By: Kryptonian Detective
The first DC Universe animated film of 2011 has hit the shelves in the form of All – Star Superman. The film is based on the twelve issue comic book series of the same name by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely. Much like the source material the film chronicles the story of Lex Luthor, who “fueled by hatred and jealousy, masterminds an elaborate plot to kill the Man of Steel – and it works. Poisoned by solar radiation, Superman is dying. With weeks to live, he fulfills his life’s dreams – especially revealing his true identity to Lois Lane until Luthor proclaims his ultimate plan to control the world with no alien hero to stop him. Powers fading, Superman engages in a spectacular battle with Luthor that could truly trigger the end of Earth’s Greatest Protector. This startling and gripping DC Universe Animated Original Movie stars the voice talents of James Denton, Anthony LaPaglia, Christina Hendricks and Ed Asner.” People who know me, have read this site, or have listened to the podcast I co – host, know that I am divided when it comes to Grant Morrison’s work. All – Star Superman is my favorite Grant Morrison comic book, and one of my favorite Superman stories period. When it was announced that the story would be turned into to an animated film I was excited, but was curious whether certain concepts would translate well from the page to the screen.
Clearly my curiosity was unfounded because All – Star Superman makes for one great film. One of my favorite aspects of the movie is that it embraces the science fiction attributes of of the character of Superman. Whether it be Kryptonian gadgetry, keeping a black hole that eats tiny suns as a pet, time travel and cloning, it’s all on display here. Superman also has a knack for science, following in his Kryptonian father’s footsteps. The creation of a super serum that gives Lois super-powers, shows that Superman is brains and brawn. The fact that Superman has collected trinkets from various adventures and has fully restored the Titanic, adds to the character. It gives him hobbies, proving that he is more than saving the day and flying away. I’m also glad that the filmmakers decided to keep Superman’s encounter with Samson and Atlas in tact. These characters were clearly inspirations in the creation of Superman, so it’s a nice nod to that effect. This film and its source material clearly take its cues from an earlier time, when Superman was able to lift planets. Like those earlier stories, Superman was super smart and super strong, and nobody was afraid to show that. For me this is a refreshing change to what I regard as the neutered “Marvel-ized” version of the character that began with John Byrne’s Man of Steel.
The characterization of the three leads in the film is fairly spot on. In terms of Clark Kent/Superman this film really puts the spotlight on his selfless nature. Of course the other animated films featuring Superman have also touched on this, but it is the crutch of the story in All Star Superman. Superman knows he is dying from the outset of the film but doesn’t give it a second though. Realizing that this is the last time he will be able to spend Lois’ birthday with her, he creates a serum and a costume for her that gives her powers, so they can spend the day together. When two Kryptonian’s arrive on the planet, with desires of imposing their will, Superman still tries to befriend them in the hopes that they will assume the role of earth’s protector once he’s gone. They refuse and give him a beating, yet when they need saving, Superman obliges. The most telling example of Superman’s selflessness in the film comes with his interaction with Lex Luthor. This is the man who orchestrated the events that led to Superman’s fatal condition, yet Superman still tries to appeal to Lex’s “good side” for the sake of humanity. In return Lex spits in his face. This film also gave Clark Kent the most screen time out of all the DC animated films thus far. If that wasn’t enough, he actually does some reporting. One of my favorite scenes of the film is his interview with Lex in jail.
Speaking of Lex, the films description adequately describes why he detests the hero. It all boils down to hatred and jealousy. He hates Superman because he makes his own intelligence and grandeur seem insignificant by comparison. This belief alone would justify Lex’s plan in his own mind. That’s why I am not in favor with the filmmakers decision to alter the ending, so that Lex has a hand in “saving” Superman if you will (watch the film if you want to know how). It is done as a way of humanizing Lex. However, it makes no sense. Lex wouldn’t do anything to honor Superman, unless it was an act to benefit himself, which in the context of the film was impossible. I was perfectly fine with the characterization of Lois Lane. She was a woman who was tough, can handle herself in various situations, but has just enough vulnerability to let her guard down to fall in love with the hero. These characterizations would be nothing but animation if not for the wonderful voice acting in the film. Despite my gripe about Lex Luthor earlier, Anthony Lapaglia is a great addition to the actors in the Luthor lineage. Playing a version of Lex that skews more to the mad scientist version of the character, Lapaglia could have easily hammed it up. Instead, I consider Lapaglia’s rendition a sort of subdued intelligent madness, that lends itself perfectly to the story. James Denton and Christina Hendricks had fantastic vocal chemistry, that stands alongside Reeve/Kidder, Welling/Durance and Caine/Hatcher. The Lois/Superman date scene and their entire relationship was one of the best depictions of the couple on-screen, be it live action or animated. The relationship seemed very natural. When Superman tells Lois that they can never have children because their biology is so different, or that he is dying, I shed man tears even though I knew it was coming having read the book. That speaks volumes to the quality of work Denton and Hendricks provided to the film. Honorable mention goes to Ed Asner, whose work as the voice of Perry White was so unique from his voice work as Granny Goodness in past DC Animated efforts. It actually calls to mind the portrayal of Perry White by John Hamilton in The Adventures of Superman starring George Reeves.
As with all of the DCU Animated features, the film tries to mimic the artistic styling of the comic book artist. I am conflicted in terms of Frank Quitely’s art. In some instances it looks great, while other times it looks odd. Quirky would be the best word that would describe his work for me. While the animators pay homage to Quietly’s work, they seem to have created a blend of quirky with mainstream sensibilities. This is evident in the designs of several characters. Superman and Lois look more like traditional versions of their animated selves, while Lex Luthor and Clark Kent look as though they were drawn by Frank himself. This works perfectly for me as I thoroughly enjoy his take on Lex and Clark, but thought his versions of Superman and Lois look far too much like Jay Leno and Jennifer Lopez for my taste. The action scenes look better in the film then they did in the comic. It seemed more fluid on-screen then it did on the page. I suspect this had a lot to do with the specific layout and arrangements chosen for the comic book series more than anything else.
All – Star Superman is an impressive entry in the DC Universe Animated film library. As an adaptation of the source material it is very faithful. Does it omit certain things? Of course it does, but so has every other film in this line. What you see on-screen in my estimation, is virtually 10 out of the 12 issues of the comic book in its entirety. From the opening origin sequence, the shuttle rescue, Lois/Superman’s date, Clark’s interview with Lex in jail, and the final battle. It’s all transported from the page to the screen. The most notable submissions were Bizzaro, and the death of Pa Kent. Neither of which, detracts from the overall story or final product. The only scene I wish had been kept in the film, is the one where Superman talks a teenage woman out of committing suicide. It is so powerful, and packs an emotional punch, but I digress. All – Star Superman is a must see for Superman fans. It is a worthy addition to the pantheon of Superman films, at times finding a perfect balance of action and emotion that exceeds the live action films. All – Star Superman is one of the rare instances where the film adaptation surpasses the comic book. The film is deserving of its title. It is an all-star film about the all-star of superheroes.