by Bruce Timm, Lauren Montgomery, Brandon Vietti
Warner Bros. Animation (2007)
Somewhere in my parent’s shed is my comic book collection, hundreds—if not thousands—of books, bagged and boarded, packed away in watertight Rubbermaid containers. Amongst that collection is the entire Death and Return of Superman series, which depicts the epic battle with the bloodthirsty, unstoppable Doomsday and the subsequent destruction and resurrection of Superman. The arc was little more than a media experiment to rejuvenate the brand and sell more books, but my 12-year-old eyes saw only the sheer iconoclastic gall of killing such a beloved character. I ate it up.
4 / 10
I was ecstatic when I saw the animated film Superman: Doomsday slated for release, and I was driven to actually watch the film once I saw the bleeding Superman logo front and center on the DVD case. Once I’d gotten over the excitement and began to think about it, however, I became wary. How are they going cram such an epic story arc into a single 75 minute film? It would be impossible to include every important detail, to telegraph every blow, to reconstruct every panel. Like most remakes of intellectual properties from my childhood, I assumed it would not be the same.
And it isn’t. Doomsday is unearthed during a drilling expedition by LexCorp’s Project Apple Core (which sought a renewable energy source via radiation from the earth’s core). The beast tears across the countryside, killing everything in its path. Superman and Lois Lane are pulled away from their romantic getaway at the Fortress of Solitude so the hero can save Metropolis from imminent destruction. The ensuing battle leaves both participants dead. What follows is a simple plot involving Lex Luthor and cloning, which eschews the emergence of the four Supermen and the complex explanation for Kal-El’s eventual resurrection, both of which were prominent devices in the comic’s intricate plot.
Superman: Doomsday is not fan service. The film is something of an insult, as it manages to make the death of Superman seem like mere trivia. By killing him in 1993, the writers at DC Comics were giving the public—most of whom had written off the Man of Steel a long time ago—a glimpse of a world without Supes. In Superman: Doomsday, our hero fights, dies and returns all within the first 40 minutes. The pacing is ridiculously quick; the viewer never has time to reflect on the cultural weight of the hero’s death or to grieve with Lois Lane and Martha Kent before the filmmakers rush Superman (albeit a clone) back into the frame. Perhaps the technique is supposed to be jarring in a creepy Pet Sematary kind of way, but it feels as though the writers were working within a strict, time-sensitive framework; you can’t produce a kid's movie longer than 90 minutes or it won’t hold their Ritalin-addled attention.
The art is typical for a contemporary DC property (think Superman: The Animated Series or the New Batman/Superman Adventures), with simple line drawings and absurdly sexist representations of male and female characters. The animation is serviceable, but there’s nothing visually impressive, nothing eye-popping, aside from the cinematic gloss that separates the film from its serial counterparts. The one highlight is the initial battle, which amounts to little more than fanboy pornography, with Superman and Doomsday trading powerful blows as the city of Metropolis crumbles around them. This, at least, is satisfying, even if it isn’t exactly a faithful depiction of the original. The voice acting is spotty at best. Anne Heche’s Lois Lane is laughable at times, as is Adam Baldwin’s Superman, but overall the voice acting is sufficient, buoyed by James Marsters’ excellent turn as Luthor.
Superman: Doomsday is a re-imagining of the Death and Return of Superman, which means I should review the movie on its own terms. Even then, the movie feels rushed, lacking in depth and purpose, more like a nostalgic cash-in than an honest filmic depiction of comic book canon. In employing that iconic logo, the filmmakers are vying for the dollar of a certain adult demographic, tugging at their most sensitive heartstrings, directly comparing their effort to the masterwork of Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding, to which it cannot hold a shard of kryptonite.