Well it was only a matter of time… I’m a self-admitted DCAU (DC Animated Universe) aficionado and while the following property has typically earned nothing but poor reviews from professional critics and casual comic fans alike, I knew that I simply wouldn’t be satisfied until adding this to my collection and viewing it for purpose of review.
Let’s start with the facts. Released across a single DVD, Superman: Brainiac Attacks is packaged within a single standard sized DVD case and comes in at a runtime of 75 minutes. There are no extras contained on the set (rare for a DC animated release) but there is a nice assortment of Warner Bros. DVD trailers under the “Special Features” heading.
The story goes something like this: Super criminal Lex Luthor forms a dangerous alliance with the computer/villain Brainiac once his prototype satellite defense system proves quite unable to destroy the alien upon entry. Using advanced weaponry and a tiny sample of Kryptonite harvested from the far reaches of the galaxy, Luthor redesigns Brainiac after a near-fatal pummeling from Superman to defeat the Man of Steel once and for all.
The problem of course is that super-villains rarely learn to play nice together and by the time the union of Brainiac and Luthor crumbles, Superman’s got both of them to deal with plus a strain of kryptonite infused nano-virus afflicting both he and Lois. The only known cure lies deep within the Phantom Zone.
The animation, which has been the subject of scrutiny in the past, is certainly on par with the CG-heavy efforts of the later DCAU properties (like Justice League/ JL Unlimited) and is vastly superior visually to the hand-painted efforts of Superman: the Animated Series. The color pallet is bright and crisp and many of the onscreen effects (fire, explosions, dimensional distortions and so on) are beautifully rendered throughout.
About the biggest complaint comes in the form of the voice actor casting as some of the Superman the Animated Series choices were retained (Tim Daly as Superman/ Clark Kent & Dana Delany as Lois Lane) others were replaced seemingly at random. Among the notables here is digitally effected Lance Henriksen (Bishop from the ALIEN franchise) as Brainiac and Powers Boothe as Lex Luthor (opposed to Corey Burton and Clancy Brown respectively). In short, Henriksen manages to deliver the goods. Chalk it up to the natural raspiness of his voice or the cybernetic associations through ALIENS and you end up with a very believable computer-powered organism. Powers Boothe, however, drops the ball as Luthor. Sad as it is to say, he displays too much vocal and emotional fluctuation. Lex is known for his smooth-sounding cunning and there’s simply a bit too much inflection here to feel entirely convincing.
Aside from the vocal discrepancy (which I’m thoroughly convinced accounts for a majority of fan complaints), the other point of divergence from SM: TAS comes in the form of Duane Capizzi’s (known for developing such shows as The Batman and Jackie Chan Adventures) script, which was admittedly developed as a counterpoint to the Superman films (with a slight comedic slant). As such, the sheer grit that viewers of the original Animated Series have grown to expect is absent and replaced with a livelier, friendlier Metropolis. However, rumors of the film’s departure from the original SM: TAS are highly exaggerated.
Perhaps the film’s greatest strength, which may simultaneously be its greatest weakness, comes in the form of the pacing. How can this contradiction possibly make sense? Well, the weak dialog can hardly be considered feature-length, as a good 30% of the film is completely action-sequence driven. The battles are truly massive in scale as is their resulting destruction. The animation in these segments is right up there with what viewers of Justice League have come to expect and unlike SM: TAS, Supes actually uses several of his long overdue abilities (freeze breath, heat and x-ray vision to name a few). Cooler still is that Brainiac, for as nearly invincible as his body may be, ends up getting the ultimate edge on the Man of Steel by attacking on a nanoscopic level. Very cool.
Interestingly enough, the film is typically not considered a part of the DCAU despite the fact that several of the DCAU’s leading figures were heavily involved in its production. As a result many (mistakenly) believe there must be continuity issues but the show doesn’t specifically violate any of the established timelines of the DCAU either. Capizzi has stated that the biggest difference lies in the fact that the script was developed from the onset to be a standalone plot line and in no way connected to the ongoing threads setup in SM: TAS.
In conclusion, it’s quite easy to understand how the poor characterization of Lex Luthor has led to many of this film’s negative critical responses, I feel like a lot of this stems simply from the fact that the DCAU has raised the bar so high, it’s pretty easy to disappoint fans. Had this come out before SM: TAS or better still, from a completely unrelated firm, I don’t think fans would be quite so critical. There’s a lot of entertainment to be found here so long as you go in with expectations a few stages below the DCAU in its prime.
What did you think of this review?