With decades of amazing, good, or even okay stories to choose, it’s hard to fathom why Bruce Timm & Co. picked this one. On paper, it makes sense. This focuses on the dynamic between DC’s two biggest heroes while pitting them against a swath of B and C-List characters featuring amazing action set pieces. While Superman/Batman: Public Enemies certainly isn’t the worst the line has to offer, it’s definitely one of the weakest.
This is a difficult movie to review. Based on the first 6 issues of the titular comic series by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, Public Enemies features Lex Luthor as President of the United States, framing Superman for murdering Metallo and placing a bounty on his head while a Kryptonite asteroid bears down on the planet. Batman, siding with Superman, battle their way through a bevy of heroes and villains to prove Luthor framed them while recovering the information they need to stop the asteroid.
The problem with the movie lies with the source material. Superman/Batman under the direction of these two creators was a terrible book. The paper thin (ha) stories and art were superhero beefcake at its (world’s) finest (get it? Never mind). The character design is based on McGuinness’s models, detracting from the action. Characters are anatomically incorrect with an over abundance of muscles and unproportionate bodies. While they nailed the look, aping the artist’s designs perfectly, they were faulty designs initially. Not exactly a win.
Superheroes are like toys, every now and then you need to take them out and smash them together. It’s their biggest appeal. On that level, this succeeds wonderfully. The fight scenes were expertly choreographed, igniting a youthful reaction when viewing through the eyes of an adult. For example, Mongul and Solomon Grundy, while being mind controlled from Gorilla Grodd, attack the duo. Neat. Better still, they square off against Captain Marvel (who apparently can’t open his eyes) and Hawkman. I’m surprised they didn’t fight Shredder, Megatron, and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. Honestly, I wouldn’t have cared by that point.
What brought the film down was the third act. Not one redeemable moment could be spied. The entire asteroid subplot should have been exercised. It added nothing to the previous acts and only detracted from the ending. Toyman was a worthless character and his asteroid buster was dumb. The story should have ended with the two capturing Luthor, in either medium. Both boys bantered between battles (I am on a role). Some of it worked, such as Batman expressing his dislike of being carried, while most of it, such as the Magpie conversation, fell flat. Considering the overblown action, it fit.
Eschewing a new cast, familiar actors were cast to portray the characters. Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Clancy Brown, and CCH Pounder returned as Batman, Superman, Luthor, and Amanda Waller, respectively. While each actor defined their roles, they felt wasted on such a banal story. It was odd seeing their voices come out of the now distorted models. Why not save them for something worthy of their caliber?
As an adaptation, Public Enemies succeeds. Beyond some mindless action, it offers little else. While a younger audience will certain appreciate it the whole way through, others might be looking for something more. With less robots rockets. And abs.
Did the action scenes work for you? Think the asteroid subplot failed? Comment below!
Wow did I hate that rocket ship.