Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Ranking the DCU Animated Movies

With the release of the new DCU Animated Movie Superman: Unbound I figured we should take a look back at all the other DCU Animated releases and rank them from worst to best. I haven't seen Superman: Unbound yet so that is not included in this list.

16. Batman: Gotham Knight
Batman: Gotham Knight just didn't do it for me.  Released the same month as Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, this is series of shorts done by different anime studios and directors.  There is a lot of comics writing talent behind this movie, it should have been stronger.  David Goyer, Greg Rucka, Brian Azarrello all participate.  The movie was advertised as taking place between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight but the tales are so separate that the only thing that would make you think they took place in the same universe would be the inclusion of Lucius Fox.  All in all it's a disjointed effort that suffers from no central storytelling or theme.

15. Superman: Doomsday
This movie sounds great. What better thing for a film than to have Superman and Doomsday battling for 80 minutes?  Well, when they decide to adapt the Return of Superman very loosely and cram that into the movie, it just falls apart.  This was the first DCU Animated movie released, and it is a good effort, its just not up to par with the other ones that were released later.  Superman and Doomsday battle right at the beginning of the film, and at the time, we'd never seen an animated Superman fight like this. Punches looked like they hurt here, there was blood!  But then a clone Superman turns up and fights mullet Superman with a gun.  That's where the movie ends.  If this wasn't the first DCU Animated movie, and if they had gone with a 2 part story with the Death of Superman being Part 1, and the Return of Superman being Part 2, we might have had a better movie.  The DVD is worthwhile for the 45 minute documentary/retrospective on the Death of Superman storyline in the 90's.

14. Green Lantern: Emerald Knights
This movie suffers the same problems as Batman: Gotham Knights for me.  Its another anthology movie weaving different tales directed by different anime directors and studios in different styles.  What makes this better than Gotham Knights is that there is a central storyline, even if it is only that the Green Lanterns are all waiting in line to recharge at the central power battery, telling new recruit Arisia the tales of the Green Lantern Corps.  Nathan Fillion is Hal Jordan, but he is not the central focus of more than one of the tales.  I think the Mogo tale was a favorite for me.

13. Superman Vs. The Elite
This is one of the more recent DCU Animated films, adapting a story from Action Comics #775.  For my memory, it was a pretty decent adaptation, but the movie kind of slogs along until we get to the final battle where Superman just goes nuts on Manchester Black, pointing out his hypocrisy.  I found it on Netflix, so if you're only fairly interested in the last fight, feel free to take a look, its the only thing here that is fun to watch.

12. Green Lantern: First Flight
Ironically, this movie came out before the live action Green Lantern film, and neither stand head and shoulder above the other.  In 70 minutes here we get the origin of Hal Jordan, a buddy cop adventure with Sinestro, and then a battle with Yellow Lantern Sinestro.  That is a lot to cram into a movie this short.  Visually, it is great, but I think it falls apart under the weight of all it is trying to accomplish.  Take a look at this alongside the live action film and see if you disagree with me.  I think these show how hard it is to do a Green Lantern movie.  Maybe next time we see GL on the big screen, we can skip the origin.

11. Batman: Year One
This movie is an adaptation of Frank Miller's classic story. And its pretty much done panel for panel.  I don't think that it did a bad job adapting, it just feels so slow, and kind of bland.  The voice actors aren't terrible, the animation echoes David Mazzucchelli's art, but nothing really makes the movie stand out apart from the story its adapted from. Nothing here reaches out and grabs you, but nothing is to terrible either. Kind of a middle of the road effort for the DCU Animated movies.

10. Superman/Batman: Public Enemies

This movie astonished me when it was released.  Why? They took Ed McGuiness' art and translated it into animation.  The character designs are fantastic, and McGuiness' style is PERFECT for animation.  Everybody is big, loud, muscular, and larger than life. Also, this was the first time that Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, and Clancy Brown returned together from the old TV animated series to do the voices.  This was every fan's dream, and it happened again and again after the success of this movie.  The story is great and offers something for everyone, like the comic, it's action packed. All in all, this one is just plain fun

9.  Justice League: The New Frontier
Adapted from Darwyn Cooke's mini-series, this was the first big Justice League story of the DCU Animated films.  It took awhile for the JLA to get together, but each character got their own spotlight and it wove the story together more cohesively than maybe the book did.  The movie also apes the art style of the book, but not as successfully as the Superman/Batman: Public Enemies.  What's fun about this film is that characters like Martian Manhunter, Flash, and Green Lantern get more screentime than Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  Also of note, this is a better Hal Jordan origin than Green Lantern: First Flight.

8.  Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
This movie was fun. It wasn't a straight adaptation of Grant Morrison's Earth 2 Graphic Novel, but it took the same characters and attitudes established there and transferred them here. I think the best part of the movie might be James Woods as Owlman.  His sneering and sniveling over the JLA makes for a great character.  This JLA does not have the usual voice actors, Chris Noth, Mark Harmon, and William Baldwin all take a turn here as Lex Luthor, Superman, and Batman.

7.  Superman/Batman: Apocalypse
Like Superman/Batman: Public Enemies this movie took the comics storyline and art and perfectly translated them into animation.  Michael Turner's style does not look like it would be good for animation, but the producers here found a way to make it work.  It's not as perfect as Public Enemies was, but Michael Turner's style is not as clean and cartoony as Ed McGuiness'.  This movie brings back Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, from the JLU series, and since they call back to the events of Public Enemies it works perfectly.  Andre Braugher is Darkseid, and while he certainly has the deep voice one might imagine with the character, he never comes across as inherently threatening. Once again, Jeph Loeb's original storyline fits this format very well.  I'd be interested to see them do more Superman/Batman storylines from the comics. There are only one or two more, c'mon!

6.  Batman: Under the Red Hood
No one expected Judd Winick's Under the Red Hood to be a blockbuster comics story. Similarly, no one expected this movie to be as good as it was. I think it was because Judd Winick himself handled the initial draft of the script.  He knew what to keep in, what needed to go, and added things in the place of others in order to keep the characters moving and the action moving as well.  Very few times does an animated scene beat the actual comics, but the final confrontation here with Joker, Batman, and Red Hood is and edge of your seat family drama.  I'd rather watch that scene over and over again than read the final issue of  Winick's storyline with the fill-in art, bar none.

5.  All Star Superman
This one is a doozy.  It took Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's instant classic 12-issue series and crammed it into a 70 minute movie.  The movie manages to keep the light, warm feel of the comic and still tell the overall story of Superman's last days on Earth.  Sure we lose some parts, like the Superman Squad, or Bizarro-world, but everything else is here and in superb fashion. Viewing this makes you appreciate how fresh the comic was when it came out, and in similar fashion this movie was in between two dark Batman tales Red Hood and Year One.  I think a lot of people may have wrote this off since it was such a massive undertaking, but its well worth a viewing or two.  Now, if only they'd get to Batman: The Long Halloween, and Dark Victory.  This movie proves those can be great.

4.  Justice League: Doom
This film is two great things coming together. One part Mark Waid's brilliant Tower of Babel story, one part Legion of Doom, Justice League: Doom is a great film.  Instead of battling Ra's Al Ghul the League goes up against Vandal Savage, Bane, Star Sapphire, Metallo, and Cheetah.  Every JLA member goes up against their opposite, who use Batman's plans against them.  How Cyborg turns out and Batman is redeemed are two great parts of the movie.  This is the last thing Dwayne McDuffie wrote before he passed away and it is a great testament to his strength as a writer and creator.

3.  Wonder Woman
If you haven't seen this yet, you will not believe your eyes in the first 15 minutes.  The film opens with an epic battle between the Amazons and the forces of Ares.  Then the limb-chopping and beheadings begin.  Yes you read that right. Beheadings! My jaw dropped at that moment, and I was hooked for the rest of the film. While Diana isn't present for that scene, it does establish that these Amazons are not to be messed with. Then Steve Trevor lands and proceeds to completely mess that up.  Nathan Fillion plays Steve Trevor with aplomb, and delivers some serious laughs while hitting on Diana.  Diana escorts him back to man's world and Ares attacks from there.  If there is any template for a live action Wonder Woman movie, it is this one. Just take the script and film it already!

2.  Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 1
Dark Knight Returns may be the best Batman story ever.  Is it the best Batman animated movie? Yes.  Best DCU Animated movie? So far.  And since Part 2 is better than Part 1, these two take the top of the list.   Part 1 sets up the world, and the fight with the leader is perfectly executed. The overall movie is not as great as Part 2 since a lot of it is setup and exposition, but it is still very well done.  The animation style resembles Frank Miller's blocky style and does a good job as a representation of the comic.  Casual Batman fans should definitely check out this dark, yet definitive take on Batman.

1.  Batman: The Dark Knight Returns Part 2
This movie succeeds over Part 1 only because it has so less to do and so many classic characters to feature.  Here, we have Robin, the Joker, Superman, and Green Arrow alongside Batman. Its like the movie just rises above because we have these interesting future takes on the characters to watch.  Plus, these moments are so famous in comic fandom you love to watch them happen before your eyes.  If you haven't read the book beforehand, more likely you can' believe what is happening before your eyes.  This shows how strong the DCU Animated films can be if they adapt the right material in the right way.  That doesn't mean they can all be winners, but they should all strive to be of this caliber.

Hope you enjoyed my countdown! Let me know in the comments section if you agree/disagree. What's your favorite DCU Animated movie? How was Superman: Unbound? Are you looking forward to Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox?  Let me know!

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