Superman – Doomsday

September 21st, 2007 by Ghost

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With the moderate success that Marvel is having in the direct to video market, it was only a matter of time before DC Comics re-entered the ring. Fans of the animated DC universe have seen the Doomsday character a couple of times, though he was never called by name and he seemed to be a “one and done” villain. Given the commercial success of the comic book arc, and DC’s previous triumphs in the video market, it seems that dollars would have turned into sense (and then back into dollars) far earlier than 2007.

Spinning out of the 90’s comic book arc, Superman – Doomsday follows the hero as he is taken down by intergalactic menace Doomsday and details how he also makes his return not long after. From the word go, however, the very idea that Superman would allow himself to get beaten to death is ludicrous. Not only is he smarter than that, he’s got allies at his back that should have and would have proven more than a match for Doomsday. Where were any of the Green Lanterns? What about Wonder Woman or Dr. Fate? Hell, where was Captain Marvel? These characters don’t abandon their friends and if Superman is the pinnacle of heroism in the DC universe, why didn’t they gather at his side? The answer is bad writing and sloppy storytelling and that manages to creep into this animated production as well.

The movie is an entirely new take on the Death of Superman story and as such omits any other heroes from the equation. The upside to this is that it [sort of] makes sense that Superman would die fighting this creature, but it still maintains much of the original laziness that was prevalent in the story from the start. Here Doomsday is unearthed some several miles below the surface in a dig conducted by Lexcorp. In short order he makes his escape and starts his rampage towards Metropolis, violently killing anything that catches his eye.

Where is Superman during all of this? Why off in the Fortress of Solitude having a romantic getaway with his main squeeze Lois Lane! For reasons unfathomable, Superman and Lois have both had their voice actors recast. It isn’t a huge deal with Superman, Adam Baldwin (wish it was Alec…) does a decent job (though Newbern and Daly were superior) but setting up Anne Heche as Lois was a terrible decision. Very little of what makes Lois such a fun character is intact in Heche’s sleepwalk through the part. She isn’t a complete flop, but her stilted reading doesn’t help some of the already ham-handed and overly expository dialogue. After Big Blue is put down these actors seem to find some footing, but it isn’t enough to carry the weight of these iconic characters.

Completely blowing the others out of the water, though, is James Marsters as Lex Luthor. His work is fantastic in the role and he really ratchets up the sleaze factor, giving Lex a detached, arrogant chill but never forgetting that the man is a barely contained murderous thug under his suit. Marsters is totally committed to the role and it shows. If the rest of the cast shared even half of his enthusiasm the final product would have been far more compelling. As it stands, Lex steals the show by a mile and his scenes are by far the best.

Though Superman: Doomsday is in much the same animation style that fans have come to expect there are notable differences. On the bright side the action is fantastic. The fights are frantic and brutal and it really does look like Superman and Doomsday are killing one another. The destruction and violence is wholesale during these sequences and very little is held back. An odd change was made to the Superman model, though, in the addition of a couple of lines in his face that make him look far older than he should. When you’re already dealing with a simplistic animation style, a line or two goes a long way. Lex is trimmer and has more of an angled look than before, but the design isn’t bad. Other than a few model changes and a bigger budget, the style is mostly unchanged.

In a story that is ultimately about death and rebirth, the emotion from the main characters is often lacking due to their performances. This leaves a huge hole in what would have been the heart of the film. Very unfortunate. The swell of emptiness and loss that should have come after Superman’s death ebbs far too quickly in order to shuffle more action into the forefront. And again, since you never buy Heche as Lois, her tears just seem empty and thin. For the most part, the rest of the supporting cast grieve in their own more believable ways. Martha Kent turning up at the memorial service is particularly touching as she’s forced to stand in a faceless crowd of mourners at her own son’s funeral. The show is once again stolen completely away by Lex (surprise) and his impotent rage at being beaten to the punch. There’s one excellent and actually fairly creepy scene showing how he’s coping with the death of his enemy that isn’t to be missed. Jimmy Olsen bears special mention here as his dubious turn is a total flop and misguided departure from the character. It’s just awful.

While there is a lot wrong with the film, it really isn’t all bad. Again, the action is exciting and story is told (mostly) with a great deal of maturity. Some dumbing down does occur with the previously noted obvious exposition and a few cheesy overly comic sounding lines here and there, but the audience isn’t treated to a total talking-down-to. Fans of Superman or animation should give it a look, though. It’s not “Mask of the Phantasm” but it’s a fairly decent diversion and the story clips along fast enough so that glances to the watch should be minimal. Since Justice League is off the air, if you’re looking for a DC animated fix you could do worse than this.

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