Sunday, June 17, 2012

DVD Review: Superman Vs. the Elite

Last week, Warner Bros. animation released yet another direct-to-DVD movie. These things are coming out at a rate of about three or four a year now and represent a wide range in terms of quality.
"Superman Vs. the Elite" is based on a single issue titled "What's so Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way," also known as one of "the greatest Superman stories ever told," which is in quotes because the issue in question isn't actually all that good.

Fortunately, like "Under the Red Hood," the movie is far better than its source material. The main problem with the comic was compression: it's too big a story to do it justice in one issue of one comic. The movie, which utilizes the original writer (again, like Red Hood), offers the space needed to sell the premise and characters.

The premise revolves around relevance. As a character, Superman's awfully old-fashioned. He adheres to a set of ethics that seem at best quaint and at worse hypocritical to many. He doesn't kill supervillains who inevitably break out of jail and murder hundreds: where's the justice in that?

"What's so Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way" attempted to confront this issue head on by introducing a new team of superheroes who bore more than a passing resemblance to The Authority, a series published by Wildstorm about a quasi-parody of the JLA who used lethal force when they deemed it necessary (which was pretty much all the time).

So "Superman Vs. the Elite" is an adaptation of an issue about Superman confronting a parody of a team who were themselves a parody of the JLA to confront issues about the use of excessive force.

Fortunately, you don't need to know any of that to enjoy this story. It's not actually significant that The Elite are based on The Authority: only that there's a new team in town who aren't afraid to kill.

Nor is it required knowledge that DC folded the Wildstorm characters into the DC Universe last fall, a fact that raises some interesting questions of its own. Was the release date of "Superman Vs. the Elite" coincidence, or was it produced in part as a quiet protest against imposing the lethal Wildstorm characters into a setting which has always been built around more traditional morals?

Either way, it's a great little movie. The use of tension is topnotch, and the character work is fantastic. I'm pretty sure this is coolest version of Lois Lane we've seen outside of the comics, and Manchester Black, the leader of The Elite, is well developed and surprisingly sympathetic. Until the last ten minutes, this isn't a black-and-white situation.

It's those last ten minutes that feel a little off. They're still definitely cool, but there's something a bit "overboard" about the movie's finale. The Elite go from anti-heroes to villains in a heartbeat, a fact which undermines the story's credibility. I'd have liked more deviation from the source material in the climax.

Nevertheless, this is still a great film, both for longtime DC fans and for everyone out there who's ever asked, "Why doesn't Superman (or Batman) just kill the bad guy?" Actually, if you're in that second group, this movie is REQUIRED viewing. Seriously, I am so damn tired of answering that question....

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