Monday, January 17, 2011

The Darkseid of the Street

I have a bit of a beef with the animated Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010, directed by Lauren Montgomery). This can be summarized by the director herself, in an interview with AWN, in which she talks about projects she'd like to make:

"I would love to do a Batgirl: Year One. That would be my dream to do that as a movie. But they're not pushing for the female stories, because they don't seem to make money. It's a business. If they can't make money on female stories then they won't make them."

Except, of course, for the fact that Superman/Batman: Apocalypse IS a female story. Superman and Batman are NOT the leads in this movie, but they get top billing. That strikes me as wrong. I mean, I get it. As Montgomery says, it's a business and the marketers at Warner Brothers and DC know what they're doing, but it still strikes me as a raw deal that potentially cuts off a potential female market. Seriously, girls read comics, too.

The story in this finds Superman's cousin, Kara Zor-El, falling to Earth in Gotham bay, where she's found by Batman. Unlike Superman, Kara is a teen when she comes to Earth, and has no mastery of her Kryptonian powers. This makes her dangerous. Wonder Woman and Batman conspire to take Kara to Themyscera where the amazons train her to control her powers and use them to defend herself. Meanwhile, Harbinger has disturbing visions of Kara's future. Kara, it seems, has come to the attention of Darkseid, the dark god who rules the world of Apokalips. He has been searching for a new captain of his honor guard, the Female Furies, since the defection of Big Barda. He launches an attack on Themyscera to divert Batman, Superman, and the amazons, and abducts Kara. He entrusts her to the loving care of Granny Goodness for indoctrination. Superman will have none of this. He enlists Barda to take our trio of heroes to Apokalips to effect a rescue mission, but is it too late? Has Kara become a minion of Darkseid?

As I say, this is totally about the female characters. If one were to apply the Bechdel test to this movie, it would pass with flying colors. In addition to Kara--who is arguably the central character here--and Wonder Woman, you also have significant roles for Barda, Harbinger, and (on the villainous side) Granny Goodness. Batman and Superman are very much second bananas here, or, at the very least, the token sausages among the ensemble.

Still, I can't get too worked up about this, because, at a basic level, this isn't that good. It's a slugfest, with long action sequences that go on way too long. It's almost as if the filmmakers are apologizing to the teen boys they've hoodwinked into picking this up by giving them all the mindless violence they can muster, only, y'know, with chicks instead of dudes. I also miss the full panoply of Jack Kirby's Fourth World characters. Apokalips seems weirdly depopulated, when, in fact, it should be teeming with parademons and hunger dogs, and one misses their opposite numbers in the New Gods, as well. For his part, Darkseid--one of comics' most complex supervillains--comes across as a thug, which is a problem. The appeal of the character stems from Jack Kirby's crackpot visions of grandeur. The Darkseid of the comics is a brooding despot, ruling over a world of large-scale existential despair. None of that comes across in this. I love Big Barda, and I love the fact that she gets the spotlight here, but I miss the domestic life she leads with Mister Miracle, which is only hinted at. I ran across a piece of fan art last week that conveys more of the charm of the character in one image than you get in the entire length of her appearance in this movie:

Clearly, the filmmakers are missing an opportunity here.

I'm also a little bothered by the way this sexualizes Kara/Supergirl, and not just in the S&M get-up that Darkseid dresses her in. This insists on using the bared mid-drift costume so favored by contemporary Supergirl artists, the one that has inspired several "lets' draw Supergirl so she doesn't look like a hooker" internet memes. It's worth keeping in mind that Kara may be a superhero, but she's still a teenage girl, which also informs some of my distaste at the spectacle of Darkseid attempting to beat her to a bloody pulp at the end of the movie. But, hey, if you want to play with the big boys, and all...

The "look" of DC's animated fare has changed a bit, too, and I miss the cartoony-ness of Batman: The Animated Series and it's descendants. This stands out a bit here because this movie casts Kevin Conroy as Batman and Tim Daly as Superman, which gives these new, more realistic, anime-ish depictions the voices of from the previous incarnation. As it did in Batman: Under the Red Hood, the more realistic animation also tends to amplify the violence.

So, overall, a mixed bag filled with unfulfilled potential. It's been a while since DC Animated has nailed the charm and romance of the superhero. It kind of sucks to watch them flail around in search of the things that they used to know how to do.

1 comment:

Gilly said...

It bares mentioning that this movie is based on a comic series titleed Superman/ Batman. The movie Superman/ Batman: Public Enemies was based on the first arc of the series. This movie is based on the second arc, which explains why the good old boys get their names in the title but not why mister doom & gloom`s name is there. The subtitle of the arc in the comic was `Supergirl` which would have made a good subtitle for this movie as well because it is more about her than him. Make of that what you will.