Superman vs The Elite [Blu-ray] (2012)

Actors: George Newbern, Pauley Perrette, Robin Atkin Downes, Dee Bradley Baker, Ogie Banks
Director: Michael Chang
Writers: Joe Kelly
Format: Animated, Full Screen, NTSC, Widescreen
Language: English
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: June 12, 2012
Run Time: 74 minutes




Great story or bad art? You can't get one without the other in Superman vs. The Elite and that's a crying shame . . .

The script from Joe Kelly (who co-wrote the comics on which it was based) presents a tight moral debate couched in some of the cleverest dialogue yet heard in DC Comics' direct-to-DVD features. It constitutes one of the most engaging Superman stories in recent years: taking the question of the hero's modern relevance head-on and emerging with a thoughtful and satisfying answer. So why, then, do the producers do it such a disservice by rendering it with such shoddy animation?

The visuals in DC's direct-to-DVD features always vacillate back and forth. Some are gorgeous while other hover near barely acceptable. But Superman vs. the Elite represents a new low, with crudely drawn characters and copious animation mistakes that wouldn't pass muster on a third-tier cable show. Director Michael Chang evinces a palpable flair for staging, but the actual images fall far, far short of the mark. Were the rest of the production not so top-notch, it would have sunk the film completely.

Luckily, Chang and Kelly step up with a fantastic rendition of the "What's So Funny 'bout Truth, Justice and the American Way?" storyline, helping the Man of Steel recover from last year's unfortunate All-Star Superman adaptation. The heart of the tale concerns Kal El's Boy Scout mentality, and whether that remains relevant in a world with complex problems and harsh solutions. A new breed of heroes arises, calling themselves the Elite and evincing powers comparable to his. Their hearts are in the right place, but they have no problems killing those they consider a threat. By their rationale, it saves lives, since a dead villain can never escape from prison to wreak further havoc. Superman's philosophy – which he staunchly defends against them - can't argue with their effectiveness, and as popular opinion turns towards the Elite, the Man of Steel finds himself on a collision course with his usurpers. In order to beat them, he may need to play by their rules . . . or risk becoming a posthumous spot on the ash heap of history.

Though a tad rushed – something all of these movies struggle with – it also crackles with wit and retains a high amount of energy throughout. The fights come across as a bit perfunctory, but also make imaginative use of the Elite's various powers, as well as letting Superman do more than just punch his way to victory. A few background details get lost in the shuffle, but the characters stay front and center the whole time. Superman vs. the Elite also sets its events after Lois Lane discovers Clark's identity, lending the couple a fun dynamic rarely seen outside of the comics. The voice acting is solid as always, with George Newbern reprising his Justice League role as Superman and Pauley Perrette doing yeoman work as Lane.

Would that the visuals could keep up. The story ultimately overcomes the terrible delivery, but with poor matching and barely-there character design concepts, it's a near thing sometimes. The bad animation becomes a recurring distraction, pulling us out of the drama and forcing the other elements to work all the harder to engage us. Slow down, DC. If you have so much pride in these stories – and you really should – then it behooves you to take the effort to animate them properly. As it is, we have to take a bitter pill to get to the good material, something that never should have happened.

THE DISC: The image is sterling, but that proves a serious detriment since we can see the sloppy animation as clear as day. Superman vs. The Elite rebounds a little with some reliable extras, including a piece on the creation of the Elite and another one engaging in a serious discussion about Superman's morality. Digital comics, audio commentary from Kelly and a passel of previews – including one for this fall's The Dark Knight Returns adaptation – round out the set.

WORTH IT? Only if you can live with third-rate imagery and poor character design. The story is solid, and you won't regret experiencing it. The great images from the comic deserved a lot better, however.

RECOMMENDATION: Superman vs. The Elite should have been one of the best DC video adaptations yet. As it is, you'll have to accept the good with the bad in a very, very mixed bag.

- Rob Vaux 




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