Darkwing Duck, the terror that flaps in the night, is getting a dark and gritty reboot that no one asked for… especially not Darkwing Duck.
This is your spoiler warning. This episode is on Amazon right now. Spend the 2 dollars. It’s worth it.
Within the reboot of DuckTales, Darkwing Duck is a television show from the 90s which starred a stuntman named Jim Starling (Original Darkwing voice Jim Cummings), famous for doing all his own stunts. Most of the world appears not to remember the series, but Launchpad McQuack (Beck Bennett) is a huge fan of the character. His passion is so great that it tends to infect others with an affection for the show. It’s also mentioned repeatedly that the show ended on a cliffhanger.
Jim Starling, the former Darkwing Duck star, is signing autographs. Launchpad, along with another nameless die-hard Darkwing fan (Chris Diamantopoulos) tries to get an autograph, aided by Dewey Duck (Ben Schwartz), but keeps fainting from nerves. When Dewey tries to tag the pair in a photo, he discovers that Darkwing Duck is trending online, because they’re making a movie of the series. Believing that he’s naturally going to be asked to reprise the role, Starling heads to the studio making the movie, which happens to be McDuck Studios owned by Scrooge McDuck (David Tennant).
Scrooge and the director of the Darkwing Duck film, Alistair Boorswan (Edgar Freaking Wright!!!), are having creative issues. When Louie, Launchpad, and Starling bust into the meeting, they’re shown the trailer, which portrays it as a grim and gritty reboot which satirizes a number of terrible superhero movies. Everyone agrees that this movie is terrible, including Scrooge, who puts Dewey in charge of directing the finale of the film. Starling is willing to be in it anyway, only to be surprised when the fan from earlier is introduced as the actor now playing Darkwing Duck in the movie. Starling attacks him, resulting in his and Launchpad’s expulsion from the studio. Starling talks Launchpad into helping him get back in so they can get him in the movie, with Launchpad trying to lock the new actor in his trailer. They fight briefly, but it’s revealed that the actor was inspired his entire life by Darkwing Duck and, while he knows the movie’s bad, wants nothing more than to try and help give another generation of kids the same hero he had. He and Launchpad quickly become best friends. The actor tries to confront Starling and suggests they work together to make the movie great, but Starling refuses to let anyone else be Darkwing Duck. He locks the actor in a closet and goes on set to film the finale.
When told that Darkwing surrenders in the last scene, Starling refuses to follow commands and instead starts wrecking the props, before grabbing the fully functional lightning gun that the film’s villain Megavolt (Keith Ferguson) was using and attacking the crew. The actor, now dressed in his Darkwing Duck costume, shows up to stop him. The two fight, with Starling growing increasingly more insane and villainous, until finally Launchpad tries to convince them to stop. A prop starts to collapse, and after the actor tries to save him, Starling jumps in and saves them both, sacrificing himself.
While the final fight was filmed, it’s revealed that Dewey recorded over it with a video of himself dancing. Scrooge declares that there will never be a Darkwing Duck movie. The actor is saddened that he can’t bring Darkwing Duck to a new generation, but Launchpad tells him he should just do it for real. The actor, revealed to be none other than Drake Mallard, agrees to give it a shot. Unbeknownst to the rest of the cast, it’s revealed that Jim Starling survived the explosion, but now is insane, with the colors being washed out of his costume to reveal that he is now Darkwing’s arch-nemesis: NEGADUCK.
When I first reviewed DuckTales, I mentioned that I consider it one of the more successful reboots I’ve ever seen. It takes everything that was good about the original, adds in some more source and expanded universe material, but also updates, enhances, expands, and, let’s be honest, sometimes corrects the source material (particularly some of the female characters). It strikes the perfect balance between nostalgia and originality, while also being clever and funny. This episode exemplifies that balance even better than the rest of the series.
The concept of Darkwing Duck as a show within the show was an interesting way to reintroduce the character, though it seemed like it mostly closed the door on the actual character ever appearing in the series. However, it seems like, in retrospect, much of this was a carefully planned build-up to this episode. When the original surprise announcement that Darkwing Duck would appear in the new series was made, one of the producers, Frank Angones (who is the best at Twitter), mentioned that it was difficult to introduce Darkwing Duck, because once you put Darkwing in an episode, he just naturally becomes the focus. Despite, or perhaps because of this, they put relatively little of Darkwing Duck in the first season, limiting it to a single scene in a cold open, a fun gag about the catchy closing theme song to the show, and a bobblehead that said “let’s get dangerous.” It was extremely restrained, making this episode even more impactful.
The brilliance of this episode is that it is a reboot of a character within a reboot of a series and the episode is a parody of bad reboots. The most obvious part is the “trailer” for the film, which contains explicit references to the gratuitous slo-mo pearls falling from Batman v. Superman as well as the strange flaming letters scene from Daredevil, both of which have been mocked by everyone who has seen the films. The movie that Alistair Boorswan is making is dark and desaturated, much like Batman v. Superman, and Boorswan’s primary concern is conveying his dark and edgy “study of man’s inhumanity towards man.” Boorswan doesn’t actually care about what made Darkwing Duck good, only about his “artistic vision.” He also dislikes even presenting a heroic character as heroic, thinking that making someone darker and more morally compromised makes them automatically better. I’m not saying that’s a shot at DC films, except that of course I’m saying that. Meanwhile, Scrooge himself is a parody of studio interference in film, being so out of touch that he admits he didn’t see a movie since 1938 and says that “color’s all the rage nowadays.” He then gives the movie to Dewey, who tries to insert a musical number just because he likes it.
The core to this episode, though, is Drake Mallard. In the original series, Darkwing Duck was a hero because he wanted to be one. Sure, he wasn’t perfect, often egotistical, fame-hungry, histrionic, and sometimes just flat-out selfish, but he did have a strong moral center and a desire to be a hero. In this series, Drake Mallard is a hero because he wants to give children something to look up to, the way that he looked up to Darkwing Duck. This is the strongest rebuttal to the type of movie that this episode was satirizing: A movie where the heroes aren’t really heroic. This version of Darkwing wants to inspire the good in the world, rather than just combat the bad, like the well-written versions of Superman, Captain America, Spider-Man, or even Batman. These heroes are supposed to show us what we can do if we believe in fighting for justice and they’re not tied to a person but to an ideal because people fail, ideals don’t. This isn’t a new concept – hell, it’s one of the books of Plato’s Republic – but that’s why even if we have the “grittier, more realistic” heroes, it’s still important to have heroes out there who are focused on inspiring and presenting a better version of the world to fight for. Real heroes make us want to be better.
Just a few more notes: Much like in Into the Spiderverse, the focus in this episode is on the hero always getting back up when they get knocked down. It’s genuinely moving to watch Drake continue to take a hilarious beating and keep fighting to protect everyone, and that’s one of the few things that anyone can relate to: the desire to just fight one more time for what’s right. It’s also appropriate that this would happen in a show featuring David Tennant, a man famous for being such a superfan of a character that inspired him that he grew up to be one of, if not THE, best versions of that character. If you don’t know what character I mean, please read this.
Overall, I loved this episode, if that’s not obvious. I think it gave us a bunch of solid gags, the set-up to a whole bunch of potential storylines and maybe even a spin-off, and it reminded me of why I love some superheroes over others. Plus, it got me to re-read part of the Republic, so that’s fun.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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