Director: Jake Castorena, Sam Liu
Writers: Peter Tomasi
Actors: Jerry O’ Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Jason O’ Mara, Nathan Fillion, Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson.
While Marvel have been making the live action genre of superhero movies their domain, DC and WB have been producing mostly stellar animated adaptations of some of their best stories. The New 52 adaptation line has significantly flagged behind some of their more amazing movies.
While passable and entertaining, they haven’t quite captured the magic that I usually associate with a WB DC animation, but they have managed to create a mostly consistent Universe for these versions of DC’s characters to exist in, and with this current line-up starting with Justice League: War in 2014, there’s a cast that’s already being established for a few years to come.
The Death of Superman, an adaptation of the classic Death and Return of Superman storyline – and a remake of the stellar Superman: Doomsday animation – has just upended that trend and produced my favourite movie in the New 52 Universe adaptations.
At this point in time we should all know the basics of this story as it’s been adapted for quite a few mediums and retold in various iterations throughout the years. Doomsday, an unstoppable killing machine, is unleashed upon the Earth and makes his way to Metropolis leaving a grisly trail of carnage behind him. When the Justice League fail to stop him, it’s up to Superman to put the monster down at all costs.
The Death of Superman isn’t a scene-for-scene adaptation of the classic story. It changes what it needs to, to suit the New 52 universe and characters and it does so exceptionally well. Specific fan-favourite moments from the comics make an appearance and are exceptionally welcome: Luthor’s red hair and beard, Bibbo’s lament on a raining dock, etc.
What Death does so exceptionally well in its meager 81 minutes running time, is provide a wonderful look at Superman’s character. It boggles the mind that a scant 1 hour and 21 minute long movie can do something that WB’s 3 hour long opus’s can’t: give us a glimpse into what makes Superman "Superman", and why the world, and you, should care about him.
The movie's first 30+ minutes or so are about the characters: Superman wrestling with his relationship with Lois Lane and vice versa, Luthor’s maniacal insanity, and specifically how the denizens of Metropolis react to the Man of Steel. It’s great seeing Superman taking photos with Bibbo, greeting people passing him on the street whenever he’s around, so that when the final monster blows rock the city, it means something.
And when that fight finally gets under way, damn is it impressive. The action rockets from one end of Metropolis to the other as Superman goes to toe with the indestructible juggernaut, trading blows while finding the time to save people around him even at the cost to himself. Of course we all know how this particular part of the story ends, and when it does, Death manages to make you feel the loss to the world. Something that BvS failed miserably at.
The Death of Superman has an impressive amount of story bits flowing around that helps to establish the feeling of a lived-in world. Bruno Mannheims use of Apokolips tech is featured briefly, for instance, leaving one to wonder if many of these plot threads will be followed up in the sequel, Reign of The Supermen or other animated features.
From an animation point of view, The Death of Superman is wonderfully animated, but as with all the DC animated movies, budget is clearly an issue. Our heroes have no fear in this regard, nor the impressive action sequences, but Metropolis suffers. For one of the most important cities in the DC Universe, its streets are always significantly vacant, or occupied with a mere handful of static figures. In this regard it’s a little hard to feel any concern over a city that feels mostly lifeless to begin with.
The bulk of the budget has clearly been funneled into the impressive fight sequences between the League and Doomsday, and, finally, between Superman and Doomsday. The sense of scale, the dynamic action and the visual representation of these god-like powers colliding are all wonderfully animated.
The voice cast does an excellent job as well, though I feel Rosario Dawson hasn’t quite hit her stride as Wonder Woman yet. Jerry O’ Connell is great as Superman and Jason O’ Mara is serviceable as Batman, but of course anyone will have a hard time living up to, or even surpassing Kevin Conroy’s legacy. Nathan Fillion, in the few lines he’s had in all of these adaptations, has managed to capture everything you expect Hal Jordan to sound like. The bulk of the emotional heavy lifting though is between O’ Connell’s Superman and Rebecca Romijn’s Lois Lane.
The Death of Superman ends by laying the groundwork for the follow-up, Reign of The Superman, which is incredibly frustrating as that only launches in 2019 and when this ended I wanted to see the sequel right away.
Viewers take note, there are also end credit scenes for this movie so don’t switch it off as soon as the credits start to roll.
The Death of Superman is a fantastic adaptation of the classic Death and Return of Superman storyline that I didn’t think we needed, but have now watched 3 times already. It’s also the best movie in the New 52 Universe series of adaptations and has left me with an enthusiastic desire to what other adaptations WB and DC have in-store for these characters in the future.
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