by Scott Mendelson
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is the Star Trek: Insurrection of the DCAU animated features. There wasn't anything really wrong with that ninth Star Trek film, but it still feels like little more than a two-part episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And if Public Enemies was merely a three-part episode of Superman: The Animated Series, it would be a good one. But it falls short as a stand-alone movie. It's certainly entertaining, colorful, and quite action packed. But it's also lacking in logical narrative and dramatic impact. The original comic book story that this is based on was the pay-off for nearly five-years of Superman story-arcs. However bubble-gum silly and widescreen spectacular the Jeph Loeb story was, it was preceded by years of build-up that gave the climax real weight. Without that continuity, this feature spin-off is the first DC Animated Universe original movie that truly feels like just a cartoon.
Some plot - Economic and social strife has left America so desperate that Lex Luthor himself now sits in the Oval Office. It would seem on the surface that Luthor has finally realized that the best revenge was living well, as he sits not on a hotbed of corruption but a stable economy and a safer populace. Superman can only seethe in the corner as he half-heartedly stops whatever crimes and/or accidents still occur in Metropolis. But trouble looms as a kryptonite meteor is apparently headed toward Earth. But a call for help from President Luther and the Man of Steel ends in tragedy and leaves Superman wounded and implicated in the murder of a super villain. Now with both heroes and villains hunting down the last son of Krypton, he turns to the only hero who still completely trusts him, the Dark Knight himself. Now Superman and Batman must unite to clear Superman's name and save the Earth from approaching disaster.
Unfortunately, once the plot is established around the twenty-minute mark, the remaining forty-five minutes give way to one super-powered smack-down after another. Character and plot logic goes out the window for a stream of epic battle scenes between Superman and Batman vs this pack of heroes or that pack of villains. The cameos are numerous (even Hush makes an inexplicable experience, which makes no sense if you know anything about the character), but the film's brief 67-minute running time leaves little room for plot or any real substance in between the fight scenes. What time there is for plot is spent explicitly explaining things that were taken for granted in the comics (and should be taken for granted in a fan-friendly adaptation such as this). This results in a flurry of rushed and on-the-nose exposition for a story that just doesn't have the time.
What does work is the character interplay between Batman and Superman. While this movie is obviously missing the back-and-forth thought bubbles that were a trademark of the Superman/Batman comic series in its early days, enough of the memorable wordplay makes its way onto the screen. And it's obviously fun to see Kevin Conroy (Batman), Tim Daly (Superman), Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor), and CCH Pounder (Amanda Waller) return to their animated series roles. Although that only makes it incredibly distracting when certain characters show up who have new voices this time around (for example, Alfred is inexplicably not voiced by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.). And furthermore, am I the only one who wonders just why George Newbern gets so little respect? The guy voiced a darn-solid Superman in 60 episodes of Justice League from 2001 to 2005. That's actually more than Daly, who voiced Superman from 1996-1999 in 52 episodes of Superman: The Animated Series. On the plus side, like in Batman: Arkham Asylum, Kevin Conroy is a more natural and low-key Batman than any time prior to Justice League.
In the end, this feature is as light as a feather, without the years of comic-book back story to make it more potent than it otherwise would be. Even the climax feels limper and more perfunctory, and the story alterations feel unnecessary and drain what emotional impact there was in the first place. If you want to watch an hour of Clancy Brown hamming it up and our two favorite heroes laying waste to much of the DC universe, then you'll get your fill. But this entry feels more like the Lionsgate Ultimate Avengers cartoons than the more artistically ambitious DCAU products. It lacks the ambition of Justice League: The New Frontier, the scope and angry feminism of Wonder Woman, and the noirish qualities of Green Lantern: First Flight. It's certainly more entertaining that Batman: Gotham Knights, but I expect better from the Timm/Burnett universe.
The Blu Ray: The image is hurts-your-eyes colorful and perfectly fits the cotton-candy nature of the story. The sound was just fine on my English 2.0 mono system. As for the extras, we have the usual 20-minute featurette on the dual natures of Batman and Superman, as well as spotlights on the prior DCAU titles. We have two bonus episodes of Superman: The Animated Series (the hilarious "Knight Time" and the dreadful "The Demon Reborn") as well as the four-part 'Cadmus' arc that closed out the stellar fourth season of Justice League (at around 85 minutes, it's just plain better than the main feature in nearly every way). We have a sneak preview of the next feature, Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths, a multi-verse story that apparently started as a planned story arc for the Justice League animated series. Best of all, we have a whopping fifty-five minute round-table 'dinner with DCU' interview with Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano, Gregory Novick, and Kevin Conroy. This segment is by itself worth the purchase or at least rental of the Blu Ray (the DVD version is allegedly shorter). It's a wonderfully insightful and funny conversation about everything from the origins of Batman: The Animated Series to the casting of Public Enemies. You'll love Kevin Conroy's story involving an encounter with a homeless person outside of his local post office.
We have a merely so-so movie, but with a glorious transfer and genuinely compelling extras. If you collect this stuff out of habit, I won't stop you this time. But casual fans might want a rental first. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is not a patch on the better DCAU films or cartoon shows, but it's pretty entertaining in its own right. For more information, go to the official site.
Movie - B-
Video - A
Audio - NA
Extras - B+