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Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010)

by on 2011/05/31

“Well, well. The gang’s all here.”

* * * *

Having just watched this video for the second time in a year, it gets automatic credit for rewatchability. In fact, I enjoyed it at least as much now as then, and I’m flummoxed by the negative press this DTV piece has gotten around the net.

I’ve seen most of DC’s Animated Universe efforts; Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is easily among their best, despite bearing an unwieldy and inaccurate title. Its greatest failing may be that it should have been called Supergirl instead.

The unfortunate reality is neither “Supergirl” nor “Wonder Woman” (who also plays a prominent role here) will move the sales needle nearly far enough. Fortunately, Superman and Batman justify their title with major roles throughout a new origin tale.

Batman (Kevin Conroy) investigates a downed craft in Gotham Harbour and discovers a young woman inside, Kara Zor-El (Summer Glau). Despite evidence to suggest she is not only Kryptonian but (improbably) the cousin of Superman (Tim Daly), he remains suspicious. Her cellular structure is unusual, her memories are inconsistent, and Krypto the dog is aggressive around her.

Early scenes play the situation for laughs in a manner almost certainly intended to evoke the shopping spree in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. However, the dangers of an untrained superbeing emerge all too soon. Batman enlists Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg) in removing the girl from Superman’s care. They take her to the Amazonian island of Themyscira for training. Meanwhile, some powerful villains have their own plans to exploit her as a weapon.

Shoe and junk food cliches aside, this movie is nearly dominated by its many female heroes. Supergirl and Wonder Woman are joined by Big Barda (Julianne Grossman), Harbinger, and Artemis (both voiced by Rachel Quaintance). Additionally, the forces of Darkseid (Andre Braugher) are composed mainly of Granny Goodness (Ed Asner) and her Female Furies. (Yes, that Ed Asner.)

Despite an unfortunate reference to a broken fingernail, the women unleash an impressive beating on their foes. I was struck by the visceral fight scenes. Clearly choreographed, they’re neither too careful nor confusing. After the debacle of Red Hood’s inferior action, these ones bore real impact, weight, momentum, and speed.

Of course, action makes up the bulk of such superhero adventures and, while Apocalypse is little different, it also benefits from some decorative touches: news of President Luthor’s impeachment, Mister Miracle’s suit hanging in Barda’s closet, and a roadside sign familiar to viewers of Smallville.

The visual decorations are matched by verbal ones. I was especially impressed by Batman’s dry witticism . . . an unusual touch, deftly handled. His sly dark humour goes unappreciated by those around him but, as Superman explains, he “isn’t so bad once you get to know him.”

Sadly, not everything works well or improves with exposure. My first jarring moment was seeing the Man of Steel’s blue eyes. It’s not so much that they’re blue but that they’re excessively bright, set in unusually large white pools. Perhaps intended to contrast with Batman’s appearance, he comes across as too wide-eyed an innocent. He’s practically a caricature of himself, gone missing from an anime picture.

Another shaky aspect was the sound of Darkseid. Andre Braugher’s voice is deeper than average, but nowhere near powerful, monstrous, or resonant enough for one of the so-called New Gods. He also sounds a little bit congested. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by the many great voices, back again from the good old days of the DCAU: Conroy, Daly, and Eisenberg especially.

Fortunately, it’s not all just nostalgia. Superman/Batman: Apocalypse provides a good story well told. By the time I heard its rousing final theme, I knew I’d be seeing it yet again in the future. It would be the faintest of praise to say this take on Supergirl outdoes the Eighties feature.

So let me instead conclude by saying it stands on par with the best episodes of Superman: The Animated Series. Given my affection for the works of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, that’s no backhanded compliment at all.

* * * *

Rated PG13

78 minutes

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