Based on Grant Morrison's twelve-issue series of the same name, All-Star Superman tells an out-of-continuity Superman tale revolving around one simple notion; Superman is dying. Lex Luthor (Anthony LaPaglia) enacts a plan to overwhelm Superman (James Denton) with an increased dose of yellow solar energy, the source of Superman's power. The boost increases the Man of Steel's powers, but infects Superman with a sort of "energy cancer." The radiation is breaking down Superman's cells, giving him one year to live.
All-Star Superman is vastly different, both in tone and style, from other animated DC releases. Similar to the comics (which are included on the Blu-ray as an extra feature), the focus isn't on action. Rather, All-Star Superman is a more introspective character study of just what it means to be Superman. There's action, but it's limited, so All-Star Superman probably isn't suited for younger viewers who want to see Superman punching things for two hours.
I liked All-Star Superman, though I also read the comics beforehand, so I had a notion of where things were going from the start. Had I not read the comics, I probably would have been lost. The focus is squarely on Superman's plight, though the narrative takes a lot of seemingly random diversions. The same was true with the comics, but there was more space to tell the story and layer different aspects. The animated version doesn't have the same luxury.
The difficulty in adapting a complex, long-form story into a (relatively speaking) shorter medium is choosing what stays and what goes. All-Star Superman hits some of the high points, such as Superman's relationship with Lois (Christina Hendricks) and Lex's moment of self-revelation (easily, one of the most powerful, and effective moments in a comic), but is forced to cut others. Some of the choices make sense, but others undermine the storytelling.
For example, the arc involving the Kryptonian astronauts comes completely out of left field. The point is clear and ties into story at a later time. However, all it does is over-emphasize Superman's "Boy Scout" character, rather than add another layer to the movie's story. Meanwhile, Superman's journey to Thrae (Bizarro World) is dropped. For me, this showed Superman as his lowest point and was relatable.
Most of Superman's Twelve Challenges, an important sub-plot to the book, are around, though some are either omitted or completed by other characters. I wasn't as disappointed with these changes. The important ones are here, though you do miss out on the fun paradox of Superman creating his creator, Joe Shuster (just read the comics).
All-Star Superman may be one of the few times I suggest cracking open extras before watching the movie. "Superman Now" is a great primer for the movie, if only to get an idea of where Morrison wanted to go with the series. I feel dirty for suggesting it, since I think the pretext shouldn't be required to get the point, but considering the number of cuts and abbreviations, it's a big help. If anything else, the extra is worth watching just to hear the project's origin story. It will make you rethink Superman.
"The Creative Flow" is a highlight, particularly for anyone interested in how artists develop their ideas. The short feature is narrated by Grant Morrison and offers a glimpse at how he developed his ideas. Many of the same ideas are carried through in both "Superman Now" and in the Filmmaker Commentary.
Two episodes of Superman: The Animated Series, "Blasts from the Past, 1 & 2" are included. I enjoyed the episodes, but had a hard time getting over the idea that Zod and Ursa (my two favorite Superman villains) weren't called Zod and Ursa. Personal issues aside, the episodes offer a fun bit of nostalgia and, in a roundabout way, emphasize the point of including the Kryptonian astronauts arc.
All-Star Superman also includes a first look at Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, DC's next animated feature. I hated First Flight, but this one looks good. Based on the preview, it seems more in tone with Superman/ Shazam: Return of Black Adam and puts several members of the Green Lantern Corps in the spotlight in their own stories.
All-Star Superman is another great release from DC Animation, though I wonder if this particular tale is best suited for the limitations of a movie adaptation. The comic is a masterful piece of storytelling from one of the best in the business. The animated film manages to capture the crux of the story, but without context, it loses some of the punch.