DC Universe is back with another animated feature, and this time it's Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, the semi-sequel to last fall's animated feature adaptation, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.
Like Public Enemies, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is based on a storyline by Jeph Loeb (Batman: Hush) and late artist Michael Turner (Fathom), which debuted in the ongoing Superman/Batman comic book series.
In this animated version, the giant Kryptonite meteorite which threatened Earth in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is no more, but Kryptonite shards from the shattered rock are still falling all over Earth in the form of shooting stars. When a large shard crashes into Gotham bay, Batman (Kevin Conroy) goes to investigate, discovering a Kryptonian space vessel containing a mysterious young girl with powers equal to (or greater than) Superman's.
Superman (Tim Daly) surmises that the girl is his cousin, Kara Zor-El (Summer Glau), who was encased in the meteorite all this time. Kara's memory is fuzzy and her control over her newfound super powers is tenuous, so under Batman and Wonder Woman's (Susan Eisenberg) insistence, Superman delivers Kara to Amazon Island to be tutored by Wonder Woman and her sisters.
However, Kara's presence on Earth hasn't gone unnoticed: Darkseid (Andre Braugher), evil despot of the war planet Apokolips is aware that Superman has a new protege of untapped power, and needing a new captain for his royal guard, The Furies, Darkseid schemes to capture Kara and brainwash her into being his champion.
Of course Darkseid gets what he wants, leaving Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman no choice but to team with Darkseid's former captain Big Barda (Julianne Grossman), to storm the gates of Apokolips and take Kara back by force. But as any fan of the DC Universe knows, Darkseid is far from being a pushover - even when he's up against the likes of The Man of Steel.
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse starts off feeling very rushed, but settles into itself in the last half. It's understandable why veteran DCU director Lauren Montgomery (Wonder Woman) would have to play it fast and loose in the beginning: this storyline had the benefit of six issues of comic book to spread itself over, leaving plenty of room for a slow buildup.
The comic book storyline could afford the time to examine the impact of Superman finding another surviving Kryptonian; his conflict with Batman over whether to embrace and trust Kara or not; the threads about Kara finding her identity on Earth and ultimately becoming Supergirl; and all the requisite action you'd expect from a DC storyline that contains so many powerful heroes and foes.
Dealing with a feature film, Montgomery doesn't have the meditative liberties allowed for the page and so she must get to the main event: some epic super-powered showdowns, complete with major destruction and physics-bending displays of force. The film does not disappoint in this regard, and fights between Superman, Supergirl and Darkseid are especially awesome. It's rare circumstance for any of these three characters to cut totally loose with their powers, so getting to see all three of them do so is understandably cool. The last half hour of the film is pretty much an ugly slugfest.
DCU purists will be happy to know that iconic Superman / Batman voice actors Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy are back where they belong, while fanboys and sci-fi geeks will love that Serenity and Sarah Connor Chronicles star Summer Glau is voicing Kara/Supergirl. Legendary actor Ed Asner (Up) gives a cringe-inducing performance (in a good way) as Darkseid's butch general, Granny Goodness, but the evil king himself was (in my opinion) totally miscast with the calm, even tones of Andre Braugher. There's not nearly enough menace in Darkseid's voice, and that is a real shame.
The animation style of the film looks crisp in Blu-Ray, though I know some fans are going to gripe that the filmmakers decided to imitate the style of the late Michael Turner, whose work has a distinctive hint of anime flavor to it.The difference in style is especially noticeable with Batman, who looks too elongated and supernatural (clawed fingers) for my liking. However, I do have a bias: I prefer the classic DCU animation style that started with Batman: The Animated Series, so already "animated Turner" style is not going to be my favorite.
All and all, Superman Batman: Apocalypse is a fairly enjoyable ride once you get into it, but isn't anything especially memorable. I definitely liked Public Enemies more - but then again that was true of the comic book storylines as well.