I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t eagerly awaiting the release of Superman Batman Public Enemies Animated Original Movie since having first heard of it nearly a year ago. In what has been a very busy year for the DC Universe/Warner Premier (this being the third release thus far), I had the absolute highest of expectations going in to the film. I’m very pleased to report that the production met and exceeded my expectations on every conceivable level but before I get ahead of myself, let’s talk a bit about the two-disc Special Edition from which my review has been derived.
The movie itself resides upon the first DVD and comes in at a runtime of 67 minutes. In addition to the feature presentation, the first disc contains a fairly in depth look at four other DC Universe Animated Movies (Blackest Night, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern First Flight & Justice League The New Frontier). Notably missing from this release is a full-length commentary track with the film’s production team and/or vocal talent, a rarity for this type of movie (Wonder Woman had two of them after all).
The second disc is where some of the really cool special features hide, including a segment, which contrasts and compares the mindsets of the two leading characters, Batman and Superman. This piece is quite interesting as it explores the unlikely duo’s ever-evolving relationship and provides alarmingly simple yet accurate associations (such as Superman being essentially based from the fireman model of modern society whereas Batman is fundamentally the cop who’s seen it all). This segment is followed by a simple but fun feature entitled “Dinner with DCU”. In it Kevin Conroy (the voice of Batman) joins Andrea Romano, Bruce Timm, and Gregory Noveck for desert and drinks at a restaurant with the camera documenting the conversation. It’s probably the closest any of us are going to get to dining out with this ensemble and definitely worth a viewing.
The next special could certainly have been the paramount moment of the entire second disc for me on account of the fact that it looks ahead to the DCAU’s next ambitious undertaking, which just so happens to be based upon my all time beloved franchise, The Justice League. The next animated feature film will be titled “Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths” and will apparently play around with the concept of the multiverse and the Justice League’s eventual entanglement with their inherent opposites: The Crime Syndicate.
Last but certainly not least are two bonus cartoons as selected by none other than Bruce Timm himself, this time two selections from Superman The Animated Series that featured crossover appearances from the Dark Knight (The Demon Reborn & Knight Time).
The robust extra features are worth the price of admission, but it’s the feature film you’ve come to read about so let me waste no more time with technicalities. For those who don’t know, Public Enemies is the animated adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. The premise is fairly straightforward and while I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers in the following summary, it may be wise to skip ahead if you have yet to see the movie.
The film, like the novel, literally opens with an intense look at the contemporary United States in the thralls of an all-out economic depression. Amidst the looting, vandalism and plight of the inner city’s residents, the shocking realization that none other than Lex Luthor resides as Commander in Chief is made known. It turns out that Luthor had managed to buy his way into the Oval Office and rather than devote his governing power to improving the sad state of economic affairs, reveals that he has been busy assembling a task force of superheroes to govern over the remaining heroes who have yet to embrace his new regime.
Amidst this development, another far more dangerous revelation is made known that a radioactive chunk of the planet Krypton is apparently on a collision course with planet Earth. Once made aware (by former CADMUS leader, Amanda Waller) that full-scale annihilation of the planet’s inhabitants would leave nobody for Luthor to reside over, his priorities shift to doing all he can to avoid the calamity.
Disguised as genuine concern for Superman, Lex sets up a little impromptu meeting with the Man of Steel to discuss possible implications should his efforts to intercept the meteor fail. Long story short, the meeting serves as an opportunity to frame Superman for the murder of one very Terminator-like Metallo.
When addressing the nation concerning these matters, Lex offers a billion dollar bounty on Superman’s head. Suddenly appearing public enemy number 1 to the entire globe, Superman finds himself on the run with help coming in the form of a wonderfully moody Batman.
Again, I do not wish to give too many key plot moments away so let’s just say that the bounty motivates several DC Universe villains to make an appearance in effort to take down Supes. Among them: Silver Banshee, Captain Cold, Icicle, Killer Frost, Mr. Freeze, Gorilla Grodd, Bane, Black Manta, Black Spider, Brimstone, Catman, Cheetah, Copperhead, Deadshot, Despero, Giganta, King Shark, Lady Shiva, Mongul, Nightshade, and Solomon Grundy. As if all of this weren’t enough, Lex’s own newly appointed Superhero taskforce (Captain Atom, Starfire, Katana, Black Lightning, Power Girl, Major Force and Captain Marvel) are also attempting to bring Superman in on a Federal warrant.
The core of the story is essentially dual fold. In the foreground you have a complete reversal of logic with a fledging superhero duo running from the law in a nation being controlled by none other than Lex Luthor. This part of the tale, when taken at face value, is a roller-coaster ride of lightening-fast pacing, ultra cool hero/villain melees, and witty dialog as a direct result of the chemistry between the two lead characters. Casual fans and action junkies will absolutely delight in this element as the plot never bogs down or takes itself too seriously.
Hidden beneath the surface is a second layer of depth that hardcore fans of either the DC Animated Universe or DC Comic threads will appreciate. Among these are use of Amanda Waller in a sort of reprise/ evolution of her influence in the whole Task Force X thread, Power Girl’s unmistakable, um endowments, and an homage to the old Superfriends days in Luthor donning his Power Suit to level the playing field between he and Superman.
It is within this second story element that we are given a bit of classic comic flare through Lex’s rise to power to achieve sinister motives, Superman’s struggle of attempting to clear his good name to a misguided and judgmental public, and Bruce Wayne’s jaded view of society working for him in terms of the greater good.
The artwork is just fantastic throughout with character models derived directly from the graphic novel (rather than the animated incarnations). This means some really welcomed detail in areas such as Superman’s face and a Batman’s suit.
Throughout most of the film, I was convinced that the fluid plot structure, beautiful pacing, stellar vocal work and charming visuals were enough to grant this a coveted 5-star score and it very nearly happened. Believe it or not, my half star deduction comes from a few plot points that I never fully meshed with even in the graphic novel source material. The first of these is the fact that we are shown stable wormhole generator technology for our spacecraft to instantaneously traverse the void of space. A very cool premise for sure but one that poses the question, “Why not simply create a wormhole to swallow up the meteor itself?” Instantly transporting it to another point in the galaxy would be perhaps the most logical method of eliminating the threat.
My second complaint, which actually coincides with the first, would have to be the tool that is finally called into action to eliminate the radioactive chunk of krypton: A giant rocket designed by Hiro Okamura (Toyman) in the shape of a massive Superman/ Batman hybrid. The odd and unexplained switch of Toyman from villain to hero notwithstanding, the rocket comes off as one of those corny visuals that will draw criticism from non-comic fan viewers who happen to walk into the room at that particular scene.
In all though, such complaints are minor when compared to the marvelously fun thrill-ride that is Public Enemies. The quality is truly top-notch especially when you stop to consider the sheer quantity of material the DC Animated Universe has been churning out of late. Fully satisfied with this piece, all that’s left to wonder is how long until Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths comes out?
What did you think of this review?