‘It all comes out right in the end’: A review of the All-Star Superman movie
Warner Bros’ animated adaptation of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman is so reverent and faithful toward the source material that the film, to a certain extent, feels like a pale copy of its inspiration.
That’s not necessarily a damning criticism. Bruce Timm and company took the right approach in attempting to get as close a conversion from page to screen as possible (to do otherwise would have pleased no one). But the comic itself is so rich in detail and episodic in nature that even a trim, streamlined version like this that still manages to hit a number of the right high points feels a bit flabby in comparison. Saying “the book is better” is a rather easy cheat for a critic — the book is almost always better, but I suspect that fans of the comic won’t be able to watch this without running a compare/contrast checklist in their head and find the film coming up a wee bit short. The good news is that those coming fresh to the material probably won’t notice anything wrong at all.
I wasn’t kidding when I said the film is as faithful to the comic as possible. Screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie lifts the dialogue verbatim from the comic whenever he has the opportunity, and he has plenty of them. What’s more, while the animation is a bit sleeker and cleaner than Quitely’s rough, minimalist pen lines, the animators do their best to mimic the artist’s unique character expressions, posture and body types throughout the film and copy his panel composition whenever the opportunity arises. Many fans will no doubt thrill at seeing sequences like Superman kissing a super-powered Lois on the moon not only animated but done as a near-xerox copy of the original, iconic panel.
More importantly, director Sam Liu manages to maintain the overall contemplative tone and atmosphere of Morrison and Quitely’s masterpiece. It’s certainly one of the most subdued, nakedly sincere and emotional films they’ve ever done, at least compared to past WB/DC films like Under the Red Hood and Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. Matching and maintaining this sort of wistful, inspirational attitude from the comic without coming off as corny or false must have been exceedingly tricky, so kudos to Liu and company for getting that rather essential part right.
Indeed, certain sequences, like Clark Kent’s interview with Luthor in prison manage to capture the comic’s balletic farce rather well while still adding some of new bits to it. Occasionally they even manage to top the comic — there’s a gag involving Superman’s star-dense Fortress of Solitude key that actually works better animated than it did in print.
But with only a 76-minute running time, it’s not terribly surprising that a number of sequences would get edited out. As one might expect, the film hones its focus on the Superman/Lex Luthor/Lois Lane triangle, with (in case you’re not familiar with the over-arcing story) Superman finally falling terminally ill to one of Luthor’s traps and attempting to put his affairs in order, especially with Lois, before his time is up.
The comic, of course, was as much an ode to the classic Superman stories of the past as it was an exploration of the character itself and what makes him so mythic. Thus, the filmmakers attempt to nod toward this by inserting some of the less plot-essential sequences like the battle of wits between Sampson, Atlas and Superman. The one sequence that unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb is the one involving the Kryptonian astronauts Bar-El and Lilo. It’s not one of my favorite bits from the comic, and my own preference would have been to ditch that for perhaps the Jimmy Olsen sequence in issue #3 instead, or something from issue #10, where he cures children’s cancer, creates a new pocket universe and saves a girl from committing suicide. The choice to include Bar-El and Lilo makes thematic sense — their arrogant behavior provides a nice contrast to Superman’s own humility — but it does underscore the original material’s episodic nature and make the film feel like it’s trying to take a deep breath before moving on to its finale.
I usually don’t have much to say about the voice work in these films unless I hate it, but everyone does a rather good job this time around. James Denton and Christina Hendricks give a nice gravitas to their characters and the interplay between them works rather well. Special note, however, should be given to Anthony LaPaglia, who nails Luthor’s quiet arrogance and jealousy rather well.
Usually the special features sections of these DVDs are an embarrassment, with lots of unwarranted self-congratulation and allegedly in-depth looks at the histories of various characters and comics that are as shallow as dishwater. For once, however, the supplemental materials are worthwhile.
The main feature is a documentary titled “Superman Now” that features Morrison talking about the origins of the original 12-issue comic and how it came together, as well as a video segment where he shows off his original sketches for the series and talks about how they evolved over time. Even if you’ve heard Morrison talk about these things in past interviews, it’s still entertaining to see him mull over them once again.
There’s also a commentary track featuring Morrison and Timm that vacillates between insightful and glad-handed compliments, where each tells the other how much they love their work. Despite the schmoozing and occasional quiet lapses, there are notable moments, as when Morrison talks about the larger themes he was trying to address in the comic or Timm talks about how tricky it was to capture Quietly’s style in animation. It’s especially interesting to note Timm’s hesitancy about whether this more subdued, thoughtful type of material will play well before the traditional superhero fanboy audience. Would the same crowd, he asks, that cheered at the violence on display in Red Hood appreciate a more restrained film like this? I’d like to think so, but it seemed telling to me that Timm took the time to pose the question at all.
There’s also a preview of the next DCU film, a hodge-podge of Green Lantern stories titled Emerald Knights, no doubt designed as a tie-in to the upcoming live-action film. The most notable (and, honestly, unsurprising) revelation was that they plan on adapting Alan Moore’s “Mogo” story. They’d kind of be silly not to.
Despite my reservations, All-Star Superman is an entertaining movie and should please fans whether they’ve read the original mini-series or not. But there’s also no doubt that the film’s struggles to capture the particular mood of the comic and determine what to prune and what to keep make the film’s pacing a bit bumpy, to put it charitably. It would have been nice to expect a film equal in stature to the comic — nice, but unfair and more than the WB animators could no doubt execute given their financial limitations. At best the film is an enjoyable supplement, one that will allow fans to contemplate just what was so special about the original work that drew them toward it in the first place.
- February 19, 2011 @ 08:00 AM by Chris Mautner
Interesting – no mention or opinion of the ending? Was, in that case, the book better than the movie? I wish they had found a way to include the failed suicide scene – that’s so Superman to save a life, no matter how busy – no matter the situation!
It’s unrealistic to expect this to even approach the quality of the source materials, given the limitations in budget and format. I am, however, looking forward to it, and am glad to hear that, within it’s scope, it does a good job.
In my opinion, the material required a bolder approach if it was going to be adapted to an A/V medium. Something like a high-end HBO miniseries would have probably given them the space to flesh out the story, but I doubt that such a project would be economically feasible.
In any case, I’ll be snatching this up as soon as I see it in stores. All-Star Superman (I wish they had changed that name for collected editions) is my favorite superhero comic book period.
I did prefer the idea that Luthor, rather than Superman, decoded the Kryptonian genetic structure. It’s not a big thing, but as was the case with All Star Superman itself it was the small things that made it so special.
It was a brilliant animated movie, easily the best thus far, with the best voice cast of any of them across the board.
I just watched it last night. It was very boring and seemed to go one forever. I won’t be buying this one.
I was kind of surprised that Supes lets people die in order to protect his secret identity. Parasite sucks the life-force from guards left and right while Clark goes running around with Luthor trying to get him to talk.
I have been waiting for a Grant Morrison story to be addapted forever !! A good adaptation to boot .I enjoyed the film from begining to end,it captures the brilliant Morrison writing and the lush drawings of Frank Queitly very well.My only gripe is I wish there where more of the eccentric and mythical stories from the book,alas there enough material for a whole series(as is the case when Grant Morrison is writing!!) I would have to have seen “The Black Kyptonite” story or the “Bizzarro” infestation or “Young Superman” story.
Considering the length I was impressed with all that was shown.Morrisons blend of heart and emotion with over the top science fiction action and phillosophical wierdness makes All Star Superman a work of high art,the animated version has captured much of that.Taking old concepts like superheros/supervillians and reinvigorating them with post modern and wholistic concepts is what makes this book and film work,mortality rebirth, and the legacy of our deeds is at the center of this work. To those who have commented about the film being boring ,Morrison/Quitley may be many things but never boring.Let us hope that future adaptations are as good if not better.
I think that not having Supes punch out Lex was an improvement, and brings home both Supes’ aim to not use violence, and Lex’s own growth as he finally understands Superman.
I enjoyed this a lot. It was not perfect – even putting aside that the transcendent tenth issue was left out – but it was a good Superman film from people who love the character and the world. That the voice acting was great to amazing is not a bad thing, either.
And gotta say, it is far more fun when the creator spends his time saying how much he loves an adaptation than when he goes out of his way to be critical. Moore might be the better writer, but Grant is the better fan.
Well, for one thing, they didn’t change anything with the story unless they absolutley had to. Also, Moore has never gone out of his way to criticize adaptations of his work. He was asked, and he gave his opinion. This whole “fan” business is rubbish. Since when was it wrong to complain?
Cutting out issue 3 and huge chunks of issue 10… that sounds like a failure in adaptation to me. Issue 10 was easily the greatest Superman comic I’ve ever read, perhaps of all-time.
Haven’t seen it yet, but this review puts some of my reservations to rest.
I do think they’re FOREVER going to be explaining why they cut issue 10.
I’ll do my best to see this as a piece unto itself, if it works like that, I’ll forgive it.
I wonder how it’ll compare to NEW FRONTIER which is still my absolute favorite–I LOVE the quieter my personal/emotional stories.
I actually preferred the movie over the comic series ( In Fact I really dislike the comic series) However I loved the movie. I think by leaving out certain parts of the comic works well for me to keep for the 76 minute time window, but if they ever put out a directors cut with those scenes in the film I would be very interested in watching. The ending is true to the comic. If anything was a disappointment they left out the Bizzarro story.
I wonder if WB ever considered making All-Star Superman as a series of shorts, like The Spectre. They could of included them with the deluxe editions of each animated feature, maybe covering two or three issues per episode. Still, I’m glad that this work was adapted to animation as it is hands-down my favorite Superman story. Can’t wait to see it on Tuesday.
This film, unfortunately, plays as a motion comic, shorter, and with much lesser art. There is no reason for it to exist.
In the end, Superman murders a defenseless foe who is begging for mercy. What kind of scum could consider this to be anything but a perversion of Morrison’s story – or of the character?
Did not read it so I was hoping to see what was the big deal and can’t say I care for it. Just not my cup of tea. You are being nice when you say it is bumpy. No really going to pull out money for this.
It’s funny, but when I read the Grant Morrison run, I felt the Bizarro scenes were unnecessary, like a director’s cut, even though I still enjoyed them. Interesting that they left it out of them film. Also, in regards to the film, I felt that is was a bunch of cut scenes and short films slapped together. It did not have an organic feel to it. Again, I still enjoyed it, but ultimately, there was room for improvement. As a whole, DC’s animated films are superior to Marvel’s, and it is evident that DC won’t raise the bar because they don’t have to. Case in point, Marvel and DC didn’t raise the bar of their comics art quality until Image came along. Perhaps we need an ‘Image Comics’ to show the big 2 what can actually be done with comic book animation. I don’t know what Pixar has on the horizon in relation to Marvel, but once someone does raise the bar outside of the big two, look for the big two to give a start giving a damn, and follow suit.
To be honest I prefer Marvels animated films, mainly because they do there own thing and you don’t have to compare them to he comic too much.
DC’s tend to be very hit and miss, I don’t get why they don’t just do original animated stuff instead of just sourcing the comics.
Oh yeah it’s easy and creatively void, that’s why. Any aspect of the film that stands out as different from the comic is probably an animator weeping into his pay cheque.
I’ll try this but I wish DC would try harder.
I’ll check this out however, I have to say that I bought the issues a few years ago and just found the entire story to be boring, confusing and weird. Maybe I just don’t get it but I don’t see what is so great about Morrison. I really enjoy Bendis and Geoff Johns work and they live up to the hype.
Anyone else out there agree with me that Grant just isn’t a legend like everyone makes him out to be?
Gil – Totally agree. No doubt he’s intelligent, but his stuff (including all the latest Batman nonsense) just isn’t my bag.
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