Superman vs. The Elite Blu-ray ReviewJune 17, 2012
Superman vs. The Elite is an animated feature that dares to ask a pretty adult question: In a world where atrocities are an everyday occurrence, has the Man of Steel's "small-town" morality become obsolete?
Based upon a story written by Joe Kelley (who also contributed the screenplay for this film) originally printed in Action Comics #775 in 2001 entitled 'What's So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?,' Superman vs. The Elite places Superman at odds with a group of superheroes who have no problem crossing that invisible line that the world's greatest superhero refuses to.
With an armed conflict escalating in the middle east, Superman rushes in to prevent all-out war. At the last second, he gets an assist from the telekinetic-powered Manchester Black (voiced with delightful smugness by Robin Atkin Downes) and his super-powered cohorts, the Elite. Before long, the world is enamored with these dashing new heroes, and their admiration grows even deeper when Black transmits a warning to the world's criminals: Surrender or die.
What follows is equal parts popcorn action flick and morality tale, and the balance is struck beautifully. In the end, the struggle in this movie isn't about whether or not Superman can rescue the city from a mad scientist or if he can keep a meteor from turning Metropolis into a crater.
Instead, Superman's enemy seems to be his own morality. Superman says at one point in the film that he believes "people are, at their core, good." With the arrival of the Elite, Superman is forced to ask himself, "How long am I going to give them to prove that? And what will I have to do if they can't?"
A thrilling sequence in which Superman (voiced by George Newbern, who has provided the Man of Steel's voice in a number of other DC animated projects) and the Elite team up to rescue a trapped subterranean train sets the stage for this battle of both powers and ideas beautifully and is a prime example of how well this movie keeps all the plates spinning.
The rescue itself is exciting, but the stakes go even higher in the aftermath as Black stops just short of lobotomizing the terrorists who have endangered the lives of the people on the train.
And while this movie could easily have delved too deeply into the "moral quandary" aspect of the story, Kelley's script is smart enough to only scratch the surface but to scratch it in such a way as to make a profound impact. At one point, Superman asks Lois Lane (voiced by NCIS's Pauley Perrette), "Is the world going to a place where I can't follow?"
Another brilliant scene would've been edited out of a live-action adaptation, but it speaks volumes. While flying over a playground, Superman overhears an argument among some children who are playing dress-up as Superman and the Elite. The boy who has drawn the last straw and has to play as Superman asks his playmates, "So you guys can kill me and I can't kill you? That's not fair!"
In less than a minute, everything we need to know about our hero, our villains, and the world they inhabit is laid out on the table for us. It's subtle, but it's a keen reminder to the audience that this movie is about more than just super-people slugging away at each other.
That's not to say the movie is perfect, however. It is, after all, a cartoon, and despite its PG-13 rating, there can be no question that the marketing is directed at children. While there is an apropos amount of blood and violence, the Elite's ruthless approach that was so viscerally pungent in the original comic book has been watered down somewhat.
The quality of the animation can be rather hit-or-miss during some of the bigger action sequences as well. More often than not, this film has been beautifully-animated, but there are instances where it comes across as hastily-done, which tends to suck me right out of the story.
Having said that, though, the good far outweighs the bad with this movie, and I find it to be a prime example of how this direct-to-video format might be Warner's best and most feasible opportunity to cash in on the lucrative cash cow-in-waiting that is the DC catalog.
Warner Premiere brings Superman vs. The Elite to Blu-ray with a nice 1080p AVC-encoded transfer that, for the most part, is simply gorgeous. The colors are vibrant and the black lines offer superb image definition that truly makes this film look like a comic book come to life. Where it flounders, though, is in some very occasional (but also very noticeable) artifacting, something that hasn't been a huge problem in many other DC animated features.
As for the sound, the lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is perfect. The explosions hit hard but not so hard as to rattle the speakers. Much like the crafting of the story, everything seems to be in perfect balance here, with hard-hitting action scenes ebbing and flowing with quiet dialogue scenes. A prime example is in scenes set either in Superman's Fortress of Solitude or in Manchester Black's inter-dimensional lair. Both settings allow their otherworldly attributes to be conveyed more through the ears than through the eyes. An interesting change of pace and a tribute to the filmmakers.
Beyond the Feature
Superman vs. The Elite comes loaded for bear when it comes to special features.
A pair of documentaries about the project are the two best features the set has to offer. The Elite Unbound: No Rules, No Mercy runs about 15 minutes and shows Kelley talking about his thought process in creating the Elite and a little about each of these new character's origins.
Equally fascinating is Superman and the Moral Debate, a 17-minute feature that asks the movie's central question, "Is Superman's no-killing mandate relevant?" of modern-day experts on the subject.
The rest of the set's bonus features are:
Superman vs. The Elite isn't a perfect movie, but it's extremely entertaining and asks more intellectually of its audience than the average superhero cartoon. And while Superman's take on morality is a noble one that we would all like to aspire to, this movie will make you question its feasibility.
- Jason Jarman
Shop for Superman vs. The Elite on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (June 12, 2012 release date).
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