Superman returns (to die) onscreen once again. The Death of Superman marked the third time we’ve seen the Man of Steel snuff it, starting with the animated feature Superman: Doomsday then again in the live action Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice. While both of those events strayed far from the comics, DC’s latest animated release promises to be more faithful to the source material, at least when it comes to the titular event itself.
A meteorite hurtles through space, destroying the Excalibur space shuttle and all onboard before landing in Earth’s oceans. Lex Luthor (Rainn Wilson), under house arrest, sends an expedition to investigate but is stopped by the Atalanteans who are performing their own recce. A fearsome creature, christened Doomsday by Lois Lane (Rebecca Romijn), rises from the crater and kills everything in its path. It makes its way to the surface where it encounters the Justice League, the heroes proving little to no match for the monster. By the time Superman (Jerry O’Connell) arrives on the scene he is the last hope, except he hasn’t faced an enemy like Doomsday before and soon finds himself in a fight to the death.
It’s no spoiler that Superman dies here, the clue is in the title, and what a death it is. The final battle is glorious as Superman struggles to incapacitate the beast while tending to the innocents caught in the cross fire. It’s a spectacular set piece that revels in its destruction, with Superman’s vulnerability packing an emotional punch.
Unfortunately the animation is inconsistent in quality. The big action scenes look great while the rest of the film looks dated. At times it looks like the animation was rushed in order to complete the movie and this is distracting early on, often resembling a kid’s cartoon from the 80’s without the added nostalgia. This weakness is most prominent on the big screen as the cinema exposes the lack of cinematic quality on offer.
The biggest strength is the script with its balance of serious drama and light hearted humour. Supporting characters such as the Flash (Christopher Gorham) and the Green Lantern (Nathan Fillion) offer a few laughs and help lighten the tone. Although this is an animated feature, it is deserving of its 12A rating. Some of the deaths, which there are many, are brutal as Doomsday violently pulverises enemies into mush. The language might stand out for a cartoon, but the swearing is kept to a minimum and shouldn’t cause much offence.
A great cast is gathered here, the standout being Rainn Wilson as Lex Luthor. His voice drips with sly menace, a sinister and at times stoic glee that breathes life into the super villain. Fillion is underused as the Green Lantern and while Wonder Woman is in a supporting role, Rosario Dawson commands each line with authority helping create a memorable portrayal of the character.
While The Death of Superman has its flaws, it remains a tense and enjoyable story with DC’s animated universe free to flex its wings in ways the live action counterparts appear to be restricted. Its cliff hanger ending teases more, with fans of the comic aware of which comes next.