I’ll admit to never having read the beloved comic written by Grant Morrison and drawn by Frank Quitely before watching this movie, but in talking to friends and reading about the reaction of the comic, my anticipation for watching the movie grew and grew. If you’re unaware of the story, I’ll try to break it down without being spoilery. In All Star Superman, Superman gets overtly saturated with solar radiation, which is the source of his powers here on Earth. In the aftermath, he’s stronger and smarter, but he also finds out that his cells are exploding bit by bit from the inside, and the end-result will be his eventual demise. This forces Superman to face something he’s rarely had to think about before…his own mortality.
All Star Superman starts off simple. You know the origin story of Superman, and don’t need to see it all again, so it’s with thanks that this movie — and the comic upon which its based — knows that and reduces this to a few simple flashes of familiar moments, which I liked a lot. The rest of the story maintains this quiet subtlety, and its used to great effect. Even when the fights are furious and the stakes are high, there’s still a…gentleness that permeates throughout the movie, and it helps draw the viewer in…or at least it did me. Without giving too much away, I have to admit that this is one of the finest stories I’ve seen in these animated movies. I wasn’t expecting it to get under my skin, but it did, so much so that, in the end, I was tearing up, yet hopeful for the future of Metropolis and the world.
I’ve tried to touch upon the basics of the story without spoiling it, especially if you’ve not read the comic. Based on what I’ve read of the comic, nearly all of the core story is intact and lovingly preserved. Side stories are dropped for the sake of time, but the movie doesn’t suffer for this in the slightest. What we have here is a touching, honest tale of morality, mortality, honesty, love and justice told in a way only comics really can, by making the emotional stakes enough that we can even identify with the mightiest of godlike characters. Overall, the story was amazingly well presented, so much so that it’s made me want to go back and find the original comics upon which this movie is based and read them in their entirety…and I’ve barely read any Superman comics, if that tells you anything. I also teared up at the end of this, which rarely happens in films of this type, because the emotional resonance was really compelling and touching.
The folks at WB and DC Animation love to use Whedon alum in their films. Andrea Romano, the voice and casting director, has claimed on several occasions to be a Whedon fan, and this has worked quite well for the most part. In this instance, we find Christina "YoSafBridge" Hendricks from Firefly making her voiceover debut as Lois Lane, and in my opinion, she’s done a fine job with the character. The movie also features Alexis "Wesley" Denisof from Buffy and Angel as Leo Quintum. Denisof is no stranger to voiceover work, having also done work for the Justice League and Batman Beyond TV Shows. While we don’t hear much of him in the film, sadly, he does a great job as Dr. Quintum.
Other notable stars include such voiceover legends as Ed Asner as Perry White and John Di Maggio as Samson. These gentlemen bring all of their bluster to their roles, small as they sadly are, and make them larger than life as they always do. While Mr. Di Maggio is never totally distinct to my ear, Ed Asner is totally distinct to my ear, and totally owns the role of Perry White. Anthony LaPaglia (who’s no stranger to voiceover work either) also does quite a good job as Lex Luthor, though somewhere in my mind I always want to hear Clancy Brown.
James Denton of Desperate Housewives also makes his voice acting debut as the man himself, Superman, and I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised at how well he portrayed the man of steel. There’s a quietness, a gentleness to the Superman in this story, and Denton captures that perfectly. He also captures the emotions of what Superman must be going through quite well, really helping me believe the character was facing his own mortality and the issues surrounding his impending demise.
Also on the cast is Frances Conroy of Six Feet Under as Martha Kent, who does a fantastic job in the role. Matthew Gray Gubler (of Criminal Minds) chimes in as Jimmy Olsen, and does a great job with the role. We also have some lesser known but veteran voice actors in the mix such as Kevin Michael Richardson, Steve Blum and Michael Gough. Overall, the voice acting is top notch, as is usual for these films.
Audio and Video:
Up until recently, I’d been buying all of these movies on DVD because I didn’t feel I needed them on Blu-ray. However, since some more recent entries have Blu-ray specific extras, I’ve been getting them in that format, and now am kicking myself for not getting them in Blu-ray from the get go. The crispness of the animation is very well done here, and the bright shininess of Metropolis isn’t overdone at all. The animation style is fluid and expressive, and the detail in the animation is very good. Overall I was very pleased with the animation style, as they tried to mirror Frank Quitely’s style in animation form and succeeded, I think.
The audio is quite well done as well. Besides the great voice acting, All Star Superman sports a soundtrack that feels superheroic. Composed by Christopher Drake — a longtime composer of animation soundtracks — the music fits the mood of the film and the scenes therein perfectly. Overall, I think the audio and visual presentation here is very well done and pleasing to the senses.
This Blu-ray has some pretty good extras, considering the extras on these movies are sometimes not as extensive a I’d personally like (I’m a total sucker for good extras). The first is a commentary with producer Bruce Timm and the write of the comic, Grant Morrison. I didn’t listen to the commentary in its entirety, but it was a fun and engaging listen, as you could tell both Timm and Morrison are passionate about the subject matter. Next is Superman Now, a nearly thirty minute retrospective on how the All Star Superman comic came to be, how it was written and received and so on.
The Creative Flow is a shorter piece — around ten minutes — with Grant Morrison taking a look at how the idea for doing a Superman story came to him, as well as many of the sketches he used and their evolution into the style and look of what would finally be used in the comic and the film. We also, as usual, get some previous episodes from DC animated shows, in this case a two-parter from Superman: The Animated Series, as well as a sneak preview of Green Lantern: Emerald Knights featuring our own Captain Tightpants, Nathan Fillion. Rounding out the extras are a virtual comic version of All Star Superman issue #1, as well as a trailer for Batman: Under the Red Hood and a featurette on Superman/Batman: Apocalypse. Overall, the extras are pretty extensive, but I honestly would’ve liked to see a featurette with the cast and crew of THIS movie.
I have to admit, watching All Star Superman changed how I look at Superman as a character. By making him ultimately mortal, this story made him approachable and helped me connect with him in a way I never have before. This movie presents Superman in a way I’ve never seen, and I have to admit it’s made me compelled to rewatch the entire Superman: The Animated Series in a whole new light. If you’re a fan of Superman in any shape or form, do yourself a favor and get All Star Superman. It’s a great ride that’s worth your time and energy.