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Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

Writer:   Stan Berkowitz
Based on the original comic by Jeph Loeb
Director: Sam Liu
Genre:    Superhero Adventure
Year:     2009
Rated:    PG-13
Starring: 
Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor
Kevin Conroy as Batman
Tim Daly     as Superman

When Superman/Batman: Public Enemies came out, much hype resulted from the facts that it was based on a classic Superman/Batman adventure from the comics, and that Clancy Brown, Tim Daly, and most of all Kevin Conroy were reprising their roles from the other DC Animated Universe cartoons as the voices of Lex Luthor, Superman, and Batman respectively. Kevin Conroy has been the fan-pleasing canonical voice of Batman since Batman: The Animated Series in 1992.

Plot Synopsis

Our story opens with crime and poverty rampant across the United States. In the midst of this chaos, Lex Luthor makes a bid for presidency of the United States, and wins, partially based on a promise to register superheroes as federal agents rather than independent operatives. Most cooperate, but Superman refuses to work for Luthor, and Batman... well he was never much of a team player to begin with. Regardless, Luthor's elite force of heroes consisting of Captain Atom, Major Force, Power Girl, and Black Lightning try to convince Superman that Luthor seems to have turned over a new leaf and has, admittedly, done a great deal of good as president so far.

Okay back up a second, who are these guys? Not exactly first-string DC comic characters, this motley crew probably won't be recognized by most viewers. Captain Atom has always worked for the military (being one of the few characters in comics bearing the title captain as an actual military rank), so he's a natural to head up the team. He controls various types of radiation but must be contained in a special suit, if it's damaged he'll lose his physical form and explode. Major Force is his arch-enemy and has similar powers, but has apparently put aside their differences to be his teammate. Power Girl has a massively convoluted backstory due to DC's continual continuity reboots, but basically, she's kind of Superman's cousin from an alternate reality and is sort of Supergirl. You're better off not thinking about it too hard. Black Lightning is a fictional black African-American DC animated superhero with the power to manipulate electricity. He has, I think, one line in the whole movie.

With that out of the way, we return to our regularly scheduled plot synopsis. A huge kryptonite meteor is headed toward Earth! Large enough to wipe out all life as we know it! Luthor believes he can stop it with nuclear missiles to prove he doesn't need the help of superheroes. Still, he arranges a meeting with Superman, who starts to feel strange as Luthor tries to convince him one more time to join him. He quickly identifies the source of his problem as Metallo, a kryptonite-powered cyborg, working as one of Luthor's secret service agents. Realizing he was set up, Superman, foolishly, manhandles the president of the United States and engages Metallo in a protracted battle, being joined by Batman when Metallo's kryptonite power source starts wearing down the Man of Steel. Superman and Batman manage to escape, and Metallo is killed by a shadowy figure after the battle.

Having videotaped Superman assaulting him and blaming him for the murder of Metallo, Luthor blames Superman's erratic behavior on the incoming giant kryptonite meteor and puts a $1 billion bounty on his head, along with Batman. As the pair break into the morgue to investigate Metallo's remains to see who or what killed him, they are assaulted by a supervillain army led by Gorilla Grodd, seeking the enormous bounty. This is where the movie falls apart, unfortunately.

It's very difficult to write a good Superman/Batman adventure. They're nowhere near being in the same league. Superman is one of the most powerful beings in the DC universe, and Batman is simply an especially well-trained and resourceful human being. A well-written story plays to their individual strengths, and usually involves a scene where Superman is incapacitated by kryptonite and Batman has to save him. A superb story will find a way to get them to employ inspired teamwork. A story like Superman/Batman: Public Enemies has Batman trying to fight off enemies in Superman's weight class side-by-side with him. He throws around so many mini-bombs and electrified batarangs he must be keeping them in Felix the Cat's bag of tricks, and he somehow takes punches that would knock Superman around without his head exploding like an overripe melon.

Most of the rest of the story is Luthor failing to destroy the kyrptonite meteor, going insane, and trying to stop our heroes from doing anything about it so he can rebuild the destroyed world in his own image. Meanwhile, Superman and Batman are trying to clear their names, fight off Luthor's hero and villain flunkies, and stop the meteor. The good guys win, the meteor is destroyed, and Batman survives a multi-megaton explosion for no adequately explained reason.

Review

Unfortunately I can't give this movie a very good review. Batman has been handled better in superhero team-ups, especially in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited cartoons. Luthor spends too much time out of control and crazy and not enough time as a diabolical schemer (although it's nice to see him strap on the Silver Age green-and-purple power armor again). And the massive fight scene against the villains who were trying to collect the bounty fell unfortunately flat, largely due to Batman fighting too far out of his weight class. The movie heavily features some rather obscure heroes and villains who most viewers likely won't recognize. And Batman's noble sacrifice at the end is neutered when he inexplicably survives.

I give this movie 2/5 stars. Only watch it if you're a completist who feels the need to see everything the DC Animated Universe produces.