07 June 2012

An Early Review of Superman vs The Elite

Although early marketing of this movie made it look like an eminent disaster, Superman vs The Elite turned out to be a solid, if slightly schizophrenic effort. Underneath the cartoony veneer, the movie's content and themes were among the most adult so far seen in a DC animated film. Following 13 DC Universe Animated Original Movies ushered in with Superman: Doomsday, The Man of Steel fittingly led the charge in the rebranded next wave of original animated films under the DC Comics Premiere Movie banner.

Both Doomsday and SvTE were adapted from popular source material, but where Doomsday's scope was overly ambitious for 75 minutes of film, Superman vs The Elite was able to explore and expound upon the relatively brief content of a single comic book issue. The Action Comics #775 one-shot containing, "What's So Funny About Truth, Justice & the American Way?" aimed to reassert Superman's relevance in an age of anti-heroes unrestrained by moral objections to killing the bad guy. The film embraces that same objective in a reasonably thought provoking and satisfactory manner. Although Superman makes a strong case for his tactics, some ambiguity does remain and I appreciate that the movie did not present the moral issue in stark black and white. And while All-Star Superman was more successful in demonstrating Kal-El's ability to inspire good in others; Superman vs The Elite is set in a grittier world making it arguably more relevant to our world than the former tale set in an idealized Silver Age Metropolis.

Other things I liked: In addition to the resonant theme, Superman vs The Elite gets bonus points for telling a compelling story without relying upon old standby Lex Luthor or any other traditional Superman villains. The Elite were presented as interesting and formidable foes all on their own. Not only did the four members of the Elite possess a broad compliment of skills, they were awfully ruthless in the execution of their powers. As the film progressed, tension between Superman and The Elite slowly came to boil until there was no other outcome than an ultimate confrontation. The antagonists were not outright villains and you could feel Superman's yearning to keep them as allies until they pushed the envelope too far. The portrayal of Lois was quite enjoyable with a hint of Margot Kidder's spunky rasp coming from a much more appealing face. The Atomic Skull was a serviceable enough thug providing a couple of intense action scenes. In fact, the movie had no shortage of action or violence. In terms of adult content, this had to be up there with Batman: Under the Red Hood. Lastly, I enjoyed the score which borrowed the hero theme from Superman: Doomsday as well as the retro opening credits that incorporated footage from previous Superman animated incarnations dating back to the Fleischer shorts.

Things that didn't work so well: I mentioned the violence - which by the way I have no problem with on its own. There is killing in this movie, no shortage in fact. The original purpose of these movie was to cater to "more mature" audiences, in other words, to adults living in mom and dad's basement. So bring on the blood and guts. But while the violence was not necessarily gratuitous, the designs in this movie imply much more juvenile content. Its an odd combination that will probably upset some parents. Maybe the intention was to demonstrate the contrast of methods between Superman and The Elite, but it didn't work for me since the end result was a movie containing elements among both the most kiddie and most adult of the DC line - see the oddly out of place "kids cartoon" early in the movie. The animation overall was below the standard established by previous movies. I hope this is a blip and not a new cost cutting tactic. Another problem which also affected Doomsday was the lack of other heroes. At least here, it was implied that there were other supers in the world, but I had to ask myself why the Justice League didn't just step in.

In the end, Superman vs The Elite is a good, though not great movie, but a lot better than expected. I would rank it near the middle of the pack of DC animated movies which I have mostly enjoyed. It does not quite rival the greatness or depth of the aforementioned Batman: Under the Red Hood or All-Star Superman, nor was it as much fun as Justice League: Doom or Crisis on Two Earths. At the same time, Superman vs The Elite has a depth that places it solidly ahead of the Superman / Batman movies or Superman: Doomsday. Superman vs The Elite flies away with a 3 out of 4.

DC Animated Movie Ranks

4 out of 4
Batman: Under the Red Hood
All Star Superman
Batman: Year One

3.5 out of 4
Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker
Justice League: Doom
Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths
Wonder Woman
Green Lantern: First Flight

3 out of 4
Superman vs The Elite
Green Lantern: Emerald Knights
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Justice League: The New Frontier

2.5 out of 4
Superman Batman: Public Enemies
Superman: Doomsday

2 out of 4
Batman vs Dracula
Superman Batman: Apocalypse
Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero

1.5 out of 4
Teen Titans: Trouble in Tokyo
Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman

1 out of 4
Batman: Gotham Knight

.5 out of 4
Superman: Brainiac Attacks


  1. This is good to hear. I honestly was not too excited about this one, but reviews seem to be solid so far.

  2. Not having seen the comic this was taken from, are the character designs similar to those in the comic? Some of the prior DC movies had character designs based from era of the story or similar to the designs of the original comics ie: New frontier.