Archive for June 18, 2013

Superman-Vs-The-Elite

As far as these DC Universe animated flicks go, 2012’s Superman Vs. The Elite was a bit of an aberration for me since, unlike most of the others, I had no familiarity whatsoever with the comic story on which it was based. I was seeing it with “fresh eyes,” is you will,  and therefore  actually found myself to  be in the very same position most other viewers find themselves in with this stuff.

Unfortunately, the on-screen product probably wasn’t arresting enough to get me to go out and hunt down its printed-page counterpart (sorry, I know it’s bad form to give away the “final verdict” this early in a review but oh well, too late to turn back now), so for all I know maybe the issues of the pre-“New 52” Superman monthly comic this is taken from are the greatest thing since sliced bread (not that bread — sliced or otherwise — is all that exciting, but for some reason the cliches are flowing pretty easily today, please bear with me), but ya know — I kinda doubt it.

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Which isn’t to say, I guess, that Superman Vs. The Elite is all that bad — it’s just kind of a bog-standard 21st-century superhero mash-up with cardboard characterization and very little depth. The basic run-down here is that Supes (here voiced by George Newbern, who’s okay in the role but no James Denton by any stretch) is confronted by the arrival on the scene of a new team of uber-beings calling themselves “The Elite” (hence the name), who hail from various corners of the world and not only show themselves to be more than willing to cross lines “Big Blue” won’t in terms of killing their adversaries, but are flat-out eager to openly show their outright disdain for his, in their view, antiquated set of ethics and morals. In other words, it’s fairly typical “meet the ruthless new blood out to take your place” sorta stuff. Youth — they’ve always been bad, don’tcha know?

Director Michael Chang does a decent enough job with the battle sequences, which are numerous briskly-arriving, but if you’re looking for anything much beyond that, there really isn’t a tremendous amount on offer to sink your teeth into. Lois Lane as voiced by Pauley Perrette (talk about a too-clever-by-half name that puts even Parker Posey or Imogen Poots to shame) is little more than career-woman window dressing, and Robin Atkin Downes as head bad guy Manchester Black (speaking of too clever by half) is all sneer and no substance, so don’t go look for anything too dramatically gripping on the vocal front, either.

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Still, I guess I didn’t find this to be just over an hour of my life completely wasted — that’d be too harsh, and frankly I didn’t get the sense that anyone here was actually trying hard enough to come up with an actively lousy product. After all, that still requires effort.  This whole thing just sorta starts up, chugs along, and finishes its job on schedule. Don’t waste your time peeking around corners for surprise plot twists — there aren’t any — or hoping for complex moral arguments about the relative merits of doing things the Superman way or the Manchester Black way, since all that’s presented as a given, as well. But I guess if you’re in the mood for quick-n’-easy, shut-your-brain-off stuff, this’ll do in a pinch.

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Superman Vs. The Elite is available on both DVD and Blu-Ray from Warner Premier. I got the DVD from Netflix (yes, some of us still have a disc rental plan with them), and as usual it’s a bare-bones affair with the only “bonus” material being promo stuff for other “DCU” releases. Widescreen picture and 5.1 sound mix were both pristine and unworthy of any criticism. I’m sure the Blu-Ray offers a few more goodies for the fans, but I’m not in any hurry to scrounge up a copy. All in all, this is strictly uninspired, by-the-numbers stuff, good for a single viewing if you’ve had a long day and just want to kick your feet up, but really that’s about it.

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As far as the 2013 summer blockbusters go, it’s probably fair to say that, at this point, Man Of Steel has pretty much sucked all the oxygen out of the room. Oh, sure, Iron Man 3 has made more money — at least to date — but its success was essentially a given, and a nervous studio (and an at-least-as-nervous comic book publisher) didn’t really have a tremendous amount riding on its box office performance. Add  in the fact that the last Superman flick  under-performed rather drastically in comparison to its pre-release expectations, and you’ve gotta concede that plenty of “suits” over at Warner Brothers, Legendary Pictures, and DC Comics are breathing a fairly huge collective sigh of relief right now. Plus, people are talking about it. There’s a tremendous amount of internet “chatter” — good, bad, and indifferent — about both its relative artistic merits and the reasons for its breakaway box office success going on right now, all of which ramps up the likelihood that, no matter which of the already-released and/or forthcoming big-budget popcorn extravaganzas come out on top in terms of cash earned at the turnstiles, 2013 will, in all probability, go down on record as the summer where Man Of Steel ruled the roost. Or at least the interwebs.

Of course, for those of you who’ve read my own armchair musings on the film both here and over at Through The Shattered Lens, you’ll know that I found it a mixed bag at best. I appreciated its amazing visual stylings and some of the smart chances it was willing to take in terms of the character’s backstory, but by and large I felt that its reach exceeded its grasp in terms of the “uber-mythic” slant it attempted to give/graft onto the character, and the end result was a cold, emotionally distant film that tried to hide its flaws by, simply put, clobbering you over the head so hard time and again that you were either too awed (if you liked it) or worn out (if you didn’t) to notice them. Superman is a character that works best when both parts of his name — the “Super” and the “man” — strike a delicate (and admittedly tricky) balance and learn to not only co-exist with, but also complement, each other — and at the risk of repeating myself to those who did, in fact, read my Man Of Steel review, I feel it gives up on trying to establish the “man” all too quickly and goes all-in on the “Super,” ultimately to the detriment of both.

Still, what’s done is done, and we can — and probably will — debate what Man Of Steel got right, and what it didn’t, for a long time to come. Movie geeks are like that, and comic geeks, bless us one an’ all, are even more like that.

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Still, if I were one of the legion of die-hard, instant Man Of Steel fans that are out there defending my new favorite movie from any and all detractors (or even semi-detractors like myself), the question I’d pose (to, uhhhmm, myself, I guess) at this point would be : “okay,hotshot, you talk in these big, high-fallutin’ terms about ‘delicate balances’ an’ all that, so name me a Superman flick that you think gets it right.”

It’s a perfectly apt question (even if I do say so myself), and fortunately you don’t even have to go too far back to find it — just a couple of years, in fact, to 2011 and the DC Universe animated feature All-Star Superman, adapted for the (small, since it was a straight-to-video release) screen from the highly-acclaimed 12-issue mini-series of the same name by writer Grant Morrison and artist Frank Quitely by the late, great Super-scribe Dwayne McDuffie and director Sam Liu.

Here we have another in a long list of  hypothetical “last Superman stories ever told” (my personal favorite still being Alan Moore and Curt Swan’s legendary “Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow?”) done with heart, humor, and intelligence — a story that embraces the admitted absurdities of 1950s/60s era single-issue Superman tales that had him (and know in advance that he only does some of these things here, but it’s the thought that counts) getting amnesia, revealing his secret identity, turning into a gorilla, or going back in time and saving Krypton from destruction (only to have all of these monumental changes immediately cancelled out by some ultra-convenient plot contrivance on the last page, naturally), translates them into a form palatable to modern, supposedly “sophisticated” audiences, and ends up reminding us just why it is that we love the character, both “Super” and “Man,” in the process.

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Okay, sure, it’s not without its flaws — this is a story that definitely works better on the printed page, as a series of interconnected “one-offs,” than it does as an animated flick, where its  entire litany of plot developments — Superman gets solar radiation poisoning and learns that he’s dying, then has a big, bad confrontation with an ultra-pumped-up Parasite while trying to keep his identity a secret from Lex Luthor, then goes ahead and reveals said secret identity to Lois Lane, then gives her his powers for 24 hours as a birthday gift, then solves the Riddle of the Sphinx, then has a final, winner-take-all battle with Luthor, then has to save the sun itself and thereby the Earth in the process, perhaps at the cost of his own life — feels a bit rushed at best and disjointed at worst, but trust me — that ear-to-ear smile you’ll have from start to finish will be sending a signal to your brain that says “who cares, just go with it,” and ya know what? You will. And yeah, while I’d have preferred to see a bit more of Quitely’s unique and, heck, amazing art style translated into the animated proceedings, enough of its awe-inspiring grandeur and childlike sense of innocence and wonder survives the leap in formats for me to not have much to complain about on that front. This is, both script-wise and art-wise, a Superman who dazzles and inspires us not because he’s apart  from us, like Zack Synder and Christopher Nolan’s take on the character, but because he’s a part of us. He’s an ideal for all of us to strive for, not something too awesome, too other, too alien,  for us to ever hope to emulate.

As far as the voice casting goes, James Denton is — as always — pitch-perfect as both Superman and Clark Kent, Christina Hendricks projects secure, confident humanity as Lois Lane, Anthony LaPaglia clearly relishes the chance to “evil-genius-it-up” as Lex Luthor, and little touches such as having Edward Asner on hand as Perry White and Frances Conroy as Ma Kent show that some real thought went into this thing from top to bottom. I hesitate to use grandiose terms like “labor of love,” but this sure feels like one to this usually-too-cynical-for-his-own-good critic.

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All-Star Superman is available on a few different home video iterations from Warner Premier — either as a single-disc DVD, a single-disc Blu-Ray, or a two-DVD “special edition.” The single-disc DVD contains some preview material for other “DCU” titles but is otherwise essentially a bare-bones release, while the two-disc version and the Blu-Ray feature a fairly intriguing “making-of” featurette and a handful of tangentially-related episodes from various Superman animated television series selected by Bruce Timm as bonus features. Widescreen picture and 5.1 sound are stunning no matter which option you go for.

All told, if you like myths that you can actually relate to, and you prefer your Superman to be a bit more accessible than the Godlike,  Nietzchean ideal of Snyder and Nolan, I think you’re going to find All-Star Superman  right up your alley. And hey — even if you did love Man Of Steel to pieces, I still think you’re likely to dig this populist, universal take on the character that really does bring the legend to life in a way all of us can appreciate. This is a movie that leaves you saying to yourself “gosh, that was neat” and not feeling the least bit self-conscious for doing so.