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Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

Warner Bros. (2010), Warner Home Video (September 28, 2010), 2 discs (Blu-ray + DVD), 78 mins plus supplements, 16:9 ratio, DTS-HD Master Audio, Rated PG-13, Retail: $29.99

Storyboard:

A rocket ship containing a teenage girl from Krypton lands on Earth, and elicits a wide variety of reactions from Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Darkseid. With so many powerful figures vying to influence Kara, she finds she must ultimately assert her own independence in order to find her true destiny.

The Sweatbox Review:

Once again, I approached this latest in the line of DC Comics animated movies with trepidation. After all, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is actually a sequel to Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, a movie that I found pretty weak. Both of these movies are based on a poorly written comic book that sold tons of copies a few years ago, before people realized just how lousy the scripting was. Public Enemies struggled to rise above its source material, and I feared Apocalypse would do the same.

And let’s talk about that name for just a moment. Why the heck is this thing called “Apocalypse?” This is the 21st Century origin of Supergirl, but Warner was too chicken to put a girl’s name in the title, so they settled for a rather non-descriptive but supposedly “cool” sounding title instead. Apparently, they feared low sales if they titled and promoted it correctly, a la the weak selling Wonder Woman movie, but the title they chose is just lame. If they were afraid of doing a Supergirl story, they could have just left the project alone entirely. It’s not like the comic story was any classic. But if you’re going to re-name the movie, there could have been sooooo many better options. Apocalypse may be an allusion to the planet Apokolips, which provides one of the settings in the move— but then why not call the movie Apokolips? There is no apocalypse in this film. Better choices could have been along the lines of New Arrival, The Fight For Kara (oops, no girl names!), The Stranger From Krypton… anything but Apocalypse! Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Anyhow, back to the movie. Unfortunately, I’m sad to say that it follows the comic story quite closely, meaning that it does have some cool ideas, but also immense problems. The story is all over the place, with elements thrown in only because of the “cool” factor, without any thought as to character motivation or logic. First of all, the rocketship from Krypton lands in Gotham City. Why Gotham? Oh, because it was convenient to bring Batman into the story. The teenage girl inside the rocket is naked. Why would that be? Well, to titillate male viewers, of course. Never mind that this is a teenage girl, which makes it all the more exploitive. The girl flees Gotham Bay in the Batboat, with Batman in tow. We then get a totally clichéd scene of three idiots planning to rape her in an alley, with predictable results. From there, police show up in droves for no apparent reason, and start firing on the girl without cause.

The teenage girl was about to be raped, and now police are shooting at her. Tell me how that makes any sense. Just remembering the scene now gives me a headache.

Eventually, Superman shows up (again, for unknown reasons), and Batman manages to take the girl into custody. Taking her to the Batcave, Batman uses his magical scanner machine to ascertain that the girl is not human. Once the girl awakens, we begin to see the conflict that will develop between our two heroes. Superman learns the girl is his cousin, and takes it in stride, with barely any emotional response. He’s happy, sure, but after thinking that you were the last of your kind, I think the revelation that your very own cousin is on Earth would elicit a little more than a smile, you know? And, hello, why is she so much younger than him, when he arrived on Earth as an infant about thirty years ago? (The comic may have explained this, but not the movie.) Meanwhile, Batman reacts with total paranoia and behaves like a jerk. I understand skepticism and caution, but I’ve never taken to “jerk Batman,” which seems to be how many of today’s writers like to present him.

This undercurrent of dread is heightened when Superman’s dog Krypto appears later in the story, and immediately takes a dislike to Kara. This seems to foreshadow something… but it doesn’t, really. It’s just a throwaway scene to make us doubt Kara. (Okay, I admit I loved seeing Krypto, but the scene seems to defy good story structure.) Even worse is the appearance of the Amazons. They come in after Superman, as Clark Kent, takes Kara shopping, where she picks up a bunch of skimpy outfits. The Amazons pick a fight with them, and Wonder Woman tries to kidnap Kara. After a huge battle, Wonder Woman then chastises Clark for creating all the property damage… in a fight that she started… when trying to kidnap his teenage cousin! We then find out that it was Batman who set the whole thing up, because he thought it would be a good idea to have Amazons challenge Superman to a fight. Oh, my head hurts again.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the universe, on the evil planet of Apokolips, nasty war god Darkseid somehow becomes aware of Kara’s presence on Earth. And he decides that Kara needs to lead his team of Female Furies as they wreak destruction in his name across the cosmos. This plan seems to be a bit of a stretch. I could see this occurring once Kara’s presence on Earth became well known, but this all just seems to happen way too fast.

Okay, so Kara hangs out with Amazons, makes friends with Harbinger, a character extremely obscure to most viewers, and is kidnapped by Darkseid while a massive diversion is created that once again seems like a cool idea, but comes off as a total fanboy moment. I won’t give the source of the diversion away, but it seems better in writing than it does in execution. This all leads to a trip to Apokolips, and a battle for the soul of the young Kryptonian. Oh, then there’s a second ending (story structure problem again) with another big fight (there’s a lot of those0, followed by a denouement that seems to fly in the face of what Kara had been trying to say she didn’t want all along. The comic was terrible, and now the movie it’s based on makes so many of the same mistakes. At least Public Enemies managed to improve on the material in terms of plot.

And yet, I can’t dislike this movie to the same degree that I disliked Public Enemies. For all the contrived occurrences, stupid moments, and over-reliance on fight scenes to carry the plot, there are enough decent story moments to give enjoyment. Batman and Superman do exchange a few funny quips, there are some nice moments between Kara and her cousin as well as Harbinger, and it’s hard not to like a film that makes such good use of Jack Kirby’s New Gods characters; well, only a few appear, but I do have a soft spot for Big Barda. And, at least this movie had room to breathe. At 78 minutes, it’s eleven minutes longer than Public Enemies, and ties with Superman: Doomsday for the longest of these DC movies (though only by a minutes or two over most of the others).

Voice-wise, we get the voices for Superman and Batman that everyone wants— Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy, reprising their roles from the eponymous TV series as well as Public Enemies. Susan Eisenberg returns to the role of Wonder Woman, which she held on the Justice League shows. Ed Asner even comes back as granny Goodness, recalling that bizarre casting choice made in the DC Universe animated shows. Supergirl gets voiced by sci-fi icon Summer Glau (Firefly and the Terminator TV show), and she does a fine job of sounding alternately vulnerable and powerful. The only disappointment is that Michael Ironside was passed over for the role of Darkseid, a role he seemed born to play when he did it on Superman: TAS and Justice League, with a deep, nasty delivery. Instead, Darkseid’s role goes to smoother speaking Andre Braugher (seen recently in Salt and the TV show House); I liked him just fine, really, but no one does Darkseid like Ironside.

The animation style is obviously inspired by the artwork of the late Michael Turner, who did the artwork for the Supergirl storyline in the Superman/Batman comic. Now this is a case where I don’t mind seeing the comic’s influence. Turner seemed to have as many detractors as fans, but I found him to have a unique and appealing style, if you looked past the cheesecake. He may have been overly influenced by Image Comics of the 1990s, but you could still see distinctness to his work. The animation in this movie retains the unique look, from Superman’s pointy lips and jagged eyebrows, Batman’s long bat-ears and Kara’s big, empty irises. It’s certainly a departure from previous animation styles, but I’m all for diversity.

Those that have been following these DC Animated Movie releases will undoubtedly want to keep their collection going with this one, and it is at least a (small) step up from Public Enemies. More casual fans can probably feel comfortable giving this a rental at best. In the future, I just hope that the producers of these movies can resist any further temptation to adapt Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman comic book. If you must do Loeb, who can be either a terrible hack or enlightened scribe, then please look at his wonderful A Superman For All Seasons instead.

Is This Thing Loaded?

This release has an impressive list of bullet points on the back cover, but a closer look does show a more modest assortment of extras. Still, it’s a suitable set of bonuses for this release, even if it does little to cover the production of the movie itself, a common problem on these DC Animated discs.

The short cartoon film being included on these discs over the past year has become my favorite bonus feature. This one is DC Showcase Presents: Green Arrow (11:14), a pleasing story of the Emerald Archer going to the airport to pick up his girlfriend (well known to DC Comics fans). He comes across a kidnapping, and has to face off against his nemesis and fellow bow-slinger Merlyn. More surprises are in store for the viewer, as well as some funny dialog and of course some good action, making this a nice treat for fans.

The featurette Supergirl: The Last Daughter of Krypton (17:49) is a nice overview of the character, from her Silver Age beginnings to her death in the 1980s, to her revival in the current comics. There’s also a good deal of focus on her appearance in Smallville, for good reason— this is the same 2008 featurette that appeared in the Smallville: The Complete Seventh Season set.

Sneak Peek: All Star Superman (10:47) is a good look at the forthcoming DC Universe Animated Movie. No finished animation is shown, but there’s a lot of artwork on discplay, both form the original comic book as well as storyboards form the film. We also see a number of th voice actors, and here from them as well as other creative talent behind the movie. Treasure tis, as it’s likely more tha we’ll get with the upcoming Blu-ray in Spring 2011.

There are three featurette about The New Gods characters, all exclusive to Blu-ray. The Fourth World: The New Gods (22:13) is a fairly impressive featurette, as far as these things go, being far from comprehensive, but nevertheless informative and reverent towards its subject. We hear lots about the original Jack Kirby comics, hear from comics pros on what the comics meant to them, and see various appearances in Super Powers and Superman: The Animated Series, and comic books ranging from Paul Levitz’s Legion Of Superheroes to Final Crisis. New Gods: Mr. Miracle Pod (4:57) and New Gods: Orion Pod (4:37) flesh out two pivotal figures who don’t actually appear in Apocalypse, but do figure heavily in the New Gods mythology.

The Bonus episodes handpicked by Bruce Timm this time out include two two-parters from Superman: The Animated Series: The Supergirl origin story Little Girl Lost Parts 1 and 2, and the series finale where superman fought Darkseid, Apokolips Now! Parts 1 and 2. The latter two-parter is exclusive to Blu-ray (though of course these can all be found in the Superman: TAS DVD sets).

There are also Trailers for Lego Universe and the Jonah Hex motion comics, plus promotional material for Batman: Under The Red Hood, Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths, and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. Additionally, the disc actually begins with spots for Batman: Under The Red Hood and the latest Lost Boys sequel.

Note that this Blu-ray release also comes with a DVD disc. This disc includes only the main feature and the Green Arrow short. You can also use the disc to download a digital copy to your computer or portable device. That’s the DVD menu above.

Case Study:

The standard Blu-ray style case has one disc in each of the inside front and back cover, with an insert with info on using the digital copy. The digital copy is found on the DVD disc, which can also be played in any DVD player. The case has an embossed foil slipcover that is otherwise identical to the case cover.

Ink And Paint:

At first glance, the video seems bright and impressive, but errors lurk if you look for them. The 16:9 image does contain some banding and aliasing, though I only really noticed when I tried to find those instances. The picture is also frequently soft, though this may be a stylistic choice of the director, Lauren Montgomery. Bright scenes can look over-exposed, and dark scenes start to lose detail, though the Blu-ray certainly offers better detail than the DVD.

Scratch Tracks:

The DTS-HD Master Audio track does well to provide a crisp audio experience, but it’s mostly spread across the front speakers. The rears get little chance to shine, despite all the action on screen, and bass seems muted. This track seems like a bit of a rush job, not as impressive as some past DC animated efforts. Other tracks are available in French, Spanish, and German. Subtitles can be found for English, Spanish, and German.

The DVD version has only English audio (Dolby Digital 5.1) and English subtitles.

Final Cut:

More brainless action from the DC animated line of movies dims my opinion of these projects, which is unfortunate after my surprise approval of Batman: Under The Red Hood. I’m sure that we can expect more from the next few projects, which sound quite promising— All Star Superman, Green Lantern: Tales Of The Corps, and Batman: Year One. Hopefully, producer Bruce Timm and company will keep trying to set the bar higher when deciding on what comics to adapt, since these past couple of Superman/Batman releases have failed to live up to the line’s promise. Bad comics tend to make bad movies, despite the best efforts of all involved. However, those predisposed to like this particular movie, perhaps those that still managed to enjoy the comic book despite its drawbacks, will likely be pleased enough by this outing. If nothing else, one can appreciate the Green Arrow story and the decent special features.

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?


MAIN FEATURE
SUPPLEMENTS
VIDEO IMAGE
SOUND TRACK
OVERALL DVD


 

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