Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
Director: Sam Liu
Starring: Clancy Brown, Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, Alison Mack, and John C. McGinley
MATT: As an opening statement before we delve further, I’d just like to start by saying when it comes to my Batman and Superman, I prefer them separate. Like that annoying and somewhat creepy kid in the middle school cafeteria who went through his lunch sides methodically, one after the other, I believe they should rarely be mixed. Of course, there are exceptions – The Dark Knight Returns being one of them.
Why? Although I recognize that the two belong in the same DC universe where they bump into each other constantly, I feel they work better in their separate corners of it.
CHARLES: Now hold on there, pardner – I have to disagree. While I don’t care much for the hetero life mate interpretation Jeph Loeb uses for the characters (and on display here) I do think they’re two characters who work very well as the Oscar and Felix of superhero comics.
In fact, given that the duo presents the opposite ends of the superhero spectrum (the very powerful vs. the very human) as well as ideology (hope vs. pragmatism), I relish seeing stories that contrast Batman and Superman.
That said, what did you think of the 80 or so minutes you spent with Batman/Superman: Public Enemies?
MATT: Well, one of the problems I had with the movie – and the original story – is the relationship between Batman and Superman. All homosexual undertones aside, I thought their relationship was pretty bland. Being that they are so diametrically opposed in both philosophy and image, I find Superman and Batman work better in an adversarial stance. The adversarial attitude serves to highlight the ways in which they are, in the most basic ways, the same.
Both are only truly themselves when in costume. Both act the part of their alter-egos for the sake of anonymity. Above all, both have sacrificed their lives – both literally and figuratively – to help their respective cities in need.
By the time Superman refers to Batman as his “best friend,” I had pretty much given up on the movie.
CHARLES: Really? I’d lost patience with it much earlier on. But let’s rewind for the readers out there.
Public Enemies, as some may or may not know, is based on the five-issue arc of the same name from Superman/Batman (formerly known as World’s Finest Comics). In it, Lex Luthor has been elected President and through circumstances too contrived and stupid to repeat here Batman and Superman become fugitives from justice while a meteor made of Kryptonite hurtles towards the Earth.
The film brings back Kevin Conroy, the voice of Batman for countless other animated films and series, as well as Tim Daly and Clancy Brown, both of whom reprise their roles from Superman: The Animated Series as Superman and Lex Luthor, respectively.
Not to mince too many words, but this movie really is quite bad. It ends up feeling like nothing so much as a protracted, uninventive fight scene with a negligible mystery and painfully thin motivations for its characters.
MATT: You’re right. Blaming this poorly executed tale on its two main characters is really ignoring the shaky house of cards that is Jeph Loeb’s original story. Here we are forced to watch as the heroes and villains do things completely out of character, with no rhyme or reason.
If there is one positive thing that came out of watching this, it is that I have a new-found respect for Marvel’s Dark Reign storyline, wherein similar ideas are used to better fruition.
CHARLES: I’m guessing you’re referring to the “bad guys are good and good guys are on the run” element? I guess I would have to agree with you there.
Part of what’s so problematic about what’s on the screen (I didn’t read the original storyline) is that it feels so helplessly short and narrowly focused. The story never has any time to breathe as the heroes spend much of their time on the run with an “oh yeah, meteor” subplot kind of hanging over everything.
Characterization also gets short-shrift as the story brings viewers one of the silliest Lex Luthors in recent memory. He’s wildly over the top, often acting like he’s had one too many cups of coffee. At one point he gropes an overweight advisor and gives her a bare-chested kiss. Unfortunately that’s the highlight of Luthor’s villainy, leaving the heroes with a foil that doesn’t really measure up to their iconic status.
And grumpy Superman… Don’t get me started.
MATT: Lex Luthor, smartest man in the world, does some pretty stupid things throughout. And Superman, man of steel, often acts like a girl who has just had her pigtails pulled.
As you said, Charles, this story truly is bare bones in terms of characters. Lois Lane is mentioned several times throughout but seen only once, without any dialogue. Alfred (arguably Batman’s own representation of a “normal life”), is better represented with one short sequence. These moments are the only times any inkling of a personal life for either Superman or Batman is given.
Ultimately, the story is an amalgam of two oft-told stories in the comic world: the imminent disaster and the do-gooder made to look villainous. With the barely feature length running time and the pointless 10-minute battle royale, neither story is given the time to be properly explored. It’s all done only well enough to be completely predictable.
CHARLES: The animators from Studio 4c chose to emulate the style of artist Ed McGuiness who was paired with Loeb on the original arc. On the whole it’s alright, although a lot of body types are duplicated.
And it was also nice to hear the starring trio of Brown, Conroy, and Daly reprising their roles.
Still, art and voice acting can only do so much. These aren’t so much saving graces as places where the production didn’t fail.
I’m tempted to say that this is targeted to kids and give it a pass on those merits, but that would be a slight to younger viewers who could be exploring richer DC productions from the back catalogue like JL:U or Batman: The Animated Series.
You have anything else to say about this turkey?
MATT: I woul
d agree with you about the target audience if it weren’t for the rating of PG-13, and the use of the word “bitch” at one point, which was seemingly used in a vain attempt to prove the movie as something more than just for kids.
Which makes it even more ironic that a series originally aimed at younger audiences, like Batman: The Animated Series, is more true to its characters and with a more mature sense of story. Any fan looking for something akin to Batman: TAS will be sorely disappointed.