Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Stubs - Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010) Starring the voices of Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Summer Glau, Andre Braugher, Edward Asner, Susan Eisenberg, Julianne Grossman, Rachel Quaintance. Director: Lauren Montgomery. Written by Tab Murphy. Based on DC characters. Batman created by Bob Kane. Superman created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster. Produced by Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, Bobbi Page, Lauren Montgomery, Sam Register, Benjamin Melniker, and Michael Uslan. Color. USA. Animation, Action, Adventure, Fantasy 78 minutes

While we rarely review direct to video features, we made an exception here. Tell me if this sounds like the main characters of a major motion picture: Batman and Superman, who always seem to be at odds, find themselves fighting on the same side with Wonder Woman against an alien foe. No, it’s not the plot of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, but rather Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, an animated feature from Warner Premiere, an imprint, so to speak, of Warner Bros.

This film is a sequel to Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), which sadly I haven’t seen. It probably would have helped, too. Apocalypse sort of assumes that you’ve seen that film and the story it tells does make some references to it, though ultimately it is not required viewing.

Prior to Apocalypse, we’re told President Lex Luthor has been arrested and impeached. This is mentioned at the beginning of the film, but has really little to nothing to do with what happens. Into the bay off Gotham City, something lands in the water, causing high surf. Batman (Kevin Conroy) goes underwater to investigate. He finds bits of kryptonite spread around the wreckage, but no one or thing around.

Meanwhile, up on land, three dockworkers, apparently unaffected by the flooding we’ve seen, notice a naked woman watching them in the shadows. As two of them try to take advantage of the situation, the girl fights back and, using her heat vision, lays waste to the men and surroundings. The third man offers her his coat, which she takes and runs off. But Batman finds her and, using a piece of the kryptonite, subdues her.

What the dockworker thinks is a gift from heaven is about to clean his clock.

Superman shows up and helps Batman, who, along with Krypto, aka Superdog, are suspicious of her. The girl convinces Superman that she’s Kara Zar-El (Summer Glau) and is in fact his cousin. Like Superman, her parents knew the end was in sight, built a rocket and sent her to Earth. For some reason her trip took twenty plus more years, but she’s here now. Even though Batman and Superdog are both suspicious of her, Superman takes her under his wing and back to Metropolis.

Superdog isn't friendly towards Kara.

We don’t see the complete transition, or even a montage, but Kara quickly learns and masters English and starts to feel more like an Earth girl. Her transition is completed by a fairly lengthy shopping spree. Things seem to be moving happily along.

Superman as Clark Kent doesn't like passerbys checking Kara out as she window shops.

Meanwhile on the planet Apokolips, Darksied (Andre Braugher) is looking for a replacement for Big Barda to lead his Female Furies, four Amazons led by the incorrectly named Granny Goodness (Edward Asner) who form a sort of ultra-loyal private guard for Darksied. We watch as one recruit, Treasure, is killed as she battles the other four as she fails her job interview. He tells Granny Goodness to send for that Krypton girl on Earth and not to fail him.

Superman and Kara’s idyllic shopping spree is then disrupted by an attack in the park. It turns out to have been staged by Batman, with Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg) and Layla (Rachel Quaintance), to show that Kara needs more specialized training. Wonder Woman wants to take her back to Themyscira, where she will be safe and where she can be shown how to handle her powers. Superman reluctantly agrees to let her go.

Wonder Woman doesn't seem pleased to have Superman and Batman come to Themyscira to check on Kara.

Since the film moves along at a quick pace, there is no time for any transitions; again no training montage or indication of the passage of time. When we see Themyscira, Superman and Batman have come to check on Kara. They see Kara paired with her training partner, Artemis (Rachel Quaintance). While Kara and Layla sneak away from the group to take a swim, Themyscira is invaded by Doomsday clones.

In a stand-off that seems reminiscent of 300, Wonder
Woman and her Amazon army hold the Doomsday clones at bay.

Wonder Woman’s army holds them at bay, until Superman vaporizes them with his own heat vision. Sensing a charade, Batman goes looking for Kara and finds Layla’s dead body lying in the water, having been killed by Darksied’s Omega Ray trying to keep Kara from being abducted. Superman vows that Layla will have not died in vain.

Superman vows that Layla will not have died in vain.

Cut to suburbia, into which land Superman and Wonder Woman, who knock on the front door of a non-descript house. Turns out the house belongs to Big Barda (Julianne Grossman). Even though we didn’t see him arrive, Batman is already there. Barda is in no hurry to go back to Apokolips, but they convince her to go.

Barda had escaped from Apokolips and isn't initially keen on the idea of going back.

When they arrive on the planet, the four Superheroes go their separate ways. Wonder Woman and Barda go through the sewers, coming up in the middle of the fighting arena, where Granny Goodness and the Four Furies ambush them. Batman goes underground as well as discovers the Hell Spores that are the source of Apokolips' fire pits. While one can disarm a planet, Batman activates all of them.

On Apokolips, everyone has an assignment.

Superman meanwhile makes his way into Darksied’s palace, who sicks the now (and quickly) brainwashed Kara on him. Superman doesn’t want to hit Kara and she takes advantage and pummels her cousin, much to Darksied’s delight. The fight is only broken up when Batman arrives and announces he’s activated the Hell Spores and only he can deactivate them. He only agrees to do so in exchange for Darksied letting Kara go and the promising to leave her alone.

Superman refuses to fight back when the brainwashed Kara attacks him.

Back on Themyscira, a funeral for Layla is held and Kara gets to pay her respects.

Superman takes Kara to Smallville to live with his Earth parents, the Kents.

With their lives seemingly back to normal, Superman decides to take Kara to Smallville, and put her in the care of his adoptive Earth parents. But instead, Darksied is waiting to ambush them. Even though he had promised to leave Kara alone, he had not made the same about Superman or Earth. Using his Omega Beam, Darksied sends Superman into space. Kara takes up the fight and with all the training she’s been given, she puts up a good fight, but eventually Darksied turns the tables on her.

Darksied proves that he is not a man of his word.

And just when all hope looks lost, Superman recovers and comes back to Earth. But Darksied once again gets the upper hand, turning his devastating Omega Beam on the superhero. While Superman’s flesh starts to burn, Kara messes with Darksied’s Mother Box (the mini super computer he uses to transport between planets) and changes the coordinates. Darksied is distracted from his attack on Superman just long enough so that Superman pushes him back through the wormhole the Mother Box has opened. Kara informs Superman that she had changed the coordinates so that instead of Apokolips, Darksied has been sent into deep space, where he is frozen by the cold.

Superman and Kara are a little worse for wear after their fight with Darksied.

Now Kara decides that she wants to use her super powers for truth and justice, so adopts the alias Supergirl. This decision is met with applause back on Themyscira, by Wonder Woman, her Amazons, Superman and even Batman. Together, Supergirl and Superman fly back to Metropolis to continue their adventures.

Kara decides to become Supergirl.

For a short running time, Apocalypse tries to tell a lot of story and makes certain assumptions about how much knowledge the viewer has with Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman mythology and lore. With comic books, especially ones that have been around for as long as these, there are a lot of variables and universes. Superman/Batman: Apocalypse doesn’t stop to explain anything to the uninitiated. It is strictly a follow or be left behind approach to storytelling.

It’s hard, as always, for me to judge voice acting, since you can’t see their faces. I think Summer Glau, Tim Daly and the rest of the cast did good jobs with their roles, but I think casting Edward Asner as Granny Goodness was inspired stunt if nothing else.

Visually, while this is more than just a motion comic, there are times when it’s hard to tell some characters from one another. As an example, Kara and Layla are made to look somewhat alike to the point that when we first see Layla dead, we naturally jump to the conclusion that it’s Kara. Maybe that was pre-planned, but nevertheless it can be confusing, especially if you don’t have any pre-conceived notions on what some of these characters are supposed to look like.

While there are some enjoyable moments, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse seems meant more for diehard fans of the DC universe and not meant for casual consumption. That’s too bad, because it could be more of a jumping on point (what Marvel calls Point One), but instead it leaves the casual viewer with the feeling that there is too much ground to be made up in order to fully enjoy.

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