Back in the early '90s, Superman's jaw-dropping slugfest with Doomsday made comic book history. The big battle was simply unforgettable as the Last Son of Krypton went blow for blow with a bloodthirsty monster. The Big Blue Boy Scout ultimately gave his life to protect the planet from the formidable villain, and his sacrifice revealed what the world would be like without the inspiring hero.
This iconic comic book storyline was loosely adapted for an animated movie back in 2007, allowing fans to witness Doomsday and Superman fight to the death on the small screen. In 2016, fans witnessed the live-action death of Superman on the big screen when Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice pulled some inspiration from the classic storyline and brought Doomsday into the movie's final act.
Now, fans are going to watch another version of the Man of Steel die all over again in the appropriately titled The Death of Superman. But adapting a familiar story and knowing the ending doesn't stop the latest DC animated film from delivering an exciting and emotional ride. It really says a lot about the quality of a movie when you see a death coming from a mile away but it still brings a tear to your eye.
Co-directed by Sam Liu and Jake Castorena, and written by Peter J. Tomasi, The Death of Superman adapts the well-known comic storyline to fit into the animated universe that began in 2014's Justice League: War. Because the movie's bringing Doomsday vs Superman into an already established universe, blatant changes need to be made along the way to the memorable storyline. This isn't like the comics-accurate two-part adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns or the very faithful adaptation of Batman: Year One; The Death of Superman doesn't have the luxury of not taking previous animated movies into account. Despite this, many key ingredients from the '90s storyline are still present and manage to make an impact. Plus, it doesn't forget the most important part of the story: heart.
Before The Death of Superman, Superman hasn't had that much time to shine in this animated universe. The animated movies that have focused on him, like Superman vs The Elite and Superman: Unbound, are standalone films, contributing little to any ongoing narrative. This version of Superman helped save the planet from Darkseid, but aside from that, he hasn't spent too much time in the spotlight, so there isn't a strong emotional connection to him right off the bat.
Thankfully, Tomasi's script wisely spends a lot of time giving the Man of Steel a stronger presence in this world. The opening sequence has all of the classic Superman characteristics that fans have come to expect from the hero while also having some fun with his surreal abilities - it's a great take on Superman right from the start. Throughout the story, the focus remains strong on building Superman as an awe-inspiring figure. Familiar faces like Bibbo Bibbowski, John Henry Irons and Hank Henshaw praise Superman, immediately making it feel like this version of the hero has more history than we've seen (even Superman merch can be spotted throughout the film). Without this focus on building Superman as the figure he's supposed to be, the final moments with Doomsday just wouldn't pack a punch - they could've potentially felt forced. Instead, the final moments in the brawl hits like a ton of bricks.
One of the biggest changes The Death of Superman faces is the handling of Lois Lane and Clark Kent's relationship (voiced by married couple Rebecca Romijn and Jerry O'Connell). In this new animated continuity, Superman was previously dating Wonder Woman (their off-screen breakup is briefly addressed), not Lois Lane. The beginning of Lois and Clark's relationship isn't shown on-screen; in fact, that important history is never experienced. Because of this, Tomasi has to put the relationship on the fast track and bring us to the most critical part of their relationship: Clark telling Lois he's Superman.
Even though the relationship is somewhat rushed (the runtime is under an hour and a half), the time they do spend together is used to effectively show there's already a strong connection between the two - it's just the big secret that's holding them back from taking their relationship to the next level. And when Clark does finally reveal two big secrets, it's easier to swallow - the fact they're such an iconic couple obviously benefits this even more. By the time Lois witnesses Superman's death, there's enough time spent with them to really feel the emotional impact, which hits hard, even though everyone knows what's coming.
There are nice nods to other versions of Superman, too. It's impossible to miss one of the standout lines from Richard Donner's Superman (it comes off as little forced, but it's still smile-inducing). Some of the choreography and cinematography during Superman and Doomsday's fight is a transparent nod to Kal-El vs Zod in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel.
The Death of Superman delivers big time with the action. Even though they're destined to lose, watching the Justice League attempt to hold their own against Doomsday is a total blast. Actress Rosario Dawson gets a few moments to voice a truly badass Wonder Woman, and Nathan Fillion continues to prove he's the perfect voice for Hal Jordan. Christopher Gorham gets a few amusing lines as the Flash (especially with Jason O'Mara's Batman), but Martian Manhunter feels like he's there just for some exposition before quickly being removed from the picture, and Aquaman and Cyborg feel underused in the battle as well - that can likely be chalked up to the limited runtime. Despite these shortcomings, Doomsday battling the team is highly entertaining.
The big fight between the Man of Steel and Doomsday lives up to the hype - it's simply awesome. The two titans fully unleash in their battle, and the sheer force behind their strikes are absolutely felt. Superman is portrayed as a jaw-dropping powerhouse, but the movie never forgets to show him as an inspirational figure, too. The battle has several memorable shots as well, like a wide shot that reveals the enormous shockwave created by Doomsday and Superman's first grapple. Thanks to the impressive handling of the fight (and the score properly elevating each part), the big moment delivers all of the intensity and heartbreak that it deserves.
Jerry O'Connell's performance as both Clark Kent and Superman are solid. Whether it's heartfelt or forceful, the lines are sold equally well. Rebecca Romijn also gives a good performance as Lois Lane, offering a believable version of the intrepid reporter and, in the end, someone who's suffered a major loss. As for Lex Luthor, all it takes is watching one episode of The Office to know that Rainn Wilson has no problem playing a condescending character who thinks he's always the smartest person in the room. Some fans may expect Lex Luthor to have a deeper voice (thanks to Clancy Brown's unforgettable take on the foe), but Rainn's a good fit for the arrogant antagonist.
Two minor criticisms: the animation can sometimes feel a little stiff during conversations, and since DC's been promoting Superman's return to the red trunks, this New 52-based design can actually feels a little dated. But these are relatively minor quibbles in the grand scheme of things, as the film delivers on virtually every other front.
The Death of Superman proves a familiar story can be retold in a refreshing way if you have the right creative team. Knowing the ending doesn't take away from the film at all. The action is epic, there's plenty of fan service, and Superman's death still manages to be a real tearjerker. Hopefully 2019's Reign of the Supermen will be every bit as good.
Review by LazyStrawberry from the Internet Movie Database.