Movies That Hate You: Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

Fast Track Synopsis:

When a meteor crash lands in Gotham City, Batman investigates.  He soon confronts its passenger, a young girl who looks human, but soon displays powers and abilities far beyond mortal men.  Superman intervenes before more trouble is caused, and they learn that the girl is Kryptonian – and possibly Superman’s “older” cousin.  Batman is skeptical, especially considering that she has amnesia.  What disturbs him more is that this girl who calls herself Kara may be even more powerful than Superman himself.  However, Kal is willing to believe her, even when his dog Krypto growls menacingly at her.

After taking her shopping to give her clothes to be able to fit in to American culture, the two of them go out for a night on the town.  They are assaulted by powerful forces until one of them is revealed to be Wonder Woman, who insists on taking Supergirl back to Paradise Island.  Superman begrudgingly relents, and Kara undergoes some specialized training.  Unfortunately, Darkseid, seeking a new leader for his Furies, has been keeping a watchful eye on her, and has sent an army of Doomsday clones to attack the Amazons.  Although Superman defeats them all, Supergirl is kidnapped by Darkseid and Harbinger, Supergirl’s new friend, was killed.

Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman call on former Fury Big Barda to help them get to Apokolips, Darkseid’s planet.  After an argument, she joins the group, and they attack.  Superman reaches Darkseid’s inner sanctum, where he finds Kara wearing an outfit similar to the other Furies.  When Superman attempts to take Kara with him, she punches him, hard.  The two of them battle, and Batman reprograms Darkseid’s doomsday weapons in an attempt to blackmail him.  Darkseid eventually relents, and promises not to come after Kara in revenge.

Sometime later, Superman and Kara are in Smallville, and Superman is assaulted by Darkseid.  Supergirl, angered by the turn of events, attempts to defeat Darkseid, but is vanquished.  Before Darkseid departs however, Superman returns and he and Darkseid battle one more time.  Darkseid is badly injured by Superman before being sent through a Boom Tube into deep space.

Sometime later, Kara decides to be known as Supergirl, following in the footsteps of her cousin, and they fight for justice in Metropolis.

Review and Analysis:

If you want to see how NOT to create a feature-length animated story, watch this from start to finish. While there are some people who would place the blame on the fact that this movie is supposed to headline a female action hero, the problem is a little deeper than that.  Good stories keep a consistent theme and if the gears change and the action ratchets in either direction, there is enough of a build to crescendo or coast in any direction to allow the audience to sink it all in.  Of course, there must be something that the audience should be able to follow.

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (or Supergirl Begins according to fanon) carries none of this.  In its quest to be somewhat truer to the comic books, too many elements were kept in, thus too many characters to introduce, too many battles to follow, and absolutely no character development for the “main” character.

At all.

Comic Book Adaptation:

In 2004, Jeph Loeb was charged with writing a new origin story for Kara Zor-El as Supergirl to reintroduce her as a Kryptonian to the DC Universe.  Like all things introduced before 1989, this was also given a Universal Studios Dark-and-Gritty Reboot™, with Kara now being more adversarial (read: A really rebellious teenager) towards the heroes of Earth, and mostly towards Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  Of course, compounding the issue is that every test run on her suggests that she is more powerful than Superman himself.  This was hinted at during the Superman-Batman comic series featuring Supergirl.  This was continued almost throughout the next few years with her guest appearances in the Superman comic book series as well as her own series relaunch.

The reason why the “Supergirl may be (or probably is…or not) more powerful than Superman” was a compounding problem is because it was not about any kind of faux empowerment that comic books tend to delve into.  It is because comic book writers, as well as most fans, never really understood that powers do not make a hero.  You can be faster, stronger, more “intelligent,” or any number of things, but that does not entitle you to be more accepted, more compelling, better believed, or more popular.  Stories where “new” characters get inordinate amounts of time having people comment on being stronger than the already established strongest hero(ine) denotes a failure of imagination.

It Was a Dark and Boring Night:

This was supposed to be about Kara’s hidden “darkness.”  Except that we don’t focus on that at all.  With the exception of a few lines by Kara and Dark Premonition Storytelling by Batman, there was no focus on Kara’s “actual” darkness.

And the reason is because the screenplay is a pretty faithful adaptation of the comic book series.  And Kara’s story in the Superman-Batman series is actually…pretty sparse plot-wise and completely devoid of any character development for Kara herself.

So, Let’s Mitigate the Circumstances…and Fail in the Attempt:

There are 2 elements introduced in the movie that were not present in the comic.  The producers looked at the original comic series and found it to be lacking in a number of ways regarding Kara, and so they gave us this:

Because it's every alien female's fantasy to shop for clothes and shoes in America. This was the best they could come up with to make Supergirl "personable"?

A shopping trip for Kara in Metropolis.  While Kara takes to the fun of buying things like clothes and shoes not unlike any number women and girls performing a Hollywood shopping montage, Clark plays the role of Bumbling, Out-of-Touch Father who is concerned for his “daughter’s” style of dress as well as the prices on all of the things that Kara wants to wear.  Remember, this scene is supposed to warm us up to Supergirl; making her “just like the rest of us normal humans.”

Truth, Justice, and Consumerism.  It is the way of things in the 21st Century.

The second moment is this:

It's only considered "Empowerment" if you shoot a gun or throw a punch. And, only at a male character.

Kara’s battle at the end with Darkseid.  This was the other added element.  This would be a moment to cheer the “hero” under most circumstances, but since it really was never made clear how Darkseid brainwashed her…or what he actually did to have her brainwashed, it really does cheapen the moment.  If it were about Kara’s darkness, then you would needed the same cheesy dialogue found in George Lucas’s Star Wars about “Giving in to Anger, Hatred, and Aggression.”  Instead, however, realizing that the story’s wrap-up was closing in fast, we get a wordless battle between these two, except where Braugher tries mightily to give this scene some dignity.

Illegal Use of a Doomsday:

Too many cooks spoil the soup. Too many Doomsdays kill the already sinking story.

When you pen a movie based on a comic book, one has to realize that most comic book stories have all of the excitement and flair of a flat tire.  In this case, the story, realizing that it needed a battle for the heroes, decides to do what Star Trek: Voyager did:  Reintroduce a big, scary villain.  In Superman/Batman, it was Doomsday.  More to the point, it was an army of Doomsdays.

This, however, only served to undercut their menace.  And the fight, in the end, was a yawnfest.  Jeph Loeb’s battle in the comic book was not that good to begin with, and the Animated version is just as bad.  Even as it attempted to make the battle reminiscent of Saving Private Ryan and 300, the battle itself was rather dry and devoid of meaning.  The comic book attempted to shock its audience (Wow! Doomsday is Back!), but missed everything in the process.

Darkseid’s Choice of Minions?

Every so often, Darkseid seems to make it a point to kidnap a young superheroine and seduces her to join his Furies.  Although he did once kidnap Wonder Woman to make him his “bride,” he’s also “persuaded” Mary Marvel to join him after the gods only restored some of her original power.

Bear in mind that the only other hero to be brainwashed by Darkseid has been Superman.  It would seem that other heroes with powers on a scale similar to Superman (or close) don’t even warrant a second look.

Darkseid derives too much joy from kidnapping women.

But Darkseid has been shown to have flying minions, is able to create clones of monsters like Doomsday, and has an army of all kinds soldiers.  So why Darkseid goes through the trouble of kidnapping Kryptonians and the like will be covered a little later.

Why I Don’t Like Wonder Woman, Part 9,599.2:

Tell me why she should be placed on the same pedestal as Superman again?

There are many issues that I have had with the Wonder Woman character, particularly as created and portrayed by the DC Animators.  At some point later, I may detail most of them, but I will focus on some of the main issues raised in Superman/Batman: Apocalypse.

First, for all of Wonder Woman’s training as an Ambassador and Warrior, she has an amazing lack of tact and diplomacy, in particular when it comes to dealing with heroes and villains.  She and her sisters on Paradise Island have a vision that regards Supergirl being kidnapped or worse.  She apparently shares these concerns with Batman.

So, what do these two people do?

Do they consult with Superman, with whom the repercussions would be felt?  Do they present their evidence of possible danger OR doubt that Kara is really Kal’s cousin?  Do they rationally discuss their warnings with someone that they have supposedly worked with and assisted for many years?

If you said yes to any of these questions, give yourself a Whammy and take a timeout.

Instead, Batman and Wonder Woman concoct perhaps the most asinine plan imaginable; orchestrating an attack on Kal-El and Kara in an American city, performing an Immigrations of Customs Enforcement-style operation on Kara Zor-El.  The animated feature tries its hardest to make Wonder Woman’s attack valid by having her rant to Kal-El about Supergirl’s heat vision attack which destroys trees and statues (that bit was also not in the comic book – the heat vision attack, nor Wonder Woman’s rant), but it does not change the fact that both Wonder Woman and Batman have made a decision about someone that they had no business doing so – and initiated a false flag attack to boot.

To justify their own fears, Batman and Wonder Woman violate Kara’s own sovereign rights and kidnap her.  Simply because they are afraid of what someone else may do with her power – and that they are skeptical of her origins.

This sounds too much like the current debates in the United States concerning immigration from Central and South America, where Conservative Reactionaries and those who identify with the Tea Partiers want to empower local authorities with the ability to compel people who do not look white to submit to an immediate ID check upon any contact with local law enforcement.  Those who cannot immediately produce documentation that they are US Citizens, according to these people, should be immediately deported, whether they are actually citizens or not.

Rational people reject Arizona SB1070-style thinking and reasoning without hesitation.  In this animated feature, many people pause in rejecting it because it is Batman and Wonder Woman going SB1070 on Kara.

In other words, they had nothing, but did it anyway.  If Kal-El never trusted Bruce and Diana again, he would be justified in doing so just from this incident alone.

Why I Don’t Like Batman, Part 11,234,378,985:

Batman as never being wrong...and cannot be beaten ever? The legacy of Frank Miller infects the rest of DC, even when it damages the other characters.

See above.  Batman, as usual, is also very suspicious of Kara and her origin.  He regards her amnesia to be all too convenient, considering how powerful she could potentially be.  Between them and Krypto, they view her as a threat to be monitored, but no hard evidence.

Plus, we as an audience are supposed to take Bruce’s rantings as valid, simply because he is Batman – and the DC Universe has long since decreed that anything that Batman says is valid and correct at all times.

And Yet, Their Prophecy of Doom Came True, Anyhow.

And, there is a small matter of what Batman does on Apokolips:

Batman reprogramming Planet Killers to turn Apokolips. Never mind the slaves that actually live there.

This was a Frank Miller-inspired moment of what was supposed to be “Batman being Bad-@$$”.  Batman reprograms Darkseid’s Hellspores so that they would turn on the Planet Apokolips as a Deadman’s Trigger.  He then threatens Darkseid that he will let them destroy the planet unless he releases Supergirl and gives his word that he will not make a move against her afterward.

But it all undercut by several issues.  First is the problem of Faceless Enemies.  Darkseid has enslaved others in a similar fashion.  It is never, however, made clear if the other Furies under Granny Goodness were similarly brainwashed or not; so their want of death and destruction of other people may or may not be their own true feelings.  But since this point is never really touched on, we never get to find out.  There are also other humanoids who are obviously in the service of Darkseid’s armies.  But, like the Furies, are they brainwashed or controlled under duress?  Are they forced conscripts like the soldiers in Eragon or Star Wars?  Are they mercenaries like the ones in GI Joe?  Or are they defending their homeworld from an alien assault?  Only the last question has an answer…and it is yes.

The second problem with this scene is the problem of Faceless Victims.  In nearly every production involving Apokolips until this one, it was made clear that Darkseid has millions of beings enslaved on his planet.  These people were not shown because then it would have inconveniently undercut Batman’s bad-@$$ery more than a little bit.

Because the question would become one as follows:  What would Batman have done if Darkseid responded by simply using a Mother Box, leaving the planet, and taking up residence on another world?  Would Batman be able to follow through on a threat that has just been rendered meaningless?

But, besides that, what would stop Darkseid from killing Batman if Darkseid presented him with such an option?  This is the main reason why Frank Miller’s version of Batman would fail to stand up to any scrutiny; because his choices require Mary-Sue characteristics that are lambasted in other characters, but not Batman.

When Any Girl Will Do:

When you have to hire an actress to pander to the Nerd Culture demographic, this should be a sure sign that your production is in trouble.

Or, how dangling a shiny bauble in front of a segment of fans ultimately diminishes the product and reaction to it.

As an exercise (if you hadn’t already done so for other reasons), look up some reviews for Superman/Batman: Apocalypse.  In particular, take a look at how many of those reviews make mention of the voice acting.  Observe the following trends:

  • How many praise Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy for reprising their well-known roles as Superman and Batman, respectively.
  • How many mention Susan Eisenberg for reprising Wonder Woman.
  • How many either praise or disparage Andre Braugher for his take on Darkseid.
    • And how many mention Michael Ironside, who was the voice of Darkseid on Superman: Animated and Justice League.

With all of these in mind, note that not a single reviewer will even make mention of the fact that Nicholle Tom as the voice of Supergirl since Superman: The Animated Series, is noticeably absent.  In fact, even reviewers that disliked Summer Glau’s performance as Supergirl make no mention of her.  This is especially true if in disparaging Braugher, they call for Ironside to return.

The voice of Supergirl through Superman: The Animated Series, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited. Dumped unceremoniously by Warner and trampled by Temple of Whedon parishoners.

Additional Musings on Darkseid:

Darkseid tugs on Superman's cape...

...and getting beaten into near submission because of it.

One of the reasons why I have trouble agreeing with Nerd Culture about much these days is because of the need for familiarity.  This need has a big tendency to override what would otherwise be valid issues.

The big problem with this release is that none of the veteran voice actors (Daly, Eisenberg, Conroy) are having that much fun here.  In fact, the only one who seems to like the role he’s in is Braugher himself.  Darkseid takes a more “imperial” tone with Braugher as opposed to Michael Ironside’s “Menace to Kal-El” performance.  It took subsequent viewings to figure this bit out; I initially struggled to realize why Darkseid’s performance was different.

Darkseid himself views all of this as being “entertainment.”  Kidnapping a powerful being and brainwashing them?  Fun.  Beating the pulp out of Earth’s Most Powerful Hero without breaking much of a sweat?  Enjoyment.  Having Batman threaten him with using doomsday weapons to blow up his planet?  Like playing tag with good friends.  Darkseid was more amused by everyone’s antics than actually being angry that they foiled his plans.

And Braugher played up that angle.

And Nerd Culture howls in disgust.

The Only Words Required to Describe Glau’s Performace:

Limited range; Non-Compelling; No Charisma.  Actually, you could apply that description to all of Whedon’s empowering (White) female cast leads, regardless of the show in question.

The Confrontations in Apokolips:

So we get six women fighting each other for more than 5 minutes. But it's not empowerment if it simply a distraction to the story itself.

This is a case of all kinds of wrong, because this was a battle that had too many elements added to it.  And the original premise that had been the raison d’etere for the confrontation was thrown out the window.

This mitigation was fraught with trouble to begin with.  Kal-El confronting a brainwashed Kara Zor-El in Darkseid’s sanctum.  Kara makes it clear that the brainwash programming was complete and absolute.  So now, Superman has to incapacitate her or otherwise make her incapable of fighting.

But here is where we end up diving into the hornet’s nest.  You would be hard-pressed to find a small or large-screen Superman that ever threw a punch against a woman, even one that has been shown to be just as strong and/or just as powerful as he is.  Even in the movie Superman II: The Adventure Continues, while Ursa displayed powers on par with Kal-El, he never engaged her directly as he did Zod and Non.  In the TV show Lois and Clark, Superman never hit a woman (he was even taunted by a then super-powered Gretchen Kelley regarding this “weakness”).  Smallville‘s trainwreck included many episodes where even the supposedly weakest of women and young girls (with powers, that is) were able to injure or incapacitate a super-powered Kal-El.  And this was a seasonal occurrence.  However, Clark never had any knock-down drag-out battles with women as he did with male villains.

So, with this in mind, how do we get a “battle” between Kal-El and Kara?

It’s actually pretty simple.

Show Kara beating the crap of out Superman:

"Empowerment" again.

Until Superman gets serious and then:

He'll Super-Applaud You Into Submission

Superman disables his “more powerful” foe without laying a finger on her.  Don’t believe it?

He doesn't even move a hair out of place. Oh, and this is not a cropped frame, either.

So, we don’t see this particular battle (which was in the comic, btw) because no one is ready to cross that line of sensibility in regards to violence against women as committed by Superman in this instance.  This is reinforced later by showing Darkseid beating up Kara despite her best efforts of resistance.

On Evil and Sexuality:

Also, am I the only one who was bothered by low-cut pants, bra top, and high-heeled riser boots, thus reinforcing the stereotype of women who enter into the service of evil also needing to dress “provocatively” (read: Male Nerd Culture Masturbatory Fantasy)?  This particular trope gets lots of mileage mostly because of a need in storytelling to show the good girl as being “chaste” – or, more importantly, as being constructed as a prize to be won for the male hero, and to the mostly male audience as being “available.”

When otherwise virtuous men (like Superman, for instance) are converted to evil, they are often giving an “evil” version of their costume, which is usually prominent with black and grey/silver colors.  They are usually shown as being sadistic or depraved when it comes to death and killing; they are rarely shown as being sexually forward.  A big exception to this is, ironically, in Superman III, where Gus’ synthetic kryptonite makes Superman “drunk,” and he starts coming on to Lana Lang after being informed of an emergency that requires his assistance.  However, note that this moment is not one that is celebrated in the context of the movie; like all moments where Superman is shown to be in the service of villainy, it was to be feared.

In Superman/Batman: Apocalypse, like the comic version beforehand, Supergirl’s Face/Heel turn was on the one hand supposed to be fearful, but her style of dress and her “demeanor” were supposed to indicate a sexual availability that the “good” Kara never displayed.  But this is only in the context of the previous versions of Kara as Supergirl before this one, notably the Supergirl of the 1970s-1980s, before she was killed during the Crisis on Infinite Earths.

When the End Does Not Match the Story:

The story, from what I could gleam, was that Kara is learning to deal with both her amnesia and her “inner darkness” that was exploited by Darkseid.

So, this picture, which sums up what the pay-off was supposed to be:

A position given because of accepted Nepotism.

Fails to make the connection with the rest of the story itself.  The problem here is that Kara taking up the “family business” is treated as if it were never really in doubt; there is no struggle whatsoever with her actually rejecting Kal-El nor his philosophy or his methodology before she was “brainwashed” by Darkseid.

Again, this is where both the original story of Jeph Loeb and Tab Murphy’s remix fail to address much of anything.  Because both elements were thrown away very quickly.

In Conclusion:

At best, Superman/Batman: Apocalypse has a narrative problem.  There is no overarching theme present; in its zeal to be faithful to the five issues which reintroduced Supergirl as a Kryptonian to the DC Universe, this particular release shows the painful reason why comic book storytelling fails:  The majority of comic book writers have little sense of coherency; have absolutely no sense of how to develop characters; and would fail any beginner’s class on scriptwriting and storyboarding.  Nerd Culture piled on a Man of Color for taking a popular role, and never made note of the long-time young woman who was bounced to the curb because her replacement was a Nerd Culture “Strong Female Character” Favorite.

The fights that Batman and Wonder Woman & Big Barda take on do nothing to advance the actual story, and Supergirl herself is left in the backseat of a story that had no lead.  Wonder Woman and Batman lambasted Superman for allowing Kara to make her own choices regarding her life, but ended up allowing her to do so anyway.  Frank Miller’s take on Batman infected this story, and Bruce Timm’s attempts to mitigate Wonder Woman’s Joe Arpaio impersonation failed at the start.  The “original” elements tried its hardest to make Supergirl a likable character, but the writers never considered (Loeb or Murphy, that is) that powers do not, nor do they ever, make the hero.

In the end, we learn very little about Supergirl herself, except that she had an exit from Krypton that was almost a carbon copy of her younger-older cousin, and that she lost her memory, and that Kal’s dog does not like her.  None of these elements were ever explored.

This “Dark and Gritty Reboot” needs a replacement.  Actually, it should have never been approved in the first place back in 2004.

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3 Responses to Movies That Hate You: Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

  1. Del Going says:

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  2. Pingback: Movies That Hate You: Superman 2 | Loose Cannon

  3. Pingback: Just Read Supergirl #2 | Loose Cannon

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