Thursday, March 24, 2016
The Batman Superman Movie: The World's Finest (1997)
When it comes to superhero team ups, there are few that comic book fans like more than Batman and Superman. The two members of the DC Trinity that, while committed to their pursuit of justice, couldn't be more different. One an adopted alien farm boy who after being raised on earth seeks to protect all that is good about humanity. The other, an heir to a rich family who understands the pain caused by humanities dark side, and seeks to punish those who fall into depravity. Being such polar opposites, any time these characters are forced into the same room, there is not telling what will happen. In the case of the soon to premiere live action film, Batman V. Superman, it seems the film will be bent on pitting these two titans against each other until a greater threat forces them to work together.
An interesting set up to be sure but I have to wonder if the film makers may have to alter important aspects about the characters in the process
Outside of comic appearances, Superman and Batman have had many team ups on the smaller screen. But one team up that still remains my personal favorite was The Batman Superman Movie, (also known as the World's Finest three parter for Superman: The Animated Series). This special aired on October 24, 1997 and served as a multipart cross over between Superman: TAS and the already long running Batman:TAS. Directed by Toshihiko Masuda who had previously worked on episodes for both Batman and Superman, with Alan Burnett and Paul Dini constructing the story and the infamous Bruce Timm acting as the producer. As a crossover, all actors associated with the both shows reprised their roles, such as: Tim Daly (Superman), Kevin Conroy (Batman), Mark Hamil (Joker), Clancy Brown (Lex Luthor), and Dana Delany (Lois Lane) just to name a few. The films is notable for winning a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Animated Program.
One aspect of this movie that I found interesting was how the Batman: Animated Series characters were redesigned. Transitioning from their original Art Deco look to the more angular, classic comic book style of the Superman series. Batman's redesign incorporated much darker colours, with the full black and grey color scheme as opposed to the dark blue and grey. Adding to the contrast with the Man of Steel red and blue.
Though some of the designs benefited from the new look, the one that had me raising an eyebrow was the Joker. Though the design overall was mostly the same, for some reason he was given black eyes and less clown make up than his previous design. It is unclear if this was an attempt to make the Joker appear less human but for whatever the reason, it didn't seem to fit as well as the other characters.
Apart from sharp art style, what draws me to this film is how it handles the interactions between the characters. Not just Batman and Superman but the rest of the supporting cast and even the baddies. There are plenty of points were Lois Lane steals the show from film's leads, with her sharp wit, spunky attitude, and subsequent romantic fling with Bruce Wayne (much to Clark Kent's chagrin). This romantic triangle on top of their very different methods of handling crime, immediately puts the Batman and Superman at odds with each other. However their antagonistic behavior toward each other never becomes personal, but more of a professional disagreement.
In fact, I think it is that balance between the heroes and the villains that makes the film's pacing so good. Not to mention we get to see multiple characters interact off each other and still have plenty of time for well animated action sequences, intrigue and a good dose of humor. I believe it is this same formula that has allowed the Marvel Cinematic Universe to shine on the big screen while DC rushes to catch up. It is films like this and many other tales from the DC Animated franchise that proves the DC heroes are more than capable of standing side by side with their Marvel counterparts. The key is understanding what makes these characters tick and how best to portray them (especially when you have several big name heroes and villains all fighting for screen time). How Batman V. Superman will be received remains to be seen, but the Batman Superman Movie is proof that it is possible that a movie centred around these two characters can still be compelling, well written and above all fun.
After all, that's what makes comic books so special.
The Batman Superman Movie: The World's Finest is available on DVD on Amazon and Amazon Video.