by Drew Kiess
The Death of Superman is the latest film in the DC Animated Universe directed by Sam Liu and Jake Castorena from a script from comics writer Peter Tomasi. The film stars Jerry O’Connell as Superman, Rebecca Romijn as Lois Lane, and Rainn Wilson as Lex Luthor. The Death of Superman is the first part in a two-part release adapting the Death and Return of Superman story arc from Mike Carlin’s Superman writing team in the early 90s, with The Reign of the Supermen hitting stores next year.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any significant amount of time, you will know that I have been critical of many of the recent DC Animated releases. I think that one of the many benefits of this format for the DC characters is the ability to take a concept directly from page to screen. Recently however it would seem that these films are less interested in showcasing our heroes acting out the stories we all love and more interested in pushing them into adult-like scenarios, and I say adult-like because I don’t think there is anything remotely grownup about excessive blood splatters and fetishizing lesbianism (here’s looking at you, Suicide Squad: Hell To Pay). Most of the time, these harder edged updates come across tacky and out of touch with the characters and quite possibly the fans. Many of these films have been written by veterans in the DC animated worlds, so the disconnect hasn’t made a ton of sense, but perhaps they’ve just run out of things to say about this world.
Enter Peter Tomasi.
For my money, Peter Tomasi is the best thing to happen to the DC Movies in quite some time. His recent run at the beginning of DC Rebirth on the Superman title (opposite of Dan Jurgens’ Action Comics) has ushered in one of the greatest eras in the character’s 80 year publication history. Being tasked to bring this story to life is no small task, as the book itself is marred in a messy continuity and is impenetrable to anyone who is not familiar with that era (why does Lex Luthor look like a troll doll? And who the heck are these superheroes?) Don’t get me wrong, I love that time period, but there are good reasons why it hasn’t quite been elevated to the status of The Dark Knight Returns like it probably should have been. It’s weird and is very much a product of its time.
Placing The Death of Superman within the Justice League War continuity makes the story much more accessible (Let’s be honest: Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, and the Flash are much more popular than Thorn, Gangbuster and Guardian). Dropping the Superman-Doomsday fight into a world we recognize allows Tomasi to draw out Clark’s personality.
The best parts of this movie don’t involve Superman punching Doomsday (although that stuff is great), but involves Clark and Lois. Clark is struggling letting Lois in on the big secret. It’s an incredibly well written plotline that humanizes Superman and gives him a weakness that is much more relatable than an alien killing machine. When the titular event finally does happen (this isn’t a spoiler… we all know Doomsday wins), you feel the Lois’ loss.
And this emotional weight that doesn’t rely on shock, gore, or sex to make the film stand apart is actually what makes it stand apart. It is emotionally resonating, visually exciting, and well-written from start to finish, with so many references from Superman’s history that I lost count. This has everything I could have ever wanted from any Superman movie, be it animated or live action.
I said after seeing the Deluxe Edition of The Dark Knight Returns (DC’s other two-part release, re-released as one movie) that it was the greatest Batman film ever made. I think we could be on the precipice of the same thing being said by me about Superman films if the second half pays off (and we get a Deluxe Edition, which I am hoping that we do), because I think I just saw the first half of what could be one of my all-time favorite comic book films.
As it stands, this is clearly among the best, if it is not the best, DC Animated Universe movies sense the relaunch. It is nothing short of spectacular and I hope that this raises the bar for this studio on what it means to adapt these characters and these beloved stories. They can be updated and adapted with love and accuracy. And they can be done with excellence.
This one certainly was super.
Final Grade: A+
The Death of Superman is on Blu-Ray and DVD August 7th, 2018