All-Star Superman

  • Title:  All-Star Superman
  • Director:  Sam Liu
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2011
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Action, Fantasy, Drama, Animation
  • Cast:  James Denton, Christina Hendricks, Anthony La Pagulia, Edward Asner, Alexis Denisoff, John Dimaggio, Robin Atkins Downes
  • Format:  Widescreen, Color
  • DVD Format: R1, Blu-Ray

“Lex Luthor, you’re under arrest for attempted murder and crimes against humanity!” – SWAT Captain

All-Star Superman opens with a group of scientists in a spaceship that’s about to crash into the Sun, in no small part due to evil goings-on by Lex Luthor. Superman flies near the Sun and rescues the scientists but soon finds out that he suffered and overdose of solar radiation and he’s dying. Essentially, the theme of the story is Superman with cancer. You would think that would be depressing, but this animated film has a wonderful tone to it. The story is very episodic, but in a very real sense we’re seeing Superman actually fulfilling the items on his bucket list.

Superman, tells Lois Lane he’s Clark Kent – something she barely believes, and brings her to his fortress of solitude. There he gives her a serum that gives her his powers for a day, and the two have a romantic day playing superheroes together. They even stop a fight between Samson and Atlas and intelligent dinosaurs from the center of the Earth. When Superman brings the creatures back where they belong, he’s goaded into a fight with Samson and Atlas. However, he ends-up besting them with his intelligence solving the Riddle of the Ultra Sphinx. The riddle is what happens when “the irresistible force meets an immovable object”, Superman answers, “They surrender”, and rescues Lois. He then bests Samson and Atlas in arm wrestling.

Meanwhile, the Daily Planet has exposed Luthor’s water crisis scheme, and Luthor’s been charged by the International Court of Justice. Not only is Luthor found guilty he’s sentenced to die in the electric chair even though it’s been banned for years.

Clark goes to interview Luthor in prison, and Luthor states he likes Clark Kent but he hates Superman – and he’s happy that even though he will die, Superman will die first. The Parasite escapes during Luthor and Kent’s discussion and starts a riot in the prison, killing guards and prisoners alike. Luthor escapes.

Superman, in his fortress with her, tells Lois he’s dying. Lois insists he will figure out an answer.

Superman takes the bottle city of Kandor to a planet that they can safely colonize. Two months later he returns to Earth.

Two Kryptonians show up and prove to be spoiled, superior, colonials bent on cultural imperialism. Superman discovers, however, they have been poisoned by Kryptonite. In the end, they are sent to the Phantom Zone.

Superman even goes to his father’s grave, leaving a Kryptonian flower there. He says hi to his mother, Martha Kent, but doesn’t stay long.

Lex Luthor is “executed” but he doesn’t die – he’s stolen some of Superman’s serum to give himself super powers for 24 hours.

Superman records his final journal entry in the Fortress of Solitude.

Luthor’s next stratagem arrives – Solaris a living, intelligent sun eater who will poison the sun and turn it blue. Luthor thinks he’s gotten Solaris to turn the Earth’s Sun red, which will leave Superman helpless – but Solaris betrays even Luthor and poisons the Sun to turn it blue.  There’s a classic fight scene.  Superman has his pet sun-eater attack Solaris, but Solaris rips it to shreds. Superman then faces the super-powered Luthor, including firing a gravity gun at him. The gun eventually speeds up Luthor’s personal time, so just as Luthor is beginning to see the real meaning of things, and that everything is connected, he collapses because he’s burned through the serum.

But Superman is also dying. As his face cracks with light, he kisses Lois then flies off to the Sun to “fix it” and reverse the poisoning done by Solaris. The film ends with Lois sitting in a park. Jimmy Olsen drops by and asks her if she’s “going to the memorial”. Lois says no because she knows that Superman isn’t dead, he’s fixing the Sun and he will be back.

All-Star Superman has a wonderful 50s/early 60s quality to it. It has innocence and sweetness without being saccharin. The story is episodic, but underlining the individual bits is the very real threat that Superman is dying, essentially from cancer, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. You’d think that would be depressing, but Superman takes the news in stride and does take the time to do the things he wants or needs to do. It’s even Clark Kent who writes the “Superman Dead” newspaper story then collapses at his desk. The animation style also has a wonderful retro look to it that works wonderfully with the story.

There are some lovely special features as well, including interviews with Grant Morrison who wrote the original graphic novel. Overall, it’s an enjoyable and feel-good Superman story that doesn’t get bogged down in just fight sequences but shows the audience a human side to the Man of Steel.

Recommendation: See it, especially if you’re a fan of Superman or Classic DC Comics
Rating: 4 Stars
Next Film: Hot Fuzz

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Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2 (Spoilers)

  • Title:   Batman The Dark Knight Returns Part 2
  • Director:  Jay Olivia
  • Voice Director:  Andrea Romano
  • Date:  2013
  • Studio:  Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre:  Animation, Action, Drama
  • Cast:  Peter Weller, Ariel Winter, Michael Emerson, David Seltz, Mark Valley, Robin Atkin Downes, Maurice LaMarche, Michael McKean, Conan O’Brien, Rob Paulsen, Frank Welker, Tara Strong
  • Format:  Windscreen, Color Animation
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC
“Look, either shut it down, or one of these days someone with authority is going to tell me to come stop you.  And when that happens…” — Clark
“When that happens may the best man win.” – Bruce
 
“Come on, finish me…. Doesn’t matter, I win, I made you lose control … and they’ll kill you for it.” — Joker
 
“Tonight, I am going to maintain order in Gotham City, you’re going to help me!  But not with these [guns]!  These are loud and clumsy!  These are the weapons of cowards!  Our weapons are precise and quiet!  In time, I will teach them to you.  But for tonight, you will rely on your brains and your fists.  Tonight we are the law!  Tonight I am the law!”  — Batman
Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns is a classic graphic novel that’s been in print since it’s original publication in 1986.  It’s excellent, and truly raised the bar for graphic story-telling and changed comics forever.  It’s the first graphic novel I ever read and one I occasionally re-read.  I’m very glad Warner’s allowed two movies to be made from this big and complicated graphic novel.  I was worried though that Warners would “wimp out” with the more controversial aspects of the story.  I’m happy to report they did not.  The political aspects of the storyline are here in full.  Hazzah!
Whereas the first part (film) focuses on Bruce putting the Batsuit on again and Two Face and the Mutant gang Leader as villains, the second part focuses almost exclusively on The Joker as primary villain, though there is still a lot going on.  Even more than Part 1, television newscasts are used as a narrative device in Part 2.
In Part 2, the remainder of  the Mutant Gang has split into various groups.  The Sons of Batman, with their blue face paint, declare Batman as their leader, and attempt to save Gotham City from other criminals – violently.  The Nixons, with their tall blonde female leader, “Bruno”, rob and steal without remorse.  Bruno has red swastikas painted on her breasts.  Batman sets up a sting to catch her, and succeeds. Superman arrives in Gotham and saves a blind man who’s fallen into a subway track in the path of an on-coming train.  But the reason he’s there is to encourage Bruce to hang-up the cape again.  However, the majority of the film concerns Joker.
Jim Gordon retires.  The new police commissioner, Ellen Yindel, as her first act as Comissioner, issues a warrant for Batman’s arrest.  When Clark and Bruce talk, Clark has a bald eagle on his arm, and Bruce pets Clark’s white dog — which is a great image!
Joker is in an asylum, being treated by Dr. Wolper.  He manipulates Wolper to get him a pass and an interview on the Dave Endocrine Show.  Wolper does this, and soon Joker is free.   He kills Wolper with a coffee cup during the show’s taping, as well as Endocrine and his audience with his deadly Joker gas. Batman and Robin (Carrie) had gone to the show’s taping to try to stop Joker, but Yindel’s police attack Batman.  The police spend so much time trying to catch Batman that they fail to stop Joker.
After escaping the chaos at the television studio, Joker finds Selina Kyle, and uses hallucinogenic lipstick to control her mind, as well as one of her girls.  The girl gets a Congressman to declare the country should declare open war on the Soviets before falling to his death (while wrapped in an American flag).
The president announces on TV that American troops are battling Soviet troops in the South American Island country of “Corto Maltese”.  As in the graphic novel, the president looks like Reagan, and he’s voiced in the animated film to sound like Ronald Reagan, including his “folksy wisdom”.  He announces a war by saying, “Now those Soviets would like to see us turn tail and run, but we’ve got to protect our interests, I mean, stand up for freedom and the good people of Corto Maltese.  So don’t fret… we’ve got God on our side.”  This political conflict forms the backdrop of the entire film.  News is blacked out “due to severe weather”.
Batman finds out about the connection to Kyle Escorts.  He finds Selina, dressed like Wonder Woman, and tied-up.  She tells him about Joker and the mind-control lipstick.  Batman is too late to save the Congressman.
Batman also finds out Joker’s next target is the local amusement park, which is just opening.  Batman and Joker fight in the house of mirrors, where Joker shoots Batman in the shoulder.  Joker escapes into the tunnel of love, and he and Batman fight again.  Joker knifes Batman across the stomach and stabs him several times.  Batman beats Joker, who finally collapses against a wall.  Joker taunts Batman, then breaks his own neck.  Batman passes out.  Later, Batman awakes.  He places incindiaries on Joker’s body and disappears, as Yindel’s police troops close in.  Joker’s body burns and the entire tunnel blows up.
Carrie rescues Batman and takes him to the Cave where Alfred does surgery.
Reagan announces from an “undisclosed location” via television special report, American troops won in Corto Maltese, but the Soviets are “poor sports” as a missile’s been sent towards the Island nation.  Superman deflects the missile and it blows up over Gotham City.  Superman is irradiated, crash lands, and kills everything he touches — flowers, trees, grass, etc.
Gotham is blacked out and everyone panics.  Bruce realizes it was an EMP blast.  Batman and Robin ride on horseback into Gotham.  Batman rallies the Sons of Batman, and later citizens and even former members of the Mutant Gang into keeping order in the city.  Meanwhile, Jim Gordon, organizes people in his own neighborhood to put out fires.
The country is buried under a cloud of smoke and ash.  In Gotham, there is no sun, but electricity is slowly coming back on.  Gotham is the only city not torn apart by crime, rioting and looting.
The president (still Reagan) enforces martial law, and sends a recovering Superman after Batman. Batman works with Carrie, Oliver Queen (formerly the Green Arrow), and Alfred on a plan.  He fights Superman in Crime Alley, distracting him until Queen can fire a Kryptonite arrow at Superman.  The arrow doesn’t kill Superman outright, but weakens him.  Batman somewhat defeats Superman, but then he falls victim to a heart attack.  Superman, Diana (once, but no longer, Wonder Woman), Selina, and Jim Gordon attend the funeral.  At the end, Carrie, heavily veiled, is the last to stand by Bruce Wayne’s grave.
Wayne Manor has burned to the ground, after Alfred, following Bruce’s instructions, hit the self-destruct.  Alfred escapes the house but dies of a massive stroke.
There’s a cut to the sound of a heart monitor.  Then, Oliver Queen begins to instruct the Sons of  Batman in cleaning up the Bat Cave.  Bruce arrives and states he will instruct the Sons of Batman (as well as former Mutants and other citizens who joined him the first night after the missile fell).  They are now Bruce’s army.
I liked Part 1 slightly better; Part 2 seems like more of a slug-fest.  However, kudos to Bruce Timm, Andrea Romano, Warner Brothers Animation, and DC Premiere for not shying away from the darker and more political aspects of  Frank Miller’s classic book.  The second half of Part 2 works really well.  In the first half,  Batman’s final confrontation with Joker seems almost anti-climatic.  However, though the film is dark and violent, it is also really good — with an adult story, and incredible animation that evokes the art of Miller’s classic.  Recommended.
Recommendation:  See it!  (Though not for young children)
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  The Third Man

Justice League The New Frontier

  • Title: Justice League The New Frontier
  • Director: David Bullock
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2008
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, Animation, Drama
  • Cast: David Boreanaz, Neil Patrick Harris, Kyle MacLachlan, Lucy Lawless, Phil Morris, Kyra Sedgwick, Brooke Shields, Jeremy Sisto, Miguel Ferrer, Robin Atkin Downes
  • Format: Widescreen, Color Animation
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“It was Korea — it changed everything.”— Hal
“Wars have a tendency to do that.”— Ace

“We’ve got to know what these Martians want from us. And since we can’t find them here on Earth, we’re going to Mars.”— Col. Flagg
“Outstanding.”— Hal

“I thought I could make a life for myself here among you humans. I thought I didn’t have a choice. But there is one now. There’s just too much hatred here, too much ignorance, too much mindless conformity, I’m leaving.”— Martian Manhunter (J’onn J’onzz, John Jones)
“Have a nice trip, some of us don’t have that luxury.”— Batman

Set in 1952 – 1954, the Korean War has just ended, and McCarthyism is in full swing. And Super Heroes are at the top of McCarthy’s persecute list. Superman and Wonder Woman sign loyalty oaths, but after witnessing a brutal attack on the women of a Korean village towards the end of the war, Wonder Woman quits and returns to Paradise Island.

Meanwhile, Hal Jordan is on the journey to becoming an hero.  Justice League – The New Frontier briefly gives us Hal Jordan’s Silver Age Origin story. It also gives us Martian Manhunter’s origin story and weakness (fire). But, Wonder Woman leaves, Barry Allen publicly gives up being the Flash, though he doesn’t reveal his secret identity, Batman’s a fugitive, and Superman’s a government tool.

Meanwhile, a new villain called the Center rears it’s ugly head. Eventually the Justice League heroes will have to work together to defeat the menace (the living creature once known as Dinosaur Island), and with this defeat, they are able to form the Justice League. It other words, this is a origin story for the League too.

I really enjoyed this story — the characterizations were perfect Silver Age DC Heroes: Superman, Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter. Even Robin briefly appears. Sufficient time was spent on each hero, telling us precisely who they were and who they care about – as well as their methodology.

That the villain is called, “The Center” (or possibly the Centre), seems weird these days with such polarization pushing the political spectrum to radical thinking, especially on the right. But I couldn’t help but think of a line by Yeats, “the Center cannot hold”. I Googled it, and here’s the first stanza of the poem:

The Second Coming by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

Man, was Yeats depressed. Anyway, in New Frontier, the center is a giant blobby thing, a living island, with dinosaurs on it that it consumes for food. During it’s attacks on Cape Carnival the dinosaurs become very handy weapons. But it’s the heroes of the Justice League, including new hero, Green Lantern, and The Flash, working together that unite to defeat the villain.

Overall, I really liked it. Great cast (though Lucy Lawless has a really bad American accent as Wonder Woman when she fights one of her Amazon sisters on Paradise Island). Superman seems rather taken with Wonder Woman by the way, though he is also close to Lois Lane – who knows who he is.

I bought the two disc special edition, and there are some excellent documentaries on the DVD. The history of the Justice League (aka Justice League America, or simply, JLA) from the Golden Age to the Modern Day was pretty much priceless – I always love learning comics history. The villains history could have been a bit better documented and flushed out. But at least there was some nice documentaries on the discs.

Recommendation: See it! A must for DC fans.
Rating: 4 of 5

Justice League Doom

  • Title: Justice League Doom
  • Director: Lauren Montgomery
  • Voice Director: Andrea Romano
  • Date: 2012
  • Studio: Warner Brothers Animation
  • Genre: Action, Drama, Animation
  • Cast: Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly, Susan Eisenberg, Nathan Fillion, Carl Lumbly, Michael Rosenbaum, Claudia Black, Paul Blackthorne, Olivia D’abo, Alexis Denisoff, Phil Morris, Robin Atkin Downes
  • Format: Widescreen, Color animation
  • DVD Format: R1, NTSC

“When we fought before, I broke the bat; today I break the man.” — Bane to Bruce Wayne

“No, you weren’t afraid, not really. You were dosed with a synthesized version of the Scarecrow’s fear gas. Because will is the source of your strength.”— Batman
“And fear is the enemy of will.” — Green Lantern, Hal Jordan

Justice League Doom brings back most of the original cast from the original Justice League animated television series, only substituting Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern Hal Jordan, rather than keeping Phil LaMarr as GL Jon Stewart or introducing Guy Gardner. There is also a stellar cast of “guest stars” as the Leaguers greatest foes.

Vandal Savage uses Mirror Master to obtain secret files from the Batcave – files that Batman created containing plans on how to bring down any of the main Justice League members in case they went rogue. The villains then begin to attack and defeat the League members. Mirror Master gets Flash to put his hand inside a Schrodinger’s cat box to rescue an old woman. Flash ends up with a bomb in his wrist that will explode if he stops, de-accelerates, or does nothing when the timer runs out. Cheetah fist-fights Wonder Woman, but poisons her with her finger nails so everyone she sees looks and sounds like Cheetah. Green Lantern Hal Jordan is sent to a Salt Mine to rescue some hostages from a militia group and the rescue goes wrong – a woman who is a dead ringer for Carol (Hal’s former girlfriend) is killed. Even running into Star Sapphire doesn’t help Hal realize he’s been set up. Martian Manhunter is slipped a poison that caused him to sweat Magnesium, which bursts into flame, even under water. Superman is shot in the chest with a Kryptonite bullet. Bane takes Bruce’s parents out of their graves. A groundskeeper (not Alfred) reports this to Bruce, who goes out to investigate in civilian clothes. He’s jumped by Bane, who beats him up, then drops him into his mother’s (new) grave, and buries him alive, with her skeleton in her coffin.

Bruce, stranded underground, takes the keys out of his pocket and starts to pummel the coffin lid. He’s about to give up, when he turns and sees his mother’s skeleton staring at him — and he renews his attack and escapes. It’s a very eerie and spooky image — but it’s also something that is just “so Batman” and “so Bruce” — he cannot ever give up on the oath he swore to his parents that faithful night when he was only eight years old.

Once he’s escaped, Batman contacts the other Justice League members to get them out of their immediate danger, then they meet to find out what’s going on.

Meanwhile, Vandal Savage has gathered the villains together to take out the Justice League, so he can put a secondary plan into motion. Once the various villains report their success — they insist on joining Savage in his plans. Savage’s plan is to fire a missile into the sun, causing a massive solar flare which will destroy the sunward side of the Earth as well as send out an EMP that will fry anything electronic. The Justice League arrives, and each member fights his or her opposite number villain. However, despite the assistance of Cyborg, Savage’s missile is fired. Superman and Green Lantern attempt to stop the missile at the sun, but fail, giving the League seven minutes to figure out what to do. They come up with something — and Earth is saved.

I really liked the first part of  the story — that Batman would have contingency plans for taking out everyone in the League (though his plans were non-lethal) is both scary, and yet fitting with his personality. I would have liked to see more of a sense of the League’s sense of betrayal though — not only that Batman would do that, but that he’d keep detailed records of his potential plans. After the Justice League saves Earth, they discuss what to do with Batman, and it’s Clark who tells Bruce that he was right, then asks what safety valve exists for Bruce — Bruce responds, “The Justice League”. In other words, he’s created an equal and balanced system. But, I would have liked more. More storyline, more background, especially for the villains, even more dialogue between the Leaguers (and between Alfred and Bruce. Alfred appears and then suddenly disappears, before just as suddenly appearing again. It was very frustrating). With six heroes and seven villains, including Savage, plus the opening gambit with the Royal Flush Gang, the film really should have been longer than 76 Minutes, and more flushed out.

I also felt the film fell a little flat at the end. It sort of turns into, “Of course the Justice League will win,” and really loses momentum. There’s some great stuff with Superman and Hal in space as they try to stop the missile and fail, but there’s still no real sense of danger — in part because Savage’s plan is just too big. I like the more subtle villains with subtle plans (like Lex Luthor becoming the US president — which he did in the DC Universe).

Still, it was great to see the re-united Justice League cast together again. I’d like to see Doom as the pilot for a new Justice League series, but I doubt it will happen. Still, one can hope. I will admit it was great to see the Legion of Doom appear threatening instead of as a joke, though. If you’re a DC fan you’ll enjoy this!

Recommendation: See it, especially if you’re a DC fan.
Rating: 4 out of 5