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Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

Warner Bros. // PG-13 // September 29, 2009 // Region 0
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 20, 2009 | E-mail the Author
Y'know, life
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under President Luthor really isn't all that bad. The economy's on the upswing. Crime rates have deeply, actually, that the superhero crowd isn't left with all that much to clean up, and most of them have even signed up for government service under Lex. Superman has long since fallen out of sight, however: in part because the world at large is in such uncharacteristically good shape, so much fear and mistrust has been sown over aliens throughout the past few months, and...c'mon: President Lex. Supes isn't holing up in the Fortress of Solitude, quietly sitting out the rest of Luthor's term as Commander-in-Chief, though. He lends a hand when he can, but emerging back into Metropolis just means he'll have to suffer through another lecture from the rest of the superhero crowd about how much good Lex has done, even though they all recognize that this stab at utopia is nothing more than an ego trip for him.

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
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different...? This movie loses the siege on Wayne Manor by the extended Batman family, and Earth-2 Superman sits this one out. The story's not any worse off without them. The most sweeping change is the lack of internal dialogue, a fundamental aspect of the "Superman/Batman" series that I doubt would translate to the screen all that well. This adaptation by Stan Berkowitz actually improves on Jeph Loeb's writing quite a bit (and snarky comic geeks, this is probably where you fill in "that's not saying much"). Metallo just kind of shows up in the comic without any real setup, and the logic swirling around Luthor's billion-dollar bounty for Superman is so far out there that it's kind of tough to believe the world at large would rally against the Man of Steel like that. Berkowitz is playing with the same chess pieces but rearranges them around the board in a way that makes much, much more sense.

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.

  • Dinner with DCU and Special Guest Kevin Conroy (56 min.; SD): That stilted title is all the setup you need, really. This featurette spends just shy of an hour at the dinner table with Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano, Kevin Conroy, and Gregory Noveck. As someone who's slavishly followed these animated DC projects from day one, I really dug this chat, especially the wider-than-expected net it casts. They aren't just sitting around talking about Public Enemies the entire time. Batman: The Animated Series gets the brunt of their attention, really, including the day Kevin Conroy was first brought in to read for the part, how broad the early episodes of the series were, how several of them were entirely re-recorded once the actors had gotten a better grasp on their characters, the ensemble approach to its voice work with everyone piled into the recording booth together, and how at first, B:TAS was legally too dark to be broadcast on network television. Conroy is just a blast to listen to, lobbing out stories about hopping out of a Volvo station wagon and swooping into a foster ward in a Batman costume along with chanting "I am vengeance..." in a post office parking lot with a homeless fan of the series. Since Conroy's been a fixture as Batman for almost twenty years now, the four of them also discuss his approach to different projects in the DC animated universe as well as how harsh the fan response can be in those dark days whenever the role of Batman is recast. Some of the work by a few of the other voice actors -- Tim Daly, CCH Pounder, Clancy Brown, Mark Hamill, and...hey! Adam West -- are also delved into at length. This is essential viewing for anyone who's been following the DCAU for any length of time, and it's so much fun that I wish their dinner could've had another course or two.

  • A Test of Minds: The Psychology of Superman and Batman (19 min.; SD): With a few
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    authors on superhero psychology in tow, "A Test of Minds" digs into what makes Superman and Batman tick...not just how their philosophical approaches to crimefighting diverge but why: their very different responses to childhood loss, which of their identities is real and which is just a fa├žade, and whether or not either of them suffer from any sort of psychological disorder. "A Test of Minds" draws from the comics to show how these characters' perceptions of one another have been reshaped over the years, from a chummy round of baseball in "World's Finest" to their heated battles decades down the road in "The Dark Knight Returns". Jeph Loeb's "Public Enemies" arc also gets a fair amount of facetime, natch, especially since one of that book's key conceits is delving into their minds.

  • Additional Episodes (90 min.; SD): This Blu-ray disc also includes the four-part Cadmus arc that closed out the second season of Justice League Unlimited. Since this storyline also serves up the threat of President Luthor, Captain Atom squaring off against Superman, a loss of public trust, and a drive to lock up superheroes, it complements Public Enemies exceptionally well. Two of the World's Finest team-ups from Superman: The Animated Series -- "The Demon Reborn" and "Knight Time" -- are featured as well.

  • Shameless Plugs: Public Enemies opens with a barrage of trailers, including high definition clips for Batman: Gotham Knight and Green Lantern: First Flight.

    "Crisis on Two Earths" (11 min.; SD) is a preview for the next DCU animated flick with the Justice League squaring off against their sinister doppelgangers from a parallel universe. There are peeks at storyboards, chats with pretty much everyone on both sides of the recording booth, and a quick look at the voice actors -- including Billy Baldwin, Marc Harmon, Chris Noth, James Woods, and Gina Torres -- at work. That same general framework carries over to the other making-of pieces on this disc, and if you've already grabbed any of the other DCU releases, chances are you've already seen these clips for Wonder Woman, Batman: Gotham Knight, Justice League: The New Frontier, and Green Lantern: First Flight. Each of these clock in around ten minutes a pop as well, and they're all presented in standard definition. For whatever reason, there isn't a making-of featurette for Public Enemies itself, though.

    Finally, there's a nine minute look -- again in standard-def -- at the zombie-fried crossover currently tearing the heart out of the DC Universe, "Blackest Night". This too is recycled from the First Flight DVD/Blu-ray disc.
Public Enemies comes packaged in a glossy cardboard slipcase, and a code for a downloadable digital copy is also tucked inside.

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.

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