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‘The Death and Return of Superman’ (review)

Produced by Sam Liu, Amy McKenna,
Alan Burnett, James Tucker

Written by Peter J. Tomasi,
Jim Krieg, Tim Sheridan
Based on the story by Jerry Ordway,
Louise Simonson, Dan Jurgens, Roger Stern

Directed by Sam Liu, Jake Castorena
Featuring Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romijn,
Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Nathan Fillion,
Christopher Gorham, Matt Lanter, Shemar Moore,
Nyambi Nyambi, Jason O’Mara, Jonathan Adams,
Rocky Carroll, Trevor Devall, Paul Eiding,
Patrick Fabian, Jennifer Hale, Charles Halford,
Erica Luttrell, Max Mittelman, Toks Olagundoye,
Rick Pasqualone, Amanda Troop,
Cress Williams, Cameron Monaghan

 

Where were you in November of 1992?

That’s when DC Comics, frustrated that their plans to marry Superman and Lois Lane were postponed because of the new Lois & Clark TV show, decided to kill him instead.

The resulting epic storyline reverberated not only through comics, but all of popular culture, not only giving the Man of Steel’s monthly books a huge shot in the arm but kicking off a wave of stories killing or incapacitating, then replacing iconic superheroes. Batman, Wonder Woman and Spider-Man were just a few examples.

DC decided to revisit that period a couple of years ago with a two-part animated retelling of The Death of Superman. Now both films have been re-edited and re-released as a single movie, The Death and Return of Superman.

If you’re already familiar with the story, then there won’t be many surprises. An alien creature dubbed Doomsday arrives on Earth and instantly begins killing everything in its path. After cruelly dispatching the Justice League, it does battle with Superman, and the two ultimately kill each other in battle.

While Metropolis mourns its hero, four strange visitors emerge, each assuming the identity of Superman in some way. There’s the visor-clad Eradicator, a Superboy sponsored by Lex Luthor, the armored Steel, and a Cyborg Superman who seems to be truer to the Man of Tomorrow’s spirit than any of them. He, however, hides his own secrets.

The main plot is relatively easy to follow, but while this is a far more faithful treatment than the last animated take on this material, Superman: Doomsday, it’s diluted by tweaks made in order to bring it in line with the DC Animated Movie Universe continuity that began with Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox.

Chief among these adjustments is placing Darkseid at the center of the story. Since Justice League: War, the ruler of Apokolips has been the main focus of the DCAMU continuity. Another such tweak is the expansion of the League’s role in the tale, picking up threads from previous movies, as well as the camaraderie between the heroes.

But is the movie any good? Your mileage may vary, depending on how much you enjoy reliving the death of the Man of Steel, and how invested you are in the Justice League’s ongoing campaign against Darkseid.

On its own merits, however, the film feels flat.

That’s due in large part to the television-caliber animation. It’s clean and never less than functional, but rarely cinematic. Every so often, there’s a genuinely amazing sequence or shot, but not enough to really spice up the proceedings.

Tonally, the movie feels especially uneven. Though part of it has to do with balancing the main thrust of the movie with the Justice League subplots, much of it is largely due to the visual and narrative style not quite fitting the subject matter.

There’s enough blood, violence, and language to earn the movie’s PG-13 rating, but all of it feels jarring in the context of an average-looking superhero cartoon. None of it feels especially earned, even as the stakes rise throughout the movie’s first half.

That’s probably because the fight scenes are often perfunctory, and mostly lack the fluidity and hard-hitting brutality that, honest to God, Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles possessed in its best moments. (Just tell me that Batman vs. Shredder fight doesn’t look like it hurts, in all the best ways.)

The voice work is technically fine, but I couldn’t get into a lot of the casting. Jerry O’Connell particularly lacks gravitas as Superman, and Rainn Wilson’s Lex is similarly slight. His rendition is a bit too reedy to possess actual menace.

On the upside, Rebecca Romijn is a highlight, imbuing Lois Lane with wit and personality. Weirdly, she lacks on-screen chemistry with real-life husband O’Connell. Character actor Patrick Fabian also shines as astronaut-turned-antagonist Hank Henshaw.

But it’s a bit too much to sit through for almost three hours. It’s ironic that the best way to experience this is in two parts, as it was originally released.

Extras include the original animated film Superman: Doomsday, documentary, featurettes, and bonus cartoons.

The Death and Return of Superman is fine if you just want to relive the story, or if you’re a DC completist. As an animated superhero story, it ticks its most necessary boxes, but it could stand to play more like an actual movie than a Justice League binge-watch.

The Death and Return of Superman is now available
on Digital HD and 4K UHD Combo, Blu-ray Combo and DVD

 

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