Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Superman: Doomsday—A FanBoyWonder Review

The Upshot from Warner Home Video: When Lexcorp accidentally unearths the intergalactic serial killer Doomsday; Superman battles the creature head on in the fight of his life…literally. The world collectively mourns their fallen hero; humanity realizes it will never feel truly safe again. Superman’s enemies rejoice – all but Lex Luthor, who grieves the loss in his own demented manner, setting off a chilling chain of events that even he couldn’t have foreseen. Inspired by the bestselling graphic novel of all time, DC Comics' The Death of Superman, this feature-length animated movie boasts exciting action sequences that rivals anything you’ve ever seen starring the Man of Steel.

FanBoyWonder was visiting our best pal and all around Kemosabe when we both screened the film. By movie’s end, we were left in a word—disappointed.

It’s not that Superman: Doomsday was bad by any means. Yet it wasn’t nearly as good as we were led to expect given that this is the first of a series of Direct-to-DVD stand-alone movies designed to faithfully adapt classic DC Comics stories geared toward older kids and grown-ups.

The film’s adapted screenplay did its best to remain faithful to the comics but it simply proved too difficult to condense a year-long storyline which unfolded in the (then) four monthly Superman titles into a 70-minute movie. Even as the adapted story cut away a lot of the storytelling extraneous details, it also ends up excising a lot of heart in the process.

The scripting by Duane Capizzi (of the CW Network’s The Batman) was noticeably weak in several areas. As once and current newspapermen FanBoyWonder and Kemosabe expressed to each other just how little the Daily Planet resembles a real, actual newsgathering enterprise.

Superman: Doomsday earns its PG-13 rating—both in graphic (but mercifully not over the top) battle violence, as well as a scene featuring a post-coital (implied but unmistakable) Superman (Adam Baldwin) and Lois Lane (Anne Heche) during a weekend getaway at the Fortress of Solitude.

In this stand-alone movie continuity, Superman and Lois have been dating long enough to be making the beast with two backs, yet Kal-El is gun-shy about revealing his secret identity to Lois (not that she hasn’t already figured it out)—this is the proverbial key to the apartment relationship/commitment thing.

We know this is the new millennium and all but it just rubs us the wrong way that Supes has been making with the love with Lois yet he’s been lying to her as to who he is. Just old fashioned we guess.

Anyway, with Bruce Timm as producer, Superman: Doomsday maintains a consistent animated look to it reminiscent to his previous Justice League Unlimited and Batman The Animated Series before that. The film’s action sequences rival those of JLU but in no uncertain terms fails to surpass the Justice League television series.

The Superman/Doomsday battle is key to the plot in the first third of the movie and ample time is devoted to the fight and to the subsequent “deaths” of the combatants—but Kemosabe agreed with us that the fight, while well choreographed, left us strangely unsatisfied.

This was a film that was supposed to raise the bar yet we could recall off the top of our head two Superman battles in JLU that were at least equally compelling—Superman vs. Mongol in “For the Man Who Has Everything” and Superman vs. Darkseid in “Destroyer.”

Yet to the filmmakers’ credit, they came up with a much more clever way for Superman to take out Doomsday than the visually clumsy splash page double-punch drawn by artist Dan Jurgens in Superman #75 (the death issue).

Credit to Adam Baldwin as a more than credible Man of Steel. Ditto to Anne Heche as Lois Lane. Although at first we thought we preferred Dana Delaney from JLU and Superman The Animated Series, Heche’s performance of a feisty take charge Lois grew on us.

Case in point: “Oh for God sakes, don’t be such a girl.” Heche’s Lois berates Jimmy Olson (Adam Wylie) when he hesitates jumping into a commandeered jeep to drive to the battle.

Yet Lex Luthor voiced by James Marsters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) fell totally flat with us. Yes he got the coldness down but it was totally devoid of any passion or depth whatsoever. For our money, Clancy Brown has set the bar quite high in his portrayal of Luthor brimming with ruthless ambition.

Ray Wise is miscast as Perry White while Swoozie Kurtz was criminally under-used as Martha Kent. In one of the film’s few totally flawless scenes, Lois drives to the Kent farm to see Martha and they grieve together over the lover/son they have lost. It mimicked a similar scene in the comics during the Funeral For a Friend storyline.

Yet we also felt cheated that mother and son never shared a scene together. We felt we deserved to see the reunion between Clark and Martha when Superman returned from his “death”—okay we won’t spoil the plot but yes…it’s say to say that Superman does not stay dead in the movie.

While the movie was an amusing waste of time, it would be worth the video rental fee all by itself to watch the comprehensive documentary Requiem and Rebirth: Superman Lives—a behind the scenes documentary about how the Superman writing staff and other head-honchos at DC came up with the now classic storyline.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 15-years but you’ll believe it when you see video from the writer’s room circa 1992. We found it interesting in the extreme to put faces and voices to the names we’ve read in the credit boxes for these many years—such as Jerry Ordway, Roger Stern, Louise Simonson and many others.

The creators not only talked about how they came up with the “Death” storyline but it’s also a fascinating view of how it garnered national and even international media attention, prompted lines around the block at comic stores around the country on “Death” day in November 1992.

With Superman: Doomsday in the can, we hope that the creators learn as they go as we look forward to the upcoming Justice League: New Frontier in early 2008.


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