“All-Star Superman” is a pun on words. Here’s a hint: it involves Superman as a superstar and Superman as a super star, literally. In a carefully orchestrated Lex Luthor plot, Superman is manipulated into being overexposed to the sun’s rays with a special kind of cancer unique to his physiology. Superman is dying, and this animated film is an opportunity to look at Superman/Clark Kent’s legacy.
With nothing to lose, Superman starts working on wrapping up loose ends. He tells Lois whom he really is, a truth she doesn’t believe for a second. Being that this film is firmly rooted in the history of the Superman comics, it’s easy to see why. Clark Kent has been “outed” multiple times with dozens of excuses as to why he’s not really Superman, such that even when Superman plainly states his secret identity it’s no longer believable. Nor is it really relevant in the big scheme of things.
What “All-Star Superman” does well is emphasize that Superman isn’t an alien, but a god among men. What does a god do in his spare time? Collect dangerous but endangered alien creatures, synthesize super-power formulas, and rebuild the Titanic. This is Superman as a comprehensive being who is both endlessly compassionate and terrifyingly powerful. It’s hard to conceive of Superman without his Clark Kent personality to ground him — a fact brought into stark contrast by two Kryptonians who revel in their newfound power on Earth and carelessly abuse it.
There are other plots, led primarily by Luthor as an architect of destruction on death row that sees Superman’s existence as an affront to humanity’s destiny. But it’s not until Luthor truly gets a chance to walk in Superman’s shoes that he sees the world as the Kryptonian sees it — and realizes how much he has wasted his life in trying to thwart someone who has only tried to help.
Although “All-Star Superman” doesn’t have the luxury of truly digging into every plot point (there are two time travel superbeings who show up that feel out of sync with the rest of the film’s tone) it culminates in a critical question: When you can witness the suffering of even the smallest blade of grass, wouldn’t you do everything in your power to ease it?
Luthor — and by extension, all of mankind — realizes only too late how pitifully short we fall of our noblest goals thanks, in part, due to the limited perceptions of our humanity. This is powerful stuff.
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