"Just look at what I'm selling! You'll plotz!"—Harley Quinn
It is just another typical day in Gotham City. The Joker and Harley Quinn steal a beautiful jade statue, and Batman investigates. But when Batman finds residual radiation on one of the statue fragments, he suspects that the statue is not jade at all—and that the Joker has a trick up his purple sleeve.
It is another typical day in Metropolis. Superman casually rescues Air Force One from hijackers. Lex Luthor prepares to make a sweet business deal with a visiting fellow tycoon, one Bruce Wayne. And behind the scenes, Luthor prepares a darker deal with the Joker: one billion dollars—for Superman's life.
When I was a kid, I could never really figure out "World's Finest" and other team-up comics. You know, where every month Batman and Superman, or Spiderman and the Sub-Mariner, or whomever, would team up to fight some villain. Or worse, the double issues where the heroes would fight each other for the first half, then team up in the second. And don't even get me started on that Superman versus Muhammad Ali giant issue!
Anyway, I could never figure out where those heroes always found the time to get together. After all, wasn't there enough crime in their hometowns, without having to travel all over?
But The Batman Superman Movie, subtitled (for those children of the '70s, like me) "World's Finest," gets it right. It does not do so by providing a compelling threat for our heroes to fight: the Joker's plot to kill Superman is no more or less interesting than any other regular episode of either the Batman or Superman television shows. It does not do so with flashy animation: the budget limitations show through in occasionally stiff moments and a low frame-rate typical of television animation.
It does so with a great script. Rather than focusing on the superheroics, Paul Dini and his scriptwriting team play off the character-driven moments in between the action. Pairing off the flamboyant Joker with the calculating Luther, the perky Harley with the efficient Mercy, and most importantly the chilly Batman with the certain Superman, the script generates sparks merely from dialogue. Even better, the personality clash between our two heroes is taken into their personal lives in the form of a romantic competition for Lois Lane's attentions. And since they both quickly learn one another's secret identities, their competition takes on that much more depth. The result treats Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent as adults who fight crime as a job, rather than superheroes who pretend to be human on the side.
In the end, Bruce and Clark discover that they are more alike than either would comfortably admit: relentless, sometimes overconfident, and perhaps too used to being the center of attention. Clark bristles at Bruce's seedy reputation, in and out of costume. Bruce chafes at Clark's gung-ho bravado, and teases him for missing his chance at Lois. The script does not allow either man to dominate the story, but brings out the strengths of both characters as individuals. Ultimately, this makes their heroics all the more resonant in that we can identify with them, even when they are fighting killer robots or leaping through explosions.
Given the maturity with which the script approaches its characters, it is surprising that Warner Brothers treats this DVD release in such a casual manner, under the assumption that only kids might be interested. Oddly, young kids might find all the romantic tension in the Bruce-Lois-Clark triangle a little tedious. In any case, the print has seen better days: it appears slightly faded and shows scratches and dirt. Extra content is better than the recent and dismissive Justice League disc. While the "Joker's Challenge" game is no big deal (play Batman or Superman in a quickie "choose your own path" story with clips from the feature), there is a decent mini-interview with producer Bruce Timm that runs five minutes. Timm talks mostly about the character interactions in the story, which suggests his real motivations behind bringing these two comic icons together. A three-minute montage of storyboards and design art, entitled "The Art of Batman," takes the form of a smartly presented music video. Production art is always welcome. However, two minute-long segments, called "Get the Picture," offer fast-motion footage of an artist sketching Batman and Superman to music. If you were hoping for an art lesson, or even just to follow along, you are likely to find the speeded-up film and lack of exposition less than helpful.
There are enough fireworks here to keep the children entertained, and adults will not feel that this entry in Warner Brothers' long-running animated franchise insults their intelligence. Along with Mask of the Phantasm and Return of the Joker, this is one of the better animated films from the DC Heroes stable. Pick this one up for the strong characterizations all around, and look beyond the indifferent animation and treatment by Warners.
The court douses Warner Brothers with the Joker's laughing gas until they get a clue and start treating these DVD releases with better care. Batman and Superman are released as fully deputized agents of the law. Support your police, that's our message!
Oh wait, that was a different Batman movie.
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