This first stand alone DC Universe Animated movie is here. They've cut all ties to the last decade plus of animated series and have begun a new venture. How's the first outing?
It’s not horrible.
The animation is great, but the story is very week. I’m a fan of Superman and Bruce Timm. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is entertaining, but the lackluster script fails to impress me. If you are a fan of Superman the Animated series or the Justice League/Justice League Unlimited series, then you have already seen much better stories with Superman and Doomsday. I was hoping this movie would be a notch better than the Justice League Unlimited, while the animation and action are a notch up, the story fails to match JLU’s high standards.
There is practically no character development and what is there seems odd for Superman. Here’s an example. In a lot of the comics and movies and stories concerning Superman, he is always trying to get Lois to notice him as Clark Kent and fall in love with him without knowing he is Superman. This movie is the complete opposite. He has an ongoing romantic relationship with Lois (they are bumping uglys in the fortress of solitude), but doesn’t want to tell her his secret identity to protect her. Huh?
I’m not opposed to characters and story elements being different from one medium or project to the next, if there is a reason, but a lot of the changes in this movie feel like it is different just to be different. All of these characters have been animated for the last few years under Bruce Timm’s direction. Those designs have grown on me so I was disappointed that these designs weren’t better, only different (and does anyone else think Superman looks like he has a huge underbite eveytime he talks? And why doesn’t Mercy have a nose?)
There is very little emotion to the story. Sure, sad things happen and people cry, but just seeing people cry is not enough to affect me as a viewer. It’s as if I am being shown how I should feel instead of the story and characters creating these feelings.
Then there is Lex Luthor, his actions and words are there to show you how evil he is. He has no motivation. He only does anything to show the audience how evil he is. I won’t even start on his homoerotic fascination with Superman (“Whose your daddy?” --- creepy).
The battle with Doomsday is intense and the best part of the movie. Doomsday looked great and went a long way to make this movie aimed at older audiences by killing a lot of people. But Superman doesn't do much to prevent all these deaths either. He is notified that he is needed in Metropolis while in the Fortress of Solitude. He casually walks to the control room and watches new clips of Doomsday killing people while his robot explains to him where Doomsday came from (the robot no doubt found out on Wikipedia). Superman eventually gets to the fight, but then he destroys entire buildings with Doomsdays body. His last act alone probably killed quite a few people (although it was a pretty awesome way to end the battle). I know there will be lots of defense to this statement (the battle was horrific, he was fighting for his life, etc) but a lot of Superman’s character is how he bends over backward to preserve human life. He just didn’t seem that concerned about human life throughout the whole movie, and maybe the creators realized this so they added a crying child standing alone in the middle of the street amidst the battle for Superman to rescue at his own detriment. But enough about Doomsday, he’s hardly in the movie anyway (I know, he shares the title with Superman, but I guess that’s just for promotional purposes).
The pacing of the movie was a little odd and the Justice League were sorely missed. The original Death of Superman story arc was able to last as long as it did because there were several beats to the battle. First Doomsday was introduced causing mass destruction in rural America, but still partially bound by his costume. Then the JLA (made up of essentially second stringers at the time) confronted Doomsday only to have their asses handed too them while Doomsday literally still had one arm behind his back. Then Superman confronted Doomsday still in rural America, along with the injured JLA, only to destroy the rest of Doomsday’s costume, which was restraining him. The battle spanned several states and became much more serious because Doomsday was now unrestrained. Then he entered Metropolis. This was significant for two reasons. One, it was Superman’s home and two, it is a heavily populated city so collateral damage was more sever. Now I don’t care that this movie is not a direct translation, but Superman battles Doomsday at the beginning of the movie. There is no build in the stakes. Doomsday is introduced. He is not restrained in any way. Doomsday arrives in Metropolis. Superman uses his super arctic breath to freeze Doomsday (what is up with this writer and super arctic breath?). The arctic breath doesn’t stop Doomsday!!!! This guy is tough!!! Superman fights Doomsday. The battle is pretty awesome, but it has no build so it’s just another fight for Superman.
The funeral scene was disappointing without any of the other superheroes. I'm okay with leaving out some characters to streamline the story, but some cameos would have been nice.
It’s no secret that Superman dies in this movie. Now if you kill your hero in act one, then how do you top that in the finally? The comic book, however long and crazy, succeeded. The entire world was in peril. Disasters larger than Doomsday led up to the finally of the Reign of the Supermen. I know this movie couldn’t be an adaptation of the comic books, but I was hoping for something at least as entertain or interesting. After Doomsday, the movie follows a tried and true tired idea that nowhere near rivals the scope of the original story that inspired this movie.
I could go on and on about other things that annoyed me (Superman hanging out lifting weights, it’s not very dramatic that’s for sure or removing a small object from between your brain lobes with a mirror and a pair of succors in a beauty salon? The scene is creepy but come on!) but I think you get the idea. I’m being nitpicky on a poor script.
In closing, the first half hour is pretty good. The animation is topnotch the whole way through. I’ll re-watch it just for the battle with Doomsday, it is a great battle, even if it is a little short for the biggest battle of Superman’s life. If you want to see a better written story where the JLA fight Doomsday (it’s actually an alternate reality version of the Justice League, but it is still a pretty sweat battle) pick up the Justice League season 2 DVDs for the two part episode “A Better World.” It also shows a darker “reflection” of Superman if events had gone differently in his life, a theme this movie attempts to convey, but fails to do so, leaving the villain to explain this theme to the viewer. And the Justice League Unlimited episode “Doomsday Sanction” is one of my favorite episodes of the series and features Superman fighting Doomsday in the heart of an active Volcano. Talk about picking your settings. It’s beautiful. And Batman’s role in that episode is just icing on a very tasty cake.
Am I being hard on this movie? Yes. Maybe a little too much. I suppose if these previous animated outings didn’t exist, I might be digging this movie, but they do so why bother with this new inferior product?