Boasting one of the most indomitably brilliant minds on the planet, it looks as if President Lex can steamroll over any problem that comes his way, but when a meteor of pure kryptonite the size of Zimbabwe starts bearing down on Earth...? Amanda Waller pleads with Luthor to unleash the army of metahumans he has on the payroll, but the president smugly declines, preferring instead to try and wipe it out with an array of missiles so he can gobble up all the credit himself. Luthor has some time to kill as the warheads are being armed, so he seizes hold of the fear of a world already on-edge and frames the Man of Steel for cold-blooded murder. Addressing the nation, Luthor offers a billion dollar bounty to anyone who can bring Superman in to face justice. An army of the most powerful superhumans on the planet are on the attack as Batman and Superman try to clear his name -- oh, and take out the meteor that threatens to snuff out hundreds of millions of lives -- and every badnik the world over is swarming in to score a ten-figure payday.
I tried keeping a running tally of just how many villains take a stab at that billion-dollar bounty, but even with as much of a lifelong comic geek as I am, I still lost track. I mean, Metallo, Bane, Mongol, Solomon Grundy, Killer Frost, Mr. Freeze, Captain Cold, Banshee, Copperhead, Black Manta, Deadshot, Nightshade, Gorilla Grodd, Catman, Giganta...and that's not even close to a complete list. This is a movie with so much frantic action that some of them are on-screen for literally seconds. Throw in colossal battles with Power Girl, Katana, Black Lightning, Captain Atom, Major Force, Starfire, Hawkman, and Captain Marvel too...? Public Enemies may be ridiculously short -- minus credits, it clocks in right at an hour -- but there's a ray blast, a twenty megaton explosion, or a haymaker that could level the Chrysler Building for pretty much every last second of it.
Re-reading the original six issue arc by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, it's amazing just how faithful this adaptation is. Virtually every character and every beat from the comics have clawed their way in here, and even much of the dialogue is carried over verbatim. I'm not sure I've seen an adaptation of anything -- a novel, a comic book, or otherwise -- as close as Public Enemies is. What's
There's so much about Public Enemies that seems like it ought to be making my inner fanboy burst at the seams. The definitive voices of Batman, Superman, and Lex Luthor -- Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, and Clancy Brown, respectively -- return once again. I'm still floored by the slew of cameos, and like the comics that inspired it, I can't help but cackle at how Public Enemies breaks out both the big guns along with a gaggle of obscurities that only particularly devoted comic geeks would appreciate. There's some pretty great interplay between Superman and Batman -- quips about marital bliss and just how much Bats hates being carried, f'r instance -- that help sell the idea that the two of them are friends, not just a couple of guys in capes who sit around a quadrillion-dollar satellite waiting to save the world. Heck, the movie even throws in a couple of gags about Power Girl's cartoonishly oversized boobs. Public Enemies just never eases up on the throttle, screaming ahead for sixtysomething minutes straight.
So, why are there only a couple of stars over there in the sidebar? The best of the past few animated DC projects are movies; Public Enemies just plays like a few episodes of Justice League Unlimited strung together. They're good episodes, I guess -- and a heckuva lot more polished visually than anything that ever aired on basic cable -- but I can pick up an entire season of JLU on Amazon for just a few bucks more than this costs. Even with the size and scope Public Enemies tries to sell, it still feels too routine to me. I'm not all that keen on the revised character designs either. The hard, angular designs I'm used to seeing in the Timmverse have been softened, and Superman in particular looks unusually young. I know he gets snickered at as a Boy Scout all the time, but he's not supposed to look like one. Even though I'm not all that keen on some of the design changes, a lot of time and energy clearly went into assembling them. Some of the background elements, especially the bland, boxy, paper-cutout cars...? Not so much. That might sound like a ridiculous nitpick, but the disparity's more than enough to distract. I never really felt all that invested in anything that's churning around here either. The two primary threats -- an oversized meteor in deep space and a billion-dollar bounty -- are too remote to really feel as if they're looming over our heroes, a few tiny trickles of blood aren't enough to make it feel as if the stakes are all that high, and even with the overwhelming amount of action, I never actually felt my pulse quicken. A borderline deus-ex-machina that seemed so fascinatingly absurd in the comics doesn't have the same impact this time around either.
There were several spots throughout Public Enemies where I'd stop and think, "oh, that's pretty cool", but it never had the same unrelenting grip on me that The New Frontier, Green Lantern, or Wonder Woman had. There really isn't anything I can point to and say that that's where the DC animated crew stumbled, but Public Enemies just didn't do all that much for me. It's not bad -- definitely one-up over Superman: Doomsday and the almost unwatchable Gotham Knight -- but this disappointingly isn't in the same league as the past few DCU movies. Rent It.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies may be the best looking of DC's onslaught of animated movies yet. The linework is tight, crisp, and exceptionally well-defined, and from the first frame on, there's never any question that this is a high-def release. Colors pack an enormous wallop as well, especially the bright, bold hues of the parade of costumes. The 1.78:1 image is flawless, not marred by any trace of noise, distortion, or much of anything else, really. I did spot some artifacting in a patch of red in the opening titles, but otherwise, the VC-1 encode looks immaculate to my eyes as well. I'm not sure that I could be any more impressed with this Blu-ray disc, and Public Enemies is well-worth spending the couple of extra dollars over the DVD to experience in high definition.
For whatever reason, some of these direct-to-video DC animated flicks sport lossless audio and others don't. It's a crap shoot, really. With as much unused space as there is on this disc coupled with the fact that Public Enemies isn't exactly struggling against the colossal size of Blu-ray's bandwidth pipe, I'm not sure why this disc is limited to lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 (640Kbps) only. I can't say with any confidence that it'd amount to all that much of a difference with as tame as this mix is, though. Sure, bass response is decent enough with the scale of these superfueled slugfests and a slew of titanic explosions, and the surround channels reinforce the action fairly effectively, from ricocheting sprays of gunfire to capes-and-cowls screaming across the screen to explosive bursts of radiation. The audio just seems as if it ought to be bigger, and even with as wonderfully clean and clear as this track is, my kneejerk reaction is that it sounds more like a DVD than a newly-minted Blu-ray disc. Even the rousing music that bookends Public Enemies seems as if it ought to roar from every speaker but instead meekly limps along. My kneejerk reaction is that Public Enemies as a whole plays more like an unaired arc from Justice League Unlimited, and its unremarkable audio doesn't do much to steer me away from that. Oh well. At least the voice acting comes through as well as ever.
There aren't any dubs or alternate soundtracks this time around, but subtitles are served up in English (SDH) and French.
The Final Word
The lifelong comic geek in me really wants to be hammering out some giddy, frothing-at-the-mouth, overcaffeinated fanboy write-up right now, but Superman/Batman: Public Enemies kind of falls flat. Sure, Batman and Superman have to square off against a half-battalion of heroes and villains alike, the action screams ahead unrelentingly for an hour straight, and the most immeasurably talented voice actors to have ever tackled these characters are in front of the mic once again. It's just that Public Enemies really doesn't feel like a movie -- more like an unaired Justice League Unlimited arc -- and even the size and scope of the superpowered slugfests never really manage to get my pulse racing. It's okay, but considering how phenomenal so many of these animated DC flicks have been, "okay" just doesn't seem good enough. Rent It.