DC League of Super-Pets
This movie would probably have seemed much fresher had it not arrived in the wake of several years of meta superhero fare, both live-action (Deadpool) and animated (Lego Movies, Incredibles 2). And while you can’t really blame DC League of Super Pets’ impulse towards being positive in bent and affirmative in its values, such sentiment is inevitably a bar to making the most of the simultaneous instinct towards self-mockery. Consequently, it continues WB/DC’s efforts to deliver non-homogenous product: a good thing. Less so, their slipshod capacity for the mediocre.
It says here that the Legion of Super-Pets has existed since 1961, which is pretty impressive. All the more so in dog years. Of which, only Krypto the Superdog (The Rock) makes it into DC League of Super-Pets from the original line-up. Which include, yes, a feline (Streaky the Supercat). Streaky’s absence is unsurprising, since Hollywood has a famous aversion to moggies, markedly so of late. Offenders include the Coen Brothers, Wes Anderson and Cats and Dogs (where the cats are the villains, natch). So inevitably, when a cat appears in DC League – a kitten – it’s evil. This species-assassination in favour of man’s best friend needs to stop now!
Ace the Bat-Hound (Kevin Hart) first appeared in 1955. Perhaps appropriately, Merton McSnurtle/Terrific Whatzit (Natasha Lyonne), a superfast turtle, is even more ancient in pedigree, dating to 1944. Electrokinetic red squirrel Chip (Diego Luna) is a mere nipper from 1982. The longevity short straw goes to PB (Vanessa Bayer), a size-shifting potbellied pig who, by a process of short straws, ends up with Wonder Woman (Jameela Jamil) at the end.
The plot pits them against nefarious hairless guinea pig Lulu (Kate McKinnon). So not a cat, which is something. I dunno, though. There’s something underwhelming right there, conceptually. McKinnon does her best, but an orange-kryptonite-infused animal obsessed with Lex Luther (Max Maron) feels all sorts of overfamiliar as far as evil animals with a Napoleon complex go. Her machinations imbue the league with their powers (barring Krypto, who came suped-up to Earth with Supes in the first place) and, when he swallows a piece of this kryptonite, drain Krypto of his. Wouldn’t you know it. Krypto is also dealing with some serious master’s-squeeze envy, in respect of the budding relationship between Superman and Lois Lane (Florence Pugh’s favourite nightmare auteur Olivia Wilde). Obviously, he learns to bond with his new buddies etc while rescuing the Justice League, imprisoned by Lulu. The newly-formed team must also overcome confidence issues to become the best they can be, naturally.
Why am I reeling off the plot? I usually attempt to avoid chapter and verse. I suspect I’m searching for some kind of bearing on this thing. DC League of Super Pets is amiable enough, but at no point does it feel like it’s coming up with anything to make it stand out in its embrace of superhero tropes/demolition thereof. The voice cast inhabit casually sketched types; there’s insufficient anarchy for them to make much of themselves.
Chip wants to be something a bit more gross, I suspect, along the lines of a Ren and Stimpy reject, but never quite gets there. Lyonne’s turtle sounds exactly like you suspect she will be when she’s 75: decrepit and still randy. Hart is doing exactly what Hart always does, so Ace isn’t so much Bat-Hound as Kevin Hart-Hound. The Rock… Well, given this is the most persuasive performance I’ve ever heard Dwayne give in anything I’ve actually seen him in – so to speak – I initially nursed grave doubts it was him. After all, I don’t have a full list of those who were Guantanamo’d, and he is “on record” saying he eats children. Nevertheless, I am reliably informed he’s a White Hat, which must be a relief, since you’d have to be a pretty remarkable double to approximate his general expanse (on the other hand, take a look at Johnny Depp’s doppelganger, and you have to conclude they aren’t even trying).
All of this may explain, amid the turmoil of WB cleaning house, why Dwayne appears to be singlehandedly attempting to rehabilitate the DC Universe (bringing Henry Cavill back as Supes, for starters). So yeah, Dwayne makes for a pretty decent Superdog, as these things go. He’s also Black Adam and Adam’s pet dog Anubis at the end. Which, cynically, might suggest the Krypto role represents little more than an extended promo for his main event.
Lex Luthor: Funny story. I turned my office into a rocket ship. All billionaires have them.
Batman: It’s true.
On the same subject, but not exactly the same, is the Justice League, and most especially Batman. Again, this is a remarkably versatile vocal performance from Keanu Reeves, renowned for throwing his devil signs at adoring crowds everywhere. That, and being a bit of a plank. Could this, in fact, be a faux-Keanu? Well, since he’s apparently plea bargaining, there’s reason to assume this is the real deal. Generally, there seems to be infinite mileage from Batman taking himself oh-so seriously for comic effort, since he goes down almost as well here as it did in the Lego Movies (“Batman works alone. Except for Robin, and Alfred. Commissioner Gordon…”)
John Krasinski, doing well out of superhero cameos this year, is Superman. Jermaine Clement is Aquaman. Now why didn’t they cast him as the actual Aquaman? That would have been genius. Empty cinemas, but genius. Dascha Polanco (another Orange is the New Black alumni) is Green Lantern and Daveed Diggs is Cyborg (a remarkably angst-free incarnation, given he doesn’t even have a cybercock, at least not to my knowledge). The Flash (John Early) also appears, but doesn’t scream at anyone, steal from them or assault them.
Alfred Molina, Lena Headey, Keith David, and Dan Fogler are also in the cast. Apparently, the movie cost $90m, but the vocalists presumably ate up about half the total. DC League of Super Pets scraped just under double that at the box office, which means it wouldn’t recoup under normal circumstances. However, a sequel has been announced.
Unsurprisingly, there are dogs pissing jokes (“You disgusting animal”), “hamster” used as an insult (because, if you’re not being mean to cats, hamsters are usually next in line). The visuals are fine, eminently serviceable; none of the design work is especially noteworthy. Much like the movie itself. I could mention the smattering of woke content here, but it hardly seems worth it. Much like the movie itself. I’m overstating the case; DC League of Super Pets is fine. It’s certainly better than any of the year’s Disney animations, and unlike several of the more recent live-action DC movies, it fosters nothing offensive to either aesthetics or general good taste.