While The Man of Steel, the long-gestating latest chapter of Superman live-action films, continues to languish in limbo and new installments of Batman and Spider-Man struggle for attention in the shadow of Marvel’s The Avengers, I decided to take a look at the 2011 animated direct-to-video feature All-Star Superman, which adapts a highly acclaimed print story written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Frank Quitely.
When Superman (voiced by James Denton) saves the crew of the first mission to the sun, he is poisoned by overexposure to the yellow sun that gives him his power. Superman realizes he is slowing dying, and decides to reveal his secret to the love of his life, Lois Lane (Christina Hendricks). It is revealed that Lex Luthor (Anthony LaPaglia) was behind the disaster on the space flight, and he has finally realized his dream to kill Superman, so Supes must put aside his own concerns to save the Earth one last time.
A lot happens in this movie, and it gives the viewer an impression of what Superman’s life must be like; he’s always busy with something. But there is a lot of humanity inside Superman, and we get to see plenty of what Kal-El learned while growing up in Kansas: namely compassion and empathy. The sequence in which he allows Lois to literally fly 24 hours in his boots is a highlight, and the sudden appearance of Kryptonian menaces Bar-El (Arnold Vosloo) and Lilo (Finola Hughes) show the many ways Superman himself might have gone wrong.
Because the movie is adapting a 12-issue arc of stories, everything moves at a breakneck pace that can seem a little superficial. Bar-El and Lilo especially seem to get short shrift. But on the plus side, the movie is always entertaining because there’s always something new happening. The viewer can really feel Morrison’s comic book plotting technique, because the big, main storyline is introduced and then simmers in the background while other events pop up and are dealt with; elements that will be important later are introduced and then seemingly abandoned, only to reappear at a crucial moment. Morrison knows his stuff, and on the page none of this felt rushed, so that is a consequence of adapting the piece to video.
The visual style of the movie owes quite a bit to series artist Quitely, but of course the animation could never approach copying his intricate style; instead we get the massive bodies with pinched faces and his delightfully retro design sense. I never thought I’d love antennae on the tops of heads so much!
The voice performances are uniformly excellent, with Denton avoiding going over the top, and LaPaglia keeping Luthor calm and smugly confident. But the best performance is by MAD MEN’s Hendricks, who gives Lois such a sexy voice that it’s almost a distraction; clearly, you don’t even have to see Hendricks to absorb her sex appeal.
The ultimate resolution of the Lex Luthor problem will feel very familiar to anyone familiar with Morrison’s The Authority, but the way it plays out here is nicely handled, and emotional tone of the finale tugs at the heart just a bit.
If you’re a fan of the Superman of the comic books rather than the silver screen, you will definitely enjoy this animated feature.