As a do-over from the abysmal Superman: Brainiac Attacks, Superman: Unbound is a massive success - better in every single way. And yet, Unbound did not quite attain the epic status achieved by the more ambitious DC animated movies. After the intense and gritty adaptations of The Dark Knight Returns, Superman: Unbound offered good old fashioned action. Whenever the Man of Steel is allowed to let his fists fly, that's a good thing. I did have fun watching it but at the end I just had a hollow feeling of, "is that all?" Maybe it will grow on me after repeat viewings, after all, there were lots of things I enjoyed here. But as an action movie, the sequences in Doomsday and vs The Elite were just a bit more thrilling.
One thing that really worked, Supergirl! This may be my favorite design and characterization of Supergirl on screen. This is as much her story as it was Superman's and she added a lot of heart to the movie. I also enjoyed this take on Brainiac. He was presented as very menacing and I enjoyed the performance. I am just not sure if I like the mystery behind his origins. I guess the mystery adds to the menace, but I am not sure yet how I feel about his detachment from the the Animated Series take which linked Brainy to Krypton. I also don't think that as a one shot movie, this was able to capture the threat of Brainiac's unrelenting ability to rebuild and assimilate and [Spoiler] although there is a hint of that in a post credits scene I do not really expect this movie to have a true sequel [End Spoiler]. There was also some development of Lois and Clark, but it did feel a bit tacked on and not quite as moving as it tried to be.
Still, Superman Unbound lands in the category of solid entertainment as I was entertained. Just don't expect me to remember too much about this movie if you ask me about it next week. Now bring on Flashpoint!
Read on to see where it ranks among DC's finest, which as usual have been slightly reshuffled according to my whims.
#24 Superman: Brainiac Attacks belongs at the bottom of any list as it is a horrible and horribly disappointing movie. The movie has plenty of punching but remains irritatingly boring. Lex Luthor is given one of the character's worst interpretations and most egregious, the movie used the look of the Superman: The Animated Series to try and sell a sub par and unrelated Superman story. Of all the movies on the list this is the one that really has no significant redeeming qualities.
#23 Batman: Gotham Knight at least has style on its side, but little else. Gotham Knight promised a mature bridge between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight and delivered a hodgepodge of freakish Batman designs loosely connected with a story that doesn't deserve to be remembered. It pains me greatly that I didn't fall in love with this Batmanime, but try as I might, even on attempted repeat viewing I haven't been able to invest in this stylish mess.
#22 Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo is a serviceable outing that falls short of the series best episodes. The movie really doesn't stand on its own either, offering fans one last dose of Titans rather than delivering a solid story to general audiences. A stronger villain would have gone a long way to saving this movie, but as it is, the final product is a fair amount of blah.
#21 Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman comes in as one of the less memorable Batman films. The actual mystery is somewhat interesting but the movie doesn't escape the feeling that it was stuck with leftover villains Penguin and Bane, two of Batman: The Animated Series weakest foes. The Dark Knight Rises may have propelled Bane to the A-list, but in this movie he will still seem like just a goon.
Not Without Their Charm
#20 Batman vs Dracula just may be the best thing that came out of The Batman. The movie has a surprisingly darker tone than the series and manages to pull off an interesting showdown with "the original Batman." The long capes and animation style also worked well here in a movie that should not just be written off by critics of The Batman.
#19 Superman Batman: Apocalypse was technically the first sequel in the DC animated movie line, but aside from few token bits of background there was really no connection to Public Enemies. This movie is essentially none of the fun of Public Enemies but twice the action. Apocalypse dropped the light camaraderie of Public Enemies in favor of serious and intense fight sequences. In fact, the movie plays more as a series of fantastic action sequences than as a story with any sort of emotional connection. In any case, this was certainly not a worthy follow up to the previous entry, Batman: Under the Red Hood, but hey, they cant all be home runs. Sometimes you have to settle for a solid double.
#18 Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero bests the similarly plotted Batman and Robin live action movie hands down. Having said that, the movie although enjoyable, doesn't quite seem to escape feeling like an extended episode of the TV series. Granted, the series was awesome, but this entry failed to raise the stakes to a whole new level.
#17 Superman: Unbound was fun but forgettable fluff. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the movie and it was a solid Superman adventure that deserves extra credit for its wonderful presentation of Supergirl. And yet, by the time the credits rolled I was left with the feeling that there should have been more to it. Unbound emphasized action over complex characters or story. And while Superman: Doomsday (another Superman movie with comparable action) tried to cram too much into its running time, this didn't cram quite enough.
#16 Superman Batman: Public Enemies though on the low side of the countdown was still an enjoyable romp. While Gotham Knight was just dumb, this is dumb fun. As an adaptation of the comic book, this was very faithful, maintaining many of even the most obscure cameos with designs that were spot on (for better or worse). While the story certainly wasn't deep, the movie delivered with one showdown after another. Actually, the plot points that deviated from the comic were welcome improvements. Consider this the Twinkie (or maybe the Suzy Q) of the DC line. I wouldn't want to eat seven of them in a row, but one now and then hits the spot. In fact, my appreciation for this movie has grown ever so slightly since its release while I still haven't found that soft spot for Apocalypse.
#15 Superman: Doomsday was awfully ambitious in trying to tell the whole death and return of Superman story in a single outing. While the death part was done well, the retelling of Rise of the Supermen arc felt like a cheat. Instead we were basically given a retooled Identity Crisis episode from Superman: The Animated Series. Having said that, without comparison to the original comic or comparison to the animated series tale, this story is enjoyable enough. I probably like this one more than most, maybe I just like mullet Superman. Or maybe it is just the epic way that the opening fight with Doomsday introduced DCs new line movies making me forget just how bad was Brainiac Attacks.
#14 Green Lantern: Emerald Knights ranks highly among DC's "good" movies, but feels more like a diversion than a complete movie. Although it was fantastic seeing so many Lanterns and amazing having some of the alien Lanterns finally getting their own focus, the anthology structure kept the movie from being as epic as First Flight. Great animation, choreography, and fan service make this a worthwhile film, but some of the segments were a lot better than other and without the heart of some of DC's greats, this one lands somewhere in the middle of the pack.
#13 Superman vs. The Elite succeeds where Superman: Doomsday failed in adapting one of The Man of Steel's banner stories. Rather than attempting to adapt an overstuffed saga, Elite explored and expounded upon the ideas at the core of a single landmark issue which asked the question if Superman was still relevant. I am not convinced the movie gives a definitive answer to the question, but it makes a strong case that the old-fashioned hero is exactly what the modern world needs. The movie never gets too cerebral and contains an abundance of well done action. On the other hand, in this film Superman fails to inspire at the level he did in his All-Star outing. But the movies' primary misstep is the coupling of adult themes and violence with overly cartoony designs and animation. For better or worse, this ain't your kids' Superman.
#12 Batman: Mask of the Phantasm is the only one of these movie to have received a theatrical release and although it is a great movie, I am just not as won over as some. I really enjoy the first half of the movie, in particular I enjoy the flashback sequences which show Batman beginning as well as any scene in Batman Begins. The movie's last act just doesn't do it for me as the inclusion of the usually welcome Joker seems too shoehorned in. Don't take my criticism too harshly; this is a solid movie, but for my money, there are a few better.
#11 Justice League: Doom pays homage not only to the classic Tower of Babel comic arc, but to the classic TV series Challenge of the Super Friends. At its core, that's what this movie is, an epic League versus Legion tale. Particularly compelling was the dismantling of the League but just as satisfying was the League's rising back to the challenge.The film is down a couple of ticks because the resolution of the hero contingency plans just doesn't play out as well on repeat viewings.
#10 Justice League: The New Frontier was a bit of a letdown on first viewing. There was something noble and nostalgic about the setup but the climax involving a dinosaur spewing flying island was a bit much to swallow. Since then, the movie has grown on me. I realized that the final villain wasn't really the point (though a better foe would have bumped this one up); the movie was about the dawn of a new age of heroism. I really appreciate that even though this is a Justice League film, it was Green Lantern, Flash, and the Martian Manhunter that really drove the story. Those three have never seemed so heroic.
#9 Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker can make a believer out of those who say Batman Beyond is a lame concept. What would Batman be without The Joker? This movie shows how the Joker legacy haunted Bruce Wayne even after his apparent death and gave the new hero a chance to prove his worthiness of the title of Batman. Plus, there were plenty of flashbacks to the good ol' Batman and Robin days as well.
#8 Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths offered a a briskly paced alternate reality adventure. Highlights of the film were pretty much everything to do with Owlman including his diabolical scheme, his jet, and his main squeeze. Also enjoyable were the evil versions of heroes, particularly notoriously unpopular members of the Justice League Detroit.
#7 Wonder Woman was a real surprise. Unfortunately a lot of people think Wonder Woman is outdated and lame but this movie proved that a big budget Wonder Woman movie could be pretty great. Wondy offered the most violent outing of the bunch (well maybe second to Gotham Knight- both had beheadings) but was well balanced with humor. Of all the movies, this one exceeding my expectations the most.
#6 Green Lantern: First Flight finally gave the Green Lantern his own title and proved that GL deserves to be up there front and center. This space based action movie has a setting distinct from the other DC and even Marvel DVDs and in my opinion is begging for a sequel. Nevertheless, this movie felt like more than just a setup for another movie, a trap that many origin stories fall into. I would have liked a few more minutes of setup at the beginning giving Hal Jordan a bit more character, but overall this was a solid and polished movie.
#5 Batman: Year One is a masterful adaptation of one of the greatest Batman stories ever told and a great cop story. Before he had Bat-jets, satellites and sidekicks, Batman was an underdog just like his unlikely partner, Jim Gordon. Sure, the source material has been mined to death by other adaptations, but this is quintessential Batman, without all the frills.
#4 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 adapts the landmark (even if overrated) graphic novel which redefined Batman as a dark hero leading into the "dark age" of comics. Thank goodness the 4-part tale was not crammed into a single film; instead this gritty story was given the time it needed to breathe, bringing to life a brilliant adaptation which outshined even the source material and set the stage for a part 2 which upped the ante to even higher levels.
#3 Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 2 even if there are flaws with the story or a dated quality to this retro futuristic take on the 80's, the movies intensity pushes those criticisms aside leaving an engaging, high stakes movie with Batman overcoming overwhelming odds in the form his greatest enemy and greatest rival. But Batman does more than just fight, he inspired those around him to do good in spite of all the evil around them. Perhaps I am taking the movie too seriously, but I think that is how it wants to be taken.
#2 All Star Superman oozes reverence for the Man of Steel. Fans are going to gripe that their favorite scene from the graphic novel didn't make the cut, but what did make it into this film is the novel's ability to give Superman humanity. Its not just what Superman can do, but what he inspires in others that places him at the top of the pantheon of heroes. And in the end, even Lex Luthor learns that lesson. Just like Under the Red Hood captures the essence of Batman, All Star Superman is the quintessential Superman story, and the best Superman movie in at least 30 years.
#1 Batman: Under the Red Hood remains in the lists top spot. Not only was I was really blown away by the grit and emotion of this movie, but it remains one of the best looking of the bunch. Even though I was expecting the movie to be hurt because the identity of Red Hood was pretty obvious, I really don't think it was. This was one well crafted and slick tale that stuffed no less than five supervillains into a sleek 75 minutes. Stories like this is why Batman remains DC's most popular.