Director: Lauren Montgomery, Bruce Timm, Brandon Vietti
Cast: Adam Baldwin, Anne Heche, James Marsters, Tom Kenny, Cree Summer, Ray Wise
Watch Superman: Doomsday online in the UK: iTunes / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
On Sunday mornings, we like to watch cartoons. So we’re working our way through DC’s animated superhero collection on Amazon Prime Video UK. We call it Superhero Sundays.
Co-directed by Lauren Montgomery, Brandon Vietti and DC animation maestro Bruce Timm, 2007’s Superman: Doomsday was the first film to be released in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies line (several of which have featured in previous Superhero Sundays columns) and it set the bar extremely high. A condensed version of the classic comics story, The Death of Superman, the 75-minute film is packed with action and delivers a hefty emotional punch. However, as both the age certificate and the title of the source comic suggest, it’s emphatically not a film for little children.
Despite the title, the character of Doomsday (a version of which appeared in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, if you were thinking he looks a bit familiar) only appears for the first half hour of the film. After LexCorps workers uncover a spaceship buried deep underground, the unstoppable space-monster Doomsday is released and begins a vicious killing spree throughout Metropolis, just as Superman (Firefly’s Adam Baldwin) is working through some commitment issues with girlfriend Lois Lane (Anne Heche).
A terrific, no-holds-barred 9-minute fight scene occurs, during which Superman throws everything he has at Doomsday, ultimately killing him, but losing his own life in the process, due to his severe injuries. Months later, Lex Luthor (Buffy’s James Marsters) creates a clone of Superman from a drop of his blood and sends him out into Metropolis to fight crime. However, Lois quickly realises something is wrong and sets out to investigate.
Several of the DC animated movies have had moments of seemingly inappropriate, over-the-top violence, but here the extreme violence seems justified, given both the nature of the threat and the severity of Superman’s fate. The violence serves a purpose early on (e.g. Doomsday crushing someone’s skull, barely offscreen), because it shows us exactly what Superman is up against, and it’s genuinely scary. (Obviously, it will also be upsetting for small children to see Superman get killed, so maybe keep them away from this one.)
With that said, the action sequences are terrific and give fans exactly what they want to see – namely, Superman unleashing the full force of his power and pounding the hell out of a seemingly unkillable foe. To that end, he lays down some impressive fight moves, the best of which involves grabbing Doomsday by the jaw and hurling him over his head.
That grown-up, adult theme is reflected in the emotional story-telling too, not just in the depiction of Superman and Lois’ relationship (they are very definitely having sex), but also in the way it depicts grief and loss – there’s a heart-breaking conversation between Lois and Martha Kent (after Lois figures out Clark is Superman), while Luthor enacts his plan partly because he’s furious that someone other than him got to finish off Superman. Even more disturbingly, it seems that Luthor regularly tortures Clone Superman, by administering daily beatings in a special Kryptonite-lined room. Dark.
That darkness also extends to the animation itself. In particular, there’s a genuinely shocking moment when Superman’s blood splashes across Lois’ face, as well as a number of other scary elements (again, too scary for kids), such as a giant robot spider, or a creepy doll with a knife, both courtesy of cameoing villain The Toyman.
The script has a good handle on the film’s emotional content, while also including a number of enjoyable moments that feel important to the Man of Steel’s overall mythos, such as Superman revealing his identity to Lois for the first time (a lovely scene). Similarly, despite the darkness of the storyline, there’s plenty of humour, whether it’s Lex angrily dismissing Doomsday as “an intergalactic soccer hooligan”, or Clone Superman calmly explaining his attack on the military with the line, “I’m only doing this because I care”.
There are a number of other nice touches scattered throughout the film too, such as Lois referring to Metropolis as “Bigville” while on the phone to Martha, or a very amusing moment where Clone Superman “rescues” a white cat from a tree (a traditional Superman scene) and then stands there stroking it, Bond villain-style, while lecturing an old lady about animal safety in a vaguely threatening manner. Oh, and there’s a knowing appearance from Kevin Smith (playing a character called “Grumpy Man”, who looks and sounds like Kevin Smith), if you like that sort of thing.
In short, this is arguably better than at least four of the live-action Superman movies and stands as one of the best of the DC animated superhero collection to date.