The WB has done themselves an incredible disservice by underfunding All-Star Superman. I still claim the final product to be the greatest DC Comics animated film they’ve had the mind to produce, but that’s not really saying a whole lot. Previous attempts at solo, team-up, and Justice League feature-length fare have been viewed unfavorably in my eyes, but All-Star Superman stands apart with superior intelligence, heartfelt reflection, and an unequaled sense of wonder.
I’m reviewing All-Star Superman “without the benefit” of having read the twelve issue miniseries and after seeing the film, I’m relieved. Behind the surface of it, I got the impression that those comics must be for Superman what The Dark Knight Returns was for Batman. Had I read the comics first, as I’m sure many of you have, I would no doubt be hung up on what didn’t make the final cut. Instead, I enjoyed it in the same light as most of the people who will be watching this cartoon on cable someday…
Within moments of All-Star’s opening, Lex Luthor has succeeded in killing Superman. Overexposure to the Sun’s radiation is now slowly killing Earth’s savior while also enhancing every aspect of his power, like a light burning brightest before it’s snuffed. Loose ends will be tied, affairs placed in order, and between we’re treated to the quiet contemplation and purely honest interactions that one exhibits with nothing left to lose. I suppose I came to expect this sort of thing after watching the documentary Talking with Gods, which provides insight and interviews with the story’s writer, Grant Morrison. Here, I’m not even witnessing it first-hand, with the miniseries having been condensed by screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie to little over an hour’s runtime, but what remains is extraordinary.
Superman is at peace, like the Buddha passing on before his reflection is left to inspire the masses forever. During this process, Superman doesn’t just hit harder and fly faster, but also sees clearer and understands more. There are plenty of epic match-ups to be had but ultimately, this is a meditation. Can you say the same for the animated Crisis on Two Earths? What I got out of that one was a seventy minute gladiator display.
Voiceover work ranges from generic to astonishing. I’ll have to go back and listen to the Clancy Brown Lex Luthor from the animated series but I think Anthony LaPaglia may have him beat. His voice carries both the composure of a man who believes himself to be humanity’s last hope and all the disquieted arrogance that goes along with it. If there’s a failure in audio it’s the film’s musical score, which has more in common with standard straight-to-DVD Superman adventures than a head trip where Superman feeds baby suns to his celestial pet, answers unanswerable questions, and cultivates flowers that sing.
I’m happy to see the art style adapt the unconventional proportions and persistent sense of glow that Frank Quitely made his signature style. In terms of its visual presentation, All-Star Superman’s reverence for the source material is a great strength. DC has been Bruce Timmifying just about every animation they’ve put out since Batman: The Animated Series, so I’m happy to report that as producer, Timm himself showed restraint.
Even cheeky humor and Silver-Age winks are present to round out the experience but regrettably, even with all this praise I can’t declare All-Star Superman above and beyond the Richard Donner live action films, nor the early seasons of Lois & Clark and Smallville that were better suited to the episodic nature of comics. I feel like the potential really was there for the animated All-Star to blow the roof straight off audience expectations, but the whole thing is blatantly undermined by weak production values. It’s as if Warner Brothers saw one retail gross figure of a few million dollars, and declared that all future DC animated films, regardless of the quality of the script, be manufactured on that same baseline budget.
There’s no chemistry to speak of between Superman and Lois Lane because the animation just isn’t there to support subtle humanity. I don’t even feel like I’m spoiling anything by saying that in his final hour, Superman reveals his identity to the sassy reporter. There’s nothing to spoil if the whole thing is an afterthought. Her face expresses no surprise, no enjoyment. They just crank it out like another part of the plot because the dynamic is written for art or for actors, not the same Korean animation studio that handles every one of these budget-rate movies.
Further, the streets of Metropolis are noticeably unpopulated, The Daily Planet is reduced to a few people that hang out with Perry White (dependably voiced by Ed Asner) and the cut corners don’t end there. As far as I can tell, this film isn’t being marketed. Oh, I’m sure between some comic pages there’s an ad here and there, but where’s the flashy banners on websites, the commercial spots and water cooler hype? Before sitting down to write, I hit up local comicbook stores to see how people felt about the highly praised miniseries being released as an animated film and they didn’t even know about it. All-Star Superman hits shelves tomorrow.
Unfortunate, because this animated All-Star is host to a concept entirely fresh to the Superman mythos. The movie treats its audience with respect in a very different manner than the blood soaked Batman: Under the Red Hood. It’s fine for teenagers and provoking to adults. Treat yourself to a satisfactory journey through the stars.
Overall Score: 8.10 – Great. (Movies that score between 8.00 and 8.50 are great representations of their genre that everyone should see in theaters on opening night.)
Josh Parker: 7.80 — Good. A faithful adaptation of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s comics series of the same name, All-Star Superman is a wonderfully animated and superbly voiced film from start to finish. While the film suffers from some middling filler and awkward pacing in its second act, it still manages to be entirely entertaining and one of the few times I’ve actually enjoyed a Superman story. Simply put, All-Star Superman is easily the best animated outing for the Man of Steel yet.