A man who is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound should be the most terrifying creature on Earth. He’d be unstoppable and unbeholden to our mortal morality. So, why then is Superman one of the most popular heroes on the planet? He does not kill and he never loses.
Superman does both in the new DC animated film, Superman vs. The Elite, an adaptation that both faithfully adapts its source material, while improving on its message and focus.
Based on the 1990s comic, What’s So Funny about Truth, Justice and the American Way? by Joe Kelly (who is also scriptwriter for this version), it challenges the resurging trend of murderous heroes. Clark Kent, as the titular Superman, is the avatar for the traditional way of saving the day by punching the bad guy until he’s knocked out, and then sending him to jail. The new superhero team, the Elite, represents a “realistic” take on superheroes. They posit, if the Lex Luthor’s of the world are going to keep on escaping and killing more people, they deserve to die. In the long run, a hero may save more lives that way.
It’s that terrifying realization that makes Superman vs. The Elite so fun to watch.
Superman vs. The Elite does more than moralize, and it treats its heroes and villains better than the original comic did. The Elite originally had no personality beyond mercilessly killing bad guys. Now we get to sympathise with them as they attempt to work with Superman. At times it’s hard to disagree with them as they demonstrate, sometimes the ends do justify the means. During a brief team-up, the film showcases Superman’s greatest strength, making people better than they are, while the Elite tend to bring out the venom in humankind.
Lois Lane shows up too, here as Clark’s wife and confidante, and manages to steal the movie in almost every scene she’s in. It’s fun to watch her banter with Clark, which adds a lot of humanity to the hero, while exhibiting her own investigative skills. The world itself exists as a character, acting like the chorus in a Greek play. Together they cry for blood, but later recoil from Superman’s final decision.
Technically, Superman vs. The Elite is nothing special. It straddles the line between comic pop art and being animesque, skewing closer to former. Of all things, the opening credits are most noticable because it looks like the Beastie Boys made a Superfriends music video. George Newborn plays Superman about as well as he has for the last twenty years, and Pauley Perrette puts in a good effort as Lois. The special features on the DVD will appeal more to superhero fans than anyone else, but a copy of the comic and a few commentaries make for a good entry point for anyone who wants to learn more.
Faithfulness to the source material is where the movie falls flat, as it reuses some questionable dialogue from the original. Superman yelling, “How does it feel to be deconstructed?” is about as subtle as one of his punches. Plus, the turn from uneasy allies to pure enemies comes almost as a cheat as the film attempts to jump straight from its embellishments into the comic’s latter half. Running at just over an hour, however, it doesn’t overstay its welcome and these problems don’t overshadow the drama.
As the two sides rumble to a close, Superman vs. The Elite reminds the viewer of the potential terror of supermen. Creatures with unimaginable power decide to take judgement on the planet and even Superman’s response isn’t pretty. For all its faults, this is the most thoughtful film in the DC animated line and a great watch, even if you don’t really know who Superman is beyond red and blue tights.
Cast: George Newbern, Pauley Perrette, Dee Bradley Baker
Directed by: Michael Chang