Directed by Bruce Timm, Lauren Montgomery, and Brandon Vietti
Written by Duane Capizzi and Bruce Timm
Produced by Bruce Timm, Gregory Noveck, Bobby Page, and Sander Schwartz
In DC’s first ‘Original Animated Movie’, Bruce Timm is handed the reigns to the Man of Steel’s death. Based on the hyper-popular “Death of Superman” storyline from the early 90s, Superman: Doomsday reworks the general premise of the original tale into a more film-friendly version that nevertheless still makes for a great narrative. Instead of mucking up the story with multiple Supermen, and the weird Blue Suit, Timm took the core ideas – Doomsday, resurrection, and a fake Superman – and made them more prevalent.
One of the main issues with Superman: Doomsday, is it’s pacing. Within the first 25 minutes of this nearly 90min film, Superman has already battled Doomsday and failed. It all moves so quickly, you barely have time to register the breadth of Doomsday. In the comics, good ol’ Grey n’ Pokey was a force to be reckoned with, something that couldn’t be taken down at all. In this film, all we get is some vague notion that this monster might be unstoppable and that Superman might not even be able to help. The audience is only asked to accept this for a few minutes, though, as the fight between Superman and Doomsday comes to end rather quickly, leading to Superman’s death in the arms of Lois Lane.
Violence in the DC Animated Universe (DCAU) has always been left off-screen or scaled back, but Superman: Doomsday does a great job taking advantage of the PG-13 rating by adding some blood, some obvious deaths, and some neck snapping for those who want a little more realism in their animated superhero direct-to-video films. After Superman’s funeral, things get a bit shaky, not only for the narrative, but also for the general ‘fun factor’ of the movie. Superman re-appears in Metropolis, and does a pretty good job keeping it safe once again, before we learn that it’s a clone Lex Luthor made. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I’m pretty tired of Superman cloning as a plot device. I understand it was a part of the original story, but so was Cyborg Superman and Superboy. It just seems lazy to rest of the laurels of Clark Kent’s copycats. Part of the problem stems from the fact that this movie is based on a story that was 15 years old at the time of production. Everyone knows that Superman comes back and saves the day, and it’s very hard to give that same story a fresh take after so many years.
The rest of the movie mostly focuses on Superman reclaiming his city from his clone, whose extreme methods border on fascism. The final battle between the Supermen mirrors the fight earlier in the movie between Superman and Doomsday. As the faux-Superman is operating at peak efficiency, he easily beats down Clark, who hasn’t had enough time to fully heal from his ‘near-death.’ As the two continue to duke it out, it becomes apparent that the real Superman cannot win the fight. As the clone Superman attempts to reason with Clark, he tells him that “I’m a reflection of you, if you were stronger,” to which Clark responds, “[You’re] my reflection in a cracked mirror” before getting that adrenaline rush that Supes often does right before he defeats the villain.
While Superman: Doomsday doesn’t get everything right, it certainly conveys the death of Superman in a fun and entertaining way. The story might not be carbon copied from the comic book pages, but it’s spirit is there and that’s what mattered. Bruce Timm knew he couldn’t recreate months and months of stories in 90 minutes, so he chose the best elements and made them work. If the two acts of the film were more evenly portrayed, it would have been a much stronger movie.