Recently I’ve been able to reconnect my Netflix account to my new computer and have thusly spent an inordinate amount of time catching up on my Queue.
The only movies I’ve really watched have been the direct to dvd DC animation fare that has been coming out over the past few years.
I’ve refrained from reviewing them here mostly because some of them are several years old now and also because I didn’t want to log up too many reviews that essentially belabor one or two points.
I am a geek, first and foremost, however there isn’t a whole lot of purpose (read: intrinsic review value) to criticizing action/adventure fluff that, especially for me, is only meant to be time-passing entertainment.
That being said, I LOVE the Bruce Timm DC universe. I grew up watching (like almost every boy my age) “Batman: The Animated Series,” which melded into “Superman: The Animated Series”/“The New Adventures of Batman & Superman ”
They hold a special place in my heart & persist in my mind as a legitimate influence in some of my creative work.
What’s been exciting with the Direct DC endeavors is that they have been spreading their format a little with deconstructing their own canon/making their own versions of a popular series run (i.e. New Frontier, Crisis), experimenting with different styles and animation houses as well as new voice actors (with varying results).
Of what I’ve seen, “Under the Red Hood,” “Gotham Knight,” “Return of Black Adam” were great. They each have their own elements of kitsch, but the tone, voice-direction and animation were all splendid. I feared that the direct dvd format and the elevated PG-13 rating would be too absurd (with ‘gritty’ interpretations of my childhood heroes), however overall, they kept the uber-violence & sex to a more tantalizing minimum.
The format for these shows, since the beginning has always been: Start with a bang, which introduces a villainess element – Introduce heroes & context for situation – Build characters/Story through expositional dialogue (sometimes in a minor side-fight) – Cross-cut to what villain is doing – First hero/villain fight – More character exposition – Climax to resolve problem – Final Villain Showdown – Buildings fall/Explode – Final monologue.
The action is always well developed, executed and usually over the top. Occasionally there is a wonderful animation flourish that showcases a beautiful camera or character move that is shocking in its eloquence – however, for the most part my mind usually wanders during this segment.
Sure there is dialogue to break up the fight slightly – unfortunately they are often simple quips or cliched threats. Rarely does the dialogue within a fight feel so immensely attached to the greater story – “Red Hood” is a great example of this.
What I have come to love about these films are the characterizations – the regular people inside the costumes who make mistakes, have regrets, sorrow, anguish, love etc.
“The Justice League: Unlimited” was able to capture the heroes so powerfully I found myself emotionally attached/involved in the lives of Green Arrow/Black Canary & Question/Huntress.
The quips & dialogue tinged with so much sexual tension and admiration made for some entertaining scenes.
But everything about “Superman/Batman: Apocalypse” failed to impress. The presence of the original voice actors for Batman & Superman (Kevin Conroy & Time Daly respectively) tickled my nostalgia bone, but their characterizations felt much more shallow and empty for this adventure. Summer Glau performed strongly as the alien Kara (Supergirl) despite awkward dialogue and exposition, while Andre Braugher as Darkseid just felt miscast. Mr. Braugher is a spectacular actor and I have enjoyed his work for years, but he doesn’t possess the proper baritone that I feel this particular villain requires. I will however admit that this is most likely a latent prejudice against anyone else performing this role besides Michael Ironside. For me, he is that role. I would, in fact – love to see him play a live action variant of the character – or at least provide his voice if the filmmakers fall on a CG route.
The story follows a path that seems to only have the intention of leading to an epic battle between Superman/Darkseid & to ultimately see Kara wearing the costume. Everything in between was minor fluff and confusing side-plot.
While Kara was spending her time training in Thermascara (sp?) with Wonder Woman. During this period Kara apparently befriends an oracle of sorts (who has the unfortunate distinction of being drawn VERY similar to Kara – befuddling the plot for a good portion of the film) who is having premonitions of Kara’s death.
I understand the necessity of having the oracle look similar to Kara for the sake of the plot development and ultimate conclusion to this particular sub-plot – but all it would have required would be that the oracle be blonde. Not look almost exactly like Kara – this is frustrating only because early in the film we are introduced to the oracle in her visions via a dream sequence/wake up from a nightmare without any context to who she is or why we should care. And it isn’t until right before the conclusion of said side plot are we giving any exposition as to why we should care about this character and the significance of her visions. SPOLER ALERT: Then she’s dead.
The final confrontation after the second to last epic confrontation has a differing visual appeal because it doesn’t take place in a far away alien world where we have not investment/context to the surroundings; which makes it stunning in its own right and enjoyable to watch – it had the effect of pulling me out of my own thoughts surrounding the plot holes and enjoy the spectacle.
And ultimately that’s still sort of the point. The entertainment-spectacle function of these videos overtakes any other focus on character or craft. There was some spectacular animation/movement and surprising set pieces – but what makes these adventures memorable for me, and what keeps me coming back are the characters, the push pull and internal conflict – as well as the external. “Apocalypse” exists primarily in the latter, rendering it a less than enjoyable spectacle.