The Death of Superman direct-to-video animated film
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Voice actors: Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn, Rainn Wilson, Jason Mara, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion, Christopher Gorham, Matt Lanter, Shemar Moore, Rocky Carroll, Nyambi Nyambi, Patrick Fabian & Cress Williams
Directors: Sam Liu & James Tucker
Producer: Warner Bros. Animation
In a commentary I posted here a few months ago, I questioned why DC was revisiting its classic “Death of Superman” storyline for an animated film when it had already explored that plot in the Superman: Doomsday direct-to-video animated movie in 2007. Having watched the latest installment from the DC animated movie universe, I now understand why the producers and Warner Bros. Animation chose to do so. This is a superior effort, far truer to the source material and surprisingly touching and resonant. I know how this story plays out, know what to expect from next year’s sequel, The Reign of the Supermen, and yet I found myself caught up on the emotional beats of the story. Peter J. Tomasi, a former DC editor and current teller of stories in DC comics titles, has crafted a compelling, concise and accessible script that the voice actors bring to life nicely.
A meteor containing an imprisoned monster crashes to Earth, letting the beast loose upon the world. It makes its way to the most densely populated area nearby, which means it makes a beeline for Metropolis. As his colleagues in the Justice League engage the unstoppable, walking juggernaut, Superman is struggling with a different kind of life-changing conflict: should Clark Kent let Lois Lane, whom he’s been secretly dating for months, in on his heroic secret? Meanwhile, Lex Luthor continues to plot against the Man of Steel, and he believes the recently arrived alien monstrosity might hold the key to revenge and glory.
The Death of Superman is essentially the latest installment of the Justice League series of DC’s animated films, and as such, it maintains the same house style, with a strong anime influence at play. I haven’t always appreciated the style in previous direct-to-video flicks, but it seemed more polished and smoother here.
I’m honestly surprised we got some of the same supporting cast as previous movies featuring this animated incarnation of the Justice League. The reason: some of the bigger-name talent – such as Nathan Fillion as Green Lantern and Rosario Dawson as Wonder Woman – really take a back seat here. They’re incredibly effective in the smaller roles all the same. Real-life married couple Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn have excellent chemistry as Lois and Clark, though I found O’Connell’s performance as the voice of Superman to be too soft at times. The only voice performance that didn’t really work for me was that of Rainn Wilson as Luthor. His approach is terribly one-note and exaggerated, making Lex seem like a caricature rather than a deeply flawed and drive human being.
Tomasi’s writing was pretty much pitch perfect throughout the film. He establishes people’s love and admiration convincingly, from Bibbo to Hank Henshaw to John Henry Irons. In the comics, people’s respect for and adoration of Superman is easy to accept given the decades of history the character has in that medium, but Tomasi has to establish it in an animated continuity that doesn’t have the same depth of context.
Again, I question the producers’ decision to aim these animated movies at a more adult audience. While I don’t think little kids need to watch a movie about the death of an iconic hero, neither is having Maggie Sawyer refer to armored criminals as assholes necessary. More adult language was used so rarely in this movie, it was glaring and distracting when it popped into the mix. Furthermore, while it stands to reason people would be killed as Doomsday cuts a swath of chaos through the world, the explosive clouds of blood seemed a bit much as well. I was pleased it wasn’t more graphic, to be honest, but I think it could have been tempered a bit more as well.
But I have to give credit where credit is due: the flaws in this movie are minor when compared to its strengths. The story is executed incredibly well, and I knew it really succeeded when the emotional beats at the climax of the movie and in the epilogue choked me up a bit. I mean, I knew exactly where the story was headed, and I’m even aware of the temporary nature of Superman’s “death.” But Tomasi and the voice actors got me. I think The Death of Superman proved to be one of the better installments in DC’s animated universe in some time. 8/10