I don't think any relationship in all of the realms of comics fascinates me more than the one Superman has with Batman. These two heroes really couldn't be any more different -- one is a godlike being from another planet, and the other is a mere mortal who relies solely on his wits to solve crimes. Yet, they are one in the same -- both orphans whose loneliness is the driving force behind their pledge to fight injustice. Light and dark, the parallel lives of Kal-El and Bruce Wayne have converged on a singular path and while they may butt heads on occasion, they understand each other in the deepest sense, their mutual respect and trust for one another having forged a unique unbreakable bond. Really, they are the yin and yang of the DC Universe. It's just too bad 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies' fails to capture this essence.
When America's economy is in turmoil and the crime rate is at an all-time high, a desperate country elects ruthless businessman Lex Luthor (voiced by Clancy Brown) as President of the United States, whose campaign promised major change for the better. Surprisingly, Luthor manages to deliver and quickly restores the nation to a state of tranquility. Even most of the Justice League believe Luthor has turned over a new leaf and have become sanctioned representatives of his government, all except for Superman (voiced by Tim Daly) who isn't convinced his archenemy is reformed, and of course the Batman (the legendary Kevin Conroy) who has always been a loner and fought conformity. But as a massive radioactive meteor composed of Kryptonite guns straight for Earth, the cunning Luthor seizes the opportunity to frame the Man of Steel and turn the entire world against him, issuing a warrant for the hero's arrest and placing a one billion dollar bounty on his head. Uniting with his only ally left, Superman and Batman must fend off friend and foe as they work together to expose Luthor and save the planet.
'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies' is written by Stan Berkowitz, whose story is based on the graphic novel by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. Adapting a comic storyline into an animated feature is no easy task, especially when the story arc is extensive and spans multiple issues. The original works have to be condensed for time, while retaining as much of the story as possible. Balance is key. The creators seemed to have learned from their mistakes in the convoluted disaster 'Superman: Doomsday,' this time they went the other way and stripped away so much that the story is as basic as it can get. Many characters, including mainstays like Robin and Nightwing, are excised completely, certain plots from the original tale have been simplified or omitted entirely, and worst of all we don't have access into the minds of the two title heroes like we did in Loeb's books. The sad part is that some of these major flaws could have been fixed pretty easily, as this movie is the shortest to date with about a sixty-seven minute runtime. Simply adding another twenty or even ten more minutes to include a few additional happenings from the comics and building upon Superman and Batman's challenges would have really gone a long way.
The animation itself disappointingly strays a bit from what we've seen in 'Justice League' and is more along the lines of McGuinness' artwork from the comics. Because of this, the characters retain their simplicity while being even more disproportionate, which just ends up being too "kiddie" for my tastes. Superman has a weird blue lightning squiggle in his hair and with the odd shape of his nose you'd swear he's the spitting image of Jughead. McGuinness' trademark is drawing all of his characters with muscles on top of muscles on top of muscles (or muscles ³) too, which actually makes Captain Atom (Xander Berkeley) and Major Force (Ricardo Chavira) look more like Hans and Franz. I give the creators credit for trying to mix things up a little and visually staying true to the source material, but personally I just don't care for designs that seem more at home on school supplies or Underoos.
Fortunately, there's still plenty of enjoyment to be found in 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.' There's a megaton of action, as an onslaught of villainy from the DC universe crawls out of the woodwork to cash-in on the reward. We get to see quite a few major baddies like Solomon Grundy and Gorilla Grodd, plus a whole mess of obscure villains show up which should please hardcore comic fans. Director Sam Liu ('Hulk vs.' and 'The Batman') stages intense fight sequences that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats and help mask some of the sourness from the plot holes.
The voice talent is also the most solid from any of the six currently released direct-to-video DC Comics movies. Longtime favorites Tim Daly ('Superman: The Animated Series') and Kevin Conroy ('Batman: The Animated Series' and 'Justice League') return in their iconic roles, as does Clancy Brown, who still perfectly captures the charisma and cockiness that embroils Lex Luthor. CCH Pounder ('The Shield') stars as Amanda Waller and Allison Mack ('Smallville') lends her voice for a very well-endowed Power Girl. Even producer Bruce Timm gets in on the action as Mongul. There are still some perplexing choices, like LeVar Burton ('Star Trek: The Next Generation') who merely utters eight words (nine if you count "force field" as two) as Black Lightning, but the strong selections definitely outweigh the complete wastes this time.
While 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies' is disappointing and could have been much better, it still packs enough of a punch for moderate amusement at least. I'd really love to see animated versions of Batman: The Long Halloween, Batman: Hush, and Kingdom Come at some point, but hopefully Bruce Timm and company take note by putting a bit more effort into those productions and extend the runtimes to give them more room to breathe.
'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies' has been rated PG-13, but in this case I think it's a little conservative. Lex Luthor shouts the word "bitch" one time and there are a fair number of beatings (which spill a few droplets of blood), but that's pretty much it. The movie is quite tame to be honest, so it should help ease any concerns parents may have with the film.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Brothers debuts 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies' on a single-layered BD-25 Blu-ray Disc that comes in a standard blue keepcase with a fancy foil-embossed slipcover. The U.S. version of the Blu-ray release is also reported to be region-free and should function properly in all PlayStation 3 and standalone players.
Warner has been stepping up the transfers of their traditional two-dimensional animation releases lately, and the 1080p/VC-1 (1.78:1 aspect ratio) encode of the 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies' Blu-ray is easily among the best of the bunch.
Although I'm not much of a fan of McGuinness' artistic style, it's hard to fault the spectacular picture quality of this disc. Colors are bright and vivid, with stunningly bold primaries that practically leap off the screen. The lime green and mauve of Luthor's battlesuit may be a weird feminine combination, but it sure is eye-catching here. Black levels are also top-notch, as Superman's hair and the cape and cowl of Batman are pitch-perfect. Some texturing is even applied to the mountainous canyons as well as a few manmade structures like buildings and pavement. Outlines are very smooth and only a handful of heavy action sequences show signs of minor pixelation. A bit of artifacting and banding does creep in on occasion, but even so, these issues are minimal. Compared to the 'Green Lantern: First Flight' Blu-ray, 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies' is just as impressive--if not a hair better.
Well, I have good news and bad news dear loyal readers. The good news is if you pop this Blu-ray disc into your player, you won't have to annoyingly fumble your way into the menu just to select the lossless track like most Warner titles.
Now before you start jumping for joy, let me tell you the bad news… there isn't a lossless track. I've looked everywhere--on the menu, under the digital copy, inside the slipcover, heck, I even checked the box this screener came in thinking maybe it fell out in transit--but no dice. It seems for some ludicrous reason I simply cannot fathom, Warner Brothers has decided to drop the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks on these animated features altogether. I guess high-definition picture and sound isn't the reason why consumers are putting their hard earned money into Blu-ray. Oh, wait a sec, it is! Seriously, you guys really need to get with the program here. You aren't just disappointing thousands of your customers, you are making yourselves look like penny-pinching cheapskates. Aren't you supposed to be one of the major studios? I mean, if Blue Underground is able to often include both lossless options on their Blu-rays, surely you should be able include one. Ridiculous.
Anyway, where was I before we were so rudely interrupted by Warner's ignorance? Ah, yes. 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies' comes with an underwhelming Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (with optional English SDH and French subtitles). Dialogue is clear but distant at times, and one voice I found particularly too soft is Metallo's (John C. McGinley). When a villain who can go toe-to-toe with Superman is this soft spoken, it kind of kills the menace. In the surround department, things are actually pretty active. The film opens with a car chase and a news helicopter passes overhead that utilizes the rear speakers well, and there's one scene where Superman creates a whirlwind that swirls around the entire soundstage. But even though the rears are very noticeable, it still sounds held back like the voices. Likewise, there are few explosions, and those too come out a bit flat with a weak effort from the subwoofer. Yeah, I know this is just a cartoon, but if you're producing an action-packed one like 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies,' the audio should be livelier--as opposed to being this watered down.
It might seem like there are a lot of supplements included on this Blu-ray disc upon first glance, but those who already own some of the previous direct-to-video DC Universe animated features will immediately recognize a few repeat inclusions. Everything is also presented in standard-definition.
Light on plot and heavy on action, 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies' is bound to satisfy those just wanting to see the two title heroes plow their way through a horde of super-powered beings, but will disappoint anyone seeking something with a bit more substance. The video of this Blu-ray disc is simply exquisite, although someone at Warner Brothers really needs a smack in the back of the head for ditching the lossless audio track. Dedicated fans of any of the animated shows will probably want to add this title to their collections (especially for the dinner supplement), and more casual viewers may be better off giving it a rent.