Breathe a sigh of relief, fans of writer Grant Morrison’s epic All-Star Superman graphic novel. They’ve done it justice with this new animated adaptation. Managing to shorten a 12-issue series into a 75-minute movie is by no means an easy task, but the creative team behind this film has managed to pull it off here. By no means does it recreate the original story beat for beat, but instead kind-of pays homage to it by focusing on only specific aspects of the original and framing a surprisingly cohesive (albeit jumpy) little jaunt. While the never-ending battle between Superman and Lex Luthor is undeniably front and center, serving as the film’s main story, we do get touches on why the source material is so beloved. So, after getting beyond that pesky synopsis, let’s see what the animated All-Star Superman feature has in store…
Fueled by hatred and jealousy, Lex Luthor 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 deadly 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.
I enjoyed All-Star Superman. Let me say that now. By no means was I underwhelmed by it, but I also wasn’t overwhelmed by it either. I guess, to take a cue from Robin as featured in Young Justice, I guess I was just…whelmed by it. I liked it, despite some issues I had with it. Those expecting a full-blown action-fest should turn away now. While there is action, including an impressively handled climactic battle, by now means does it drive the show. Instead, what drives this show are the simple emotions that come with dealing with death and how one tries to handle their final days. It’s pretty powerful stuff, and it does lead to quite a few very moving moments littered throughout the movie. It’s a very different kind of Superman movie, but fans of the Man of Steel should find it no less engaging.
However, fans of the source material will be understandably torn. Some will agree that writer Dwayne McDuffie was able to successfully streamline a complex 12-issue series into a mere 75 minutes. Others, however, will disagree and find the movie a jumpy, somewhat colder take on the source material. The film’s jumpy narrative does cause a couple problems along the way, but it does seem to somewhat portray how chaotic things can get as one tries to settle final affairs.
To judge the film on its own merits, as it should, it’s definitely an oddly paced movie as compared to the previous DC Universe Animated Original Movie titles. All-Star Superman attempts to pack so much into its running time that, yes, it can feel like it’s just speeding through things, zooming to get from one scene to the next. The episodic nature of the film makes it easier to forget what came before, allowing characters to pop in and out of the blue and be forgotten just as quickly. It can get a bit distracting, honestly, but as I said earlier, the jumpy narrative can somewhat help what this movie is trying to set out and do. Superman is trying to accomplish so much before his end, and it shows. No matter how jumpy the movie can feel at times, the underlying theme of Superman’s inevitable demise, among others, is what ties all these little stories together, making it feel pretty coherent…though occasionally disorienting.
Some moments, disappointingly, don’t feel as important or as powerful as they should. Superman’s visit to the grave of his father is powerful stuff and leaves a resounding impact on the film, but Superman coming across two other Kryptonians feels more like a distraction in the film. I understand the intent behind the scene, how these two Kryptonians deal with power as opposed to Superman, but it zips by too fast to leave any real impact. And while Superman dealing with two kooky time-travelers also provides for a couple great moments (including a hilarious arm-wrestling match that too feels somewhat out of place), and while I understand why McDuffie chose these moments, as they all tend to share similar themes, sometimes the execution just doesn’t come off as strong as it should. Still, what he chose to put in the movie does work in its own way and certainly highlights important moments in Superman’s final days, emphasizing specific aspects of his character as well as dealing with some pretty heavy themes. And while the film does pack an emotional punch here and there, it doesn’t quite hit the high notes it should from time to time.
Still, McDuffie leaves in some of my personal favorite ideas from the source material, too. The idea that even as Clark Kent, Superman is still working to save people is just brilliant and the execution perfect. Whether through his act as a bumbling oaf or disguising his actions, he is still using his abilities to help people, it’s such a smart idea that I’m glad to see used here. So many of Morrison’s more off-kilter ideas remain in here, as well, like Superman’s pet Sun-Eater, or the great bit with his special key to unlock his Fortress of Solitude. So many small touches here and there that are unmistakably Morrison which give the film a little extra bit of (for lack of a better term) kookiness, definitely painting this film (and its source material) as something special.
What I love is how All-Star Superman nails the iconic status of the hero. He shows nobility, selflessness, and courage, even in the face of his impending death. He puts all others before himself, and this movie shows that perfectly. His gift to Lois, to be “Superwoman” for a day, is a perfect example of these qualities.
McDuffie does an admirable job bringing this story to life, as do the other members of the film’s cast and crew. Director Sam Liu follows the book almost to a ‘T,’ recreating some of the film’s iconic images. That shot of Lois and Superman kissing on the moon? Absolutely stunning. The recreation of the Parasite’s prison breakout? Simply harrowing. That classic final shot from the book (which I won’t spoil)? Absolutely gorgeous in every possible way. Liu nails everything McDuffie gives him here, effortlessly bringing to life this epic, epic tale.
Thankfully, the cast is able to bring the required magic to this small screen adaptation, for the most part. James Denton is perfectly cast as the noble Superman, every word dripping with the honest integrity the character needs for a story such as this. Anthony LaPaglia gives an absolutely command performance as Lex Luthor, perfectly demonstrating the character’s insane genius. We can almost see his thought process with every word. Christina Hendricks does a fine job as Lois Lane, but I find her performance can be lacking at time. For example, I just don’t think she nails the scene when Lane starts to lose her grip on reality in the Fortress of Solitude. There just seems to be something missing in her performance there. Still, there are plenty of other actors who bring this movie to life, and I can’t think of a real weak link in the chain. It’s just an excellent cast from top to bottom, with Hendricks being the only one who falters, and she only slightly. All-Star Superman Voice Director Andrea Romano continues to show she knows how to cast a movie from top to bottom, time and time again.
I gotta add, it is absolutely criminal that Christopher Drake’s score to All-Star Superman is currently unavailable to own as a soundtrack release. Absolutely criminal. I think he’s really surpassed his work on Wonder Woman to create some of his best work yet. I would love to hear his complete score.
Overall, it can be a difficult movie to get in to, so I’d suggest watching the movie at least twice before making a final judgment call on it. It definitely is a different kind of Superman movie, but it’s a good one nonetheless. The film’s jumpy narrative, reminiscent of the earlier effort Justice League: The New Frontier, can definitely feel like a bit of an issue, but the film’s underlying themes does manage to keep things on the same track. Yes, characters appear and disappear quickly at times, but it makes sense given we’re moving through the final days of Superman, experiencing the highlights of those moments as it builds to Superman’s climactic battle. Plus, like I said, the characters that do appear all share similar traits and their (usually) brief stories that tend to fall in the same general approach or character arc. There are some deep underlying themes littered throughout the movie, and it does work, even if the film does feel a bit jumpy. With that in mind, I’m going to stamp All-Star Superman as Recommended, but it is worth noting that this isn’t your typical Superman flick. It is a different approach to the Man of Steel, one that will definitely have fans talking.
Once you get past the standard embossed cardboard slipcover (very snazzy) and crack open this case, you’ll notice something immediately – there’s no DC Showcase animated short. And as disappointing as that is, Warner Home Video makes up for it with a nice selection of bonus content, most exclusive to the All-Star Superman Blu-ray release.
The first major extra is the audio commentary featuring both Grant Morrison and Bruce Timm. Running for the duration of the feature with nary a wasted moment, Morrison and Timm discuss the intricacies of the source material and just how the DC Universe Animated Original Movie team was able to adapt it into a 75-minute feature. While the majority of the commentary is focused on the original graphic novel, it does reflect heavily on the animated feature. The two also bat around other topics, such as their favorite super-hero films and the art of crafting a Superman tale. Very interesting stuff. Morrison takes the reins for the most part, though Timm does chime in on occasion. Worth listening to.
Following the commentary are two Grant Morrison-centric featurettes, the roughly 34-minute “Superman Now” explore the creation of the All-Star Superman comic. It looks at how abandoned story ideas for a planned 2000 relaunch of the Superman titles eventually led to the utterly fantastic All-Star Superman comic series, and provided essential background details indirectly related to the main feature. Afterward, the 10-minute “The Creative Flow: Incubating the Idea with Grant Morrison” looks at Morrison’s sketches and different design ideas, ideas that would eventually morph into All-Star Superman. Again, good background information. Wrapping up the All-Star Superman-centric bonus content is the All-Star Superman #1 Virtual Comic, a reproduction of the first issue of the series. While the resolution is a tad small, it may spark interest for those who don’t already own this groundbreaking comic to go snatch it up.
Wrapping up the disc are two bonus Superman: The Animated Series episodes, “Blasts from the Past,” and a selection of trailers and “first look.” The disc includes the trailer for the stellar Batman: Under the Red Hood and “first look” featurettes for the 2010 release Superman/Batman: Apocalypse and the forthcoming Green Lantern: Emerald Knights animated feature, set for a June 2011 release.
Additionally, a second disc includes a DVD and Digital Copy of All-Star Superman.
In terms of audio and video presentation, it is a bit of a mixed bag. The video quality is really high, with a nice VC-1 encoded transfer that looks pretty remarkable from time to time. However, as with previous releases, we do see some color banding and pixilation. There’s the odd moments here or there when Superman’s cape or even Lois Lane’s hair will feature some nasty looking blocking and color issues. It’s not overly distracting, but it is noticeable. Moving on to the audio, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix is pretty subdued as compared to previous efforts in the line, though that’s understandable given the context of the film. The sound mix doesn’t push as hard as it should, but it never falls short. It’s good, yes, but not great. I suppose the somewhat subdued audio mix does work, but I feel that it could have been made fuller, more dynamic, and made better use of the speaker channels.
Overall, when considering the entire package, I have to give All-Star Superman the Recommended stamp. The main feature is definitely an interesting take on Superman, one I’m sure will divide fans whether or not they’ve read the source material, and the package itself contains a nice helping of bonus content. Additionally, which I meant to point out earlier, the movie is also a very family-friendly take on the Man of the Steel. It doesn’t speak down to the audience in any regard, even allowing for an intelligent and easy access point for new potential Superman fans to test out. It’s a good ride that is fairly straightforward in its execution, hitting most of the right marks, resulting in a satisfying experience overall. Fans will be split on All-Star Superman, no question, but I urge viewers to give the film at least two spins before passing judgment. All-Star Superman is a unique take on the Man of Steel, and definitely deserves to be given a proper chance.
All-Star Superman is now available on Blu-ray Combo, DVD and OnDemand. Click here for more!
Thank you, Dwayne McDuffie, for everything you given us during your amazing career.