The Death of Superman is the quintessential Superman story. Paired with World Without a Superman and Reign of the Superman it perfectly sums up why the Man of Steel is so important and irreplaceable.
Over a decade ago, Warner Bros. Animation kicked off its direct to video line of movies based on DC Comics with Superman: Doomsday. Of the numerous adaptations of popular DC stories, Superman: Doomsday was arguably the worst as it tried to encapsulate three acclaimed story arcs into one 85-minute movie.
Perhaps recognizing the injustice done to such a beloved storyline (check out the collection here), Warner Bros. Animation opted for a redo to get it right. The Death of Superman is not just a massive improvement on Superman: Doomsday, but rivals Batman: Under the Red Hood and Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths as the best the studio has done.
Over the last few years, I’ve placed a Warner Bros. Animation film in the Honorable Mention slot of my year-end best films list. Death of Superman is getting a Top 10 spot with absolutely no hesitation or second guessing.
With rare exceptions, the Warner Bros. Animation films take a significant amount of liberties from the source material to make for a fresh experience for fans familiar with the story and newcomers. In a lot of instances, those changes feel unnecessary. The Death of Superman provides the model for how these adaptations should be done going forward.
It helps that the script was done by Peter J. Tomasi, the co-architect of one of the most critically and fan acclaimed recent runs of Superman with the DC Rebirth era of Superman. Tomasi gets Superman in a way that most writers don’t in how he embraces the aww shucks nature of Clark Kent’s Smallville upbringing and how that influences Superman the hero.
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Tomasi packs the script with a slew of Easter Eggs from the source material. In some cases, they’re fun little nods like the strong supporting role of Bibbo (Charles Halford) while in other instances they’re foreshadowing the important next chapter of the story. The introduction of certain characters aren’t by accident. Tomasi did a masterful job of adapting the story into the New 52 era continuity of the Warner Bros. Animation films.
Clark Kent (Jerry O’Connell) is at crossroads with his relationship with Lois Lane (Rebecca Romijn). Lois doesn’t know he’s Superman and Clark is afraid of her getting in harm’s way if his enemies learned of their relationship. With Lex Luthor (Rainn Wilson) still harboring a massive grudge, Clark’s logic isn’t completely without merit.
Both Lois and Clark are getting questions about their relationship. Lois is trying to avoid getting pressured by gossip reporter Cat Grant (Toks Olagundoye) while Wonder Woman (Rosario Dawson) encourages Clark to fully open up.
Like his Rebirth run on Superman, Tomasi makes the relationships and emotional connections to the characters a vital part of the story. Without it, the arrival of the planet destroying Doomsday wouldn’t have nearly as much impact.
Directors Sam Liu (Teen Titans: The Judas Contract) and Jake Castorena initially introduce Doomsday like a horror movie villain lurking in the shadows and creating massive carnage. As his bloodlust intensifies, he evolves into a walking natural disaster. It’s jarring watching Doomsday cruelly pummel his victims and viciously stomp them out.
One major departure from the comic is the makeup of the Justice League team that battles Doomsday. In the comics, Doomsday obliterates a less formidable team featuring Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Fire & Ice and Blue Beetle.
The film finds Doomsday squaring off against Batman (Jason O’Mara), Wonder Woman, Cyborg (Shemar Moore), Green Lantern (Nathan Fillion), Hawkman, Flash (Christopher Gorham), Aquaman (Matt Lanter) and Martian Manhunter (Nyambi Nyambi). Watching Doomsday vanquish this team makes him seem even more terrifying and Superman’s arrival as the last hope even more meaningful.
Impressively, Tomasi crafts not just a great Superman movie, but a terrific Justice League film as well. These WBA films have come to live and die by movies revolving around Batman and this shows why it’s worthwhile to branch out to other characters and major storylines. I’d love to see this crew work on a Sinestro Corps War or Crisis on Infinite Earths adaptation.
On the voice acting front, O’Connell’s take on Superman is starting to win me over. Romijn has a less fiery spin on Lois that’s more reserved than Dana Delaney or Stana Katic’s versions, but it works in the context of this film. Wilson gives Luthor a certain sleazy tone we don’t often hear with the character and it’s a smart change of pace from the commanding take by Clancy Brown.
The action sequences are incredible. Liu and Castorena take full advantage of the medium and deliver some astonishing fights. It’s hard not to watch the sequences where Doomsday is battling Batman and Wonder Woman and not think this fight blew away the live-action one in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
I was pretty thoroughly content with Superman’s death (spoiler?), but the film’s final act neatly summarizes World Without a Superman before teasing The Reign of the Supermen. If the next film comes close to matching the quality of Death of Superman, I’m pretty confident in reserving a Top 10 spot for 2019 already.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Animation