In Superman vs. The Elite, the Man of Steel faces his most daunting foe yet: public opinion. In an era where the realities of terrorism and global strife have created a cynical and hardline attitudes about the concept of “justice,” Superman’s idealistic optimism seems more and more outdated (both in the film, and in the real-world). So when a group of younger super-powered vigilantes known as The Elite appear on the scene, Superman is not prepared for their brutal stance against criminals – nor the resounding public approval that follows.
The greatest super hero in the world soon discovers that changing times and public opinion are not things that even his god-like powers can control. Even with the world turning away from him, Superman must find some way to win back the support of humanity, before The Elite do something truly reckless and get themselves – and/or others – killed in the process.
Superman vs. The Elite is an odd entry in the canon of DC Universe direct-to-DVD/Blu-ray animated features. On the one hand, the story (based on the Action Comics storyline “What’s So Funny About Truth Justice & the American Way?”) is actually one the most timely and interesting Superman tales to come along in awhile. (It certainly covers thematic ground that bears examination – as the upcoming feature-film reboot Man of Steel will attempt to do next year.)
The story works in this animated feature as well as it did on the comic book page – primarily because the writer of the comic story (Joe Kelly) also wrote this animated feature version. The plot-points – sketching the modern world and how Superman’s idealism is outdated; edgy anti-heroes being more popular than classic super heroes – are all directly addressing questions that fanboys and average people alike have been asking – namely, why does Superman still matter?
With The Elite, we get an interesting antagonist – not really evil, per se, just grittier and darker than the classic superhero archetypes. There will no doubt be healthy debate amongst viewers as to whether The Elite are, or are not, the heroes we need in modern times, and whether or not Superman is the dinosaur some claim he is.
While the narrative is intriguing and well-told, the visuals in Superman vs. The Elite leave something to be desired. DC Animation has long been praised (usually in comparison to Marvel Animation) for its character designs and animation quality – but this film looks as though it had a fraction of the usual budget for a DCU animated feature. The character designs are much more cartoony, in a 1950s comic strip sort of way; the quality of movement is also fairly shoddy, which is entirely noticeable during the action scenes. Strangely enough, the film looks like “Superman: The Nickelodeon Version,” even though it’s dealing with mature material and themes. Blu-ray viewing will only make these discrepancies more apparent.
The voicework in the film is pretty solid, with Superman being voiced by George Newbern – who has been doing animated Superman since the Justice League days in the early 2000s. NCIS star Pauley Perrette has a pretty good go at playing Lois Lane, while The Elite are suitably voiced by some talented character actors – including voice work veteran Robin Atkin Downes, who voices the group’s leader, Manchester Black. (He was also the ship computer in Prometheus, the “soccer announcer” in Battleship, and has done voice work in more video games than I’m willing to count).
All in all, Superman vs. The Elite is a Superman flick that’s actually interesting to watch for intellectual reasons, but won’t blow you away in terms of visual splendor or action. In that sense it’s an easy recommend to those who maybe haven’t been able to connect with the character in a long time (Batman crowd, looking at you); though it may be less satisfying to the hardcore fans, who already know why they love Big Blue.
Superman vs. The Elite is currently available on DVD/Blu-ray and Video On Demand. Check with your local cable provider for availability.