In a retelling of one of DC’s most world-shaking storylines, a threat to the world approaches in the form of a terrifying juggernaut known only as Doomsday. In the face of its overwhelming force, even the Justice League falls. Now the only hope for Metropolis and the wider world beyond it lies with the greatest superhero of them all; Superman. But against the unrelenting brutality of Doomsday, even the Man of Steel might end up paying the ultimate price.
An adaption of The Death of Superman is not to be undertaken lightly and people below a certain age probably need a bit of context. It’s one of the best-selling graphic novels of all time, but that doesn’t really capture the impact this storyline had. Back in 1993, superheroes never made the news unless it was an actual movie (and even then, only maybe). The Death of Superman bucked this trend and actually made the news. Fans even held funerals for the Last Son of Krypton. It wasn’t
even the first time DC had killed off one of their major superheroes; Barry Allen (The Flash) had perished eight years earlier and stayed dead a lot longer. Yet Allen’s death didn’t have the impact that Clark Kent’s did. I could go on but I should probably steer things back to the actual review. So, the stakes were high for this adaption from the word go; and the fact that this is the third adaption since 2007 only raised them. Superman: Doomsday was a compressed, animated adaption that lacked the wider DC Universe. Batman v Superman also folded Superman’s showdown with Doomsday into its already bloated plot. Therefore, the best place to start is with what 2018 uniquely brings to the table. First and foremost, The Death of Superman is only the first half of the storyline. One of the things that made The Death of Superman stand out from the many ‘superhero dies’ storylines was the exploration of what made Superman a hero and how society responds to his absence. Iconic (and therefore profitable) superheroes are not going to stay dead; they’re just not. It’s doubtful that even the funeral-throwing fans thought he was gone for good. Next year, ‘The Reign of the Supermen’ will be released, covering the events that follow Superman’s death until his return to life. Without the need to cover his absence and return as well, in under two hours, the movie is able to set the scene and establish Superman’s current situation and relationships. This helps build the impact of Superman’s eventual death; we’ve seen his relationships with the various people who will mourn him.
Another element ‘Death’ has in its favour is that it takes place in the shared animated universe DC established with ‘Justice League: War’. As a result, we have the rest of the Justice League and the pre-established relationships that come with it. ‘Death’ plays this correctly and puts the focus on Superman’s personal cast. The league members allow Superman to voice his concerns about revealing his identity to Lois without pulling focus too much. The fact that this league is the more famous A-list version rather than the B-list one from the original story also helps build the threat of Doomsday. We’ve seen these guys defeat the god of evil, Darkseid in ‘Justice League: War’; seeing Doomsday tear through their ranks really builds the monster’s credibility. Even if you haven’t seen ‘War’, these are DC’s iconic heroes; anyone who can demolish them is serious business.
This is important because a stand-alone story needs to work in isolation; even when in a shared universe. The world building and stage setting is very good; when Superman dies, the stunned horror of his friends and the bystanders feels real.
At this point, those of you who don’t understand how reviews work is probably thinking this movie sounds pretty flawless. So, let’s cut right to the chase; what isn’t so great about this movie? To begin with, the movie’s opening is pretty weak; not the plot itself, but the dialogue is pretty clunky. Superman’s ‘superhero banter’ when fighting intergang is pretty poorly written. Also, the attempt to cram as many Superman references as possible into the dialogue makes for a lot of unwieldy sentences.
There’s a general rule of thumb for writing dialogue; if you’re having trouble saying it in one breath, the sentence is too long. Things improve as the movie goes on, but I’m honestly surprised most of the first fifteen minutes made it through the editing process. The pacing of the Doomsday fight is a little weird as well; at points, it seems like there’s more focus on the parts
where Superman is down than when he’s actually fighting Doomsday.
The Death of Superman is definitely the best adaption of the original story out of the bunch. It’s also a pretty solid movie in its own right let down by some clunky dialogue and uneven pacing.