Superman: Doomsday direct-to-video animated movie
Voice actors: Adam Baldwin, Anne Heche, James Marsters, Adam Wylie, Ray Wise, Swoozie Kurtz, Cree Summer, John Dimaggio & Tom Kenny
Directors: Bruce Timm, Lauren Montgomery & Brandon Vietti
Writers: Bruce Timm & Duane Capizzi
Studio: Warner Bros. Animation
Ads for this DVD billed it as an adaptation of the original 1992-1993 comic-book storyline, but the writers and producers have diverged significantly from the source material. While it’s definitely inspired by “The Death of Superman” and takes a few cues from it, it’s really an original plot. I was surprised, but after a while, I was taken in by the new story. The 75-minute feature moves along at a brisk pace, never letting go of the audience’s attention. The animation is slick and polished. The only real disappointments to be found with this feature is that it’s perhaps too much of a pared-down version of the original story, but more importantly, the climactic confrontation between good and evil is perhaps the least compelling scene in the movie. It’s the one predictable sequence in the film, but given the nature of the plot and genre, that’s certainly to be expected to some extent.
After being accidentally released from an alien prison deep beneath the Earth’s surface, a horrific and unimaginably powerful monster emerges, determined to eradicate all life. When it reaches Metropolis, Superman rushes to put a stop to its rampage, only to discover it’s more powerful than any other threat he’s faced before. He makes the ultimate sacrifice to save lives and the city he calls home, leaving behind devastated loved ones and a mournful world. Lex Luthor feels robbed of his destiny, as he always believed he’d be the one to kill the Man of Steel. When Superman apparently returns from the dead, the world rejoices, but Lois Lane and Martha Kent suspect that something is wrong, that he is not what he appears to be.
While the Bruce Timm style is still prominent in this project, designs have been tweaked to differentiate this film in a visual sense from the Superman and Justice League cartoons with which Timm and other producers have been involved. Superman looks more weathered and experienced, and Luthor more slender. Characters such as Jimmy Olsen, Clark Kent and Mercy Graves look a little more hip, and overall, there’s a more contemporary style that’s apparent in every scene, every character design and every backdrop. The Toyman makes a brief appearance, and I love the darker, serial-killer edge they’ve brought to the character.
Perhaps the most impressive element in the story is the alterations made to the Superman/Lois relationship. In 1992, Clark Kent and Lois were engaged, and he revealed his secret identity to her as a result. With this film, it’s Superman who’s in a relationship with Lois, not Clark. That altered dynamic and the potential for characterization it opens up were well done. Actually, it’s Lois’s interaction with all of the other characters that always stands out as the most interesting fare in the story. Her first encounter with Martha Kent is quite unlike what we’ve seen before. The tension between the two women is surprising but logical in this context. It also serves as a key emotional scene in the movie, serving as a cathartic release.
One of the aspects of this project that has been much ballyhooed in its marketing campaign is the more mature tone of the storytelling. There’s blood here, though not a lot; Doomsday’s violent actions, even with their repercussions kept off camera, are much more shocking, but they do serve the story well. The PG-13 rating also allows for Luthor to be depicted in a much colder, cruel way. Of course, I doubt the PG-13 rating will keep parents from allowing their kids to watch this flick. Really young tykes will no doubt be frightened, but the movie’s not so harsh that pre-teens can’t enjoy it. The violent visuals are slightly milder than what one can find on primetime TV.
The voice performances are fairly solid overall. As is the case with the script, Lois shines vocally, thanks to good work by Anne (Men in Trees) Heche. Adam Baldwin is better known as a star of such TV shows as Firefly and Chuck, but without his distinct facial expressions, his acting falls a bit flat. His Superman (or Supermen, I suppose) lacks a vocal presence; his performance is probably one of the least interesting ones in the movie. The standout comes from one-time child star Adam (Picket Fences) Wylie as Jimmy Olsen. He represents the best bit of voice casting in this movie.
Also worthy of note are a couple of the special features. There’s a teaser for the direct-to-video adaptation of Darwyn Cooke’s Justice League: The New Frontier DVD, but there aren’t many clips. Instead, it’s a collage of interviews with Cooke, DC execs and animation producers about the project. The real standout among the special features is the documentary about the original “Death of Superman” comic-book storyline. All of the writers and artists participate, and I was impressed with the level of detail provided about the storytelling and the media phenomenon that arose. The creators’ memories are pretty rosy, and the documentary doesn’t touch upon how this one event led to an event-driven approach in super-hero comics that led to an industry crash, creatively and financially. Nevertheless, it’s an entertaining piece that reveals a few new secrets in the process. 7/10