Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Superman Vs the Elite (2012) direct-to-video animated movie review

Overall verdict: 8/10

The Good: tackles deep socially relevant themes, clever deconstruction of modern day superheroes, superb voice acting, well developed main characters and antagonists, gets you thinking.

The Bad: sub par animation, inconsistent artwork, goofy character designs

Current Availability Status:

Contrary to what the title implies, "SUPERMAN VS THE ELITE" is not some brainless action brawl (like Hulk Vs Thor or Freddy Vs Jason). It is a relevant piece of fiction and metafiction, possibly the darkest animated Superman tale ever. The story itself is adapted loosely from a story in Superman #775 "What's so Funny about Truth Justice and the American Way".
SUPERMAN VS THE ELITE tackles the long lingering question of whether Superman's non-violent policy is still relevant in this day and age. How relevant is superman as a hero and a crimfighter? Criminals like the Atomic Skull are sent to prison, they escape, and Superman just sends them to prison again. It's a vicious cycle. That is, until one day these four new super powered beings show up calling themselves "The Elite"
They fight crime just like Superman, they take down bad guys like Superman. But unlike Superman, they are willing to kill to ensure the bad guys do not return. It is obvious that the world is sick of the revolving door of supervillian imprisonment. Atomic Skull's latest rampage was the clincher. If Superman had finished him off instead of sending him back to prison, it would have saved lives and millions in property. Support for The Elite builds and Superman's ethics are called into question as the world demands more direct action to deal with it's escalating problems. Superman objects to their violence of course. But to the Elite, if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. And problems must be dealt with, permanently.
The original comic served as a deconstruction of the man of Steel by pitting his non-violent moral stance against characters representing the growing trend of morally ambiguous anti-heroes in comics. It was metafiction that tackled story fads, and very clever metafiction at that. This animated movie ends up delving deep into moral philosophy, politics, the definition of a hero and ultimately a heartfelt reaffirmation of the goodness Superman represents. It is socially relevant too, calling into question the death penalty, America's foreign intervention policy, and much more. Here is material that would put even live action comic book movies to shame.

The story is dark. Almost "Dark Knight trilogy" level of Dark. It would leave you questioning human nature, human morality and ultimately you will ask yourself "If i was in that situation, with supervillians running amok because they escaped incarceration time after time, would i also support the actions of the Elite?". The characters are written very well and given enough development to keep them interesting. Though the Elite themselves are meant to be parodies of modern anti-heroes, their actors do a wonderful job of fleshing them out and even having the audience on their side for a time. The voice acting is pitch perfect and the accents are clear, not exaggerated.
George Newbern from the Justice League animated series reprises his role as Superman and almost makes one reconsider him as the "definitive" superman voice over Tim Daley. He masterfully pitches the contrast between Superman and Clark Kent, delivering the occasional humorous quip and the heartfelt "for the greater good" lecture with equal passion. Perhaps of particular note is that he is the first to portray superman as genuinely scary. Without spoilers, let's just say that Superman "goes Batman" at one point and it's a performance that can wet one's pants.
Sadly though this clever, deep and socially relevant tale is marred by what could be the worst animation and art in DC's animated movie history. The designs themselves call to mind saturday morning anime like One Piece or pokemon with their exaggerated anatomy
inconsistent character models

and weird facial expressions

The casual viewer can immediately point out the numerous animation goofs in the footage such as the way Superman's chin size never stays the same.

The designs are also quite silly looking. Palms and fists look like balloons for example and Superman himself looks more like Bananaman.
Such goofy designs might have fit in better with a comedy or a light hearted cartoon aimed at kids. But SUPERMAN VS THE ELITE is definitely aiming a lot more mature with it's story and themes. The simplistic shadows and flat coloring on the characters clash with the intricately designed backgrounds of the city scapes, especially during action scenes.
Telecom Animation Film Co (who worked on Inuyasha and Akira) have done wonders with the previous "Justice League: Doom" animated movie. Yet for reasons unknown, all of these technical issues convey the impression of a rushed production or a low budget. It is no better than Tv series standard , Which is a huge pity because this is a story to be taken seriously. How do you expect us to take a serious story when the characters look so silly?

SUPERMAN VS THE ELITE could have been the best Superman animated movie; or even the best Superman movie EVER. Yet shoddy production and questionable artistic direction taints an otherwise perfect story.
*****************************Review End********************************

Go For it: if you like a socially relevant piece of animation that gets you thinking about deeper issues that many cartoons tend to avoid talking about.
Avoid it: if the goofy artwork turns you off

Entertainment: A-
Story: A
Characters: A
Animation: C+
Art: C-
Music: B+
Voice work (english): A
Replay Value:A-
"Brains": A-

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