Movie Review: ‘Superman vs. The Elite’

Superman vs. The Elite

Superman vs. The Elite

Warner Bros. Animation / DC Universe Animated Original Movie

Directed by Michael Chang
Written by Joe Kelly
Starring: George Newbern (Clark Kent / Kal-El / Superman), Pauley Perrette (Lois Lane), Robin Atkin Downes (Manchester Black), Dee Bradley Baker (Atomic Skull), Ogie Banks (Terrence), Catero Colbert (Nathan Jones / Coldcast), Grey DeLisle (Young Manchester), Melissa Disney (Menagerie), Paul Eiding (Pa Kent), Troy Evans (Pundit), David Kaufman (Jimmy Olsen), Andrew Kishino (Hat)

 

Take it from a dyed-in-the-wool Superman nut; Superman’s never been cool. It’s a problem every new writer to his ongoing saga must immediately confront. And the worst thing they can do is try and remedy it. To those of us who love Superman, the solution might not always be apparent. We might not be able to articulate it. But down deep, we know. Superman has never needed to be cool to be the best.

There are few greater testaments to Superman’s abilities, merit and relevance than this story.

Joe Kelly returns to what is likely his most celebrated superhero script, “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?.” Originally published in 2001’s Action Comics #775, the story routinely emerges as a fan-favorite Superman tale, frequently surpassing full graphic novels and longer story lines in popularity. Though characters like Manchester Black and the Elite went on to make several more appearances in DC comics, their introduction in Action #775 remains a wholly satisfying self-contained story (aided in part by an atypically robust page count).

As with Judd Winick on Batman: Under the Red Hood, Kelly doesn’t simply translate his original comic story to feature length, he expands upon it with some thoughtful new additions. The writer was especially fortunate here, as the project actually demanded the development of new material as opposed to the kinds of devastating cuts to the source material usually required for adaptations. Ask any screenwriter and they’ll tell you it’s far simpler a task to adapt a short story, rather than a novel, to feature length. Fans of the original issue can expect all of the major beats augmented by a number of new sequences that make these characters register all the more complex.

In Superman vs. The Elite, Kelly eschews the in media res opening from Action #775 to offer a broader picture of Superman and Manchester’s world. The Elite have yet to make a dent in the pavement or the zeitgeist. Black is biding his time, monitoring a bank of global news broadcasts, riled by the escalating violence between Bialya and Pokolistan (don’t bother looking those up on Google Earth). He takes particular notice of Superman’s actions, but a single rescue operation is drowned out by a torrent of dire bulletins. The wily telekinetic mastermind decides it’s time to take a stand and take a more proactive and lasting approach to policing than Superman has ever demonstrated. He and his team of Elite metahumans start out as seemingly over-eager Superman fanboys, just stepping in to help. But it soon becomes readily apparent that Manchester, Managerie, Coldcast and the Hat are setting a dangerous new precedent. They’re unafraid to kill and level whole neighborhoods in their bid for justice. Can Superman stop them without resorting to their petty and destructive tactics?

The most impressive aspect of this adaptation isn’t just the amount of small moments that made the transition to the feature, though the scene with a disenfranchised young Superman fan arguing with other children decked out in Elite gear was a welcome moment. No, the amazing thing is that there’s so much more content capably eased into the storyline. Superman interacts with the Elite in a number of new encounters, making the arc of their relationship much more complex. Superman is at first eager to meet a new super team and then gradually becomes more and more wary of their intentions, all culminating in that familiar final confrontation. There’s even a mutual enemy thrown into the mix with the addition of Atomic Skull. Kelly even includes elements from Manchester’s past, some of it derived from other comic appearances, to make Superman temporarily sympathetic to the anti-hero’s cause. Perhaps the strongest additions come with a refreshing return to Clark and Lois as a married couple, competing for scoops and debating all those difficult questions with which Superman is so often tasked. George Newburn and Pauley Parrette make for an interesting odd couple here, but I became fully enamored of the dopey boy scout and the sly and playful woman of his dreams.

Superman vs. The Elite is a fantastic expansion of the original Action Comics #775 story and one of the extremely rare DC animated features that doesn’t feel at all claustrophobic. Instead we’ve got ourselves a nuanced and robust Superman story that highlights the blue boy scout’s defining traits without ascending to the pulpit. Though he gets to show his teeth here, this one’s all heart.

4.5 Stars

(Out of 5)

 

Comments

  1. I know what I’ll be doing tomorrow… 🙂

  2. Thanks for the review Paul. I was on the fence about this one, but I’m gonna check it out now.

  3. I loved this at WonderCon, and I am excited to watch it again tomorrow! Very complex Superman story indeed…it actually made me uneasy.

  4. I loved it forgot how funny joe kelly is If snyder’s superman films half as good I’ll be happy.

    Joe kelly’s funny and smart, why is lobdell on superman, what’s kelly up to now?

  5. This was a lot better than I thought it would be. If you’ve been avoiding the Superman books for a while like I have then you’ll find this really refreshing. You really do get the best kind of Superman characterization here.

  6. Still not sure I like the animation style… But after such a great review, I’m much more excited about this than I was before!

    • I agree. The animation style looks “looser” than many prior DC Animated movies. I think even using their typical animation style would have been more fitting to the subject matter.

  7. I see that it is directed by Michael Chang. The same Michael Chang that has directed many of the episodes of Young Justice, B:BATB and Teen Titans. That’s a promising sign. Though, I will admit that I do not know if a director in animation is similar to a director of live-action. It could be something completely different, perhaps akin to a producer in TV / movies.

  8. This comes out this week? I thought we still had a few months to wait, seems like JL: Doom just came out not that long ago.

  9. If you guys do a podcast on this you should try hard to get Ron on it. This seems right up his alley flavor wise. Plus it’s Superman in non-comics form.

    • We will indeed do a podcast on this as we always do for these movies, but Ron will not be on it: he’s not a part of the iFanboy Animation Squad.

  10. Interesting that they used the old DC logo at the beginning…

  11. Wrkngclasshero (@joinedtofollow) says:

    I gotta say DC is pretty good at marketing. To concide with the release of this movie. Action 775, first two volumes of The Authority, and some other “Elite” related issues are all for sale on Comixology.

    As a digital reader, I really appreciate the fact that when my interest in something gets elevated (due to a movie release or some other event) they have sales to a) let me read more without breaking the bank and b) capitalize on the general heightened interest.

    • Thanks for the heads up sir. I want to read the original Joe Kelly issue. And I love that first volume of the Authority.

      So who else enjoyed the punk opening credits and the “in-universe” Superman cartoon? Both were great for opening the movie.

      Superman disappointed by lack of creative control over his image in Hollywood productions… Give me that comic!

      Just draw on Kevin Smith’s meeting with Jon Peters, plug in Superman, and you’ll have gold.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hUwkqeI7XWk

  12. What I noticed most watching this is that for the entire first half Superman has a totally shocked look on his face. It was a bit odd. The story was good though, so that’s better than the comic right now.

  13. I’m afraid I know the answer, but was there an animated short on anyone on the disc?

  14. I had heard you say that, Conor…I was just praying they were feeling charitable. I guess I’ll have to settle for just ONE great animated story. *sigh*

    🙂

  15. Just watched it. Not that crazy about it. I find more and more that I like Superman better in Justice League features or Superman/Batman, as part of the team, then when he is on his own. His single features have been my least favorite of the DC Animated movies. However, the sneak peek at the Dark Knight Returns Part 1 has me very excited for that movie. Cannot wait until that comes out in the Fall.

  16. Loved the intro. It would’ve been awesome if the movie resonated stylistically with it a little more. Crazier animation choices I mean. But i’m pretty happy with it and to see that they are taking risks even if it’s in the credits and some of the writing. The elite was edgier than I expected for animated characters. Did anyone else got a little kingdom come vibe from it. This was awesome. can’t wait for the next one.

  17. I really loved this movie. By far the best Superman from DC animation and up there with Under The Red Hood and New Grontier for me with the best of the bunch

  18. Great review! Loved this movie. Can’t wait to watch it again! I need to break out my Action 775 too!

  19. Watched this last night. It’s a really good story, with great voice performances. This movie *would* be one of my favorite DC animated movies, but … the animation is just awful. I am not talking about the cartoon style employed or the character models. Those are a matter of preference. I am talking about the craft of animation and the basics of drawing.

    It appears as if there were two teams working on this project, one for backgrounds and another for foregrounds. The upclose shots (foregrounds) are fine, with good detail and consistent quality. The background and middleground images are sloppy. Characters in the background are off model, mishappen, missing detail, and on and on.

    I have noticed this sort of problem before in DC animation before, but this is the worst I have ever seen it by far. It definitely took away from my enjoyment. I really hope DC recognizes the problem and takes steps to correct it. (Could DC be putting out too many animated movies? Did all of the really good animators opt to work on TDKR?)

    Story 4.5/5 Art 2/5

  20. Totally worth watching if only to hear Superman say “wanker”. Sooooooooooooo wrong…

  21. I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. But I faithfully buy these, so I’m gonna support DC Animation either way.

    I did not like the Superman character design. For much of the movie, he looked kind of – stupid? Confused? It took away some credibility. I thought the voice acting was great. Newbern’s Superman ranks up there with Tim Daly – heck, there were times I thought it WAS Tim Daly. I thought Ms. Perrette was great as Lois, but my 13 y.o. son thought Lois was “really mean” to Clark/Superman. I know some of it was her kidding with exaggerated threats, but maybe it was the tone. Wasn’t crazy about the Jonathan Kent voice or design, though.

    Story-wise, it was really good. They did some things I didn’t expect that I thought cemented this in the PG-13 realm. It seemed really long, like full-length movie length, even though it was only 76 minutes (including credits). Probably the pacing, which made it feel more grandiose.

    Superman was truly scary in the last act. He really hammered home what the stakes would be if everyone played hardball like the Elite encouraged.

    5/5

  22. Despite my initial tridation about the animation style, I found I quickly let that go because the story and voice acting were just brilliant.

    The slightly more cartoony animation ended up lending itself well, becoming part of the story. Bright shiny Superman, maybe a bit old fashioned. Slowly drawing toward a darker, darker place so that by the end, the animation itself began to take on darker aspects, making Supes truly scary. Perfect mirroring of the story and action.

    Kudos to Joe Kelly. He brought his story to life in a whole new way. That has to be pretty gratifying.

    Heck, kudos to all involved! DC Animation, your track record is astounding! Keep ’em coming!

  23. it thought this was a simplistic retelling at best. I know there is source material they are drawing off, but it was nothing more than Superman Vs. The Authority.
    Also, aside from “Public Enemies” this has the WORST art yet. It seemed either low budget or on a time constraint or both.
    overall weak.

  24. I really enjoyed the film. A great, meaningful Superman story that I think needed to be told, but I have one gripe I need to mention. I really like Robert Atkin Downes, and yes I know he’s English but as someone who has lived his entire life IN Manchester I have no idea what kind of accent he was using. I really didn’t like it and it frankly put a small downer on an otherwise fantastic film.