Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is a fun animated movie that will entertain children and adults alike. In this film adaptation of the comic of the same name written by Jeph Loeb, we have an economic downturn, we have a modern, ever humble yet clever and quipping Superman, we have a huge meteor made of kryptonite speeding towards earth, and we have Lex Luthor being elected President of the United States. This sets up a Watchmen-style world where superheroes are working for the American Government, “So they don’t work against me,” confides Luthor. When Superman refuses to work for his long time enemy he and Batman, who shows up randomly, become wanted criminals. From this device we see all sorts of modern political commentary emerge on the nature of the power of authority, the use of manipulation and fear in the media, and the difference between what is “right” and what is the law, although, these issues are secondary to the action and plot, but what do you expect?
I’ll tell you what you can expect, an interesting and thought-provoking story, some amazing action sequences, and a lot of DC characters trying to take down two of the greatest heroes of all time. There are some amazingly intense fights as Superman and Batman team up to defend themselves against Metallo, Captain Atom, Major Force, Power Girl (who looks completely out of place with her huge anime-style eyes), Captain Marvel, Hawkman, Giganta, Mongul, Starfire, Nightshade, Gorilla Grodd, among others. Luthor is thoroughly charming as the Commander in Chief as well as privately when being scolded by his assistant, the gutsy and brutally honest Amanda Waller. I did not think that I would be able to buy Lex Luthor being elected president, but, to my surprise, it was remarkably easy to swallow, and I’m not sure what that says about the country I live in. Luthor, in this film, is proud, egocentric, and complex as opposed to just flat out evil, to the credit of Stan Berkowit z(writer). I found myself compelled to watch him, never really sure of his true motivations. The dialogue between Superman and Batman seems to go back and forth between typically endearing and annoyingly self-aware, with a few shining moments of sincerity and heartfelt friendship. Toy Man provides some comic relief towards the end that ends up feeling a little random and clumsy. The animation itself is blocky (apparently, an homage to Ed McGuinness, who did the art for the book), but nothing to complain about and, for the most part, Director Sam Liu deftly moves the story along with unique and visually pleasing style. The old familiar voice talent rounds out this film, with Tim Daly (Superman: The Animated Series) as Superman, Kevin Conroy (Batman: The Animated Series, Batman: Arkham Asylum) as Batman, and Clancy Brown (Justice League, Superman: The Animated Series) as Lex Luthor. All of whom bring strong, distinct, and nuanced performances to their characters.
Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is an ambitious film that covers quite a lot of source material in a short 67 minutes. In adapting this story, certain sub-plots are glossed over, or cut out entirely, and many characters lack any real development, but mostly this has to do with the limitations of the medium. Overall, aside from a few plot contrivances and some less than inspiring dialogue, this movie delivers exactly what it should. It’s smart and exciting and I wish it was longer.