Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

Certificate: 12
Running time: 67 mins
Director: Sam Liu
Starring: Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, Clancy Brown
Genre: Comic book, Action, Adventure, Animation
Country: USA

The DC Universe Animated Original Movie Series has been delivering what Warner Bros. could only dream of for a while now.  What Marvel built successfully towards over recent years with The Avengers DC has unfortunately stalled at every possible turn.  Superman/Batman: Public Enemies sees the world on the brink, recession has crippled the planet, crime is rampant and a third party is on the rise in the U.S Electoral system as Lex Luther becomes the duly elected President of the United States.  Luther’s first act in office is to wrangle the planets Superheroes, it’s “freaks and monsters” into his command structure in order to keep a hold of their powers…all except Superman (Daly) and Batman (Conroy).  When Superman is framed for murder, cast out and made a criminal there’s little choice but for the two caped heroes to work together to bring down the biggest threat the free world has ever seen…the President of the United States of America.

Public Enemies is the sixth film in the DC UAOMS and by now not only do the creators know exactly what they’re doing but they’re in a successful and enjoyable stride of using the legends of all their superheroes to push the boundaries of their narratives.  Like The Avengers, the biggest obstacle for any Superman/Batman crossover film, or The Justice League (as it is ultimately DC and Warner’s end game) is that of common ground.  Batman, much like Iron Man, is one without extraordinary powers.  He’s a man with great determination, advanced technology and training.  He exists, largely, in a realm of reason and normalcy.  Contrarily Superman, The Green Lantern etc have origins in the Science Fiction genre and this is where the problems over narrative begin – and where Whedon’s Avengers did so well.  Batman’s presence in a Science Fiction world of Superman and his supercharged enemies would be lessened, similarly Superman would make little work of the story arches that challenge The Dark Knight (as the animated video including Superman in the narrative of The Dark Knight demonstrates).  The animated world of the DC universe allows for a greater suspension of disbelief and as such is a more comfortable fit for the crossover film that the world has been waiting for.

After years of Batman: The Animated Series’ animation style, it’s minimalist representation of Batman and the Art Deco sculpting of Gotham City the hyper physical rendering of Batman is an interesting one, similarly the detailing in the materials that construct the world is excellent.  As Batman has moved on in the live action world of cinema so has he in animation.  Where Burton’s Batman showcased a superficial Batman against a detailed villain, Schumacher’s Batman & Robin demonstrated a lack of any understanding about the Batman legend – Superman/Batman: Public Enemies not only builds upon the individual legends of the two heroes, but also on their combined storylines and the real world events.  The global financial meltdown of SBPE sets a tone of realism that’s greatly appreciated and if Warner are ever going to accomplish something like this in live action form – seriously required.

Conroy (as Batman) and Daly (as Superman) give solid enough vocal performers, at this point they’ve been doing it for so long there’s little to think about whenever the narrative is this straight forward and, dare I say, almost classic video-game beat 'em up in it's simplicity.  Clancy Brown (as Lex Luthor) is excellent casting, an obvious choice having not only played Luthor but also Mr. Freeze and Bane between 2004 and 2007 in The Batman.  He’s a man that DC and Marvel turn to on many occasions and it’s easy to understand why.  He has a tone and richness to his voice that’s incredibly expressive and connotes more than the mere words.  He’s not the only piece of casting you have to admire; CCH Pounder (Amanda Waller) is one of my favourite actors.  She was crucial to the success of The Shield and painfully underused in this.

The problem with Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is one of excess.  The number of superheroes involved in the narrative far outweigh the narrative itself.  There is a meteor hurtling towards the Earth, Superman and Batman are deemed enemies of the State but the film seems to drift from combative set piece to combative set piece without actually earning them.  It’s a common problem in the crossover animated world and one that you’d perhaps think would be resolved by this point but you’d be wrong.  Perhaps I’m the wrong target audience and if I’ve completely missed the mark then that’s the way it is but with this many superheroes, this much vocal talent and this much time making these films I expected more.  More than one line inside references and The Bat-Man being reduced to little more than a sidekick.  Bane is bested by Batman in a matter of seconds as there are bigger, super powered  problems to deal with, which generally belittles not just a great foe but a great hero too.  Perhaps it just doesn't transfer well from paper to screen.

Public Enemies is as much a cautionary tale to film makers and the dangers of too many masked cooks spoiling the broth as it is one of electoral awareness against bald billionaires.  A fun and well constructed yet seriously unchallenging outing for all things in the DC Universe.

Movie Bar HEROES! featuring a foursome of fantastic yet forgotten Superheroes including The Champions of Justice and 3 Supermen Against Godfather can be booked by clicking [here].


Voltech said...

My greatest regret has always been not being a major comic book fan since I could read; it always feels like I'm missing out on something great (though I've gotten a little bit more into comics in recent years). That said, I've always had the DC cartoons to fall back on -- up to and especially Justice League Unlimited.

Minor origin story aside, thanks for this post. A shame that it only earned two stars (or is it emblems?) from you, but just reading the post made me realize just how much depth and potential comics -- and their related media --hold.

It certainly helps that Kevin Conroy has an awesome voice...but that just may be my nostalgia talking. And by talking I mean clubbing me repeatedly with a cookie-scented sledgehammer.

John Baxter said...

No wholly agree, Conroy is a phenomenon. That's just my opinion, if you're a Justice League fan you'll no doubt love it but I felt the Batman's skill set was greatly reduced with the presence of so many super powered superheroes. I could be wrong, my better half tells me I am quite often. One thing for it, which is great, is there's a strong acknowledgement of all the legends that exist before the film creating a wonderful sense of the DC universe.

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