Christopher Nolan claims his Batman trilogy will do something a superhero franchise has never done before: definitively end the story. It’s a very clever approach and one that will subtly acknowledge the re-everything tendencies of Hollywood these days. When they reboot—and we all know they’ll reboot—at least his version of the Dark Knight will be bookended and complete.
DC’s hero number one, Superman, has not been as fortunate cinematically at this stage. With a, pardon the pun, super long hiatus between the Christopher Reeve entries (which was already sullied by too many cooks spoiling the broth) and the criminally underrated Brandon Routh entry in 2006. Now another young performer, Brit Henry Cavill, will embody the Man of Steel in a complete reboot of the live action franchise, and we, the audience, will be expected to forget the prior entries. Just like in the comics they’re based on, it’s not an easy ask on the audience.
The animated films both major comic companies continue to output have a unique opportunity to sidestep any expectation a live-action entry will get. We don’t get used to an actor filling the role, the designs of the characters can vary, and all manner of spectacle can be accomplished economically. It has allowed them to be braver with their story choices and to experiment more than they would in the other arena, but are they taking advantage of that opportunity?
In the comics, the solution the companies use to get away from the established continuity of a vast character mythology is to create exactly what Nolan is proposing for his trilogy: a version, self-contained, without any responsibility to follow an established mythology. Scottish comic writer Grant Morrison was charged to do that very thing with Superman a couple of years back in ‘All Star’, and the writer chose to give the Last Son of Krypton a definitive end to his story—not in the gimmicky “Superman Dead” way of the 90s, where we all knew he would return, but truly end the tale of Clark Kent/Superman and make it matter.
DC’s latest animated film is based on that 12 issue comic.
Superman saves the first manned mission to the sun. But even the mighty Superman cannot stand the Sun’s immense radiation, and it is discovered soon after that he has the Kryptonian version of cancer and will die. What follows is the story of how Superman prepares for that inevitability, how he plans to leave those he loves and the world he protects, and, in the process, how this news affects all who know him—friend or foe alike.
The comic was a grand and lengthy exploration of this, and, in this reviewer’s opinion, was the right forum to tell it in. DC’s continuing failing in a lot of these animated film translations is the limitations of time placed on some gigantic, all-encompassing stories. There simply is not enough time in an 80 minute film to suitably depict the grand ideas some of these high profile comic stories set out to tell.
The film looks great; the animation steers away from the comic’s style, but is attractive and well animated. Sound, score, and voices are all first rate. In the modern era of computer animation, though, there could be more invested in the effects and animation, especially for such a high profile project.
Now, if they had gotten really brave, and set out to make an animated mini-series or a series of animated films, perhaps it could be done (in fact, I would wager it would work). As it stands, thought, Morrison’s emotional tale of Kalel’s final days is watered down to lip-service moments slivered in between the usual bang and crash spectacle of a superhero story. It’s not moving at all, and it fails to tell its story well.
These films, by all accounts, are waning in sales, so even the draw of marquee names like Superman and Batman are not enough. DC needs to get creative with their format. It isn’t enough to take a successful comic run, hack at it til its short enough, slap the name of the comic on the movie and expect people to go gaga over it. Be brave, DC, instead of investing in two or three of these stunted disappointments, invest in one, make it as grand and LONG as the story demands.
These animated entries are starting to leave a lifelong DC fan cold.
MPAA Rating: Not rated by the MPAA.
Director: Sam Liu
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Cast: James Denton; Christina Hendricks; Edward Asner; Steve Blum
Memorable Movie Quote: "It's 333,000 times bigger than the size of the Earth. I looked it up on my Superman signal watch. "
Distributor: Warner Bros. Animation
Release Date: February 22, 2011
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: February 22, 2011
Synopsis: This animated adventure finds the ultimate superhero Superman succumbing to the clutches of disturbed criminal mastermind Lex Luthor, who has constructed a plan to murder the Man of Steel with solar radiation. Following his exposure to the deadly phenomenon, Superman is sure he only has weeks to live, and lays plans to make good on the many tasks that ahead of him before he expires -- including telling the truth about his secret identity to Lois Lane, and defeating Lex once and for all. But is the hero's fate truly sealed, or can he appeal the fatal sentence and live to fight once more?
English SDH, French, Spanish (less)
English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German SDH (less)
Available on Blu-ray - February 22, 2011
Screen Formats: 1.78:1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish SDH, Portuguese, German SDH; English SDH, Spanish SDH, Portuguese, German SDH
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; German: Dolby Digital 5.1 Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); Digital copy (on disc); DVD copy
Always generous from DC. You get lengthy featurettes on the story, the comic, and the film. Tonnes of promotional stuff on other DC animated movies. The picture is beautiful; the sound equally so—vibrant and immersive in parts for both senses.
- Feature-length audio commentary producer Bruce Timm and original story writer Grant Morrison
- Superman Now (HD, 34 minutes)
- The Creative Flow: Incubating the Idea with Grant Morrison (SD, 10 minutes)
- Virtual Comic: All-Star Superman #1 (HD)
- Green Lantern: Emerald Knights Sneak Peek (HD, 12 minutes)
- Bruce Timm's Picks (SD, 40 minutes)
- Trailers and Sneak Peeks (HD/SD, 14 minutes)