Superman: Doomsday (2007) / Animation-Action
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some language
Running time: 77 min.
Cast (voices): Adam Baldwin, Anne Heche, James Marsters, Swoosie Kurtz, Cree Summer, Ray Wise, Adam Wylie
Cameo (voice): Kevin Smith
Director: Lauren Montgomery, Bruce TImm, Brandon Vietti
Screenplay: Duane Capizzi, Bruce Timm
Review published October 21, 2007
It seems rather belated to release Superman: Doomsday straight to DVD almost 15 years after the "Death of Superman", "World without a Superman" and "Return of Superman" storylines appeared in the comic books, as we all know that Superman would not really die (was that really much of a surprise?) despite all of the media attention lavished on the event that would make them the best-selling comics of all time. Then again, 15 years is a long time in terms of animated cartoon fare, as a large percentage of the audience who would watch it are probably to young to remember the event, if they were even born.
The film sees Lex Luthor's (voiced by James Marsters, "Buffy") corporation uncovering an alien spacecraft during an excavation and unleashing an unstoppable force that knows only one thing: to kill every living object in its path. Of course the creature finds his way to Metropolis, where he confronts the only force formidable enough to even slow down its bloodlust: Superman himself (Baldwin, Serenity). Using every ounce of power at his disposal, Superman wages a furious battle over the city landscape with the most formidable force he's ever encountered. It's a battle to the death, quite literally, that sees Metropolis, and indeed all of humanity, having to confront the reality of a world without a savior.
Superman: Doomsday is the first in a proposed line of animated films to be released to DVD which borrows well-known storylines right from those of the comics, although generally abbreviated and modified such that they don't rely on heavy continuity to understand. This film is pretty much a very pared-down version of the lengthy saga that appeared in the comics, stripping away many characters, side plots, and all sense of depth that were explored on the printed page. Given that 77 minutes is almost a standard for a STV animated release, it's not like they could remotely come close to getting it all in and not be too convoluted to follow.
I suppose that, given the limitations, this is about the best retelling that one could reasonably expect in a one-shot video format. It's a good story, and it works, though the resonance of the impact of the death of a beloved icon is thoroughly diminished by the fact that all of two minutes are given to the anguish before we're thrown back into seeing the likeness of Superman over Metropolis again.
I should mention here that the film has been given a PG-13 rating, which should serve as a caution to parents that this is a bit stronger in material than the rather benign "Justice League" cartoon that little Johnny might be glued to on the TV. There are deaths (including Superman, of course), some moments of brutality, innuendo, and some harsher language than you'd find if it were made for television. The tone is also darker than most Superman adventures, which is appropriate given the gravity of the events within. It's not gratuitous, however, and younger kids could probably watch without a problem so long as they aren't impressionable when it comes to displays of violence.
Superman: Doomsday is recommended to Superman fans, and for those nostalgic for the storyline that became a media event in the early 1990s. It's not as poignant or as rich as the comic book treatment, so those expecting a faithful adaptation will be disappointed, but it does benefit by being an isolated story that is easy for even the most casual of Superman fans to follow (indeed, it doesn't really fall under any current Superman project continuity). With competent animation, voice work and music, it will meet the criteria for those who like when animation studios put forth an effort into their attempts to grab cash. Its release on video is not a media circus, and in fact, it barely registers as a footnote in Superman history, but fans of animated comic book fare should have little problem being entertained.
©2007 Vince Leo