When I really sit down to think about it, I have a hard time coming up with an animated film I both enjoy and respect more than part two of the recent Batman: The Dark Knight Returns comic book adaptation. For my tastes, the film handles most-everything with class and admirable attention to detail. It’s true to its source material, characters have compelling depth without being overwrought enigmas, the pacing is expert – and though the action may not reach such wild heights as certain Nolan-helmed counterparts, said sequences remain engaging while smartly matching the film’s more cool, composed, and oft downright dispiriting mood climate. In short, it is the most smartly compiled superhero film that I am aware of perhaps outside of The Incredibles, though that is a different sort of tale entirely.
This is all relevant, of course, in light of recent events at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, where the existence of a live action Supes and Bats (do I sound cool now?) silver screen assemblage to be spearheaded by none other than Zack Snyder was officially revealed to frothing adherents ‘round the globe. I casually scrolled through the internet headlines, none-too-interested by the whole idea – that is until I saw this. The very same year that Batman: The Dark Knight Returns issues its definitive and indomitable animated masterstroke, WB decides it’s a good idea to immediately re-imagine aspects of the same tale as the followup to Man of Steel, a film that champions the very essence of “good not great.” Oh it’s on, Snyder. It’s on.
I could rave about my distaste for this path forward all day long, but instead I’ll do something constructive. If Snyder hopes to touch what Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 has accomplished, he’s going to have to bring his A game. Here are some top priorities he ought to keep in mind.
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Dark, But Not Gritty
Often referred to as “Call of Duty Syndrome,” the inability to make something visually or narratively foreboding without creating a crepuscular gray mess is a problem that has plagued mainstream blockbusters for years now. Though the Nolan films have their moments of beauty, they often come in the form of gentle heartstring tugs (Alfred in TDKR comes to mind) rather than chromatic visual flair. Man of Steel, on the other hand, had a slightly wider palette, but it certainly wasn’t very over-stimulating to the eye either.
What can be done about this for the Batman and Superman crossover? Returns is beautifully drawn, and since the artists have such direct control over the visual and its onscreen flow, the ultimate throw-down between Bruce and Clark manages to be ferocious, flashy, colorful, and just the right amount of excessive all at once. For a live action counterpart, we need this same level of visual allure and balance of nerd-gasm against appropriate story-relative behavior.
If Man of Steel was any indication, Snyder has a tendency to get a little bit over-indulgent on the action tip, and my greatest fear is the crossover resulting in two enormously overpowered gray hulks duking it out for an hour straight, taking down half a city in their wake. Like with Returns, each hero’s unique style must be considered, his disposition visible in his attacks, and his movements planned with the utmost precision and care.
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Why So Serious?
One thing that not all Man of Steel zealots still reveling in their extol of the Comic-Con crossover announcement may realize is that The Dark Knight Returns is, in many ways, a Joker story at its core. Not only that, but the animated nature of the film is such that it can get away with a genuinely alarming level of implied hateful and sexual undertone that gushes from every pore of this Joker’s wretched actuality.
Though it’s very possible that Joker won’t be in the crossover at all, removing him presents a number of issues plot-wise if Snyder is serious about following Frank Miller’s distinguished Batman chronicle. Firstly, there’s the reason Batman has come out of retirement to begin with: the emergence of the cruel and deadly gang known as the Mutants. By reappearing after years of remaining retired and underground, Batman not only draws attention to himself via the news and media, but reignites the “psychotic obsession” of villains like Harvey Dent and the Joker to reappear as well, and challenge him once more. Without Batman, those villains had nothing to live for. With his reappearance, their zeal for deadly cat-and-mouse is quickly reignited.
How does this all tie in with Superman and Snyder, then? Well, it’s not too complicated – the crossover needs a reason for Superman to be fighting Batman at all. In the comic and recent Returns adaptation, Batman begins drawing attention to himself when coming out of retirement to deal with the Mutants, then Dent, then Joker. The president of the USA — in effect Superman’s boss and main reason for Batman’s resentment of Superman — eventually instructs Superman to put the Bat down.
If he doesn’t include the Mutants and Joker at the very least, Snyder may have a hard time coming up with anything beyond a senseless, Avengers-style mashup where heroes collide for paperthin reasons. Don’t get me wrong, I love The Avengers, but when you’re DC and your animated films provide more intellectual incitement than the whole of Marvel’s film repertoire combined, you’d better make sure your big-screen counterparts are up to snuff. Without Returns’ obsessive and unnervingly bestial Joker, the new crossover would likely find difficulty in conveying the weight of Batman’s restored presence in Gotham. Which is why he should definitely be included.
Not to mention… do they really want to do another silver-screen story about Batman returning from retirement so soon after The Dark Knight Rises? And who could realistically succeed Heath Ledger as Joker, and do so successfully in the public eye? Snyder has his work cut out for him, so he best either tightly abide by his source material or abandon it completely.
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Outside the heady and heavy supervision of various characters’ inner psyche, the makers of the recent Returns films did a fine job portraying the story’s incarnation of Robin. A female this time around, Robin starts off as a Batman admirer who pledges to return a life-saving favor and ends up actually preventing Batman’s demise a short time later. Carrie Kelly is clever, charming, and outright funny in some scenes, constantly toeing the lines of Batman’s threats to fire her and forging an endearing bond with Mr. Wayne where most everyone he meets has failed to do so, be it his fault or theirs.
As for the crossover, the implications of this are interesting. For all my quips with Marvel films, one thing they have down to a science at this point is comic relief. Comic relief in Man of Steel or the Nolan Batmans, on the other hand, often felt stiff and forced, as if someone stepped in and mandated it at precise intervals throughout. Did anyone actually laugh at “this isn’t a car?” I mean sure, the Pee-wee Herman rendition was funny, but David Goyer can’t be given credit for that.
Luckily, Snyder doesn’t have to copy Marvel’s style if he doesn’t want to, and Carrie Kelly’s Robin is a perfect means of wedging some lighter fare into the equation. In Returns, she plays on Batman’s temper in an adorable fashion, improvising on his orders but still always pulling through. In one scene she tampers with the Batwing’s voice controls so that its rocket boosters respond to her teenage lingo, while elsewhere Batman’s instructions are met with a blithe “coo, boss.” The fact that this character is available to Snyder is a massive opportunity, and including her could payoff two and even threefold, handling comic relief while acting as a lighthearted foil to Batman and a stroke of color in an abundantly bleak and troubled cosmos.
I want Snyder’s latest undertaking to succeed. I really do. With flying colors, if at all possible. My bitterness stems only from a deep-rooted desire for Batman and Superman films to remain in the upper echelon of superhero filmdom, where I personally believe they belong. Like with most things, if Zack Snyder respects his source and stands on the shoulders of the giants that came before him (in this case the very same year), then his upcoming superhero extravaganza may just have a chance after all.Previous