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DC Universe’s newest animated adventure ‘Superman vs. the Elite’ hit shelves on DVD Tuesday, June 12, 2012. It is the 14th film in the DC Universe animated original movies and brings the same familiar storytelling of the Man of Tomorrow as some of the other films.
‘Elite’ is based on the storyline written by Joe Kelly called ‘What’s So Funny About Truth, Justice, and the American Way?’ that appeared in 2001 in Action Comics #775. The film tells the tale of Superman struggling to maintain his image in the rather cynical, and often violent, modern world. With a war escalating in the fictional country of Bialya, political leaders are criticizing the Man of Steel for not using lethal force on criminals. They argue that it would be better to sentence them to death in order to prevent further destruction if and when certain criminals escape. In particular, the Atomic Skull (Dee Bradley Baker) had been on a murderous rampage and killed innocent people just to get Superman’s attention. Superman maintains that he is not above the law and does not have the right to kill criminals, which frustrates many people as well as world leaders.
The civil war in Bialya takes a turn for the worse but as Superman (George Newbern) intervenes, he runs into a group of young superheroes who call themselves the Elite. It is composed of Manchester Black (Robin Atkin Downes), a powerful telepath, Coldcast (Catero Colbert), a fighter who can absorb and project energy, Menagerie (Melissa Disney), a metahuman with snake-like creatures at her command, and The Hat (Andrew Kishino), a mysterious sorcerer. They stop the conflict and Superman is pleased with their help, but cautious about their origins and intentions. Manchester, the group’s leader, assures him that they are not associated with any particular government and simply travel around stopping crime as freelance heroes. However, Superman still works with his girlfriend, Lois Lane (Pauley Perrette), to begin researching where they came from.
Another incident arises when people are trapped in a train station by Bialyan terrorists, and Superman and the Elite intervene. However, when they do not get the answers they want from the terrorists, Manchester starts to torture them, which angers Superman. Thus, a feud slowly arises between them. He later learns that their origin story has been fabricated to cover up their many crimes. However, the Elite wins favor with the mass media as well as the average people who support the death penalty. This escalates when the Elite decides to kill all the leaders of Bialya to prevent the war. Superman confronts them and a vicious brawl ensues, ending only when Superman shows the Elite how truly terrible it would be if he ever decided to use his powers to kill his enemies rather than subduing them.
The voice acting is relatively solid, with George Newbern reprising his role as Superman, whom he previously played in ‘Justice League’ (2001) and ‘Justice League Unlimited’ (2004). Newbern is reminiscent of Tim Daly, who voiced the character in ‘Superman: The Animated Series’ (1996) and in two other original animated films, but he also brings a wonderful sense of calm to the character. Superman struggles with his own ideals versus the ones he sees in the world around him, and Newbern’s charismatic voice sells the drama from beginning to end.
The voice cast for the Elite is also well done, particularly Robin Atkin Downes as Manchester Black. Manchester gives off the impression of being a snob and an irresponsible jerk, but he starts out as an intriguing character before his bloodthirsty nature turns him into an outright anarchist. His teammates have unique personalities brought to life by their talented voice actors; the combination is deadly on screen.
However, the voice actress chosen for Lois Lane, Pauley Perrette, who some recognize from ‘NCIS’, is very hit-or-miss. Her voice cracks at several points in the film and it can be rather distracting at times.
While ‘Elite’ is certainly a good film, it does have some problems. First, the characterization of Menagerie can be seen as somewhat sexist. Her most outstanding characteristic is that she has a crush on Superman and constantly hits on him or objectifies him to his face. This reflects negatively on the writing, as she is the only other female main character aside from Lois Lane, and she comes across as, for lack of a better word, slutty. It would be more understandable for her to have this trait if it were plot relevant or if she had some sort of backstory that explains why she slings her sexuality around so much, but nothing is given to justify her actions. It is rather uncomfortable to watch and serves no real purpose for her character or for the story in general.
Second, the story is relatively predictable, and not just to those who have read the comic that it is based on. The end sequence when Superman supposedly goes off the deep end and starts killing the Elite members one by one does not come off too well. Superman never bends to the opposing argument that capital punishment may have some benefits. Therefore, when he snaps, it is not completely believable. If they had shown Superman being tempted to kill earlier in the film, it may have worked better.
Still, ‘Elite’ is a great movie with plenty of action and ideological issues that any DC fan, or fan of comic books in general, can enjoy. Check it out.