Note: In the following joint DVD review, John and Will provide their opinions of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Shots.
The Film According to John:
The first thing you have to get over while watching the 2009 direct-to-video animated adventure "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies" is that in the story the country has become so brain dead it has elected Lex Luther President of the United States. Maybe the filmmakers were trying to make some kind of political statement; I dunno. The next thing you have to do is make a huge leap of faith and pretend you haven't seen any of the obvious borrowings the movie makes from other, better motion pictures. Then you have to resign yourself to watching almost an entire movie filled with little more than punching, kicking, and blowing things up. Finally, you have to wonder why you spent your hard-earned money on a film lasting little more than an hour. If these things don't bother you, you'll have a good time.
The best thing about the movie is its list of credits: TV director Sam Liu ('Hulk Vs.," "The Batman," "Max Steele," "Heavy Gear," "Roughnecks") helmed the project, written by Stan Berkowitz (more TV material going back several decades), and based on the DC Comics graphic novel by Joseph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. Moreover, the voice cast includes Tim Daly as Superman, Kevin Conroy as Batman, Clancy Brown as Lex Luther, Xander Berkely as Captain Atom, Corey Burton as Brainiac, LaVar Burton as Black Lightning, Ricardo Chivira as Major Force, Michael Dorn as Black Mantra, Hector Elizondo as Bane, Allison Mack as Power Girl, John C. McGinley as Metallo, Jerry O'Connell as Captain Marvel, Robert Patrick as Hawkman, CCH Pounder as Amanda Waller, and Tony Todd as Brimstone, among other actors.
Beyond the movie's sterling group of contributors, there is not a lot left but a mundane story, mechanical characters, and a common, cheap-jack, made-for-television kind of animation style.
The film exaggerates the country's economic woes to the point that the populace will vote for anybody who appears tough enough to save them, turning rather implausibly to Luther, a guy everybody knows has been trying forcibly to take over the world for years. The first thing Luther does is to frame Superman for murder and put a billion-dollar bounty on his head, which causes some of Superman's old superhero chums from the Justice League to come looking to bring him in peaceably, and a few of Superman's old superpower enemies to come after him for the money. Only Batman stands by his friend. The Justice League nincompoops actually think they're doing a good deed by following the President's orders, whom they loyally follow simply because he's the President and, therefore, obviously can do no wrong. Again, this smacks of some sort of topical political statement, which I leave to the individual viewer to work out.
And that's about the size of the story line. Yeah, there's also a kryptonite meteor heading on a collision with Earth, but that's almost an afterthought as a mere plot contrivance, a gimmick we can see through to its conclusion from the outset of the film.
Most of the movie's sixty-seven minutes consists of fighting, kicking, punching, and stuff blowing up. It also contains a goodly number of iron jaws, rippling abs, and prodigious bosoms. Indeed, regarding this latter item, Power Girl has a chest that makes Wonder Woman look like a preadolescent boy, which is probably the audience the movie is looking for in any case.
In terms of the 2-D animation, like WB's preceding animated adventures with Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, the artists often render the backgrounds beautifully, in great detail, and illustrate the characters solidly and vividly. Nevertheless, probably because of cost limitations, the animators restrict too much movement, so when a character speaks, usually only the mouth moves. When characters move, they do so in slightly jerky motions. And there are any number of shots where nothing moves at all; there's just a frozen tableau for several seconds at a time.
Almost everything about "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies" is mechanical, from the characters to the plot to the action. Even the movie's title, despite its origins, is clearly meant to remind the viewer of the Johnny Depp gangster movie released the same year, and some of the movie's content relates to "Watchmen," also released the same year.
Understand, however, that I am not a follower of superhero comics or cartoon shows, so my disappointment in this new animated adventure probably doesn't count. I leave it to Will to provide a more neutral point of view.
John's film rating: 4/10
The Film According to Will:
No matter what part of the world people live in or what language they speak, if you showed them Superman's 'S' insignia, they'd likely know the symbol means Superman. Same for Batman's bat logo. The Man of Steel and the Dark Knight have been DC Comics' most iconic characters. Along with Wonder Woman, they form DC's Trinity. In the 1950's, superhero comics fell out of favor with the general public as the popularity of crime and horror comics grew. Many companies ceased publishing them while others closed up shop for good. Only DC's big three were still alive and kicking. At the time, one of DC's titles was "World's Finest," which was an anthology series featuring Superman, Batman, and others in separate stories. Out of sheer economy, DC cut the page count and teamed them up on a permanent basis. Despite their many differences, the two became the best of friends until the 1980's. At this point, the so-called "grim 'n gritty" era of comics was ushered in, primarily by Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons' "Watchmen" and Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns."
It was Miller who looked at the dissimilarities between the two and believed they would not like each other. Batman used fear and intimidation while Superman sought to inspire those around him. In "Dark Knight Returns," Batman comes out of retirement and engages in a brutal war against crime, fighting against the system. Superman was re-imagined as a government lapdog, doing the President's bidding in enforcing the status quo. Eventually, the relationship between Superman and Batman mellowed from reluctant allies to best buds.
Outside of comics, the "Last Son of Krypton" and the "Caped Crusader" were mainstays on each version of the "Superfriends" cartoons. When "Superman: The Animated Series" debuted a few years after "Batman: The Animated Series" during the mid-90's, fans were clamoring for them to team up once more. Producers fulfilled their wishes, and they were paired up once again in a three-part arc to battle their archenemies Lex Luthor and the Joker. When Warner Brothers was struggling to revive the film franchises, they inexplicably decided doing both at once would be a better idea. A script for a live-action "Superman/Batman" movie was written with Wolfgang Petersen attached to direct, but it never made its way into production.
What did go into production was "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies." The latest project for DC/Warner's direct-to-video line has no ties to any of their previous films or to any of the other animated series.
Taking a cue from today's headlines, the America of "Public Enemies" is plagued by a plummeting economy and a rise in crime. A seemingly reformed Lex Luthor successfully campaigns to become President. Much to Superman's chagrin, President Luthor turns the country around so much so that the superheroes have practically run out of things to do. When a massive asteroid made of Kryptonite heads for a collision course with Earth, Luthor uses it as a springboard for yet another plan to get rid of Superman. Framing the Man of Steel for murder, Luthor places a billion dollar bounty on his head. Supervillains (and even a few good guys) come out of the woodwork to collect. It's up to Superman and Batman to expose Luthor and save the world.
"Public Enemies" was based on the first six issues of the "Superman/Batman" comic which debuted in 2003, written by Jeph Loeb with art by Ed McGuinness. McGuinness's cartoony art style lends itself well to animation. The characters look recognizable while still different enough to stand out against previous versions. Kal-El is the only one who seems a bit off, looking more like Superboy than Superman in some scenes. The animation isn't the weak point with "Public Enemies"; the story is. This is one of those rare instances where remaining faithful to the source material wasn't such a good thing. Loeb is one of the top writers in comics, and he knows the characters of Superman and Batman better than many. He served as a writer/producer on "Smallville" and wrote the maxi-series "The Long Halloween" and "Dark Victory," both of which served as inspiration for Nolan's Batman. Nowadays, Loeb is like the Michael Bay of comic books, more interested in big action at the expense of a logical, well thought-out story.
The minds behind "Public Enemies" do what they can, but the movie just isn't concerned with deep emotional moments. There are also a lot of unanswered questions with the relatively thin plot. If Luthor has a criminal record, doesn't that preclude him from becoming President? I also had a hard time believing some of the superheroes would turn on Superman so easily while having no problem fighting alongside the villainous Major Force. And that ginormous Kryptonite rock that spells apocalypse for the entire planet? It barely makes an impact, no pun intended. The meteor barely figures into the proceedings until the climax. You'd think the good guys would be more concerned about death from above than punching people in the face. Barely over an hour long, "Public Enemies" doesn't take the time out to really explain who anybody is. Casual audiences will probably wonder who some of the characters are, especially an integral one that's suddenly introduced during the climax. However, die-hard fans will be more than happy with the numerous cameos. The best sequences in "Public Enemies" features the title characters participating in a free-for-all with an army of costumed criminals including Gorilla Grodd, Solomon Grundy, the Black Manta, and even D-listers like Kestrel and the Black Spider.
"Superman/Batman: Public Enemies" may not be a continuation of the Bruce Timm-produced shows, but it does once again feature many of the same prominent voice actors. Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly return to voice Batman and Superman, respectively, while Luthor and his aide Amanda Waller are again played by Clancy Brown and CCH Pounder. Other actors lending their voices to the film are Allison Mack as Power Girl, John C. McGinley as Metallo, Xander Berkeley as Captain Atom, and Levar Burton as Black Lightning.
Will's film rating: 5/10
One can hardly fault the picture quality, as this is a newly made, 2-D animated movie, done primarily on a computer. Warner engineers present the movie in its native 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, meaning enhanced for 16x9 TVs. The colors are beautifully deep and vibrant; the definition looks sharp and clean; the contrasts stand out vividly but never glaringly; and the screen remains free of excessive grain, noise, or artifacts at all times. It's definitely a pleasing image to watch.
Like the video, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio quality is quite good. It exhibits an excellent use of the surrounds, with sounds coming from all 5.1 (or 7.1) channels. What's more, it displays an adequate, if not exactly thundering, bass, and a strong dynamic impact. It's the kind of sound you find in top-notch high-definition television broadcasts, meaning it doesn't rival the best theatrical releases, but it does do its job efficiently.
The extras consist almost entirely of promos for other WB direct-to-video animated adventures. Each segment lasts about ten minutes and provides commentary on the movies by the filmmakers involved. The promos include "Blackest Night: Inside the DC Comics Event," "Wonder Woman: The Amazon Princess," "Batman Gotham Knight: An Anime Revolution," "From Graphic Novel to Original Animated Movie--Justice League: The New Frontier," and "Green Lantern: First Flight."
After those items we get even more promos, this time actual trailers, some at start-up and others for "Green Lantern," "Fringe," and "Batman: Arkham Asylum" in the main menu. Following the trailers we find the spoken language announced as English only, with English captions for the hearing impaired. There is no scene selections menu at all, but if you use the "Forward" button on your remote, you'll find there are seven chapter stops.
Before this one, WB's most-recent animated superhero adventures featured Wonder Woman and Green Lantern in origin stories that were fairly intriguing. However, this new "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies" entry contains little that we haven't seen before, relying primarily on a simplistic plot and a plentitude of inessential action. It may please hard-core fans, but I doubt that it will gain many new ones.