Because it seems we can’t let go of this storyline, DC once again does the most overprinted Superman story of all time.
I’ll admit I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to DC’s animated line lately. The last batch of movies were pretty terrible (ever since JUSTICE LEAGUE WAR, I think), and their first go at the Death of Superman storyline was mediocre at best. That changed when the sneak peek at THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN came out. It wasn’t enough to get me excited, but you could say my interested had been piqued. Of course, I was still expecting to be completely disappointed by the end result.
I’m glad to say I wasn’t.
While the plot here is fairly obvious (it’s in the title!), I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible.
THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN is a much closer adaptation than SUPERMAN: DOOMSDAY. As the story advances, it mostly follows the familiar beats from the original comic book run. Streamlined to fit into this animated universe, the movie clocks at a brisk 75 minutes. The filmmakers had the tough task of providing a workable status quo by reconciling elements of the original comic book with the New 52-esque timeline from previous installments, but they pull it off in a rather elegant fashion. We now find ourselves in the presence of a much warmer, more classic Superman. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, though, as the script was penned by none other than Peter J. Tomasi, who played a big part in Superman’s recent course-correction in the comics.
After a somewhat shaky introductory scene (a bit too quippy, and this is coming from a Joss Whedon fan), Superman stops for a (smiling!) picture with Bibbo Bibowski. We then learn that Earth has accepted him as its greatest protector and the people love him. His peers in the Justice League are in a great place, too – even financially, thanks to the Wayne Foundation and Wonder Woman merchandising.
Back at the Daily Planet, Clark Kent and Lois Lane are secretly dating. There’s an interesting character choice made for Clark that is clearly meant to provide the emotional stakes. As it turns out, he still hasn’t disclosed his identity to Lois. Secrecy is mistaken for emotional unavailability, which puts a strain on the relationship. This is fuel for a couple of standout beats involving Clark asking Wonder Woman and The Flash for love advice, as well as a meet-the-parents dinner scene with Ma and Pa Kent.
The movie even improves on two very specific points from the original storyline. First, now Doomsday manages to pummel through the real Justice League, which ups the stakes much more effectively than taking down Ice, Fire and Blue Beetle. Second, it organically sets up background characters that will come into play later on (and in its Reign of… sequel), such as Hank Henshaw, John Henry Irons, a kryptonian nanny (yup) and Dabney Donovan.
The cast is mostly solid. Jerry O’Connell makes for a good Superman now that the material has improved, although his Clark is a bit of a downer. Rebecca Romijn is fine as Lois, but she lacks the trademark Lane spark. The one that seems to be having the most fun with their role is none other than Dwight K. Schrute (also known as Rainn Wilson to some) as Lex, but I wasn’t 100% feeling it. I’m not sure if it has to do with his performance or how the character was written, but something felt off about it. That said, his speech during Superman’s funeral is dead-on, and Wilson flexes some nice voice-acting muscles here.
The supporting cast has a few standout players as well. My favorite? Nathan Fillion as Hal Jordan, Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman and Christopher Gorham as Barry Allen. Watch out for some great individual character moments, such as a cocky Hal getting ready to fight Doomsday, Lois’ reaction to Clark’s reveal, and Barry doing a Batman (Jason O’Mara) impersonation to his face. It was also refreshing to see some of Superman’s old pals from the 90s comics. Maggie Sawyer, Dan Turpin, Cat Grant and the aforementioned Bibbo show up to round out the cast and provide a much needed connection to the regular folks of Metropolis (tsk, tsk, ZS).
And then there’s Doomsday. This iteration of the character doesn’t look as intimidating or as animalistic as previous ones, but the film always portrays him as less of a character and more of an unstoppable force of nature. They even go to the lengths of having J’onn J’onzz read his mind and finding “only aggression”. This serves the dual purpose of both establishing the ruthlessness of the creature, as well as providing a safe margin for Superman to ultimately kill it, without getting the Big Blue Boy Scout’s hands red with the blood of his enemies (tsk, tsk, ZS).
As Rocky Balboa would say, though, it ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. There’s one directorial choice that I found more than a little off-putting. Obviously, you are always going to get a high level of violence in superhero slugfests such as this one, but what stood out to me is how much blood there was, and how graphic and gruesome a couple of shots here and there were. I guess it’s justified in how brutal and relentless Doomsday can be, and I’ll admit it’s used to great effect in his introduction scene – one that feels straight out of JAWS – but overall, I can’t help feeling a bit queasy about it.
Overall, though, I thoroughly enjoyed THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN. There’s a lot crammed in the 75-minute runtime, but the movie takes its time to develop characters and side stories, and it never feels rushed. As previously mentioned, it’s a much closer adaptation of the source material, using lines from the comics and replicating splash panels on the (small) screen. I admit I found myself incredibly engaged during the third act (even knowing what it was all leading up to), and there’s one particular scene on a bridge that will definitely bring a tear to your eye. Unlike other stories where Superman meets his demise at the hands of Doomsday, this time the sacrifice feels earned and his death has weight to it, because this Superman cares and therefore he makes you care for him (one final tsk, tsk, ZS).
I now have high hopes for the REIGN OF THE SUPERMEN sequel coming out next year. Let’s just hope they get rid of that fucking stupid New 52 suit and #BringBackTheTrunks.
Oh, and don’t stop watching until you’ve seen ALL FOUR (wink, wink) after credits scenes!
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