Less a story of Superman and more an examination of Clark/Kal-El
I have a problem with critics who preface their reviews by saying, “I read the book and this film is not as good.” There’s an inherent tendency for each of us to do it, and it’s a cop-out. Translating stories from one medium to another gives them a life unique unto themselves. The way a story plays out in your own mind’s eye can’t possibly compare to what a production team does with it, unless you’re heading up that production…and even then there are a myriad of constraints that will inevitably compromise it. That being said, I’ll do my best to review All-Star Superman without drawing unfair comparisons between it and Grant Morrison/Frank Quietly’s beautiful twelve-issue DC Comics series.
The inconceivable happens. In saving the first manned mission to the Sun, Superman’s mortality is compromised by an abundance of solar radiation. The architect behind this disaster? Lex Luthor (Anthony LaPaglia, Without a Trace), who else? Now Clark (Jamie Denton, Desperate Housewives) sets out to complete a bucket list before he meets his maker — giving Lois (Christina Hendricks, Mad Men) a window into Superman’s world, one last face-to-face meeting with Lex, liberating the residents of The Bottle City of Kandor, saving the Earth from the arrogance of lost Kryptonian astronauts Bar-El (Arnold Vosloo, The Mummy) and Lilo (Finola Hughes, General Hospital), and undo the damage caused by Luthor’s ultimate secret weapon.
Originally conceived as a reboot of the Superman mythos, along the lines of John Byrne’s classic Man of Steel, the tale morphed into more of a distillation of the character and his adopted home world. As a result, All-Star Superman is less a story of DC’s “Boy Scout” and more an examination of Clark/Kal-El the man and the role he plays when donning the cape and costume.
Here’s the problem, though: Having screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie (Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths) compress Morrison’s series of compelling and insightfully touching vignettes, we get the gist of the story but lose the real magic. It’s like downing a seven course meal in 75 min; there’s no way to savor it. Even with composer Christopher Drake’s sweeping score providing the epic grandeur it deserves, it feels like The Flash has edited this one down for time.
While it’s impossible to bottle the magic of Frank Quietly’s highly distinctive style, director Sam Liu’s production team tries its best. The character designs for Lex and Superman are spot on, and several key scenes are lifted right from the books. The Act Two arc in which Clark interviews Lex is the highlight of the series and the centerpiece of the movie. I only wish they had given it room to breathe.
Vocal director Andrea Romano once again assembles a stellar cast: Ed Asner (Perry White), Frances Conroy (Martha Kent), and Matthew Gray Gubler (Jimmy Olsen), but for some reason the lip synch isn’t as fluid as we’re used to seeing from these Warner Premiere titles. I supposed the biggest stumbling block for me is Jamie Denton, who plays Superman too monotone for my tastes. It serves the gravitas of the tale, but becomes tiresome. Acting is all about levels and if you don’t have enough of them, a character becomes flat and uninteresting.
Presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, the visual quality of these DC Universe films continues to be outstanding, with dark blacks, bright colors, and dazzling visual effects. The Dolby 5.1 mix could have used a bit more ambience in the surrounds, but it works just fine for what it is.
The only bonus feature on this single disc edition is an 11-minute preview of their next release — Green Lantern: Emerald Knights — which appears to take the Batman: Gotham Night approach. This is a series of GL origin stories as told by Hal (Nathan Fillion) to a new lantern recruit, and interpreted by different animation design houses. If done well, it could buck the disappointing trend we’ve seen from Warner/DC.
Enjoy the story here for what it is. All-Star Superman is a very humanistic look at the Man of Steel and one worth experiencing. Just know that if you’re left wanting more, the trade paperback is available from Amazon.com and at your local comic book store.