By: Rennie Cowan
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse smashes it up as a fun slugfest and is now available on both DVD and Blu-ray. Rated PG-13 for some violence and sensuality, the film takes liberty to spill blood during most of the grueling confrontations on the planet Apokolips. But don’t let the brutality stop you from watching the movie. Some well-loved voiceover talent returns to reprise their roles; Superman (Tim Daly) and Batman (Kevin Conroy). So this film is certainly a must for fans of the animated series incarnations. And for the most part, this film contains all of the exciting action elements of a good superhero comic book, with some mild drama mixed in with a few decent and cheesy laughs. Based on the DC Comics graphic novel by Jeph Loeb and the late Michael Turner, this is truly Kara Zor-El’s little movie.
The film is a semi-sequel to the earlier Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, yet it is an origin story and it takes you on a journey where Kara/Supergirl discovers her Kryptonian heritage and true power. The giant kryptonite meteorite that threatened Earth in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is now mere fragments and are landing in the Gotham Harbor. The opening scene in itself is very well done, and as a viewer, we get a relatively good glimpse of Gotham at night; dark, murky and filled watching eyes. Actually, the eyes are not eyes but are automated surveillance blimps. The blimps skim the night sky as kryptonite debris falls into the harbor, getting the attention of a one, particular Dark Knight who is in seclusion according to a radio broadcast.
Interestingly enough, the broadcast also mentions that Superman is doing a deposition in court against Lex Luthor to get him impeached from the Presidency. A little bit of back story is always good, some teasing exposition for simple curiosity. Batman fits himself into a scuba mask and then decides to investigate the falling debris. He discovers kryptonite pieces in the bottom of the water. In addition, he finds an empty spaceship with none other than Kryptonian writing on it. His investigation is cut short when someone steals his vehicle, leaving Batman to emerge from the water like a God at night.
We then switch to Kara’s first appearance (voiced by Summer Glau). She is fresh out of the water, walking the pier and fully nude as she inadvertently approaches three grueling men in plaid shirts who are dock workers. The scene clearly pays homage to the 1980’s Splash movie with Tom Hanks. The men get too friendly, spooking Kara. So she uses her super-strength to teach them a lesson; bullying them up a bit, one of the men gives her his trench coat. With the trench coat now on, she runs off into the night and learns that she cannot control her powers.
Batman tracks down Kara and confronts her, finding immediate dislike with her apparent recklessness. Kara finds herself flying into the sky, uncontrollably crashing through a blimp. Not all is lost. Superman arrives on scene to stop the huge blimp from crashing into the streets. Superman’s introduction into the film is too sudden for my taste, and it feels rushed. Batman shows little if any remorse for Kara and her apparent confusion. “Enough!” Yells Batman as he holds up a fragment of the kryptonite he had uncovered from the bottom of the harbor. He points it at her and immediately, Kara faints from the exposure to Green-K. With all the ample kryptonite in the vicinity, you wonder if those from Krypton are safe around Batman.
At the Bat Cave, Batman analyzes Kara’s DNA to discover that her body mass is thicker than Superman’s but that they are similar. Kara awakens and breaks free of Batman’s restraints with little effort and takes off again, scared and randomly speaking in Kryptonian. Not a second too soon, Superman arrives and speaks back to her. When she realizes he knows her language, she relaxes telling him that her name is Kara Zor-El. She also reveals that she is Superman’s cousin. At this point in the film, Kara appears to have a good deal of sympathy. However, after meeting Superman, Kara’s character goes downhill and sadly becomes flat with little, if any, development. The only redeeming factor in Kara is Summer Glau’s performance which gave a perfect, innocent take on the character. The best running joke of the film comes when Batman complains that it will cost him $50,000 to fix the custom hardware that Kara zapped with her heat vision. Superman responds, “Send me the bill.” Batman knows Superman is underpaid, “On a Reporter’s salary? Right…”
Superman takes Kara’s ship to the Fortress of Solitude, where both Batman and Kara join him. Superman translates the writing on the ship. Kara is indeed from Krypton and is Superman’s cousin. Batman becomes a thorn in Kara’s side as a conflict builds up on whether or not Batman can trust Kara, and in fact, through most of the movie he clearly doesn’t trust her (or like her). Kara learns English in a week and explores the fortress, taking a stroll through the zoo. Again, the film feels rushed. Stopping at a statue of Jor-El and Lara, Kara tells Batman that she remembers uncle Jor-El and Aunt Lara – though she only remembers bits and pieces of information. Batman is continually skeptical and by the film’s end, Batman’s reasoning is justified. In tune with Kara’s lack of character development, she learns a bit about what bores her…the Fortress of Solitude.
We are taken to Apokolips where Darkseid lives, one of Superman’s greatest enemies. With his great power, he knows of Kara’s decent to Earth. Most of this feels rushed; the escalating conflict isn’t well driven as he makes the decision to harness Kara’s untapped power into his own private weapon; a new captain for his royal guard. Comparing the development of struggle to a newer film like All-Star Superman, you know WB can do better to build a more dramatic encounter. Meanwhile, Clark Kent decides to take Kara out on the town, to Metropolis so she can learn about the city life and how to be a regular Earth Girl. You would think learning how to become Supergirl is much more important, but apparently, it is not. Clark takes her shopping and that is when she apparently discovers her gender role. Again, her character development is extremely flat in this film. She is a cliché and only becomes interesting during the final battle on Apokolips where Darkseid controls her to do his bidding. While Clark freely hands out his credit card, Kara is like a clueless blonde buying whatever she see’s and wants. This scene tries exceptionally hard to be humorous but turns into a character flaw for Kara as she breaks Clark’s wallet. Clark, being the apparent pushover that he is, buys her pretty much whatever she wants while stress covers his face. And to make matters worse, in one particular shot of this scene, we find Kara bending over with a skirt on and a few passing boys scope her out. Kara is little more than a sex symbol at this point, with little room to give her a true personality.
Kara decides she wants to be an Earth Girl because Earth Girls like to shop, assuming that this is what all Earth Girls are good for. Clark responds like an oaf, “You certainly have the shopping part down.” After the charade is over, Clark explains to Kara the importance of having a secret identity – this does lead us into an interesting moment. They end the day with a hot dog. Even if this montage reaps a few laughs, which it really does, the mentality level is up there with the movie Clueless and it is clearly not the most dramatic way to develop Kara Zor-El’s character into a likable superhero from Krypton. After Kara’s shopping spree, the film is brought back into perspective when we see the outstanding vision before us: a Superman statue in Metropolis Park, one obviously paying homage to Fred Ray’s cover art on Superman #14, originally produced in February of 1942.
Kara is immediately awed by the statue, and so is the audience; one of those brief moments in the film that really gets you if you are a Superman fan. Yet, it appears Kara doesn’t like being from Krypton and is swayed by the benefits of being an Earth Girl (shopping). She tells Clark that superpowers scare her. Her aspirations to become a simple Earth Girl are cut short when Wonder Woman and the Amazons show up to kidnap her to Amazon Island, for safety’s sake. Clark has turned into Superman at this point and is surprised by their forceful intentions. Out of nowhere, a lurking Batman shows up on the scene; it is disturbing to know that he has been looming in the bushes all this time. Reluctantly, Superman agrees to have Kara taken to Amazon Island so she can have her powers honed for good. Somehow, Superman/Clark just can’t say “no” to women.
On Amazon Island, we find Lyla (played by Rachel Quaintance) having visions of her own death, though we are not sure at this point if it is Lyla or Kara who dies. Soon, Kara goes up against Artemis for training but it turns into a deadly sword fight. Superman stops the fight, distrusting Artemis’ true intentions. Kara finally gets fed up with being treated like a child and flies off with Lyla. Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg) roam the premises and have a short discussion about Kara; Wonder Woman claims that Amazon Island is the safest place for her. All the characters appear to have an agenda and only at this point do you regain a portion of that sympathy for the Kara character that you had at the beginning of the film. The peaceful atmosphere is shaken when a portal opens and out pops Doomsday, Superman’s deadliest foe. Not one Doomsday, but many jump out of the portal. An entire army of them and that’s when the slugfest of the century begins. In fact, it feels like a video game, you may find this battle tiresome. Superman learns that it isn’t really Doomsday(s) but only replications of Doomsday who are not alive.
Batman gets suspicious and leaves the diversion to find Kara. After long minutes of punching and fighting, Superman kills the entire army of Doomsday(s) with one, single blast of super-heat vision. In video game language, he scores a lot of points. When Superman is confronted with the notion that he killed, the reasoning to get around that is: “They weren’t truly alive. No blood, no minds.” Meanwhile, Batman uncovers the truth – the Doomsday attack was a diversion to get Kara alone so that Darkseid can kidnap her. This is when we see Lyla’s vision at full circle; Lyla is lying dead in the water. Wonder Woman places her hand on Lyla’s temple and discovers that Darkseid is to blame for the rampage.
Completely out of character for Superman, while holding Lyla’s dead body in his hands (wrapped up in his cape) he proclaims with passion that Lyla’s death will be avenged on Apokolips. And so they all agree to get revenge, a poor story arc and motivator for legendary DC superheroes to have as a reason to fight, and to get Kara back. Wonder Woman agrees to fight with him, but Batman, as usual, is skeptical and is in clear contrast with the other characters (he is, in fact, the most interesting character of the film). In preparation for the revenge attack against Darkseid on Apokolips, Superman and Wonder Woman seek the assistance of Darkseid’s former Captain, Barda. She was once under Darkseid’s mind control, and she is fully aware of Kara’s helplessness against the mind control. So she gears up to tag along. She reveals her arsenal of weaponry that triggers a better mood in Batman, leaving us to believe that all Batman needed was a few toys to join the superhero revenge squad.
The final showdown against Darkseid begins once our heroes arrive on Apokolips. Flying monsters, robots and beasts attack our heroes and there is much bloodshed during this last portion of the film. The action and fighting is suspenseful to a certain level and it works for the most part. If the earlier portions of the film felt frivolous and tiresome, the latter part will promise to entertain. However, cheap lines during the Apokolips battle like “Surrender, or the bitch dies” only cheapens the film and lowers the standards of the DC Universe which I have always believed had an internal, natural moral code that didn’t need to copy other, lesser films. Stronger and more intelligent dialogue could have been used, but we get the point. The bad guys are evil. Granny Goodness is evil in a trashy kind of way, and you love to hate her.
By this time, Superman confronts Kara and he truly thinks he can just walk out with her. Darkseid is playing for keeps; Kara is under his mind control and Superman is forced to fight his own cousin. Batman sets a trap full of explosives for Darkseid which even impresses Darkseid. Darkseid is cornered by Batman’s threat and allows Kara to go back home with our heroes. Granny Goodness was played exceptionally well by Edward Asner, and you believe this man truly has now heart. Back on Amazon Island, the mind control on Kara is released. But like most evil villains, they never bend to any mutual agreement. Darkseid decides to follow Superman and Kara back to Earth which leads us into the final battle which actually becomes the best part of the movie.
Back on Earth, Clark drags Kara to Smallville to live with the Kent’s on the Kent farm. Sympathy for Kara has returned, and you wonder if this girl will ever have any peace of mind. It appears that she has grown up, to some extent. The peaceful farm-house is shaken when Darkseid appears out of a portal to get revenge on Superman and Kara. A fight ensues and Darkseid manages to catapult Superman into outer space, leaving the fight up to Kara. For few fleeting moments we get the sensation that it is now Kara’s battle, and the excitement level clearly increases, making the fight much more interesting; or at least it feels this way until Darkseid renders her helpless with his omega beams. Superman regains his strength from the solar rays of the sun and rushes back to Smallville to help Kara. He makes a super-tornado and exchanges a lot of healthy punches on Darkseid that will be welcomed by any viewer. The video game feel of the earlier fights in the film is jolted, and we finally see a true, cinematic battle.
Kara has gotten smarter; she quietly changes the coordinates of Darkseid’s portal mechanism when he is not watching her. As Superman kicks Darkseid back into the portal, Darkseid ends up in an icy part of the galaxy, now completely frozen in space. Despite the earlier cheesy laughs of the film, when the Kent’s finally arrive home to find the farm wrecked and then, their house collapses, the film certainly ends with this one genuine laugh. To tie up the origin of Kara, she finally wears the red and blue costume made just for her and at last she is Supergirl. The final battle with Darkseid certainly justifies her wearing the suit; she’s earned it. Of course, she has to show some skin by wearing a low-cut blue top with the “S” shield. My taste in Supergirl costumes is specific; so I prefer something like Helen Slater’s suit or Laura Vandervoort’s suit on Smallville (but with the “S” shield added).
The film will not choke you up with emotion like the later All-Star Superman evokes, nor will the animation stand out as the best effort put out by Warner Brothers Animation. By a fair percentage they went for a Michael Turner style. This film is best watched on Blu-ray to appreciate the animation, and color schemes. The best shading and color appeared in the first ten minutes of the film, in the Gotham Harbor. Overall, the film lacks true character development, depth and meaning for Kara, the Man of Steel, Wonder Woman and the Dark Knight. The light feeling of this film has its’ payoff with the ingenious final battle at the Kent farm – it will leave you on the edge of your seat, the best part of the entire film.
Warner Brothers Animation has come a long way, and I personally feel that All-Star Superman is their best effort to date. After seeing All-Star Superman you realize that there are better stories that could have been adapted, but I would like to see more serious material that makes the slugfest more worthwhile, and meaningful while keeping a few laughs in there too. Superman/Batman Apocalypse felt like a long intro for a video game and that isn’t a bad thing. Yet, Superman/Batman Apocalypse doesn’t take itself seriously and it doesn’t expect us to. It is still an entertaining piece but not without many flaws. I enjoyed the film for what it was; a powerful slugfest with a few good, cheesy laughs that keeps punching away.
Superman/Batman Apocalypse is best watched on a good sound system, with bass and a bowl of popcorn with soda. Don’t show it to your girlfriend (or guy friend) for a date night at home; there is nothing romantic in it and even Wonder Woman gets on Superman’s nerves. The female leads are just as tough as the men, and Clark Kent is a sucker with a credit card. There is nothing remotely romantic about Superman/Batman Apocalypse. The “sensual” part of the PG-13 rating is the cheap, sexual innuendoes like Kara bending over during her shopping spree. It is good to know that with all of the material to grab from in Superman comic book lore and over the span of 75 years that Bruce Timm and team finally picked a classic like All-Star Superman. The best Warner Brother’s animated film, in my opinion, one that has an enriched and meaningful story/plot with developed characters, romance and depth is All-Star Superman. Yet, the slightly earlier Superman/Batman Apocalypse is still a fun film worth watching and has a decent mixture of action, humor and with some mild drama.
Overall Grade: 6.9/10