Post by All Star Batman on Jul 27, 2007 13:32:40 GMT -5
SDCC '07: SUPERMAN DOOMSDAY REVIEW
-------------------------------------------------------------------------- by Tom Bondurant
Superman: Doomsday consists essentially of two bunker-busting fight scenes separated by a pretty good Lois Lane story. It's not really a stripped-down retelling of the 1992-93 Superman titles' death/funeral/return arcs. Instead, it diverts significantly from that source material in order to make its story accessible. The result is simple but not dumbed-down. In fact, Duane Capizzi's script offers surprises with regard to Superman's relationships with both Lois and Luthor. As for the fighting, while the "PG-13" approach of this direct-to-video line allows for harder hits and more blood, the movie has to work against the audience's expectations about the outcomes of those fights, and presents spectacle and carnage to illustrate the high stakes. Overall, the movie is fairly effective through its first two acts, but its third (the "return") falters. However, it rights itself by focusing on Lois again at the end. A viewer who rents or buys Superman: Doomsday looking for the punching and combat absent from Superman Returns will probably be satisfied, a parent who gets the video for a younger child may find it a little too mature, and that hypothetical member of the general public who just likes Superman may be kind of confused.
One of the movie's most significant departures from the original comics is its rollback of the Superman/Lois/Clark triangle. They're not married, and Lois doesn't know the secret -- but she's still dating Superman. What's more, they're apparently close enough that she appears in the Fortress of Solitude wearing only a towel, and later a red bathrobe (to match the Man of Steel's). Still, she only calls him "Superman," although he reminds her about "Kal-El." While this smacks of classic Silver Age Superdickery (TM), it sets up a couple of plot points, including Lois' traditional investigation into Superman's alter ego. Lois also claims that Supes' familiar justifications for a secret identity really mask his fear of commitment.
Doomsday (never named as such, only called a "doomsday machine" in dialogue) comes between them, of course. His introductory scenes are staged quite well, suggesting a creature that exists purely to destroy. Doomsday is brutal and deadly, killing ordinary humans on screen, or as close thereto as a PG-13 sensibility will allow. He also kills a couple of animals, one in a sequence inspired by the comics. At times this threatens to go over the top (at one point Superman coughs up blood), but on the whole director Brandon Vietti succeeds at making Doomsday a credible threat. Because of its length, the movie also has to use Doomsday to establish Superman's power levels, and this it does efficiently as well. If you've ever talked back to the screen as a moving-picture Superman seems to forget he has, say, heat vision, you won't have that problem here.
Superman is played by Adam Baldwin, who does right by the role, on the level with Tim Daly and George Newbern. Baldwin doesn't have to do much heavy lifting beyond grunting during the fight scenes, and he only has a couple of scenes as Clark. It's not a bad performance, and it doesn't reinvent the Super-wheel, but it doesn't really need to. Lois is the star of much of the show.
After Superman's death, Lois realizes that Clark (ostensibly in Afghanistan as part of his foreign-correspondent duties) isn't coming back either, and this prompts her to share her grief with Martha Kent (Pa Kent apparently having died already). As Lois, Anne Heche gets stuck with a clumsy bit of exposition right off the bat, but she soon gets very comfortable in the role. Her scenes with Swoosie Kurtz (who plays Ma Kent), directed by Lauren Montgomery, are particularly good. Lois is very proactive throughout the movie, flying helicopters into combat zones and infiltrating LexCorp; and again, she keeps the plot moving through the second act.
As you'd expect, Lex Luthor, played by James Marsters, is the piece's main villain. Fans of the Timmverse will compare him, not unreasonably, to Clancy Brown, but he does a decent enough job here. His Luthor has more empathy for Superman, because his Luthor sees how Superman fails to live up to his potential. This will become important in the third act, but I will not spoil the movie any farther.
The cast is rounded out for the most part by Adam Wylie (Jimmy Olsen), Tom Kenny (Kelex), and John DiMaggio (Toyman). With Lois taking over the second act, Jimmy virtually becomes the audience-identification character, and even enjoys his own subplot. Kelex exists largely for comic relief, almost in an L-Ron capacity. Toyman opens up the third act by showing just how bad all forms of crime have gotten in post-Superman Metropolis. His fate helps frame the final fight. Each of these actors are experienced with voice work, and they are good as always here.
Again, I won't spoil the return except to say that the Four Substitute Supermen don't appear. However, the movie's own substitution is less satisfying the more I think about it. At first, Supes' return seems too easy. While its explanation is more plausible than the comics' (which was basically an Act Of God), it doesn't raise the stakes as much as it should. There may be subtle differences between the opening and closing fights, and afterwards the filmmakers acknowledged the need to differentiate the two, but the movie could have profited greatly by introducing a Mongul/alien-invasion motif which would more clearly make the ending A Job For Superman. As it stands, the ending is a meditation on the nature of being Superman, viewed through the lens of all-out super-combat.
The look of Superman: Doomsday clearly comes from Bruce Timm's designs, but the differences are great enough to remind the viewer that this is not a Timmverse story. Superman and Luthor get the biggest makeovers. Luthor perpetually wears white, which is a clear thematic choice reflecting his own viewpoint. However, while Superman's design is fairly reminiscent of the Timmverse, his cheekbones and chin are so pronounced, they're distracting. Other than that, the movie's look is very clean and crisp, and the fight scenes expertly use brief slow-motion and "shockwave" effects.
In the end, a viewer may find Superman: Doomsday only partially successful. The fight scenes are executed well, and the middle part where Lois takes the spotlight is also done well, but the third act doesn't do enough to improve on the first. The DVD is at least worth renting, though, and if you're collecting Superman animated fights, these stack up nicely against the Man of Steel's Justice League bouts with Darkseid.
* * *
The last part of the panel involved behind-the-scenes information from the directors and screenwriter. They then showed a brief promotional piece for Spring 2008's Justice League: The New Frontier. Among other things, it confirmed the main cast: David Boreanaz as Hal Jordan/Green Lantern, Kyle MacLachlan as Superman, Lucy Lawless as Wonder Woman, Neil Patrick Harris as the Flash, and Jeremy Sisto as Batman.
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