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Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
Nonstop action is by no-means a bad thing. "The Matrix Reloaded" may not be a beloved film by any means, it's hard to scoff at the sheer entertainment value of the 30 minute plus action sequence towards the middle of the film; John Woo's "Hard Boiled" largely consists of increasingly bombastic sequences of action, but the film as a whole is held in high regard by action fans. When the legally elected Lex Luthor places a $1,000,000,000 bounty on the head of Superman for murder and Batman emerges as Superman's only ally against a cadre of rogues crawling out of the woodwork to collect, non-stop action is a good assumption. Unfortunately, in "Superman/Batman: Public Enemies" this non-stop action commits many cardinal sins, making even a lean 63 minute animated feature a test in patience.
First and foremost, the entire production, based on the initial six issues of Jeph Loeb's Superman/Batman comic run, seems to only sparsely use its source material. While I am a comic fan, I will admit, I am first and foremost a Marvel man. However, a brief scan of the six-issue summary reveals a lot of minor explanations were left out. I can only attribute this to one of two things: lazy writing or the entire production merely being fan service. With the return of Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly as Batman and Superman respectively, I'm leaning towards it being the latter issue.
The feature starts off strong with Lex Luthor appearing to have reformed his ways, working towards saving America from a second Great Depression. His actions have even convinced some heroes to work for him including Captain Atom and Power Girl. The notable, but understandable public holdout is Superman. The notion of the iconic hero wanting to do the will of the people, but being faced with the people wanting his most hated nemesis as their own leader is a fantastic idea, that soon gets pushed aside as Luthor frames Superman for the murder of Metallo. Special mention should be given to the Superman/Metallo fight, as it is by and large the standout action sequence of the program and provides a great introduction of Batman into our mix.
Now an official fugitive, a whole bevy of villains (Captain Atom's squad shows up too, but in the role normally held by Superman) come to collect the previously mentioned bounty. Sadly, the rogues' gallery, strikes this mild Superman fan as being second rate. I honestly didn't recognize the majority of the villains and the manor (and rate) in which most were dispatched paints them as being forgettable. Even perennial Batman nemesis, Bane is swiftly defeated by the Dark Knight himself with a well-placed Batarang and a back flip. These action sequences eventually become too relentless and by the time the feature enters its final act, plot holes begin to pop up quicker than rogues.
Fortunately, when the feature takes a break from one of its many fights, the voice work is a joy to behold. Conroy is natural as Batman here, as he was in the original animated series or the more recent Arkham Asylum game. Tim Daly makes an engaging Superman, who won't make you forget Christopher Reeve, but at the same time doesn't come across as being full of himself. Last but not least, we have Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor. Of all the characters in this feature, Luthor himself gets the most shortchanged and his actions the final act suffer from the most plot holes.
When the credits roll a little over an hour after the program beginning, the end result is nowhere near the level set in the first act. We go from not knowing Luthor's true intentions and both Superman and Batman in the fight for their lives with ONE villain, to the duo appearing to have the energy to take on entire armies without breaking a sweat and Luthor in full villain mode, without the requisite slow reveal. As a whole, this is a sub-par result, despite the excellent effort in the voice acting department.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a shocking letdown, especially given the short runtime of the feature. It's plagued with noticeable edge-enhancement, minor aliasing, and some noticeable compression. Color reproduction is solid however, but the pleasing animation style gets short changed due to the easily preventable technical defects.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital English audio track is nowhere near feature length quality in terms of grandeur, but it does have its moments. Effects are handled nicely, especially during the frantic fight scenes by the surrounds and the viewer gets a good idea of how Batman and Superman are facing foes from every angle. English subtitles for the hearing impaired are also included.
In terms of quality of extras, this two-disc edition falls short, despite it's seemingly abundant quantity of them, including a code for a digital copy of the main feature. Disc One consists of a number of brief featurettes which are nothing more than promotions for past DC animated titles, as well as a slightly extended look at the upcoming "Blackest Night" DVD movie. The shameless promotion continues on Disc Two with another extended featurette for "Justice League Crisis on Two Earths." Frankly my interest is limited after the disappointment from this feature; it also doesn't help matters that Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy won't be returning for this upcoming feature, and the crew really tries to sell the new voice actors, who are no slouches (Adam Baldwin and Mark Harmon), but nowhere as iconic in the animated lineage.
Things do pick up life with "A Test of Minds" a short featurette analyzing the psychology and mindsets of both our titular heroes. For long standing fans, this is likely to contain some repetitive information, but there is some good insight from real psychologists discussing how these characters have evolved psychologically and how their mindsets in many ways, are the lynchpin in their partnership.
"Dinner with DCU and Special Guest Kevin Conroy" is by far the crown jewel of this entire disc, although neutered from its Blu-Ray counterpart. Here, we get around 25 minutes of dinner table discussion with Kevin Conroy, Andrea Romano, Bruce Timm, and Greg Norveck. The majority of the conversation is spent on how Conroy was brought into the voice acting game and his experiences as arguably, one of the definitive portrayals of Batman. Unfortunately, this featurette is nearly an hour long on the Blu-Ray release of this title, and there are a few edits that definitely show a great deal of conversation has been cut. To paraphrase the words of the great Captain Hook, "Bad form Warner."
Last but not least, are two episodes from the animated Superman series which feature Batman. They are nice additions, but DVD viewers get the shaft here as well, since the Blu-Ray also featured a four-episode story arc from "Justice League Unlimited" which tied directly to the main feature. I'd rather have those episodes here and lose the Superman picks, than what Warner chose to do.
Fans of the Superman/Batman comic series as well as close followers of the DC Animated Universe should definitely give this a rent, but that is honestly, the extent of the feature's target audience. It's more or less a thinly woven team-up tale, padded with action that quickly diminishes in quality. Add to that, a less than stellar technical presentation, and some underhanded edits to the DVD bonus features, and this is a forgettable experience. Skip It.