DC League of Super-Pets, 2022.
Directed by Jared Stern.
Starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, John Krasinski, Keanu Reeves, Kate McKinnon, Vanessa Bayer, Natasha Lyonne, Diego Luna, Jameela Jamil, Marc Maron, Dascha Polanco, Olivia Wilde, Jemaine Clement, Daveed Diggs, John Early, Ben Schwartz, Thomas Middleditch, David Pressman, and Richard Arnold.
Krypto the Super-Dog and Superman are inseparable best friends, sharing the same superpowers and fighting crime side by side in Metropolis. However, Krypto must master his own powers for a rescue mission when Superman is kidnapped.
For as silly an idea as it sounds, DC League of Super-Pets has all the makings of a playfully refreshing slice of superhero cinema. For example, its opening sequence reimagines the origins of Superman, where he is sent off to earth during an attack on his home planet, but this time with a trustee canine companion. Man’s best friend would go on to be Superman’s sidekick, fighting crime with his assortment of impressive abilities.
Frustratingly, Director Jared Stern (and co-writing alongside John Whittington) quickly settles for a familiar storyline among animated features involving pets: jealousy over their owner becoming more serious with a romantic partner. Superman (voiced by John Krasinski) is in love with Lois Lane (voiced by Olivia Wilde) and is trying to pop the marriage question. Unfortunately, whenever he comes close to doing so, the world needs saving from Lex Luthor (voiced by Marc Maron). This is more than okay for Krypto the Super-Dog (voiced by Dwayne Johnson, animated with the same smolder he carries in real life), as fighting crime means spending more time together.
Elsewhere is a ragtag group of misfit pets hoping to get adopted, ranging from a hyperactive dog (voiced by Kevin Hart), an insecure potbellied pig (voiced by Vanessa Bayer), a foul-mouthed (the occasional instance of swearing is bleeped out and still family-friendly) and mostly blind turtle (voiced by Natasha Lyonne), a motormouthed squirrel (voiced by Diego Luna), and a hairless guinea pig strangely fixated on world domination (voiced by Kate McKinnon). There is little chance of that happening, but that doesn’t stop Ace (Hart) from giving them hope, making up a farm where they will one day be free and happy.
It’s not a spoiler to say that the power-hungry Lulu (McKinnon) is in cahoots with Superman’s arch nemesis Lex Luthor, coming up with special kryptonite capable of giving and taking powers away. As such, Superman and Krypto lose their abilities, with the former being kidnapped entirely, whereas the oddball animals end up with a superpower, each typically mimicking the powers of the Justice League. Speaking of Superman’s partners in crime fighting, they also make an appearance (voiced by an assortment of notable names) only to amusingly get destroyed by Lulu and her new army of superpowered rodents. It’s also ridiculous moments like this where DC League of Super-Pets shines as clever and zany.
Nevertheless, these developments force Krypto to go on a personal journey discovering that dogs love their owners unconditionally and how to work together as a team. He desperately begs the other pets for help rescuing the Justice League even though he had previously gotten into a minor argument with Ace (it’s also worth pointing out that Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart have their usual working chemistry together, although they don’t exactly have much of anything funny to do). One would think that an animated feature where Dwayne Johnson voices a character that loses superpowers opposite Kevin Hart with superpowers would flip the script on their dynamic, but it mostly remains the same with the latter as the punching bag for mostly lame jokes. If anything, the funniest parts come from the other pets.
The first 30 minutes or so are filled with awful puns and worse attempts at humor involving urine (I guess movies featuring dogs are legally required to have at least one). Instead, DC League of Super-Pets works when it uses comedy to poke fun at the goofy aspects of superhero rules and physics. Likewise, the action is fine because it’s typically leaning into absurdity (at one point, our heroes must battle an adorably nefarious kitten capable of creatively causing damage with hairballs, which is all I will say about that). There is also one genuinely emotional scene involving Ace’s past that points to a more moving experience that could have been (it’s hidden away from generic plot points regarding a dog’s attachment issues to its owner).
As the pets adapt to their abilities and learn the meaning of responsibility, the script will occasionally and smartly deconstruct what it means to be one of the actual superheroes. This is most apparent with PB (Bayer), eager to be like her idol Wonder Woman despite a world of self-esteem issues, while also coming to understand that Diana is independent and herself freely. Similar nuggets throughout DC League of Super-Pets suggest some thoughtfulness beyond a silly concept. And once the origin stories are complete, with every pet tethered to a superhero for companionship, the last 10 minutes offer a consistent stream of laughs while showing promise for future installments. Should that happen, hopefully, everything is tied together by a story as unique as these loveable pets.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com