The first release of the DC animated direct to DVD animated movies done by Bruce Timm and his great creative team after completing their long run on several superhero TV shows from Batman the Animated Series all the way up to Justice League Unlimited.
Now with this being the first outing after that long run in television they really worked to separate it from those shows. Showing that this movie and the ones that follow it don’t have a connection to what they had previously done. They have a whole different voice cast, all new character designs, and to meet the PG-13 rating they went with a very dark story and upped the violence a lot.
Honestly for their first try at this new, shorter, storytelling format I don’t think it turned out half bad. It’s not very faithful to the comics from what I can tell from the short bonus feature on the DVD, but I think it works okay on its own. I like the darker colour palette they used both in the backgrounds and the clothing. Superman’s outfit isn’t the bright blue and red it normally is and almost every scene takes place at night or under cloud cover. Toyman is this creepy pedophile dressed all in black.
I like the design of Doomsday and how they make it clear that he just a ruthless killer and must be stopped by at all costs. Although I think him killing the deer and the guy in the cabin were overkill, if you’ll pardon the pun. I think him killing the construction workers utterly even when they posed no threat to him and slaughtering the army were proof enough. Those other scenes should have been put towards something else. But I also like that Superman was allowed to bleed as the fight with Doomsday went on showing what a great toll it’s taking on him. I think his death scene and funeral are powerful and effective. I think Toyman’s death at the hands of the Superman clone is also very shocking and shows brutally the stark contrast between the clone and the real Superman. As Martha says “that is not the boy I raised.” He doesn’t have that Smallville upbringing with the human values that give Superman he’s strict moral code, and without that he does exactly what Lex Luthor says a god should do, he demands obedience and when he doesn’t get it he reacts violently because he can. This is why I don’t really buy the whole protect the people thing he gives as his dying words at the end of the film. Yes, he is supposedly protecting the people for their own good, but he also attacks the army before they even fire a shot at him. How is shooting at the army showing that he cares? I don’t think that whole angle was developed quite as well as it could have been.
Still, I really enjoyed other things like the new angle between Superman and Lois where they are intimate but Superman hasn’t revealed to Lois that he’s also Clark Kent even though she’s already figured it out. It isn’t about her safety though as she is able the thoroughly shoot down when Superman gives that as his reason, and we see afterwards that indeed she can get into plenty of physical danger without Superman’s help. It’s really about Superman not wanting to move that relationship to a more intimate level, still trying to a part of his life separate from Lois. I also love how when he does come clean at the end Lois runs up to him and hugs him so hard he falls back against the wall. There’s something really nice about seeing Superman being physically human like that I guess outside of his Clark Kent disguise.
Also the scene with Martha and Lois at the house grieving the loss with the only other person who can know how they feel because they had such a close relationship with him is my favourite scene in the entire movie. It’s just a great, great emotional moment and everything in that scene works for me. How Martha doesn’t really trust Lois initially when Lois tells her she knows Clark Kent and Superman are the same person, and how Lois can’t really explain why she felt the need to come see Martha and how Martha gives her comfort it’s all so good.
Alas not everything in the movie is as good as that scene. The whole Lex Luthor punching Superman in the red room thing I just find disturbing. And not in a good way like when Lex kills Mercy which is a great shock moment and well done with the use of silhouettes, but instead in an ‘I find this really off putting and don’t want to watch this scene at all’ kind of way. Also while there is comedy in the film I don’t if it balances out the dark moments quite as well as it could have. The whole Superman going into hibernation I guess and Lex cloning him from the body is still something that confuses my timeline wise. I don’t know if everything matches up right or not. Finally l don’t Lex acting as the exposition fairy with his opening line about how even gods die. It feels too on the nose and I think the whole lead up to Superman’s death could have been built better than that.
So to sum it all up I don’t think it’s that bad. The animation is nice, the darker colouring is good and it works with the dark tone of the story. The voice work is enjoyable and a lot the scenes really pack an emotional punch. Unfortunately it feels like the filmmakers were trying too hard get that higher rating in some places like with Doomsday killing everything in sight. Superman’s return both his clone’s and his felt a bit rushed I thought the film could have taken a little bit more time to show how the world falls apart without Superman’s moral light to help guide them. Lex is creepy almost to the point of not being fun to watch and the film had a really dreary feel to it. Honestly I think the film really just needs to be longer. To give the events more room to breathe and have some balance between the action scenes, and the loss people are going through.
Despite my problems with the film though it’s still a good spring board for the team’s later work and that would only improve for the most part as time went on.