Thursday, January 13, 2011


(Hey, it was made for video, but it's feature-length, it counts... though it shouldn't, but I'll get to that in a moment)

I need to read more comics.  That's the first thought that would pop into my head from time to time when watching certain parts of the latest offering from the DC Animated film division, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. While I of course (no, sorry, OF COURSE!TM) know who Jack Kirby is, this is the first time I've really had an introduction to the villain of this story, Darkseid (sounding more like 'Side', and perhaps just as silly sounding), and the planet of the 'New Gods' on Apocalypse.  At first I thought, perhaps naively, that I would be seeing a progression from the last Superman/Batman animated film, Public Enemies, where Sup & Bats were up against they're own fellow heroes, and now this time they were up against the end of the world.  But nope, it's just a planet, kind of like the one at the climax of Revenge of the Sith: full of lava and hellish reds and blacks, and probably hot though that's not much of a concern to buff practical immortals with armor and jagged jawlines.

That previous made-for-animated-video movie Public Enemies also had Apocalypse's writer, Jeph Loeb (or at least based on his graphic novel, I can't say how much his involvement was as I don't know).  Like that one, this is actually a pretty weak story, and another step down for the most part from the better-quality work of other DC animated films, most notably from this past year, Batman: Under the Red Hood.  This story has both of the flagship DC heroes in action, but Batman only plays a part in a couple of specific instances; it's mostly all about Kara-El, and this being I suppose an origin story for Super Girl (voiced by Summer Glau, who sadly only makes an appearance in memory... ah, memories).

Kara-El comes to Earth ala Terminator-style, all naked, and soon finds she can't really control her eye-laser powers or her urges to be all alien-God-like.  Clark Kent/Superman has to step in to show her a thing or two, but not before Wonder Woman steps in and takes over on her training.  Things seem to be a little shaky (it's Kara-El's very basic "I just wanna do what I want" bitchiness that comes with youth, or just being bitchy), but there's other trouble with Darkseid, a nasty mo-fo on the aforementioned hell-planet, and his minions made of armor and steel and so on.  And they mean business, along with his army of metal-brainless things.  Which (spoiler) Superman knocks out in less than thirty seconds.  L'yawn.

She's all standing there and Batman's like, 'I ain't having it.'

I don't know why I didn't get worked up more by the story.  Maybe it is all on Jeph Loeb, who after The Long Halloween has been churning out work after work with, an exception here or there, has been (rightfully) been met with derisive attack by comics readers.  It's not that he's a totally bad writer, although I'm sure the screenwriter here didn't matter to weed out some of the tackier lines of dialog like... well, it's not all too memorable, save maybe for some lines in the climax (which I'll get to in a moment) or the odd-ended would-be clever line like "I'd tell you to go to hell, but given the situation it would be redundant," that sticks out just because it's... eh.  It's basic stuff, and it should be enough to draw one in who doesn't know much about these characters who were originally created by Kirby.  But it also feels like a shallow danger on this Apocalypse planet; we get the inevitable fall for the young girl and the challenge met via mind-control by the villain, and the  malarkey with a threat to blow the planet that's never met.

You know shit's on cause it's at a Dutch angle!
Sure, there is plenty of action, but there isn't much danger there either.  In fact with the exception of Batman I wasn't sure there was any character here who had any kind of real weakness outside of the ones of semi-or-actual Gods or Aliens or what not.  And it's a lack of solid characterization; we only know Kara-El for so long until she is thrust into this big problem with Darkseid, and it's not quite enough to get on her side.  Maybe there was more in the book.  Maybe it's just too damn faithful.  And the action isn't badly animated, though it is distracting to have Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy once again reprising their roles but in characters drawn quite differently than we've seen them (also an issue in Public Enemies).

It does help that the climax of the movie is almost, for a brief moment, surprising, and this whole ten minute sequence of action has thrills and some unexpected heights of intensity (Superman almost goes to Fist of the North Star levels of punching save for the 'A-ta-ta-ta-ta!' cries of that protagonist).  I got drawn into the drama of it, both the danger for the characters and their fighting back to their full 'Super' powers, which was more surprising as I thought by this point I was going to tune out due to the dullness of the story.  That does help notch it a little above what I had expected, but by then it's still a little too late to make it better than it is, which is a mediocre story crammed into the usual lot of talented artists and voice-over actors at DC... actually, that last part is a mixed bag, too.  When you got Andre Braugher and Ed Asner doing just one dimensional (if not 1/2 dimensional) villains, it kind of grows old fast.

Again, this might not be the fairest review, having not read the comic and only the cursory knowledge of the villains.  And then again, why should that be a problem?  I didn't know much about the Red Hood, or Martian Manhunter (New Frontier) before those films, and it turned out just fine because of the care in the context in crafting the characters, the stakes that were so high.  There aren't very high stakes with Apocalypse, if nothing else because Superman is such a high-octane player to start with, backed up by the two other big guns in the JLA, up against some chumps who are just out to screw with the Kryptonians.  If you're a big fan of Superman/Batman/DC/maybe Super Girl (the two or three of you out there NOT jerking off to pictures of her) it might hit the spot.  For me, this could have just as well been a part of the JLA TV series and been passable, if still forgettable.  Up against the best of the lot of DC animated movies of the past several years, it doesn't come close.

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