Though visually distant from the previous Superman/Batman outing of Public Enemies, the film quickly reaffirms that it is in the same universe with radio broadcasts setting the stage for this sequel of sorts. We have monologue about President Luthor’s impeachment, radio callers complaining about a giant meteor landing in Gotham river and discussion about the new blimps patrolling Gotham City (which never seem to have any impact at all on anything in the film). The setup is all of course an attempt to not only bring viewers who hadn’t seen Public Enemies up to speed on this universe but to also kind of cement it as another entry in what will likely being a continuing line of Superman/Batman films.
When a spaceship splashes down in Gotham Harbor, Batman and Superman encounter a mysterious Kryptonian with powers as great as Superman’s. When Darkseid gets wind of this, he has the Kryptonian abducted and brought under his control on Apokolips. It’s up to Batman and Superman to retrieve the Kryptonian, forcing them to infiltrate Darkseid’s hostile world where superpowerful threats lurk around every corner. This story is based on Jeff Loeb’s popular mini-series from the Superman/Batman comic books.
I was a pretty big fan of Public Enemies. It was just big, dumb fun. Fun dialogue, fun story, great action, there wasn’t a whole lot not to like about it (unless you weren’t into the lovefest Superman and Batman seemed to have with one another [which kind of continues here, but not to the same extent]). Of course this movie shifts its focus to introduce Supergirl into this little universe and so the movie diverges from the previously set Superman/Batman formula by actually putting the title characters (or at least Batman, who really doesn’t have much of a presence) on the backburner. This is fine with me, as I don’t mind a little expansion in the ranks but despite the run time being knocked up from Public Enemies, Apocalypse actually feels both too long and too short.
There’s really no sense of pacing in this film. I haven’t read the original comic it is based off of so I can’t judge it based on that (though from what I hear it’s pretty accurate), leaving me to only gauge what this film is on its own merits. While the introduction and expansion of Kara’s character is nothing terribly horrendous, the way they try to interweave it with the story is really haphazard. Despite her being a stranger to Earth, she adapts a little too quickly and almost immediately becomes what can only be described as a “girly girl.” I don’t personally care either way what her persona is, but I really could’ve done without the shopping montage. Sure, it was cute but it truthfully did nothing for the film—in a comic book it’s fine, but when you have to budget your time in an animated film, it seems a bit egregious to waste it on mundane elements like this. The only real image of Supergirl we’re given in this film is that she’s like a typical teenager who is super powerful (moreso than Superman, apparently). It’s a very shallow character introduction and while that’s what the Superman/Batman series kind of is in of itself, I have to say it makes for a very dull and lifeless film.
The film issues don’t stop there either, sadly. Because we focus on Kara for half the story, the rest of the characters are kind of mishandled as well. There’s no expansion of Superman or Batman and Wonder Woman’s introduction makes for one of the most confusing debuts ever. On top of this we have a full villain roster to deal with (of which The Furies are probably the single most entertaining thing about this film), so while we focus on Kara for most of the story, no ones really given a fair shake. It’s all superficial introductions and a kind of feigned history between the characters (particularly when they bring Barda in). Even though I already know all there is to know about these characters, it just felt like a very sloppy way to bring them together for a story.
Speaking of which, the story itself is nothing all that original. STAS’s “Little Girl Lost” is pretty close to this story as is, just without Batman or the Amazon’s involvement. Kara’s origin is obviously tweaked between the two, although its setup the same way: Clark takes her in and attempts to train her. In Apocalypse, however, everyone around Superman goes “oh no you can’t train her! She’s dangerous!” This is exhibited by Batman, who really doesn’t trust her at all, and then when Wonder Woman shows up to take her to Paradise Island. Now, no one told Superman or Kara about this trip, so they attempt to ambush Kara and she begins squirting out eye lasers and all that, essentially destroying a park in the process. Wonder Woman explains this is exactly the thing they need to control, so they take her away. Now, at first it’s like “damn, she’s right! She ruined the park!” But then you rewind back and realize Wonder Woman pouncing on her is the reason for all of that occurring, so…yeah. Combine that with Batman just diving into the river to check on the meteor thing right in the beginning of the show and not bothering to check for survivors and you have a very moronic story already set into motion.
I can’t really say that it gets any worse, but it certainly doesn’t get any better either. The basic summary of the film is Kara crash lands on Earth, is trained by the Amazons, is captured by Darkseid and then brainwashed (though how, they never said—she just kind of disappears for awhile and then reappears in a stripper outfit before being subdued by Superman). Then everything kind of goes back to normal after they fight Darkseid one last time and then Kara puts on a Supergirl outfit and fade out, film ends. It’s a fairly simple story, but it’s stretched to an unbearable length and just when you think it’s going to end, Darkseid pops out again. Admittedly that fight is pretty cool, but it’s full of stupid moments like Supergirl being way overpowered and Superman just kind of falling down and getting back up more often than he should…although that seemed to be the norm for him in this movie. At one point a fleet of Doomsday’s show up (yeah, I don’t know why either) on Paradise Island and Superman begins wailing on them along with the Amazons. They’re actually killing the Doomsday clone things mind you, but when Superman finally just eye blasts the crap out of them, he gets all mopey because he killed them. It’s a very, very annoying scene and is kind of a great example of the vast power imbalance that everyone seems to have. I mean we’ve all see what Doomsday really is capable of, but here we have Batman fighting them with a stick. It makes you scratch your head and wonder what everyone is actually capable of if they’re able to take out an army of Doomsday’s, but then have trouble with some Furies later on.
Then there’s the voice acting. Daly, Conroy and Eisenberg (returning as Wonder Woman) are great as usual and I really enjoyed Summer Glau as Supergirl…but man was Andre Braugher as Darkseid disappointing. I don’t mind that Ironside wasn’t brought in—I’m fine with recasting on these movies. But he just didn’t have any menace. For a ubergod like Darkseid, there needs to be a commanding presence in his voice that makes you afraid to just be near him—but Braugher was a little too calm in his voice, never really kicking up the evil. Even when he returned later in the film it was a severe disappointment every time he opened his mouth. Truth be told I think Kevin Michael Richardson would’ve been a better filler.
After the voice acting we have the animation, which truth be told is actually pretty nice in the film. What I take issue with mainly are the character models; but even more than that I absolutely hated the way Batman and Superman’s mouths looked when moving. They were decent looking character models (aside from Superman’s excessive eyeliner) other than that, but man those mouth movements were irksome. Overall I didn’t mind Turner’s art style adapted into animation, although there was a definite slant towards the female models looking better (they also had a penchant for being naked for whatever reason).
Truth be told the only elements of this film I actually enjoyed and didn’t feel were tedious to watch were the action scenes. They were all really well done and storyboarded to perfection as there were some truly fantastic punches and kicks thrown throughout. Animation was always fluid and CGI was even kept to a minimal level (some in the intro, but I don’t remember much else except maybe a few things on Apokolips), so nothing every looked off in any way (aside from male lips). There definitely wasn’t a problem with the overall directing or animation of the film, as the problems really just stem from the story itself.
In a nutshell my problems with the film is that it attempts too much for its runtime, yet at the same time it also feels like it goes on forever. Small story bits are stretched out longer than they should be and overall it just doesn’t make for a very cohesive story. Combine that with the awkward character designs and sometimes disappointing voice casting and Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is just not a very enjoyable movie. It may go along fine at first, but there’s a very high chance that you’ll wonder if it’s ever going to end—which is not a feeling I was familiar with when it comes to these DCU titles. Perhaps you’ll enjoy it more than I, but even though I really enjoyed Public Enemies, Apocalypse is not something I’ll be coming back to anytime soon. Rent this one first.
Warner tosses Apocalypse onto Blu-ray with a standard Elite Blu-ray case housed underneath a reflective foil/embossed slipcover. Inside the case is the usual assortment: a Blu-ray for the film and an insert containing the digital copy activation code…for which they included a physical disc this time. The movie even has a main menu you get to choose from before it auto starts, although if you’re a diehard DC animation fan then there’s very little, if anything, that you’ll find worth checking out here (I pretty much said the same thing for Red Hood as well).
Before we get into the disappointing extras, let’s first take a gander at the technical presentation. The VC-1 encoded transfer is as close to flawless as you can get, sans a few moments of gradient issues but that’s to be expected from an animated production. As unappealing as some of the character designs (those lips!) were at times, the majority of the production looked fantastic, particularly the colors and animation on Paradise Island. Apokolips takes things down a notch with the intense reds, but overall there’s still an excellent amount of clarity to be found throughout the production. If there was anything hindering my enjoyment of the film it had nothing to do with the video transfer.
And nor the audio either. Warner follows up from Red Hood with another DTS-HD MA 5.1 track this time around. After years of DD5.1 mixes on these films, we’re finally given a proper lossless mix and it sounds fantastically thunderous. There is plenty of relentless action in this film and it all pounds its way through the speaker’s right from the start. I didn’t notice the score as much this time around as I did with other films, but a second viewing with the audio pumped up revealed some particularly inspiring cues that flood the room.
Moving onto the extras we first have the DC Showcase: Green Arrow (11:14, 1080p) short which is really quite good. I may not sound enthusiastic about it and that would be because…well, I’m not. It plays like an average random issue from a comic book series. There’s really nothing special about it and quite frankly feels like something pulled out of JLU, which isn’t bad…but again, it just isn’t quite as original or exciting to watch as that first Spectre short was. I hope they get into the more unknown heroes, notably of the Vertigo genre. A Constantine short maybe? Probably not…
Hold onto your butts for the rest of the extras:
• A first look at the next installment of the DC Universe movie, All-Star Superman (10:47, HD)
• DC Showcase Short Film: Green Arrow
• The New Gods Featurette – chronicles the tale of Darkseid and why he reigns supreme as one of the most brilliant, and toughest challengers the Super Heroes must face, and what his threat for tomorrow could bring.(22:12, HD)
• New Gods: Mr. Miracle pod (4:57, 1080p)
• New Gods: Orion pod (4:37, 1080p)
• Supergirl: The Last Daughter of Krypton Vintage Featurette (17:49, SD)
• Bonus Episodes Handpicked by Bruce Timm
Once again no commentary, but I’ve learned to stop hoping/caring for those (though I will continue to mention them in these reviews in hopes that Warner will see them and realize that we still want the damn commentary tracks). The featurettes are once again non-movie centric and focus on the comic book New Goods and all that. Fun stuff and its newly recorded and in HD for the first time, but I quickly grew tired of the history lesson because I’d heard bits and pieces of it before from other sources. The Supergirl featurette seems like it’s an older piece and we may have seen it somewhere before (from one of the Smallville season sets I believe) and the bonus episodes just make me want to watch STAS all over again and never look at Apocalypse again. I mean they freakin’ put “Little Girl Lost” on this release—it’s the same story, but tighter and much less tedious. Must calm down…
Overall this disc, like the film is a Rental unless you’re a die hard. Even then I question adding this one to the shelf as it will undoubtedly be my least watched DCU title thus far (well, tied with Gotham Knight maybe).
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on September 28th