Judge Dan Mancini is considerably slower than a speeding bullet.
"Always the cynic. You can't help yourself, can you?"—Superman (to Batman)
After the lackluster performance of direct-to-video releases Green Lantern: First Flight and Wonder Woman, the bigwigs at DC Universe Animated Original Movies decided to call in Superman and Batman to save the day. Their next three projects—Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, and Batman: Under the Red Hood—leaned heavily on DC Comics' two big guns in order to shore up the animation studio's financial viability. The Dark Knight and the Boy Scout from Krypton proved once again why they're top-shelf pop culture icons. While planned follow-ups of the Green Lantern and Wonder Woman movies have been scuttled, the flicks focused on Supers and the Caped Crusader have moved enough units to warrant the speedy production of Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, a direct sequel to Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.
Having cleared their names and destroyed Lex Luthor's presidency, Batman and Superman return to business as usual until a space ship carrying a naked and confused young woman crash lands in Gotham Harbor. When Batman discovers the girl has super powers, he calls Superman to the scene. Supes believes the girl, Kara Zor-El, is his cousin. Concerned that she learns to control her enormous powers, Batman calls on Wonder Woman and the other Amazons to take her to Themyscira, where she can be properly trained. Just as Kara begins to acclimate to her new home, Themyscira is attacked by an army of Doomsday clones sent through a portal from the hell planet Apokolips. It turns out the attack is a diversion initiated by Darkseid so that he can kidnap Kara, take her back to Apokolips, and train her to lead his Female Furies, replacing Big Barda, who has gone into retirement on Earth. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Big Barda invade Apokolips in an effort to lay a smackdown on Darkseid and rescue Kara so that she can return to Earth and decide her destiny for herself.
My plot description should give you a sense of Superman/Batman: Apocalypse's fatal flaw: it's roughly as convoluted and incomprehensible as your average anime involving cyber-samurai, giant mecha, talking animals, whiny little snot-nosed kids, and time travel. Unless you're a comic book geek or have a strong familiarity with the DC Animated Universe television series Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited, there's little chance you'll be able to figure out what the hell is going on in this flick. Darkseid, Doomsday, Apokolips, Bad Barda, and Granny Goodness are thrown at us without any context or background whatsoever. As a result, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse feels less like an animated feature than a three-part episode from smack dab in the middle of a season of an animated superhero television show. I've seen the Batman, Superman, and Justice League television series, and I still felt like I'd been dropped into the movie midway through the story and had missed some key plot points. I suppose this is the danger of basing a movie on a storyline from the Superman/Batman comic book; it assumes a familiarity with years of comic book continuity. The folks at Warner Bros. Animation always walk a fine line with their DC Animated Universe titles, trying to please hardcore comic fans and casual viewers alike. This time around, they've delivered a movie that is unlikely to appeal to the latter group.
The plus side of basing the movie on the comic is that the character design is an attractive, simplified version of Michael Turner's artwork from the books. Superman is bulky and square-jawed, while Batman is an imposing, noir-inspired figure with a wrap-around cape, tall, arching ears on his cowl, and claw-like fingertips on his gloves. Not only is the character design excellent, but our heroes look fantastic in action. Director Lauren Montgomery (Wonder Woman) uses the frame well, especially when staging combat. The plot may be convoluted, but it provides ample opportunity for dynamic fighting. In addition to the large-scale battle between the Amazons and the Doomsday clones, there's some tasty combat on Apokolips, and an epic throw-down in which Superman and Kara take on Darkseid on the Kent farm (eye beams, tornadoes, and massive barn damage ensue). Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is nothing if not action-packed.
Despite character designs that deviate radically from those in the old animated series, the movie offers the comfortable familiarity of the voice actors we've grown accustomed to playing these roles: Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, and Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman. The trend in these direct-to-video animated features has been to break with tradition in the casting department, putting Bruce Greenwood in Batman's shoes (Batman: Under the Red Hood) or signing Mark Harmon to play Superman (Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths). Turning to cast members from the original animated television series for both Superman/Batman features was a wise move. There's a reason these particular actors have become so closely associated with these characters: The pitch and timbre of their voices is perfect for the personalities involved, and their performances are excellent.
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse looks excellent on DVD. The 1.78:1 anamorphically enhanced transfer has none of the flaws to which animated features are prone: no combing artifacts, no frame-rate problems, and no vacillations in image density. Colors are bold and sharp, detail is limited only by the resolution of the animation (and the standard definition format), and the image is entirely stable. Audio is presented in a Dolby 5.1 surround mix that doesn't boast the LFE that the plethora of action demands, but is otherwise crisp and well-imaged.
On DVD, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is available in a two-disc Special Edition that is loaded with extras, as well as the relatively barebones single-disc version under review here. There are no true supplements on the disc, only a sneak peek at the next DC Universe Animated Original Movie release, All-Star Superman, and trailers for three of the previously released movies.
Watching a cartoon shouldn't require an advanced degree in comic books, intense focus, and a dogged desire to give a crap about what you're watching. Even Batman and Superman couldn't save the day this time.
Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
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