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Sunday Slugfest: Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

Posted: Sunday, October 10, 2010
By: Thom Young

Tab Murphy (screenplay), Jeph Loeb (story)
Lauren Montgomery, Director
Warner Premiere
Adapted from Superman/Batman #8-13 (aka Superman/Batman: Supergirl or ďThe Supergirl from KryptonĒ) by Jeph Loeb and the late Michael Turner, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is the story of the reintroduction of Supergirl into the DC Universe!

Karyn Pinter:
Jason Sacks:
Chris Kiser:
Thom Young:

Karyn Pinter:

Iíve never been a huge fan of Supergirl. I always saw her as a weak attempt to get girls to read comics by making a girl version of a guy character that I wasnít particularly interested in. After watching this latest DC film, I remain unconvinced of Supergirlís attraction.

Unlike Planet Hulk, this film didnít grab me or make me care about a character I hadnít really paid much attention to in the past. The writing just didnít seem up to snuff, nor did the editing. Things moved too quickly for this story to be feasible, and where proper storytelling could have been placed we got a five-minute shopping montage.

Sometimes such gooney little moments can ruin a movie for me, unless itís Pretty Woman. The hooker with a heart of gold finally being treated like a princess? Thumbs up. Supergirl trying on goofy outfits? I could do without that.

When a movie fails to entertain me I usually start dissecting the writing. In this case, it was uninspired and contained some misplaced humor--including a couple of awful one liners. I also discovered that the writer of this film, Tab Murphy, wrote some of my least favorite Disney films--The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tarzan, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

The overall visual style of the movie was really good, a comforting throwback to Batman: The Animated Series and the Superman cartoons of my youth. However, I couldnít get past how effeminate Superman looked. I think it was the eyes; everyone had girly eyes and lips, which works in the favor of Wonder Woman and Supergirl. However, having a pretty Superman just doesnít fly.

Although, Superman did act pretty whipped when Wonder Woman showed up to, basically, kidnap Supergirl. Just turn that blind eye, Supe. After all, sheís only your little cousin without any family but you, in a strange world, and possessing powers she doesnít understand. Let the creepy guy dressed as a bat, and the tall, intimidating lady with a rope strapped to her hip practically walk off with the kid.

Yet, as much as the character style didnít sit well, I am always impressed by the voice acting. Iím always for Kevin Conroy voicing Batman; itís just the way things should be. His voice is Batman. Tim Daly reprises his role as the Man of Steel, and you know what, I wasnít even aware that it was Tim Daly until I read the box. He really kicks some ass as the voice of Superman. I was always more of a Batman fan growing up, but even I can appreciate how Daly brings the mightiest hero to life.

Additionally, thereís Granny Goodness. Modeled after Phyllis Diller and voiced by the guy who played Lou Grant on Mary Tyler Moore (yup, thatís right, Ed Asner), Granny Goodness should have had an extended role. It seemed like a waste of a character to me, to have someone that entertaining stand around on a balcony and only make a five-minute appearance. Oh, and for the record, Wonder Woman and Barda get shit done. Of course Iím biased, but come on, how kick-ass was their fight with the Furies? If you havenít seen the movie, it was way kick-ass.

Superman/Batman didnít seem as well rounded as director Lauren Montgomeryís Wonder Woman, which made great use of humor and action, and was a prime origin story. Speaking of origin stories, I hear Montgomery is working on Batman: Year One. Exciting! Hopefully that turns out to be a little more intriguing than Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. It honestly baffles me how a comic book film could turn out to be sub-par. Everything was laid out already: dialog, action, story board. It should have been fool proof. It was still watch-able, but it wasnít first rate.

Jason Sacks:

I really, really wanted to love this DVD. I'm crazy about the New Gods--especially Big Barda, who has a prominent role in this movie. I have a lot of fondness for Supergirl, who's the main character in this story, and I was extremely excited to hear Andre Braugher voice Darkseid, Summer Glau voice Supergirl, and Ed Asner voice Granny Goodness. This movie had so much good stuff going for it.

However, I really couldn't bring myself to love it. This DVD has some wonderful scenes, some interesting character interaction, and some clever character interplay. However, it also contains some awkward character designs, some clunky animation, and a story that lurches and rambles from segment to segment without any story flow.

Maybe my favorite aspect of the DVD is the voice acting. It's great to hear Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy back in the superhero roles for which they're very well known. Their voices have really come to fit Superman and Batman in my mind, so hearing their voices coming from those bodies just seems right.

The newcomers were also welcome. Summer Glau has a terrific feeling of innocence and discovery, and helps sell Supergirl as a real naÔf. Andre Braugher, whom I've loved since his work on Homicide: Life on the Street in the '90s, is wonderful as the voice of Darkseid. He sounds like pure evil. There's a depth and richness to Braugher's performance that I found compelling. Finally, Ed Asner as Granny Goodness--as clever a bit of stunt casting as I've ever seen--is breathtakingly cool.

Unfortunately the character design seemed awkward to me. I was constantly distracted by how large Superman looked next to Supergirl. Clark has the body of Shaquille O'Neal while Kara has the body of Mary Lou Retton--albeit with 36D breasts. When Superman puts his hand on Supergirl's shoulder, his hand is as large as the heroine's head. It's absurd. I was also continually distracted by how Kal moves; his gait is awkward, as if the artists just couldn't work out how he puts one foot in front of the other.

Other designs were really nice. Wonder Woman looks just like her popular comic design before her current "jacket" suit. Big Barda looks fantastic in her precisely detailed Kirby-designed costume. And Batman's design is really nice, too.

The strongest scenes in the movie take place on Apokolips. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Barda go there in order to save Supergirl from Darkseid's brainwashing. The utter evil desolation of the planet is spectacular, and the design of the planet and the ruthlessness of Darkseid's Female Furies is awesome. The best of these scenes on Apokolips is the one in which we see Batman's tremendous resourcefulness in defeating an attacker who is much larger and stronger than him.

Unfortunately, the plot lurches and wanders from dumb set-piece to interesting set-piece and then back to dumb in the most awkward ways possible. For instance, in one scene, Wonder Woman comes to Metropolis with her ally, Lyla (aka Harbinger), to bring Supergirl to Paradise Island. Rather than simply speaking to Superman about training his cousin, Wonder Woman tries to persuade them by attacking Supergirl in a public park.

There's a bunch of destruction and damage in the park because of the fight, but the battle serves absolutely no purpose. It doesn't add anything to any of the characters; instead, it just sits there and glories on its own stupidity.

However, that stupidity leads to an entertaining sequence in which Supergirl gets trained in fighting skills by the Amazons on Paradise Island. It's wonderful to see Kara make friends among women who are her equals, and to see her humble herself as she learns strong fighting skills.

The worst moment on the DVD comes in its final section. About an hour into the movie, the story seems to come to a conclusion. At that point, all the main plotlines have been tied up, the trip to Apokolips is over, and we have a resolution to the ultimate fate of Supergirl. Watching it, I smiled and started to reach for my remote so I could switch over to watch some of the DVD special features.

Yet, instead of ending on a strong note, the story lurches on for another 16 minutes. In that segment, characters betray the comments they made earlier in the movie, empty threats are dished out, and another pointless battle proceeds. There are a couple of cute moments in those scenes, but the whole section is really pointless.

In the end, I was left with a completely mixed reaction to this DVD. I liked and disliked this movie in pretty much equal parts. We've seen better original DVDs from both DC and Marvel.

Chris Kiser:

The latest of DCís mixed bag of animated feature films leads off with about as uninspired an introduction to a movie as you can get. As the ďcameraĒ pans across the desolate streets of Gotham City, a pair of off-screen news anchors exposit all that has transpired since the previous installment of the series, Public Enemies. Thereís no action, no clever juxtaposition of image and narration, just a couple of disembodied voices heaving out a bland information dump.

In every negative way conceivable, this sequence is actually quite fitting as the opening for such an endeavor as Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. From start to finish, this film is intent on telling you what happens without ever making you feel it, as the film heavily favors plot over story.

Adapted from Jeph Loebís integration of the pre-Crisis Supergirl concept into modern comics continuity, Apocalypse translates that story in hyper literal fashion. Though a run of issues in the middle of an ongoing comic series can safely make assumptions about what readers know and how they feel about certain characters, the burden for establishing those sentiments is greater within the context of a standalone movie--and these filmmakers just arenít up to the task.

So, while we get to see Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman argue over how to deal with the arrival of a teenaged Kryptonian girl on Earth, weíre kept from a full understanding of why theyíre all so disagreeable. Elements designed for the sake of an emotional reaction, such as one characterís death, are easy to shrug off because the movie neglects to build a convincing case for us to care.

Even the crux of the filmís climax, the corruption of Kara Zor-El at the hands of Darkseid, is conducted without the appropriate build-up. One minute sheís wholesome, the next sheís ready to enlist with an army of Apokoliptian stripper-assassins with little-to-no explanation given.

However, like many of these DC animated films, Apocalypse is fairly impressive visually. While the adaptation of the Michael Turner illustrations from the original comic may result in some odd character designs, the overall product looks pretty sharp.

Especially fun are the battle scenes, including one knockdown, drag out against an army of replicate Doomsdays and another with Darkseid. If you happen to be a fan of this story and simply want to see it animated, thereís a lot more fun to be had here than in a simple motion comic.

Itís also hard to go wrong with a voice cast that includes Kevin Conroy reprising his role as Batman, but the script doesnít offer him many great lines to work with. Itís very indicative of this movieís shortcomings that it fails to give its leading talent even half as many good character moments as did the latest Batman video game.

Perhaps if this had been an adaptation of a better comic book, the quality of the source material could have shone through such a bland, run-of-the-mill approach. In reality, though, Jeph Joebís original story was adequate at best, and Apocalypse could have used a much greater creative spark than anyone involved managed to muster.

Thom Young:

As with my colleagues, I didnít enjoy this film very much. I didnít know it was going to be an adaptation of Jeph Loeb and Michael Turnerís 2004 story ďThe Supergirl from KryptonĒ that ran in Superman/Batman #8-13. I thought it was going to be an original story that might loosely adapt elements from Jack Kirbyís original New Gods series from 1971/1972--or I suppose thatís what I was hoping this direct-to-video film was going to be.

I also didnít know it was directed by the same director who brought us 2007ís Superman/Doomsday (which I hated), 2009ís Green Lantern: First Flight (which I greatly disliked), and 2009ís Wonder Woman (which I thought was ďokayĒ).

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse falls in the "I greatly disliked it" category, and I was ready to blame Montgomery for my negative reaction to the film--especially since I did not hate the original story by Jeph Loeb when I first read it five or six years ago.

However, in preparing for this review I skimmed through the Loeb and Turner story to see how much the film deviated from the original. To my surprise, the answer is ďnot much.Ē I disliked the film to such a degree that I was certain a lot had been changed. However, the only scene in the film that wasnít in the original story is the one that Karyn already criticized in her review.

Upon being released from Batmanís ďquarantineĒ of her in Supermanís Fortress of Solitude, Kara Zor-El tells her cousin that she wants to be just like other teenage girls, and she wonders what she should do to be that way. As he glances at two young women walking down the street, Clark has an idea on how Kara can be like other teenage girls--heíll take her shopping!

Thus we get the stupidity of the stereotypical montage in which Clark plays the part of the mostly bored man who tags along as the woman in his life shops, gets her nails done, and then shops some more. Itís all very stupid rather than humorous--though I can imagine it being more humorous 60 years ago on an episode of I Love Lucy with Desi Arnez as the bored man while Lucy drags him along on a shopping spree. In 2010, though, this scene is just a trite bit of nonsense.

As I mentioned, though, that bit of stupidity wasnít in Loebís original story. Unfortunately, many of the other stupid scenes are.

Yes, as in the film, the book actually has Wonder Woman, Harbinger, and a band of Amazonian warriors attacking Clark and Kara while they are strolling through a park one evening. The film pads that scene with extra dialog as a way of transitioning into the training scenes on Themyscira, but the stupidity of Wonder Woman attacking Clark and Kara rather than talking to them is in the original.

However, Batman is on Supermanís side in the book; he is on Wonder Womanís side in the film.

When I read the original story, I guess I filled in the gap between the attack in the park and the training scenes on Themyscira with my own imagined scenes of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and Kara calmly discussing her move to Paradise Island to train with Wonder Woman. Unfortunately, writer Tad Murphy and director Montgomery seem to have had a different view of what transpired in the park after Wonder Woman and her army were revealed to be the attackers: Wonder Woman (backed by Batman) forces Kara to go to Themyscira against her will--and without Supermanís approval.

Yes, it makes absolutely no sense how two super-powered Kryptonians acquiesce to the demands made by Wonder Woman and Batman. However, the movie would have never progressed past this point in the book's plot if Superman and Kara had chosen to take a stand and use their powers to resist the Amazons. Instead, we would have had two Kryptonians fighting a dozen Amazons for the final 45 minutes of the film.

While I undoubtedly imagined the four characters calmly discussing the situation and coming to an agreement when I read the book five or six years ago, the idiocy of the attack in the park was still in the original in the first place--and Jeph Loeb is definitely to blame for it. Murphy and Montgomery just made a stupid scene worse in the film.

Another stupid scene that is made worse in the film is the one from the bookís final chapter. After agreeing to leave Kara alone, Darkseid suddenly shows up at the Kent Family Farm outside Smallville. As in the book, he claims he only promised to leave Kara alone; however, heís decided itís time for Superman to die.

In the book, he fires his Omega Beams at Superman, but Kara jumps in the way to take the blast--and she apparently disintegrates into ashes, which leads to a knockdown, drag out fight between Superman and Darkseid.

Similarly, in the film Darkseid fires his Omega Beams at Superman, but Kara jumps in the way. However, she doesnít disintegrate. Instead, Darkseid pursues Superman (whom he did claim he came there to kill) while leaving Kara alone and unconscious. Upon regaining consciousness, Kara believes Superman is dead, and so it is she and Darkseid who have the knockdown, drag out fight--with other slight variations from the original story thrown in as the story concludes.

Both conclusions are stupid, but for different reasons. Admittedly, though, the extended fight sequence between Kara and Darkseid has some cool moments--but it also has some awkward animation in spots, and it goes on far too long.

The story might have been better if Murphy and Montgomery had spent more time developing motivation and characterization at the beginning of the film rather than having the extended sequence of violence that far exceeds the amount of space those fight scenes were given in the book.

There are other stupid scenes in the book that are either just as bad or worse in the film, and the movie has had the unfortunate effect of making me no longer like the original story as much as I did five or six years ago.

Initially, I enjoyed Loebís story (albeit by filling in ďmissing scenesĒ with my own imagined views of what must have taken place off panel in order to have the story make sense); it was only Michael Turnerís illustrations that I didn't care for in the published version.

I have never been a fan of the original Image Comics house style--those similar line qualities in the early 1990ís work of Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, and Marc Silvestri--and Turnerís art never deviated too far from that look during his too-short life. However, there are some beautiful scenes in the original story, but the Image house style of faces that are too angular and teeth that are too gritted always bothered me. Unfortunately, the film adaptation maintains Turnerís style.

I donít hate the look, but I donít much care for it either--which mirrors my reaction to this movie as a whole.

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