The 8 Ball 07.29.13: The Top 8 Animated DC Films
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 07.30.2013
From Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and The Dark Knight Returns to Wonder Woman, Justice League: Doom and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 DC animated films!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Movie Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, we will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
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Top 8 DC Animated Films
Tomorrow the latest in the DC Animated Universe direct-to-video films releases in Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. The film, an adaptation of the "Flashpoint" event that concluded with the DC universe transitioning into the New 52, follows a long line of cartoon adaptations of the comic books giant that, to be frank, completely dwarfs what any other company has managed to do in terms of animated films based on their source material. I have confessed to leaning pretty clearly toward Marvel over DC when it comes to my appreciation of the comic books and characters therein, but in terms of animated films the Time/Warner subsidiary has completely blown anything Marvel attempted on this front out of the water. This week I thought we could take a look at the best animated films that have found their source material among the superhero continuity of the world's greatest heroes.
Caveat: When compiling this list, I was looking for animated films that were based off DC's superhero continuity. I am focusing only on the films originally created as such; there have been several projects such as Justice League: Starcrossed which were released on DVD as "movies" but were in fact just edits of extended story arcs from the various television shows. Those were not considered in the writing of this column.
Just Missing The Cut
Justice League: The New Frontier (2008)
All-Star Superman (2011)
The Batman vs. Dracula (2005)
Batman: Year One (2011)
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010)
#8: Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009)
First on our list is the first (and best) of the two Superman/Batman animated universe films. The films were based on the comic book series that began in August of 2003 under the guidance of writer Jeph Loeb and penciller Ed McGuinness and the first story arc, "World's Finest," remains one of the most popular arcs of that series and the animated film is a great, faithful retelling of the story. The plot goes that Lex Luthor, upon being elected President of the United States, sets up the distrustful Superman for the murder of a villain and when the Dark Knight teams up with Superman to learn the truth, they're declared enemies of the state with a federally-employed team of superheroes, as well as mercenary villain teams, gunning for them. Stan Berkowitz adapted the story from Loeb's original and he does a fantastic job of translating it to the screen. Tim Daly and Kevin Conroy have always been well-matched in their voice work as Superman and Bruce Wayne while I have trouble imagining anyone other than Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor at this point and he does typically work here. There are both well-known and obscure villains in order to keep both novices and fanboys/girls alike happy and the action is well-done, making this a standout.
#7: Green Lantern: First Flight (2009)
I've been critical of the Green Lantern live-action film in the past, and even caught some flak for it. If I'm being truthful (and I always am), I certainly didn't despise it the way that some people did and I felt there were a lot of things to enjoy. Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively are just fine, some of the effects were very good and the characterizations were (for the most part) solid. The biggest problem it had was the origin story aspect and the amount of expository dialogue needed, giving a very visually-oriented hero a "tell, don't show" mentality. First Flight is one reason I was so frustrated with the live-action's origin story aspect because this handled it so well. First Flight takes the problem of every superhero film's need to tell the origin story and gets it all out of the way fairly quickly without it seeming to be thrown in merely as a token. By keeping Hal Jordan in space under the care of Sinestro, it keeps the epic space feel and it effectively tells the story of Sinestro's fall and Hal's rise to one of the greatest members of the GLC. Chris Meloni is not someone I would have thought of as a good voice for Hal but he does admirable and the animation is rock-solid as most of DC's efforts usually are. It stands as the greatest solo adventure of Green Lantern to make its way on-screen yet, with ease.
#6: Superman: Unbound (2013)
Superman: Unbound is the most recent of the DC Animated Universe films to be released (at least before Flashpoint Paradox today), and I will admit that I was just a little bit skeptical. This isn't because I had any particular doubts about Warner Bros. Home Entertainment or even the famous and well-received "Superman: Braniac" series, but...well, it's a silly reason, but sometimes they get you. The cover for the DVD just wasn't particularly impressive. Okay, that's not the only reason; the change in voice actor for Kal-El had me concerned as well. Matt Bomer has long been a fan favorite to potentially play the role of the Man of Steel in some capacity and I love his work as an actor but there have been times where actors I love just haven't been good matches for the character. (Adam Baldwin in Superman: Doomsday comes to mind.) As it turned out, my concerns were for naught as Bomer is not only great as Superman but his supporting cast of Castle's Stana Katic (Lois) and Molly Quinn (Kara) are both great and John Noble is superb as the cold, sinister Braniac. The story is a great one and adapts well to the format, with the needed changes to make it self-contained almost entirely working out exactly as intended. There are a lot of great moments, though my personal one involves Lois in the miniaturized Metropolis, looking up at the now-enormous (to her) Braniac and flipping him the double-bird. Perfect representation of the character to me.
#5: Justice League: Doom (2012)
Justice League: Doom is easily my favorite of the Justice League-focused animated films to date. The DC Animated Universe entry pits the mighty league--consisting of the classic team of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and the Flash, sans Aquaman--against the Legion of Doom. The story is adapted from Mark Waid's "Tower of Babel" story arc and screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie had to make some big changes from the source in order to simplify the story and streamlining things. Those changes work very well though and the core of the story is still fully intact; it works as not only a big superhero battle royal but also as a character piece that studies Batman's starkly different level of morality (and, frankly, justifiable paranoia) from the rest of the League. The plot involves a series of scenarios created by Batman to take down any member of the League (should they turn evil) used against them by the Legion, financed by the immortal Vandal Savage. The scenarios are impressive enough in their ingenuity and the action and voice acting are all great, but the script by McDuffie, who unfortunately died soon after finishing it, takes center stage for kudos. The scene in which the Justice League tries to take Bruce to task for having these scenarios is an incredibly effective discussion of morality and yet the whole thing never comes off as overwrought or pretentious. It's incredibly well-done and a joy to watch whether you're a hardcore fan or not.
#4: Batman: Under the Red Hood (2010)
Batman is one of the most popular of all of DC's superheroes not only for his own skills, but for his memorable rogue's gallery and cadre of supporting characters. The 2005 comic book storyline "Under the Hood" made great use of all of the above, as well as the Dark Knight's worst moment in the death of the second Robin, Jason Todd. The character of Jason was an almost universally-hated one during the 1980s, to the point that when the time came to write him out of in 1988, a 1-900 poll was set up to determine if the character would die or not. By a slim margin, "die" was chosen and for sixteen years Todd would remain one of the Joker's greatest victims until he was revived via a strange series of events by Superboy-Prime. That was the basis for the storyline, which was adapted incredibly well for the STV film, changing some things up so it wasn't just a literal adaptation but keeping all the important things in properly. While it was fighting against a handicap by not having Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill in their usual roles as Batman and the Joker, Bruce Greenwood and John DiMaggio perform admirably and Jensen Ackles is great as Red Hood. One of the best things Under the Hood does that many comic book animated films fail at is handling the pacing. A lot of things often get cut to keep the running time down and handling that pace issue can be tricky, but director Brandon Vietti keeps things on course. It's an unrepentantly dark story but a damned good one.
#3: Wonder Woman (2009)
True confession time: while I am a Marvel fanboy, I'm also a die-hard Wonder Woman fan. The one and only Princess Diana of Themyscira was a character I've loved since I was a kid and even more than Batman she is the character who has stuck with me throughout the whole of my life as a comic books fan from the DC side. Wonder Woman has not only remained a hero who is among the most interesting of DC's pantheon, but a vital part of keeping superheroines on par with their testosterone-oriented brethren...a battle that is difficult at best with the need for oversexualization. Her story appeals to be because I grew up a fan of Greek mythology and her background utilizes such, which is a series of universal stories. Thus, it astounds me between all of that and the success of characters like Xena that Diana can't seem to get her own TV series or film. (The less said about David Kelley's pilot episode a couple years back, the better.) I've always felt that the DC Animated Universe version was a great way to tell the story, which was based on the "Gods and Mortals" arc of the relaunched title in 1987 by George Pérez. The story hits all the necessary notes of the Wonder Woman origin story--the clay, the mythological aspects, Steve Trevor and Diana's jarring experience with non-Themysciran attitudes, along with quite a few fairly kick-ass (and in some cases, surprisingly brutal) scenes. The voice cast is fantastic from Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion and Alfred Molina in the lead roles to the likes of Rosario Dawson, Marg Helgenberger, Oliver Platt and Virginia Madsen in supporting roles. It's a very straight-forward telling of the story and it works. How hard is that?
#2: The Dark Knight Returns (Part 1 & 2) (2012/2013)
I know this is two separate films but they're part of the same story and you can't really go without one or the other so I'm including them as one. Frank Miller's future-set tale The Dark Knight Returns is one of the most revered stories in Batman's venerable history. Miller helped to turn Batman into the darker, more complex character that we've known for the past quarter century and in Returns he set the template that would influence the character's depiction across mediums ever since, not the least of which was his popularity. So even a format that has had the success that the DC Animated Universe films have at adapting comic book stories was a bit of a risk. Taking on the iconic story could make for their greatest success yet or their most disastrous failure. Luckily with Bob Goodman on scripting duties and Jay Oliva at the helm, we pretty much got the former. Splitting the story into two parts proved an apt choice as it allowed for more of the character development to show through, which is essential in particular for characters like Jim Gordon and Carrie Kelley, the new Robin. In this continuity Batman has long since given up fighting crime after superheroes were outlawed and Superman is government-controlled. When Bruce comes out of hiding again, reaction is polarizing. While the story loses a bit of the original's impact in terms of social commentary, it doesn't lack in anything else. The voice work by Peter Weller as Batman, Ariel Winter as Carrie and Mark Valley as Superman are all spectacular and Michael Emerson's Joker is softer-spoken, it actually comes off as more chilling after he goes homicidal again. The final battle between Batman and Superman is as epic in scope as it should. In terms of those movies branded as the "DC Animated Universe," this stands head and tails above the rest.
#1: Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
The first DC animated film is still the best. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm remains the only such film to see a theatrical release and it deserved it; while it wasn't a financial success it stands as a testament to what DC can do with their stories in a non-live-action capacity. Mask of the Phantasm was based on the fan-revered 1990 Batman: The Animated Series and sees Bruce Wayne hunting down a murderous vigilante who is mistaken for him at the same time an old lover, Andrea Beaumont, returns to Gotham. The animation was astoundingly good and Conroy and Hamill prove why they're the best Batman and Joker in history, delivering their best work in a resume full of amazing performances as the two characters. The mix of action, storyline, humor and drama is perfectly done, resulting in what is not only the most satisfying DC animated film but the best comic book-based animated film of all time.
Note: Now that I am caught up to current, I have gone back to watch the episodes that have become available in the US since I started watching and thus were previously unavailable to me (thus why I have episodes remaining despite being caught up).
Current Series/Season:Season Thirteen (1975) Episodes Watched: 621 Last Serial Completed:The Android Invasion - The Doctor and Sarah find themselves in the English village of Devesham near a Space Defence Station. The village seems deserted, the telephones don't work, calendars are stuck on the same date and white-suited figures are wandering about aimlessly. Who are the Kraals and what are their plans for Earth? Surviving Episodes Remaining: 20
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.