DC League of Super-Pets hits theaters July 29, 2022.
There are times when DC League of Super-Pets is both funny and lavishly conceived, with wordless montages and silent scenes riding the line between mythical and ridiculous. After all, it’s a story about Superman’s dog Krypto, a minor part of the comics and shows, here bumped into an integral part of the hero’s origins. But no matter how thoughtful or energetic the movie gets, it’s often hampered by the voice cast of on-screen celebrities, who generally don’t have the skills to bring a children’s movie to life. If there was a version of the movie with the dialogue track removed, it would probably be more effective.
Through lovely sci-fi designs and doe-eyed characters, Super-Pets retells the Man of Steel’s tragic childhood, but this time his alien parents load a puppy into his pod for his protection as they fling him to Earth. Before the story begins, it uses this intro to lay a heartfelt foundation about friends for life – but it takes a sharp tonal turn when it cuts to the modern day. It is primarily an ironic comedy, despite its sometimes dramatic moments, and the montage of a day in the lives of Krypto and Superman is light-hearted and picturesque. However, it’s a lot less engaging when the characters stop flying and start talking to each other.
Super-Pets is based on the performance of a monotonous Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who pronounces Krypto as if he’s reading old wrestling promos he’s long forgotten (though not as his smarmy ring persona, but as Dwayne Johnson’s brand, the Instagram -tequila seller, the man who currently exists more as a concept than as an actual artist). Superman is voiced by John Krasinski, who has so little kindness or charisma as the character that it’s a relief when he leaves the film for a long time. However, Krasinski’s Boy Scout hero and his Johnson-voiced super dog make up most of the first act, a tale of Krypto’s jealousy as his best friend gets closer to reporter Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde).
Superman hopes to find Krypto a companion to keep him occupied, and that’s where the film’s co-lead comes into the picture: a shelter dog named Ace, who must have a gruff disposition but who Kevin Hart pronounces as if he’s forced to at gunpoint. Fortunately, Ace is surrounded by a handful of other potential pets awaiting adoption, adding a sense of color to the proceedings. Vanessa Bayer voices PB, an enthusiastic pot-bellied pig and Wonder Woman fangirl; Diego Luna plays Chip, a frightened squirrel; Natasha Lyonne plays the foul-mouthed, ancient tortoise Merton, who can barely see; and the shelter staff rounds up the hairless guinea pig Lulu, a former Lex Corp experimenter who now has megalomaniac plans of his own. Ace, the de facto leader of the group, tells them sunny tales of “a farm in the state” because it doesn’t look like they will be adopted anytime soon.
Elsewhere, career villain Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) is thwarted by Superman, Krypto, and The Justice League – Batman (Keanu Reeves), Wonder Woman (Jameela Jamil), Aquaman (Jemaine Clement), The Flash (John Early), Cyborg (Daveed). ) Diggs), and the Green Lantern Jessica Cruz (Dascha Polanco) – but his plan to gain superpowers using an orange meteorite has unintended consequences. A shard of the material ends up in the shelter, giving the different animals their own powers. PB can shrink or grow ten stories high. Chip has lightning powers like Emperor Palpatine. Merton ironically gains super speed – though she reminds her team she “still can’t see” [bleep]– as Ace becomes invulnerable and Lulu gains nearly unlimited telekinesis on the same level as the Dark Phoenix. Krypto, on the other hand, loses his powers after ingesting some Kryptonite, so when Lulu captures the Justice League to impress Lex, the loyal Superdog has no choice but to enlist the help of the shelter’s animals despite their initial reluctance.
There are plenty of jokes and references worth laughing at as Super-Pets builds his plot, between Krypto’s bespectacled alter ego “Bark Kent”, his catchphrase of “pup, up, and away”, and a hologram of his late father Dog- El (Ket David). But while these allusions all make fun of DC lore, the film’s other comedic instincts get old pretty quickly. For starters, the film’s conceit is that none of the animals actually speak English to the human heroes, so it’s funny the first time it cuts from a close-up of intense dialogue to a wide shot of Krypto barking at an incredulous Superman (or similarly, Lulu peeping at her human crush, Lex), but it’s a little less funny the second time around, and a whole lot less funny when it becomes the one and only go-to for animal-human interactions.
Likewise, there are only so many times when you can use the same kind of tension-spreading joke of close-ups of serious dialogue that are undermined by snarky responses (like dramatic music is paused to silence) before it feels mechanical. To make matters worse, it’s almost always Krypto or Ace doing the snoring, so the comments are rarely loaded with anything worthwhile. Johnson and Hart’s apparent improvisation is less filled with actual jokes—that is, lineups and punchlines—and more with out-of-the-box references to nothing in particular, as if only outtakes were being recorded. It’s palpable, painfully clumsy, and makes for the kind of animated film where even kids don’t know when to laugh or what to laugh at (the kids at my screening didn’t have such a good time).
That said, director Jared Stern has certain sequences sing, despite the personality black hole in the middle of the film. The action is always memorable, with characters using their power sets simultaneously as the “camera” swings between buildings, catching glimpses of a detailed world (DC die-hards will be happy to pick up a Big Belly Burger and an O’Shaughnessy’s on every corner). The glittering Metropolis is a valuable battleground when things go wrong, if only because you don’t want to damage the beautiful Art Deco facades. The film’s soundscape is just as thoughtfully conceived, with music based in key moments on classic Superman and Batman themes, but for the most part Steve Jablonsky’s propulsive and original score gives the animal heroes a sense of heartfelt gravitas, even as their respective stories don’t always succeed.
For example, there’s an attempt at a wistful, Toy Story-esque flashback that centers on Ace’s abandonment, but like almost every other character, he doesn’t really have a story until and unless it becomes relevant to the main plot. So it doesn’t carry the weight it should, and it certainly doesn’t help that Hart sounds positively unenthusiastic. The more the film progresses, the more the silences and action beat the land, but the more the jokes and frequent dialogue scenes whine, bringing everything to a halt. Johnson and Hart may have on-screen chemistry (at least during their press tours), but neither has the chops to create a fully or even partially formed character using just the voice, let alone a character whose jokes include a feeling of pleasure. Keanu Reeves is a clear exception, as a hilariously self-effacing Batman with perfect timing, but sadly he’s not in the movie that much.
DC League of Super-Pets is harmless, decent entertainment, but the movie and design elements clearly strive for more than just “okay.” Ultimately, it’s another Rock/Hart vehicle, but one where the comedy duo drags the entire production down, leaving even the best, most thoughtful and propulsive scenes in a blur.
The DC movies in (chronological) order