Growing up, I was never that interested in Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s Superman. To be honest, it just seemed like leaping tall buildings and outrunning speeding bullets was exactly what someone with seemingly endless abilities should be doing. Looking back, I think what it came down to is that I couldn’t locate the emotional and personal stakes associated with the character as easily as I could with other heroes like Batman and, to a lesser extent, Spiderman. As a result, the “Big Blue Boy Scout” and his world-saving adventures never resonated with me. Then, I read Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman. Continued after the jump.
In 12 issues the mini-series changed everything I thought I knew about Superman. All of a sudden, I began to appreciate the duality of Clark Kent/Superman’s existence. What’s more, I finally seen a vulnerability in the character that made me care about the story’s outcome because, for the first time, I thought he could fail. From beginning to end, I was surprised, scared, delighted, and broken-hearted for a character I had previously cared little to nothing about. So, the question here is how does the All-Star Superman animated film compare to the storytelling achievement provided by the comic? Find out in my Blu-ray review after the jump.
For those unaware, the premise behind All-Star Superman essentially boils down to this: What if Superman were dying? Briefly, the story is set in motion when Superman saves an endangered science team that is exploring the sun. Upon returning from the mission, the Man of Steel learns that, per arch nemesis Lex Luthor’s plan, the up-close trip to his source of power has overloaded his cells to the point that they are destroying one another, leaving him with a year or so to live. From there, Morrison and Quitely take readers on a ride that highlights the best that the Superman mythology has to offer. Which brings us to the animated film.
Director Sam Liu’s All-Star Superman film adaptation essentially works as an overview of its source material. In its 76-minute runtime, we get the jest of Morrison and Quitely’s story minus much of the nuance and emotionality found in the page (i.e. key moments Superman has with Jimmy Olsen and a suicidal girl respectively are absent from the screen). As far as the voice work is concerned, Christina Hendricks (Mad Men) delivers a believable Lois Lane while Ed Asner (Up) and Anthony LaPaglia (Without a Trace) knock it out of the park as Perry White and Lex Luthor respectively. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for James Denton (Desperate Housewives) whose Clark Kent/Superman comes across as dull and lifeless. I get that this version of the character is supposed to be introspective given the circumstances of the story, but Denton’s work often sounds more uninterested than meditative.
Overall, I would be lying if I said this adaptation was everything I had hoped for. While the film does a solid job of recreating the relationship dynamics between Superman/Lois and Superman/Lex Luthor (Lois’ 24-hour superpowers and Clark’s visit to Lex in prison are the highlights of the pic for me), it fails to paint the whole picture that the source material colored so vividly. Almost anyone can tell you that Superman loves Lois and is despised by Lex. Those are staples of the characters that have been so well established previously that little dramatic work is needed to convince the audience of it. That said, it takes a special kind of story to convince Superman skeptics like myself of the importance that the rest of Superman/Clark Kent’s world plays in making the character who he is. Morrison and Quitely’s All-Star Superman is that kind of story. Unfortunately, as much as it may like to be, the film adaptation just isn’t working with the same type of superpowers.
For me, the Blu-ray special features are what make All-Star Superman almost worthy of recommendation. I imagine that fans of the comic will really enjoy Superman Now, a 30-minute featurette that breaks down the development and execution of All-Star from writer Grant Morrison and DC Comics co-publisher, Dan Didio. This segment is filled with quality anecdotes about the run from Morrison discussing an inspiring conversation he had with a man dressed like Superman to Didio connecting All-Star to years of Superman mythology.
The 8-minute featurette entitled The Creative Flow: Incubating the Idea with Grant Morrison is also a nice, albeit shorter, piece in which Morrison describes the initial sketches and though process that takes place when he’s just beginning to shape a story. The film is also playable with commentary from producer Bruce Timm and Morrison. Honestly, I’m never a huge fan of commentary set to the film in question (I find I’m always distracted and can never fully commit to watching the movie or listening to the commentary). Nevertheless, I can appreciate listening to two men with the type of experience that Timm and Morrison have discussing a superb work such as All-Star Superman.
Rounding out the Blu-ray package is a digital copy of the film, a digital issue of All-Star Superman #1, a preview for Green Lantern: Emerald Knights (whose review can be found by clicking here), a look at another DC animated project, Superman/Batman Apocalypse, and a couple of episodes (parts one and two of “Blasts from the Past”) from Superman: The Animated Series which Timm illustrated and developed alongside Paul Dini and Alan Burnett.