Monday, 1 February 2016

Film Review - 'Superman/Batman: Public Enemies'

The America of the DC Universe has entered a period of bleak recession, as the film begins. People are struggling just to get by, unemployed rates are climbing, and homelessness is becoming an ever more prevalent problem. Desperate times call for desperate measures, it seems - and, there is not likely to be a measure more desperate for the American people than willingly electing Lex Luthor as president.

Seemingly finally able to put his resources and his intellect to good use, Lex is able to do what must have seemed impossible to anyone else - leading the county out of its economic depression, lowering crime, and even working toward ending wars around the world. His time in the White House has been so successful that even superheroes who know, firsthand, what Lex Luthor is really like have started to come around. They have convinced themselves that the massive ego boost he is getting from being seen as a legitimately effective president may be enough to curtail is more overtly villainous tendencies, and that his time in office might actually benefit the country. Deciding that his vision for the country is worth supporting, some have even willingly joined Lex Luthor's personal team of government-employed superheroes - despite what they may still think of the man, himself.

One person who obviously isn't convinced, though, is Superman. While others may be willing to lend Lex some small measure of trust, so long as it seems as though he is genuinely working for the good of America, the Man of Steel is convinced that he must be up to something - because, of course, as far as Superman is concerned, he always is.

But still, as much as Superman may dislike the idea of Lex Luthor serving as president of the country that has adopted him, there is not a lot he can do about it. There was, after all, nothing even remotely illegal about Lex's election victory.

Superman is powerless to prevent anything that Lex may be planning. At least, until Lex's ego, and his hatred of the Man of Steel, drives him to attempt to get rid of the his most hated rival once and for all. With a comet of pure kryptonite hurtling toward Earth, Lex sees the perfect opportunity to both move against Superman, and set himself up as the true savior of the planet.

Luring Superman to an arranged meeting, under the pretense of discussing the threat posed by the rapidly approaching meteor, Lex's trap is spring when one of his entourage turns out to be the kryptonite-powered cyborg Metallo. Caught by surprise, and effectively powerless against Metallo, Superman is only able to fight the cyborg off with the help of Batman. In the aftermath of the fight, though, Metallo is found dead - and, Lex is quick to attempt to pin the blame on Superman.

Now, with a billion dollar bounty drawing out just about every villain that the DC universe has to offer, Superman is left with no support other than the Dark Knight - and, with Lex Luthor's team of government sponsored heroes also after them, Superman and Batman are left in the unenviable position of also being targeted by some of their own former allies. Together, the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel are left with no choice but to try o clear Superman's name - while, of course, still trying to determine how best to deal with the looming threat of the approaching meteor.

Of course, Batman has a plan - and, an ally in the form of the 13 year old genius, the Toyman. But, for Batman's plan to go ahead, he still needs to get hold of the data that Lex's team of scientists have been able to compile. At the same time, the strain of dealing with the meteor seems to be getting to Lex - pushing him toward more and more extreme behavior.

Admittedly, it is all a bit silly if you give it too much thought. For one thing, the details of how someone like Lex Luthor could have been elected president in the first place are glossed over with a simple opening montage. It's made pretty clear that the 'how' and 'why' aren't really all that important. Actually devoting screen-time to Lex Luthor's rise to power would distract from what was clearly most important - impressive action, and the entertaining banter between our two heroes. Also, let's face it, when a film's climax relies on the use of a giant robot built by a 13 year old Japanese super-genius, you should know exactly what sort of superhero story you're watching. It's entertaining spectacle over deep and involved story-telling, here. And, I'm fine with that.

One other thing that the film has going for it is that it manages to give some screen-time to a variety of lesser known characters. Batman and Superman have always been up there among the most iconic and instantly recognizable of all superheroes, and Lex Luthor is one of the DC universes best known villains - but, beyond that, every other hero and villain to make an appearance is plucked straight off of the B and C-list. Among the list of heroes and villains that you may never have heard of before, you have names like Power Girl, Captain Atom, Black Lightning, Major Force and Solomon Grundy - among others. Even Gorilla Grodd gets to put in an appearance.

It's nice to see them, of course - but, they are all ultimately pushed aside in favor of more screen-time for Superman and Batman. Of the supporting cast, only Power Girl receives anything that resembles actual character development. Though, in the end, she is still there just to be shown up by the A-list heroes. But, then, this is a story about Batman and Superman - so, it shouldn't really come as any surprise that no one else exists on quite the same level.

Helping to bring life to the impressive animation, and the entertaining action sequences, you have a voice cast that should be instantly recognizable to any fans of the character's various animated adventures over the years - Tim Daly in the role of Superman, Kevin Conroy as Batman and Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor. Each is as entertaining in their respective roles as they have always been. Honestly, after so many years, each of them could probably play their respective roles in their sleep. Allison Mack (who isn't new to the DC universe, either - having played a major role in Smallville) does the best she can with the role of Power Girl - although, she really isn't given a lot to work with.

In the end, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is really just a piece of entertaining fluff. While the best superhero stories are perfectly capable of leaving a lasting impression on the audience, this one probably wont. But, it is a hell of a lot of fun while it lasts - and, for that reason alone, it is still well worth the time of superhero fans.

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