DVD Review: SUPERMAN DOOMSDAY
Ten days ago at Comic-Con, Steve and I spent more than three hours — first in line, and then sitting and waiting in a gigantic ballroom (capacity: 4,500) — to see the world premiere of Superman Doomsday, the first of DC Comics’ direct-to-DVD, older-audience (i.e., PG-13), animated features. For geeks, this movie is a pretty big deal. For one thing, it’s “inspired” by DC’s long-running, bestselling “Death of Superman” series from a decade or so ago. For another, its producer (and co-writer) is Bruce Timm, who was responsible for the best string of animated superhero TV shows ever (Batman, Superman, Batman Beyond, Justice League Unlimited). Expectations were high at Comic-Con. So what’s the verdict?
Superman Doomsday offers a couple of real surprises, neither of which has much to do with its story. The first surprise, for me, was that the movie doesn’t fall anywhere into the continuity of Timm’s original Superman series; rather, it’s a whole new ballgame, with the familiar cast of characters sporting all-new looks and new voices. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, but it did jar me initially, and I confess that I was somewhat disappointed. In the voiceover department, Adam Baldwin (Firefly, Serenity) replaces Tim Daly as Superman, Anne Heche replaces Dana Delany as Lois, and James Marsters (Spike, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer) replaces Clancy Brown as Lex Luthor. All of them do admirable jobs, but I do miss Brown’s Luthor, who had really developed phenomenally through the ten-year run of various TV shows. The second surprise is how serious DC is about the PG-13 rating. The violence, of course, has been heightened considerably, to the point where I winced at seeing Superman bleed as freely as he does. The sexuality is also a touch explicit for a cartoon feature; the secret “dates” Superman and Lois share involve serious lip-action and overnights at the Fortress of Solitude in bathrobes. Superman Doomsday ain’t for the kiddies.
But what about the movie’s story? I think it’s very well done. Granted, the source material’s been tweaked, sometimes radically, but it had to be. Only diehard fans who don’t recognize the challenge of cramming two years of comic book story into a 75-minute film should be dissatisfied. A few may argue that the movie’s center section — the post-Doomsday, mourning period of the story — shuffles along a bit too slowly. It may, but at the same time, it builds into what’s a boffo finish. Grumbles were heard in the Comic-Con crowd that no Justice League members appear in the film, as they did in the comics. But to have included Batman, Green Lantern, or Wonder Woman would have diminished the dramatic impact of a “world without Superman” in this short movie.
Overall, Superman Doomsday is a dandy, rock ’em sock ’em, animated feature. Superman fans and comics geeks in general should check it out when it’s released on DVD September 18.