Superman: Doomsday ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.


It may not be hyperbolic to say that those five words defined my generation of comic book readers. The death of Superman was a curious event. Speculators flooded comic book shops and gobbled up as many copies of the seven-issue arc as they could. DC Comics went through as many as five printings of some issues, and the secondary market prices remained lofty just the same.

There was, of course, a corresponding cynicism. Who were all these people who professed to "love" Superman, and why hadn't they been buying his comics all along? What we learned, ultimately, is that we as a culture take comfort in being able to take Superman for granted. Even those who never read comics were bothered by the idea of a world without Superman. He should just always be there for us in print. It reflected the mourning process of the characters themselves when they realized just how empty their world had become without their protector.

When Warner Bros. Animation announced that they were adapting the story as the launch title of their Animated Original Movie series of direct-to-video features, I wasn't alone in feeling a twinge of excitement. What would it look like to actually watch in animation what we had previously had to construct mentally from the still panels of the comics?

The entire saga of "The Death and Life of Superman" was much too big for a standalone, 90-minute adaptation so we weren't surprised by the abridgment of it. I know some fans were disappointed by the streamlining and outright re-writing of everything after the showdown with Doomsday, but I give Bruce Timm and his team credit for distilling it to a digestible narrative.

The first half hour is some of the most gripping Superman storytelling ever put on screen. Unlike the gratuitous destruction in this year's Man of Steel, there's a palpable urgency to the fight between Superman and Doomsday. We're reminded throughout the fight that there are actual people in Metropolis, whom Superman is desperate to protect. At all times, we are mindful that more is at stake than soulless buildings. This is one key area where this animated feature completely schools Zack Snyder's live action film.

The other thing that's perfect throughout Superman: Doomsday is Lois Lane. Her characterization is spot on, Anne Heche's voice work is impeccable, and the animators did an amazing job with her facial expressions and body language. Her bottom lip quivering when she meets Martha Kent is one of the most emotional moments I can recall seeing in animation.

Where Superman: Doomsday gets into trouble is its last thirty minutes. The introduction of the cloned Superman stopping the truly creepy and unsettling Toyman is well done, but everything after that feels predictable and formulaic. It isn't because I'd read the comics, of course, because that's the third that's pretty much completely original (though keeping to the overall concepts of the source material). It's because of the execution.

We learn quickly that the resurrected Superman isn't who he seems to be and that he's in the control of Lex Luthor. Right after that, we find that the Fortress of Solitude's robot has retrieved the real Superman and that he's being revived. Then comes a rather tedious killing of time to get us to the inevitable showdown, which unfortunately isn't very exciting. We've already seen Superman in the fight of his life against Doomsday just an hour prior. Watching the same moves against himself, knowing he'll win, lacks the emotional meaning of the earlier struggle.

It reminds me of The Princess Bride, really. In the screenplay, William Goldman simply wrote that the sword fight between Westley and Inigo Montoya is supposed to be the "second best" sword fight in cinema history, and that the showdown in the finale between Inigo and the six-fingered man is supposed to be the greatest. Except, it isn't. The Westley/Inigo duel eclipses it entirely.

The first 2/3 of Superman: Doomsday are excellent, though, and while it ends so flatly, I still point to it as the most satisfying Superman screen adventure I've yet seen in any medium.

Superman: Doomsday Re-Ranked on My Flickchart (#710/1561)

Superman: Doomsday > Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams --> #710
Though Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams is my favorite in that series, Superman: Doomsday is the most satisfying Superman movie so far...and I love me some Superman.

Superman: Doomsday < Kill Bill Vol. 1 --> #710
If not for the paint-by-numbers finale, I'd pick Superman: Doomsday. The first 2/3 are perfect. As it is, I go with Kill Bill Vol. 1 here.

Superman: Doomsday > The Exorcist --> #585
Is The Exorcist the more important and objectively better film? Certainly. But I don't care about it the way I care about Superman, and Superman: Doomsday is probably the most satisfying Superman movie yet.

Superman: Doomsday > Stepmom --> #488
I'm not big on the Julianne Moore melodrama parts of Stepmom but the Julia Roberts comedy parts cracked me up. Still, not enough to best Superman: Doomsday.

Superman: Doomsday > Spaceballs --> #439
I get a laugh out of Spaceballs, but the truth is I care more about Superman than Star Wars, or Mel Brooks. Going with Superman: Doomsday here.

Superman: Doomsday > Amistad --> #414
Amistad pros: Djimon Hounsou, the portrayal of the Middle Passage. Superman: Doomsday pros: the fight with Doomsday, Anne Heche as Lois Lane. Advantage: Superman (barely).

Superman: Doomsday > Lifted --> #402
I dig Lifted. It's clever and amusing. Still, it lacks the weight of Superman: Doomsday. No shame in losing to what is probably the best Superman movie so far.

Superman: Doomsday > The Arctic Giant --> #396
Superman showdown! These are my two fave Superman screen adventures. The Arctic Giant has him fighting a T. rex, which is awesome. It's not quite as satisfying as the fight with Doomsday, though, and Anne Heche's Lois Lane is perfect.

Superman: Doomsday > Christmas with the Kranks --> #393
Get out of here with your privileged, suburban white self-indulgent Christmas, Kranks. Superman's got an epic battle against Doomsday.

Superman: Doomsday > No Country for Old Men --> #392
I need to give No Country for Old Men a second viewing, because I only thought it was alright the first time. Going with Superman: Doomsday for now.

Superman: Doomsday < Kill Bill Vol. 1 --> #392
Yeah, I'm sure.

Superman: Doomsday was re-ranked on my Flickchart to #392/1561