There’s no better time to be a superhero fan. Not only are there multiple live-action adaptations of superhero comic book characters per year, but the animated world is always abuzz with new material, whether it be long-time favorites like Batman and Superman or lesser-known characters to those not well-versed in comics. Vixen is in the latter category.
Luckily for those of us who aren’t DC experts, this Vixen direct-to-video film, compiled from the first two seasons of the web series with some new material, is a good origin story, albeit rushed at times. Mari McCabe is a woman living in modern day Detroit who discovers she has the ability to harness the powers of various animals when she wears a magic totem necklace. Sudden need to fly away from danger? No problem, she summons the strength of an eagle. Or she needs some extra brute strength to charge some thugs? Just channel a rhino. Considering how many animals exist on Earth, this gives her superpowers some variety, and unlike Beast Boy from Teen Titans, she doesn’t actually morph into the animal in question, so it’s not quite the same execution. Her magic totem was given to Mari by her mother back in Africa, and Mari’s sister Kuasa wants the totem for herself, claiming she is the rightful one to protect it. Meanwhile, a man named Eshu who raided Mari and Kuasa’s village years ago and killed their parents, also wants the totem for evil purposes. Realizing her true calling to use the totem to protect her village (and her “village” in this case is Detroit), this naturally leads Mari to decide to becomes a superhero by the name of Vixen, fighting crime by night with her new cohorts Green Arrow and the Flash.
As I said, Vixen covers a lot of ground in only 74 minutes, and rarely does the action stop to take a breath. It’s not wall-to-wall action, but there are a lot of plot points covered, so it can be a lot to take in for an introduction to the character. On the plus side, the movie format is much easier than the web series to watch this story, since each webisode was only five minutes long, making a very disjointed viewing experience. Luckily, even with the rushed pace, it’s easy to get into the story and sympathize with Mari’s orphan situation. Since her parents were killed when she was only a baby, Mari was raised by a Detroit native named Chuck. Being adopted, she’s a victim of teasing, and while Chuck is a loving father, it’s only natural that Mari would want to discover her roots. Even if you can’t personally relate to this situation, there’s built-in sympathy for her quest.
On the downside, Eshu, the warlord villain, is a stock character with generic motivations. Sometimes the adversaries are just as fun to watch as the heroes, so this is disappointing, especially considering how unique the wide array of DC villains are. He’s also introduced halfway through the movie, lessening his impact. And his hand in the death of a certain character (I won’t say who!) isn’t given the gravity it deserves, adding to the “rushed” feeling I mentioned earlier. It’s just kind of quickly glossed over in the heat of the final battle, which in itself is disappointingly short and relegated to a few attacks.
Speaking of downsides, the animation could’ve been better. It’s not incompetent, but there are lots of held poses where only the characters’ mouths move, and the action sequences use that trick of shaking the camera to mask limited movement. The most impressive scene is the opening chase sequence, with its fast pace and variety of attack sequences as the Flash and Green Arrow chase Vixen across the Detroit skyscrapers and rooftops. That said, even with what seems like a standard TV budget, the movie still looks great, and the visual adaptation of Vixen from the comics is appealing, owing its style to many of DC’s recent offerings like Assault on Arkham and less to the Bruce Timm-inspired designs of Batman: The Animated Series. In terms of settings, Detroit isn’t as distinctive a landscape as, say, Gotham City, but it still looks good, and the section of the movie taking place in Africa at least offers something different in the DC animated universe. The welcome presence of an orchestral score also accentuates the action, although a musical motif for Vixen might have been nice.
Special features include a featurette called “Vixen: Spirit Animal” (6:13), which I didn’t learn too much from, and two bonus episodes of Justice League Unlimited: “Hunter’s Moon” and “Grudge Match,” both of which feature Vixen. It’s interesting to note how different the execution of Vixen’s character was in that series, especially in wardrobe and hairstyle. The Blu-ray also comes with an HD digital copy, which seems to be the standard for physical releases nowadays, and I welcome it. Unfortunately, iTunes wasn’t a choice in the registration process, so I had to choose between Flixster and Vudu, which I don’t like as much.
Grading Vixen is tricky: I enjoyed it while it played, but I feel the character’s better days are ahead of it now that we’ve gotten the origin story out of the way. I very much welcome further adventures with this character, perhaps with a better villain and more room to breathe. Still, the movie left me wanting more, so for that alone, Vixen gets my recommendation.