There Goes My Hero, Watch Him As He Goes
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is the ninth direct to DVD film from DC Universe Animated Original Movies, and it mostly continues the company’s streak of producing solid, entertaining and surprisingly mature animated superhero fare. Once again, the team behind the film creates the kind of superhero movie we’ll never be able to see in the theaters, and through generally strong writing, excellent animation, and brilliant action setpieces, it should satisfy most viewers, be they canonical fans or otherwise.
The story takes place immediately after one of DC’s prior releases, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. Lex Luthor, who previously wrangled his way to becoming President of the United States, has been impeached and all seems on its way to returning to normal — at least as normal as things get in the DC universe. However, shortly after a clever newsreel bit that catches you up on the events of the last film, an asteroid crashes into the harbor, revealing a strange young girl who speaks no English. Batman tracks her down, and eventually, through a meeting with Superman, it’s learned that the girl’s name is Kara Zor-El — Superman/Kal El’s cousin, launched from a dying Krypton in a similar fashion, but accidentally taking the long way to get to Earth.
Now, of course, any even remotely casual fan knows — whether it’s because you read the comics, watch the animated series, or were subjected to that fucking abysmal Helen Slater-starring Supergirl movie — who Kara is, or who she will become, at any rate. In an effort to keep her safe and teach her to control her newfound powers, she’s absconded to Themyscira, the home of the Amazons, where she can learn under the tutelage of Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, the three heroes aren’t the only ones who know of her existence, and the next thing we know, Darkseid, the ruler of the burning city-planet Apokolips, appears and kidnaps Kara, intent on making her his new warrior queen. You can guess where it goes from there — Superman and Batman, with the aid of Wonder Woman and a former soldier of Apokalips, travel to the desolate, smoldering planet to rescue Kara, and shit gets busted up but good in the process.
It’s a fairly straightforward story, all things considered, but it’s a little more dense than some of the previous films due to the addition of characters that aren’t as well-known to the average watcher. As is the case in most of DC’s animated films, the action is hard and furious, and by utilizing such mega-powered characters like Superman, Wonder Woman, and Darkseid and his legion of monstrous cohorts, it allows for some truly colossal battle scenes. Animated in a style similar to that of the Michael Turner-drawn story arc upon which both Superman/Batman films are based, it’s a flashy, breathlessly rendered style that focuses more on character movement and expressions, leaving backgrounds to be more generically drawn. That’s not a bad thing, mind you, because the film is, after the opening 20 minutes or so, virtually non-stop action. Remember a couple of days ago when we were talking about the lack of real action in the Superman movies? Zack Snyder could take a page from the DC animated films. The fights are massive and the destruction is total, full of brutal-seeming combat and even a couple of deaths. While the characters’ physiques aren’t as exaggerated as they were in Public Enemies, it still gives a good feel for the strength and powers of the characters.
Speaking of the characters, the voicework is, as always, fantastic. Kevin Conroy reprises his role as Batman, and Tim Daly once again plays Superman. Both are as excellent here as they’ve been in their numerous previous appearances as the titular team-up. Darkseid is a bit different than before — usually voiced by Michael Ironside in previous iterations, he’s now portrayed by Andre Braugher. The voice is a little jarring — it lacks the harsh grit we’ve come to expect from Darkseid, but it’s still an adequate performance. Rounding things out is Summer Glau as Kara, who is good, but not great, and Susan Eisenberg returning to the role of Wonder Woman (though truthfully, I missed Keri Russell’s excellent work from the Wonder Woman animated movie).
The writing, by Tab Murphy, is good, if a bit sparse. The dialogue gets a little painfully glib at times, and it can’t seem to settle on a tone — sometimes deadly serious, sometimes a little too playful. Most awkward was a eye-rollingly stupid musical montage of Kara trying on clothes as she becomes a real Earth girl. Leaving aside the gross stereotyping of that idea, the scene itself is simply out of place and bumblingly executed. But the focus is really on the action, and that’s masterfully directed. After the somewhat drab opening, Lauren Montgomery, who previously directed Wonder Woman, Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths, and the less exciting Green Lantern: First Flight, keeps the action fluid and well-paced, making the final hour of the film especially satisfying.
My only other gripe stems from the title itself. The film doesn’t explore the odd friendship between Superman and Batman as well as it could have, particularly given the added dynamic of a new Kryptonian in the mix. Public Enemies did an excellent job of showing the strange dichotomy between the two — the grim, cynical darkness of Batman versus the noble heroics of Superman. Here it’s relegated to a few thrown in lines and a couple of arguments, but not much more than that. Similarly, it feels like Wonder Woman is given short shrift — she’s as critical a character as Batman, but is barely shown in the billing or advertising.
In the end, though, Superman/Batman: Apocalpyse is still a very good, though not great, addition to the DC animated library. As with most of their films, they do an outstanding job of staying faithful to the comic book characters, but deftly avoid the morass of confusion that is DC universe (seriously, DC comics are a fucking quagmire right now, even post-Crisis, and I’ve no idea how they’re going to right the ship). While the writing isn’t consistently reliable and the dialogue is at times a little overwrought, it’s still an entertaining film that relies heavily on some pretty goddamn spectacular fight scenes (notably the entire sequence that takes place on Apokalips, as well as a fairly intense one on the Kent farm). Over time it will likely show itself to be one of the less memorable entries, but it’s nonetheless an enjoyable 80 minutes of comic book goodness.
TK writes about music and movies. He enjoys playing with dogs, raising the dead, and tacos. You can email him here.