Saturday, October 9, 2010

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (Montgomery 2010)

(NOTE: this is just a small break from my Halloween Horror set of reviews. The latest review in that series is Bride of Re-Animator which was published yesterday)

For the first fifteen minutes, I thought that the filmmakers of the DC Universe Animated films had finally cracked the problems of their preceding efforts and were going to deliver an unqualified success in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (Montgomery 2010). Those fifteen minutes are tense, atmospheric and present an interesting setup for a feature film, with the best design work and animation thus far in the series of films. Those fifteen minutes feel epic.

Then the rest of the damn film happens.

Ok, to be fair, the film is pretty epic throughout, the design and animation are the best the series has produced, and Lauren Montgomery’s direction is nothing short of fantastic. But after the first fifteen minutes, a series of massive missteps are made from which the film is unable to recover from, and the end result sets a whole new low for the DC Animated films.

I’m getting ahead of myself though. Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is a direct sequel to Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (Liu 2009), and begins with a meteor crash in Gotham City. Batman (Kevin Conroy) discovers a ship at the heart of the crash, containing Kara (Summer Glau), Superman’s (Tim Daley) cousin. As Kara is suffering from memory loss and lacks control of her powers, she finds herself at the heart of a disagreement between Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg) over how to best train and protect her. However, things become even more complicated as Darkseid (Adrian Braugher), ruler of the planet Apocalypse, sets his sights on Kara to as the new leader of his army, and proceeds to kidnap her. Will the combined might of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman be enough to rescue Kara, and even if it is, will Kara even wish to be rescued?

So just how does the most promising of the DC films go wrong? As with the grand majority of films, it comes down to the script, provided here by Tab Murphy (Brother Bear, of all things), and the downfall specifically begins with a scene in Metropolis park. The scene in question involves Clark and Kara being attacked by a mysterious group we assume work for Darkseid. As we soon discover after a lengthy and destructive battle though, the attackers belong to Wonder Woman and Batman, who wish to take Kara to Paradise Island have her train amongst the Amazon Warriors.

Now, allow me to try and break down the levels of idiocy in the scene. First, as is clearly indicated in the film, Superman and Wonder Woman have known and worked with each other for years. Given this, one would assume that Wonder Woman would likely TALK TO CLARK about the issue of Kara’s lack of control over her powers, and offer to help Kara by providing training in a safe environment. Instead, we are asked to accept that Wonder Woman and Batman would jump Clark and his cousin, for the purposes of either A) kidnapping Kara or B) making a point of how out of control Kara is by forcing her to cause property damage after being overwhelmed by attackers. The reason I list two options is because the goal of the attack is never made terribly clear, but both options are idiotic and are completely out of character for both Wonder Woman and Batman. This problem is only compounded by the issue of the property damage caused in the attack, which is extensive, pointless, and comes soon after Batman complains about Kara destroying fifty thousand dollars worth of his equipment by accident. So, Batman does not care about any property that isn't his own? Oh, and don't forget that innocent people could have wandered into the park at any time during this fight, and have been injured/killed. Good work Batman and Wonder Woman.

What really makes this scene so unbelievably moronic however is that we discover shortly thereafter that the reason for Wonder Woman and Batman’s concern is that Lyla, a trusted woman on Themyscira, is having visions of what appears to be Kara’s death. So again, I ask this question: WHY ON EARTH DID WONDER WOMAN NOT SIMPLY GO TALK TO SUPERMAN ABOUT THIS? This is not a simple slip up in logic, but rather a completely idiotic scene that does much to damage the characters and the idea of them as heroic leaders amongst the rest of the DC Universe.

The rest of the film follows an equally aggravating pattern of jumping between excellent scenes and concepts to moments of mind numbing stupidity. Here is another wonderful example: after Kara is kidnapped from Themyscira, Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman decide to head to the extremely dangerous Apocalypse in order to confront Darkseid and get Kara back. Now, Wonder Woman is clearly shown to have an army of Amazon Warriors at her beck and call, so I ask, why did they not take at least a small platoon with them to Apocalypse? Given that they are warriors, and that Darkseid’s attack on the island left at least one resident dead, you would think that they would be up for the action, but apparently not. Our how about the likely crippling mental trauma caused by Darkseid’s programming of Kara? At no point does any character even address the possibility that Kara will need help recovering from her mental abuse (and yes, that is exactly what it is).

The film suffers from other writing problems as well, including haphazard and episodic plotting, fake out endings with cheap horror film jump shocks that fail to shock, and repetitious dialogue exchanges about choice and control over ones life. Hell, in the span of roughly seven minutes, we see Darkseid deliver a speech about what Kara’s life could have been with him twice. All I could think of by the time the film was over was how such a shoddy piece of writing made it through with Bruce Timm at the helm as producer. While some of the past films in the series have been below par, there is nothing remotely close to the lapses in basic storytelling logic present here. Even the problematic Superman/Batman: Public Enemies was more or less an issue of simplistic screenwriting rather than outright awful screenwriting.

What makes this all the more infuriating is that there are moments in this film that are so good that you almost want to will yourself to ignore the massive problems with the film as a whole. There are small moments of comedy that are just hysterical, including a scene in which Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman drop by a normal neighbourhood seeking a specific individual's help, and the stunned neighbours do their best to look in on the bizarre sight of the three heroes in a domestic setting. Funnier still is the reactions of Ma and Pa Kent to the state of their farm at the film’s conclusion. And the fight sequences are, hands down, the best ever done in a Bruce Timm produced work. All these bright moments however merely serve to highlight the bafflingly awful storytelling on display in the film.

Without question, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is the worst film to be produced thus far in the series of DC Animated films, and is utterly discouraging for what we have to look forward to with the adaptations of the acclaimed stories Batman: Year One and All Star Superman. The only, and I do mean ONLY, reason to even consider purchasing the disc is for the DC Showcase: Green Lantern short, which is nothing short of excellent. However, seeing as there is a disc that will collect all the of the DC Showcase shorts soon, it is best to keep it in mind before making that the deciding factor in purchasing Superman/Batman: Apocalypse.

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