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“Luther did the one thing nobody was expecting. He made things boring again. And boring’s good, isn’t it? The economy’s back to normal, crime’s down, there are no wars or anything.”— Power Girl
“You mean those so-called super heroes?”— Lex Luthor
“They do work for you now, most of them anyway.” — Amanda Waller
“That’s to keep them from working against me. I’m not going to put the fate of this planet in the hands of… of freaks and monsters.” — Lex Luthor
“It doesn’t matter what any of us think, Luthor’s the president and what he says goes.” — Capt. Atom
“You’re not going to tell me you killed him for your country, are you?”— Batman
“Some of us still believe in putting our country first.”— Maj. Force
“Sorry, but I don’t see any patriotism here. All I see is a psycho who latched onto an excuse to kill people and who’s so stupid he doesn’t realize he’s being used by Luthor.”— Batman
This is the second time I’ve watched this film, and it does stand up to re-watching, something that’s difficult for animated films to do. The two Superman Batman animated films are based on a series of Superman Batman Graphic Novels. This film in particular is based on the graphic novel of the same name, which I loved, and I think it’s one of the best in an excellent series of books.
The film opens with a voice-over and video montage of economic collapse. Companies are laying off workers, people are demanding jobs in protests, people are getting evicted and living in tent cities, there are audio clips of politicians telling people to “tighten their belts”, there’s a corresponding rise in crime, and martial law is imposed. Into this walks Lex Luthor, campaigning for the presidency on a “third party” ticket. He wins.
And in his first speech, he attacks super heroes, while introducing the country to his own hand-picked super hero force: Power Girl, Captain Atom, Major Force, Black Lightning, and some other female hero (who’s neither recognizable nor important to the plot). They’re stooges, essentially, even Power Girl, who should know better than to trust Luthor.
Luthor then, privately, discusses the private threat he hasn’t yet revealed to the public – a meteor of pure Kryptonite is heading straight for Earth, and will hit the planet in seven days. Luthor’s plan? Destroy it with nuclear missiles, of course. Amanda Waller, and later even Luthor’s own general ask Luthor to consider a back-up plan, but he ignores their advice, swearing he’s made the calculations himself and he knows he will succeed.
Batman and Superman are together in the Batcave below Wayne Manor when Luthor announces he wants a meeting with Superman to “bury the hatchet”. Both Bruce and Clark know it’s probably a trap, but they go anyway. At the meeting, Luthor threatens Superman, then unleases Metallo – a Krypton-powered metal man whose very presence hurts the Man of Steel. Metallo and Superman fight. Batman arrives to rescue Superman, and is nearly strangled. Superman rescues Batman but gets shot with a Kryptonite bullet. Batman blows Metallo to smithereens, but Superman warns he’ll re-form. Batman and Superman are covered in the dirt, ash, and rock from the explosion. But before Batman can remove the Kryptonite bullet from Superman, he realizes that Metallo is after them again. Batman sets off another explosion, and he and Superman escape through the sewers. The explosions catches them, though. Clark sees Bruce lying face down in the water, “Bruce! It’s not ending here… I won’t let it!” he gasps, and moves to his friend’s side, and pulls him out of the water. Bruce coughs up the water, somewhat recovered, and the two limp their way through the sewers to the Batcave. Bruce has Clark pull down the electric fence covering the opening. They are met by a startled but unflappable, Alfred.
Though Clark and Bruce are both weak and injured, they soon recover. Alfred is shown sealing away the Kryptonite bullet in a lead box. Alfred also returns Superman’s washed uniform shirt and cape.
As the two heroes recover in Bruce’s inner sanctum of the Batcave, Luthor gives a presidential address. He blames Superman for the death of John Corbin (Metallo), and shows an edited videotape of Superman attacking himself and Corbin “for no reason”, before showing Corbin’s burnt body. Then Luthor supplies an answer for anyone doubting that Superman could do something so evil — the approaching meteor is Kryptonite (true) and driving Superman mad (not true). Luthor closes his presidential speech by announcing a one billion dollar bounty on Superman’s head.
Batman and Superman attempt to investigate, but they are attacked – first by Banshee, then by a group of ice villians (Mr. Freeze, Captain Cold, Killer Frost, etc), then by Soloman Grundy and Mongo, then Sheba, then Night-Shade and Grog. Before long Superman and Batman are seemingly surrounded by every DC villain that could fit on the screen.
Captain Atom arrives with his team and a Federal Warrant for Superman’s arrest. But Superman and Batman fight Luther’s heroes and defeat them, then Superman escapes with Power Girl, his cousin, Kara. Captain Atom and his group follow Superman and Batman, after receiving orders from Luthor to “do your job” and eliminate Superman. During that fight, Batman shows his skills not only at fighting, but at psychological manipulation, not only goading Major Force by calling him a psychotic murderer, but doing so in front of Captain Atom who hears every word, and takes it to heart.
Kara, however, has realized that her cousin is right and Lex Luthor is wrong, and attacks Major Force to defend Batman. Despite everyone yelling at her, she breaks Force’s containment field causing a radiation leak. Black Lightening and Captain Atom co-operate to contain Major Force. In the resulting explosion, Force is dead, and Atom appears dead. Kara, that is, Power Girl, decides to stay with her cousin.
Meanwhile, Luthor’s launched his nuclear missiles at the meteor. It doesn’t work. The meteor is still on course for the planet. Luther appears weak and sick. Power Girl takes Superman and Batman to Luthor’s hideout, but they are met by Hawkman and Captain Marvel who attempt to take the two out. When Superman knocks out Captain Marvel, and Billy Batson is left in a crater, a concerned Batman goes to check out the young teen to see if he’s OK. Batman asks the injured child to say something. Billy answers, “Shazam!” and becomes Marvel again. But, the two, with Power Girl’s help manage to convince Hawkman and Marvel to not listen to Luthor.
Meanwhile, Luthor claims the first attempt to destroy the meteor was a “fact finding” mission, but he can now put his plan into action. Not even the public is convinced by this, as rioting and looting breaks out.
Amanda Waller, shocked by Luthor’s inaction, discovers he’s taking steroids and liquid Kryptonite injections. Luthor tells Amanda he will let the meteor hit, so he can be in charge of the world that rises from the ashes. Dressed as Hawkman and Captain Marvel, Batman and Superman arrive. Luthor destroys all the information on the meteor, but Amanda gives them a back-up on a thumb drive. She also asks a general to arrest Luthor. Luthor, however, escapes, and takes more Liquid Kryptonite, before climbing into a robotic super suit.
Superman and Batman travel to Japan, to meet Hiro — the Toyman. Power Girl has arrived before them and acts as lookout to avoid the teen billionaire genius.
Toyman shows the two heroes a giant Superman/Batman Robot, he mentions it has manual controls, but he can control it from a nearby computer console. The Lex-bot arrives, takes out Power Girl, using Kryptonite blasts. He fights Superman, also using his Kryptonite gun. Then he destroys the control council. Batman heads for the rocket, saying “Goodbye” to Clark/Superman as he gets inside the robot and takes off.
Superman fights and defeats Luthor. Batman takes off in the rocket. “That was my best friend! And you just killed him!” Superman yells at Lex, before knocking him into next week. However, Luthor takes off again in pursuit of the rocket and Batman.
Batman manages to destroy the meteor using the rocket. Superman and Lex fight, and even though they’ve landed back in the US he finally knocks him out. Captain Atom has recovered and arrives with Power Girl and a message for Superman. Superman rescues Bruce who’s in a survival capsule shaped like a combination of the Batman and Superman symbols. He sets Bruce on a rooftop, and helps him out of the ship. Luthor is taken away. Lois arrives. Batman disappears as Superman watches the sun rise.
Again, this was an excellent animated film. It is a bit political in tone – rich businessman Lex Luthor, one of the most evil villains in the DC Universe, yet someone that Superman can never really stop because he can’t prove he’s broken the law – becomes president. And in the DC universe, Lex Luthor was president for awhile during the Bush years (besides harrassing Superman, he bombs Gotham City at one point to annoy Batman, making part of the city a wasteland). Although the film doesn’t state outright that Luthor caused the economic turmoil that he then exploits to get himself elected, it’s certainly implied. And the economic turmoil described in the film’s excellent opening sequence is half the Great Depression, and half every economic down turn since.
But what is even more striking about Lex Luthor is what an obvious xenophobic racist he is. He wants to get rid of Superheroes, especially Superman, not only because he doesn’t trust them, but because he considers them “freaks and monsters” – and not human. Luthor is one step away from openly declaring a war between humans and meta-humans.
But one of the best things about this film isn’t merely it’s politics – it’s seeing the glimpses of the close friendship between Bruce Wayne (voiced by the incomparable Kevin Conroy of Batman: The Animated Series) and Clark Kent (Tim Daly of Superman: The Animated Series). Though they don’t see eye to eye on how to solve crimes, or battle super villains, in this film they are nonetheless close friends – and it’s threats to Bruce that cause Clark to really go after Lex Luthor. Plus there’s some wonderful dialogue between the two.
If I had one quibble with the film, I could have done with less of the mega fight scenes, especially every super villain they could find being thrown into a fight with Superman and Batman, and more of the male bonding between Clark and Bruce. And more Alfred. I always like to see the more Alfred the better – he only gets one scene here. It’s a great bit, but once Batman sails off into what appears to be a one-man one-way mission to save the planet, you’d think someone would break the news to him. But I digress.
The Superman Batman Graphic Novels were known for their thought bubbles, yellow for Superman’s pov, and blue for Batman’s pov. I think the film could have used some voice-over between the two, because that was a big part of what made the graphic fun – seeing Clark’s view of Bruce and Bruce’s view of Clark, or their situation or whatever. It was always great fun to see how iconic characters viewed each other. However, the film does do a great job, when we see Superman and Batman working together, of showing their different personalities and methodology. And that was terribly fun.
Recommendation: See it!
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars