DC LEAGUE OF SUPER-PETS Gives the Spotlight to Man’s Best Friends

Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart enter the DCEU in canine form, with mixed results.

The new animated film DC League of Super-Pets marries two of the most reliable box office performers from the last decade-plus: superhero movies and Dwayne Johnson-Kevin Hart team ups. It’s a team-up that was probably inevitable. And now it’s here and the result is as predictable as an algorithm. Super-Pets is a scattershot buddy comedy, a somewhat tedious superhero story, and a mostly breezy bit of business.

Everything is going swell for Krypto, the handsome pup who was sent to Earth with young Superman in the film’s touching opening. Krypto (voiced by Johnson, obviously) lives the good life: stopping crimes and saving the day, playing with his Batman chew toy, and sharing nights at home with Supes (John Krasinski) watching baking shows together. The worm turns for (super)man’s best friend as Superman prepares to propose to Lois Lane (Olivia Wilde), only to be thwarted by an evil guinea pig named Lulu (Kate McKinnon) who gets her hands on some pesky kryptonite.

For the first time in his life Krypto is facing the world on his own and, despite his own special abilities, he has to learn that even the goodest of good boys needs help. Enter a gaggle of animals from a local shelter, led by Ace (Hart), a Boxer mix with a sad backstory that brings up memories of the “When She Loved Me” montage from Toy Story 2. Ace’s shelter friends include a potbellied pig, PB (Vanessa Bayer), the turtle Merton McSnurtle (Natasha Lyonne), a squirrel named Chip (Diego Luna), and a pair of guinea pigs named Mark and Keith (Thomas Middleditch and Ben Schwartz). When Lulu escapes the shelter to go enact her dastardly plans, she accidentally gives her sheltermates superpowers. The movie squeezes all the jokes it can from the animals trying to get a handle on their new abilities.

Super-Pets is at its best as a buddy comedy with its set of scrappy underdogs. The characters get to shine as they learn to work together and face their own neuroses and insecurities. The standout is PB, who struggles with self-confidence but has an endless supply of encouragement for her friends. Bayer is the MVP of the movie, finding laughs and even occasional moments of poignancy nearly every time PB is onscreen. The other animals also get their moments to shine. Chip, the electrokinetic squirrel, is another highlight. Part of me wishes we could’ve just watched the super pets bumble around Metropolis for 90 minutes.

As with most superhero movies, your mileage most certainly will vary as it pertains to the typical Evil Plot and World Saving antics. Lulu sets out with the modest goal of impressing Lex Luthor (Marc Maron), and her eventual betrayal at his hands is a harsh lesson in being a villain. She sets her sights on taking down the Justice League once and for all with the super pets as the only thing standing between her and crushing the DCEU. As someone whose patience with superhero movies has run out I found it a struggle to stay engaged with that side of the story. If the screening I attended is any indication, I’m in the minority. Plenty of the other adults and kids in attendance seemed caught up in the moment.

Super-Pets is a crowd-pleaser through and through. At least, that’s what it aims to be. The film’s heart is in the right place, a credit to the script by John Whittington and Jared Stern (who also directs). The movie is packed with jokes, but a lackluster hit rate makes the film feel like it’s straining at times to get laughs. The jokes that work best are the sillier ones, rather than when the script aims for cleverness. There’s a “lock the gates” quip aimed at Maron’s Luthor that lands with an embarrassing thud. But the jokes keep coming and the movie’s breezy pace makes the whole of Super-Pets a pleasant, if unremarkable, affair. I can’t say I’m super interested in seeing more of this particular world, but if I’ve learned anything from the last 15 years of blockbuster movies, it’s that the superhero movies and Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Hart movies will continue until morale improves.

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