Allow me, for the sake of justifying my complaints about this piece from the onset, to say that I am a subscriber to the theory that the DCAU crew is responsible for the absolute best incarnations of the DC comic characters of all time. Whenever I begin to burn out on the whole animated comic hero industry, a trip to my Batman the Animated Series collection or through a few Justice League Unlimited episodes are all it takes to remind me of everything that is right about the concept of turning static comic panels into animated life.
That said, I’ve noticed many of the crew responsible for the aforementioned properties (Bruce Timm, Alan Burnett, the late Dwayne McDuffie and company) have since shifted gears from weekly serial production to animated feature film work exclusively. While a few of these features have been pretty darn impressive (I enjoyed Batman: Under the Red Hood, Superman/ Batman Public Enemies and Justice League Crisis on Two Earths to mention a few) but All Star Superman is one of the oddest animated films I’ve encountered, DCAU or otherwise, in quite some time.
All-Star Superman, on which this picture is based, is a twelve-issue comic book series featuring Superman that ran from November 2005 to October 2008. The series was written by Grant Morrison, drawn by Frank Quitely, digitally inked by Jamie Grant and published by DC Comics.
The film incarnation is actually the tenth in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line released by Warner Premiere and the first in the line that is rated PG (as opposed to the usual PG-13 rating).
The plot goes like this: Dr. Leo Quintum and his P.R.O.J.E.C.T. Team are exploring the Sun when they are sabotaged by a booby-trapped, genetically enhanced Lex Luthor clone. Superman saves the doomed crew, but it turns out that in the process has been overdosed with radiation that, while responsible for increasing his power initially, is actually slowly killing him. Luthor, having orchestrated the death of Superman while under the employment of General Sam Lane, is arrested thanks to Clark Kent's article and sentenced to death.
Playing off the unique angle of the arch nemeses responsible for the inevitable death of the other, there is a lot of potential in this plot structure. Sadly, I felt as though the delivery of these ideals never manages to live up to the possibilities.
For starters, this 76-minute film suffers from the undeniable feeling of trying to fit entirely too many key moments from the 12-issue book run into a little over an hour’s worth of narrative. As expected, this mash of plot threads often comes off as completely disconnected from one another. Characters appear frequently, do something completely contrived, then vanish for the duration of the film. Detours like Superman’s encounter with Samson and Atlas and even the Kryptonian scientists will leave even the most diehard fans of the franchise scratching their heads in “what in the world was that?” theatrics.
These threads work out in the books on which this film is based simply because they are given due time to develop. Perhaps had they been integrated here more subtly earlier on and allowed to play out in the background to the seriousness of the larger issues at hand, they may have worked out here as well. Instead they come off as unnecessary plot devices.
However, in all fairness there are a few qualities here that prevent this one from sinking like a cinder block. Among these are the opportunity to witness Frank Quitely’s bright crisp art work come to animated life and a modern take on the Lois Lane character.
In all though the end result here is quite a muddled mess. The story itself is interesting and arguably tragic enough to warrant looking into the mini-series but the film will most certainly under-whelm both fans of the books and of past DCAU efforts alike.
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