The Infallible Fish Reviews: Superman/Batman Apocalypse

Blog SB Apocalypse Review Title

What’s that in the sky? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No! It’s a girl flying around in a skirt (because that’s practical).

It only feels appropriate to kick off DC Month with Supergirl. She’s the latest DC superhero to get her own live action TV series (I’ve seen a couple of episodes, it’s not the Flash, but it’s pretty enjoyable. Melissa Benoist is adorable, or should that be adorkable?).

For those unfamiliar with the character, Supergirl is Kara Zor-El, Superman’s older cousin. Yes, I said older. While baby Superman was being bundled into a rocket and shot off to Earth, Jor-El’s brother was putting Kara in her own rocket, except something went wrong. The specifics change depending on the continuity, but the result is generally the same. Kara is frozen in stasis in her rocket and doesn’t arrive on Earth until Superman is all grown up and a well established hero. Now Kara not only has to deal with adapting to a strange new world, all of these frightening new powers she suddenly has, but also with living up to the standard set by her cousin.

I like Kara. I like her struggle. Superman was raised as a human, in everything but genetics he is human, just a little more…super. Kara on the other hand is an alien. It’s harder for her to adapt. She remembers Krypton, its people and its ways a lot more than her cousin, and feels the loss so much more. She struggles to find her place in the world. She struggles step out of the Superman’s shadow and be her own hero. Yet despite all of the darkness she’s experienced it never diminishes her light. To me, that’s super.

This DC original animated movie is based upon the second story arc of the Superman/Batman comic by Jeph Loeb, which reintroduced Supergirl into DC continuity at the time. How does it handle the origins of the Girl of Steel? Let’s find out. What’s the Story?

While the audience gets to listen to the radio (hello exposition news), a meteorite crashes into Gotham Bay. Batman investigates the crash, discovering a kryptonian spaceship, but then a naked woman steals the Batboat and drives it into the harbour (What? It happens). Said woman then stumbles around beating up dock workers, who really should know better, and setting police cars on fire. After accidentally knocking a blimp out of the sky (because it wouldn’t be Gotham City without blimps), Batman finally manages to knock her out with some kryptonite (You know I always figured Kryptonite was more of an ‘Ack! I’m being painfully poisoned’ than ‘I sleepy. Go night night now’).

When the woman finally wakes up Batman and Superman learn that her name is Kara Zor-El, She’s Superman’s cousin. Superman is overjoyed at finally having a living blood relative (and meeting a kryptonian who doesn’t want to kill him or take over the world!), Batman on the other hand is more suspicious (let’s face it, since this girl arrived at least two very expensive pieces of Bat-equipment have gone boom).

Meanwhile Darkseid, general Mr. Big Bad of the universe and major badass (I’ve spent two paragraphs explaining about Supergirl, I’m not going into the New Gods right now), is holding try outs for ‘Hot Women Dressed in Ridiculous Outfits’, aka The Furies. The latest applicant for head of the Honour Guard doesn’t fare so well, but Darkseid has heard of a promising new potential recruit on Earth.

Back with Kara, after a bit of time training and the ultimate language cram school, Kara is let out into the world. Her first stop is Metropolis, where she sees what it’s like to be a normal Earth girl. She likes it, though after seeing how the Earthlings idolise Superman she’s sure she doesn’t have what it takes to be someone’s champion. Suddenly Kara and Superman are set upon by mysterious assailants, who turn out to be Wonder Woman and Harbinger (because this is a superhero film, we need to get a certain amount of heroes fighting one another). Batman and Wonder Woman believe that Kara needs more specialised training to control her powers. There’s also the fact that Harbinger has been having visions of Kara dying, but we don’t need to inform Kara about that (I mean why let her be forewarned? It’d spoil the surprise).

Kara trains with Wonder Woman and the amazons…and are you starting to see one of the problems this film has yet? This movie lasts for 75 minutes (an annoying restriction DC places on pretty much every one of its original animated movies) and it has a lot to fit in. The story ping pongs all over the place, from Gotham to Metropolis, to Paradise Island to Apokolips. Yeah I haven’t even gotten to the part where Darkseid sends an army of Doomsdays to distract the heroes while he kidnaps and brainwashes Kara. One minute Kara is upset over her cousin just handing her over to the Amazons, the next she’s happily training with them and annoyed when Superman interferes. The film manages remarkably well with the restrictions placed upon it, there are several emotional moments that manage to hit home despite the pacing feeling so rushed. Yet I can’t help but feel that this film would benefit from either a few less locations or a longer running time.

Despite having Batman and Superman plastered across the title (because when it comes to the original animated movies DC apparently can’t sell anything without Batman or Superman in it), this story belongs to Supergirl. This entire setup is primarily here to help her decide who she wants to be. She can either be a normal Earth girl with Clark in Metropolis, or she can be a warrior with Wonder Woman and the amazons, or she can be Darkseid’s latest toy soldier. In the end though Kara chooses to be a hero, she fights for what she believes in and to protect those she cares about.

Speaking of the ending, I have to say this is definitely an occasion where the film outshines the source material. In the comic Clark brings Kara to the Kent Farm when they’re attacked by Darkseid. Kara jumps in the way of Darkseid’s omega beams, and is vaporised. This is completely undone in the next issue where it’s reveal that it was all just a fake out and Kara is alive and well. In the film? Kara has a huge knockout brawl with Darkseid, and though she eventually loses, she survives and helps Superman to beat Darkseid. It’s a much more satisfying finish to the story, especially the part where Kara says that this is the life she chooses.

On the animation front this is all fairly standard. It’s never bad, but there are some scenes that don’t really impress all that much. Where the animation excels is with the action, and there’s a lot of action. The fights are brilliantly choreographed and brimming with intense and exciting moments.  Also a special shout out to Summer Glau who really knocks it out of the park as Supergirl. She perfectly captures all of the emotions the Girl of Steel goes through, and is also really funny when called upon.

All in all, Superman/Batman Apocalypse is hardly a masterpiece. It has some pacing issues due to the restricted time allowance and an overabundance of fights and locales, but despite its flaws it’s still a really enjoyable movie. It showcases Kara’s strengths and weaknesses, displaying why she’s such a great character, even if it doesn’t have enough time to fully explore her. The banter and the fights are great. The voice acting top notch. This is just a really fun movie.

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday. 

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