All Star Highs, First Year Low’s and Everything inBetween
Adapting from one medium to another is a tricky business. Do it correctly? And well, I’d argue that you still won’t receive universal accolades… too many variables when it comes to identifying actors to embody characters from novels / details over-belabored in books that were never in the original film……or to be even broader about it? The very medium you first experience a story in plays a huge role in forming your enjoyment of it……..say, the pleasure of reading this article vs. listening to an MP3 of it… (which, probably won’t ever happen……so enjoy!)
Anyway, after 33+ years of reading comics, I’m more than used to adaptations. As a comic fan you basically sign up for a multimedia existence………..no joke, as I write this, next to me is a Christmas present……the Marvel “Greatest Battles” Comics Pack containing both a Spider-man and Captain Britain figure; along with a reprint of “Marvel Team-Up” #65!…..multimedia goodness at its finest.
All of which leads to me to this Christmas Eve-eve piece; which, thanks to having a subscription to Netflix (yeah, I know it’s giving them a free plug; but their service is ideal when you’re sick in bed for days, like I’ve been.)……per my sickness, I got caught up on the 4 DC Animated movies, all based on pre-published works done in the last 30 years. And very conveniently, they ranged from awful to sublime. …..quite nice for writing a round-up review.
Middle of the Road
“Justice League Doom” – The first one of the 4 I saw..and a perfectly serviceable movie. Which, I’m well aware, is not glowing praise. Nor is it meant to be. The character designs are solid….and I haven’t read the Mark Waid series on which it’s based so I can’t judge the quality of adapting here. Rather, the story just chugged along. It was coherent enough (more on that in a minute) but not overwhelmingly good or bad either. I did find it interesting that Michael Rosenbaum, who voiced the Wally West version of the Flash in the “Justice League Unlimited” series; returns as the voice of the Flash here with many other JLU cast-mates; but as this Flash is Barry Allen? The character is far more serious…it seems like a waste of Rosenbaum’s ability to voice a humorous yet still heroic character. Otherwise I recommend this on rainy day viewing only after exhausting a few other options / movies you’re curious about; but not all.
“Superman vs. The Elite” – Sweet lord, the character designs. You know, I did like this but! this is the problem with adaptation, or viewing any animated movie I suppose, if you find the characters ridiculous to look at? That undercuts the experience. And considering I found Superman looking buffoon-ish the entire time? That sort of brought the whole thing down. I have no idea who authorized this design approach but they should have the back of their head slapped NCIS-style. Speaking of which, Pauley Perrette (of “NCIS” fame) is the voice of Lois here and is an awful choice. Maybe it’s her dialog, but for the life of me I couldn’t understand why Superman would want such a negative, irritating woman around. Lois doesn’t speak or act like a strong woman; but rather like someone trying to be tough and tenacious, which is just annoying. Perrette’s surprising lack of vocal acting range is not a help. With Superman and Lois having major strikes against them; an otherwise well-told story that brings up, and unashamedly confronts, issues on might vs. right and justice vs. law is dragged down.
Lowest of the Low
“Batman Year One” – Now, keep in mind, if you made a list of the 10 greatest comic stories of all time; the 4-issue series upon which this is based? ‘would likely fall somewhere on there……..Top 20 for certain…….so the bar was set high for quality. But that’s no excuse for totally messing this up! One, and most important, is that that Ben McKenzie has a dull, lifeless voice. His Bruce Wayne / Batman is as unmemorable as it is grating; which is a neat trick, no doubt. Per IMDB, the casting was by Meredith Layne and not the usual DC Animated casting director of Andrea Romano…and it shows. McKenzie is a huge miss on a key character. ….but not THE key character…….as Bryan Cranston almost makes up for it by being a pitch-perfect choice for Lt. Jim Gordon. Cranston is a standout in a choppy, rush-job of a story that strings together moments to produce nothing more than an incoherent shambles. A story as great as this one deserved a much more compelling, caring approach…………… ahem go see “Batman Begins.” It’s not a direct adaption; but far superior than this pretender.
The High Point
“All Star Superman” – You have no idea how happy I am to write this. As a lifelong fan of Superman more than any other superhero, I’m more than used to my fair share of disappointment or even agreeable mediocrity when it comes to the big guys’ stories. (see: above) I accept it, with a sort of well-earned inevitability…….so imagine my surprise when this, a 76 minute re-telling of a beautiful, classic 12-issue story……..actually IMPROVES on the ending!! Blasphemy? ‘maybe so, but I don’t care……the way they preserve the original ending but give it a more meaningful twist to the Superman mythology was genius, and beautiful Ant it works; more so than the preachy nature of “Superman vs. the Elite” this is the compelling story for why we all should want to be like Superman.
Although any way you view it; this succeed. James Denton and Christina Hendricks are outstanding bringing real, three-dimensional life via their voicework of Superman and Lois Lane; as is Anthony LaPaglia’s Lex Luthor. His nuanced performance not only captures the proper arrogance and impotent range that drives Luthor through most of the story; but also delivers the goods at the story’s end when Luthor takes an unexpected turn. Moreso, the animation style captures the look of series artist Frank Quitely without being handcuffed by it; and the story captures so many of the series’ key moments without seeming random or losing its own momentum. This is a wonderful achievement and absolute must-viewing for any fan of Superman; or superheroes overall.
Sometimes, the good guys do win. Even in the precarious world of adaptions.