Review of The Dark Knight Returns Animated Movies

As I’ve written on an old blog, I like superhero movies.  However, I fully recognize how ridiculously stupid the logic of the storylines often are.  If you are to grant that there are beings who have superpowers, it is utterly silly that they struggle with the things that they do or that a regular Joe like Batman can even hurt them.  This College Humor video does an apt job describing how useless Batman would really be in a super-powered fight.  I know Batman fanboys will blow a fuse because many of them are apparently dumb enough to argue that he can logically take down the entire Justice League by himself (or really defeat Superman), but that’s just the truth.   And I like Batman a lot.

Here’s how I described how overpowered Superman would really be if the comic writers had any semblance of consistency about his abilities:

Given the full range of Superman’s powers, he could read every piece of literature on the planet in about ten seconds (and remember all of it since he has photographic memory), read everything that the planet Krypton knew that is provided by his Fortress (making him smarter than everyone else since Krypton was one of the most advanced civilizations in the universe), and make an army of robots that would take care of everything for him while he chills in his Fortress watching football.  And this is only taking into account the natural gifts he has regarding his intelligence, not all the more famous powers associated with his strength.

With all this in mind, it is absolutely ludicrous that Superman struggles… at all.  Heck, it is even stupid when he is facing Metallo, one of his more famous enemies who is a cyborg with a kryptonite heart.  He should be Superman’s match, right?  Except that he doesn’t move as fast, doesn’t have heat vision or cold breath, and can’t fly, among others.  Superman could just fly high and roast him with heat vision in the blink of an eye, but you never see this happen when they fight.  Superman, for reasons unknown, sticks around to be weakened by kryptonite and fights Metallo with his fists.  Maybe he just has a sense of sportsmanship?

Basically, if comic book writers didn’t make Superman an idiot who conveniently forgot about certain abilities at certain times, he would basically end all crime on earth in a day and barely break a sweat.

What does this have to do with the DC Animated movies The Dark Knight Rises Parts 1 and 2?  Everything, because they make Batman into some invincible super dude and make Superman into a weak buffoon in order to make Batman look awesome.  And while the movies are entertaining, it is cheap writing to get this effect.

The movies are based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel The Dark Knight Returns and follow it pretty well.  I’ve never read Miller’s work (or any comic book as a whole, for that matter), but I know that it is also a book that the movie The Dark Knight Rises took elements from.  Evidently, Miller likes writing things in a very dark, dystopian manner and takes Batman to look less like a disturbed loner and even more like, well, a psycho.  Miller’s novel came out in 1986 and is a very famous work, but from what I can tell, it strikes me as “trying too hard.”  In other words, Miller wants to be all “dark” and “deep” and make everything look awful to the point that it is artificial writing, similar to how I feel about Game of Thrones, which often tries way too hard to be gloomy in an effort to differentiate itself from other fantasy stories.  Because of this, Miller tries to put Batman, the dark hero, on a pedestal and writes the story beyond the point of rationality, and this carries over to the animated adaptations.

First of all, Bruce Wayne is freaking 55 years old in the story and can still flip around, roll around, dodge machine gun bullets, and karate kick young police officers all over the place.  For some reason, in the comic book universe, martial arts is a super power, apparently.  I had to shake my head and laugh; Batman fanboys will watch in awe, but I was just like, “Really?”  Trained police officers would routinely shoot at him and miss despite the fact that he was often stationary or just running straight.  It was stupid.  Also, Batman recovers from incredible injuries throughout both films; beaten down brutally, STABBED, SHOT, and most incredibly in the second movie, beaten up by Superman himself.  Yet 55 year old Batman is okay.  Yep, that was remotely believable.

I’ll dwell a bit on that last part.  The climactic battle is Batman, wearing specialized armor, fighting Superman, who was severely weakened after surviving a direct blast from a nuclear bomb and also from the lack of sunlight due to the massive weather changes the bomb induced.  Still… it’s Superman.  As in he can still fly, pick up tanks, shoot fire out of his eyes, move super fast, etc.  Granted, Superman still more or less “wins” and clearly holds back in the fight because he tries hard not to hurt Batman, only losing because Green Arrow shoots an arrow that explodes with Kryptonite dust that he inhales.  Nonetheless, the fact that the battle even lasted that long was just stupid.  Let me enumerate some things:

-Let me repeat, SUPERMAN SURVIVED A DIRECT NUCLEAR BLAST.  Yes, it messed up him big time (which is not even always true; in some stories he apparently survives nuke blasts with barely a headache, but again, writers are inconsistent).  But the fact of the matter is that he survived it and recovered.  Just imagine the incredible, enormous power a nuke has; it will devastate an entire city in seconds.  I can’t stress this enough.  If he can do that, I don’t care if he is temporarily depowered:  PUNCHES FROM A STUPID BAT-ARMOR WON’T FREAKING MATTER!  Like, it will break Bruce Wayne’s armor to even try to hit Superman.  To go from fighting aircraft carriers to getting hit by a nuke and then to get hurt by robotic punches was laughably silly.

-Even if Superman was depowered because he couldn’t get full sunlight due to the clouds, you know what he can do?  Fly over the clouds and get sunlight.  Novel concept, I know.

-People don’t seem to realize how fragile the human body can be.  Even with his special armor and with Superman trying to play nice, Batman takes some heavy punishment from Superman in their battle.  And… he survives them.  We’re talking about Superman punching him from sky high all the way into the ground.  I don’t care what armor you’re wearing; Lebron freaking James would splatter and die a horrid death if he got hit like that, much less a 55 year old geezer.

-Oh yeah, Superman can fly.  Did I mention that already?  Yeah, I did.  As in, fly high enough away from Bruce and continually roast him with heat vision if he was bored enough.

-You know what else Superman can do?  Move so freaking fast that human beings can’t even react to him.  Batman’s armor doesn’t improve his speed, just his strength (and how could it remotely improve his speed to the point of rivaling Supes anyway?).  Superman could easily avoid every blow Batman tried to land, zip to Korea and pick up some kimbap, and then smack Batman on the way back.

-No super breath and cold breath either.  Just freeze the old guy and be done with your day.

I know why Batman is popular:  Because he has no powers, people feel like they can “relate” to him, and they can also feel like that if they have enough ingenuity, they can stand up to ANYBODY!  Yay!  Too bad that’s dumb.  If we grant Superman’s powers (or any other similarly powered dude), he would crush Batman in a nanosecond regardless of Batman’s special planning.  It puzzles the heck out of me why comic book fans can’t see the absurdity of all of this.  This is why I do not think Lex Luthor is the best villain for Superman for a modern audience.  We just can’t buy it that Luthor can be so successful against a guy with massive super powers and advanced alien intellect.  Bring on Dark Side and Mongul instead.

I’m willing to tolerate a lot of silliness for comic book movies; after all, they’re, well, comic book movies about superheroes.  However, there is a line where it becomes a big goofy show, and The Dark Knight Returns comes dangerously close to it, where you sit there and roll your eyes.  The two movies aren’t bad and will provide entertainment and action, but don’t expect to be that wowed by the plot.  There are better Batman animated movies out there.

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