This is a review I had been putting off. I didn’t think I could be objective about the DC animated film based on the 12 issue Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely masterpiece. I have never been much more than a casual Superman fan. With the notable exception of the first Christopher Reeve film, my exposure and interest was limited. But then a few years ago I started getting interested in a broader range of stuff, and for me, that meant getting back into the super hero books. Through most of the 90’s I really only read indie books. Sandman had kept me about as mainstream as I was going to be for a while. So when I wanted to get back in, I went more DC than Marvel, as I had grown up more Marvel and had a pre conceived notion and was sure I would be disappointed by what I saw. I was, but that is another story.
Among the DC books I now read are the occasional Superman book. But what really made me love the character was All Star Superman. I felt after reading the book, that would be as good as it got for Big Blue, and mostly that has been the case. There have been some gems, but this is still the high point for the blue tights in the last decade or so. That is why I thought I might want to hold off on the review of the movie. Would I be able to stay focused and objective? Nope. But then I watched the movie with the wife. She didn’t really think all that highly of it and her coolness allowed me to step back and justify those things I though praiseworthy, and look with a more critical eye on those aspects that were less than great.
These two images are a good example of the differences between the movie and it’s source material. The film is glossy and reasonably well produced, but far from the best that DC has so far to offer us, while the book has much more beneath the surface. Obviously, the film had to omit some parts of the story, but to be honest, I have come to agree with the wife on this, the film is very disjointed and staccato. While episodic tends to suit a comic (although it reads even better as a complete story in this case) a 88 minute movie needs more cohesion. You could really feel where the story from each issue of the book ended and the next one began. Maybe broken up by commercials that would work, but not like this. Maybe for a younger fan this would work as simple entertainment, but ultimately this was a major drawback on repeated viewings. There is a fair bit to like though. The quality of the animation is decent if not top-notch. At times it looks a little off-model and rushed. The picture and sound are very nice quality, particularly on Blu ray.
What hurts the film most is that in making it fit in the prescribed 88ish minutes (and i have to say, DC needs to start thinking outside this particular box) they have removed some of the things that give the book its emotional core. The first and most glaring edit, is almost all of the Smallville sequence. Pared down to a short graveyard scene, nearly every bit of the heart of the original has been lost as most of it was in this sequence of story events. While at first glance I can see why it was removed, on further reflection, I find it difficult to believe that as talented a screenwriter as Dwayne McDuffie (in his final screen credit, I believe-feel free to correct me on that) could not have found a way to put that into the film in such a way that the pacing would not have been hurt. It certainly needed to be more fleshed out in the screenplay, and that, I think, would have made this a better film. Fan service is nice, and there are lots of that geeky glow here, but we still need substance. You cannot live on cookies alone (I know, I’ve tried), sometimes you need a real meal. There are subtleties in the movie that I didn’t catch in the book. The mention by Lois that the Superman of the year 85,000 looks like her father, is a nice hint that didn’t make the book at all. And the Fortress of Solitude key under the mat gag, works much better in the film.
Another omission is the entire Bizarro World section. While not as great a loss to the emotion or the story structure, it was a lot of fun in the book, and I do miss it a little bit here. The scenes with Lex Luthor are not as strong as in the book, with the exception of the climax of the film, and the Jimmy Olsen scenes worked well and in some cases were actually funnier. So all in all, the little things are a wash.
The ending will most likely trouble some viewers that do not realize that these DC movies, like most of the stories they come from, are not “in continuity” with the rest of the DCU, and so my find the end a bit of a downer. the reason for this story being that way was that it was designed to be a complete and self-contained story of the Man of Steel, and viewed as that, it works pretty well. Better in the book though.
I loved the book. I really did. I liked the movie more on the first viewing than on the repeated ones. I still like it, and it is a great geek fest, but it is not the kind of thing that casual fans, especially those that have not read the source material are likely to get much out of. Fans of the original book will enjoy the story coming to life, flawed though it is, but most others will want to give it a miss. Sad to say, but I don’t think that a newcomer to this story will enjoy the movie anywhere near as much as the book. Go buy the book and rent this.