Superman vs. The Elite Blu-ray delivers great video and superb audio in this excellent Blu-ray release
The Man of Steel finds himself outshone by a ruthless new group of so-called superheroes who hold his idealism in contempt.
For more about Superman vs. The Elite and the Superman vs. The Elite Blu-ray release, see Superman vs. The Elite Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on June 11, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Is Superman still relevant? Is truth, justice and the quote-unquote American Way sufficient? Should remorseless villains be granted the same rights, due process and mercy as lesser criminals? Is moral fortitude still something we as a society can afford to cling to? Is it even attainable? Would the world rally behind a moralistic hero or demand a savior willing to get his hands dirty for the good of the planet? Do we really want heroes who are willing to serve as judge, jury and executioner? Do we dream of heroes like Superman anymore? Or has fear and escalating global violence left little room for idealism in our ideology? These were valid questions in early 2001, when fan-favorite comic scribe Joe Kelly took Superman's relevance and seemingly unshakable morals to task in the critically hailed Action Comics #775 (easily one of the best Superman stories ever committed to print), and they remain valid questions in 2012, with Kelly revisiting his now-eleven-year-old work and penning its even more timely animated adaptation, Superman vs. The Elite. Is it one of the best DCU animated movies to date? Not by my estimation. Is it better than Action Comics #775? Not by a long shot. Does that spoil the movie? Not as much as you might think. Unless you count Kelly's original Action Comics issue as one of the books in your comic bible, Superman vs. The Elite will be an unexpectedly dark, at-times poignant dissection of the Superman mythos and the political perils and pitfalls of our modern age.
Manchester Black, at your service...
Even when it isn't asking big questions or unleashing the full force of Superman's frightening fury on a bewildered adversary, Superman vs. The Elite covers a lot of ground in seventy-four minutes. After bringing the Atomic Skull (Dee Bradley Baker) to justice... again... Superman (George Newbern) encounters a new group of heroes who soon begin referring to themselves as "The Elite": foul-mouthed, telekinetic powerhouse Manchester Black (Robin Atkin Downes), bio-EMP metahuman Coldcast (Catero Colbert), drunken magic-wielder Hat (Andrew Kishino), and symbiotic alien-worm host Menagerie (Melissa Disney). Superman doesn't exactly trust the Elite but takes them on their word, giving them a chance to do some good by his side. But when Manchester and his unruly team begin endangering civilians, torturing enemy soldiers and killing supervillains, it becomes clear to Superman that the Elite pose a grave threat to the world. Not that the world is complaining. As journalists, pundits, the vast majority of the public, and even Lois (Pauley Perrette), Superman's wife, begin questioning his tactics and unwillingness to kill a dangerous villain, the Elite position themselves as the new lords of the planet. Can Superman convince the world that the righteous path is still the right path? Can he defeat the Elite without lowering himself to their level? Or will he snap and lose himself to rage and revenge?
Kelly's Superman eventually embraces his inner-Batman (and then some), but to what twisty, turn-y ends should surprise those unfamiliar with Action Comics #775. DC's Big Boy in Blue has long been an agent of peace and justice (much as punching giant aliens in the face suggests otherwise) and seeing such an unshakable hero reduced to his baser impulses is a bit unsettling, even when animated. Still, Kelly doesn't hinge his script on an explosive third act, taking great care to showcase Clark Kent the Man as well as Superman the Force of Nature. Clark and Lois's marriage, as well as his relationship with his parents, is given just enough screentime to make everything that happens when he dons his tights and cape that much more meaningful. Superman isn't just fighting to save people in the latest DCU animated movie, he's fighting to preserve a way of life; something he knows is all too easy to lose in a century plagued by terrorist attacks, genocide and devastating war. The Atomic Skull is small potatoes compared to two feuding nations, and the arrival of the Elite forces Superman and the world at large to look inward and decide if they're willing to sacrifice freedom, individual rights and principle in the pursuit of safety and security. For those paying attention, it's the same debate that's been turning brother against brother since 9/11 and the same debate that continues to be held nightly between the 24-hour news networks, oblivious as they've become to it.
But for all its thrilling super-powered battles, lofty sermonizing, barbed political satire, and end-of-days dust-ups and beatdowns, there are a few too many shortcomings that hold Superman vs. The Elite back from greatness, most of which originate somewhere other than Kelly's script. When it comes to voice casting, DCU animated movies tend to either score big or drop the ball. Newbern sounds almost too wholesome, undermining the raw ferocity of Superman's final showdown with the Elite; Colbert, Kishino and Disney aren't nearly as magnetic or engaging as Downes, making the baddies a one-man show; Perrette's scenes would have benefited from sharing a recording booth with Newbern; and a number of supporting characters are wooden, especially compared to Downes, who seems to swipe every scene. The animation, meanwhile, works when action erupts or Superman takes the fight to the Elite, but doesn't quite impress when Clark goes out for a stroll, the U.N. holds a meeting, Black reveals his tragic backstory, the Elite blast a pair of city-trampling bugs, or Lois runs into an unexpected ally from Black's past. The world of Superman vs. The Elite is too small and sparse for the grand ideas being presented, and the inclusion of plot-hole plugs like Superman's fleet of robots, the all-too-brief appearance of the aforementioned ally, and the like is a bit Saturday Morning Cartoon for a Superman movie as (relatively) dark as this one. It doesn't help that pacing, while strong in spots, lags in the middle; which isn't so much Kelly's fault as is the manner in which some of his chattier, more low-key scenes are presented.
I'll be the first to admit my love of Action Comics #775 probably set my expectations too high, leading to the sort of inevitable disappointment that's bound to affect even more comic fans when the first part of Warner Premiere's animated adaptation of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns arrives on Blu-ray later this year. An additional fifteen or twenty minutes would have allowed Kelly to create a grander sandbox for Supes and the Elite to tussle in, sure, but, for once, I don't have much to say about a DCU animated movie's runtime. Seventy-four minutes doesn't seem like much, but Kelly makes the most of every minute, executing nonessential elements with malice, avoiding tangents, and focusing only on that which is crucial to the central debate. No, it's the bright, open world of Superman vs. The Elite that makes it so small. Heavy shadow and endless night goes a long way in an animated Batman movie, saving the animators a lot of work by allowing the imagination to fill out every last corner of Gotham City. Sunny skies and spring-day afternoons, though, reveal how empty and simplistic Superman's animation can be. On the one hand, it's on par with the animation DCU animated movies always deliver. On the other, Kelly's story and set pieces are so cinematic that the traditional DCU animation style is rendered a tad inadequate. Be that as it may, Superman vs. The Elite isn't a failure by any means. You might find even yourself shouting its praises when all is said, done and scraped off the Metropolis sidewalk.
Superman vs. The Elite impresses with a strong and steady 1080p/AVC-encoded image that flies circles around its DVD counterpart. There are a few problems -- eagle-eyed videophiles will spot some faint artifacting and minor banding (even though both are less prevalent and apparent than in other DCU animated releases), softer shots sully the otherwise crisp presentation, and a handful of finer lines exhibit slight aliasing -- but very little of it batters, bruises or bloodies the encode. Colors are big and bold, primaries pack punch, black levels look as if they've been applied by a comic inker's pen, detail reveals most every nuance of the animation, and the animators' line art is as sharp and clean as intended (thick as it sometimes may be). Budgetary constraints are shortcuts are easier to spot, but so is every ounce of attention and care that went into Superman's battles, the Elite's exploits, and the panel-to-screen shots lifted straight out of the original comics upon which the movie is based. All things considered, it isn't quite the best DCU animated presentation I've reviewed, but it certainly isn't the worst. Far from it.
Forget the sometimes sparse sound design. As DCU animated productions go, Superman's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track hits hard and doesn't let up. The LFE channel throws its weight behind every bone-cracking punch, earth-shaking body slam, death-dealing impact, roaring whirlwind, mind-razing electromagnetic explosion, and city-wide display of power that erupts in the streets of Metropolis (and beyond). Meanwhile, the rear speakers throw in a few jabs of their own. Debris is hurled across the soundfield, flying heroes zip from channel to channel, and energy blasts scream past, all with the ease you'd expect from an action-packed animated adventure. Dialogue is clear and intelligible as well, without a lost line, buried cry for mercy, or drowned yargh! or ahhh! to be found. Yes, many an element and directional effect is cursed with the same two-dimensional idiosyncrasies apparent in most DCU animated productions, and yes, ambience and acoustics aren't as robust or convincing as they are in a big-screen animated film. But lossless quality isn't always synonymous with immersive, larger-than-life sound design, and Superman vs. The Elite, proficient and powerful as it is, couldn't sound much better.
Audio Commentary: DC Comics Executive Editor Eddie Berganza and screenwriter Joe Kelly share a laid-back, easy-going conversation about the original comics that featured the Elite (chief among them Action Comics #775, which Kelly also wrote), the inspiration for their creation and love/hate relationship with Superman and the JLA, the changes that were made during the development of the animated movie, and Kelly and Berganza's impressions of its final animation, voicework, occasional pulled punches, pacing, character designs and more.
The Elite Unbound: No Rules, No Mercy (HD, 15 minutes): Meet the Elite as they were originally introduced in a larger DC Comics multi-book arc. The differences between the Elite on the page and the Elite on the screen are immediately apparent, as are the challenges Kelly faced in adapting the story as a single animated movie.
Superman and the Moral Debate (HD, 17 minutes): "There is a natural human tendency to make an end-run around rules when they're not convenient." This look at the central moral debate that separates Superman's actions from those of more violent heroes delves into the mechanics that have made Superman tick since his inception, as well as the manner in which that moral debate continues to be drawn from culture and politics.
Alan Burnett's Top Picks (SD, 42 minutes): Alan Burnett presents two of his favorite Superman: The Animated Series episodes -- "Brave New Metropolis" and "Warrior Queen" -- from the second season of the show.
Action Comics #775 (HD): Only five pages of Action Comics #775 are included, making this more of a half-hearted plug for DC's online comic service than a worthwhile special feature.
Dark Knight Rises Theatrical Release Photo Gallery (HD, 15 minutes): Fifteen images Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Rises, all of which have been available online for some time.
A Sneak Peek at Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 (HD, 13 minutes): An extended preview of Warner Premiere's next DCU animated project, a two-part adaptation of Frank Miller's critically acclaimed The Dark Knight Returns.
Additional Sneak Peeks (HD, 19 minutes): Two previously released making-of featurettes round out the package, the first for All-Star Superman and the other for Superman/Batman: Public Enemies, both of which have been available on Blu-ray for some time.
Superman vs. The Elite isn't going to blow away many comic fans (particularly those who've read Kelly's superior Action Comics #775), but as DCU animated movies go, it's a commendable contender. Kelly and Chang push Superman to the edge and the results are thrilling and thought-provoking, even if a better voice cast, more elaborate animation and a few darker twists could have brought this one closer to #775 and the upper echelon of DCU animated productions. Thankfully, Warner brings its A game, pairing Kelly and Chang's adaptation with a fully capable video transfer, a tenacious DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and a generous supplemental package. Here's hoping Jay Oliva and Bob Goodman's two-part adaptation of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, set to arrive later this year, is even better.
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In June, Warner Home Entertainment will bring Superman vs. The Elite to Blu-ray. This newest DC Universe adventure details the confrontation between Superman and the Elite, a group of violent antiheroes. Superman vs. The Elite streets on June 12th.