BUY FROM AMAZON: Standard-Def | Blu-Ray
STUDIO: Warner Home Video
RUNNING TIME: 78 minutes
• Preview of All-Star Superman
• Other DC Animation trailers
The ninth of the DC Universe animated films and the first sequel, Apocalypse is an adaptation of the Superman/Batman storyline written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by the late Michael Turner.
Lauren Montgomery (director), Tim Daly, Kevin Conroy, Andre Braugher, Summer Glau, Edward Asner
A strange blond girl crash lands on earth in Gotham city. After causing chaos around the city, she is cornered by Batman who realizes she has a familiar set of powers. It becomes clear that Kara Zor-El, the second to last survivor of Krypton has arrived on earth to join her cousin, Superman. While Kara and Kal-El get along swimmingly, and Kara adjusts to earth life quickly, they are all thrust back into danger when Darkseid, a New God from Apokolips takes a great interest in the young Kryptonian.
When this particularly DVD slid onto my desk, I found myself excited. My brief spell of buying single issue comics began around 2004, well into the Jeph Loeb Superman/Batman line, but right as the drawing reins were being handed over to Michael Turner. I’ve never had my finger on the pulse of comic fandom well enough to know how these comic-makers and this storyline in particular is regarded, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. Michael Turner’s style, while infuriating to some, certainly had a handle on bringing large-scale dramatic flair to every frame, and Jeph Loeb had a similar knack for storytelling in an epic fashion. The continuity was light enough to be inviting for a newbie like me, and splash pages like this (click to embiggen)-
…ensured that Darkseid would always rank among my favorite comic villains. While I fell out of week-to-week comic books only a few months later, I’ve always retained a fondness for Turner’s work on this book, and felt the comic world lost a very dynamic artist when he lost his unfortunate battle with cancer at such a young age. To this day, the only comic book related toy I’ve ever bought is the impressive Darkseid figure modeled after his artwork.
Only compounding my light nostalgia was the added bonus of Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy reprising their roles as the voices of Superman and Batman respectively (they did the same for the first Superman/Batman film, but I didn’t see that one, and I fucking hate Ed McGuinness’ artwork too much too seek out anything emulating it). These are the actors that voiced the characters in the pair of classic animated series from the 90s, and are the irreplaceable voices of the characters whenever I’ve read a comic featuring them. To add to the interesting cast is Ed Asner as Granny Goodness- a hilariously fitting choice. The only disappointment I felt was realizing that Michael Ironside had not returned to lend his metal-edged baritone to Darkseid.
So how much did I enjoy the film considering the amount of goodwill and excitement I brought in with me? Not all that much.
The story pretty much sticks to that of the comic, which is a strong and entertaining enough story. Unfortunately, the page-to-screen adaptation is done with no graceful adjustments for pace, and what are fairly natural leaps in time when experienced from book to book, are jarring jumps in a linear narrative. Sillier scenes, like Kara adjusting to earth life in one shopping and hot dogs! montage try do a lot of heavy character lifting with painful cliches. Once the story picks up the film improves by virtue of increased action and adventure alone.
The animation quality for this film is pretty high. Unlike the marginally-successful Marvel approach to comic animations these days, the DC animated movies have opted for tradition hand-drawn, each done in a simplified emulation of the original artists’ style. While it’s distinctive partly due to its precise-yet-sketchy line treatment, Turner’s art translates well- his character models and poses shine through. The color palette is bright and dynamic for Metropolis, foreboding and moody for Gotham, and appropriately hellish for Apokolips. The animation is fluid and the action scenes are energetic and fun to watch. In fact, I’d say the action direction is the one truly standout feature of the whole movie. The film actually has a PG-13 rating and while it by no means stretches the limits of that classification, it certainly earns it.
Now for the multitudinous disappointments. First up is something that shouldn’t be a huge deal, but certainly prevents the film from being special in any way, much less worth watching- Darkseid’s voice. Michael Ironside is probably irreplaceable in the role, but Andre Braugher simply brings no menace to the character. Braugher has appeared in some excellent films and is a respectable actor, but Darkseid needs to have more than a baritone voice to be interesting. Without any sort of unique, otherworldly timbre or quality to his deep growl, Darkseid is a standard brawny bad guy, with little impact. This was a huge bummer.
The second and much more important disappointment is that the issues with the story extend beyond some small pacing problems and reach much deeper… When I said earlier that Loeb had a knack for epic storytelling, it was because of things like (and there are a few spoilers here) Superman subduing an evil-tainted Supergirl by beating her with a kyrpotonite ring, or dragging Darkseid to the surface of the sun to beat the hell out of him, or even Superman dragging Darkseid to the edge of the universe, leaving him fused to the “source wall” which is the barrier between the anti-life force and all things that are*.
The climax of this animation is an extended fight in a corn-field.
Seriously. The portion of the book that takes place on the Kent farm is extended and becomes the ultimate fight scene of the movie. Superman does take a quick trip to our big ole star for a quick energy burst, but he wallops Darkseid into submission right here on earth, and ultimately tosses him back to Apokolips with a broken helmet and a bloody lip.
It’s a shame, and what could have been a worthwhile animated film to add to the DC library is left sitting somewhere at or below an average multi-part episode of a TV series, in terms of quality.
*or something like that
The sound and picture are good, if unremarkable. There’s not much in the way of special features other than a reasonably meaty sneak peek at the DC Animation adaptation of the very well-regarded All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison. The peak is made up entirely of talking heads, storyboards, and comic panels, since there is no animation done. You get a look at the cast, which includes Christina Hendricks, Anthony LaPaglia, Ed Asner, and a Vosloo.