Mar 28, 2011

[Movies] All-Star Superman (2011)

All-Star Superman (2011)As much as the direct-to-video realm has been known for some really bad movies especially of the animated variety, one has to concede that the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line remains to be an exception to that rule.

And yes, this is also a direct insult against the shoddy work we see from Marvel Animation. There, I said it.

Over the past 2-3 years, the level of quality of the DC movies has been pretty impressive with each new movie being somewhat better than previous titles in many ways, showing a continuing effort to improve upon their past achievements. It's hard to explain where the secrets to their success really lies - is it just because they choose some of DC's best stories for adaptation or is this more about the quality of the animation coupled with good directing?

This may be a question left to the individual viewer, I suppose. But if anything, adapting more popular stories like this one tend to cut both ways - handle things wrong and you're bound to get a highly negative reaction from the die hard fans. If anything, I feel this was definitely not one of those cases.

Cover of "All Star Superman, Vol. 1"Cover of All Star Superman, Vol. 1All-Star Superman is the tenth direct-to-video animated feature released under the DC Universe Animated Original Movies banner and the first release for 2011. It's based on the the limited comic book series of the same name written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Frank Quitely. The animated feature was directed by Sam Liu and written by Dwayne McDuffie.

Like the comic, the story begins with Dr. Leo Quintum (Alexis Denisof) and his P.R.O.J.E.C.T team conducting special research on the sun when a genetic monstrosity created by Lex Luthor (Anthony LaPaglia) starts to attack the scientists. Remarkably, the creature is being controlled remotely by Luthor himself who is planning out his movies despite a 9-minute delate in terms of his commands reaching the creature. As expected, Superman (James Denton) comes to the rescue of the scientists, but not before this greater proximity to the sun gives him an overdose of the radiation that gives him his powers. This leads to him gaining new powers and abilities but also comes with a fatal price - his cells are slowly dying because of the super saturation of solar energy.

Thus Superman goes about living the final days of his life to the fullest while keeping secret the fact that he is dying. Thus he finally reveals to Lois Lane (Christina Hendricks) that he is in fact Clark Kent and proceeds to bring her to his Fortress of Solitude. There he gives her a very special birthday gift - one that she'll never forget. At the same time, Luthor has a longer term plan that involves more than just finally killing Superman - one that we won't get to see the full extent of until the very end of the movie.

The original comic series involved a wide variety of Superman stories in very different scenarios in environments. While the movie wasn't able to capture all of them in a single film (e.g. the Jimmy Olsen story, the Superboy story and the invasion of Bizarro Home, to name a few), it still managed to capture a good number of them. Some fans may complain about these omissions but to be fair, not all the stories were essential to the "core" plot of Superman dying because of the solar overdose. Thus this more focused re-telling without the "what if" style stories still worked and remained highly coherent and integral to its own story.

The animation style was pretty quaint given their attempts to recreate / pay home to the Frank Quitely style. The only problem my partner and I had with this aspect to things was how everyone ended up with really thick lips, thus implying a very different genetic history for everyone that probably involved African-Americans or related races along those lines of development. I'm not saying that this made it bad - just a little weird given it presented a different feel to things from how Quitely drew the comic. So it was a bit hit-or-miss in this aspect, I suppose, and each viewer will have to decide if it works for them.

James Denton was a bit of an odd choice for the voice of Superman. His performance seemed a tad inconsistent, and maybe this was more because we had all gotten so used to the likes of Tim Daly and George Newbern, who voiced the Animated Series and Justice League Unlimited, respectively. Heck, Daly even voiced the recent Superman/Batman animated movies, so why go in a new direction right? It wasn't all bad though - just a bit distracting since it felt a little off. It's hard to describe and thus it may be a personal thing.

In contrast, Anthony LaPaglia was surprisingly good as Lex Luthor - a performance that reminded me a lot of Clancy Brown's work for The Animated Series. It wasn't too over-the-top nor was it too understated. It just came off rather, well, Luthor.

However, overall storytelling and the choice of stories to put into the movie was top-notch and the whole piece just flowed like one beautiful story. There were very minimal re-writes (as we've seen in some previous DC animated movies) and for the most part they stuck to the original story. Thus this made the story all the better in the end.

Sure, there were minor edits to the ending as well, but I don't think it took anything away from the story. In fact, I didn't even notice those particular changes until I double-checked my facts while working on this review. Go figure.

All-Star Superman is a great movie and perhaps now one of my favorite DC Universe Animated Movies to-date. It gets 5 crazy theories about who Dr. Leo Quintum really is out of 5.

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