For years, I’ve been talking about how much I love the DC Universe Animated Original Movies. Even for the ones I don’t like as much, I usually mention my love for most of the other ones. I’ve been watching these movies since they first started making them in 2007, and I’ve been keeping track of them ever since. And All-Star Superman is one of my all-time favorites.
It’s actually been one of my favorites for a long time, as it originally came out in 2011. I’ve seen it at least half a dozen times since then. Now it’s being rereleased in 4K, and I jumped at the chance to review it, because there’s so much to say about this movie.
Superman (James Denton) is dying. Hardly the first time we as an audience have seen that, but this is a bit different. Rather than being weakened by Kryptonite or pummeled into submission by an equally matched foe, here Superman’s downfall is actually the very source of his power. After saving a manned exploratory mission to the sun, the overexposure to solar radiation triples Superman’s strength, makes him immune to Kryptonite, endows him with brand new abilities, and even increases his intelligence and creativity. The radiation also overloads his system and is now slowly killing him. He may be more powerful than ever, but the clock is ticking.
Before he dies, though, there are a few loose ends that the Man of Tomorrow needs to take care of, from feats of heroism to final arrangements to, of course, telling Lois Lane (Christina Hendricks) the truth about who he is and how he feels. Meanwhile, there’s also Lex Luthor (Anthony LaPaglia) to deal with, who has more than a few dastardly tricks up his sleeve.
So, what makes this movie so great? Two things. First, the world. In an age when everything needs to be dark and gritty and realistic, All-Star Superman goes the opposite direction, giving us a world of possibilities. Anything can happen in this movie, and you never know what the next moment will bring.
There’s a high-tech laboratory in space, an army of superpowered robots, several different varieties of aliens, and time-traveling characters from mythology. Why are Samson from the Bible and Atlas from ancient Greece antagonizing Superman and flirting with Lois? We don’t know, but we don’t really need to know. We just need to sit back and enjoy a movie where that sort of thing can happen.
The second thing that really makes this movie stand out is the characters. The external conflicts are loads of fun to watch, but the real meat of this movie is the emotional conflict. How does Superman deal with his own mortality? Moreover, how does someone with near godlike powers relate to the people of his adopted home world—particularly his friends, family, and loved ones? And how does he prepare that home world to deal with the threats only he can face, once he’s no longer around to face them?
The really fascinating character in this movie, though, is Lex Luthor. It’s perhaps the most interesting and most nuanced portrayal of him I’ve ever seen. He is one of the smartest people on the planet and can create technology beyond most people’s wildest dreams. He’s also in peak physical condition. He’s worked hard to get where he is and achieved some truly impressive things. Then, along comes Superman, whose power dwarfs Lex’s and everyone else’s on Earth. No matter how hard Lex works, his achievements will never come close to the power Superman was simply born with. Wouldn’t you hate someone like that? Wouldn’t you want to kill them?
Well, no, most likely not, unless you’re also evil, insane, and more than a bit delusional, like Lex Luthor. The movie is still very clear on that point. But the dynamic it portrays between Lex and Superman—as well as between Lex and Clark—is a fascinating one that adds a whole new perspective to an old and familiar rivalry. Also, Anthony LaPaglia’s performance is fantastic. He really brings this complex and multi-faceted character to life in a way few others have.
For many viewers, the real question with regards to this movie will be, “How does it compare with the comic?” Grant Morrison’s original story has become a classic, beloved by many. Can the film measure up? Well, Grant Morrison likes the movie, if that helps any.
In preparation for this review, I actually finally read the comic for the first time, so I could find out for myself how it compares. I can definitely see why it’s a classic. The movie is a very faithful adaptation, as well. There aren’t many changes. A few things are cut, but that’s to be expected. You can’t fit everything from a 12-issue comic into a single movie. Well, Batman: The Long Halloween did it, but that one runs nearly three hours. All-Star Superman was quite a bit earlier, when movies in the DC Universe Animated Original Movie catalogue were consistently running closer to 70 minutes.
In truth, having now read the comic, I kind of wish the movie could have been maybe ten or fifteen minutes longer, so it could have included at least one more story. Still, it’s a minor flaw in an otherwise great film.
There are a number of great special features on the Blu-ray. There are two featurettes, including an in-depth one called Superman Now, with interviews from Grant Morrison and others about the creation of the All-Star Superman comic. There’s also feature-length audio commentary from Morrison and Bruce Timm, and even a digital preview of the first few pages of the comic. Plus, the standard two TV show episodes – called “Bruce Timm’s Picks” on the disc. In this case, Bruce Timm has picked a two-part episode from Superman: The Animated Series, “Blasts from the Past,” which fits nicely in with the movie.
All in all, this is a great film, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re a fan of Superman, and particularly if you like superhero stories that are deep and thoughtful, but also have a fair amount of lightness and fun to them, you’ll want to check out All-Star Superman.
Creative Team: Sam Liu (director), Dwayne McDuffie (written by), Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (graphic novel), Bruce Timm (producer), Alan Burnett (co-producer), and Sam Register (executive producer)
Released by: Warner Bros. Animation, DC Entertainment
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