Those who like superheroes often fall into one of two broad categories - Batman and Superman lovers. If you prefer the glossy, indestructible patriotism of the man from Krypton, you're less likely to identify with the Dark Knight. On the other hand, some relate to the mere human turned ultimate crime-fighter in Gotham to his wear-my-pants-on-the-outside counterpart. I'm not saying there aren't plenty of those who like both, but many probably fall down on one side or the other. Personally, I think Batman rocks, and Superman - whilst ever-entertaining in a Michael Bay way - is more bang that brain. See, that's the problem I've always had with the Man of Steel - he can fly at supersonic speeds, has heat vision and is pretty-much indestructible. But he has two main weaknesses. He appears to be allergic to rocks from his home world (Really? It can't be a great planet for his race to have lived on then) and he is dumb as a rock. I appreciate he may be a tough rock, who can fly and everything, but he's still pretty damn stupid. After all, his arch-nemesis (for all his super-villain enemies) is actually a mere human, Lex Luthor. Somebody with a brain. Imagine if Superman had Batman's brain? Still, for all Luthor's Machiavellian machinations, it is sometimes just nice to see Superman go mano-a-mano with another supervillain. Enter Doomsday.
Those who know nothing about the Doomsday comic stories (and who still like Superman, but perhaps are more familiar with just his cartoon and movie tales) should probably seriously consider skipping the narrative here, as it has inherent spoilers. Basically the movie revolves around one of the biggest comic-book events of all time - the death of Superman. After a super-powered beast is unleashed in Metropolis, Superman rushes to stop this crazed creature called Doomsday, leading to an epic confrontation in the streets and the skies that - ultimately - takes his life. The aftermath sees a city mourning the loss of their great hero, and even his nemesis Luthor start to question what purpose his life has in a world without Superman. Of course, things aren't ever as simple as that, so when some other villains start terrorising Metropolis, someone has to step up to the plate. And that someone dresses like Superman, acts like Superman, fights crime like Superman...well...almost. But for the fact he is not quite as keen on justice, more on punishment. What has happened to Superman?
Superman: Doomsday covers the events in several of the biggest arcs in the popular comics - events which take place over a course of months. The Death of Superman. A World Without Superman. The Reign of the Supermen. The Return of Superman. It was major stuff, like Bane breaking Batman's back (or his more recent death), they take quite a while to play out, with lots of mini-arcs going on in between. So when I first heard about Doomsday, I figured it was just about the death of Superman - what more could one single animated feature cover? Clearly, much more, as it deals with everything in the entire comic run. The concept of cramming this entire narrative into 78 minutes and doing it any kind of justice is just ludicrous. There's too much to tell, too much going on, and whilst I can see why they get straight to the point with the whole Superman/Doomsday confrontation (and, credit to them, the battle is awesome), and I can even see why The Reign of the Supermen is changed into a kind-of combined alter-Superman twist, but the subsequent resurrection is still effectively condensed to the point of having little resonance. You don't care much that Superman's dead because it's about 3 minutes before he comes back (that means World Without Superman in 3 minutes). And even after you figure out things are not as simple as that, the whole resolution to it comes to pass in about another half an hour. Basically, you just don't care.
On the plus side, the action isn't bad - obviously the monumental clash between the two titans is the highlight, but there's plenty of visual skirmishes to keep you captivated. And it's fairly brutal PG-13 stuff - humans actually die and Superman actually bleeds, a lot. The whole thing is relatively serious for a Superman tale, with Lex killing or beating people to a pulp, and many actually dying. Maybe we're not talking Dark Knight dark here (Superman's darkest days don't even compare to Batman doing the grocery shopping, compare this to the PG-13 Return of the Joker) but it still packs a punch visually. The trouble is, there is little of substance here - with simply none of your favourite faces (Clark, Superman, Lex, Lois) having any kind of character development to go along with the terribly convoluted, overly-condensed plot.
Clearly aimed at a slightly more mature market, it is a shame that the producers did not opt for a more meaty, properly dark story that would have dispelled any fears about the Man of Steel after the flop that was Superman Returns (whilst engaging, it went on at least half an hour too long and lacked direction). With a bit more thought they could have done better with Kevin Smith's basic concept (he wrote a draft for a new Superman movie based on the Doomsday events, before it was scrapped in favour of 'Returns) and with a bit more effort they could have made something more than just a visually punchy vaguely engaging extended episode - at least half again longer in runtime. Fans of Superman may still find some entertainment here, if they can put aside their grievances with the fact it does not really stay true to potentially excellent material, and newcomers will too probably enjoy the escapade, but forget about it totally afterwards.
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