“All-Star Superman,” The Movie: A Roundtable Review

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I interviewed McDuffie a while back elsewhere, and I know there’s a humanist streak that runs through his work. The sequence that best illustrates that in the movie is Luthor’s revelation at the end. “We’re all that there is.” There’s no god above us, and at that moment, Superman’s down and beaten. When he gets up, he’s visibly dying, discorporating into energy. But get up he does, and for that he’s an exemplar of humanity. Morrison says as much in the two featurettes included, too.

I didn’t refer back to the source material, but the coda at the end with Luthor and Quintum felt new. Can you guys back me up here?

(More on TIME.com: The Comic Book Club: Superman: Earth One and Beasts of Burden/Hellboy)

I was bummed that my favorite scene from the comics–where Superman talks a would-be suicide jumper from off the ledge–didn’t make it in, but it’d’ve been hard to fit that in a PG-rated movie. Really, the whole package is a celebration of the Morrisonian conception of Superman. Fans of the man always hear about the notebooks he keeps full of ideas, and the extra feature that walks viewers through his creative process opens them up to great effect. Morrison referenced the many eras and interpretations of Superman in writing All-Star, and the movie continues on in that spirit. The podium Luthor stands in during his sentencing calls back to the Richard Donner Superman movies, and the credits seemed to as well.

Yes, lots of great stuff didn’t make it in here, and I don’t know whose call that was. But, as a package on its own, I really like the All-Star Superman DVD movie.

GRAEME: See, I liked the movie, kind of, but almost everything I liked about it was lifted directly from the source material, and there’s a lot I thought was really lost in the translation.

McDuffie’s script really pares the story back to a clear throughline, centering around Luthor’s plan, with only a couple of diversions (the contest for Lois’ affections, the return of the Kryptonians) remaining from the original series. He loses pretty much 5 issues’ worth of material from the 12 issue series, which is both a good thing for me and a bad one. Yes, he gets a more coherent narrative out of the experience, but the amount of depth and detail that gets lost along the way is what made the original comic more than just a good Superman story, and into a great one, you know?

I also wonder about some of the changes made to the narrative: The Luthor/Quintum epilogue is new, but changes the idea of “Superman 2” from Superman trying to find a way to circumvent his inability to have kids with Lois to Lex trying to replace Superman, which is… I don’t know. Less tragic, and more on the nose, for one thing. It gives more meaning to Lex’s redemption when he gets super-awareness, but I’m not sure I needed/wanted that, if that makes sense. In general, though, the “more on the nose” thing is what this movie seems to be about, from the writing point of view: When it’s not lifting scenes verbatim from the book, it’s simplifying things and compressing them, for the most part (which does make me wonder why McDuffie chose to drop the punchline of the future telescope idea, which explains how Superman knows to prepare for Solaris; in the movie, he just seems to have coincidentally built a suit to prepare for the sun turning red).

(More on TIME.com: The Man of Steel Syllabus: Christopher Nolan’s Superman Movie Homework)

Other changes I didn’t really like:

– The entire loss of the Bizarro storyline.

– The compression of the Kandor story to one scene, which lost the wonderful, wonderful idea of miniature Supermen curing cancer in the sick kids that Superman can’t visit anymore because he, himself, is dying.

– The switch in the Superman Visits Jonathan Kent’s grave story to it happening without a time travel sequence and with a visit from his mom… I don’t know, I feel like it loses the sadness of Superman watching himself fail to save his dad’s life, as well as the (unspoken?) optimism of seeing a future Superman that’s survived the whole thing.

– The massive change in Superman’s showdown with Solaris: in the book, it’s made very clear that he does not kill him, but the opposite is true in the movie, with just one line change seemingly turning him into a killer. WTF?

The animation is another odd adaptation. At times, frames seem studied from Frank Quitely’s original art, but in general this looks very generic, and the animation lacks the… grace? poise? subtlety? of Quitely’s acting. It’s unfair, perhaps, to expect the cartoon to have the amazing sense of space and layout that Quitely brings to his work, but I really would’ve hoped for something that at less pushed more towards that than what’s on show here, which doesn’t even look as good as other DC animated movies.

I feel like I’m judging this movie way too harshly because I love the original series so much. For all its faults, it’s still got a stronger script than most superhero movies, and it’s enjoyable enough (probably moreso if you don’t know the original at all). But it’s not really got the heart of All-Star Superman for me, and that’s a really big problem.

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