Sunday, June 24, 2012

Let's Review a Movie: The Batman Superman Movie (1996)

Okay yes this is just the world’s finest episodes packaged up in movie form.  However, I did buy it in movie form and since I review TV movies here too I’ve decided I’m giving this a full review, so let’s go.

Growing up I didn’t watch too much of Batman the Animated Series or The Superman Animated Series.  I watched none of The New Batman Adventures or the Justice League cartoon back when they were new.  As a kid my Batman was Adam West’s Batman.  So, this movie was really was my introduction back into the Timmverse franchise as an adult and it’s a great one.  The production team always seems to put their all into any project.  These are the people who took the marketing gimmick ‘teenage Batman’, an idea that sounds terrible on paper, and turned it into the awesome cyberpunk future to these shows in Batman Beyond.  The same is true here.  The idea of Batman and Superman teaming up is nothing new so it would have been easy to just throw anything together and call it a day, knowing that the gimmick itself would be enough to get viewers watching; instead though they worked to craft a story that was fun and fluid and threw in some new twists for the viewers.  

I enjoyed all the pair-ups they have here, with Joker and Luthor teaming up, Harley and Mercy having a giant cat fight, and of course Batman and Superman.  I love the contrast of the way the two heroes operate shown in the opening scenes.  Superman is out in broad daylight, saving Air Force One with his powers on full display.  He is thanked by the president and adored by the press.  In contrast Batman works in the shadows and at night, using stealth and intimidation as his tools.  He does detective work in the cave while not being trusted by any of the police, except Gordon.  I like that there is initially friction between Superman and Batman because of how differently they work.  Not helping matters is the Clark Lois Bruce love triangle.  That I find really fun to watch actually.  I like that we get something besides the normal Clark Superman Lois triangle and that this affair illustrates a problem with that triangle.   That since Superman has the whole save the world thing keeping him from dating Lois and he won’t pursue that in his disguise as Clark Kent then Lois is totally free to date anyone she wants, and Clark has to suck it up because, as Bruce said, he had his chance.  Still after they each save each other they start to work together because the goal is the same, to stop Luthor and the Joker, and they can help each other better together than apart, and we get to place of snarky mutual respect.  Rather than just having conflict for the sake of having conflict, I’m looking at you Mr. Miller.  I also love that no character is shown as better than the other just different.  For example Superman finds out Batman’s identity and then Batman turns right around and finds out Superman is Clark Kent.  Also Clark’s line about how he doesn’t want to make the partnership a regular event is just hilarious in hindsight considering the shows that came after this.

The animation looks great over-all.  I especially like Bruce Wayne’s design here because he really looks like a middle age business man.  The older animated series style made him look really young at times and this update is slick and smooth, it even matches continuity because this series takes place after the other one.  There are a few issues, not the least of which is the DVD cover, the artwork is so off model it’s laughably bad.  In the movie itself I think the dragon is too bright after it’s revealed to be made of kryptonite, and I don’t like the design of the Joker.  His face looks like a mask here and so the scary factor drops dramatically.  I don’t care for the older design that much either because it was too easy to go off model, but at least he was scary most of the time.  My favourite version actually is the Justice League version.  It combined the nice slick lines of this version with the red lips and the creepy eyes of the first version and so it’s the best of both worlds.   Now while I don’t think the design works Mark Hamill’s performance as the Joker certainly does work to keep the character from totally losing his edge, particularly his laugh, easily the best laugh for the character, for me, by any performer so far.  For the Joker as a character I like that other characters underestimate him here.  Superman doesn’t really think of him as much of a threat, until he sprays him with acid and pulls out the marble bombs.   Luthor thinks he has got the clown all figured out, only to find himself strapped to a chair in his own flying wing while Joker merrily reduces Metropolis to rubble.  That’s the fun thing about that team up too.  Joker doesn’t propose teaming up with Luthor to take over the world or to cause havoc somewhere, he just needs money and is willing to kill Superman for Luthor to get it.  It’s simple and straightforward and sometimes those are the best plans of all.   Also when the plan doesn’t work Joker makes a nice left turn and does what the character is known for, cause random chaos just because he can.

Also I would be remiss if I didn’t compliment the other voice actors as well here who all do a marvelous job, particularly Kevin Conroy.  He provides a great performance as Batman and Bruce Wayne and really works to keep both those voices different and distinct.  The same can be said of Tim Daly as Superman.  And I didn’t even recognize Dana Delany here who worked in a previous Bruce Timm production that I enjoy as well Batman: Mask of the Phantasm.  

To conclude this really is a very well put together piece.  It provides a good balance between Superman and Batman, where one isn’t over shadowed in favour of the other.  We have some neat twists on formulas like Bruce and Lois’ relationship.  We have two very different villains and watching them interact is great.  The acting is marvelous, most of the animation works, and the story is fun and inventive.  The production crew clearly loved the source material and wanted to do all of it justice and it shows.  

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