40×40: Superman: Doomsday (2007)

Directed by Bruce Timm, Lauren Montgomery and Brandon Vietti.

“As surely as night follows day, there comes a time when even gods must die.”

Why Did I Get This?

This was another one of those charity shop impulse buys that I picked up because I remembered reading the Death Of Superman comic many years ago. It’s not a comic I’ve revisited often (but I don’t have time or inclination to start Late Reviews for my comic book shelves), but its topic obviously meant it stuck in my head.

Like the other animated superhero films I’ve previously posted about, this isn’t one I’ve watched more than once and certainly not for many years. However, with the recent fiasco over at Warner Brothers and the DC cinematic universe effectively rehiring then firing a perfectly fine Superman (though I didn’t particularly care for Henry Cavill’s Clark Kent), I felt it was as good an occasion as any to revisit Superman: Doomsday.

Incidentally, I understand there’s been another animated version of The Death Of Superman in the last few years, though I’ve no idea whether it’s any good – anyone who would recommend it (or otherwise), please feel free to let me know!

Late Review

As always, the Late Review will go into detail about the film from start to finish, so if you’re looking to avoid potential spoilers, scroll down to the next heading.

When contractors working for Lex Luthor (James Marsters), uncover an alien monster two miles underground, it unleashes a trail of destruction which leads to Metropolis. There, Superman (Adam Baldwin), gives his life to stop it then dies in the arms of Lois Lane (Anne Heche), but before too long, he’s back! Except this Superman is a little… different.

All I remember about the The Death Of Superman comic book is that the battle between Superman and Doomsday builds momentum, blow by blow, until the pages are just one or two panels of Kal El and his antagonist pummelling each other. It’s a neat trick that helps the battle feel huge in scale, before Superman wins the day but loses his life.

Superman: Doomsday runs to about an hour and a quarter, and it really doesn’t have the same momentum of its comic counterpart, but where it changes up the format a little it really works.

The Superman versus Doomsday battle lasts around ten minutes and is over before the 30-minute mark, but the punches look like they hurt and the destruction it brings about feels very much like 2013’s Man Of Steel, as buildings and roads are reduced to rubble by the battling titans.

Lois and Superman have been dating in this world for some time, but she’s peeved that he won’t reveal his secret identity to her despite it being fairly clear she’s worked out he’s Clark Kent. When Superman dies in Lois’ arms, she calls him Clark for the first time, while his mother Martha (Swoosie Kurtz), watches her son die live on television from her farm in Smallville – I thought that was a really nice touch.

Once our hero is dead, the story continues though, as he apparently returns just a few days after his funeral to clean up the subsequent crimewave – only it’s not our Supes, it’s a clone created and controlled by Lex Luthor. We discover this thanks to a punch-up featuring Kryptonite knuckledusters before Lex asks his creation “Who’s your daddy?” which felt… weird, frankly.

But then there’s a bit of odd language thrown around this film. Luthor also tells his errant clone to “come to poppa”, while Lois jokes about Clark stepping on a landmine when he announces he’s heading to Afghanistan early in the movie. It’s not unpleasant, but sits a little oddly amongst the usual “Truth, Justice and the American Way” stuff, y’know? That being said, Lex’s description of the brutal Doomsday as an “intergalactic soccer hooligan” made me laugh.

Superfan and writer of an abandoned Superman movie starring Nic Cage, Kevin Smith, makes a brief cameo as an onlooker as Clone Supes captures the villain Toyman – though frankly it’s the least passionate I’ve ever heard him sound about anything, let alone something comic book related. It does make a nice nod to the abandoned film though (anyone who’s seen him interviewed about it knows how he feels about giant robot spiders), so while it feels a little gratuitous, it’s just enough of an Easter egg to raise a smile.

Speaking of Toyman, he suffers a pretty brutal death at the hands of Clone Supes, who gets upset after the villain murders a child. That’s the point that Lois becomes certain that the guy who’s wearing his underwear on the outside isn’t the same guy she’s been sleeping with for the last few months, and she gets her own little Scooby Doo adventure with Jimmy Olsen (Adam Wylie), knowking out Lex and discovering his clones. It’s great that she’s got her own thing to do rather than just being a damsel in distress, although her sudden ability to fly a helicopter isn’t a Lois I’ve ever encountered previously.

Toyman isn’t the only one to suffer a brutal death though – it feels like the 12 rating is being tested at points. Between Doomsday’s slaughter of the LexCorp miners, him swinging soldiers and Supes around by their necks, the off-screen murder of a child and Lex’s shocking murder of his assistant Mercy (Cree Summer), there’s a lot of death about and it’s far from subtle. Feels a lot more grown up than, say, World’s Finest.

Away from the murdering, we get a few more nice bits here and there too, including a great little gag as Clone Supes strolling into a hair salon and using his x-ray vision in one of their mirrors to find a Kryptonite implant in his brain, then removing it using his heat vision and a pair of their scissors.

There’s also a great sequence with some cool, almost 3D animation, as Clone Supes takes on the Army and Air Force using his heat vision causing yet more wreckage in Metropolis that Zack Snyder would be proud of.

Eventually, though, we get the Supes on Supes fight, as a reincarnated Kal El is given a mullet and a black suit by his robot sidekick, and is ready to battle his evil clone and try to win back the trust of Metropolis.

What? Oh yeah, Superman has a robot sidekick in this. Credited as The Robot and played by Tom Kenny, he lives in the Fortress Of Solitude which looks like a big icy Batcave, and helps get Kal El back to his former self. It’s an odd addition, though I don’t know enough about the comics to say it’s unheard of. Still, feels a bit weird though.

Then, before you know it, we’re back down to one Superman. Alright, he’s got long hair and a black suit, but he’s the good one, and the people of Metropolis are already warming to him. It’s a satisfying final battle and outcome, even teasing an ongoing story as an injured Lex mutters to himself about the deaths of gods.

Verdict

It’s a zippy 74 minutes, and packs plenty in without feeling bloated, even managing a little Weekend At Bernie’s nod as Lois and Jimmy schlep an unconscious Lex around his lab.

Visually, it’s perfectly fine, though not what I’d consider the best-looking animated movie, and the extra lines on Superman’s cheeks make him look a bit more craggy than any of the others I’ve previously seen. It’s not a bad look, but takes a bit of getting used to, especially when the designs of Lex and Lois are pretty much the same as in every other animated movie.

The performances are good too, though I’d label the late Anne Heche as the standout – while elements of her Lois Lane’s characterisation feel a bit goofy (she flies a helicopter! She drives a stolen Army Jeep towards explosions! She cracks wise in the face of danger!), Heche’s performance is great, particularly when she visits Martha Kent following Clark’s ‘death’. She gives off a sense of loss and grief that’s better than most animated movies can muster.

Overall, there’s plenty here to enjoy, and plenty that looks to have inspired later Superman movies. I had a great time with it, and I’m curious to revisit the comic, and curious to see the more recent adaptation, which I guess means it did it’s job.

Recommended.

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