Nerd Warning: This review might venture down a path too nerdy for the casual reader. Enter if you dare.
Many years ago, before I was doing reviews, I remember how much I enjoyed ‘The Batman Superman Movie: World’s Finest’. While it has been too long and I do not remember it well enough to review that movie here, it is mentioned because it springs to mind two very important elements that were difficult to overlook with the two movies that ARE being reviewed:
1. The dual identities of Superman and Batman.
2. The immense magnitude of differences in power between Superman and Batman.
The difficulties of number one can be appreciated. How can a 70 minute movie devote much time to Clark Kent or Bruce Wayne when so much time has to be spent focusing on Superman AND Batman? The answer is, because it really should. Certainly, these were entertaining tales, despite the limited appearances of both (about two minutes of Clark and Bruce in ‘Public Enemies’. About 5-6 minutes of Clark and no Bruce Wayne in ‘Apocalypse’). But there is a beautiful dichotomy between these two superheroes and how they perceive their non-superhero identities. Superman needs Clark Kent in his never-ending pursuit to fit in. Batman, to be blunt, probably could care less about his alter-ego Bruce Wayne, but carries forth with it to protect his identity while also carrying forward his father’s/family’s legacy of protecting Gotham financially as well. More simply put, Superman likes to be Clark Kent. Batman hates to be Bruce Wayne. This is not the end of the world. To be honest, these movies still could have gotten a five without this element, but still something I would have liked to see.
The dilemma of number two can be appreciated more than number one. ‘Apocalypse’ managed to do a much better job of this than ‘Public Enemies’ did, though even it still wasn’t perfect. Here’s the problem. How can Superman and Batman fight alongside each other? If an opponent of Superman punches and phases him, then there are two elements in play. One, the opponent must have superspeed. Two, he must have superstrength. Batman is my favorite comic book character, but he is also just a man. A highly trained, highly athletic man, but without any inherent super abilities. Batman, getting punched by the same opponent would, quite frankly, kill him. Believe me, I don’t want it to, but it’s true. Batman, trying to throw an explosive batarang at one would prove to be difficult, though with a little imagination I can let this fly (his billion dollar backing towards technology could develop batarangs that fly at superspeeds beyond just his throwing capabilities). To keep things level, Batman would instead need to be his smart detective self. He would rely on stealth in the shadows, surprise attacks, etc. He would not, could not (with a fox?) fight back to back with Superman against foes that can compete with Superman’s strength. He might have tricks up his sleeve for any single opponent of Superman’s, but I doubt any of the strategies would have him out in the open relying on his human strength and speed to survive against them. That being said, battles can take place, but they have to be clever. Batman clever.
‘Public Enemies’ forced the issue with blinding speed of action, hoping that so much was happening in the battle sequences, so quickly, that the audience wouldn’t notice that he is completely out of character…and out of his element.
‘Apocalypse’ did much better, only putting Batman in possibly one situation that might raise an eyebrow or two (or three), and it was unfortunate because there was a fantastic opportunity for him to avoid it altogether, while still acting like a superhero (without spoiling anything, what he ends up doing in the middle of a huge fighting sequence, he should have done at the beginning, which would have created an interesting side story for him as well).
Jeph Loeb wrote the graphic novels that served as templates for both of these movies. I am very curious to read these now to see how closely these movies follow the comics. He has surpassed Frank Miller as my favorite Batman writer. A tough call to be sure, and possibly incomplete since I have read none of Miller’s run on ‘All Star Batman and the Boy Wonder’. But here’s how I see the current score. Miller’s biggest entries into the foray are ‘The Dark Knight Returns’, ‘The Dark Knight Strikes Again’, and ‘Year One’. ‘Year One’ was groundbreaking and it could be said that it set the stage for writers like Loeb. ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ is still possibly my favorite graphic novel. ‘The Dark Knight Strikes Again’ was so-so, disappointing to be sure, from the plot to the artwork.
Loeb’s biggest entries would be ‘The Long Halloween’, ‘Dark Victory’, and ‘Hush’. It is the third entry that puts him at the top. ‘The Long Halloween’ and ‘Dark Victory’ were both phenomenal, probably equally impressive and just a hair’s notch below ‘The Dark Knight Returns’. ‘Hush’ was a one story, 12-issue run for ‘Batman’ that was as enjoyable as his other work. He has a great flair for filling in gaps in Bruce Wayne’s past, creating a very 3-dimensional character in the comic. He is now writing exclusively for Marvel and not doing great I hear. Blah.
That being said, the ideas for both of these movies were fun. ‘Public Enemies’ has Lex Luthor as President, a setup, a giant kryptonite meteor hurtling towards Earth, and a bounty placed on Batman and Superman’s heads.
‘Apocalypse’ has Supergirl crashing to Earth, and follows her attempts to master her powers and fitting in to the new culture under the careful eyes of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman. She also draws the interest of Darkseid as a possible new leader of his guard.
‘Public Enemies’ ended up being too battlely. Good, but not driven enough by the story and utilizing the opportunity of having Luthor in the White House.
‘Apocalypse’ was better, still having a lot of fun action, but staying closely tied to the story which was essentially revolving around Supergirl. This movie was going to get a 4.0 by rounding up, but the last ten minutes came by and it almost got a 4.5. Now it gets a 4.0 by rounding down.
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