Friday, October 2, 2009

DVD Review: Superman/Batman Public Enemies

Superman Batman Public Enemies, The new DC animated direct-to-DVD feature is based on a comic arc that was, for all intents and purposes, written to be as theatrical as possible.  It was already a movie, at least in spirit.

Unfortunately, as is often the case with remakes, the original was better.  Even more unfortunate is the sad truth that the original wasn't all that amazing itself.

There were, however, moments of the comic that were brilliant.  Most of these were cut from the DVD, and those that were present were watered down to the point we could only point and say, "That was really cool in the comic."

The issue at hand is one of mediums.  Comics offer room for narrative exposition, allowing the simultaneous thoughts of Batman and Superman to appear beside each other.  In the comic, this was used to both humorous and at times profound effect.  We assumed the makers of the DVD would find a way to adapt this.

Instead, they dropped it completely.  This created an awkward situation, where scenes appearing in the film lacked any of the original's depth.  The scene of Batman checking on Captain Marvel after knocking him down is unimportant: what matters are his thoughts.

This isn't to say that the movie was entirely bad: the fight with Metallo was excellent and was far better integrated into the story than in the comic.  Likewise, elements of the ending were well executed, though overall it still came off as awkward and badly planned.

While the animation was underwhelming - we're not the biggest fans of the original artwork, either - the voice acting remains topnotch.  This is largely due to the casting and voice direction done by Andrea Romano.  If you aren't familiar with her work, simply think of your favorite animated program from the last twenty years and check the list.  It's there, isn't it?

As a side note, we also want to say a word about the film's PG-13 rating.  After the brutality in some of the previous films, we were a bit surprised to see how restrained this was.  While we certainly don't require copious amounts of blood and violence in all of our films, we found the rating to be somewhat misleading.  If this was PG-13, so was every episode of Batman Beyond.

Public Enemies isn't bad, per se, but it's nothing we haven't seen before.  The Luthor presidency here was better alluded to during his candidacy in Justice League Unlimited, as was his madness and Superman's choice.

The fights never match the intensity of the best in the animated series or Superman/Doomsday.  The relationship between Batman and Superman, which is developed well here, has been done before, throughout the animated series.  We've seen Batman make the same choices, and Superman perform the same miracles.

This simply tows too close to its source.  It's bogged down by all the comic's problems without managing to duplicate its strengths.  While it's good for a viewing, particularly if you can see it free, it's not worth owning.

Fortunately, Green Lantern: First Flight, Wonder Woman, and Justice League: New Frontier are still available.  Buy those: you'll watch them again and again.  Against such superior animated fare, we'll offer Public Enemies two and a half stars and accept its thanks for not comparing it with The Incredibles as we often do.


Morgan said...

Well, your review is spot on, however I'm dismayed to see that you enjoyed Green Lantern. If you knew nothing of the comic, I suppose it may have been alright, but it completely destroyed the actual history of the Green Lantern Corp. and left problems for any intended sequels, like, say, a Sinestro Corp. movie. It was Garbage. Wonder Woman was terrific though, and New Frontier was great. Also, Green Arrow's bow is the way it is because of the safety regulations placed on this type of toy. An unattached arrow and a string classify it as a weapon, which is not ok for kids. At least, that's what Mattel claims.

Erin Snyder said...

First up, thanks for the info about GA's bow! I still wonder why they glued it on both ends, though: attaching it to either the string or bow should have protected them on the projectile front.

As for Green Lantern: I definitely see where you're coming from. The story and powers were streamlined, the same way you'd expect in a live action movie. They played up the science fiction elements over the super hero ones. Personally, I'd also have preferred something more true to the comics, but I felt like that reflected my preferences over the quality of the film.

On its own merits, I felt like the movie represented a solid piece of storytelling. It had a good pace and maintained some real tension. I also liked the overall look and design, which paid homage to the original while recasting everything in a bit more modern SF way (it kind of reminded me of the transition from old Star Trek aliens to the new designs).

Honestly, the element that grated on me the most in First Flight was the absence of the individual power batteries. I was also a little taken aback with how easily some of the Lanterns were taken down by laser fire. But, again, I don’t think these really reflect on the movie itself, just my preferences and what I’m used to.

I think there is room for a Sinestro Corps sequel, though it would need to be heavily altered. But honestly, it’s hard to imagine a filmic version of that story that isn’t streamlined: it’s more a less a given that you’d have to drop the Anti-Monitor, Superboy Prime, and Cyborg Superman: those characters just carry too much backstory to fit in a movie.