The Death of Superman
"The Death of Superman" is a DC Comics storyline that has been touted as a quintessential part of the Superman mythos and has been frequently adapted in various ways in the last 20 years: reinterpreting Doomsday as a product of Amanda Waller's Project Cadmus in the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited animated series, Superman's death was really a blast into an alternate future where Vandal Savage is the sole survivor, Doomsday appearing in live action series like Smallville and Krypton in very different ways, Superman/Doomsday - the first in the DC Universe direct to movie line, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Yet again, the comic event is adapted once more but with a faithful acknowledgment of what came before while forging a new interpretation in one of a two part animated movie in the DC Universe's ongoing continuity. "The Death of Superman" retains the core, the terror, and the heart of the original in a study of those who share Metropolis as a home with Superman and how their lives have been touched and lifted (and saved a lot) and what happens when that hope is taken away.
"The Death of Superman" is a loose adaptation that retain core elements of the original story much like past releases in the movie line such as "Teen Titans: The Judas Contract". An asteroid holding Doomsday hurtles through a space satellite, crashes on Earth, Doomsday gets loose, other super heroes can't stop him, Superman makes the ultimate sacrifice, the city mourns, and four figures surface to take up the mantle. What happens in between is what distinguishes the movie from past adaptations. The movie re-introduces Superman to audiences and provides a much-needed and overdue expansion on his arc in the ongoing movie canon and explores his origins, his relationships, his impact on Metropolis, and his own inner turmoil. Doomsday doesn't hurtle into action right away and takes over essentially halfway into the movie in stark contrast to the 2007 movie "Superman/Doomsday". But once he does, it's a build up of horror as he commits atrocity after atrocity and the scale increases with each scene. The removal of hope and insertion of dread is felt with each scene. From Hank Henshaw placing his full faith in Superman coming to the rescue only to watch his wife and crew getting sucked out into space then dying in a explosion, innocent civilians and officers being slaughtered, to super heroes going down one by one - not even making so much of a scratch, and culminating in the death of Superman, using the last of his energy to save the one he loves. Co-directors Sam Liu and Jake Castorena were the perfect combination. Liu seemingly handles the character work and interpersonal stakes in the first half then Castorena carries Doomsday's onslaught in Metropolis to its conclusion.
The movie's cold open, rightly so, encapsulates a day-in-life of Superman in Metropolis for the audience. In this case, he saves the Mayor from Bruno Mannheim and his Intergang. Following the battle, we're introduced to two of the everymen in Superman's life, Bibbo Bibbowski and Jimmy Olsen. Since the Justice League is headquartered in Metropolis, the movie doesn't try to ignore their presence and shoe-horn them in later but uses them right from the start. The Flash and Cyborg arrive to examine Intergang's tech with Superman and pays off the movie's continuity with referencing Darkseid, the events of "Justice League: War", and Flash joking about the Teen Titans. Superman meets up with a waiting Lois Lane at S.T.A.R. Labs for an exclusive feature on Dr. Klyburn's team studying the ship he came to Earth in as an infant. After learning about Krypton and the House of El, Lois is given a lift back to the Daily Planet then we learn she and Clark have been dating in secret but the resident rumor mill Cat Grant already suspects as much. Clark stumbles with inviting Lois to meet his adoptive parents instead of them going on a weekend getaway to the Hamptons.
As the 10th movie in the ongoing movie continuity that started 4 years ago, we've been at arm's length with a small number of Superman's supporting cast. It's a glaring truth that we're only now revisiting them and meeting more and more in a long overdue fashion but on the flip side, the writing and pacing of the movie doesn't dog pile them onto the audience either. In way, it's probably for the best that we encounter them all here mostly for the first time than suffer a recap of who's who in Metropolis. The cast is introduced in a way that hopefully endears you to want to listen to what they all have to say. If we met most of them in past movies, you'd probably be tapping your feet impatiently for the big battle as you getting updates on everyone. Even then it's carefully timed with the return of Dr. Silas Stone and his damaged relationship with son, Cyborg, and expansion on John Henry Irons from "Justice League: Throne of Atlantis". While the former is more of a touchstone moment that's been overdue as well but segways naturally to the latter that beautifully utilizes both the continuity and seeds a bigger role in "Reign of the Supermen". We get to learn Irons was working construction at the time of 'Throne of Atlantis' after quitting Lexcorp then reveals his engineering expertise and reiterates his adoration of Superman, propelling him to Reign. The scene with Pa and Ma Kent, Clark, and Lois still feels like something we've rarely or never seen before and will probably go down as one of my favorite moments in the movie. The Lori Lemaris jokes, ha! And Ma had one of the best lines in the movie, "I didn't raise you to be alone."
In another nice touch stone, we find Lex Luthor now on house arrest. Rather than beat us over the head with exposition about their past, the reveal of Luthor's status is a nice wink to those who remember the opening of "Justice League vs. Teen Titans". And their rivalry is summarized into Superman's parting words "This city will never love you for hating me" and Luthor's outburst afterward. Couldn't help but love the wink to Alexander Luthor Jr., who played a part in the comic, as Luthor's disguise as well as the introduction of Mercy, rather than Supergirl in the comic. On the surface, the next scene, of Luthor solving his scientists' projects himself then insulting them, making zero effort to help the Excalibur satellite and blackmailing a S.T.A.R. employee paints him as an annoying jerk hardly worth the screen time -- it expounds on his scene with Superman and drives home he really is the opposite of Superman - no empathy, selfish, lording over others, and always has to be served. Even though, the core of his agenda is to protect Earth from the next alien, he's going about it completely wrong and he'll never get it. And that's driven home when Luthor bemoans "I'm supposed to win!" after Superman continues fighting Doomsday.
Another let's say obstacle this movie faced with the continuity is addressed next rather than glazed over. Ever since "Justice League: War", Superman and Wonder Woman were in a relationship. Granted, the last time it was focused on was "Justice League vs. Teen Titans", there's been enough of a gap in time for them to have parted ways. 20/20 hindsight, the break up should have come in 'real time' in a previous movie but I suspect in the nature that these movies get greenlit, the crew learned this two parter was approved or even assigned out of the blue and it was too late in production to do the break up. The last in-continuity movie was "Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay" which had zero to do with Superman and Wonder Woman. Before then with "Justice League Dark", their last appearance together, there was really nowhere to get in in edge-wise. So the crew had the unenviable task of revealing the break up in the past tense but they did it and did it to their advantage. Superman is mulling over going to the next level with Lois and the past relationship with Wonder Woman is held up for comparison. It wasn't just brought up to be brought up. But all in all, at some time in the 2+ years between "Justice League vs. Teen Titans" and "The Death of Superman" - a lot of other stuff happens including a break up. The only gripe I have is speeding up Clark and Lois' relationship to a turning point we've seen before, been there done that, in "Superman/Doomsday" and "All-Star Superman". Even then, that quibble fades with the on screen chemistry of real life couple Jerry O'Connell and Rebecca Romijn as Clark and Lois.
Also points for the hologram training room. If the Teen Titans have one in the Titans Tower, stands to reason the Justice League has one in the Hall of Justice. And the timing of Cheetah as a hologram. They fought in "Justice League vs. Teen Titans" but also will be matched up in the now filming live action "Wonder Woman 1984" movie. Metallo as Superman's hologram opponent was a nice touch, too, a classic Superman villain but also coincidentally, if you're reading the tie-in digital comic book series, Superman just got through fighting Metallo in Texas and Louisiana after the destruction of Excalibur. As some one that loves a good mystery left unanswered, I dug Doomsday's asteroid arrived out of a Boom Tube. While nothing more of it is addressed in the movie, we're left to conclude Darkseid or one of his agents sent him to Earth to take Superman off the board and pave the way for another invasion attempt perhaps. I appreciated all the cameos as well. They weren't forced and came at the correct times like Mera being there with Aquaman as the Atlanteans investigate the crash site or Alfred, Damian, Titus with Bruce at Wayne Manor, or Steve Trevor seated at the funeral.
Keeping Project Cadmus' role from the comics more or less was a welcome sight. I was half-expecting Luthor to create Superboy on his own but glad to be wrong. It was amusing watching both Mercy and Lex play off of Dabney Donovan. I totally chuckled when Kylburn referred to Cadmus as a "genetic pirate ship." So goofy but accurate. Wonder Woman's dig at Batman with her merchandise selling well, in the wake of the live action movie's success, was so awesome. The inclusion of Dr. Klyburn was a pleasant surprise. At first I thought it might have been a nod to Batman v Superman but she's actually a character that's been around for 40+ years so I wouldn't doubt James Tucker suggested her unless I completely forgot she was in the Death of Superman comics. Luthor's man in the submarine, Hazlewood, I think that was a nod to Doug Hazlewood who was an inker in the Death of Superman comics. I thought about re-reading the comics but ultimately chose not to. Still, when I saw them punch each other at the same time - I totally thought it was over for a second. Nice nod. Even the bit earlier but Superman knocking him up to the atmosphere -- I think that was wink to Doomsday's defeat in "Superman/Doomsday". And well, the manner in which Doomsday is killed in this movie had to be in reference to Superman snapping Zod's neck in "Man of Steel".
I am a little on the fence about all the scenes after Bibbo saying "It ain't right, God." You're there at the funeral, then you're carried off immediately into the next phase. It sort of came off as an extended teaser that ends with more end credits teasers. It's hard to make heads or tails of it without knowing what the opening scene of "Reign of the Supermen" is. But on the flip side, it's a two parter - the first for the in continuity movies. While it's true in the past, some were direct continuations like 'War' blends into 'Throne of Atlantis' or there's a loose arc with "Son of Batman", "Batman vs. Robin", and "Batman: Bad Blood" but this is a two parter and why not take advantage of that - play up and end on a mystery then already start seeding 'Reign' with the Supermen. It was an unexpected realization of this Superman had no Fortress of Solitude prior. Out of the four, it shall be intriguing to learn how they go about Cyborg Superman's origins. Still, it drove the point that we're finally getting the full version of the Death of Superman from the comics and more elements - classic Superboy, Steel, Eradicator, Cyborg Superman, Cadmus - and who knows maybe Mongul?
Another minor quibble I had was Clark's struggle to open up to Lois. It's a superficial excuse when we're talking about Lois, a reporter that jumps head first into trouble to get her articles. But again, it wasn't a major flaw of the movie to me because they kind of addressed that with him asking Flash about Iris then Flash's matter of fact reply. An odd omission from the League line up was Shazam. But as Jake Castorena tweeted, I guess Billy was stuck in detention... but then again, after reading chapter 1 of the tie-in digital comic, Superman mentions the rest of the League was busy with minimizing the 50 foot tidal wave caused by the asteroid crash. So in your head canon, one could surmise Shazam could have been caught up in damage control or even ran into some different threat - Sivana, Black Adam, etc. - but considering how Shazam stacked up against Darkseid, he probably wouldn't have fared well against Doomsday. And well, to totally overthink it and ignore what the movie's about, couldn't Cyborg have just boomed Doomsday off world or into a space?
Frederik Wiedmann is always a welcome addition to the crew. From his renditions of the classic sounds of Justice League and Superman to tapping a little into his horror background with the Doomsday scenes. Wiedmann sends it home with the dramatic sacrifice and mourning at the end of the movie. Phil Bourassa has done a lot of tweaking, varying degrees of subtle, with the cast like Batman's suit and belt to almost starting over like Jimmy looks pretty different from 'Throne of Atlantis' or 'updating' Flash's suit. Even Damian looks aged up a little finally. As a fan of "Young Justice", it was pretty amazing to see him do a totally different take on a character like Cat Grant or Bibbo. Then there's Doomsday, who you'd think is a slam dunk to design. But I'm sure Bourassa thought a lot about those bone protrusions. Props for including the containment suit from the comic. Wes Gleason gathered another solid cast. Recasting Lois Lane with Rebecca Romijn, O'Connell's wife, was a stroke of genius. What better way to authenticate the Superman and Lois relationship? I even caught myself when Clark reveals his secret to Lois in Ace o Clubs. Was that Lois laughing at Clark claiming he was Superman or was it Romijn laughing at O'Connell telling her he was Superman? Rainn Wilson as the new voice of Lex Luthor was a sleeper hit. I went into this movie totally skeptical of that 'guy from The Office' - no doubt in part because of years of the Clancy Brown Lex with swagger and charm take - and was surprised with his rendition. Points for Christopher Gorham's Flash imitating Batman during the League meeting.
The bonus features for "The Death of Superman" is surprisingly lacking, a featurette, a sneak peek, and two classic episodes. Looking back on the "Superman/Doomsday" release, it was packed though it was the first title in the DC Universe line. On another hand, it could be boundless other reasons: we'll see more special features on the second part "Reign of the Supermen", there just wasn't time during production to make more like a proper commentary track, or there might be exclusive features reserved for a hypothetical deluxe release similar to "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" a few years ago.
"The Death of Superman: The Brawl That Topped Them All" runs 16 minutes and 23 minutes. There is talking heads commentary from crew of the movie, executives at Warner Home Entertainment, and experts in marital arts. It's not an overly shot-by-shot breakdown or comparison but the real meat of it are the anecdotes from two of the original comic book story's architects, Mike Carlin and Jon Bogdanove. The sneak peek at "Reign of the Supermen" is 9 minutes and 33 seconds. It has a mix of finished footage, animatics, storyboards, character design, recording sessions, and talking heads. It primarily plays up the 4 Supermen and Lois' role. It's going to be a long 5-6 month wait. The two bonus episodes from the vault is the series finale of "Legion of Super-Heroes", "Dark Victory" which was produced by the supervising producer of "The Death of Superman," James Tucker for the now defunct Kids WB! channel. Since these episodes were never released on DVD or Blu-ray in a proper season set, it was bittersweet to revisit this underrated series. The trailers are of the recently released "Batman Ninja" and "Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay" whereas the 4K Ultra commercial plays before the main menu screen comes on. The Blu-Ray Deluxe Gift Set includes a Gentle Giant figurine of battle torn Superman. The company's attention to detail is impeccable and it's a welcome sight to see a set have one again.
Since this a unique situation of both a classic comic book arc being loosely adapted into an ongoing continuity of movies and the second shot at adapting the story, it would have been very illuminating to have a special feature that got featured the crew talking about specific scenes they adapted into the movie, the decisions went into expunging some parts and the easter eggs they chose to insert. I did have a little issue in broad strokes with this being another story about Superman dying in what is the first Superman movie in a long time or another 'Clark is afraid of going the next level with Lois' story and the special features were disappointing. Overall, the movie is a superior adaptation despite some fans' reservations about the ongoing continuity and/or character designs because of amazing animation from newcomer to the movie line Studio MIR, the action set pieces, the vignette structure of introducing Superman's supporting cast, riveting emotional depth, and the struggle between hope and fear. "The Death of Superman" is a recommended purchase.
Main Feature: 4 out of 5
Special Features: 3 out of 5
Average Rating: 3.5 out of 5