DC Entertainment’s latest animated adventure is arguably their most ambitious project yet. The highly anticipated animated adaptation of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s modern comic book classic, “All Star Superman” arrived with fireworks. The original out of continuity twelve issue comic book series tells the tale of Superman’s final days on Earth before he dies. Like the comic book, the film is just as visionary and enjoyable. An instant DC animated classic.
When DC Entertainment first announced their plans to bring Morrison’s masterpiece to home video, I must admit, I had many concerns. “All Star Superman” is an intellectual and cerebral story that dives into the idea of Superman and what he means as a symbol. In many ways, the original material is nothing but adoration. And I questioned the creative team at DC Entertainment, and their ability to translate these big ideas to the screen while maintaining the drama, emotion, and charm that the comic book contained. And to my great surprise, by my assessment, DC Entertainment succeeded in creating a film that can stand on its own, while remaining extremely faithful to the source material. All of this adds up to the finest DC animated film to date.
Like the book, “All Star Superman” has a fairly simple premise. During a rescue mission in space, all premeditated by Lex Luthor, Superman is overexposed to the Sun’s solar energy. The overexposure causes Superman’s cells to slowly exploded, which is leading to his death. Given only a few weeks to live, Superman sets out on some of his greatest adventures before his time is up. Like the comic book, the film covers several of Superman’s wacky adventures, and is told in a very episodic style. Writer Dwayne McDuffie does a fantastic job of converting the page for the screen here, leaving us with a very lean film (Writer’s Note: Dwayne McDuffie pasted away back in February, the Monday before the film’s home video release. He was a terrific creator and will be greatly missed). However, like most book to film adaptations, McDuffie is forced to cut several stories from the original film, most likely to keep the run time under eighty minutes. The most notable exclusions are the wildly entertaining episodes, “The Superman/Jimmy Olsen War” and “Us Do Opposite”, a storyline that sees Superman travel to Bizarro world. While for loyal readers, these subtractions are noticeable, they do not take much away from the overall film itself.
The film showcases few flaws, but there is one glaring mistake. In the comic book, it starts with a brief recap of Superman told with few words, and few pages. This creates a very epic scale for the book to start on. The film tries to recreate this sequence in less then a minute, and it fails miserably. It’s clumsily handled, the sequence loses all of its scale and the final product is almost comical. This is also partly due to the silly voice-over that is heard during these flashing cuts from image to image. Also as I mentioned in the above paragraph, the film does omit several situations that occurred in the original story. And while it does not harm the film’s characters, it does confuse the narrative ever so slightly. In the book, every story is connected, while they are a series of one and done tales, each contains some subplot that builds to the overall story. Being someone who has read the comic book many times, I was able to fill in the gaps, but I think for someone who has never read the comic book, the film can be a little confusing. However, like I mentioned before, I don’t believe this takes away from the film’s big picture.
What makes “All Star Superman” an animated movie masterpiece, is its respectful presentation of the characters and the universe they exist in. The film is very much a story of relationships, relationships that Superman has created and kept over the years. This respectful handling is ever so present in the scenes shared between Superman and Lois Lane. The film really succeeds in creating that romantic atmosphere that existed when these characters are together. It also does a find job of recreating the emotions that the book conveyed between Kal-El and Lois. Their relationship is handled with a tremendous amount of compassion. These scenes alone become instant superhero classic moments. This is never so evident during a sequence that has Superman revealing to Lois that he is dying. If you don’t tear up here, your not human, its quite possibly the most gut-wrenching scene I have ever watched from a superhero film. The film also manages to do something that no one else has ever been able to do with the Lex Luthor character. Throughout most of the film, Luthor is the ultimate villain, the man who will be responsible for the Superman’s death. However, by the film’s end, once he learns of his mistake, the character is humanized and you can’t help but feel some sort of sympathy for him. Still, while the film is terrific, much of the credit should still go to the original source material.
Much of the film’s dialogue is directly lifted from Morrison’s original script. Comic book dialogue is often tricky territory as it can sometimes come off as “stiff” or “campy”. However, the transition from page to screen reveals that Morrison really wrote some terrific dialogue in the original book. The dialogue is very simplistic while being very sentimental, and while it is accessible, it is able to express those “big ideas” without confusing an audience.
This may be the most well-rounded voice cast that DC has ever assembled. All the voice actors here deliver top-notch performances. ABC’s Desperate Housewives, James Denton voices the boy in blue and he is an absolute perfect fit for this story. Denton presents us with a very soft-spoken Superman. A Superman who is very subdued yet you can here the confidence in his voice. His performance fits in perfectly with the style of Superman written in the book and film. Christina Hendricks of AMC’s Mad Men, lends her voice to the role of Lois Lane. While Hendricks gives a very sound performance, unfortunately, Lois isn’t flushed out as much as some of the other characters, giving her little of an arc. Anthony LaPaglia from CBS’ Without A Trace, delivers an absolute knockout performance as Lex Luthor. LaPaglia’s performance took some getting used to, but he is able to provide the audience with a character who you both despise and admire. Something I’m not sure Clancy Brown could do, given his menacing voice. LaPaglia’s Luthor is wise, calculated, and cold. But under that tough exterior, you sense that there truly is a good man in there somewhere. LaPaglia was a very sound choice for the role. And of course, a Superman animated adventure would not be complete with the veteran, Ed Asner who voices Perry White, and is terrific as usual. You can tell by the nuanced performances, that the cast greatly admired the material that they were given.
The film is also wonderful visually. The creative team did a great job of capturing, original artist, Frank Quitely’s art style perfectly, giving the film a sort of silver-age, classical look that the comic book had. The film’s animation is much cleaner then Quitely’s style, but the inspiration is obvious, and it is most obvious in the character designs. Quitely’s Superman has a very large frame, giving him a mythological look, something similar to Paul Bunyan. Quitely’s Superman truly does look like the great American hero, and the film does its’ best to replicate that image. The villain known as Parasite, also makes an appearance in the film. Parasite isn’t generally known to be all that intimidating looking. However, Quitely redesigned the character in the comic book, and the film replicates that interpretation, making the character incredibly terrifying. Due to Quitely’s heavy influence on the film’s animation style, it is unique in comparison to the other DC animated films. None the less, the animation is top-notch as it usually is.
“All Star Superman” is undoubtedly the calmest and most gentle superhero film I have ever had the pleasure of viewing. And there is something wonderfully refreshing about that. The film shows us that superheroes are relate able, they don’t always need an abundance of action to be interesting. That these are strong characters with strong feelings. The film is extremely faithful to the original source material. Source material that I consider to be the finest superhero comic book of all time. This film is full of heart and soul, journeying through the philosophical questions associated with Superman, and reminds us why he is the world’s greatest superhero. This film is dramatic, sharp, and charming. Making it easy for me to call my favorite DC Universe animated film to date.
All Star Superman:
Reviewed by Zach