Based on Action Comics #775, “What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way?,” a more apt title for both the movie and the comic book would be “Superman vs the Authority.” At the time the original story was written, the Authority was popular with critics and fans alike because of their no-nonsense, “shoot first, ask questions never” approach to dealing with threats. Superman’s notions of justice seemed antiquated when other heroes are willing to kill.
The central theme of the movie is peace versus security. Should you give up on peaceful solutions and choose to end threats without a chance for rehabilitation? Is it better to live in a safe world, or a peaceful one? Superman is firmly on the side of peace, opting for neutralizing threats and imprisonment. The Elite are for security, opting for eliminating threats before they harm people again. The recurring use of Atomic Skull shows both sides of the issue. After the second battle with Skull, Superman prevents the Elite from killing Skull, much to the chagrin of Manchester Black and the crowd watching. They want Skull destroyed because security is easy. Peace is harder to maintain.
If this sounds a little like modern politics, that is unfortunate, but can’t be helped. It is nothing more than the nature of the subject matter mixing in with personal experience. It is a timeless debate, much older than the current troubles. The two warring nations in this movie, Polokistan and Bialya, can easily be substituted for any other two nations in the world. Atomic Skull can easily be any number of killers we’ve seen on the news today.
This movie captures the essence of what Superman is. Anyone that complains about Superman being hard to relate to is missing the point . He is not supposed to be relatable. He is meant to be an ideal to strive for. He puts peace over his personal safety. He does not make things easier for himself. The world would be different if Superman went the easy route. The final 20 minutes is a demonstration of what might happen of Superman decided he was better than everyone else and went for eliminating threats instead of peaceful solutions. It frightened the world, and it made the villains cry because he was not supposed to do that.
The Superman Robots are once again brought out, making this their third animated appearance. I would get annoyed by it, but it is necessary. Thanks to a lawsuit in 2008, Warner Brothers is emphasizing the parts of Superman’s legacy it legally owns. What it owns are the more science fictioney aspects of Superman’s, which are the robots, Fortress of Solitude, the more spectacular superpowers, and most of the villains. It seems out-of-place, but it’s something we must accept.
As for the adaptation part, it is a fairly faithful adaptation. A lot of the dialogue is lifted directly from the source comic book. The parts that were not in the original comic book came directly from the Elite’s story, mostly Vera Black and the MI 6 connection. The original content, the Fortress stuff and the Bialyan/ Polokistani conflict, were necessary inclusions to make this stand alone.
If I have any criticism of the piece, it would be that it missed a golden opportunity. The Elite targets Superman because of what he represents. We know how Superman feels about the issue, but what about other League members? There is a brief reference to Superman opting to leave other league members out of it, but that does not mean we cannot have a pastiche of opinions from the other heroes. Where do they stand on the issue? Maybe not important, but would be nice to acknowledge them in some way.
This may not be my personal favorite DC Animated movie, but it’s up there. It has action, character moments, and a good moral that is not overtly preachy. The villains aren’t villains, but have a different view of the world. Although some might be turned off by the political nature of the movie, it’s still an enjoyable experience.
Superman vs the Elite comes out on June 12, 2012 in the United States.