Stephen reviews: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

Superman_Batman-Public-Enemies-posterStarring Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, Clancy Brown, Allison Mack, Xander Berkely, CCH Pounder, Ricardo Chavira, John C. McGinley

Directed by Sam Liu

To help out with the Man of Steel countdown, I’m going to be adding to Will’s ongoing Superman reviews in my own manner, by reviewing a few of the animated films showcasing the Man of Steel. This is an adaptation of a story arc from the comics, and it shows. If you want something with realism or a serious story, look elsewhere. This doesn’t have the old style Adam West camp, but it is pure superhero action that doesn’t put on any airs. This is no Christopher Nolan film.

They went so far as to adapt the character designs of the comic book artist, Ed McGuinness, into animation. What this means is a lot of bulging, well-defined muscles. For Superman himself the image works very well, but for some of the other characters, like Captain Atom, it just looks strange.

This brings me to a more awkward aspect of the film, the heaping mountain of random characters. I had no idea who some of these people are, and there were tons that I only recognized by sight without any idea of what they do. This could genuinely cause a rather large barrier for those not familiar with DC Comics. Though it was interesting to see an animated Starfire that looks closer to her comic book design. You’ll have to resist asking yourself just who the hell all these people are. They’re just random people for Superman and Batman to beat up.

Bonus points if you can name all of these guys.

Bonus points if you can name all of these guys.

I was slightly worried that Public Enemies wouldn’t work well for a Superman film review because he has to share the screen with Batman, but when you get down to the story, it mostly revolves around Superman himself. Batman gets plenty of time to shine, but the core troubles touch mostly upon Superman’s world. Batman is more of the buddy who decides to lend a hand when Superman’s world goes to hell.

The film starts off with Lex Luthor somehow getting enough votes to become President of the United States. At first, everything seems fine, but we all know that isn’t going to last. Surprisingly, the initial problem does not come from Lex’s evil scheme, but from a giant meteor headed for Earth guaranteed to cause horrific destruction. Now why doesn’t Superman head out to solve the problem? Mainly because the meteor is made out of kryptonite which means they have to find a more mundane solution.

supermanbatmanpublicenemies_2And of course it’s a perfect time to complicate things by having that evil scheme come into play as well. Lex frames Superman for murder, and then puts a billion dollar bounty on his head. Now trying to take down Superman may be one of the dumbest things someone can try, but it seems like there are plenty of people dumb enough to try.  And it sure provides a fun action extravaganza as Superman gets attacked by a small army of opportunistic super-villains.

The action scenes are plentiful, and they look pretty good. The animation isn’t amazing, but it holds it’s own quite well. There is a lot of CG, which always bugs me, but to be honest, anime creators ought to crib a few notes from DC’s animation crew in this regard. The CG is blended into the film’s visual style much better than most anime I’ve seen.

supermanbatmanpublicenemies_3Still there was something else about the visuals that seemed lackluster, and for a while I couldn’t figure out what it was. Eventually it dawned on me that it was the background art. It’s pretty simplistic stuff, and makes the movie come across more like a TV series than a proper film. Anyone who thinks that background art doesn’t add much should watch any Makoto Shinkai film for proof of just how much it can do.

There were a few other things I thought could have been done better. The biggest is the fight with Superman and Batman vs. Captain Marvel and Hawkman. We don’t see the ending to it. I know why they left it out, but I think the incomplete feeling it generated is a bigger drawback than missing out on the not-very-surprising twist that was meant to surprise someone. I also found myself repeatedly saying, “Come on Superman, you can take that hit!” For being damn near indestructible, the guy sure gets knocked around a lot. But then where would the tension go if nothing even fazed him?  On the other hand, there were also moments where I was surprised at how well he handles kryptonite. I thought that stuff would have killed him by then.

supermanbatmanpublicenemies_4There’s also an odd bit of comic book logic when Lex reveals his evil plot and how the army responds to it. But then I don’t really know what would happen if the president suddenly turned into a maniacal lunatic with a green and purple robot suit. Would there be a long-winded Clinton-esque impeachment process while he flies around and shoots the place up? I’m not sure there are any legal provisions for such an occurrence, so maybe the film really is spot-on with that part.

Overall, there’s plenty of superhero fun crammed into this film, and if you want to see Superman and Batman beat the stuffing out of a swarm of bad guys, then look no further. But do bear in mind that most of those other characters get little to no attention. Just accept that they are there to be punching bags and don’t worry too much about who they are or what they’re doing.

11 comments to Stephen reviews: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)

  • I remembered liking this one quite a bit, I had watched it shortly before starting my site and haven’t gotten around to watching it for review yet. While the villains are very random, I though it was a great little Easter Egg hunt picking out certain villains that I recognized from previous cartoons and wondering what kind of person would be able to recognize all of them.

    • Yeah, it was pretty fun, and a good movie to capture the feel of a comic book adventure. I’m sure there are comic book fans out there that had a blast identifying all the random side characters here. They can be pretty much ignored by the unaware viewers, but I can see someone getting annoyed by them.

  • Hahahaha, Superman does look pretty ripped in this! He’s been doing some super sit ups!

    Glad to have you on-board with the Superman reviews! Not only is it fun to read about something related to Superman without writing or watching anything, it’s nice to get your perspective on the character and his animated exploits via these recent DC animated films. It also means that Man of Steel is quickly approaching!

    And I get no points. I don’t know any of those guys. A few weeks ago, I just found out about Lex Luthor’s mech suit, otherwise I would be questioning who he was supposed to be. I fail at DC.

    • I can picture Superman doing sit ups, about a hundred per second, and maybe causing some kind of tornado or earthquake as a side effect.

      It’s always fun to coordinate things, and it’s giving me a good excuse to get to some of these animated films I haven’t seen yet.

      Those villains were pretty obscure. The only one aside from Lex that had much recognizability was Mr. Freeze, and he was only there for about a minute, looking very different from every other time I’ve seen him.

      • Was Mr. Freeze voiced by Arnold? Because I refuse to accept non-Arnold Freezes!

        • Stephen

          I don’t think he was voiced by anybody. I don’t remember him having any lines at all. So insert your own Arnold cold jokes it it pleases you!

          • Ah yes, that kicks ice! I don’t care what anyone says, Arnold as Freeze was an inspired casting choice. Although, I do subscribe to the logic that Arnold would brighten up any movie. Yes, any movie. Just think of Arnold in any role, spouting the iconic lines. Comedy gold! Arnold as Doc Brown? Arnold as Lincoln? It’s a neverending supply of good times.

            • Stephen

              Arnold reciting the Gettysburg Address? Yes, please!

              It’s true I can’t think of any way putting Arnold in a movie could go wrong. I would love to see him as Mrs. Doubtfire. And one can only wonder if he could have elevated the Star Wars prequels to watchable levels. Arnold as Anakin? The movies might have even been fun!

              • That’s the spirit! Y’know, I’ve never considered Arnold in the prequels. But I think you’ve hit on something! He would definitely make them better. Which, of course, leads to the “Arnold for Episodes 7, 8, & 9” campaign. They discover Luke isn’t the last of the jedi, there’s an old hermit by the name of Jedi Schwarzenegger hiding out on some far-out planet, chompin’ cigars and keeping the piece. Arnold and Star Wars together… it could be beautiful.

  • Never been into the DC animated stuff, to be honest, but this looks like a place to start. Love that Ed McGuinness art on the front cover. One of my fave artists, I was so pleased when he went to the monthly title with Jeph Loeb writing….

    • Stephen

      I’ve liked what few things of his I’ve seen in the comics. I think he does a good job of capturing that superheroic feel. And his art works well for the crossover stuff, where everyone needs a consistent style without betraying their unique aspects. Batman is the one that is tricky to make dark and brooding but still match with the more flamboyant designs of other superheroes. McGuinness manages to pull it off nicely, though.

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