Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, the first sequel of DC’s animated line is an improvement on its predecessor, crafting a compelling origin story for Supergirl while retaining the large-scale action that made the first film enjoyable.
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So, there I was, expecting the worst. This is the ninth DC animated original, and until now, the line has remained resolutely sequel-free. Which is a good thing, if you ask me. I’ve said before that the idea of crossovers and multiverses and a vast, expanding continuity gives me a headache, and thus far, these movies, which have ranged from perfectly decent to utterly fantastic, have felt freer for their individuality. Superman/Batman: Apocalypse bucks that trend. It’s a direct sequel to 2009’s Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, a dumb-fun picture that I rather enjoyed. I was worried about this one. And I’m happy to report that, once again, I was wrong.
It helps that the title is incredibly misleading. Sure, this movie takes place in the same general universe as Public Enemies: there’s a bit of business about President Luthor’s impeachment, and the kryptonite meteor that Batman smashed at the end of that film has splintered into pieces that are falling all over Earth in the form of shooting stars. Other than that, though, there’s very little connection. Superman and Batman are, of course, in close proximity, and are once again voiced by Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly, respectively. But Public Enemies exhausted a lot of the novelty in a Man of Steel/Caped Crusader tag-team. Apocalypse wisely recognizes that a new focus is needed; that just having DC’s Big Two swat away a litany of D-list talent won’t cut it a second time around. And they find that focus in a surprising place: Gotham Bay.
That’s where a meteorite fragment has splash-landed, and Batman, while investigating, discovers it contains a Kryptonian vessel and a mysterious young girl whose powers are remarkably similar to Superman’s. Ladies and gentlemen meet Kara Zor-El (Summer Glau), Superman’s cousin. Yeah, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse is a Supergirl origin story. And not notionally, either – the whole movie is about Kara discovering her own identity, forming a relationship with Superman, and figuring out her place in the world. Batman is reduced to a supporting player, and Wonder Woman (Susan Eisenberg) is on-hand as a surrogate mother. She whisks Kara off to Themyscira to clear up her fuzzy memory and help her get a handle on her newfound superpowers.
That’d all be lovely, but it wouldn’t make for a great superhero film. Enter Darkseid (Andre Braugher), the despot of a war-ravaged planet known as Apocalypse (that’d be Apokolips in the comics, but certainly not in this review). He’s somehow aware that Superman has a new protégé, full of raw and untapped potential, and in need of a new captain for his royal guard, the Furies, he kidnaps Kara with the intention of brainwashing her into becoming his champion. Which is as good an excuse as any for Bats, Supes, and Wonder Woman to team up with Darkseid’s previous captain, Big Barda (Julianne Grossman), in order to venture into Apocalypse and indulge in some good old-fashioned fisticuffs.
Like Public Enemies, this is all based on a storyline written by Jeph Loeb and illustrated by the late Michael Turner – a six-issue arc, “The Supergirl from Krypton”, from the Superman/Batman series. But whereas Batman: Under the Red Hood managed to sidestep the roadblocks that crop up when you shrink a multi-issue story into a 75-minute feature, Apocalypse stumbles a little. There are threads that the movie simply cannot find the time to properly explore: Superman’s feelings about finding another living Kryptonian; Batman’s mistrust of Kara, and the rift it causes between him and Supes; Kara’s grappling with her identity, and her eventual embrace of the Supergirl persona. It’s a lot of material to get through, particularly in a format that doesn’t have the liberty of a slow, gradual build-up, and as a result, the first half of Apocalypse feels rushed, and its subplots throughout noticeably underwritten.
This isn’t a problem that’s entirely unexpected, though, nor is it one that significantly undermines the picture as a whole. It’s also something that director Lauren Montgomery is accustomed to, having directed most of DC’s animated offerings so far, and here she’s able to keep the story moving in the right direction while also accommodating the usual superpowered shenanigans. It’s fun to see Superman, Supergirl and Darkseid really cut loose with their powers in sprawling, physics-defying, destructive set-pieces; we haven’t really witnessed the Man of Steel go off like this since Superman: Doomsday, and it’s a pleasure to watch again here.
There’s just more to Apocalypse, as a movie, than there was to Public Enemies, which largely used the partnership of Batman and Superman as an excuse for punch-ups. This movie has its fair share, but it also has a story to tell, and a compelling central character with a complete, relatable arc. Glau is perfectly-cast as Kara, and while Braugher’s Darkseid isn’t as menacing as I’d perhaps like, the reliable voice work of Conroy and Daly pick up the slack. This is a fine film, and while it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the line’s best offerings (Wonder Woman, and the aforementioned Batman: Under the Red Hood) it’s an enjoyable experience all the same.