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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Superman vs The Elite (2012)

Note: Thank you to Russell Hartman for previewing this review for accuracy.
 

The classic version of Superman is hard to come by, especially on-screen. Now, my stance on the DCEU is that Snyder was going on a journey to the blend of Clark and Kal-El that we’re familiar with and love, and his cut of the Justice League should prove that. If I’m wrong about that though, or you feel the damage has already been done with the snapping of Zod’s neck, then I recommend Superman vs The Elite.


Superman vs The Elite pits Superman (Justice League's George Newbern) against a team of vigilantes intent on acting as judge, jury, and executioner. What makes this a challenge isn’t just that they’re at times more than evenly matched for The Man of Steel, but their methods quickly become not just accepted but popular with the public. Even as understandable as that may be for some, seeing it through Clark’s eyes is scary and depressing. The Elite’s championing of chaos and anarchy comes at the expense not just of due process, but humanity. This movie is directed by Michael Chang, adapted by Joe Kelly, and based on his Action Comics #775 issue "What So Funny About Truth, Justice & The American Way.”

 

So, what sticks out about this movie immediately, especially during the first viewing is the art style. It’s pretty cartoony-looking, especially for a DC animated movie. It’s similar to the original comic but pushed a little more. Once you get used to it, it’s great. It makes Superman look older than he probably is, like in his 40s or 50s, and that’s very fitting for a story where he feels a bit out of place with the rest of the world. Zack Snyder makes him feel out of place by making him more of an alien, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but Chang does it by making him feel more human. The style, by the way, allows for fluid animation, and great fight scenes (describe some fights), on top of some already interesting visuals. 

 

Superman's full strength and range of powers are taken advantage of in ways that are a bit unexpected, like a sonic scream, but it's one of the Elite members, who steals that show. Menagerie (Melissa Disney) is a mixed bag of a character. Her hitting on Superman comes across as overly off-putting, since this version of Clark is so wholesome and has a great relationship with Lois (Pauley Perrette), but her powers help make up for that. She has these Medusa-like snakes, or eels or leeches, that she can shoot out of her body, but she also uses them as hearing aids and binoculars. She felt like a more powerful and creative version of Poison Ivy. While that's probably not true if they faced off, the movie makes a good case in the moment. 


Superman and Lois
Superman, Lois Lane, and the Strong, Stan Smith-ish, Jawline of Justice | Warner Brothers, 2012


Besides Menagerie's forwardness, the only other problem with the movie is just how fast the Elite are applauded for their actions. People who watch these direct-to-video movies regularly are probably used to the fast-pace needed to cram everything into about ninety minutes, but the movie actually has a good buildup scene that just plays a moment too late. To give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt, the swept-up nature of how people treat The Elite is necessary to bring out the film's themes. So, how do those play out?

 

While this came out well after September 11th, and issue #775 came out six months before, the response to terrorism is central to the story. What tips Superman over the edge is when The Elite kill the leaders of two warring nations during, albeit highly likely to break down, peace talks.

 

Their leader, Manchester Black's (Robin Atkins Downes) philosophy is "The only logical thing to do is slot the whole McGill and start over." In some ways, it's the Adrian Veidt/Utilitarian approach from Watchmen, but this movie makes that less of an abstract concept. The Elite aren't monsters, but they still did this in an up-close and personal manner, as opposed to Veidt's method of flipping a switch half a world away. Adding violence, pain, and suffering, at least as much as possible in a movie aimed at teens and pre-teens, the consequences become more real. The need for more than just the No-Kill rule, but a standard of humanity even when faced against the worst of it, becomes more real. That's what this Superman embodies. That's why some still look at a punishing Batman, even with that rule firmly in place, with a raised eyebrow.

 

So, that's why this is one of the best Superman movies out there. The way to make someone as overpowered and genuinely good at heart as Superman interesting is to find a way to challenge that, and Superman vs The Elite may provide a clear answer for the hero's situation, but that doesn't make it an easy one. I honestly believe that's what Zack Snyder was going for in that aforementioned pivotal scene of Man of Steel, but something got lost in translation, and that version of the character hasn't fully recovered, despite Henry Cavill showing incredible range as the character in the cape and in "Kansas Plaid." 

 

Back to Elite, it's an incredibly human story. That’s most clear in the moments between Clark and Lois, and him and his dad (Paul Elding). He’s able to be his most (Kryptonite-free) vulnerable, doubting, and scared version of himself. It's in some ways like back to when he was a kid and still figuring everything out. I hope DC's animated branch continues to give us more films like this, especially from Clark...although not necessarily this Clark. If you haven't read or heard of Superman: Secret Identity, I highly encourage everyone to check it out.

 

I plan to return to this movie at some point soon because the original plan was to compare it to Captain America: Winter Soldier. While the extreme of Elite is anarchy, the extreme of Winter Soldier is national security, but with both characters championing similar ideals, so there's definitely more to say on the topic.

 

Anyway, I'd love to hear what others think of this movie and other pieces of Superman, or superhero, media. So, if you have something to say, leave a comment, or better yet, write or film your own review/essay and put it up on your own platform.


4.5/5

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