One of the featurettes on the new Blu-ray for Batman/Superman: Public Enemies reminds viewers that the two superheroes were first paired in the 1960s, "when comics were for kids," and it's probably an important detail to remember when actually watching this latest straight-to-video feature from Warner Premiere. Because despite a PG-13 rating and subject matter that hints at more mature ideas, Public Enemies offers the kind of storytelling that kids will find more effective and engaging—which is why it may not register as strongly with adults as previous entries in this animated series.
Borrowing from the Jeph Loeb graphic novel of the same name, Public Enemies follows the adventures of super-BFFs Batman (Kevin Conroy) and Superman (Tim Daly), who now live in a world where no less than Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown) has become president of the United States. Thanks to their longstanding rivalry, Superman refuses to acquiesce to Luthor's control of all costumed heroes, but Batman's natural distrust of authority figures puts them both at odds with the new regime.
But when Luthor frames Superman for the death of Metallo (John C. McGinley), the two crime fighters find not only the commander in chief but all of America against them. With a $1 billion bounty on Superman's head, he and Batman race to find a way to stop Luthor, even as a gigantic kryptonite meteor descends upon Earth, threatening to wipe out the entire planet if they don't stop it in time.
While audiences should naturally expect a slightly broader depiction of their favorite heroes in these animated movies, Public Enemies skews significantly younger than other installments in the series, particularly given the (comparatively) austere maturity of this summer's Green Lantern installment. As a result, the friendship between Superman and Batman is often overstated, primarily through their war/buddy-cop movie banter, but also through transparent character-building sequences where the two take turns being hurt and strong after teaming up to defeat a common foe.
Also, in spite of the film's frequently subversive political commentary (Luthor is essentially a genius-level chickenhawk), a lot of the plot points are driven by simplistic conflicts or otherwise unfold in a way that seems a little too convenient. Power Girl, a skeptical member of Luthor's superhero task force, seems to believe almost anything she's told, and is all but completely useless as a crime fighter, ultimately falling prey time and again to attack and deception that Batman and Superman have to rescue her from. Worse yet, while the film makes an understandable decision to separate Batman and Superman in the end, heightening the stakes for both the story and their relationship, the circumstances that lead to that development are hastily and ineffectively explored.
That said, the film offers a virtual who's who of C- to Z-grade supervillains, all of whom come out of the woodwork to claim that reward for Superman's capture, and whose appearance expands the universe of the film to be more comprehensive than previous ones, at least in the sense that there's a real rogue's gallery that regularly challenges these heroes rather than just one or two super-baddies who threaten them. Not to mention the appearance of a host of other iconic heroes, such as Captain Atom, Hawkman and Captain Marvel, who inadvertently comment on the breadth of the DC universe even as they provide suitably formidable foes for Batman and Superman to fight en route to their final showdown with Luthor.
The Blu-ray looks terrific and really enhances the animation, which, like that of its predecessors, changes the profiles of the characters ever so slightly to reflect the uniqueness of this particular story. Additionally, the disc features a typically solid slate of bonus materials, including "A Test of Minds," a surprisingly thoughtful analysis of the literal mindsets of Batman and Superman, an extended preview of Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, Warner Premiere's next animated movie from DC Universe, and "Dinner With DCU," a conversation with the DC Universe creative team also attended by voice actor Kevin Conroy.
But overall, this particular story feels slighter and less successful than others in the DC Universe series, both because it seems designed as a single-serving adaptation of its source material and because its alternate-reality storyline leaves less of a possibility for a follow-up—at least in comparison to the promising franchise launcher of Green Lantern: First Flight. But certainly as a stopgap for folks wanting new adventures for either (or both) of the heroes, Batman/Superman: Public Enemies fulfills all that's required or desired and then some. And even if you're not quite kid enough to let its superficial digressions into best-friendship win you over, you'll certainly feel like one when the film's encyclopedic use of the DC Universe makes you want to explore other characters almost as much as the two in the title.