Friday, June 3, 2011

"All-Star Superman" (2011)

Starring James Denton, Christina Hendricks and Anthony LaPaglia
Written by Dwayne McDuffie
Directed by Sam Liu
Rated PG - Animated violence, language
Running Time: 76 minutes

All-Star Superman (Blu-ray/DVD Combo + Digital Copy)There are two kinds of Superman stories that I really enjoy: His origins and his death.  Typically these are the two Superman stories that require the least amount of baggage.  That is, I don't have to have read the last 36 issues of any particular run of the comics in order to truly get what's going on.  With the big "Doomsday" arc of the mid-1990s, there was some of that, but for the most part it was actually quite a good place for new readers to jump on board, despite the fact that it was the death of Superman.

"All-Star Superman," by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, was one of my favorite Superman stories to hit the funny books in a long while.  Now Warner Animation and DC have seen fit to adapt it to their series of direct-to-DVD "DC Universe" movies.

Superman (James Denton) thwarts Lex Luthor's (Anthony LaPaglia) attempt to sabotage the first manned trip to the sun.  In the process, he's exposed to an overdose of the sun's yellow radiation that gives him his powers.  This, of course, was all part of Luthor's plan, as Superman learns that the overdose has increased his powers triple-fold, but is also slowly killing him.  With his end looming, Superman decides to get his affairs in order, which include revealing his secret identity to Lois Lane (Christina Hendricks) and visiting his father's grave one last time. 

All the while, Luthor is plotting for a future without Superman.  But his plan could have disastrous consequences for the world when his ally, a living computer called Solaris, double crosses hi and plans to destroy the sun.  Will Superman have enough time to stop Luthor's plan and save the world from Solaris before he dies?

The "All-Star Superman" comics are pretty awesome.  Grant Morrison's tale is at turns hearbreaking, heartwarming, and totally crazy.  A callback to the nuttier, more fantastical style of Superman comics from the 1950s, but mixed with the sort of emotional heft of today's modern stories, "All-Star Superman" was a pure joy to read on the page.  The problem is that neither the style nor the format of the story survives the adaptation to video.

While the comic was a very episodic tale, with Superman undergoing essentially a series of hero's trials before his death, preparing the world for when he won't be around to protect it any longer, the film tries to tell a coherent tale, but fails miserably at doing so.  It still feels very episodic, but instead of the individual chapters building to a remarkable whole, "All-Star Superman" as a film just feels messy and half-assed.  It obviously wants to be a slower, more character-driven tale rather than an action piece as the rest of these DC Universe films typically have been, but that doesn't particularly work, either, making the film mostly just feel boring. 

It comes alive in a few parts, particularly at the end when Solaris reveals itself to the world, and Superman's final confrontation with Lex.  But for the most part, "All-Star Superman" just feels like it meanders about, never really getting down to the meat of the situation.  The relationship between Lois and Superman feels slight, despite how much screentime is dedicated to the two of them down in the Fortress of Solitude.  The short 75-minute runtime robs "All-Star Superman" of half of its source material, and the lazy dialogue deadens what's left.

The cast is mostly alright.  I'm not sure why it's so difficult to get good actors to play Superman, as James Denton comes across as flat and uninterested for most of the performance.  Even when he's bumbling around as an extremely clumsy Clark Kent.  Christina Hendricks does great as Lois Lane, though I preferred Anne Heche in "Superman: Doomsday."  Anthony LaPaglia is good as Lex Luthor when the script gives him good dialogue to work with, but the script is only hit or miss in this respect.

"All-Star Superman" is pretty disappointing, especially considering the source material.  It features almost none of the lively spirit of the comics, and less than half of the story. 

See Also
Superman: The Animated Series
Superman/Batman: Apocalypse
Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam