"Superman/Batman: Public Enemies" Blu-ray Review
September 29, 2009 by Zach Demeter
Behold, the worst kept secret of the DC Universe films: Superman Batman: Public Enemies. The trailer for this film leaked onto internet supersite IMDb.com and within hours was all over comic book news websites and forums. The trailer was eventually pulled, but not before the majority had seen the animation contained within. Mind you the leak isn’t all that surprising (it’s the internet—these things are all too common now), but what was surprising was how far along this animated film was. We were still waiting on Green Lantern to finish up and here was Public Enemies, all polished and pushed into a trailer already. Exactly how did this film essentially get produced and creep up out of nowhere so damn fast?
A desperate solution for a troubled country: Lex Luthor for President with the Justice League in the service of the government. Only Batman and Superman stand against the new regime – and their disloyalty proves to be exactly what Luthor intended. Using their outcast status to instigate a scandal against Superman, Luthor finally tastes a victory in his vendetta against The Man of Steel. From Executive Producer Bruce Timm and voiced by the cast from both hit Batman and Superman animated TV series including Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly and Clancy Brown, this DC Universe Original Animated Movie of Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness’s popular graphic novel seethes with political intrigue and action-packed battles between heroes all believing they’re on the right side of the law.
So there you go—a brief history lesson on this film. Or, at the very least, the history of the film as it pertains to the online side of things. The film itself was known for awhile before the trailer leaked, it was just the fact that the film was already so far along in production that it made fans wonder exactly what was up at DCU headquarters. In the end it didn’t matter: months later we got Green Lantern and another peak at this film, so everything eventually evened out. Besides, a little early publicity for a film starring DC’s biggest heavy hitters, even as premature as that trailer was, is never really a bad thing.
The story itself is adapted from the comic book of the same name (one I admittedly didn’t even read until right before I started writing this review) and while it definitely centers on the same plot, the extraneous “fat” on the sides is once again excised for simplicities sake. It’s usually just minor things; Robin and Nightwing don’t show up, nor does Green Lantern and the dual Superman fight (whatever it was) in the bat cave doesn’t occur. Quite a few things don’t happen either, like the intro to the comic book or we get it mixed into other areas of the story. Unlike other films that “suffered” the same fate, however, Public Enemies never feels like too much is being crammed into the story…which is rather surprising considering this is the shortest DCU film to date (a brisk 67 minutes).
In fact, and I know I say this with just about every DCU title that comes out, but this may very well be my new favorite of the bunch. I enjoyed all of the films in some fashion or another, but as epic and exciting as they were at times, they always felt like they bit off more than it could handle. Not so with this film. No, this one is (dare I say) lighthearted; it’s got weighty material, to be sure, but none so much as to really drag the film down. I honestly haven’t had this much fun watching Batman and Superman on screen together since “Knight Time” way back in STAS/TNBA days. It’s really just a fantastic little self-contained story with the two of them and I’m genuinely surprised by how brilliantly this was pulled off.
I hesitate to say this as well, but I’m going to just because it’s what I felt while watching the film: this film could’ve easily been supplanted (crude comments/dialogue aside) into a three-part story in Justice League with little difficultly. I never read the Superman Batman comics before seeing this film so I don’t know if the entire series is like this, but just how the characters interact with one another and the rather quippy and fast paced dialogue that takes place in this film really sets it apart from any other DC Universe titles thus far. I found myself laughing at this one way more than any of the other ones and I think that’s an important thing to have when you deal with superheroes and super villains—nothing campy, mind you, but just some genuinely entertaining laughs. The banter between Batman and Superman really is some of the best I’ve ever heard and those of you hoping to hear the “Magpie” bit from the comic book will not be disappointed—Conroy and Daly deliver that whole sequence absolutely perfect.
Having said that, I suppose I should talk now about the voice actors on this piece. Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy and Clancy Brown return to the roles they played in the Bruce Timm cartoons and it really adds another layer to the film in terms of how easy it is to adapt to it. I especially found Daly’s performance to be really refreshing; I know we’ve heard him as Supes before his absence after STAS, but hearing him alongside Conroy, again, was something you hadn’t heard since “Knight Time” and “The Demon Reborn.” In terms of mood, this story is a lot closer to “Knight Time,” as, again, it’s just a very easy to enjoy and breezy viewing. It honestly just flies by.
Brown really deserves a special note for his performance as Luthor in this film, however. While Daly and Conroy bring back what they’re known for, Luthor was a bit different in this film. With him as president and jacked up on kryptonite injections, Luthor was skewed a bit more towards the maniacal scientist angle, but at the same time still very much the regal and imposing Luthor we’ve been accustomed to hearing Brown as over the years. He was definitely the source of more than a few laughs in the film, particularly in a bit with Waller that was taken from the comic book as well.
The only thing I can honestly complain about this time around is the animation. CGI backdrops of the city as Luthor and Superman fly over them just look strange at times; I can’t really pinpoint why it looks unnatural, as the cityscapes are just loaded with detail…maybe the models on top of them were too clean compared to the out of focus city. And then there are the cars/vehicles in this piece—they look like something out of STAS, but with the more detailed models, their simplicity just doesn’t gel. Probably just budget constraints and I get that, but the cars really do stick out like a sore thumb. Aside from that, the animation was remarkably solid; I figured that this piece would look rushed considering how quickly it was finished, but the new detailed designs and six-packs on everyone really didn’t distract from the picture in the least. I really enjoyed the new look and quite frankly I would love nothing more than an entire series of Superman Batman titles. This film was just too much fun to not revisit with another outing down the line (plus apparently they’re quick to produce).
While the film did ultimately lose some of the story points of Ed McGuinness and Jeph Loeb’s original graphic novel, in the end it doesn’t matter. From the Jon Stewart like news anchor opening the film with a rather explicit joke (it’s censored, don’t worry…but it’s pretty easy to make out what it is. I’m just surprised the “crude comment” that the film denotes in the PG-13 rating showed up so early in it) to the power packed and almost non-stop flights of heroes against villains and heroes against heroes, this film wasn’t exactly thick on plot, but it didn’t matter. It was just a lot of fun to watch and I honestly think the DCU titles would be better served to stop gnawing on epic and complex graphic novels like The New Frontier until their run times can expand and instead focus on one-shot pieces like this (or original outings like Wonder Woman and Green Lantern).
Overall Public Enemies comes Highly Recommended. This was the first of the DCU titles since New Frontier that I wanted to watch again immediately and it should be a big hit among fans. Not only for the superb voice cast, excellent character designs, simple and easily progressed story, but also just because it’s just so damn enjoyable.
Remember Green Lantern: First Flight? The presentation here is identical (without the green case): a standard Elite case with a reflective foil/embossed slipcover, a single disc inside and an insert for WB Insider Rewards and the Digital Copy redemption code. I’m glad that they didn’t dedicate a second disc to the digital copy, always seemed wasteful. The film auto-starts and as such there is no real main menu so much as a pop-up one, but that’s all simple and easy to navigate as can be expected.
The VC-1 encoded transfer…hot damn does it look great. The opening and end credits both follow a hyper stylized intro like The New Frontier with great big splashes of blue and red and while I can imagine the bleeding and compression that goes on with the DVD transfers, this Blu-ray transfer is just…flat out gorgeous. Animation really shines on the format and Warner doesn’t disappoint with this transfer. My jaw was literally on the floor at times with the clarity, especially, again, with those opening titles—just a brilliant piece of art as well as a fantastic transfer.
Moving onto the audio we get a DD5.1 mix and…wait, what the hell Warner? We’re back to this crap again? Where’s the TrueHD mix? You were going good there for awhile and now you went back to this lackluster mix. Don’t get me wrong…it sounds good for what it is and it does have some subwoofer activity, but after the thudding Green Lantern track I really expected more when Mongul and Grundy came barreling onto the screen. Oh well…I guess it isn’t a huge deal, but I wish they’d just pick an option and stick to it. What’s the point of putting this on Blu-ray if you’re going to pair the flawless video with compressed audio?
Extras include over “3 hours” worth of material, although if you’re a fan of DC animation, only an hour and ten minutes or so of that is worth watching (as the remainder is repeat editions of the “First Look” DCU featurettes and six Bruce Timm cartoons that you’ve seen before). Included:
A Test of Minds: Superman and Batman (19:01, SD)
Dinner with DCU and Special Guest Kevin Conroy (55:59, SD)
A First Look at Justice League: A Crisis on Two Earths (11:12, SD)
Blackest Night: Inside the DC Comics Event
"First Look" at previous DC Universe titles
Six Bruce Timm Episodes (Question Authority, Flashpoint, Panic in the Sky, Divided We Fall, The
Demon Reborn, Knight Time)
Now, mind you, I’m reviewing the Blu-ray edition of this movie so those on the DVD side of things will probably get a shorter version of the “Dinner with” for some reason (the Blu-ray is noted as being the “Extended Version”). But as a nice history lesson as “A Test of Minds” is as it explores the history of the Dark Knight and Man of Steel teaming up in comics, if you can play Blu-ray’s then I implore you to get this edition as the “Dinner” is just…a fantastic piece.
Let me paint a brief picture of it for you: I’m not sure how many of you out there have seen the Jon Favreau Dinner for Five series, but in it he gathers a group of friends (or actors he admires, whatever…whoever shows up) and they go out to dinner at a restaurant and just talk for the entire episode. A lot of cool stories come out of these conversations and even if you aren’t particularly interested in the actors of the particular week, they’re always entertaining. But when you encounter an episode where the table has the director of Iron Man talking with a smattering of four other individuals that you really admire and whose work you enjoy? Let me tell you, there’s no other greater way to spend time in front of your TV.
With that explanation out of the way, “Dinner with DCU” is exactly like a Dinner for Five episode. Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano, Gregory Noveck and Kevin Conroy sit around for nearly an hour and discuss everything from BTAS to Public Enemies. It’s a really fantastic piece and while there may be some repeat stories that you’ve heard from the participants before, it’s just such an enjoyable piece to watch that you can’t help but become engrossed in it. Whether it’s casting stories on all of the Timm DC animated series or these new DC Universe titles, this featurette has plenty of interesting chatter as well as plenty of laughs. It’s honestly one of the best featurettes I’ve seen for some time and while the production values were a bit wonky at times (there’s a point where Conroy looks into the camera and then it abruptly cuts away—kind of jarring), I honestly had just a ton of fun watching it. If they replace commentary tracks (as this film is lacking one, ala Green Lantern) with segments like these, then I’m all for it. They’re just an incredible treat.
A First Look at Justice League: A Crisis on Two Earths is the only other extra you’ll really care about here and within it contains some news that’ll no doubt anger Timm DC series purists. See, Crisis is a reworked version of Dwayne McDuffie’s Worlds Collide script, which was originally a Justice League Unlimited movie that was going to happen at some point. Well it never did, so they just reworked it into a generic DC comics universe and while I’m sure people on our forums are going to go positively crazy/nuts over this news, I have to say I don’t really care. McDuffie’s been responsible for some of the greatest animated DC stories in the past several years, so if this is a way to get this Worlds out of him then more power to DC.
There are those that will cry foul and that the DCAU is “officially dead” now and go on a crying spree, but honestly guys. I know you love the series, but is it really that hard to let go? Hell I’ve invested an inhuman amount of hours into a website that was created first as a shrine for those shows and I don’t even care that it’s over (well I care, but I have all of the shows on DVD so it’s not like they’re gone forever). Besides, if we get stuff like Public Enemies every so often, the “spirit” of the DCAU can live on, regardless if they’re part of the legendary continuity or not. I’d much rather have one-off’s anyway, as then it doesn’t have to muck around with pre-established continuity.
Well that was unexpected rant to have…but, I had to get it off my chest. I also felt it necessary since I honestly felt a lot more comfortable in Public Enemies world than I have in any of the others so far—it was the easiest to slip into. Which is surprising, because the animation style is way different…but it was the familiarity of the voices and the simpler writing style that made it such an entertaining viewing.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch this flick again. Highly Recommended.
Superman Batman: Public Enemies arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on September 29th.
-Superman/Batman: Public Enemies Feature Talkback (Spoilers)
-Superman/Batman: Public Enemies DVD/Blu-ray Talkback (Spoilers)