Despite being given absolutely no explanation as to why Jimmy Olsen (voiced by Matthew Gray Gubler) is wearing a dress the first time we see him at the offices of the Daily Planet newspaper in All-Star Superman, we do learn from Lex Luthor (Anthony LaPaglia) that Herman Melville’s classic novel Moby Dick can be recited at a frequency so high that it can cut through prison rock.
Chockfull of bizarre information and laughable dialogue such as “the last thing I wanted for your special day was a reptile invasion from the Earth’s core!” the tenth animated Warner Brothers and DC Comics feature is an increasingly strange production wherein you’re never quite sure if it’s meant to be as funny as it actually is.
But because the main plotline centers on the impending death of Superman (James Denton) after Lex dupes Dr. Quintum (Angel’s Alexis Denisof) into planning a doomed trip to the sun, I’m assuming that laughter wasn’t the ultimate goal for the All-Star collaborators including screenwriter Dwayne McDuffie and his Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths director Sam Liu.
And considering that All-Star Superman is based on author Grant Morrison’s esteemed eponymous Eisner Award-winning DC Comics series of graphic novels, it’s hard to imagine that the studio decided to ignore the source material and intentionally send-up the Man of Steel as if All-Star was a seventy-five minute SNL skit.
While admittedly the most recent releases in the previously impressive DC/WB line have displayed a notable decline in quality, this entry in the series marks a new low, possibly signifying that the talented crew of artists, writers and directors behind the small screen superheroes have been stretched way too thin.
Of course, it's relatively easy to cash in on the comic book craze, which has trickled down from the big screen into home entertainment following the astronomical successes of Iron Man and The Dark Knight and inspired a whole new generation of fanboys and girls to pick up graphic novels in the process.
Yet because we've been treated to some truly mesmerizing works of DC-Comics-in Motion art over the past few years, All-Star is an even greater letdown by comparison.
So what initially begins as a bold and colorful reimagining of Smallville orphaned alien turned Superman is quickly bogged down by the usual comic book movie trappings including an over-abundance of fan-favorite character cameos, which are clumsily inserted into the already over-crowded, tonally inconsistent episodic screenplay.
Juggling far too many subplots and characters that threaten to spin-off into a dozen different directions and (possibly) a starring role in their own Warner Premiere DC Comics feature, Superman moves uneasily from lazily executed B-movie monster mayhem to a poorly handled Beauty and the Beast romantic interlude at the Fortress of Solitude with Lois Lane (Mad Men's Christina Hendricks).
And although Superman is the first series title to receive a PG rating instead of a PG-13, a graphic electric chair sequence with Lex Luthor makes this way too intense for young viewers. Likewise, the very same footage is sure to upset older viewers that – up until that point – may not have been aware of how hard they were laughing, before the sober reality sets in and viewers realize that even an animated prison picture or superhero deathbed drama shouldn't be this silly before a Mystery Science Theatre 3000 commentary track is added.
Despite finding a dress shopping buddy in Jimmy Olsen and a potential new use for Moby Dick, ultimately All-Star is a turkey of a caped crusader film that's only moderately elevated by some jaw-droppingly stunning animation.
In fact one gorgeous blue tinged frame of cityscape at night caused a twinge of superhero envy as I wished I could ask Lex Luthor which piece of classic literature would somehow transfer the painterly style Blu-ray image from the HDTV to my wall... if only to sleep in Metropolis and wake up in the land of the eject button.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.