Superman/Batman:Apocalypse, the latest DC animated movie based on the Loeb/Turner Supergirl origin storyline, came out last week and I will say up front that I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I went in with cautious optimism but with plenty of concern.
I was confused that Supergirl had seemed to be snubbed by the publicity folks. As the main element of this plot, you would think that she would have some place on the box ... and not the angry 'corrupted' Kara, an unnamed girl in the lower left corner. And I also worried how Kara would be portrayed here. On reading the Loeb story, Kara came of as a bit of a brat. And the overwhelming 'is she evil' theme throughout the books wore me out.
So I was pretty pleased with how this thing turned out. While much of the book is lifted directly from the source material, some of the glaring problems I had with the comic were smoothed out. I think that Supergirl was shown in a sympathetic light. And, in what I think is irony given the publicity and trade dress of the movie, Superman and Batman are just two of many moving parts here. For me, the best scenes in the book belong to Wonder Woman, Big Barda, and Kara. Superman and Batman may move the plot along ... but they aren't the plot.
That's not to say this is a flawless movie. I have plenty of criticism. But looking at this from a Supergirl angle, I am pretty happy.
The story starts with the meteor housing Kara's spaceship crashing into Gotham Harbor. Batman goes to investigate and while he is under the water, Kara accidentally commandeers his batboat and begins stumbling around the city.
Yes, without much explanation, she is initially naked. Luckily, she scares a coat off of a dock worker after dispatching some of his more unscrupulous colleagues.
But there was some definite upside to these early scenes. For one, we actually got to hear Kryptonese being spoken. I think that might be a first.
Second, it is shown that Kara really has no control over her powers. Her heat vision activates on its own. The police show up and fire on her after she melts their squad cars. Scared, she throws herself into the sky, floating awkwardly (not flying) up the side of a building, scraping away the concrete. You can really feel just how confused and frightened she is and I didn't immediately get that from this portion of the story in the books (despite it being near verbatim on re-read).
Huddled in a building after accidentally blowing up an automated blimp, she is rendered unconscious by Batman who pocketed some Kryptonite from the crash site.
Superman arrives to save the day, pushing the flaming dirigible into the Gotham river. This was my first letdown in the movie as the animation of Supes saving the day was pretty poor looking like early animation were a cel was pushed across a background.
And in the next letdown, the scene where Superman and Kara realize that they are cousins seems to lack the emotion that I was hoping for. Superman declares she is his cousin with the same emotion that he would order a ham sandwich. This actually works better in the book where Kara's joy is evident and Superman seems thrilled.
Now that scene ended the first comic and so as readers we can fill in a lot during the time until the next issue. But here when we move to the next scene, there didn't seem to be enough time for us (or the characters) to register how big a deal this was.
"Quarantined" in the Fortress of Solitude until she learns how to use her powers and get acclimated to Earth, Kara begins to get a bit stir crazy. It doesn't help that Batman is at his most paranoid convinced that Kara is either evil or a fake. He asks her to convince him that he is wrong.
Again, I think this scene worked more here than in the book. In the issues, Kara came off as angry as she confronts Batman. Here, she seems more defeated in her defiance. She isn't angry that Batman doesn't believe her, she is perplexed by it. It makes Supergirl more likable as a character.
And we even get a shot of Zor-El and Alura as she retells what she recalls of her origin story. You can actually feel some of the pain Kara is feeling when she talks about this, as she recalls that 'awful light' when the planet explodes. All sounds real, despite the memory lapses she is suffering from.
But Batman still isn't sure.
Superman is convinced and is ready for Kara to learn about Earth. And finally sprung from the Arctic, Kara wants to learn all there is to know about being an 'Earth girl'. Unfortunately, in the movie, the first thing to learn about is shopping. While it was a mildly amusing scene to see Clark pulled from store to store, I would rather Superman thought shopping was lower on the list of lessons.
At least we don't have thong straps! And there is a scene were Clark scowls at some young men scoping out Kara. I thought that was a nice way of showing his 'older brother' sensibilities.
In another moment that builds the characterization of Kara, she looks upon the Superman statue in Metropolis park and realizes that Superman is Earth's champion. Kara realizes she isn't ready for that yet. In some ways, she feels her powers are a burden. I can understand that. After the trauma that she has been through, she probably wants to just blend in and recover from her losses. That dialogue is not in the comics and added so much.
Like in the book, as the walk home, Wonder Woman and Harbinger attack Superman and vow to take Kara back to Paradise Island for intensive training. In this skirmish in the park, Kara's heat vision again indiscriminately fires torching trees, benches, and slicing the Superman statue into pieces.
In the book, this happens out of the blue and didn't really read right. Here, we saw earlier that Harbinger had visions of Supergirl's death already. The trip to Paradise Island has two purposes: training and protection. On the island maybe that vision doesn't come to pass. Turns out here, Batman is in on the plan of the extra training. Again, it is a small change from the book but it added so much. I had a hard time initially justifying Diana's actions when I read the issues. Here, the added point of protecting Kara added so much.
But Kara is still nursing her feelings of loss, of a lack of family (hammered home a bit with images of animal families sprinkled throughout the movie). She is crestfallen when Kal caves and lets her be taken away. We didn't see that reaction in the book and it again shows what Supergirl is feeling and why she could be manipulated by Darkseid.
We are told that Kara has been on Paradise Island for a couple of months when Superman arrives. He puts his foot down ... Kara is returning home with him. Wonder Woman argues that she still isn't ready. All of this happens in front of Kara who finally lashes out saying that she has reached a point where she should have some say in her future. You can feel how irritated she is.
I might be reading too much here, but I thought it showed how much Supergirl has grown. The prior scene where she is told she is going to be brought to Paradise Island, she slumps in defeat. Her she stands up for herself. Maybe she is ready to leave.
Before any decision can be made, a Boom Tube opens and an army of Doomsdays run out, swarming on the beaches. A brawl between the Trinity and the Amazonian army and the Doomsday's erupts.
This was another letdown scene for me. For one, in this view, the rallying Doomsday army is done with pretty horrible CGI. Secondly, in the books Batman says outright that these are automatons of Dr. Bedlam and as a result they can incinerated. Here, it is only after the chop some up that they realize they aren't really alive (even if the explanation is sketchy at best).
Wonder Woman really is fantastic in this movie and really is slick in combat here.
But the Doomsdays were a ruse. On the other side of the island, Supergirl and Harbinger are attacked. Harbinger is killed. And Darkseid abducts Kara.
In a small scene not in the book, we see a frightened Kara in a Apokoliptian cell. Darkseid comesi n from the shadows and you can see how he uses his power to worm into his mind. All of these added scenes show more about Kara's character. Here it is clear, she is being brainwashed. So whatever we see next, it isn't how she is typically thinking, it is the work of Darkseid.
The Trinity realize that they need to head to Apokolips and so head to Big Barda's house to get a Boom Tube generator. Barda isn't going to let them go alone and so tags along. The scene in Barda's house is humorous in some parts. There is some humor injected into this movie here and there.
I liked this sort of 'The Right Stuff' moment as the four heroes walk out of the Boom Tube. They have a plan and so they split up.
In my second favorite scene in the movie, Diana and Barda square off against the Female Furies. It is a beautifully choreographed fight scene and really shows the skills of all the combatants. It really is spectacular.
In the book, Barda drives her spear through Stompa's flank ... a grievous wound but not necessarily fatal. Here she drives it right through the middle of her chest, clearly a killing blow. I don't know if I want even my warrior heroes to murder in battle if there is another way. A small note that did not take away from the overall power of the scene.
Superman arrives at Darkseid's throne room and sees the corrupted Kara. I liked the playful swing on the pole by Kara here. It lasts only a second or two but it shows just how much Kara's mind has been twisted.
She tells Superman she is happy with Lord Apokolips and will become the new hero that Earth needs ... after she kills her cousin.
In another part of the movie I liked more than the book, we see that Superman is able to defeat Supergirl in battle. Most of this battle occurs off screen, but at least we didn't have Superman donning the Kryptonite ring to defeat Supergirl while he is suffering it's effects too.
That part of the issues never sat well with me either. I always thought that Superman needs to be stronger, despite all the nuances about how much better Kara can 'process' yellow sun rays.
One of my favorite parts of the original stories was Batman defeating Darkseid by threatening all of Apokolips with armed Hellspores. Darkseid acknowledges that humans might actually do that whereas Superman and Wonder Woman would not. It might not be a bluff.
Darkseid says he won't make a move on Supergirl and the heroes leave.
Now my least favorite part of the original story was the ending. Remember how Supergirl is apparently atomized by the Omega Beams but really she was teleported away last second and ash was teleported back in her place, giving the illusion of her death. Remember how Superman then throws Darkseid into the Source Wall but only after that horrible saccharin speech? Well none of that is here.
In fact, this fight is the high point of the movie ... especially for Supergirl fans. With the plan for Kara to live in Smallville, the heroes are confronted by Darkseid on the Kent farm. Superman and Darkseid initially square off but Superman is knocked unconscious and thrown into space.
We then are blessed with about a 3 minute segment of Supergirl bringing the fight to Darkseid. Sure he gets lots of hits in, but she does to ... including but not limited to kicks, pushes, suplexes, and this honey of an upper cut. You can just feel how everything that has happened has changed Kara. She isn't going to let things happen around her if she can intercede.
But Darkseid is tough here. Despite being tossed around, he finally defeats Kara. In a wonderful exchange, he bemoans that Kara could have been the scourge of the universe if she stayed with him but instead will die in this tiny life on Earth. She then responds that at least it is her life. It really is a perfect moment.
But she is helpless at that point and Darkseid begins to bathe her in his Omega beams in hopes of erasing her. At that point, Superman shows up and puts on a super-speed display of punches and heat vision that batters Darkseid.
I really like how the creators here show just how powerful Darkseid is. Despite the pummeling Darkseid has taken from both super-cousins, he shrugs it off and is about to kill Superman when a Boom Tube opens up behind him. Kara has recovered enough to find Darkseid's Boom Tube generator. Superman pushes him through it. Kara even reprogrammed it to dump him into deep space. It isn't a huge victory ... but it shouldn't be against Darkseid. You need to be lucky to beat him.
The Kents drive up and witness the devastation to their farm.
In the funniest moment, their house collapses just after Kara is introduced to them. Again, there are a handful of funny moments in this film and they work.
After the fight, Kara tells Superman that she has decided what she wants to be, who she wants to be on Earth. She has decided to be a hero.
And finally, we see her as Supergirl.
I was really hoping we would see the scene where Superman introduces her to all the DC heroes. Instead we get her introduction of her as Supergirl to the Amazons she trained with. Not as fantastic but still a nice scene.
The movie ends with Supergirl and Superman flying to Metropolis. I loved how Superman is flying straight and unwavering while Kara is twirling and swirling in the sky playfully. She even wrestles with her cousin a bit, pulling his cape over his face.
So there is lots of stuff that works here. In particular, the portrayals of Wonder Woman and Supergirl were really spot on. The pace of the story works. And some of the rough parts of the original story were really smoothed out here.
The voice acting was also solid here. I prefer my Darkseid to be more gravelly, but Andre Braugher does an adequate job here. Summer Glau does a very good job as Supergirl. And Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, and Ed Asner are their usually fantastic selves.
Some of the animation is rough. There is a bit of a cavalier attitude towards killing in battle, and we have a shopping scene. But I don't think those were heinous enough to ruin this for me.
But again, I am obviously biased towards Supergirl, so I might be liking this more than the average guy off the street.