While Zack Snyder's upcoming reboot starts to gain some steam, it's that time of the year again to see what the animated Superman still has to offer audiences. I've often spoken of my love for DC's highly impressive animated films over the past couple of years, even if they mainly rely on The Man of Steel and The Dark Knight to boost their sales figures. As the flashy title suggests, All-Star Superman is of course no different. Based on the critically acclaimed graphic novel of the same name, by the brilliant Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, the film tells the tale of Superman's final days on earth, in a collection of self contained cataclysmal events within an overriding story arc.
The film features most of the major characters from the Superman universe, including the Man of Steel himself, his nemesis Lex Luthor, soul-mate Lois Lane, the staff at The Daily Planet, Ma Kent etc. No Batman though. Shame. The story itself is quite gripping and even if, like past DC animated projects, you'd need to be a devoted comic book geek to really understand the more subtle references to past events, and the cameos from more obscure characters, which even had an avid fan such as I scampering towards Wikipedia to read their bios.
What the production team do extremely well however, is transfer the maturity of Morrison's source material over to an animated setting. Almost like the last animated film, Batman/Superman: Apocalypse it seems to borrow more elements from Japanese anime rather than the more kiddy friendly - but still fantastic nonetheless - Bruce Timm era, Justice League cartoons from the past 20 years. The animation itself was excellent mixing elements of CGI with traditional 2D seamlessly.
The story also deals with some pretty heavy concepts, none more so heavy than the concept of death, the after-life and what you would do with what little time you have left. It also explores the true extent of Superman's powers outside of the usual super strength, heat vision and impenetrable skin he's mostly known for - also his characteristics as essentially a god among men and the complexities such circumstances bring, even coming across more alien and arrogant than in past portrayals. Some of it comes off beautifully, especially the chemistry between Superman and Lex Luthor. One of the best scenes actually was an interview conducted by Kent with Luthor, and Luthor admitting he always kind of admired the man despite how cumbersome he is at times. Had a real Christopher Reeve era Clark Kent vibe about it.
The voice acting, as with past DC Animated projects, was of the highest standard. James Denton was a terrific Superman/Clark Kent, managing to balance the heroism of The Man of Steel's commanding awe-inspiring presence with the comical, clumsy buffoonery of Kent. Christina Hendricks lent her sassy, no nonsense nature, seen countless times on TV's excellent Mad Men, extremely well to the role of Lois Lane. While Anthony LaPaglia seems like an unusual choice for the role of Luthor, he's actually quite brilliant. Like Denton who seemingly borrowed a lot from Reeve's classic take on The Man of Steel, LaPaglia seems to channel a lot of Gene Hackman's portrayal of the villain from the original live action films, to great effect.
There is also some notable mentions in the supporting cast, none more so than the near institutional Michael Gough (famous for his role of Alfred Pennyworth in the Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher Batman films) as the sentient being Parasite, the brilliant Edward Asner returning as Perry White, editor of The Daily Planet and ER's Linda Cardellini as Luthor's estranged niece, Nasthalthia "Nasty" Luthor.
As always with these films I do stress a lot of the finer details might be lost on casual fans, or the heavier more philosophical themes might be lost on the younger audiences. However for the first time, possibly ever, All-Star Superman achieves something remarkable, an intelligent, totally engrossing Superman film. It cleverly delves into his god-like powers, his responsibly to the earth, his relationship with Lex Luthor and Lois Lane as well as boy scout like flaws and the acceptance of his impending doom. Should satisfy fans until Christmas 2012.
All-Star Superman is available on DVD/Blu-Ray in most good outlets now.