Saturday, June 29, 2013

My Thoughts on "Superman vs. The Elite"

            This is a fun movie with a clever philosophy clash that elevates it above most action pieces.  In it Superman is confronted by a team of young superheroes who grew up idolizing him.  At first Superman works with them, helping to lead and educate them on how to handle disastrous situations.  After several encounters a difference of methodology begins to take shape.  Superman, being them most powerful hero on Earth does not kill human opponents, he does not think he has the moral authority to do so being that he is an alien at that if he did, then he would just be a tyrant rather than a good Samaritan.  The Elite do not have such restrictions on themselves.  They see terrorists and dictators and violent criminals as targets for violent dispatching.  When the Elite begin pushing this further and further Superman tries to stop them and ends up in a full on showdown.

The movie is based on this comic from the 90's, which in turn was written as a reaction to the very adult "The Authority"
            This is one of the best Bruce Timm animated productions made since the end of the Justice League series, the animation has a modified style, the characters each have their own look and distinct abilities allowing for very diverse and easy to follow action.  The voice acting hits the same super high standard all of the productions reach, and most importantly it does try to have the discussion of whether might makes right.  And I really think it holds together right up until the final confrontation and the resolution.

            I did not really get what prompted the Elite to have a showdown in Metropolis.  They could have just said, "Superman, we respect you a great deal, and if you want to go on saving lives and averting disasters, please do.  But we are not as powerful as you, we feel we have to get down and dirty in order to force the world to be better.  If you don't agree that is fine, but if you try and stop us, you will actually be helping terrorists and third world dictators to continue their crimes against humanity.  Even if you think our measures are extreme, you should just step aside.  If you think we are about to turn into the monsters that we hunt, then go ahead and stop us, but right now all we have done is taken out permanently those who were definitively and demonstrably evil."

            What spurs the main conflict in the movie is a war between two countries, both of which have been developing super weapons (giant bug monsters and ray guns) instead of developing their countries' infrastructure.  They go to war and the civilian casualties are so horrific Superman steps in to try and halt the violence.  Superman is nearly killed by the highly advanced weapons and the Elite save him by killing a large number of troops (who had it coming, seriously they tried to kill Superman).  The Elite get admonished by Kal-El but then go beyond that, the Elite attack and kill the leadership of both countries and force peaceful capitulation.  Superman is horrified, but the world looks up to the Elite for the actions they took.  Then for no real reason, the Elite and Superman decide to fight each other to prove who is right.

            And, up until they started fighting Superman for no real reason, the Elite were right with what they were doing.  You don't win wars through delaying action and hoping for peace talks, you typically win by inflicting a measure of harm that keeps the other side from continuing, and in this instance neither side could do that without costing millions of people their lives.

            The battle is actually really cool too, they teleport to and from the moon, cars are flying, Superman appears to go crazy and start killing all the Elite.  Truth is Superman was illustrating his point, the whole battle was a big publicity stunt in a way.  Superman had complete control of the situation the whole time, with robots and fail safes so that it could appear that he was killing the Elite and disregarding the safety of the public so he could show the world of a superhero just using his powers to dominate (ruthlessly protect) the world rather than just trying to be helpful.  Unfortunately Superman's reasoning is wrong.

He goes a little nuts.
            Superman ultimately only wins the argument because he is so powerful that he can prove his point without actually killing anybody, and that is a luxury that no one else has.  I understand his reasoning, that in general "might makes right" is a poor philosophy that the Elite are perpetuating, but even Superman has met beings he would willingly kill:  Darksied, Brainiac, and General Zod are all examples of that.  Hell, in Superman/Batman #5 Batman nearly talks Clark into vaporizing Luthor in the Oval Office.  In other words, might makes right is still the philosophy at work, its just a more soft power approach than what the Elite ascribed to.

            There is also another point: Superman takes away the Elite's powers at the end of the movie.  I also very much disagree with Superman taking away the Elite's powers.  There was no trial for their actions.  Superman just decides to take their powers.  That isn't okay by his own logic.  That is the same as the government taking away people's freedom to travel or work certain jobs without trial.

            What is more, the movie kind of knows that Superman is wrong, and goes out of its way to show the Elite as all very Hedonistic loose canons.  One of the team members drinks too much, another is a jealous and temperamental, another is very lusty.  The team leader, Manchester is portrayed very unevenly.  As a child Manchester was homeless and lived with his little sister under a bridge and stole to survive, when one day they are caught by the police and his sister falls into the path of an oncoming train Manchester uses his powers for the first time to stop the train from killing his sister.  The accidental catastrophe which follows is tragic and really informs the character, who lies to Superman telling him what happened, but not that people were killed on the train by the untrained force of Manchester's powers.  In context of trying to save his sister those actions are justifiable, but are shown in the movie as indicative of future villainy, which is really unfair considering he is a child at the time, and probably only told Superman the lie because he was ashamed of what happened.

            So, yeah... Good movie, I liked it alot, but its message gets really foggy toward the end as it continued to shave of the depth and complexity of the argument in favor of a very paternalistic Superman being right because he is so powerful you can't disagree with him.  I give it a 7 out of 10.

(This review was spurned into existence mostly in reaction to this video, by Solkir, on the Agony Booth)

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