DC Universe Animated Original Movies: Ranked
Plot: The Batman has returned after a 10-year absence. The Gotham authorities want to arrest him. An old foe wants a reunion. The Feds want the Man of Tomorrow to put a stop to him.
Successfully adapting Frank Miller's groundbreaking comic book series The Dark Knight Returns for the screen represented a daunting challenge for any moviemaking team, as it's often perceived as unfilmable. But executive producer Bruce Timm and his team at Warner Bros. Animation rose to the challenge nevertheless, creating a two-part epic for the fifteenth and sixteenth instalments of their series of DC Universe animated original movies. 2012's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 proved to be a successful endeavour, but Part 2 is even better, an amazing conclusion that satisfies on practically every level. It's a lavishly-produced animated movie that confidently stands on its own, drawing interpretations from the source material to create a smart, thematically dense and ultraviolent Batman story that belies its modest straight-to-video origins.
Plot: There's a mystery afoot in Gotham City, and Batman must go toe-to-toe with a mysterious vigilante, who goes by the name of Red Hood. Subsequently, old wounds reopen and old, once buried memories come into the light.
Superhero movies are not often perceived as sophisticated or thematically dense, particularly not low-budget productions which are usually seen as disposable entertainment. Batman: Under the Red Hood is a rare type of superhero outing, however, with an immense sense of style that's matched by a smart screenplay which offers more than just colourful action sequences. The eighth in the DCU Animated Original Movies line by Warner Premiere, Under the Red Hood is an adaptation of two comic book story arcs, denoting the first time that these storylines have been told on the screen in any form. Guided with a sure hand by director Brandon Vietti, the real strength of this production is the way it caters to all viewers, making this an enjoyable experience for both die-hard fans and DC newcomers. Even those with just a fleeting knowledge of Batman should be enraptured with Under the Red Hood, as it's easy to be caught up in the pacing, style, dialogue and narrative, making this one of the strongest additions to the DCU animated canon.
Plot: Batman has not been seen for ten years. A new breed of criminal ravages Gotham City, forcing 55-year-old Bruce Wayne back into the cape and cowl. But, does he still have what it takes to fight crime in a new era?
For over twenty years, comic fans have yearned for a film adaptation of Frank Miller's 1986 four-issue miniseries The Dark Knight Returns, which has long been considered a vital, iconic part of comic book history. Although a live-action adaptation is yet to be produced, it's hard to complain about the quality of 2012's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1, a straight-to-video animated production from Warner Bros. Animation. A constituent of the long-running DC Comics animated universe, this is an impressive, lavishly-produced feature which manages to do the groundbreaking comic book justice. While there are a few issues here and there, Part 1 is a satisfying rendering of Miller's celebrated work, with impressively stylised animation, a superb voice cast, brutal fight scenes, and an enthrallingly dark atmosphere.
Plot: A collection of key events mark Bruce Wayne's life, as he journeys from beginner to Dark Knight.
Presented as a collection of six short movies ranging from 10 to 15 minutes, Batman: Gotham Knight feels a bit like a succession of episodes from Batman: The Animated Series with superior animation and the freedom of a PG-13 rating. And there's nothing wrong with that. While the shorts do not exhibit the same level of intelligence or brilliance as the series, this is a strong omnibus for the most part, and a satisfying anthology of original Batman stories.
As with any anthology, Gotham Knight is uneven. However, the only dead spot is the very first segment, as it suffers from so-so scripting and dreadful animation which looks to have been constructed using Microsoft Paint. However, the other five segments are clear home runs, with gorgeous anime-inspired visuals and strong stories, not to mention the exciting, hugely fluid action sequences. For the most part Batman seems to be wearing body armour, too, as opposed to the simplistic fabric costume seen in the other Batman animated movies. It's the visuals which really excel here, as the design of the five latter shorts is stunning. Everything from the involving composition, the lighting, and the levels of violence here make for a really riveting sit. Plus, thanks to the omnibus structure, pacing is never an issue.
Another huge asset is fan favourite Kevin Conroy reprising his role as the Caped Crusader. Conroy remains an ideal Batman, and his stern delivery is far better than Christian Bale's mixed work in Nolan's movies.
For Batman fans, Gotham Knight is an absorbing treat, with enough exhilarating action highlights to make it a worthwhile sit. I enjoyed the hell out of it -- it's far more entertaining than The Dark Knight or The Dark Knight Rises.
Plot: A wealthy playboy and a Chicago cop both return to Gotham City where their lives will intersect in unexpected ways.
In 1986, iconic graphic novel author Frank Miller shook up the comic book industry with his four-part miniseries The Dark Knight Returns, which reimagined Batman as an aged vigilante coming out of retirement to fight crime in a gritty, noir-ish vision of Gotham City. Hot on the heels of the immense acclaim, Miller subsequently teamed up with artist David Mazzucchelli for Batman: Year One, retaining the intelligence and grit which defined The Dark Knight Returns in order to explore Batman's origins. Although Christopher Nolan used very little of Miller's ideas for Batman Begins, the source material was ideal fodder for Warner Premiere's series of DC Universe Animated Original Movies. Fortunately, Batman: Year One for the most part translates well to the format. It's not perfect, and a higher-budgeted production could've yielded a smoother adaptation, but there's a lot to enjoy here.
Plot: After being poisoned by sun radiation, a dying Superman decides to fulfill his lifelong dreams while Lex Luthor has his own agenda.
The tenth instalment in Warner Premiere's series of DC Universe Animated Original Movies, All-Star Superman is based on the twelve-issue comic book series of the same name by Frank Quitely and Grant Morrison. The comics were fundamentally a discontinuity reboot of Superman, telling a new story arc which doesn't explicitly link with anything that came before it. For this animated adaptation, writer Dwayne McDuffie had the difficult task of creating a relatively brief 75-minute feature distilled from over 320 pages of comic content. As a consequence, All-Star Superman does feel episodic and underdone, facing the same issues which have plagued several other movies from the animated DC canon. Nevertheless, the picture does come together in an effective enough way, thanks to the competent animation and voice work, and the emotional power of this remarkable story which brilliantly humanises the Man of Steel.
Plot: The world's finest heroes found the Justice League in order to stop an alien invasion of Earth.
Although Warner Brothers have been producing DC Universe Animated Original Movies since 2007, the resultant productions have not exactly abided by a shared continuity, instead telling standalone stories without a real through-line. This all changes with 2014's Justice League: War, as it's intended to be the beginning of a linked franchise of animated superhero movies, not unlike what Marvel has achieved with their live-action blockbuster franchise. Starting afresh, War is an origins story for the titular superhero gang, designed to follow the DC Comics "New 52" reboot which kicked off in 2011. An adaptation of the six-issue Justice League: Origins series, War is a blast on its own merits; a fun, action-packed superhero outing with all the bluster and bombast that comic book fans will be anticipating. However, greatness lies just out of its reach, and the fact that it falls so short of becoming a masterpiece is frustrating indeed.
Plot: When LexCorps accidentally unleash a murderous creature, Doomsday, Superman meets his greatest challenge as a champion. Based on the "The Death of Superman" storyline that appeared in DC Comics' publications in the 1990s.
The first in what has turned into a long-running series of DC Universe Animated Original Movies, 2007's Superman/Doomsday is a 77-minute retelling of three major storylines from the Superman comics: The Death of Superman, World without a Superman, and Return of Superman. It's more or less a pared-down version of the comic books, stripping away certain characters and subplots to provide a simplistic representation of this story arc. But instead of focusing on one storyline for better effect, writers Duane Capizzi and Bruce Timm compress all basic plot points from Death to Return into the script without giving each story the breadth and runtime that they deserve. In fact, Doomsday becomes a secondary presence in his own movie, relegated to only the first third. The battle between Superman and Doomsday is impressive, but it's over far too soon, and Superman's death does not have as much emotional resonance as it should. The truncation of the source looks all the more disappointing in 2013, due to the release of the positively epic two-part adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns, which did genuine justice to the rich source material.