The prospect of superheroes working for the government is older than Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” (1986) in which it was popularized. Not as old but still venerable is the Lex Luthor becomes president scenario. However these themes still resonate. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (SBPE) took advantage of both, crafting an entertaining movie without really adding anything or evolving either theme.
That is okay in this case. The direct-to-video release throws in enough cameos, dream fights and shout outs to satisfy even the most ardent DC comics geek. Here is the one sentence synopsis to set it up:
Economic travails and civil unrest lead to scheming Lex Luthor being elected president (on a third party ticket) allowing him to continue his vendetta against superheores and stroke is own ego while also granting opportunity to set Superman up as a criminal and while Batman tries to get his friend out of this jam a huge meteor of Kryptonite on a collision course with Earth conveniently enters as the ultimate plot complication.
It is more Superman story than Batman, however that does not mean Batman gets short shrift or even lacks screen time. It just means the major story elements are more Superman centric. As usual, we were gratified to see Batman hanging with the heavy hitters, although we feel he should have used his brain a little more.
Many popular and classic voice actors participated or returned to don their capes and microphones, including Tim Daly as Superman, Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor, and Kevin Conroy as Batman. (You know Luthor’s slippery voice from the first instant you hear it.) The roster is replete with popular names despite some only needed to record a couple lines for “cameo central”.
The art direction was hit or miss. Perhaps they bit off too much. Superman looked fittingly sculpted as did most of the male heroes. Batman’s costume was straight out of an Alex Ross painting. We think Ross makes fine paintings but that does not necessarily mean those costumes taken directly make for good animation models. In this case it did not and always seemed a little “off”.
Some DC universe character you care about will make an appearance in this roster busting movie. We like Mongul. A great character. While his appearance was welcome, it was a little disappointing in both look and improbable conception. Power Girl played a large supporting role, but we found the take on her design in every respect to be underwhelming (except voice). Compared to the sculpted men she seemed blobby and misshapen.
SBPE was “villa-palooza”, with villains coming out from under every rock and falling from second and third tiers at DC. Despite this they also went to great and sometimes contrived lengths to get hero fighting hero. You know, the age old match ups geeks and comic lovers argue about. In comics, DC loves pitting new heroes up against Superman to establish their “cred”. They realize afterward that they are on the same side of course. “Ha ha old chap. No harm done!”
The fights were well choreographed albeit one dimensional slug fests on most occasions. (If it could in any way be punched by Superman, it was.) The animation quality was good, and there are no issues on that front.
The modern trend making Superman and Batman friends contrasts against the more adversarial relationship they had in Miller’s Dark Knight. However the buddy film template works with plots like this one. With many fun moments and only minor disappointments SBPE should be a definite for any fan of the genre.
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