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General Musings

DC on DVD – 5 Great Animated Movies

Last week, I picked 5 of my favourite DC stories that I would like to see given the animated movie treatment.  Now, I have chosen 5 great DC animated movies that are worth your time.

I am currently in the throws of a vicious bout of Sinisitis, which has resulted in me (very reluctantly) having to take some time off work. Now this has given me something that I am not very used to, what with work and children, and that something is time.  This coupled with the fact that my head has been full of infected snot (sorry), I needed something that I could watch and not have to concentrate too hard on.  So I immediately went to DC’s catalogue of animated movies, mainly because I have read the source material that most of them are based on and the fact that, and be aware I am nearly 40 as I write this, when you are sick, you need your heroes.

So here are 5 great examples of DC animation at its best.

The Dark Knight Returns1. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Jay Oliva, 2013)

The Dark Knight Returns is based on the seminal 1986 work by legendary comic book writer Frank Miller (Sin City) which has been often held up as the definitive work on the character.  When I first read this book in the early 90s, I was a bit underwhelmed and a little bit disappointed, I just didn’t get what the fuss was about. When I heard that they were turning it into an animated movie I didn’t give it a second thought.  Even when Harry Lennix read the excerpt from the book at comic con heralding the release of Batman v Superman, again, I wasn’t that bothered.  I was apathetic towards this book, hey, I was a Superman guy anyway.

As the years have passed and the more I looked into and read up about the currently crop of comic book writers, everyone of them and I do mean everyone, points to The Dark Knight Returns as their inspiration and their favourite book about the character.  So, a few weeks back I relented and I bought a trade paperback and nearly 30 years later, I gave it another go.  Bloody hell, it is brilliant.

So with my opinion on the book updated, it was time to watch the movie.  First of all, I was wondering how the hell are they going to turn this sprawling epic into a film in the first place?  Sure, they have cut some bits out and moved somethings around, but they have done a magnificent job.

Bruce Wayne, now 60(ish), has given up the mantle of The Bat 10 years earlier, following the death of his partner Jason Todd.  Gotham City is now in the clutches of a criminal gang known as The Mutants.  With Commissioner Gordon celebrating his 70th birthday, ready to retire and The Joker  catatonic in Arkham since Batman’s disappearance, The Mutant crime wave is out of control.  Bruce decides, against the advice of his butler Alfred to come out of retirement and face his demons once again.  While he has success in cleaning up the streets, he fights against the limitations of his age and a new anti-hero law passed by the US Government, ultimately putting him in conflict with Superman.  He also rescues 13 year old Carrie Kelley, who is in turn, inspired to become the new Robin.  As Batman begins to bring law and order back to Gotham City, The Joker suddenly awakens from his catatonic state.  This is a sweeping epic, which starts as a gritty street level drama and crescendos in an epic battle following a global nuclear attack.  It is almost operatic in its scale.

This is a triumph is every way, beautifully animated, painstakingly faithful to the source material, brutal, thoughtful and emotional, it’s a truly thrilling watch.  Peter Weller is the perfect choice to voice the aging Batman and Ariel Winter (Alex from Modern Family) brings a real contrasting youthful exuberance to Carrie Kelley.  Only Michael Emmerson’s Joker misses the mark for me, with his vocal performance just a little too restrained for the character.  The fight scenes are brilliantly brutal, in particular the climatic battle between Batman and Superman and they pull no punches when it comes to the books more brutal elements, The Joker’s rampage at the carnival in particular.  It is not perfect though, one of the main things I loved about the book was Batman’s inner monologue, the film is screaming out for voice over, which would just put the cherry on top of this wonderful film.

I can not praise this enough, if you get the chance then please give this a watch.  As a film, it is up there with any of Batman’s big screen outings, and as a companion piece to the novel it is an utter triumph.

JL War2. Justice League: War (Jay Oliva, 2014)

Justice League: War is an adaptation of the first Justice League story following DC’s New 52 reboot.  When Earth is being invaded by a powerful alien known as Darkseid.  Earth’s heroes have to band together to fight this powerful enemy, but in order to beat this threat, they have to overcome their differences first.

When the Justice League was rebooted for The New 52, they once again went for the big guns.  Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and erm, Cyborg?  It seemed a strange choice to replace League mainstay Martian Manhunter with a character that is more at home with the Teen Titans, but it really worked.  Watching his transition from College Football star to half man/have mechanical hero and embed himself with The Justice League is one of the first triumphs of the new 52 reboot.

The film remains pretty faithful to the books with the glaring exception being that they have replaced Aquaman with Captain Marvel (a character I have often struggled with).  The vocal performances are good for the most part, with Jason O’Mara seemingly now the go to guy when it come to voicing Batman, while he is no Kevin Conroy, he does a decent job.  Sean Astin fits the Captain Marvel character well.  In a strange turn, they have Alan Tudyk voicing Superman, while George Newbern, who did such a great job in the Justice League TV series and several other animated movies is relegated to voicing Steve Trevor here.  Michelle Monaghan feels like she is trying too hard as Wonder Woman and Justin Kirk pitches his Green Lantern all wrong (thankfully Nathan Fillion takes over for the sequel).

Overall, I really enjoyed this, it’s a fun watch, seeing The League tear though the hordes of Parademons is a real delight and even better is watching them come together as as a team.  Having them all standing together at the end arguing, first that they aren’t a team, then what their name should be is fun.  A nice mid credit scene explains Aquaman’s absence.  This was followed by Throne of Atlantis, with a third film in the works for 2016, this DC animated juggernaut is showing no sign of slowing down.

MV5BMTQ4MDQwMDUxNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODY2NDEyMQ@@._V1_UY268_CR2,0,182,268_AL_3. Batman Beyond: The Return of The Joker (Curt Geda, 2000)

Going back a bit on this one to before the DC Animated Movie Universe was established.  This is a full length movie based on the Batman Beyond TV series, which itself served as a sequel to the ground breaking Batman: The Animated Series.  It is set in a futuristic Gotham City, the series follows a teenager Terry McGinnis as the new Batman under the tutelage of an aged Bruce Wayne (still voiced by Kevin Conroy).  The show ran for 3 seasons and served as a nice companion piece to the wonderful animated series.

Now, onto the film itself.  Set approximately a year into the continuity of the series, Terry is on the trail of The Jokers (a street gang named after Batman’s legendary enemy, who run through the series as stock villains) as they are stealing tech from around Gotham City.  Bruce Wayne is getting ready to re-take control of his company, when his press conference is interrupted by a man who appears to be The Joker and he knows Batman’s secret.  Bruce is in denial and the only thing he will tell Terry is that he is certain that The Joker is dead.  Looking for answers, Terry goes to Commissioner Gordon, Barbra Gordon, who used to be Batgirl.  She then tells him of the fateful events that led to The Joker’s death, the corruption of Robin and the eventual retirement of Batman.

It is quite hard to get into the plot here with out giving away the brilliant twist.  Now, I have never seen a single episode of Batman Beyond, so was going into this with only my knowledge that the series was in the same continuity as Batman: The Animated Series and it comes highly recommended by my fellow usher Welshy.

The film is great, it is a tough watch and most definitely isn’t for kids.  The Joker’s corruption of Tim Drake is both brutal and heart-breaking.  Kevin Conroy’s vocal performance is wonderful as always, he is the voice I hear in my head when I read Batman comics, and he adjusts his voice perfectly for the aged Bruce Wayne.  Will Friedle is good too as the new Batman that is still working to gain Bruce’s trust, but the film is stolen by Mark Hamill as The Joker, his twitchy demented vocals are as chilling here, as they were in 1992.  The film is overall quite downbeat and while the ending is kind of hopeful, it features moments of real brutality as well as some real somber moments and there is a cracking little twist.  As a stand alone film it is a great watch, but it has me trying to track down anyone who has access to the Batman Beyond TV series.  The film is streaming on Amazon Instant Video, so check it out if you can.

Superman Unbound4. Superman Unbound (James Tucker, 2013)

I remember this being highly anticipated on release as it carried a 15 certificate.  This is based on Geoff Johns 2008 series Superman: Brainiac (which would have been a better title than the dumb Unbound attached to this).

Superman is struggling with the women in his life, Lois Lane is taking too many chances and pressuring him into making their relationship public and his young cousin Kara has just arrived on Earth and having taken on the mantle of Supergirl, is struggling to adjust to her new life and powers.  Meanwhile a malevolent alien robot arrives  and attacks Superman.  Kara recognises the technology as that of Brainiac, a collector of civilizations, who back before Krypton was destroyed stole the capital city of Kandor.  Superman must team up with his cousin to stop Brainiac collecting Metropolis and in turn destroying the Earth.

This again is a great watch, the animation is slick and the fight scenes are nicely done.  It is  just a joy to see Superman and Supergirl rip through armies of disposable Brainiac robots.  The relationships are well written firstly, Superman and Lois it’s nice that even Earth’s mightiest hero has woman trouble and then with Kara, showing The Man of Steel in a mentor role.  The movie differs from the book slightly, as this was the arc where Jonathon Kent heart-breakingly died, but that (thankfully) is omitted here.  It  also nicely handles Superman’s sense of loss, here he is faced with Kryptonian culture for the first time and for the first time he actually gets to see what his home world was like and the heritage and upbringing he missed out on, he then uses this sense of anger and loss when he is facing Brainiac.

Matt Bomer does a great job voicing Superman, his voice is aggressive and soothing in equal measures and just what I would imagine the most powerful being on the planet would sound like, so much so that me might give Geroge Newbern a run for his money as my favourite actor to voice the role.  Stana Katic from Castle makes a great Lois Lane (the scene where she flips off Brainiac from inside the Bottle City is cool), Molly C. Quinn (also from Castle) gives Supergirl a real emotional vulnerability and the brilliant John Noble makes a sinister and deadly Brainiac.   Another great entry in the DCU Animated library.

Wonder5. Wonder Woman (Lauren Montgomery, 2009)

This film was the 4th DCU Animated movie cannon and follows very loosely Gods and Mortals comic arc from the late 80s, which rebooted the Wonder Woman origin.

The film opens with Amazons, a fierce race of warrior woman led by their Queen Hippolyta battling Ares, The God of War.  When Hippolyta defeats Ares, she is is forbidden from killing him by his father Zeus.  Instead, he is to be held captive by The Amazons, who as a reward for victory, will be given an Island paradise to live out the rest of their days in peace.  Queen Hippolyta is also gifted a daughter, Diana.

Years later, Diana is grown and is becoming restless, it is then that USAF Pilot Steve Trevor is shot down and crashes on her Island.  She is tasked with delivering him safely back to his people.  Meanwhile, Ares has corrupted one of the amazonian warriors and has escaped captivity, hell bent on destroying the earth.  Diana must join forces with Trevor to prevent the end of the world.

This is ridiculous in every sense of the word, but it is also a lot of fun.  It doesn’t take itself too seriously at all.  Diana is a feminist and is constantly slapping the seemingly misogynistic Trevor for his oafish behavior, but this is done very tongue in cheek.  There are few really nice touches in there, in particular, Diana battling a demigod in a shoe store and looking puzzled at a stiletto heel before embedding it in her enemies skull.  Her femininity is what makes her strong and is no way a hindrance to her.  As I said the film is fun, but of this list, this is the film that requires the most suspension of disbelief.  Now, I am aware these are superhero films, but the existence of Gods like Zeus, Hades and Hermes are one thing, but bringing them into a modern setting just jars a little too much.  The inclusion of the invisible jet too, seems completely out of place in this mythical setting.

The voice work is good, as usual, with Keri Russel making Diana a strong and believable heroine, Alfred Molina brings suitable menace to Ares, with Oliver Platt having a wonderfully slimy cameo as Hades.  It is however, as he often does, Nathan Fillion who steals the show.  He brings his trademark charisma to the heroic and oafish Steve Trevor.

I think Wonder Woman, particularly pre new 52 was a difficult character to transfer from page to screen, but this a decent effort.


So, there we have it.  5 DCU Animated films that you should really check out.  Before I sign off, I wanted to give a mention to a lady called Andrea Romano.  She is the voice casting director and has been since the Batman: The Animated Series days,  she nails it almost every time and she is a major part of the reason why these films work as well as they do.

Thanks for reading. Hope you folks enjoyed yourselves, catch ya later on down the trail.

Sam Elliot

About Snooty Usher Dave

Favourite Film : Ghostbusters (1984) Worst Film: Left Behind (2014) Guilty Pleasure: Pitch Perfect (2012) 40 year old family man from Hamilton, Scotland. I have settled in Gateshead with my wife and 2 beautiful daughters. Worked as a Cinema Manager (or glorified usher) for 14 years, now I run a chicken shop. Love Sport especially Football and Tennis. Love comic books, especially DC and particularly Superman. I own 58 Nicolas Cage films.


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