“Superman/Batman Apocalypse” sounds wonderful on Blu-ray

By Scott Mendelson

HollywoodNews.com: It is perhaps unfair for me to be overly critical of “Superman/Batman Apocalypse,” as I was not a fan of the comic book story arc from which it is adapted from. The early Jeph Loeb issues of the “Superman/Batman” comic were full of fan-friendly moments and epic smackdowns, but they lacked a genuine emotional drive and anything resembling complex storytelling. And so was the case with the ‘Supergirl’ arc, which ran in issues 8-13 back in 2004. The story existed to reintroduce the character of “Supergirl,” who had been killed off in Crisis on “Infinite Earths” back in 1985. But the movie version has its own sins to account for, as (like “Superman/Batman Public Enemies”), it actually alters a rousing climax that robs the story of what geek-pleasing moments it initially contained.

A token amount of plot – a Kryptonian spaceship crashes onto Earth, bringing with it a frightened young girl with powers identical to the fabled last son of Krypton. Superman is elated to discover that he apparently has a teenage cousin, Batman is deeply suspicious of this new visitor with untapped and unchecked powers, and Wonder Woman wants to take the child to train in Themyscira. As Kara Zor-El tries to decide what her own fate should be, the tyrannical Darkseid sees her as a potential weapon in his unending war against Superman.

Like “Public Enemies,” the film has a bare-minimum of plot and character from which to hang a nonstop parade of super-powered smackdowns. Frankly, the entire last half of the film is one epic battle after another. Yes, there is a terrific mass battle scene at the midway point between the army of Themyscira and an army of Doomsday clones, but it’s never a good idea to peak at the start of your extended action climax. Furthermore, the actual climax alters the narrative of the original comic, robbing it of pathos (which to be fair, was partially due to some misdirection), and changing what is supposed to be an epic, possibly final battle against Darkseid into super-powered beings going at it in an empty cornfield. Considering all the blood-pumping showdowns that Superman and Darkseid have had in “Superman: The Animated Series” and “Justice League,” this one just comes off like a Tuesday-night beatdown.

Speaking of Darkseid, that brings us to arguably the most shocking bit of miscasting in the entire DC Animated Universe history. I have been a fan of Andre Braugher since the pilot episode of “Homicide: Life on the Street” back in January 1993. But whatever intensity and authority he has brought to Frank Pembleton and any number of roles post-“Homicide” is missing from his vocal work as the omnipresent overlord and arguable arch enemy of the entire DC universe. I do not know whether to fault voice-director Andrea Romano (first time for everything…) or Braugher himself, but the choice to speak in a soft-spoken monotone comes off more like Andre Braugher performing the voice of Darkseid while reading a storybook to his children. It is bad enough that the producers and director Lauren Montgomery (who directed the dynamite “Wonder Woman” movie last year) cast nearly every major character with their original vocalist from the “Batman,” “Superman,” and “Justice League” animated series (Kevin Conroy as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, etc) but then decided not to have Michael Ironside reprise his definitive work as the master of Apocalypse. But Braugher doesn’t work at all as a replacement for Ironside, robbing the film of its central source of menace and intensity.

The rest of the cast is fine, if unremarkable, and the animation is gorgeous and colorful per usual. But the central villain is fatally miscast, and the film lacks even the token gravitas that the fanboy-friendly original comic book happened to contain. This is simply not one of the better efforts in the DC AU filmography, but fans of the original story arc will enjoy seeing this relatively faithful adaptation. The next project is “All-Star Superman,” which frankly is better source material to start with. Better luck next time, gang.

Grade: C

The Blu Ray –
The film looks and sounds wonderful, as usual with these relatively high-budget (for a direct-to-DVD cartoon) projects. The film is presented in 1.78:1, and the visuals are bright, colorful, and crisp, with smooth motion and a solid contrast. The English 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio sounds perfectly fine on my meager English 2.0 set-up, and the English SDH subtitles are perfectly functional. As for the extras, it’s the usual slate of goodies for a DCAU title. There are the ‘first-look’ featurettes for three prior DCAU films, as well as the first-look featurette for the aforementioned All-Star Superman. There are fifty minutes worth of documentary material, split up into four featurettes. There is a 22-minute piece on Darkseid and the comic book history of Jack Kirby’s New Gods. There are two five-minute featurettes on Orion and Mr. Miracle respectively. And there is an eighteen-minute look at the comic book history of Supergirl. As usual, the hardcore experts won’t learn anything new, but they are great for those who aren’t comic book obsessives.

To read more go to Mendelson’s Memos.

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