DC has been doing direct to DVD films since around the time that they ended the DC Animated Universe. They get more freedom, they don’t need continuity and a good deal of the time they are able to go for the big name stories. With that freedom though, they can make the movies directed to the collector’s market, the older fans, instead of shaping shows around the younger viewers that they’d have to think of for cartoons. This week I started covering the films in chronological order to see what is kid friendly, what you need to watch out for and if the movies are worth getting. SPOILER ALERT- You’ve been warned!
The first of the films was Superman: Doomsday, based off of the famous/infamous Death of Superman arc. As with the book, the alien Doomsday appears, then he and Superman kill each other. Superman comes back but it isn’t really Superman and then the real Superman comes back. This was the second of the films I watched and it is dark – which you could probably expect from a movie about Superman being killed, but the movie goes beyond that. There is visceral destruction, not necessarily on the same scale as Man of Steel, but there are lots of dark moments with people doing horrible things. Equally depressing is that the movie takes time to mourn and ultimately, I had to ask – Who is this movie for? Lex Luthor doesn’t even work well as a villain and the film feels somewhat messy.
With everything that you can do with the Man of Steel, why focus on such a boring villain? All Superman does is punch and throw things at Doomsday while bragging about some of the inventions he made. If your kids are easily upset by violence, steer them away from the film and generally avoid this one.
The second film, Justice League: New Frontier, is a little better. While still dark, the film feels brighter than Superman:Doomsday, although when you have an offscreen suicide in the first scene and another person shot in the head within the first 8 minutes, it’s not exactly the Teletubbies. Originally, I’d seen this on Cartoon Network and I don’t remember if they censored it like they did with Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, but there are darker moments in the film that deal with torture and the Vietnam War. You could argue that it’s influenced by Watchmen (ironically), and it’s cut with 50’s design aesthetics which are great – Darwyn Cooke brought a lot to the film since he created the source book, but it doesn’t feel like an all ages piece given some of the serious themes. It’s not as dark as Nolan’s Batman films or Man of Steel, and the end message is more positive but the deaths on screen are worth noting. That aside, out of the first 3 DC Universe Animated films, this is the most friendly for younger kids and is worth buying if you can find it.
The third film was Batman: Gotham Knight, sort of the Animatrix for Batman. Different anime production companies did brief Batman pieces, somewhat tied into Nolan’s film series which came out around the time of the movie. Each segment looks different, you get a lot of different takes on Batman and most of the scenes are beautiful. It makes me yearn for more off-model DC Animations.
With that said, the stories here are once again darker. The second section, Crossfire, deals with cops escorting a criminal to Arkham which is now its own island and the way the criminals just stare was unnerving to me. There is also a segment in the 4th section, In Darkness Dwells, with both Killer Croc and the Scarecrow involving fear toxin that is tripp,y and the 6th section has an almost visceral headshot by the namesake villain Deadshot. The sections, except for Field Test and Have I Got A Story For You are intense, and adult, and are probably not appropriate if you aren’t happy with your children watching Nolan’s Batman films once more. If you are an animation fan, pick this one up and enjoy though you may want to wait to share it with your kids.
Luckily the next three films, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern: First Flight and Superman/Batman: Public Enemies are generally brighter if memory serves. Look for that review coming up soon?