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Superman: Doomsday

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 04/29/08 20:41:34

"Less-than-superheroic direct-to-DVD first effort by Warner Premiere."
3 stars (Just Average)

The first direct-to-DVD feature-length animated film Warner Premiere, "Superman: Doomsday" is, considering the talent involved, a disappointing start to a promised series of animated films set in an identifiable variant of the DC Comics universe and based on iconic DC characters (e.g., Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman) and variations of fan-favorite stories. Unfortunately, a limited budget, a sprawling, yearlong comic book series clumsily condensed into 75-minutes (including credits), gratuitous, over-the-top onscreen and offscreen violence (the PG-13 rating "Superman: Doomsday" received is fully deserved), mediocre animation, and hit-or-miss voice work, and the end result is an unimpressive effort by Warner Premiere.

While Superman: Doomsday is, of course, centered on Superman (voiced by Adam Baldwin), it’s Lex Luthor (James Marsters) who gets the best lines and, consequently, ends up as the most compelling character in Superman: Doomsday. This particular Luthor is still a megalomaniacal billionaire with a serious and seriously twisted fixation on the Man of Steel. If the voiceover we hear at the beginning of Superman: Doomsday is any indication, Luthor bitterly describes Superman, an alien with superpowers who crash landed on earth as an infant, as a “golden god” who should be worshiped by the masses. Luthor’s narcissism and envy, however, leaves him with little except contempt for Superman who he sees as a threat to his plans for corporate and political domination and, on another level, truly alien (as in foreign) because he can’t understand Superman’s value system or his desire to sacrifice himself for the human race.

Luthor’s story/character arc, however, weaves in and out of the larger storyline that focuses on Superman, his city-destroying battle with Doomsday, an alien super soldier banished to earth who’s unearthed by LexCorps’ employees (illegally, of course), escapes, and cuts a violent swath through the Kansas countryside, destination: Metropolis. Doomsday encounters an ineffective military and, finally, when all hope seems lost, with Superman. Equal or even better than Superman in strength, Doomsday seemingly gets the better of Superman until a battered, nearly beaten Superman, in an act of self-sacrifice, flies Doomsday into the stratosphere and plunges back to earth, fighting him all the way down. Doomsday dies, but Superman does too, from injuries suffered in the battle.

Not surprisingly, Lois Lane (Anne Heche) deeply mourns the fallen Superman. Her suspicions about his identity, however, go unconfirmed with his death, but Clark Kent’s apparent disappearance in Afghanistan while on assignment proves sufficient for Lois to visit Clark’s adoptive mother, Martha (Swoosie Kurtz), who confirms Lois’ suspicions. Jimmy Olsen (Adam Wylie), a photographer for the Daily Planet, Superman’s pal (there was even an early 70’s title focused on their friendship), and a witness to Superman’s death, leaves the Daily Planet to become a celebrity photography for a gossip rap, Perry White (Ray Wise) fall off the wagon and begins drinking again. With Superman gone and, presumably, other superheroes occupied in other parts of the country, the crime rate in Metropolis rises exponentially.

Luthor, however, feels cheated by Superman’s untimely death at the hands of Doomsday. He wanted to defeat Superman on his own. Luthor seemingly gets his wish when Superman literally rises from the dead, but Superman’s odd behavior (he barely acknowledges Lois and refuses to contact Martha), and, eventually, the appearance of another Superman, this one clad in a black costume and sporting long hair, raises Lois’ journalistic suspicions ending, unsurprisingly, with a knockdown, knockout fight between the two Supermans in a Metropolis still recovering from the earth-shaking battle between Superman and Doomsday months or weeks earlier.

Co-directed and co-written by Bruce Timm, the executive producer behind the Batman: The Animated Series, Superman: The Animated Series, The New Batman Adventures, Batman Beyond, Justice League, and Justice League Unlimited), each a standard-setting or an above-par animated series that handled DC’s well-known and lesser known characters with respect and intelligence unparalleled on television or cable, expectations were obviously high that [Superman: Doomsday would equal Timm’s best work on those series. Unfortunately, Superman: Doomsday doesn’t even close, for reasons mostly out of Timm’s control.

Timm was given an inflexible 75-minute running time, a modest budget to guarantee on return on Warner’s investment from DVD sales and rentals, and guidelines on what he could and couldn’t do. Much of that was dictated by the 75-minute running time. Subplots, secondary characters, and plot points were all jettisoned from the adaptation (e.g., the four Supermen who temporarily take over safeguarding Metropolis from ordinary crime and supervillains), mostly to accommodate the limited running time, but, in at least in the case of Superboy, to avoid legal issues (Superboy’s ownership is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit between the Siegel estate and DC Comics, a subsidiary of Time-Warner).

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