Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Superman: Doomsday

No, not my dress cape!So, I watched the new animated Superman movie a week or so ago. Right off the bat, I'm glad it distinguished itself from the Bruce Timm animated series, looking a bit less like the previous incarnations of Superman than the revamped Kids' WB "Batman" season looked like the previous Fox seasons of the show. I know some were concerned that it'd be jarring to hear new voice actors doing familiar-looking characters, as it was when they nonsensically replaced the Penguin in "Mystery of the Batwoman" or half the cast in "Superman: Brainiac Attacks" (note: I still haven't seen and don't plan to see the latter). The animation and character designs were different enough from the DCAU to make the voice changes unnoticeable. I also liked that the designs had a certain '90s sensibility to them--Clark's face and style, Lois's brown hair, little touches like that. My only real problem was that it ran into some of the animation problems that plagued the first season of Justice League, namely the inconsistently drawn S-shield.

I thought the voice casting was well-done; my only problem was with Anne Heche's performance in the first scene or so with Lois; it felt very stilted and unnatural, and really could have used another take.

The plot was very different from the comics, but it wasn't until I saw this that I realized just how different it would have to be, due to the crazy things that were happening in the Superman comics at the time. Consider the following important aspects of the Death and Return story in the comics:
  • Lex Luthor was "dead," but living in a cloned body and posing as his own son.
  • Lex Luthor II was dating Supergirl, who was a shape-shifting superpowered clone of Lana Lang from a pocket dimension.
  • Clark Kent and Lois Lane were engaged.
  • A secretive hi-tech cloning operation called Project Cadmus was a major behind-the-scenes player in Metropolis, and were responsible for a society of sewer-dwelling monsters, as well as the grave-robbing of Superman's tomb.
  • The Justice League consisted of more or less the Keith Giffen team, who are largely unknown to the general public. They were brutally beaten in the Doomsday battle.
  • The Eradicator, a sentient Kryptonian artifact dedicated to the preservation of Krypton, was lying dormant somewhere near Earth.
  • Hank Henshaw, an astronaut, had previously encountered Superman after a failed space flight which left him and his family dying of radiation poisoning, but also gave him the ability to control machinery.
  • Pa Kent suffered a heart attack shortly after Superman's death, and Superman's return from the grave was preceded by a battle alongside his father on the way to the afterlife.
And so on. Coast City, Mongul, Cyborg's betrayal...trying to do it all justice would have led to an incomprehensible mess of a film. The fact that I was able to follow the comics at all, not knowing who the Underworlders were or what Cadmus was, is nothing short of a miracle.

And if you eliminate one thing, several others necessarily fall thereafter. Take out Lex's clone (a necessary decision, I think), and you have to remove his relationship with Supergirl, which makes her an utterly superfluous character to the story. Remove Cadmus, and you remove the whole Underworld subplot, Lois Lane's infiltration exploits, the Guardian, and Superboy. Ultimately, the plot ended up very streamlined, thanks to some of these editing choices.

I was surprised and impressed at the way they were able to roll up three of the four Supermen into a single character--a clone (Superboy) with incomplete memories and a more brutal idea of justice (Eradicator) who ultimately betrays the populace and must be taken down by the real Superman (Cyborg).

I really liked the black costume and Superman's headbanger hair (which I really don't think qualifies as a "Supermullet," it was generally drawn long all around); along with the electric blue costume, that look needs to be present in the DCU. I know the days of the dark-colored violent antihero versions of other characters (Venom, Vengeance, Strange, Thunderstrike, etc.) are over, but there's got to be someone to wear the black-and-silver outfit. Hey Kon-El, need a Kryptonian recovery suit?

Overall, I thought the film was pretty well-done. It compressed and adapted the story nicely, included some great battle scenes (and some real shocks, like with Luthor and Mercy), and more or less met my expectations. I could have done without some of the campiness of Luthor's framing monologues, but that's a minor quibble. It's no "Mask of the Phantasm," but "Superman: Doomsday" makes a decent intro to DC's newest animated endeavor.

And I can't wait for "New Frontier."


SallyP said...

So I can only assume that Booster, Beetle, Ice, Fire and Guy aren't in it?

Well, boo.

Anonymous said...

Makes sense, though. In a story about Superman, without the context of the era from which the original comics came, any appearance by the Justice League (especially the Giffen era, which was lacking a lot of the characters that people consider mainstays - Batman, Flash, Wonder Woman, etc.) would be confusing at best.

That aside, though, I really want to see this. However, it doesn't seem that any video place acquired rental copies - at least not in my area. I don't know if I'll like it enough to buy it, but I can't rent it either. Bah.


Tom Foss said...

Yeah, there are no other superheroes in it. There are a couple of scenes where cameos would be nice (the funeral especially), but I can understand why they'd leave them out. It would have required explanation beyond what the movie was trying to accomplish if they included other superheroes.

As far as rentals: dude, Netflix.

Anonymous said...

Nice to see I wasn't the only one to enjoy it. The only part that really bugged me was Lex shooting Mercy as it just felt like it was there to further prove its PG-13 rating (which was confirmed by the commentary track).

You pretty much said everything I say to justify the movie to my pessimistic friends. If a die-hard Superman fan can enjoy it for what it is, then is it really all that bad?

On a final note, I still think they could have worked Cadmus in somehow. Wasn't the project in Timm's previous cartoons? If so, it would have been familiar enough to work in Superman/Doomsday, even if it wasn't analogous.

Tom Foss said...

I think that may have been why they didn't include it, same with having superheroes at the funeral. The next-to-last season of Justice League was Cadmus-heavy, and I think they probably wanted to avoid that. As far as the funeral, JL did the hero-laden version in the season 2 episode "Hereafter," and I could see where they might feel repetitive doing it again.

Scipio said...

"when they nonsensically replaced the Penguin in "Mystery of the Batwoman""

Since Paul Williams, who had done the Penguin's voice in BTAS, had died, they really didn't have much choice... .

Tom Foss said...

Since Paul Williams, who had done the Penguin's voice in BTAS, had died, they really didn't have much choice...

That might be news to Mr. Williams, especially since he has a movie coming out next year. Although after appearing in "Georgia Rule," I can see where he might want to be dead.