Superhero Sundays: Superman vs the Elite (2012)
Animation and action9
Script and ideas9
Matthew Turner | On 26, Jan 2020Reading time: 4 mins
Director: Michael Chang
Cast: George Newbern, Pauley Perrette, Robin Atkin Downes, Catero Colbert, Melissa Disney, Andrew Kishino
Watch Superman vs the Elite online in the UK: Sky Cinema / NOW TV / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play / Sky Store
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through animated superhero cartoons on Sky Cinema and NOW TV. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Adapted from the 2001 Action Comics #775 story What’s So funny About Truth, Justice and the American Way? and co-produced by DC animation legend Bruce Timm, Superman vs the Elite is the 14th film in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies series. It’s scripted by Joe Kelly, who also wrote the original comics story. As such, it’s an extremely satisfying adaptation of the source material, providing both exciting action and a refreshingly provocative central theme.
The story begins with Superman (George Newbern) facing off against one of his deadliest foes, the Atomic Skull (Dee Bradley Baker), who vaporises several civilians in his attempts to lure the Man of Steel into a fight. After incarcerating the Skull in a maximum security prison, Superman is next drawn into a more earthly fight between warring nations Bialya and Pokolistan. There, he encounters a powerful super-team calling themselves “The Elite”, consisting of British telepath Manchester Black (Robin Atkin Downes), energy blaster Coldcast (Catero Colbert), demon-conjuring magician The Hat (Andrew Kishino) and symbiotic alien host Menagerie (Melissa Disney).
Initially, the group fight alongside the Man of Steel, but Superman becomes increasingly concerned when Manchester Black broadcasts a global message that they intend to take care of all the world’s villains by killing them. After another showdown with the Atomic Skull, Superman publicly opposes The Elite, leading them to challenge him to a final showdown.
Although it adds elements like the Atomic Skull (a necessary and welcome addition), Joe Kelly’s script remains extremely faithful to his original comic, to the point of repeating several dialogue exchanges word for word. As such, the plot explores a provocative and interesting theme (the question of whether or not superheroes should kill deadly enemies) in compelling fashion, adding extra elements that feel all too topical, with the American public initially shown to be largely behind The Elite’s violent methods.
As indicated by the original comic’s title (which gets named in full in the opening credits), the film leans into the fact that perhaps more than any other hero in the DC Universe, Superman really stands for something. That allows for an engaging clash of ideals, with even Superman admitting that he’s not an idiot, that he knows bad people hold powerful positions and that “good doesn’t mean perfect”.
As well as the thematically rich premise, Superman vs the Elite has an appealing animation that’s subtly different to the usual DC style, effectively giving the film its own identity without diverging too far from the familiar. On top of that, the action is excellent, with several exciting battles, made all the more satisfying because the various villains (two of whom – Manchester Black and Menagerie – have recently been seen in Supergirl) are worthy opponents and you don’t feel like Superman is constantly pulling his punches. It’s also a relief to get through an entire Superman movie without hearing the words “green Kryptonite” for once.
The film is also bolstered by some excellent voice work, even without the involvement of legendary voice director Andrea Romano. Of particular note is Robin Atkin Downes, who gives Manchester Black a distinctly Northern British accent and a colourful vocabulary to boot. The film also benefits from the presence of George Newbern (who voices Superman in the Justice League series), while Pauley Perrette makes a terrific Lois Lane.
On that note, the film also has one of the best onscreen depictions of the Superman-Lois relationship to date, at least as far as the animated movies are concerned. Here they’re very much together (they share a bed – they’re married in the comic, but that isn’t mentioned here) and Lois knows Superman’s secret identity, while their back-and-forth repartee remains as entertaining as ever.
If there’s a problem with the film, it’s only that it gets a little too indulgent with Manchester Black’s language, resulting in a few words that parents probably don’t want young children to hear, including the decidedly incongruous moment where Superman says “wankers”. That’s… that’s just not right.
Superman vs the Elite is available on Sky Cinema. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW TV, as part of an £11.99 Sky Cinema Month Pass subscription.