1 Oct 2009


By Stewart R

Cast: Clancy Brown, Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, CCH Pounder, Xander Berkeley, Corey Burton, John C McGinley
Director: Sam Liu
Writer: Stan Berkowitz
Runtime: 67 mins
Release Date: 29 September 2009

It’s been a good year for the animation arm of DC as they’ve managed to bring two accomplished films to the public’s attention in the form of Wonder Woman and Green Lantern: First Flight. When I saw the trailer for Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (from here on known as SB:PE) a few months back I was excited about the prospect of a third film to round off 2009 nicely. The premise, characters involved, and actors onboard seemed to signal good things.

This is a basic cutdown version of Jeff Loeb and Ed McGuinness’ initial run on the Superman/Batman comic covering the six issues of the World's Finest storyline in which Lex Luthor - voiced here by the always excellent and much underrated Clancy Brown - has become President and the world is threatened by a giant Meteor made of kryptonite. Showing his disgust for the super-powered fraternity of Earth, Lex vows to thwart the oncoming danger alone and manages to manipulate events to frame Superman for murder. With a bounty of $1 billion on his head the Last Son of Krypton must try to clear his name, fend off a host of powered heroes and villains, and of course save the planet from certain destruction. Luckily he doesn’t have to do this all by himself as the Caped Crusader is on hand to add a little extra brain to Superman’s brawn.

It all sounds so good on paper but then it is the initial paper version, Loeb and McGuinness’ comic storyline, which seems to cause the problems. If the source material isn’t particularly strong in the first place then any adaptation may suffer as a direct result no matter what director Sam Liu has planned. What he has delivered is a rather mindless DC canon slugfest as the two heroes face wave after wave of foe with a smattering of the light and dark banter that makes the Supes/Bats relationship so special thrown in for good measure. The duo seem to face off against a combatant for every minute of the rather short runtime - it’s that hectic and frantic - and it’s all a bit too much. By the mid-point I was struggling to care who was coming in for a punch to the gut or batarang to the face next as the inevitable showdown at the end could not have been signposted more clearly.

The biggest problem for me is that many of the face-offs and characterisations shown briefly in SB:PE have been dealt with to a far better standard in the Justice League and Justice League: Unlimited series, which obviously borrowed the high concepts from parts of this story and improved on them dramatically. In those series Superman went up against both Captain Atom and Captain Marvel in dynamic and brutal battles that lasted some 15-20 minutes each and actually had you guessing as to which way things could turn.

The way that certain characters are portrayed is also a concern. While Superman and Batman thankfully follow the character lines that we recognise, Luthor seems to be more of a crackpot than ever before despite the politically powerful position he has found himself in. Power Girl also seems to come across as too meek and na├»ve in a film that is already pretty low on strong female characters. It’s not that the acting talent are the issue, it’s just more a case that the writing and dialogue seem a little simple and forced. Everyone involved here has something of a pedigree for voice acting: Kevin Conroy is always worth the money and there’s even a little guest appearance by Alan Oppenheimer - yep that’s right, Skeletor from He-Man! – which helps to prevent this film from really falling flat.

I also raise a gripe at the art direction as the decision has been taken to take McGuinness’ bulky, exaggerated style and force it into an animated form. It’s rather grotesque as the more brawny men seem to have muscles upon muscles, and Power Girl looks like she's lost her nose in some kind of accident. I’d have personally liked to see them stick to the previous DC animated style which probably would have suited things a little better. The overall quality suggests that this project hasn’t been as well financed as Green Lantern or Wonder Woman, and that may be down to the draw of the two lead characters being enough to allow for a reduced budget. As a result the animation is clumsy in parts with a general lack of detail and depth that's clearly noticeable. On a positive note though, the opening credits are some of the best I have seen this century with some outstanding music to back them up - it gave me a real sense of nostalgia and sentiment for animation from the '80s for some strange reason.

In summary, this is an interesting premise that fails to deliver in terms of spectacle and quality when compared to previous offerings, and appears to be a simple case of cashing in by DC and Warner Bros. If you haven’t seen any of the Justice League series, or you enjoyed the original comic run, then you might find some entertainment here, but it’s certainly nowhere near what I’ve come to expect from DC’s animated features. 4/10


OfficialAndrew said...

The best thing you had to say about this movie was the opening credits were good? Damn, I had such high hopes for this movie.

Stewart R said...

Well that is just my opinion and other reviews around the internet seem to be more positive. I've just been exposed to better quality films and TV shows from DC and I've got a taste for the best now that they've given teased me with such delights. Give it a try by all means as you may get more from it than I did! On the Blu-Ray edition you get 6 Justice League Unlimited episodes so that's a pretty good bonus.

OfficialAndrew said...

Actually, I thought that was pretty funny.