Monday, July 29, 2013

Instant Gratification Theater: Superhero Time!

In general, I find DC Comics animated movies much, much better than Marvel Comics animated movies. The DC efforts are almost always livelier, more character driven, and feature more entertaining voice work. Perhaps most important, while most Marvel animated movies disappear from my consciousness a half-hour after I see them, the DC ones linger, and that's because they tend to be ABOUT something.

The only issue lately is that so many seem to be about the same thing: the limits of power, or the need to put checks on the power that heroes have. I loved "Batman: Under the Red Hood," but two other recent DC efforts cover similar territory. You know what, though? They're still exceptional movies. Both of them are based on comic book storylines, and both of them are currently available for your streaming pleasure on Netflix.

Justice League: Doom: It's yet another incarnation of the Legion of Doom, this time led by Vandal Savage, but you will never read me griping about a Legion of Doom. Even though he was a familiar presence in the "Justice League" cartoon, the use of Vandal Savage here, as opposed to, say, Lex Luthor, is a bit of fresh air. The Doomers infiltrate Batman's lair and his files and take the secret blueprints he has developed to take down the other JLA' know, a contingency plan just in case anything happens.

So the League must combat the villains, who are incorporating Batman's tactical genius, and then they must also combat their own feelings of resentment that the Caped Crusader devised strategies to take them out. You get action and the usual sharp characterization of the heroes, but you also get a provocative exploration of ethics as the heroes debate the issue. Without giving away too much of the discussion, I'll just say one of the funniest (in a not really meant to be but not necessarily not meant to be, and either way it's not a knock kind of way) aspects of this movie is the utterly unrepentant attitude of Bats when confronted with the indignation of his teammates.

Speaking of familiar presences, the casting has an air of getting the band back together, with Kevin Conroy returning as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, Michael Rosenbaum as Flash (Barry Allen, not Wally West, though there is little apparent difference)...these are all excellent performers who have mastered the roles.

"Doom" is an intriguing movie that will draw you in and make you ponder the righteousness of Batman's actions. To its credit, it avoids a pat ending but still provides a satisfying, if not altogether "happy" ending. And it's also a fun movie. Highly recommended.

Superman vs. The Elite is especially relevant given the controversy over the live-action "Man of Steel" film in theaters this summer. Supes first teams with a group of young British "punk rock" heroes but then confronts them when they refusal to check their brand of brutal vigilantism.

This movie has a fun 1980s punk-ish opening credits sequence that distinguishes it from other DC cartoons, but it ultimately resembles its brethren. Yet it also feels fresh and innovative. Part of this is the Elite, an interesting group of antagonists who offer something new. It's a riot hearing a young snotty superpowered punk pepper his conversation with Superman with "innit" and "wankers" and the like. There's also some borderline edgy sexual tension from the female member of the group.

What makes the story standout, though, is its attention to tradition; that is, its emphasis of the Man of Steel I grew up knowing and loving: the guy who is always determined to do the right thing in a way that avoids killing and pure vigilante justice at all costs. At first Metropolis is enchanted by the Elite's no-holds-barred approach to law enforcement, but when things turn scary, Superman is there to remind humanity of...well, its own humanity. His struggle against The Elite is not just a dynamic bit of action, but a moral one. The tone is just right throughout, too, staying upright and true to the character without ever being pretentious or preachy. THIS is the Superman I want to see.

George Newbern returns as Kal-El in this one, and like Daly, he's mastered the role and does his usual fine job. The rest of the cast is also fine, though once again I wonder why Lois Lane has such brownish hair when she is being portrayed by quintessential brunette Pauley Perrette. This one gets more and more absorbing as it goes on and is also highly recommended.

Doc Savage, Man of Bronze: I watched about one minute of this on Warner Instant Archive before I had to turn it off. Oh, I still intend to watch it, but after seeing those excellent DC movies, something about the cheesiness of the music and the camp approach of "Doc," even in the first minute or so, turned me off. I realized I had to be in a different mood to view that one.

No comments: