How far should a hero go to prevent repeat offenders from harming again? That’s the premise behind Warner Home Video’s latest direct to DVD release of Superman vs. The Elite. You’ve seen the promotional material from the studio, now here’s your Major Spoilers review of the movie.
SUPERMAN VS. THE ELITE
Director: Michael Chang
Writer: Joe Kelly
Superman: George Newbern
Lois Lane: Pauley Perrette
Coldcast: Catero Colbert
Menagerie: Melissa Disney
Manchester Black: Robin Atkin Downes
Jimmy Olsen: David Kaufman
The Hat: Andrew Kishino
The Man of Steel finds himself outshone by a new team of ruthless superheroes who hold his idealism in contempt.
TO KILL OR NOT TO KILL
Based on Joe Kelly’s What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way, this adaptation brings front and center the discussion of how far heroes should go to put down crime. For Superman, he believes that man is generally good, and that the easiest way to peace and happiness is to be a guide – to stand up as an example of what humanity can become. It’s a wonderful notion, and I think most of us would love to believe that there is good inside all of us. Unfortunately, that’s not the view Manchester Black subscribes to. He and his team (Coldcast, Menagerie, and The Hat) call themselves The Elite, and believe that the best way to put an end to crime is to put down those that offend – permanently. Superman vs. The Elite becomes an exposition of what happens when those with power decide who is right and who is wrong, and ultimately force their will on the people.
It starts off innocently enough, the team aids Superman in putting down a conflict in Bialya, but as the crimes escalate, so do The Elite’s methods of putting an end to conflict. It ends up becoming one of those “If you aren’t with us, you are against us” modes of thinking, and to prove it, The Elite kill the Atomic Skull, and eventually murder the governing leaders of two warring countries. It’s rather horrific, when one takes a moment to think about it, but for the people living in this animated universe – or should I say, the American version of this animated universe – they are completely behind these new heroes. Suddenly, Superman’s approach to dealing with the situation is old fashioned and out of date, and might makes right reigns supreme. It’s only when Superman shows the world the error of their ways in an epic third act brawl, that everyone comes to their senses.
I really like how Joe Kelly adapted his source material, and expands moments from the comic into scenes that play out into arguments for and against unrestrained vengeance on those that do wrong. Instead of a few panels to posit the argument between Black and Superman, Kelly is able to spend minutes at a time letting each side state their belief, back it up, and then allow time for a response. Those who are enrolled in political science or ethics courses at the high school or college level, could easily use this 75 minute movie as a jumping off point for a much larger debate and discussion on crime and punishment.
Even though the movie is rated PG-13 for violence, my five year old watched Superman vs. The Elite with me, and though he enjoyed the movie, he had difficulty in seeing Superman’s point of view. That may be the one point where this movie stumbles. When Superman does turn in the final act, and the battle in the streets of Metropolis plays out in an epic way, I don’t believe enough time is spent on the apparent loss of life. When a car falls on Lois Lane, director Michael Chang cuts away so quickly, there is little time to react; little time to let it sink in that Superman’s rage has killed the woman he loves. While it does have an impact on Manchester Black, and those witnesses in the streets see what happens when power goes unchecked can let the moments sink in, the message is supposed to be directed at the audience viewing the movie. And though we are beat over the head with the message as Superman takes down each of The Elite, it is that one moment that is lost on many – including my son. And if you are wondering, no, Lois really isn’t dead.
There are references to other members of the Justice League, but thankfully, they do not make an appearance – allowing this movie to really be a Superman story. Though we see a plethora of background characters, I also like how we are really only seeing interactions between three or four central characters. It makes the movie feel smaller than it is, and allows the story to be told in a more personal way.
As far as the voice work goes, I think all of the actors did a fine job, in bring the story to life. Yes, not having “fan favorites” voice the heroes was a bit disappointing, but the time the movie kicks into high gear, you tend to forget that Tim Daly is nowhere to be found.
I really did enjoy Pauley Perrette’s take on Lois Lane, as she didn’t have the hard edge Dana Delany brought to the role in the ‘90s, but it also wasn’t a performance that downplayed Lois’ importance in Superman’s life. There are some really sweet moments between Clark and Lois, and the two actors made those scenes very memorable.
NOT YOUR DINI DESIGN
I will admit that initially I was completely put off by the art style and character design for this movie. If you look at some of the still images we’ve featured on Major Spoilers, Superman comes off as a silly looking cartoon character. Even the opening ‘60s Mod credits had me wondering what I had gotten myself into, as the look is completely different from what we’ve seen before in the entirety of the DC animated universe. But that is where the style fits perfectly for this movie, as the design ends up reflecting the story. As a viewer we see this style and instantly react negatively because it looks cartoony and outdated – just like Superman’s views on the world. When that connection clicked for me, I was able to sit back and enjoy the story without being worried about Superman’s ridiculously sized chin. I did enjoy the design of many of the characters including The Hat and Menagerie, and will admit that this is probably the best animated take on Lois Lane I’ve seen in a long time.
As far as the action scenes go, there are moments that are handled really well. The fight scenes aren’t as staggering as what we saw in Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, but danced circles around Batman: Gotham Knight. As I mentioned in the voice acting, there are some really special moments between Clark and Lois in this movie, and those scenes are animated very well, too.
BOTTOM LINE: WORTH CHECKING OUT
I went in not wanting to like Superman vs. The Elite, mainly because I was not a fan of Justice League: The Elite series that spun out of Action Comics #775. Couple that with my initial negative reaction to the animation style, and it’s a wonder I even watched this movie when it arrived. That being said, by the end of the movie, the team at Warner Bros. changed my mind. Joe Kelly tells a good story, and after the opening credits, the look sank in, and I was able to accept what was on the screen. Though you may have read the source material, there are enough differences that you aren’t going to be completely bored. Superman vs. The Elite is worth picking up for the entertainment value, but also as a thinking piece for later in the day. It’s not my favorite animated movie Warner Bros. has released in the DC line, but it is now in the top five, earning 3.5 out of 5 Stars.