Bruce W. TimmAdam BaldwinJames MarstersSuperman
Medium: film
Year: 2007
Director: Lauren Montgomery, Bruce W. Timm, Brandon Vietti
Writer: Duane Capizzi, Bruce W. Timm
Keywords: superhero, animation, action
Country: USA
Actor: Adam Baldwin, Anne Heche, James Marsters, John Di Maggio, Tom Kenny, Swoosie Kurtz, Cree Summer, Ray Wise, Adam Wylie, Chris Cox, Hettie Lynne Hurtes, James Arnold Taylor, Townsend Coleman, Kimberly Brooks, Kevin Smith
Format: 75 minutes
Series: << Superman >>, << Lex Luthor >>, DC Animated Original Movies >>
Website category: Superhero
Review date: 22 August 2010
I didn't like it, really. It has good bits, but I got a bit bored by the first half and then again during the finale.
Just to give a bit of background, this is supposedly the first DC Animated Original Movie, although that's defined by a line in the sand that excludes all kinds of pre-2007 bits and pieces. I think it means that this is consciously the first post-DCAU project, deliberately redesigning Superman, Lex Luthor, Metropolis and so on. They look a bit rubbish, if you ask me. DCAU, incidentally, stands for "DC Animated Universe" and it included nine TV series and lots of other projects over 1992-2006, starting with Batman: The Animated Series and finishing with Justice League Unlimited.
In addition it's also an adaptation of the 1992 DC comics storyline The Death of Superman, which is longer ago than I'd been assuming. I didn't realise fifteen years passed between the original comics and this animated version.
Its problem is that Superman, fundamentally, isn't very interesting. He's the nice guy. That's it. Everything I liked in this story didn't involve Superman, although I'm including Dark Superman in this category. You'd have thought the showdown finale would have had to be cool... but no. I didn't care. The big guy's back and he's having a fight! Well, colour me shocked. I'm not saying that it's impossible to bring Superman alive as a character, but I think it's fundamentally challenging and I don't think this movie manages it. I didn't care about his relationship with Lois and I didn't care when he died. He's still the one-dimensional boy scout and neither the script nor the voice actor is finding that little bit extra that would make him live and breathe.
Then there's the visuals, which I actually dislike. Admittedly there's also a big cartoonishness problem with Justice League: The New Frontier and it's still there a bit in 2009 with something like Wonder Woman, but there's something specifically weird about this Superman that I'm happy to say I haven't seen anywhere else. They've put ugly lines on his face. More fundamentally though, there's a disconnect between the childish-looking character designs and the emotional, twisted levels they're pushing for in the story. For instance there's a scene of mourning between Lois Lane and Martha Kent that almost manages to work, but at the end of the day they're trying to play Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen on a kazoo because this Lois belongs in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The DCAU designs worked better.
Obviously there are things I like here, though. I loved the Art Deco Metropolis with its day-glo colours, although you can imagine my surprise on hearing in the audio commentary that the production team were proud of how much more realistic they'd made their Metropolis than in Superman: The Animated Series.
That said though, I enjoyed a good chunk of this movie. It's basically the second half except for the finale, when Dark Superman's doing his thing and we've got no idea how far he might go. He's a fun character, with his ability to do inappropriate things in incongruous places. A beauty salon? With scissors? Ewww. Come to think of it, I basically liked the villains. Thus for instance Toyman is obviously less freaky than his DCAU incarnation, but now instead looks like a paedophile. He was creepy, as was his Chucky-a-like. Obviously though the main man is Lex Luthor. He wasn't part of the original comics storyline, but they've brought him in because he's the definitive Superman villain and the results are great. There are some twisted, almost sexual elements in his feelings towards Superman, but just as important for me was the fact that he's James Marsters. I'd know that voice anywhere. I found myself just enjoying listening to him, in a way I rarely do with voice actors, and it's just cool to hear Masters taking on this iconic role.
Jimmy Olsen gets some mildly cool (i.e. dorky) stuff to do too, though. You'll wince at the name of his new employer, though. "National Voyeur". Why not just have him approached by "We Are Evil, Bwahahaha, Magazine" and be done with it?
The Doomsday stuff in the first 25 minutes is one-dimensional and ill-integrated with the rest of the movie. Doomsday smashes lots of stuff, has a fight with Superman and then hardly even gets mentioned for the rest of the film. It's cool to see Superman letting rip on him with his superpowers, e.g. freezing breath, but there's something slightly perfunctory about the whole thing. I'd have liked to see them swap him for the Incredible Hulk, which might have forced the film to handle him properly instead of just pulling him from the scriptwriter's arse and then shoving him back up afterwards.
Fundamentally, this isn't a particularly good movie. It mostly comes alive when Superman's not around, which probably has to be called a flaw. It's trying to go tougher, darker and more adult than its DCAU predecessors and to be fair I like what they're doing with their villains, but at the end of the day these good intentions are smacking into the brick wall of their character designs. Incidentally is it just me or does this Luthor even look a bit like James Marsters? He's almost skinny. Overall, it would be slightly generous to call this film okay. It's probably a must-watch for anyone who already loved Superman to begin with, mind you.