40×40: The Batman/Superman Movie: World’s Finest (1997)

Directed by Tohshiko Masuda

“More powerful than a locomotive… and just about as subtle.”

Why Did I Get This?

Just like Superman/Batman: Public Enemies and Batman: Hush, I picked this up cheap out of curiosity. A quick glance at the voice cast and the artwork suggests it’ll be far closer in tone to the former rather than the latter, and that’s no bad thing.

On a quick side note, I recently picked up a beaten-up copy of Dave Gibbons’ 1993 comic World’s Finest, but I don’t believe the two are at all related… let’s find out*.

The Late Review

As always, the Late Review will go into detail about the film from start to finish, so if you’re looking to avoid potential spoilers, scroll down to the next heading.

Joker (Mark Hamill), steals a chunk of Kryptonite and travels to Metropolis where he offers to kill Superman (Tim Daly), in return for $1bn from Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown). Batman (Kevin Conroy), attempts to track Joker down from Gotham, and finds himself growing closer to Lois Lane (Dana Delaney), and striking up a partnership with Superman.

From the opening seconds, it’s pretty clear this is very much in the vein of Batman: TAS, as Gotham city by night looks great in that gloomy, Art Deco way. Turns out, World’s Finest consists of three episodes of its sister show Superman: The Animated Series, which were stitched together to create a feature (well, a 59-minute feature, anyway).

It looks great, is the point, though personally I find the Joker design a little pointy for my liking. Bats and Supes look good, and the voices fit the designs well both in and out of their capes, and while Lex Luthor is built like a brick outhouse, at least he’s not all bulging veins and biceps as he was in Public Enemies.

Seriously though, he looks like The Rock in this.

I did like Superman’s introduction as he saved Air Force One (and Lois), from terrorists, continuing the trend of saying hello by averting aircraft disasters. It was good enough for Reeve and Routh, why not Daly too?

The way Joker knocked off the head of a Metropolis mob and demanded his goons work for him was also a surprisingly dark touch for a cartoon – it’s not a pencil in the eye or a fight over a pool cue, but it’s the same concept but, y’know… for kids.

Similarly, Bruce Wayne’s business venture with Lex begins to go awry when the villain suggests arming the rescue robots they’ve teamed up to design and selling them to the military, and our hero tells him simply: “I don’t like guns.” We don’t need to see Batman begin again, but that moment is more than enough to put the point across.

My biggest complaint about some Superman appearances (looking at you, Superman Returns), is that he never gets to fight anything, he just has to lift heavy stuff, so the robots are a nice, inhuman way for him to beat the shit out of bad guys without becoming a murderer.

Oh, and speaking of the rescue robots – they’re designed like spiders because, of course they are, and all I could think of was Kevin Smith’s oft-told story about his meeting with producer Jon Peters about the almost-made Superman Lives.

The story rattles along, pretty much as you’d expect three 20-minute episodes to – the heroes are suspicious of each other, find out each other’s secret identities (both done in really nice ways!), decide to team up, save each other’s lives then save the day.

The bad guys end up in the clink (Luthor), and in the drink (Joker crashes a massive plane into the sea, but his body is never found…), and our heroes part knowing full well they’ve both made an ally and maybe a friend for future adventures.

But there are nice little quirks too, such as seeing Clark Kent tapping up his contacts in an unsavoury bar for information about Joker’s whereabouts – it feels very rare to see Superman’s alter-ego actually doing any reporting work, so for a former word monkey, that was genuinely good to see!

I did enjoy the nightclub brawl too, which felt like an animated dry run for The Dark Knight’s Eric Roberts run-in, and ended with our heroes facing off while Batman explained Joker’s Kryptonite haul to Superman and offered a warning ahead of their inevitable friendship.

This Batman has a bit of a sense of humour too, and it’s one I could imagine Ben Affleck portraying well on film, given the right material. When he realises Superman’s used x-ray vision to deduce his secret identity, he says grimly: “You peeked”, and later when Supes smashes down a door rather than sneak in, he tells him: “You’re learning.”

Saying that, when a distraught Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin), cries out: “Puddin!” when Joker crashes into the sea, his response (“At this point, he probably is”), seems cold even for The Dark Knight.

Verdict

Yes, it’s TV masquerading as film (including one dreadfully cheap looking shot that I was genuinely surprised made it to air), but as a fun, light way to spend 59 minutes in the company of two of the biggest superheroes ever published, you could do much worse.

It’s a nice introduction to the cartoon series it spawned from, the voice cast works well, the designs are great on the whole, and there are decent levels of humour, fun and grit that makes it well worth an hour of your life.

*Turns out, they’re not.

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