Adapted from the comic book series by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Director: Sam Liu
Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s "All-Star Superman" is widely considered one of the greatest Superman stories ever told. And rightly so. Over the course of 12 issues, the creative team crafted a story that found Superman confronted with his immanent death and depicted his epic journey before he met his final fate head on.
Veteran writer Dwayne McDuffie had the challenge of condensing the original comic book down to a roughly 70 minute animated movie. And he makes it work by focusing on Superman/Clark Kent, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, with a lot of the side stories left out entirely. So, we don’t get to see Jimmy Olson transform into Doomsday and fight an evil Superman or get to watch Superman’s escape from the world of Bizarro.
But what we do get is an amazingly well constructed film that gets just about everything right.
Like Morrison, McDuffie understands that Superman’s greatest super power is not his strength, his heat vision or his ability to fly… it’s his heart. When Superman learns that he’s dying thanks to a plot by Luthor, he’s less concerned with saving himself than he is with making sure that his friends, his loved ones and everyone on Earth is ready for life without him. This Superman doesn’t just want to beat up his enemies, he wants to save them from themselves. Particularly Luthor, who displays nothing but contempt for the man he’s condemned to die.
For several of the DC Animated direct-to-video films, the rotating voice casts almost always have one or two performers who don’t measure up to the rest. "All-Star Superman" bucks that trend with strong turns by Anthony LaPaglia as Lex Luthor, Christina Hendricks as Lois Lane, Edward Asner as Perry White and particularly, James Denton’s Superman/Clark Kent. Denton gives the last son of Krypton a down to Earth gravitas that hasn’t been matched since Tim Daly first voiced the character back in the ’90s. He doesn’t try to ape Christopher Reeve’s iconic version of the character either. Instead, Denton makes us believe that the ultimate hero is at heart a man like any other.
The animation from Bruce Timm and his team is also amazingly rendered. The animators were able to capture the inherent look of Quitely’s style without the signature ugliness that sometimes comes with it. Iconic moments from the original book are also brought to life almost exactly as they appeared on the page, including Superman and Lois Lane’s kiss on the moon.
For what little running time it had to work with, the film still covers a lot of material, from Lois Lane’s 24 hour stint with Superman’s powers, to the Kryptonian astronauts who briefly supplant Superman and even the tyrant Sun, Solaris… which isn’t a well known villain outside of comics (nor has he been widely used in comics). But in terms of scale, think of Solaris as Superman’s Galactus. The scene in which Superman and his loyal robots take on Solaris is actually one of the most epic moments within the film.
"All-Star Superman" also gives us a compelling take on Superman’s relationship with Lois Lane and what happens when he finally shows her that he’s Clark Kent after years of denying it. Short version, she’s never sure that he’s not lying to her about who he is. Aside from Lois’ brief descent into an odd (and yet hilarious) paranoia about Superman’s true intentions towards her, their love feels genuine. And their final moments together are very moving.
In several ways, it’s difficult to imagine another Superman film after this. "All-Star Superman" is such a satisfying end to the character that we almost don’t need to ever see Superman again. And it would be almost impossible to top this.
But if the original "All-Star Superman" comic has taught us anything, it’s that "Only nothing is impossible."