Written by Rick Warren / gfn21
In 2007, a watered-down version of the Death of Superman story arc was used in the animated film Superman: Doomsday. In 2016, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice also failed to tell this story well, as Henry Cavill’s Superman was both too new to audiences and too poorly written in that film for the moment to stick. This year, though, DC finally pulled it off. The Death of Superman gives the audience reasons to care about its lead character, and it constantly makes them dread what is coming in the film’s final act. By giving Clark Kent plenty of time to shine and using the Justice League to establish the threat of Doomsday, Superman’s inevitable death works. For even a casual Superman fan like myself, I was on the edge of my seat throughout the whole film. When it came time to feel something, I felt it. For anyone who wonders why people love Superman, look no further; this is one of the best portrayals of the character outside of the comics since the Animated Series.
For a spoiler-filled review, read on.
* WARNING: SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON *
Caring About Clark
Perhaps the greatest success of The Death of Superman is the way in which it explores Clark Kent as a person. While there are multiple moments where Superman saves the day, the film is built around Clark’s relationship with Lois Lane and his struggles with the idea of revealing his identity to her. It takes up plenty of screen time, but this subplot never feels boring and Lois’s role in the story never becomes overbearing. Their relationship is believable and, more importantly, it’s essential to the story.
The same can be said for the Justice League, as the full team has a role in the film. The Death of Superman takes place in the same continuity as Justice League: War and the other JL films of the past few years, with the same animation style and voice cast returning. Both serve the story well, as each member of the League is perfectly acted and the fights they’re in look great due to the animation. Make no mistake, though, this is still Superman’s story. Whether it’s through some great humor, The Flash explaining that he revealed his identity to his soon-to-be wife Iris, or the team getting taken down by Doomsday, the inclusion of the Justice League makes the story work better.
As for the film’s villains, Lex Luthor and Doomsday are very much what you’d expect. The former is used as a side character and is setup for the sequel (2019’s Reign of the Supermen), whereas the latter is the silent monster he’s always been. Doomsday is imposing, and he feels like a true threat to the seemingly untouchable Superman.
With Doomsday being as imposing as he should be, a well-handled inclusion of the Justice League, and Clark Kent’s relationship with Lois Lane working as intended, the buildup to Superman’s death delivers in every way. Where Superman: Doomsday and BvS failed, The Death of Superman succeeds. With the third time being the charm and the pieces being in place, the film gracefully reaches its final act.
The Big Moment
The lengthy final confrontation between Superman and Doomsday hits all the notes that it should, and it’s a blast to watch. There may be a few moments where the characters could look a bit better, but much like with the Justice League fights, the animation thrives during action sequences. The Death of Superman joins the recent DC films in saving its best moments of animation for the end, as Superman taking Doomsday into the moonlit sky is breathtaking. The impact of every punch can be felt during their final showdown and seeing Superman’s suit get damaged every time he gets up only adds to the intensity. Thankfully, Superman’s final, neck-snapping blow is shown in full detail. As Lois holds a dying Superman, the excellent and exhausting battle ends.
The Death of Superman has one big flaw, though, and it’s that the movie doesn’t end with that heartbreaking moment. Going on five minutes too long, it repeats the mistake Batman vs. Superman made of revealing that Superman may still be alive. While everyone knows that Superman will return eventually, revealing it in the same exact movie where he met his demise is extremely frustrating. It’s somewhat understandable that the filmmakers don’t want the movie to end on such a dark, sad note, but doing things this way cheapens the film’s most important moment. There’s already plenty of setup for next year’s sequel, so it’s a puzzling decision to tease Superman’s comeback now. The moment where Lois sees the shadowy image of Supes would have been far better as an opening to Reign of the Supermen than it is as an ending to this movie. The conclusion is the only time the movie’s pacing feels off, and it’s also the only thing holding it back from perfection.
Still, even with this clumsy ending, The Death of Superman is a great film packed with plenty of intense scenes.
The Death of Superman perfectly explores the character of Clark Kent through his relationships with Lois Lane and the members of the Justice League, allowing the big moment everyone knows is coming to bring out the emotions that it should. Superman’s character and heroism are given some necessary attention, and his clash with Doomsday is appropriately brutal. Though the film would have been much better off ending with Superman’s death, it’s still a very strong addition to DC’s great lineup of animated films.
The Death of Superman is a must-watch for both casual and die-hard fans of the character.
Clark Kent’s character is well-explored +2
Justice League addition adds to story, isn’t overdone +1
Solid Animation (particularly for fight scenes) +1
Superman’s death lands... +1
...but too much is shown after that moment -1
FINAL SCORE: 4/5