Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"Superman / Batman: Apocalypse" (2010)

Starring Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy and Summer Glau
Written by Tab Murphy
Directed by Lauren Montgomery

You may recall I didn't particularly care for Warner Bros.' adaptation of "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies."  The script felt bare and the animation was subpar at best.  Even the presence of fan-favorites Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy reunited as Superman and Batman could save what was a lackluster effort from the DC Universe brand.

"Supergirl" was the sequel to "Public Enemies," picking up where that story left off in the comics in "Superman/Batman" issues 6-12.  Here, that story is adapted into animation as a sequel to the "Public Enemies" movie, renaming it "Apocalypse" and again bringing back castmembers Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy and also bringing back Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman and Ed Asner as Granny Goodness.  The film recasts the villainous god Darkseid with the voice of Andre Braugher, and adds Summer Glau as Kara/Supergirl.

In the aftermath of "Public Enemies," a series of kryptonite meteor showers have plagued Earth.  One of these has hidden a surprise: a Kryptonian starship carrying a young girl, Kara Zor-El, Superman's cousin.  Unlike Superman, she didn't grow up on Earth, didn't learn to manage her powers slowly.  She arrives as a teenager, and is unable to control her great strength.  Feeling Kara is a danger to the Earth, Wonder Woman and her army of Amazons take Kara to Themyscira to train her safely.  Batman doesn't trust Kara, finding the gaps in her memory just too convenient.  He argues with Superman, who just wants Kara to integrate into a normal life on Earth.

But when Darkseid sends an army of Doomsday clones to Themyscira to abduct Kara, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Big Barda (Julianne Grossman) travel to Apokolips to rescue her. There, they come across Granny Goodness and her Female Furies standing in their way.  When they finally manage to confront Darkseid, they find that he's brainwashed Kara into becoming his soldier.  The heroes will have to risk all to free Kara's body and mind from Darkseid and return to Earth.

"Apocalypse" is better than "Public Enemies," for sure.  By much?  Not really.  I wasn't a huge fan of this storyline in the comics.  It was cool enough, but it had pacing issues and a few really bizarre twists that I'm still not convinced were necessary or even made sense.  This movie is a better adaptation of that story into animated form than "Public Enemies," but the underlying problems with the original subject matter hold it back.

Again, probably the greatest draw of the entire film is bringing back actors like Daly and Conroy, and now Eisenberg (who played Diana in the "Justice League" and "Justice League Unlimited" series) as well as Ed Asner's Granny Goodness.  These actors all know these roles inside and out, and Daly probably gives his best performance as Superman.  Conroy doesn't have much to do, since Batman mostly sticks to the background in this story, making a habit of appearing just at the right moment. 

The major casting failure here is Andre Braugher's Darkseid.  It's a waste.  Braugher has nothing on the previous version of the character played by Michael Ironside.  Ironside knew exactly how to voice Darkseid, with a menacing cadence and his deep, deep voice gritted to perfection.  Braugher is just a complete failure, bringing none of that menace or measured, pure evil to the role.  This version of Darkseid just sounds like a lightweight sissy compared to Ironside's.  It's totally disappointing.

The animation is a step up from "Public Enemies" in terms of the fluidity of motion.  One of the things that killed "Public Enemies" was the choppy, uneven movement.  "Apocalypse" fares better, but even here there's a drawback: the character designs are somewhat inconsistent and in some cases, even downright ugly.  Superman looks alright, as does Wonder Woman.  But Batman looks awful, with weirdly feminine lips and cheekbones. 

The action sequences are decent, but unspectacular.  The film gets bogged down in a faux-shaky-cam style, probably designed to hide the cheapness of the animation.  "Batman: Under the Red Hood" had much better action sequences, so I think it comes down to storyboarding and direction, since these films all have pretty much the same budget.  Still, there are some cool moments that caught my eye amidst all the standard smashing and crashing.  Even the final battle between Kara and Darkseid that decimates the Kent Farm in Smallville isn't terrifically impressive, but it's not bad. 

"Superman/Batman: Apocalypse" is unremarkable, which is really unfortunate.  Even though the original source material wasn't the best, the opportunity still existed for something really cool, especially with the voice cast WB assembled for this picture.  But the subpar action sequences and the complete failure of Andre Braugher as Darkseid hamper the whole thing.  Still, it's better than "Public Enemies," and I'll take any chance to hear Daly, Conroy and Eisenberg back as the Big Three.