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Superman vs. the Elite (Blu-ray Review)

4 Jul, 2012 By: John Latchem

$19.98 DVD, $24.98 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for action violence and some language.
Voices of George Newbern, Pauley Perrette, Robin Atkin Downes.

Beyond the flashy costumes and larger-than-life characters, the appeal of superhero fiction is that it often manifests as a kind of modern mythology that reflects the human condition. The powers and abilities of superheroes may help define them, but it’s how they use them that matters. The oft-cited maxim is “with great power comes great responsibility,” but a corollary of that, as effectively explored in Superman vs. the Elite, is that wielding great power for good requires great discipline.

The film is based on a story that originally appeared in Action Comics No. 775 in March 2001, written by Joe Kelly, who also wrote the screenplay for this adaptation. At its heart is the question of whether the values of “truth, justice and the American way” embodied by Superman are too naïve in a modern world of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

As Superman explains to the United Nations, he is a reactive force. It isn’t up to him to administer judgment upon the criminals he captures, despite how much better off the world might be without them.

Enter The Elite, a new group willing to use their superpowers to clean up the world in ways Superman refuses. This includes summary executions of supercriminals they capture, as well as interfering with two Middle Eastern countries on the brink of war. 

The world comes to embrace the harsher ideals of the newcomers, leaving Superman to ponder his role. Eventually, the Elite decide Superman’s old-fashioned values are standing in their way, leading to a scary final confrontation that forces Superman to show the world why those with power must never cross certain lines.

In the way it explores real-world themes and the implications of possessing great power, Superman vs. the Elite is not just the best DC Universe animated movie yet released, but it’s also the best Superman movie since Superman II.

The story flips the plot of the ultra-naïve Superman IV, in which Superman imposes his will on the governments of the world to get rid of nuclear weapons, with disastrous results (both within the story and creatively). There are no easy answers here, though the film does a good job helping viewers understand each character’s perspective (even if, ultimately, our sympathies lie with Superman).

Featurettes on the Blu-ray further explore the moral implications of superpowers, as well as take a closer look at the Elite. The Blu-ray also includes snippets of a digital comic for the original Action No. 775, as well as a good commentary by Kelly and DC comics editor Eddie Berganza that further illuminates the issues involved and reveals some of the creative choices involved to bring the story to the screen.

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