All-Star Superman is inspired by the Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely story/homage to the character’s history and adapted by Dwayne McDuffie. A mission into the sun causes Superman to be given a death sentence by scientist Dr. Leo Quintum. The hero’s cells are “oversaturated with power” from solar radiation. When Superman finds out he’s dying, he decides to stop lying to Lois. He takes her to his arctic fortress, full of marvelous wonders, where they finally have an honest conversation, before he gives her powers temporarily as a birthday present. Then Clark Kent and Lex Luthor have a showdown during a prison break, and Superman sets out to complete his bucket list and face off with a couple of evil Kryptonians.
The opening sequence sets up the Luthor/Superman rivalry quickly and with plenty of action, plus trademarked Grant Morrison-style big ideas. Then Luthor mostly disappears for the next 20 minutes, demonstrating the biggest problem with the movie: its pacing. Because of the too-short 76-minute length, events move very quickly. Although some of Morrison’s ideas fall apart if you think about them — Superman saves the space mission by “extending his bio-electric field”, which basically works like magic — there’s so many of them that there’s always something new to see. It’s strongly inspired by the old-school Superman, the one who would gather bizarrely singing flowers from another planet just to impress Lois or make little suns to feed a baby Sun-Eater kept in his zoo. Ultimately, the movie is more like an animated overview of a Superman Encyclopedia than an actual story. It should have been a series, not a movie, since the result here is choppy and too episodic.
The biggest complaint I’ve heard about this new animated movie is that people’s favorite scenes or incidents from the comic miniseries (collected in two volumes) were omitted. At such short length, that’s to be expected, that they couldn’t include twelve issues’ worth of story. I can’t comment on specifics, since I don’t recall the details of the comic, although I’m looking forward to re-reading it. (My copy of the Absolute Edition is still on order, since the first one I got was misprinted.) But I can sympathize — they seem to have left out the more emotional scenes in favor of fights and action sequences, which is an unfortunate contrast to the maturity of the comic.
Superman is competently played by James Denton, and Luthor in glorious exaggeration by Anthony LaPaglia. I was stunned to note that Quintum is well-voiced by Alexis Denisof. (Wesley! I wouldn’t have guessed.) I was happy to see Nasthalthia Luthor (Linda Cardellini) again, the most ridiculously-named comic villainness ever. My favorite voice, though, was Perry White: Ed Asner back as a gruff editor (yay!). In most cases, I heard the characters first, which I appreciated, not the name talent. The biggest flaw was Lois, played by Christina Hendricks, who sounded too little-girlish to me, with not enough kick-ass-ish-ness, and not deep enough.
While the story is relatively faithful to Morrison’s text, the art isn’t particularly Quitely-esque. It’s more generic than that in style — there are moments that make it look as though they’re trying to be more faithful to the look, but not quite succeeding at it, although the images we see resemble the comic’s layouts. My guess is they had so many things to draw — alligator men, the Parasite, space artifacts, just to name a few — that they had to simplify the distinctive look. Still, it was neat to see all these concepts executed in movement. It’s almost perfect for the modern attention span — pause it between segments, and there’s no impact to taking a break, or if one sequence doesn’t interest you, wait a few minutes and there’ll be another one.
Extras are as follows:
* “Superman Now”, a half-hour featurette in which Grant Morrison and Dan DiDio talk in great detail about making the All-Star Superman comic, illustrated with art samples from the series and voice-over narration reading the comic to us. I gave up after five minutes; DiDio was much too self-congratulatory for me, and while Morrison’s points were interesting, I didn’t need that much depth.
* Two episodes from Superman: The Animated Series: “Blast From the Past”, parts 1 & 2, which feature Kryptonian villains.
* A Green Lantern: Emerald Knights sneak peek, almost 12 minutes geared at getting the viewer excited for the next animated movie, using old comic clip art and very early sketches. Oh, look, it’s Dan DiDio again (who for some reason kept reminding me of Vincent Price as Egghead), explaining the Green Lantern Corps to us, along with other producers and directors, who compare the setup to the Mafia and front-line battlefield soldiers. In the movie, Arisia is the new kid, hearing stories of the Corps from the older guys in an anthology-type structure. I’m most excited because I think Nathan Fillion is great casting for Hal Jordan.
* Blu-ray only: An audio commentary by Bruce Timm and Grant Morrison; “The Creative Flow: Incubating the Idea”, which is 10 minutes more of Grant Morrison, this time talking about how he makes development sketches to foster ideas and his visual inspirations; and a “virtual comic book”, scans of issue #1 shown in two-page spreads that are too small to read.
The Blu-ray also comes with a second disc that contains a digital copy (iTunes or Windows Media) and a DVD version of the movie only. The idea of including a short cartoon with another DC character seems to have been abandoned, which is a shame. Those were some of my favorite things about the DC animated series of movies.
Overall, I didn’t mind watching this, but it mostly made me want to read the comic again. That’s the recommended format, if you aren’t already familiar with it. (The studio provided a review copy.)