D: Jared Stern, Sam Levine. Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Kate McKinnon, John Krasinski, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Diego Luna, Thomas Middleditch, Ben Schwartz, Keanu Reeves. PG, 105 minutes.
There is a razor-thin barrier between a heartfelt homage and pure product placement. The brightest of today’s blockbusters have convinced audiences that making a tougher commitment to handing over your money — over and over again — can actually be an act of love. Nobody is really immune to this. We all at some point cheer on our own manipulation by a corporate marketing department. That said, I’d be surprised if anyone was duped DC League of Super Petswhich features Dwayne Johnson as the voice of Krypto, Superman’s beloved puppy from the comics, and ends with a reproachful reminder that Johnson’s next DC project, Black Adamappears in October.
If my cynicism is a little blunt here, it is not without reason – DC League of Super Pets is unlucky to exist in a world that is already given to us The Lego Batman Movie, Teen Titans go! To the moviesand the animated series Harley Quinn, so it’s only right that audiences should expect a little more from it. Super Pets tries to chase the same heights only to smash right into the glass door of his own limited imagination.
We already have the framework for what a fun, self-referential animated take on the superhero multiverse should look like. And ironically, it is Super PetsOwn director, Jared Stern, and his co-writer, John Whittington, are partially responsible for – the pair have been credited as writers The Lego Batman Movie. Super Pets might very well consist of nothing but the joke scraps they found discarded on the study floor. Batman (Keanu Reeves) regularly reminds us that his parents are dead. Characters hit in the head with Wonder Woman’s (Jameela Jamil) invisible jet. The film desperately craves an angle — one that certainly can’t be fulfilled, given that all the jokes about pet ownership have already been consumed by the Secret Life of Pets series.
Krypto, who considers Superman (John Krasinski) his “ride or die,” is overcome with jealousy when it becomes clear his owner is about to propose to his girlfriend, Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde). He just can’t face the idea of being ousted from his privileged spot on the sofa, but he’s learning to set healthier relationship boundaries by teaming up with a group of rescue animals, all of whom have been given superpowers thanks to a villain’s shard of orange Kryptonite (which gives orange, which takes green). Krypto, Ace (Kevin Hart) the boxer, PB (Vanessa Bayer) the pot-bellied pig, Merton (Natasha Lyonne) the turtle, and Chip (Diego Luna) the squirrel join forces to save a megalomaniac guinea pig (Kate McKinnon ) to defeat. who escaped from Lex Luthor’s (Marc Maron) lab.
As the film enthusiastically leans into its caricature, the artist takes on classic heroes — hooray for a Wonder Woman with such killer biceps! – not too much of a distinctive aesthetic to be seen here. The nerdy visual gags, including a vinyl by Dinah Lance (aka Black Canary) and a Catwoman billboard à la Andrew Lloyd Webber cats, feel few and far between. The pop culture touchstones might as well have been removed from a Google search for “what’s popular right now” — both Paw Patrol and The Great British Bake Off‘s “squishy butt” feature. And what does play for adult humor is simply Lyonne’s old and cranky Chelonian spouting a few swear words.
Lyonne is funny because Lyonne has never been funny in her life. The same goes for McKinnon. But while the caliber of the star voices is superb here, it seems odd to revolve the entire film around Johnson and Hart. So much of their chemistry in there jumanji or Central intelligence was rooted in physical comedy starring odd couples – a guy who’s always cracking jokes about his own short stature, as opposed to what’s the closest we come to a demigod alive. That dynamic doesn’t really work between a boxer and a golden retriever.
Will DC League of Super Pets Convince the audience to line up around the block Black Adam? I doubt it. But it might convince people to go home and rent Teen Titans go! To the movies to remind yourself how hilariously fun animated superhero stuff can be. Who knows, maybe that was the long game and we just got played again.
DC League of Super-Pets hits theaters July 29th