Regardless if anyone thought it was a publicity stunt or one of the greatest stories ever told, there is no denying that The Death of Superman is still one of the most important stories to have ever been told in the history of comics. Superman is a character that was beloved by many and is the original superhero, so the idea of him getting killed was certainly something of a surprise. It was a story about two unstoppable forces going at each other and it was clear from the get go that there would be no winners. With it being such an iconic story, it not surprising that it would receive a good number of adaptations, the first being in 2007 with Superman: Doomsday, which tried to combine both The Death of Superman and The Return of Superman storylines together to very mixed results, even though it wasn’t the worst treatment ever. That came in 2016 with the notorious Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which didn’t earn the right to tackle that story, especially since it was only that particular Superman’s second movie so it felt very rushed and forced in order to set up 2017’s equally-fated Justice League. As you can tell, previous adaptations have been less than stellar to say the least, but now, we finally have the adaptation we’ve been waiting for.
The first of a two-parter (not seen since The Dark Knight Returns), this sees Superman/Clark Kent trying to do right in his relationship with Lois Lane, wondering if he should spill the beans and confess who he really is. However, as their relationship blossoms, an ancient, murderous monstrosity known as Doomsday arrives to wage a worldwide massacre, and when even the Justice League fails to stop him, it’s up to Superman to stop it once and for all, even if at the cost of his own life. This is pretty much faithful to the original story while also doing its own thing with it, and what we have is quite possibly one of the best DC animated movies to date. This translates the epic battle brilliantly and it’s powerful to watch, but this film does a superb job of building up to that battle while also delivering on the impact as well. It’s great that we spend time with Clark Kent as he’s trying to take his relationship with Lois forward, while also questioning himself about whether or not it’s the right thing to do, and we also see from Lois’ point of view that she’s becoming wary of Clark keeping secrets from her, challenging her trust for him. It’s important that we become invested in that relationship and their chemistry before the unforgettable tragic battle happens, and it provides a good emotional reason to expand that story.
The character engagement is extremely well-handled, as is the foreshadowing for events that will transpire in the second chapter, and if you are familiar with the following storyline The Return of Superman / The Reign of the Supermen, then you will definitely see the groundwork that’s being laid. If there is a problem, it’s that we don’t get enough time to show what the world is like without Superman, because after his titular demise, we get 6 or so minutes where we see a mourning world and then the big cliffhanger to tease part two, and frankly, that’s not enough time to make us feel the impact of his death. Plus, it is mighty annoying that they had to make the story fit in with the New 52 style of the previous DC Animated Movie Universe installments, but those are only niggles compared to how great the rest of the film is. When this style of animation was introduced in Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox, it started out looking somewhat rough and was variable at best, but now, the animation team seemed to have mastered that style, easily making this the best looking of the movies set within this animated universe.
Even with budgetary limitations, the animation is top-notch, and the action is well-choreographed and energetic with each punch landing hard and fast. The major fight with Superman and Doomsday is brilliantly and brutally realised, and this film does not shy away from showing the bloody impact, plus the pacing is just right, too, with the back and forth between the quieter moments and the action sequences feeling very natural and organic. The action scenes never drag on or feel padded out, nor do the quiet character moments ever feel boring and dull, so a huge testament to both Jake Castorena and Sam Liu’s solid directing. Also, major kudos for real-life couple Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn for bringing Clark and Lois to life and making that legendary chemistry feel real and organic.
Taking it all round, The Death of Superman is a renowned success and is an animated feature that Superman fans will undoubtedly get behind. The voice cast is superb, the animation is terrific and greatly improved, the score is stirring and the script by frequent Superman comics writer Peter J. Tomasi is solid, so it all comes together in a hugely satisfying way. But most importantly, this film understands what Superman means and why he’s so beloved by many; he’s the ultimate good guy and a symbol of hope, which makes his impending death resonate in a truly powerful way. Zack Snyder completely missed the mark on that with BvS, but this movie gets that perfectly. This rightfully stands along such gems like Superman vs. the Elite and All Star Superman as one of the best Superman animated movies to date, so let’s just hope the upcoming second part delivers just as well.
THE DEATH OF SUPERMAN / DIRECTOR: JAKE CASTORENA, SAM LIU / SCREENPLAY: PETER TOMASI / STARRING: JERRY O’CONNELL, REBECCA ROMIJN, RAINN WILSON, ROSARIO DAWSON, NATHAN FILLION, MATT LANTER, CHRISTOPHER GORHAM / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW