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Justice League: Doom rests on one of the oldest tropes of comic book heroes, supervillains teaming up to destroy their rivals. The interesting twist on Doom is that the plans to defeat the heroes come from within their own ranks. Batman has devised a doomsday scenario for every member of the Justice League, preying on both their physical and mental vulnerabilities.
The cleverness of the idea is offset by its execution several times, though. The Wonder Woman and Green Lantern scenarios hinge entirely on the two of them being incapable of simple deduction, with Lantern’s resting mostly on making him feel bad. The Flash’s scenario seems both generic and easily solvable, and is once Batman points out the obvious answer to him. Seeing as Superman has only one weakness, his is easy enough to deduce, but the solution is clever, and Martian Manhunter’s takedown is the easily the best. That was a horrible thing to do to a friend, and more should have been made of that idea.
Batman gets a pretty easy time of it, considering that his uncharacteristically lax security is to blame for Vandal Savage forming the Legion of Doom to enact his sanctions against the League. They brush over the topic with cursory anger and disbelief, but the outcome is never placed in doubt. Batman’s nonchalance about the whole thing is the only good part of his being tried.
Savage gets the barest bones of a backstory, which is an interesting one when given time, but the two-minute telling does little to make him credible. It’s a matter of time available, though, and was probably best left unsaid at all if that was what he was going to get. A mystery unsolved is better than an unsatisfactory answer. The Legion is generally the most obvious of villains—Kryptonite powered Metallo; the Cheetah, Wonder Woman’s most workable villain in a short story; the Mirror Master for Flash, who gets an interesting treatment and actually seems like a threat for once; Bane’s plan deserved its own animated film and time to show its psychological toll on Batman; Star Sapphire, still working the Hal-Jordan-broke-my-heart angle, offers no higher agenda than being a scorned woman; and Ma’alefa’ak, twin brother of J’onn J’onnz, previously the last of the Martians, who seems like an interesting villain but gets too little chance to prove it.
The problem with the final battle, once all the players are revealed and the combatants are in place, is that the League never uses any strategy to battle the Legion. Superman goes straight for Metallo, the cyborg housing literally the only substance deadly to him, while Green Lantern or Wonder Woman could have fought him without ill effects, and Superman could have handled the rest of the Legion almost singlehandedly. It would have been much more interesting for Batman to direct traffic, applying his planning ability to point each Leaguer to his or her best matched opponent, especially seeing as that same skill nearly got the League killed moments before this battle. Seeing him outsmart Mirror Master, for example, while Flash unhooked Bane from his Venom supply is what these big team battles are designed to showcase. It was a letdown to see them all just go head to head with their regular foes, especially since the clash was so brief and anticlimactic anyway.
The big draw of Doom is the reuniting of the Justice League: the Animated Series cast. I don’t believe these two are supposed to take place in the same reality, given that the Flash was Barry Allen rather than Wally West, but it was still a treat to hear all of the familiar voices again. I don’t know why DC Animated films ever stray from Kevin Conroy as Batman, but they do seem determined to allow someone else to inhabit the role in at least every other film, always with the effect of wishing for Conroy. It’s almost an event every time they bring him back. I would have been fine with someone else voicing the Flash once I realized it was a different character, but Michael Rosenbaum did his usual great job. He’s just a little too jocular for the more serious Barry Allen. I think Nathan Fillion stands a chance to turn around the Hal Jordan Green Lantern by his casting alone, which is more fan service than staying true to the character. I almost think Hal could be retconned into having some humility if Fillion picks up a stronger presence and identification with the character, instead of being the self-serving blowhard he’s been recognized as in recent years. Despite any criticisms, though, the casting and voice work are well above par, as usual.
Doom is a fine standalone work, bringing a new spin on an old standard, though it could have benefited from straying less from that story’s usual rules. Still, the idea is always fun, the film has the big event feel to it, and the animation and acting deliver. 3 ½ stars

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DC’s animated movie series releases another impressive entry in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. The movie delivers on a number of points I thought were missing in previous Justice League movies of late, namely the voice cast. In particular I was pleased to hear the return of the eponymous duo’s best incarnations: Kevin Conroy as Batman and Tim Daly as Superman. These two perfected their roles in Batman/Superman: The Animated Series individually, during the “Diniverse” era. The replacement of Conroy in particular constantly baffles me. Even the decidedly not-so-good Batman: Gotham Knights got that much right. Others include Michael Ironside as Darkseid, reprising the role, and a favorite of mine, Ed Asner’s spot on Granny Goodness. I could never get tired of hearing him voice her.

The plot also introduces a number of my old favorites. My never ending crush on the Giffen era Justice League loves to see characters like Mr. Miracle and Big Barda brought back into the fold (see also Batman: the Brave and the Bold for your Ted Kord Blue Beetle and Booster Gold fixes). The fantastically campy Fighting Female Furies turn up as the main plot device for the film, as Darkseid looks for a replacement to captain them after Granny’s most hopeful student proves not up to the task.

Where he turns for that is a reinvented, once again, Supergirl. Her crash to Earth, her misunderstood reception (a comic book classic trope) and her subsequent shipping off for training are all handled quite admirably. I enjoyed the film up to this point, when it introduced its sole sticking point for me: Doomsday. And not just Doomsday but dozens of Doomsdays, all some kind of clone. One of them beat Superman into a coma; now Batman can take out its clones with whatever is in his utility belt? I think this devalues the threat just a smidge. The only reason that it didn’t affect the film that much for me is that I think Doomsday is the hallmark of just how bad 1990s comics were in terms of desperate attention grabs, the Death of Superman sparking a host of “controversial” and increasingly ridiculous stories involving the fall of the DC heroes. Aquaman got his hand eaten by piranha for God’s sakes. It was a bad time to be a fan, so you can clog a toilet with Doomsdays for all I care.

90s rant aside, this leads to one of the greatest “haunted house” rides DC has to offer: a trip to Apokolips. This is portrayed as the most frightening, hopeless place in the universe and this films pulls it off quite well. This leads to another of the films best moments, too, when Batman and Darkseid face off in a test of who is simply the biggest bastard. *Spoiler Alert* This time it’s Batman. From here, though the movie should have ended, there is one plot extension that has a decent twist and salvages the double ending from derailing the movie. All in, the film was a very enjoyable entry into DC’s animated collection. The characters are all handled logically, the film keeps a sense of fun in its quick pace and it has a lot of callbacks for longtime fans. Now if only Netflix carried those shorts in their versions… 3 ½ stars

DC’s animated releases have been really hit or miss in the last three years. You had the good Wonder Woman, the very good Green Lantern: First Flight, and the great Justice League: the New Frontier and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths. Then you’ve also seen such not-so-greats as Superman: Doomsday, the anime styled Batman: Gotham Knights, and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. Now comes Batman: Under the Red Hood, which falls somewhere in the middle.

Taken from a tale I only knew in passing, this one proves that even when you do see the body in comics it doesn’t mean it’s dead. Sparing you any of the films obvious spoilers, the Red Hood, an identity of the Joker’s in his earliest career moment (i.e. the one which made him the Joker), is back in town and muscling his way into the drug trade. His deadly methods coerce a number of gang members to side with him against main drug lord Black Mask (picture Tony Montana with his face burned down to the skull). In a double effort to use the history of the Red Hood character and provide a much more interesting protagonist, the Joke plays a substantial role in the plot.

Relying too heavily on flashbacks, the story feels a little meandering, and features too many characters for its own good. Nightwing, the original Robin now grown, shows up to basically do Batman’s talking so he can keep up his grim, silent shtick. The constant flashbacks disrupt the pace of the film and could have been better summed up in about half as many. While appearances like R’as Al Ghul work in a multi-part comic story, it just takes up valuable screen time in Red Hood. I know, too, that Batman’s rogues gallery contains so many, many more interesting antagonists than Black Mask that his appearance frustrates in its banality. He does next to nothing of interest.

The voice acting comes and goes. Bruce Greenwood as Batman seems to be doing a Kevin Conroy impression in most of his performance, begging the question why DC ever casts anyone else. The man has the definitive Batman voice. Warner Brothers should redub all of Christian Bale’s lines as Batman to get them right in the future. John DiMaggio’s Joker take was interesting but I felt he had it about 75% down. His laughter worked perfectly, though, and that’s such a significant piece of the performance that I believe he can perfect it on another try, since Mark Hamill has officially retired the voice. Neil Patrick Harris might be the sole reason for Nightwing’s inclusion in the film. Great though he was, the story portrays the character as nearly bumbling, asking obvious questions and barely keeping up with Batman at all. Harris, though, was great and should be kept on board future Batman or Teen Titan productions as Dick Grayson.

The story wraps up neatly enough, with an easy to spot battle and characters seemingly disposed of whom we know still to fight another day. Overall, though, Batman: Under the Red Hood only partially satisfies as a film, a Batman story or an action cartoon. While the fights moved well and provided some fun moments, there were too many with faceless goons, and even the main antagonists only seemed like minor threats half the time. The story revolving around mentor and student’s paths diverging plays well when not interrupted by brawls involving no one of importance. I would have liked to have seen a tighter, leaner story with fewer superfluous characters and a cleaner resolution, but the film has its number of high points, too, such as good voice work, fair animation and no punches pulled in the action. Hopefully they will give this cast and crew another chance to make their mark on Batman in the future. 3 stars

For whatever reason this is a story that has been revisited a number of times in the past ten years, a suspiciously high number of times. It has been seen in Justice League Unlimited in the form of the Justice Lords storyline, Mark Millar’s comic series Wanted (from which this movie borrows liberally), and last year in Batman: the Brave and the Bold, featuring some of the same characters. Basically it’s a mirror universe story where evil has triumphed over good. In Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths the filmmakers return to an old DC Comics story featuring the Crime Syndicate (a name unfortunately kept for the movie) from an alternate Earth. From what I remember this amounted to the world being terrorized by evil doppelgangers of the Justice League. For the most part it wasn’t really all that imaginative, best exampled by Evil Green Lantern, Power Ring. Yeah, why not call Evil Batman “Utility Belt” or Evil Wonder Woman “Magic Lasso” while you’re throwing out generic names.

I was pleasantly surprised at how detailed and character driven much of the film turned out to be, though. Though many of the Crime Syndicate characters get very little time to be fleshed out, the ones that do are interesting. Owlman is, I believe for the first time, more than simply Evil Batman. He has a completely different personality and outlook and this drives most of the drama in the final act. He is much more philosophical and introspective than Batman, while being wholly amoral as well. The movie actually looks at the moniker “Owlman” and dissects what it would mean to someone who chose it. Picking up a Justice League Unlimited storyline, Wonder Woman stand-in Superwoman is Owlman’s lover. She also gets a well done and more mature treatment as a sexually charged hedonist, easily bored by Owlman’s planning and only looking for a thrill. Superman double Ultraman has a sort of stereotypical Italian mobster appearance and attitude, with his square-headed coif and permanent sneer. There are many others but for the most part it’s these three that get actual character treatment. Flash ringer Johnny Quick’s character difference amounts to being British.

If you are a comics fan you will probably have a blast picking out the doppelgangers throughout the battles on Crime Syndicate Earth. The scene featuring a group of alternate Outsiders and Detroit-era Justice Leaguers is particularly fun. Random appearances of henchman like Lobo as possibly a Blue Oyster Bar biker don’t hurt either. My personal favorites were the black-clad “Supers,” a Marvel family stand-in. Best appearance in the whole film: Uncle Super. I would love to have seen more of the Justice League of that world. Alternate Lex Luthor (oddly the same, not even so much as having hair) is the last man standing, his final partner, The Jester, falling in the opener. Slade “Deathstroke” Wilson is the President, and his daughter Rose works by his side. They fill in a sort of national level Commissioner and Barbara Gordon role. All of this was cool but a few shots of the demise of good versions of the Legion of Doom would have been welcome.

Some of the voice casting I found problematic. Chris Noth makes a great Luthor, and Gina Torres’ Superwoman is perfect, but Mark Harmon’s gruff, authoritative Superman lacks the humble farm boy charm of Tim Daly’s work, and there is no improving on Kevin Conroy’s Batman. James Woods makes a perfectly detached Owlman, though. The rest of the cast is good, too, and even features a couple of appearances by Reno 911’s Officer Jones, Cedric Yarborough.

I was skeptical in the opening of JL: CoTE but it won me over shortly, largely through the portrayals of Owlman and Superwoman, and the dynamic of their relationship. This was one of the more enjoyable DC Animations released in the last few years. Recommended for Justice League fans mostly, maybe not such a great kids movie, though. 4 stars

A Matter of Loaf and Death was certainly a darker turn for Wallace and Gromit. Murdered bakers are a far cry from a thieving penguin, but this was a really good short. I found this one not as funny as the original three shorts but still clever and in the same spirit. Gromit does all the work, of course, while Wallace chases his dream girl, Piella, and Gromit also solves the mystery of the baker murders to which Wallace is blithely only semi-aware. The claymation is smooth but with the handcrafted feel of Parks’ other shorts. This one was a little short on Wallace’s trademark inventions, though, to make room for the romantic plot development. The backgrounds are filled with the same puns and low key sight gags that make Nick Parks’ films so much fun. The one that really got me was the tribute to Batman: The Movie (1966), though: some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb! 4 ½ stars