Warner Bros animated superhero epic takes a block from the Lego films but adds furrier, cuter, protagonists
Dir: Jared Stern. US. 2022. 106 mins.
Some adorable animals and a snarky sense of humour about superheroes aren’t quite enough to save the day with DC League Of Super-Pets, an intermittently amusing and touching animation. Focused on the exploits of Superman’s trusty canine companion, who must come to the rescue after the Man Of Steel is taken prisoner, this family film is, in some ways, a continuation of Warner Bros.’ Lego pictures, which poked fun at DC’s iconic characters while simultaneously expanding the brand. Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart have a likeable rapport as bickering pooches, but ultimately Super-Pets is dogged by a feeling that it’s just another comic-book picture, albeit one with furrier, cuter protagonists.
There’s a winning wholesomeness to the proceedings that’s largely gone out of favour in the genre
The film releases in the UK and US on July 29, serving as the final superhero spectacle of the summer. The lighthearted tone and self-mocking approach should play well with younger viewers and their parents, and an all-star cast — which also includes Kate McKinnon, John Krasinski and Keanu Reeves — will further boost Super-Pets’ profile.
The eternally loyal Krypto (voiced by Johnson) has been by Superman’s (Krasinski) side since he escaped his dying planet of Krypton as an infant. Now living in Metropolis and fighting crime together, they remain best friends, although their bond is tested by Superman’s growing love for Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde). Krypto is worried about being forgotten, but soon he’ll discover he has bigger problems to deal with.
Those come in the form of Lulu (McKinnon), a scheming hairless guinea pig who was once experimented on by Lex Luthor (Marc Maron) before being dumped in an animal shelter. She has acquired orange kryptonite, which gives animals superpowers, and is recruiting a guinea pig army to capture Superman and his Justice League cohorts. Having lost his own powers after being tricked into eating green kryptonite, Krypto must team up with a group of Lulu’s former shelter-animal companions who have been exposed to the orange kryptonite— including the cocky Ace (Hart) — to defeat her.
Director and cowriter Jared Stern, who worked on the screenplay for The Lego Batman Movie, eschews the somber, self-important tone of Zack Snyder’s Justice League pictures, giving us an irreverent comic-book adventure that both mocks genre cliches and imagines how animals would behave if they were superheroes. In small increments, this comedic strategy can be rewarding — particularly in the way it humanises Superman, turning him into just another guy who loves his dog. And the image of Krypto’s ragtag animal squad — featuring a superhero-obsessed pig (Vanessa Bayer) — trying to make sense of their new powers produces sporadic laughs.
But underneath its clever conceit, Super-Pets doesn’t have much new to offer. There are bittersweet life lessons regarding the passage of time and the shifting nature of friendships, but while Krypto’s anxiety about losing Superman to Lois is palpable, neither the humour nor the pathos is especially sharp. Instead, Super-Pets becomes the latest picture in which characters use their exceptional powers to battle one another in a dully “epic” final face-off.
Even the jokes at the expense of DC stalwarts such as Batman feel familiar, especially for those who have seen The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie. (As delightful as Reeves is as The Dark Knight, barbs about Bruce Wayne’s monotonous gloom are hardly fresh anymore.) And as Lulu, who mistakenly believes that she and Lex are partners in crime, McKinnon can only do so much with her character’s predictably sarcastic quips, leaving Super-Pets with an uninspired villain.
Johnson and Hart have capitalised on their contentious onscreen relationship in action-comedies like Central Intelligence, the former actor’s slow-burn style nicely clashing with the latter’s hair-trigger temper. Krypto and Ace lock horns in similar fashion — with Krypto slightly arrogant because he’s Superman’s best friend — but although the two dogs eventually arrive at a place of mutual respect, there aren’t enough of the big emotional moments (or memorable back-and-forth zingers) to really make their bond endearing.
On the whole, Super-Pets does serve as a nice counterbalance to the amped-up antics that have become de rigueur in superhero cinema. Although the likes of Superman, Batman, Aquaman (Jemaine Clement) and Wonder Woman (Jameela Jamil) get spoofed, there’s a winning wholesomeness to the proceedings that’s largely gone out of favour in the genre. It’s a pity, then, that Stern can’t come up with a better story to complement his film’s sweet temperament. A dog’s love may be unconditional, but our patience for mediocre comic-book pictures is far from inexhaustible.
Production company: Seven Bucks
Worldwide distribution: Warner Bros. Pictures
Producers: Patricia Hicks, Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia, Hiram Garcia, Jared Stern
Screenplay: Jared Stern and John Whittington
Production design: Kim Taylor
Editing: David Egan, Jhoanne Reyes
Music: Steve Jablonsky
Main voice cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Kate McKinnon, John Krasinski, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Diego Luna, Marc Maron, Keanu Reeves