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Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

by on September 19, 2009
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Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown) is President of the United States. Superman and Batman are Public Enemies 1 and 2.

That’s essentially the premise of “Superman/Batman: Public Enemies,” the latest in a line of straight-to-DVD animated features put out by DC Comics. But the film is so much more than that.

“Enemies” is a rich, layered tale with robust characters, a dynamic, plausible story (and plot developments, which has been largely missing in these DC and Marvel stories), satisfying action sequences, and abundant cameos from other heroes.

Luthor’s rise to the presidency seems startlingly relevant, his ascention highlighted in newsreel details that could be taken straight from today’s headlines. Soon he’s calling on costumed heroes to work for the “government,” by which he means for him, and actually recruits a respectable slate of heroes, led by Captain Atom.

Determined to have Superman join him or die, Luthor sets up the defiant Supes by framing him for a murder, then declaring him a terrorist, offering a $1 billion bounty for anyone who can bring him to “justice.”

This sparks a frenzy of supervillains and heroes alike who try to bring in Big Blue, with only Batman, who was witness to Superman’s framing, there to help him.

Superman Batman inside 3The rogues gallery stretches across the DC Universe and not just into our stars’ group of villains. Captain Cold, Black Manta, Grodd, Bane, Metallo, and many other DC Universe baddies are represented and make meaningful contributions, if just for a fight scene or two.

Among the heroes, Captain Marvel and Hawkman make the heavies, making short appearances, with secondary heroes like Major Force and Power Girl playing larger roles.

Screenwriter Stan Berkowitz, going off of the graphic novel by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, details the sometimes contentious relationship between Superman and The Dark Knight, with a sense of respect and friendship that belies the outer appearance of rivalry.

Luthor’s arc is believable and, dare I say, even realistic, especially at the outset, until his lunacy is finally revealed.

The fight sequences are fluid, dynamic, and well-choreographed. At times waves of villains are coming at them simultaneously, and director Sam Liu and editor Margaret Hou do a wonderful job of intercutting between the two characters both when they’re on their own and working in concert, and there are plenty of creative uses of each hero’s unique powers (Superman’s heat vision is used in particularly cool ways).

Superman Batman inside 2The animation works in the film, giving a different look than previous cartoon versions of these characters, but not radically so. Bodies are large and muscular, jaws and brows are thick and square, and the colors are vibrant and rich. The animation is certainly superior to “Superman: Doomsday,” and it’s more contemporary than the throwback “Justice League: New Frontier.” It’s similar to the animation style of the recent “Justice League” cartoon series, but different enough to tell you it’s not the same storyline.

The voicework is stellar as well, using vets Kevin Conroy as the Dark Knight (thought by many fans to be the definitive aural representation of the character),  Tim Daly and Brown as Superman and Luthor, respectively (each provided voices in the 90s animated version of Superman), and bringing in talent like John C. McGinley, Jerry O’Connell, CCH Pounder, Xander Berkeley, Allison Mack (of “Smallville”), LeVar Burton and Michael Dorn in smaller roles.

The abundant DVD extras feature mostly fillers on Disc 1, with a behind the scenes of the DC Comics story “Blackest Night,” which is more of an explanation than a preview (the arc began in July), along with looks at 4 other straight-to-video DC flicks.

Superman Batman inside 4Disc 2, though, features a wonderful documentary on the dynamic between Batman and Superman, with writers and executives including Dan DiDio, Jeph Loeb, Goeff Johns, and Alan Burnett going into great detail into the psychology of the characters and their relationship.

Other bonus features include a “dinner” with some of the DC Universe creators and  Conroy,  a sneak peek at the next DCU film “Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths,” and bonus cartoons from the late-90s Superman animated series selected by Bruce Timm.

Of this latest line of Marvel and DC films, I’ve seen several, but not all. “Public Enemies” is the best of what I’ve seen, by far.

Movie: 4.5 Yaps
Extras: 4 Yaps