Well bisect me with a light saber. Here I am, ready and willing to take a break from hating everything and review another superhero cartoon before the October Horror Movie season and DC Animation, in their infinite (sarcastic airquotes) “wisdom,” gave me this one. I really couldn’t be happier. Because its exactly half-bad.
Apocalypse is the direct sequel to last year’s Public Enemies, as you’ll hear from the Gotham City talk radio DJ in the precredit sequence. “A rash of meteor showers has lit up the country from coast to coast this week following the destruction of a giant Kryptonite asteroid by our own Dark Knight.”
The last of these fragments deposits a naked blond girl in Gotham harbor, not-so-unexpectedly-none the worse for her interstellar flight. Gotham’s streets, being full of human scum, prove a greater challenge. There’s a bit of imbroglio with the GCPD, but no sweat: Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Superman (Tim Daly) save the day.
Yes, it’s Kara Zor-El (played well, when she’s not being underwritten, by the always-badass Summer Glau), the other last survivor of the planet Krypton…and Clark’s biological cousin. By miraculous coincidence, Kara’s father was also a Kryptonian Super Scientist who also built a space ship to shoot the tender issue of his loins to Earth. Moments before Krypton’s destruction, whatever-his-name-was pushed the button and here she is…a few years behind Clark, sure…and looking quite a bit younger…but what’re you going to do? Explain that discrepancy? Perish the thought.
If you’re Batman, you’re suspicious. And you have every right to be. Kara spends the early part of the film butt-hurt about this, but we’ll see what she says after a few of her dead relatives miraculously come back to life and inevitably turn Evil. Because they always do.
Speaking of which, thank God the story shifts to Apokolips at this point. Here I was, sighing my way through another route retread of Supergirl’s origin, but one slimy question from Granny Goodness (Edward Asner, reprising his role from Superman and Justice League) and I’m wide awake, ready for for a Female Furies fight scene.
Once again, fight choreography is uniformly amazing throughout, but DC doesn’t get points for that anymore. Fights have to be out-of-the-park affairs to be in such an action-choked, superhero extravaganza. I don’t really know who to praise, but I know director Lauren Montgomery from 2007’s Superman/Doomsday. (God, did everything that came out of that year suck?) Its fight scenes were the only worthwhile things about it because Montgomery is one of the few Western animation directors willing to stage the consequences of violence.
Obviously Japan’s still light years ahead of Warner Brothers on this…but it’s nice to see someone actually die on screen. From a physical brawl, no less; not some bullshit laser blast that doesn’t even singe their clothes. We see the Female Furies beat a potential leader to death for Granny Goodness’ (and our) pleasure. Bravo to all involved. This is sure to piss off some parents…if the Supercleavage hasn’t done that already.
There’s a great degree of fan service running throughout Apocalypse and I’m not just talking about shots of Supergirl walking around Gotham in the buff. It’s almost as if DC is overcompensating for all the cheap swipes assholes took at Public Enemies when they dismissed it as “gay.” (Fredric Wertham’s Fags, I like to call them.) If that’s the case, drunken frat boys and anime fans can (for once) rejoice over the same thing: superpowered girl-on-girl fights. Maybe this is all part of Warner Brother’s secret plan to bring about world peace…in which case, I hope there’s no gigantic, psychic squids in our near future.
After the re-introduction to Apokolips, the story takes a hard right straight into a 1980s fish-out-of-water comedy, with a quick stop at Sexism Fifth Avenue. Heartsick of keeping her pent up, Clark takes Kara shopping in Metropolis and, after a montage that would be right at home in the movies Mannequin or Splash, Clark buys Kara a hotdog. “Well, that’s it,” he declares, “shopping, junk-food. I’d say you’re a bonafide Earth-girl.”
Two things. One: teenage girls, whatever their planet of origin, are apparently all vain, clothes-hoarding mallrats. That’s just shitty science fiction writing right there. And Two: Fuck you, Clark. You think “that’s it”? If Lois Lane heard you say that she’d borrow Stompa’s boots, line them with Luthor-brand Kryptonite insoles and give you the most righteous nut-shot in the history of comic books. She’d make your balls shoot out your nose just for the pleasure of stamping on them while you watch and I’d cheer her on the whole way. This was the perfect time for some character development, some Words of Wisdom about leading the costumed vigilante’s life from the (Super)man himself, the one who started it all (in this universe at least).
Instead, we get a shopping montage and a message sure to insult every intelligent girl (of any age) in the audience (i.e. the very people DC’s trying to reach by selling a Supergirl movie in the first place). Big, bitter, sarcastic thanks to screenwriter Tab (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Tarzan, Atlantis: The Lost Empire) Murphy for this. You haven’t improved as a writer since the late-90s, my friend. You’re still down at Disney’s level.
Thankfully, Wonder Woman shows up at this point, played by Susan Eisenberg, and suddenly it’s like we’re having a big Justice League: Unlimited cast member ho-down. Apocalypse is like that, mercilessly jerking us around. It’s up, it’s down, it’s up again. By the half way mark, expect whiplash and a feeling of numb, vague disappointment.
This is exactly what I feared would happen after Public Enemies dropped, because Public Enemies was almost an actual film. It told a coherent story, didn’t explore it as much as I’d’ve liked, but in the end I came away pleased thanks to deft character touches throughout, and the whole buddy-cop energy that prevailed. Apocalypse, on the hand, reheats a fifty year-old, very Kara-centric plot, stuffs it with too many characters, and spends forty minutes telling it as quickly as possible. The result isn’t just rushed, it’s jarring. Without some obvious dialogue you’d never know the events of this story take place over months.
So Wonder Woman kinda-sorta-not-really abducts Kara to Paradise Island for some “specialized training.” Clark, in full-on Dick Mode, has some kind of problem with this, the best idea anyone’s had in the movie so far. His reaction is totally illogical, out of character, and almost Brechtian in its ability to remind me I’m watching a film. And remind me that, apparently, only Roger Stern has the courage to write Clark as an intelligent, emotionally stable being with good judgment and a rational outlook on the world, unclouded by dickishness or jingoistic moralizing.
Speaking of which, the Almighty Darkseid (played by Andre Braugher, who’s ill-suited to fill Michael Ironside’s shoes and takes a bit of time to get used to), ruler of Apokolips, has taken an interest in the girl who fell to Earth…for some reason. Probably just to fuck with Superman. So Darkseid kidnaps Kara, forcing Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and surprise guest star Big Barda to journey to Apokolips and save her blond-haired, blue-eyed butt. Much righteous whupping of Bad Guy ass ensues. And I jump for joy during each and every moment. Because I should’ve been jumping for joy for the last half of this flick. But I wasn’t. Because it sucked. And now I’ve got all this pent up energy. Damnit.
It shouldn’t have sucked. As I said, the fan service dial is stuck at 11. We get our favorite cast from the animated series plus River from Firefly, the sight of Big Barda in a towel, and a grand Collesium match featuring Barda, Wonder Woman, and my four favorite Furies. Why then, am I a sad film critic?
Because in order to get to this film’s chewy chocolate center I had to weigh through half an hour’s worth of flashbacks to 1984’s Supergirl. It too had a habit of derailing the plot so Supergirl could do stupid things. I’d say this first half of Apocalypse compares favorably to Supergirl, but that’s like saying Ted Bundy’s a better human being than Pol Pot. There are plenty of cool ideas here (Last Son of Krypton discovers He’s Not Alone…Kryptonian Teenager Discovers Earth…), Apocalypse just can’t be bothered to slow down and give them the time of day.
Not like anyone’s interested in building a film out of the contrasting sidekick-training regiments of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman. Except me. Can you think of three people better suited to train a super powered teenager in the ways of Fighting the Good Fight? Make The Karate Kid movies (and their rip-offs) look like days at the beach…so of course we’ll never see it. Too many of its action sequences might actually be integral to the plot and DC prefers its action scenes stop the plot dead, the way musical numbers do in Disney films.
As with most Kung Fu flicks, the fight scenes that make up the last twenty minutes almost pull the film out of the pits…but that just feels like a step backward to the bad old days of…well, Superman/Doomsday. I had a lot of problems with that film and New Frontier, but at least they told stories large enough to encompass all these larger than life characters, showcasing the multiple sides of their personalities against the backdrop of world-shattering events.
Apocalypse does the opposite, telling a self-contained origin story and letting us know DC and the WB no longer consider Supergirl’s origin interesting enough to support its own film. That’s the lesson sales figures taught them, because apparently I was the only one who bought last year’s Wonder Woman movie.
So we’re back to twenty minutes of good fights supporting sixty-odd minutes of cheesy superhero and Disney Princess mash, from a studio that’s beginning to look like an old man with chronic complaints. The WB just got over a bout of Bad Voice Casting Syndrome only to contract a possibly-terminal case of Writeritis.
For those outside the movie studio health-care industry, Writeritis is a disease that strikes studios when they hire overpriced hacks to churn out quickie sequels to last year’s successful superhero movies. There is no known cure…apart form not hiring hacks in the first place. We can only surmise that, at some point in the past few years, Warner Brothers Animation had unprotected sex with 20th Century Fox. Let this be a lesson to other movie studios: wrap it up before you put it in.