Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Review: Superman vs. The Elite

Lily and I watched the movie on Monday. I put it in the viewer and started the movie and when Lily realized it was a Superman movie, she asked, "Daddy, why do you like Superman so much?"

So I paused it and went upstairs and picked up a comic book and showed her two of my very favorite pages featuring Superman and had her read the panels.

I wasn't expecting great things going in. I was acutely disappointed in the last DCU animated movie I saw. (Justice League: Doom.) I'm a pretty big Superman fan and even I didn't think this looked good. I thought the story on which it was based was well-intentioned, but lacking in nuance, and if there's anything I hate more than people reducing a position I hold to a strawman and attacking that, it's people who share my opinions attacking a strawman built from the other side, and and I think that's what was going on in Action Comics 775. I thought Kingdom Come got there first and did it better.

However, it is three-quarters of a really good movie. The voice acting is great. I always enjoy George Newbern as Superman, Pauley Perrette of NCIS fame is pleasantly raspy as Lois, and Robin Atkin Downes kicks all kind of ass as Manchester Black.

So, the movie.

It's not easy to write Superman. This movie has a lot of little details that really show an understanding of what Superman is all about. One of the bits I like best is when Lois and Clark are walking along a city street, and this man, glowing and near death from an attack by the Atomic Skull, says, "Help me," and that's what Clark does, instinctively opening his arms to catch the man.

Some time later, he encounters a group of superpeople, the Hat, Menagerie, Coldcast and of course, Manchester Black. I like everything about Black, his attitude, his design and of course, that name.

(I'll confess that I didn't particularly care for the look they gave Superman in this outing, but I think it looks a lot better in motion than in stills.)

More like Superman's chin versus the Elite.

Also, speaking of character designs. The Hat looks an awful lot like Jigen from Lupin III when he's lying in the field.

They work together to save some people in one of those fictional Middle Eastern countries that exist only in DC comics. Superman isn't sure what to make of these newcomers. That's another detail I like. Superman believes in the good in everyone, but he's not blindly trusting. He's going to give them an opportunity, but he's going to perform his due diligence too. Clark Kent, you may remember, won a Pulitzer for his reporting.

So he tracks Manchester down in England and they chat a little. This is another really well done scene, because you get the impression that Manchester's crew have good intentions, but a legitimate difference of opinion on how to make the world a better place. (I also like that they're starstruck when they meet him in person "You're really tall.")

A terrorist attack occurs while they're in England, and Superman asks for their help. Manchester protests, saying their powers are only good for "kicking the snot out of wankers". Superman says it will be a good test of their imagination, and takes off and they do help him with damage control and disaster relief.  I like that bit. Superman calls on them to be the best that they can and they rise to the challenge.

And they look like they're going to be heroes right up until the point when Menagerie and Coldcast show up with the terrorists they captured and Manchester starts torturing them for information right in front of Superman.

Vera, Manchester's sister tips off Lois and this was a small encounter that I liked "My brother is misguided and angry, Miss Lane. He saved my life. I'd like to save his."

The Atomic Skull escapes prison and goes on a rampage. It's a pretty good fight scene. It's just visceral when he leaps on top of Coldcast and starts pummeling him, and showing it from Coldcast's point of view was a nice touch.

Superman and the Elite take him down, but not before he kills a bunch of people and Superman is unable to prevent Black from executing the Skull.

We get some man on the streets reaction and one I particularly liked was a woman saying "I've lived all my life in Metropolis. Superman's always been there for us, but so have the criminals he keeps putting away."

And this is when the movie starts to go completely off the rails.

Though there is one part I like, Black looking at Kandor when they come to the Fortress of Solitude to confront Superman.

Then it all sucks.

They challenge Superman to a throwdown at dawn and they fight on the moon. They go back and forth for a bit and the Elite get the upper hand, but then Superman flips the fuck out and starts murdering them, ranting how he sees that their way is the right way. He concludes the fight by burning out a portion of Black's brain with his heat vision.

But wait! It was just a trick! He was just pretending! He used all of his Superman robots to fake the deaths of the Elite. (Hey, Superman, maybe a better use for those robots would be protecting people from the Atomic Skull instead of just using them to punk Metropolis.) And he didn't really flip out, he was just making a point in the most idiotic way possible! And everybody's cool with this. Blarg! I'd spoiler tag this, but I watched it with a five-year old and she saw it coming. It was so good up until then.


  1. Writing for Superman is hard? It in its most distilled form is "Eagle Scout with super powers". Now writing for Lobo is a total chore with all the different and unique ways Wolverine can beat his ass!

    1. I think the challenges for writing for Superman are twofold. One is the power level. It's tough coming up with challenges for one of the most overwhelmingly powerful beings on the planet.

      The other is that a lot of people think that being a good person means being soft, or naive or weak. Superman is definitely a good guy, but he's none of those other things, and it's easy for a writer to make him a bland milquetoast or judgmental moralist if he or she doesn't understand that.