Superman/Batman Go Outside The Law - And Common SenseS

If you're looking for overblown superhero adventure with lots of guest-stars, then you can't go wrong with new animated direct-to-DVD movie Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. But if you're looking for something with a solid story, you may be in trouble...

To be fair, Public Enemies actually fixes a lot of the plot problems with the original comic it's adapting. We're given a better reason for Lex Luthor becoming President of the United States, and it's one that both ties in with the current economic climate and provides an unintentionally hilarious opening to the movie. Businessmen, so crushed by the collapse of the world's markets, smash up newspaper vending machines so that they can steal the coins contained within. (Really, animated moviemakers? Newspaper vending machines? We also get a denouement that actually offers closure, as opposed to the original series' more open-ended, to-be-continued-in-Infinite-Crisis, climax.

But in the process of fixing those issues, a lot of the (for want of a better way to put it) fun of the story feels skewed: When your story opens with global economic collapse prompting Americans to abandon the two-party political system in order to avoid devolving into riot-filled chaos, scenes of superheroes punching each other ad nauseum for the better part of half an hour in the middle of the movie seem somewhat... out of place. As does the climactic appearance of a rocket that looks like a giant Superman/Batman composite, with booster rockets for a cape.

Superman/Batman Go Outside The Law - And Common SenseS

The tonal dissonance is the movie's biggest problem; if you took out a couple of "bitch"s and comments about Power Girl's breasts, what you'd have left would be a great film for kids. What survives from the original comic is an ideal big, bold, childlike story: Lex Luthor becomes President, frames Superman for murder and all the other superheroes try to arrest him! And there's this massive kryptonite meteor that's headed to Earth that no-one can stop! Dude!!! (The meteor plot feels a bit unnecessary here; it's been pulled over from the original comic, where it was really a set-up for the next storyline, and without that context, becomes a little bit "We need a bigger ending — oh, why don't we use this meteor?").

But as it is, the movie is unsure of which audience it's aiming for - an adult audience who wants references to Power Girl's breast size and gets the weird quasi-Jon Stewart gag at the start of the movie (bleeped out, because... Well, I'm not entirely sure why, really?), or a kid audience for whom the idea of Hawkman, Captains Marvel and Atom, Katana, Power Girl, Black Lightning and Major Force going up against Superman and Batman is genuinely new and exciting.

On the plus side, the movie looks great; Director Sam Liu finds a way to translate original comic artist Ed McGuinness' distinctive, blocky style while keeping it familiar enough to fans of Batman: The Animated Series and the Justice League cartoons, and the voice work by old hands Kevin Conroy, Clancy Brown and Tim Daly (amongst many others) has just the right mix of sincerity and smirk.

Also enjoyable are the extras, which include a preview for the next DC Universe movie, Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths (which, despite the claims of it being all-original, seems to be a version of Grant Morrison's JLA: Earth 2 graphic novel), a fun Dinner for Five rip-off featuring animated mavens Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano, Gregory Novak and Batman himself Kevin Conroy, and extra episodes of the Superman animated series (on the DVD, at least; I believe the Blu Ray edition has different episodes in addition to everything else). While the movie itself is uneven but mostly enjoyable, when you factor in all the extras available on the DVD and Blu Ray editions, the package suddenly becomes a lot more attractive to fans of either the characters or animated superheroes in general.

Superman/Batman Go Outside The Law - And Common SenseS

Overall, Superman/Batman: Public Enemies doesn't necessarily measure up to earlier DC Universe animated movies (Wonder Woman and Justice League: The New Frontier are probably better, I'd argue), and some of the changes in the adaptation create new problems even as they fix old ones, but there are definitely worse ways to spend the couple of hours or so it'd take to watch this. Just don't expect more than a good old-fashioned superhero slugfest, with some added bells and whistles.

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is released September 29th.