TV news clips runs other clips, both pro and con Batman and the new reality.

The Joker awakes as he hears the news.

The story will be continued in part 2.

Batman The Dark Knight Returns is awesome!  The story is straight from Frank Miller’s classic graphic novel, and the animated film does not hold back.  This is a dark, and violent story with lots of  blood.  But the animation is also awesome.  Many of the images are truly memorable, and often it is the images that tell the story, especially Bruce Wayne’s flashbacks to his parents’ murder and becoming Batman.

Meanwhile, Gotham City is a mess — without Batman, violence, especially gang violence, has taken over the streets and ordinary people have no hope.  The constant TV news cashes in on the violence and “bad news”, offering no reprieve from the sense of  gloom and hopelessness.

The film realistically portrays an older Bruce Wayne, with lined face, who groans and creaks when he returns to the life of  Batman.  Commissioner James Gordon is also considerably older, and ready to retire.

Television news dominates the lives of  everyone in Gotham, and even Carrie gets on TV to tell the story of how she was rescued in the Arcade (by a man — seven feet tall!).  Like the graphic novel, much of the structure of the actual story is told in the comments of  the newscasters, and people they interview.  Much of this is also full of  irony and dark humor, such as the man who advises that criminals need to be rehabilitated back into society — then acknowledges that he “doesn’t live in the city”.

The animation in the film is incredible!  Not only is it very real-looking, but it’s dark and has the slightly “washed” look of the original graphic novel.  Great images abound, as well as novel things such as a scene that’s completely black, with only audio to tell you what Batman’s doing.  Uses of flashes of  lightning or gunshots or other bright, sudden sources of  light are also used in other scenes.  The over-all effect is of watching a moving graphic novel.

The plot of  the film is an excellent adaptation of the graphic novel.  Not only is Batman brought back after a gap of ten years, but he confronts two main villains beyond his own age:  The Mutant gang, notably their leader, and Two Face (Harvey Dent).  Both these villains are psychologically interesting and complex. The Mutants look like punks, and act like them too — committing horrible acts of  violence not for money or to survive, but because they can.  In other words, they are bullies – pure and simple.  And like any bully, when Batman defeats their leader in front of the entire gang, the gang itself falls apart.  And, some members of  the gang decide to follow Batman instead.  The other villain is Harvey Dent.  This film doesn’t go into too much detail about Harvey’s backstory, however, Bruce Wayne has personally paid for Harvey’s rehabilitation.  Harvey’s face is rebuilt, and a “psycholisgist” is employed to help re-build Harvey’s broken psyche.  Yet when he’s released from Arkham, Harvey goes straight back to his life of crime.  When Batman catches up to him, Harvey is completely delusional – convinced his face is now horribly scarred on both sides, and that’s how it was made to “match”.  Bruce is crushed – in a way he’s sympathetic, because he also can only see himself  as  Batman.

The film is very violent, and there’s just a lot of  blood.  If you’ve read the graphic novel, this isn’t surprising, but if you’re only familiar with the DC animated universe and original films — this one is considerably more adult in tone and imagery.  The rating is PG-13, and it should be at least that, if not limited to 15-year-olds and up.  But overall I highly, highly recommend it.  And if you loved the graphic novel, you will really love this film.

Recommendation:  See it!
Rating:  5 out of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2