Lex! The Leader We Deserve!
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies
A lot of love is had for the Bruce Timm headed DC Animated Universe. This collection of (primarily) shows started with Batman: The Animated Series before adding on Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League and Unlimited, Static Shock, and everything that came from Batman Beyond. Hell, a version of this universe still persists today over in comics as DC has show a lot of love for Beyond and its associated properties. Fan, clearly, do not want to let this whole universe go.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is not officially part of the DCAU, but it does feature many of the same voice actors playing the same parts in this film. If you grew up with love for Kevin Conroy as BatmanOne of the longest running, consistently in-print superheroes ever (matched only by Superman and Wonder Woman), Batman has been a force in entertainment for nearly as long as there's been an entertainment industry. It only makes sense, then that he is also the most regularly adapted, and consistently successful, superhero to grace the Silver Screen. and Tim Daly as SupermanThe first big superhero from DC Comics, Superman has survived any number of pretenders to the throne, besting not only other comic titans but even Wolrd War II to remain one of only three comics to continue publishing since the 1940s. then this film has the biggest selling point you could ever ask for: those actors are back and they sound just as good as always. There's familiarity in their deliveries, chemistry between the voice actors as they deliver their lines. That's what fans wanted and it's here.
At the same time, though, the film doesn't look like the DCAU. That continuity had clean lines and minimalistic designs, creating a neo-retro aesthetic. In comparison, the characters in Superman/Batman look weird. Too big, too bulgy and, weirdly, too generic. It's like if the movie were drawn by Rob Liefeld as every man is super buff, looking like they were all built from the same exact He-Man figure. The women, as few as there are in the film (such as SupergirlIntroduced in 1959 as a female counterpart for Superman, the Last Daughter of Krypton would go onto have a long career in the DC Universe, thriving, dying, coming back, all the eventually become an even more powerful superhero than even her famous cousin. analogue Powergirl) are far more petite, tinier, obviously feminine. It's a weird look, albeit not unexpected from a design that looks like it walked off a comic book. I do still much prefer the old DCAU styles over it.
Officially it's not part of the DCAU but... does that matter. There's nothing in this film that conflicts with what was seen in that universe and what was possible for those characters to do (in fairness, the sequel that eventually came out did introduce Supergirl proper, and that would conflict at that point). It's just a fun, simple adventure for Superman and Batman as they battle against Lex Luthor and his various minions. There's really nothing to hate about that at all.
The film, based on the "Public Enemies" arc from the Superman/Batman comic series, loosely follows the plot line of that series. Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown) becomes President of the United States and immediately sets about doing all the things he swore he could if people would let him just control the world. He fixes the economy, solves homelessness and world hunger, fixes the environment, and reduces crime. He's making, in short, the kind of utopia he hints that he always could have if that pesky Superman (Daly) didn't always get in the way. Lex has always hated Superman, the alien who steals the headlines and is the "hero of the world". That's a blow to Lex's ego he could never let go.
But when a meteor of pure kryptonite is discovered on a collision course for Earth, Lex is convinced that he has to make nice with Superman and get the hero's help in solving this crisis. Lex, though, can't stop being Lex, so he uses an arranged meeting to goad Superman into an attack (by having Metallo come out and injure Superman), and then he releases a tape of that encounter edited to make it look like Superman was the aggressor. This allows Lex to declare Superman Public Enemy Number One, putting the hero on the run. Batman (Conroy) of course comes to the aid of his friend, and together the two have to fight off a cadre of supervillains and superheroes who all want to catch and bring Superman in (some for the reward on his head), while also finding a way to stop the deadly meteor that could wipe out all life on Earth.
The plot of Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is, let's be clear, pretty basic. In a battle between Superman and Lex Luthor it's pretty obvious who is the good guy, who is the bad guy, and who's going to come out on top in the end. The film doesn't exactly give us much nuance on this front, letting us know that Lex has set Superman up from the beginning. There's a version of this story where we only see the tape of Superman's encounter with Lex and so the truth is obfuscated, making it unclear if we really should trust Superman or if, just this once, Lex is actually right. He did fix the world after all. "Maybe he really did change!" But no, this film doesn't go that route and all worry about nuance is thrown out the window.
From about the twenty minute mark (in a just over hour long movie) what we get is one long action set piece as one set of meta-humans after another come from Batman and Superman, trying to take both of them down so they can bring Superman in. What this amounts to, then, is a lot of superhero battles as the film smashes its various action figures together to make cool "smack boom!" noises. Is it dumb, and silly, and over the top? Sure, but it's also fun because, hey, 40 minutes of pure action! Who doesn't like that?
The film does try to add a little bit of depth at times. There's a subplot with Powergirl (who, bear in mind, wasn't Supergirl from another universe at this point in the continuity, even though that was soon reverted again) learning to ignore Lex's words and trust Superman as he tries to train her to be a better superheroine. Meanwhile, someone kills Metallo and pins it on Superman and there's the barest little mystery over who it could be. It's not much of one as I was able to pin who it was almost instantly, but still, the attempt is made.
Are there flaws in the film? Absolutely. The plot is simple, the artwork isn't that great, and it really does just devolve into 40 minutes of action (which might be tiresome for some viewers even if I enjoyed it). But then, that does all parallel the comic it was based on, which was a big old "smash the heroes against each other" story line for six issues. This was what people got in the comics and the studio was (more or less) true to the source material here, so I guess that counts for something.
And it is nice to have the voice actors back from the DCAU, comfortably doing their thing. That's the term I'd use to describe this film, for sure: comforting. It's superhero comfort food, not deep or nuanced, but fun to watch just for the sake of it. DC has cranked out better films, yes, but they've also made a lot of dreck (and not just in the animated sphere) so finding a film from them that knows it has to do one thing and does it well is refreshing. It's a smashy-smash action figure event, but its the simple pleasures sometimes that are the most fun to watch.